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The Tiger

I’m not sure why I started thinking about it this week, but I did. It’s something that happened 39 years ago, when I was a 17-year-old senior in high school.

As Halloween rolled around that year, my geeky group of friends and I decided to go to a haunted hayride near my family’s home.

One of my guy friends, Kelly Dunnaway, had a brother who owned a dark van with a big striped tiger painted on the side. Kelly borrowed it, drove to each of our homes, and picked us up that night to go to the hayride. I had invited a girl who lived across the street to go with us, and when Kelly pulled up in “the tiger,” Susan and I climbed into the back with the others.

The Houston County Jaycees, the Bonaire volunteer fire department, and the sheriff’s office had organized the hayride located in the woods off of Old Perry Road. Volunteers directed us down a dark winding dirt road with flashlights and glow sticks, and we parked in a clearing.

We hopped aboard a hay-filled wagon, and a tractor pulled us through the woods, stopping occasionally for masked monsters to run out of the woods to grab at us or chase after the wagon with chainsaws. Back then, it was fun to be scared — especially to be scared with friends. We screamed, we laughed, and before we knew it, the hayride was over.

On the walk back to the van, Susan was cold and borrowed my windbreaker — a red jacket with my last name, “Lanier,” sewn on the back in big white upper case letters. We crawled back into the tiger’s belly.

Right away, my friends began grumbling that the hayride had been too short and it was still early in the evening. Kelly cranked the van and put it into drive, but he didn’t turn toward the designated exit. He pulled back onto the hayride’s route.

“Hey Kelly, you’re going the wrong way,” I called.

“We’re going back into the haunted woods for a little adventure,” he yelled. “Hang on!”

He peeled out of the parking area. As he accelerated, I saw volunteers chasing the van with their glow sticks and heard them yelling for us to stop.

“Stop!” I shouted, but Kelly sped up and steered the vehicle into the dark oblivion. Just like that, we were fugitives zooming through continued from page

the woods in a van with a tiger painted on the side. Susan and I held on for dear life as the van bounced around on the dirt road like the General Lee in an episode of the Dukes of Hazzard.

A few minutes later, someone shouted, “Turn here. That’s the way back to the paved road.”

As Kelly turned, the van seemed to go up on two wheels. A few seconds later, we careened around a curve, and that’s when we saw the flashing blue lights of three sheriff’s cars blocking the road. It was a scene straight out of Bonnie and Clyde.

The van screeched to a halt, and we all lunged forward.

“Oh Lord,” I said.

“Get the hell out of the vehicle,” a deputy yelled, stomping over to the driver’s side window. “What in the hell were you doing? Didn’t you hear them yelling for you to stop? You could’ve killed someone.” As Kelly got the tongue lashing of a lifetime, the rest of us sat as quiet as mice in the back, trying to go undetected.

“We aren’t in trouble, are we?” Susan whispered to me. “We didn’t know he was going to do that.” “Guilt by association,” I whispered back, feeling queasy. “Oh Lord.” One of the deputies moved from window to window, shining his flashlight into the van. He paused at the back, his light illuminating the van for several seconds.

“Don’t you know some Laniers in the area?” we heard the deputy ask another.

That’s when I realized he had seen my last name stitched on the back of the windbreaker Susan was wearing. “Oh Lord. My parents are going to kill me,” I whispered to my friends.

A few minutes later, they let us go, and Kelly drove us all home. I went straight to bed and prayed hard that night, begging God not to let my parents find out. I held my breath for days fearing someone at the sheriff’s office would eventually call and tell my mother or father about the incident. After about a week, I realized no one was going to call. Hallelujah!

Word spread around school that my geeky friends and I had been caught up in a crazy police chase through the woods in a van with a tiger painted on the side. Everyone was talking about it, and we became celebrities, of sorts. I was a good girl, but somehow, trouble always seemed to find me. To this day, I don’t know what possessed Kelly to do what he did that night. It was totally out of character for him. I never went anywhere with him again. And I don’t know why the deputies let us go without calling each of our parents. That was a Halloween miracle in itself. Most of all, I don’t know why anyone would paint a tiger on the side of a perfectly good van. That’s the part I find truly perplexing, but it makes for a more amusing memory. Oh Lord.

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