A short tale about a long tail leading to nothing.
~~ 1 ~~
Four paper mache stars dangle from their strings due to the ceiling fan’s wake, each a different kaleidoscopic pattern of 2 to 4 different colors, each having 5 points and roughly the size of a compressed beach balls. They contrast the lightly stained poplar planks of Danielle’s apartment, and bring the slow pitch of the ceiling to its pinnacle. The steady waaaah of the A/C fills the next room, neatly barren with acorn colored wood floors and matching cabinetry.
Breathing in deeply to officially end the siesta, my head falls to the left. Across the other room, there’s an 8-foot, veiny lizard standing in front of the mirror. A pale triangular prism of bumpy Swiss cheese hangs loosely in its claw. Thud. The awkward reptile steps his right foot in an arc toward the mirror. Shhh-thum-click. It’s left foot slides back and drags an overdeveloped claw over the boards.
Like a mousetrap exploding, the iguana bi-pod snaps his face around to look at my body, attempting to un-sheet and silently make it to the door fifteen feet away. The ponytail of spikes cascading down it’s spine wave as the shoulders begin to rotate and lower its front claws to the floor. Now it’s moving.
My mind goes white and once I realize what I’m doing, my hand is on the doorknob, ripping it open.
Escaping through the doorway, I catch a glimpse of the bear-sized lizard’s tail whip the twin bed up the wall like a graduation cap, spinning into the air. My heel misses one of the steps, but sliding and bouncing feet first actually helps my descent down the squeaking stairs.
The stairs collapse into dust under the weight of the beast, but with a swift barrel roll, the lizard is already back on my trail. I weave around the corner and spring for the gate with no plan after getting on my scooter.
The gate gives tremendously as the animal rams its head into the wooden door, but holds together for a second and a half, just enough to get the motor cranked. I spray mall decorative rocks at the Camry parked in the driveway as I actually burn rubber (not easy to do in a 50cc), sliding left and then straight down Packer St. My acceleration is fairly swift and the lizard becomes smaller and smaller in my crooked rear view mirror as I blast through stop sign after stop sign. Eventually I get my breathing back under control.
I notice there aren’t any other cars or people. Except for the flickering of palm fronds above the houses, it is eirily quiet. The blatant lack of sound reminds me of the first heavy snowfall in Manhattan. But this isn’t Manhattan. This is another island, an eighth the size, at the end of the Florida Keys. Tropical flowers line the warm asphalt roads between the quirky historic homes of Old Town, Key West.
Patting my pockets, I realize my phone is still charging on my girlfriend’s night stand. What happened to her anyway? She either left when I was asleep or transformed into the dinosaur herself. She does love her cheeses…
With the utter absence of life, I experience a volatile mix of emotions, flowing over each other like a circular beach turned inside out. Fear coupled with relief. Anxiety and lonesome. I need to think. I always go to Glazed Donuts when I’m feeling out of balance. It’s on the long road leading to the boat and has a back door so I’ll have an exit if I need one. It’ll be worth it. Mochas always help me get centered.
There’s really no point trying to get up the 150 miles of iguana infested keys to Miami at a top speed of 42 mph. Maybe that was the only monster, but then where is everyone? I might steal a car and see if anyone is at the KWPD or comb the streets for others.
I wrap up the chain of thought and kill the motor, letting momentum carry me across Duvall St. to my sanctuary just before Tropic Cinema. Out of habit, I park in in front of the ‘Motorcycles Only’ sign alongside an early 80’s Harley with unpolished chrome and dull leather. The concrete sidewalk is a blinding white. I quietly run to the shadowed storefront, my back against the brick wall adjacent the entrance. After some stalling and berating myself for this stupid plan, I exhale and march through the front door.
I’ve often talked a big talk about dying in a hammock or going out in a blaze of glory. A tickle of pride warms my stomach as I realize I’m actually following through with my preaching. This could be my last mocha.
The lights are on. “No Sugar Tonight” by the Guess Who is playing quietly from a high corner speaker. I peek over the counter to make sure nobody’s there. I giddily hop the counter and play an invisible piano as my eyes pin-ball up and down shelves to plan my glorious cup. My left knee points to the chocolate sauce. In the back row of hanging latte cups is a cartoon-sized cappuccino cup. A small puddle becomes a small pond of the home made sauce. Chmp-chmp-chmp from the grinder spills oily grounds into the portafilter. Pshhhhd, whisper excess grounds, leaving an Oreo-looking flat surface flush with the top of the stainless steel ring. I fumble with the machine’s for a bit and eventually produce the midnight brown, life-giving elixir. While the shot is being pulled, I steam some half-and-half to get the microfoam ready. Deep diving ivory pierces the calm, beechwood colored crema. As the molten infusion reaches the top of the handle, I rock the stainless pitcher side to side with the consistency of a polygraph needle relaxing in truth.
