“Good thing you called. Almost forgot.
I mean I would’ve – it would’ve slipped my mind.”
“It’s why the auto-call – it’s why we installed
the auto-call. Most – most of us forget when
it is our turn to man the welcome gate.”
“Welcome gate. What a joke that’s turned out
to be. Wonder why. Hmph. Wonder why.”
“I’m really not in the moo-”
“Old days. Old days, Frank. It’s what
I miss. Miss the old days. Miss-”
Sighing, “we go through this every time
you relieve me. And like I-”
“Miss knowing I knew what to do.
Where I belonged. Why I was put on this planet.”
“Planet’s changed, Roy. We had to change.”
“Miss the Dobermans. Don’t you miss the Dobermans?”
“Sometimes. Sure sometimes. But honestly
they did not mark the high points – and still
don’t mark the highlights of my memories
of those days. And besides, the Doberman
Appreciation League finally prevailed.
Can’t encourage Dobermans to be
too vicious. Perpetuates a stereotype.
Maybe you could be more grateful-”
“Yeah yeah I know – that we were not required
to use poodles for guard dogs. Some choice
– no guard dogs or pussycat guard dogs.”
Roy wandered over to the gun cabinet.
Fingers slow danced against the glass.
“And the pillaging, Frank. Miss the pillaging.”
Frank, sighing again, hampered from
his long-awaited departure,
“pillaging went out of style quite awhile ago.”
“Yeah yeah I know. We don’t – we aren’t allowed
– to pillage anymore. Or carry off wenches.
God, carrying off the wenches. Man those…”
shake of head, “best, the best, Frank. Hell,
you know. Especially the fighters.
Loved subduing the fighters.”
“I was honestly never too comfortable
with it. Usually never did anything
once we were – when we were alone – most
people aren’t – don’t condone it.
Civilized people. Civilized people don’t.”
Roy spat but didn’t spit spittle
but mostly moist air, and a word,
a sentiment, spat them. “Civilized.”
Spat again. “Okay, maybe it’s okay
for some. For me? Hell since we had to change
– change with the planet – hell I might
as well learn pottery and poetry.”
“Nothing wrong with pottery and poetry,
Roy. People need bowls and music
and tales. As much as anything.”
“Yeah yeah sure. For them. Me?” Snort. Headshake.
“Used to give thanks to a deity, when I’d plunge
into danger. When I’d come out of it alive.
Sure I’d get wounded, scarred, but always came back.
Hmph. Now I wonder if I only thought
I was being courageous and ballsy and reckless
and risky and daring but was a pansy all along.
Worse than a poodle. Worse than a poe-”
“Oh don’t worry. You were always recognized
as the most courageous and ballsy and risky
and reckless and daring of men. Don’t worry
about that. It’s just as – as we’ve talked about
I don’t know how many times now – the world has chang-”
“So a deity kept me alive – to live these days
in hell. Life without pillaging and
carrying off wenches. What kind of
loving deity would allow this kind
of cruelty to happen to anyone?”
“Perhaps a deity who was never keen
on pillaging and carrying off wenches
for beastly pleasures and a deity
who perhaps hoped if you would live
you would feel proper guilt, and would…”
Few minutes later, Frank finally
got free and Roy was finally alone,
his turn to man the Welcome Gates.
Watched the road. Watched Frank’s truck go over the hill.
Listened for the fading engine. Hitched his trousers
and went to the gun cabinet. Pulled a tiny
sparkling key from his pocket, unlocked
the cabinet. Plucked out a rifle.
Went outside, to his favorite stump,
sat there, pulled a bullet from his trousers pocket.
Loaded the rifle and settled it on his lap
and winked at the setting sun,
and stuck a Lucky in his lips
and lit it, and smoked, in the silence.
Saw the squirrel clamber down the tree
and the squirrel hopped like it had nothing to fear,
hopped through the grass, hopped the ground and stopped
and stood up straight enough and long enough
for Roy to raise his rifle and aim and squeeze
the trigger. He cursed when he knew he
barely missed the squirrel, saw the kick of dirt
just beyond where the squirrel had disappeared from.
The spot the bullet struck began to darken,
to redden, like the earth had cracked,
which it had, cracked like a rock had shattered
a surface of ice instead of dirt.
And the red looked liquid at first, like blood,
but the red substance that began
to pour from the earth wasn’t blood.
Asps. Horde of asps. Scarlet asps. Huge horde
of scarlet asps came straight for the stump
and Roy, who gave thanks to a deity.
*a bit of fwiw background: this was written a few years ago when I enjoyed the good fortune of residing in a foreign country, which I miss terribly if I dare think about it – I’m convinced just being in that climate added significant stimulus to the creative juices. I feel nothing I’ve written since leaving that wondrous place can come close to comparing positively with what I wrote while there. The foreign tongues, the young ladies in short skirts, the smells, the chaos…. sigh….