I’m an honest writer.
Actually, I’m really honest for a writer. Especially an outdoor writer. I admit to missed shots, state when something works and when something doesn’t, admit when I fail, and declare actual weights and measurements. If I write that I shot a 216 buck, then I shot a 216 buck. It’s been this way my entire writing career. Only once did I consider stretching the truth and when it turned out to be a complete failure I let it go to the wayside never to appear in print.
It began with the editor of an outdoor website I’d been working for called me about a review he needed as quickly as possible.
He explained that an air gun manufacturer had sent him a rifle for review but the rifle sat unopened and unnoticed until the PR person for the company called asking what the holdup was. “So,” the editor explained, “I’m shipping you this air rifle overnight and you’re going to hunt with it and email me a review afterward. From the time you get the gun until I get the review shouldn’t be more than a few hours.”
“Hunt what?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Squirrels. Rabbits. Who cares?!”
I explained that squirrels were out of season where I lived and that I didn’t have immediate access to any place that had rabbits.
The editor exploded, “Then shoot some rats at the dump. I don’t care. Just do it and make it a good story!” and hung up the phone.
That night I ran through my dilemma. I had to shoot something fast and write about it. I couldn’t go to the dump as it was owned by the city and certainly wouldn’t allow a rifle of any kind through the gate. And even if they would, it was doubtful that I’d see any rats during the day. Where to find rats? I pondered. Where to find rats? Then it came to me: the pet store! The next day I drove 20 miles to a pet store in Kerrville. I made my way through the fish, past the lizards and snakes to the aquariums where the rodents were kept. The store had hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, and mice but no rats. I approached the obviously stoned flunky at the checkout and politely inquired, “Y’all got any rats?”
“Feeder rats?” the kid countered.
“What’s a feeder rat?” I asked.
“It’s like a rat you feed your snake.”
“Yeah, that’s what I need.”
“Two or three I guess.”
“That’s a big snake. Or do you have more than one?”
“What?” I asked before coming back with, “Yeah I got a couple.”
“Good deal man. Frozen or alive?”
What the hell? They carried frozen rats?
“Alive,” I said.
The stoner left and returned with a cardboard box. “Only had two left,” he said as he tilted the box forward for me to see the animals inside.
“These are white,” I said stating the obvious. “Don’t you have any brown or black rats? Nasty rats that look like they’ve been living in a dump?”
“I don’t think your snakes will mind. And this is all we have.”
I said I’d take them and moved to the cash register. The rat handler followed and reached beneath the counter and came back with some paperwork and a pen.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Company policy. You need to fill out your name and address and sign saying you’ll treat the rats humanely before giving them to your snakes.”
I couldn’t help myself.
“Are you shitting me?” I asked. “I have to sign an affidavit stating I’ll treat the rats I’m gonna feed to a snake (yes, this was a lie) humanely?”
“Company policy, dude,” the rat boy waxed.
I put my promise of rodent compassion into writing, took my rats, and left. I put the box of rats in the back of my SUV and looked around in thought. An epiphany appeared in the form of a hobby store at the end of the strip center. I made my way there and approached the first salesperson I encountered.
“May I help you?” the kind elderly woman asked.
“Yes ma’am,” I replied. “I certainly hope so. I need to turn some white fur black.”
“Faux fur I assume.”
“Oh yes, ma’am. Faux fur,” I lied. “What should I use, paint?”
“No, that’d clump up some I’m afraid,” the woman warned. “I’d use fabric dye.”
I bought a bottle of black fabric dye and headed home for the hunt. I arrived to find the air rifle waiting for me. I unpacked it, took a few practice shots at a target to make sure the scope was on target, then let the rats go in the bushes at the end of my yard. I went about 30 yards back, let the rats run around a bit, then popped them both. I put the rifle away, mixed the dye in a 5-gallon bucket, and lowered the dead rats in by the tail. I hung them there for about five minutes. When I pulled them out I was horrified to see that they were purple.
Freak’en purple rats!
Their fur was a soft purple, their feet and noses a vibrant Prince the musician purple.
Apparently, fabric dye and dead rats don’t mix.
I tossed the rats in the garbage and called my editor to explain. He laughed so hard at my story that he forgave my being unable to provide him with a story. I swore then and there that I would never try to fudge a story again.
It’s a promise I’ve kept.
I swear on those sad small purple lives that it’s true.