I’m a little bummed because I have no way photographing my beverage. I sit with my Michealangelic mocha and a vanilla cake donut, looking at shadow of palm trees on the store front glass as stark reality returns.
I’m on an island. I was chased by something I assume is bad. I’m alone, I realize just as Mumford and Sons plays through the speaker, “Just know you’re not alone, I’m gonna make this place your home.” Well, I do have donuts and coffee. Fuck that, I laugh. I still wanna see South America. I have a boat…
I let the chocolate syrup at the bottom of the cup slowly reach the rim of the cup. After setting down the dark brown ceramic on light brown wood, I stick my head out the door, verify the silence of the street, and get back on the scooter.
– – 2 – –
With only an afternoon to prepare and supply the boat, I had to limit my activities to only the critical. The shadows were already leaning the other way.
Fausto’s Food Palace was on the way. I noticed there were more trees, the homes of smaller iguanas, who for all I knew could be big ones now. I did what any life-threatened human would do and walked across the intersection to Luigi’s to see if the ovens were still on. Each meal in the forseeable present might be my last. A relatively fresh, entire pie glistened under the heat lamp. Being as familiar as I am with the inner-workings of a pizza kitchen, I have no trouble finding chicken, spinach, and fresh basil for my slice, now sizzling on the stone at 675°F.
Wiping an overflow of leafy goodness from my goatee, I think I could have used fresh garlic in place of the spinach, but who could think clearly with 8-foot tall, wrap-around windows exposing me to the motion detecting dinosaurs who may or may not be strolling down Fleming St. right now.
I experiment with a couple of local hot sauces, wash it all down with a tall vidrio of Mexican Coca-cola and walk back across the intersection to get canned food, rice, fruit, bread, and whatever else I can carry, all the while replaying the flaky crunch of Luigi’s crust. Mmmm! Good.
The cold air falls like snow as I walk onto a dirty, grey-blue Fausto’s entry mat. Two things surprise me: to my left, the impressive craft beer selection where the produce usually is, and to my right, the motionless neck and shoulders of an even larger lizard than I escaped earlier. It shifts slightly on its fore-claws, munching on a pile of romaine heads, as I toe-heel back into the humid street air, aching for the 4ft-wide automatic door to slide shut.
It does. I walk back to my scooter with the patience of a barefooted tourist crossing a black parking lot in summer. My first non-alien encounter, an old friend, a nonchalant chicken clucks down the sidewalk. I know he won’t come with me, even if it makes sense to both of us individually, but I ask anyway and am rejected. Maybe he has more useful thoughts under his red, rubber-looking hat than i give him credit for.
Almost a mile later, after no incident, I park the scooter near the aqua painted, cinder block building elevated one flight of stairs in the event of a flood to drop off a load. I don’t like using the decades old plumbing on the boat and the grocery encounter almost scared the shit out of me, which, had it, would have been the turning point of my battle with reality.
Once inside, the downward angling concrete slits in the walls provide no shelter against the humid November sub-tropical air. I don’t know what to do but sweat, so I sit there and sweat.
Instead of the sound of distant construction and nearby tourist traffic, I hear the breeze. It inspires hope and tranquility.
Then comes the noise.
## 3 ##
I hear the breeze. The breeze is blowing something, a tin can in the distance. The sound gross louder and multiplies. Now it sounds like dozens of paint cans bouncing down the street, muffled by an avalanche.
I’m not sticking around to find out what it is, but as i skip down the steps, my eyes are glued to the most distant row of palm trees, becoming less distant as they vanish from the horizon. They lay down like tall grass being pushed aside by a Beagle in a meadow.
The noise becomes a hissing roar, matching the low cloud of dusty, uprooted grass and the tremble of the ground I balance on. The cloud is green, brown, and red and finally gives shape to an 8-lane stampede of limousine-sized lizards rolling on top one another on the 4 lanes of Truman Avenue, now converging in a swarming V with a second stampede coming over the Palm Avenue bridge. Beside the intersection are the docks of my marina and me with a dumb look on my face.
I bolt for my boat at the end of King Fish pier. A Stegosaurus looking iguana strays from the herd rips across the parking lot and splashes into the mangroves where I’m hiding. It’s eyes show nothing but the fear of extinction and don’t notice my stunned, frozen figure. The metal ramp leading to my dock slows him down like the finish-line ribbon slows the winner of a hundred yard dash. I duck and squat, slipping on my ass to dodge flying metal bits and slide down the leafy, trash riddled bank and into the muddy mangroves. There isn’t much else to do but wait. I wait for the trampling sound to subside, but instead it transforms into the rhythmic march of a new population.
I clamber up the bank, digging my fingernails into the mud and sandy grass to pull my face just past the elevation of the parking lot. What I see gives my backbone a shudder of terror.
White, immaculate suits shine in the receding sun, giving shape to 12 or 14 foot tall storm troopers. They look like storm troopers anyway. It’s their precision and sheer height that shock me. In their hands are what appear to be automatic weapons like you would see in a video game. I hold the earth there, eyes like an Olympic ping-pong match, gasping for ideas and air, when my hips are suddenly clamped between a vice. A hand, claw, paw, or whatever of this man-lizard pins me to the side of the parking lot. My scream never leaves the muffled meat of his other claw-paw. It’s as big around as a one-door refrigerator and I can tell it used to be my brother.
His black eyes switch from my left to my right with enough understanding and depth to teach me the truth. He keeps me silent until my panic turns into trust. I am not sure if he can still talk or not, but he could scratch, in dark white, drawings and the words THE MACHINE on the asphalt. He had waited for my anticipated boat move, pending my survival. He’d always had a way of seeing further than the rest of us. I realize I’m an ass for taking my time with coffee and pizza, but that’s just who I am.
My brother-reptile has a plan for survival. I’m not sure if he wants revenge, survival or if I can even fully trust this creature’s judgement.
The troops had moved up North Roosevelt by now. We were left in the silence of air sweeping the textured parking lot.
The biggest question in my mind is, “Will we be OK in Cuba?”, followed closely by, “What the hell is going on?”
My brother managed through the companionway of our boat two bushels of green bananas from a tree somewhere on the island. I question his brilliance at this discovery and fail to make a judgement. He also has two couch-cushion sized bags of reptile food and one of long grain enriched rice along side two large propane tanks. His endeavors had been much more productive than mine so I un-sheepishly relinquished the lead in our quest for survival.
The mainsail still has a couple of decent sized tears in it. Steve’s claws put the feathery feeling of flight back in my upper spine as their sheer weight silkily lower the 1/2″ wire-rope halyard running to the top and back down the 40′ mast to lift the sail. The T-Rex sized blanket fills with solid air and the clunky steel boom bounces around with the careless effort of a maid raising the blinds to dust.
The starboard dock lines groan and Steve motions so that I release us from the dock, his tail draping over the transom at rest deep below the water’s surface.
His long feet fit nicely on the port and starboard benches of the cockpit. He lays forward with a claw on the top of the cabin, his other grasping between his feet the chopstick of a tiller.
I brush off my judgmental reaction and decided that he knows something I don’t. His free claw reaches up to swing the boom toward the dock until it is co-linear with the approach of the breeze. Firing up the diesel would certainly disturb the serene ambiance and highlight our position.
Air passes both sides of the waving flag and since the sail can no longer catch air, the wind begins to press the boat diagonally against the dock and out of the slip.
The oncoming inertia as I hop on the vanishing bow Newtons the nose to port, into and finally across the wind. The sail fills like a perturbed blowfish as slowing reverse shifts to forward progress, and within the minute the boat and its crew glide through the harbor’s narrow entrance and into the shallow waters of the Gulf. Ten minutes later we are past the long side of Fleming Key and into the widening Northwest channel. It takes the rest of the day’s light for our home island to disappear as we gradually bob across the dependable Gulf Stream current on our southern heading to Havana.
Hundreds of golden sunsets reflect in his quarter sized scales as he checks the shape of the sail. At this rate, we’ll be on Cuba’s shore around sunrise. I sit on the bench seat in the boat’s salon. Speaking with my brother does little more than give my inner monologue a rest. After rocking with the waves for a bit, my thoughts grow into a living filmstrip complete with random sounds and dialogue. Tom Cruise seems angry, but leads me around a reddish castle which becomes a downtown, historic European city…
A deep inhale and the residual sound of a wet smack against the fiberglass hull of the boat opens my eyes. The shiny reflection of my bro-zard fills the opening to the cockpit. He hadn’t made a sound for assistance, but it’s getting a little rough out there.
I raise my head through the companionway to see the gentle rolling, black hills under intense moonlight. The compass appears to be frozen in the distant glow of a worn out Halloween ornament. We have a heading180° S and we’re still getting side swiped by 3 knots.
I’m excited about seeing backwoods Cuba. Havana didn’t impress me except for the beautiful cars and one artists’ gallery. Just another exploited tourist destination. Boring and expensive. I weave my way around Steve’s massive torso to twist on the propane cylinder at the back of the cockpit. Back inside the galley, I hold his ivory tall ship Zippo to a stove ring and turn one of the knobs. The quick blue circle flashes on and I retract a warm knuckle. The sound of a rain stick fills the cabin as I pour a small pile of two-week old roasted coffee beans into the top of the plastic hand grinder.
My peripheral vision catches Steve sneaking a glance. I keep my head down to avoid disturbing his curiosity. He looks back to the horizon. I could swear he was smiling.
The steam pot begins to whistle just as the last beans are crunched through the ceramic burrs. I dump grounds in the bottom of the French press and cover with a coiling stream of water and steam. Floating grounds are swirled with a butter knife and the fervent aroma covered with the stainless screen to steep. Meanwhile, I spread crunchy peanut butter and slice a banana onto the not yet molded portion of some old bread.
Managing into the cockpit with two cups, the press, and a sandwich hanging out of my mouth ends up easier than anticipated. The sky gives the undark of a fading black t-shirt in fast forward.
The morning blue-gold is flat like stained glass. Following faint ripples walks my eyes though a simple maze to the horizon. Cuba rests in the distance between sky and water. I can see even from here the tall cliffs erupting from the sea. The notion that there’s a geological reason Havana is the largest city peaks one of my eyebrows.
<< 4 >>
The sun is high on its invisible ladder when we reach the shore. Only the splashes of rocks being wakened fills the lonely air. Enough powdered rock rests on the underwater plateau to give grip to two anchors. Our cradled vessel would have to patiently wait while we explore shore.
I keep dry on the kayak and lasso a microwave sized rock; my brother doesn’t mind the cool water and climbs over underwater rocks.
The dry, red dirt feels like a treadmill coming to a halt under my sea legs.
The sun passes overhead as we make our way down a powdery dirt road. Rudimentary cinder block houses become more frequent, but not any sounds. I stop at a well and fill an empty 2 liter of Mountain Dew with cool water. An abandoned neighborhood storefront gives easy access to salty crackers and sugary Cuban snacks.
I start to feel it through my feet, and Steve is already turned around, and we walk toward a small patch of trees. The low hum, similar to a garage door opening, creeps out of the trees. Then the hum is right next to me. It’s my brother. He stops. The trees start again. We walk closer.
Two sets of eyes meet us, one my size and one the size of soup bowls and an arm’s length apart.
The first is a girl. She and her lizard seem to understand out predicament. They lead us to a tent sized pile of bread, fruit, and powdered milk.
I ask her name in Spanish. “Tabita,” she says. She hasn’t seen anyone since escaping with her mother. She knows where an internet cafe is.
The only news posted on Google are links to blogs and facebook, mostly in languages I can’t read, with headlines like: “Is anyone out there?” There aren’t many of us.
One entry I have difficulty understanding translates to: “They take away again to be like before. Dinosaurs. Aliens. Pyramids of Egypt.”
Suddenly Tabita’s eyes fill with answer. She bolts for a bookshelf beside the entrance and begins pulling books like a series of levers. A small pile grows around her bare ankles. She stops with a long, hard covered, thin book. It has an official cover with a silver seal of some municipality. Her fingers flow through the pages, as if she just remembered where she lost something. She stops and slaps the page, rattling off Spanish too fast for me to keep up with.
She whirls the book around and fingers a picture of a famous Mayan pyramid. Her finger follows the back of a stone snake carved beside the steps. A close up picture shows engravings of people and reptiles along a tier of the pyramid. She moves up the tiers “Aqui, no lagarto. Arriba, muchos lagartos. En la parte superior, solo lagartos.”
I couln’t understand why the snake descended. Maybe land animals will retreat to the oceans and lose their legs. Whatever it is, this has happened before.
I don’t feel like building another pyramid to warn the future. It is obviously an ineffective solution. I feel helpless. We walk back to Steve and Tabita’s mother with the book. Maybe they have an idea.
My brother only flicks his whip-like tongue at the images. The feeling of anxiety dissolves as I realize there won’t be a chance to redeem ourselves or change the population back to people or confront aliens or anything. Steve and I look at each other. His eyes are squinted. He’s smiling.