The plus-sized fanny pack worn ass backwards, a well documented international sign of distress, was facing upwards. The pair of nylon straps attached to the vinyl pouch were tangled in a web. The striking magenta vinyl was visibly cracked, and prickly. Ominously, the factory in Tegucigalpa had been forced to cut costs in order to assure profitability. One ply of vinyl simply had to be let go. With the underlying welfare of stockholders to consider, it was understandable. All that the stockholders demanded was a fair return on their lempira against the peso. Inside the pouch were crushed muffins, cupcakes, toffees, nougats, and butter creams. Apparently, a single strap was insufficient to carry the load. The muffins contained remnants of blueberries once derived from a can, and before that a test tube, also now crushed. The red, mottled face attached to the prone body was ground down into the dirt. Unless that crushed can was more accurately squashed once buried in a landfill. The moans coming from the off-centered maw in the face were muted, yet distinct. Unless that international sign was more accurately one of surrender.
A helicopter budgeted by a local non-profit agency for rescue operations in Elkhorn Slough hovered overhead while the on-board computer calculated the load. It took longer than usual to double-check the undulating numbers. The wetlands made for tricky landings, as well as take-offs. A pair of voluntary docents knee deep in muck pushed the body of the alleged victim into a roughly horizontal position and cooed sweet nothings into the nearest available ear. It was determined that what had originally been designated on the official aviation manifest as a ‘he’, was in fact a ‘she’.
When the helicopter suddenly flew off leaving the volunteers behind, one of them muttered, though not for attribution, “What the fuck.” Her partner explained, “It must be the load.” The angry scorpion who still had plenty of venom left to spew scurried into the brush, unscathed. If he had not been so angry he would have laughed his fucking ass off. If he had been human, he would have patted his own back in a tell-tale gesture signifying a job well done. Unless that was more accurately a cocky strut or a perambulation that he performed. No matter what, though, he was determined to make the best of a bad situation. An unfortunate incident had wrenched him from his sweet home in a banana tree in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Mountains above the Caribbean Sea in Colombia. Okay, perhaps there had been a miscalculation bordering on a mistake on his part that had contributed to the debacle and led him to this point. Still, repercussions were due. Now, he was on a mission.
The female body that was temporarily left on the ground had traveled a great distance at the helm of an updated RV on Route 66 from her home near Tulsa, Oklahoma. She was recreating for educational purposes the historic trek of her chickenshit ancestors who fled Muskogee during the Dust Bowl, and had settled near Salinas to pack iceberg lettuce. She had patronized several independently franchised Arby’s along the route that provided three delectable squares in Kingman, Barstow, and San Bernadino. The fabulous off-white goop was absolutely to die for. Her cholesterol readings were never more than moderately elevated at any time while behind the wheel. Somewhere, though, through o fault of her own, she had gone astray. Her insulin count had come to be way out of whack. It was probably due to that darned metabolism again. Plus, the closer she came to the Pacific Ocean, the greater the distance between Arby’s. It certainly was proving to be a challenging environment in which to prosper and grow. Probably following the Salinas River into Elkhorn Slough where it was so easy to sink into all of that marshy goo was going too far.
As a result of the emergency operations in progress, field trips into the slough from twelve middle schools in the extended area were forced to detour around the obstruction. Disappointingly, there would be no confirmed sightings of sharks to report in the shallow water, only otters, cormorants, egrets, and great blue herons. Once schedules became disrupted and the buses had to wait idly in the parking lot, the conscientious students comparing notes were screwed. Drivers were paid overtime to exchange war stories detailing horrific traffic on Highway One. The extended area included not only Santa Cruz and Monterey, but Palo Alto, Walnut Creek, Livermore, and Petaluma. It was a logistical nightmare for the teachers to keep students separated for security reasons. Combustible red mingled dangerously with blue, not a good match.
I first heard several of the seemingly inappropriate details while boiling pale malt extract and dark hops in a big pot. I was aiming to brew a pale IPA, almost blonde, with a dollop of extra cardamom that would kick my ass, but good. I was trying to stay on my toes in order to prevent the pot from boiling over and becoming a sticky mess on the floor that I’d never be able to clean up. The yang twin casually dropped a note from his teacher suspiciously close to the flame that at the moment I was unable to read with my hands pre-occupied, but learned later contained a message written in an unsteady scrawl at the spur of an awkward moment, stating, ominously, “See me.”
I said, “Why me?”
The yang twin said, “Not my fault.”
I said, “Uh huh.”
“There was this helicopter making too much noise that was flying around like forever to pick up a dying baby whale in the shallow water and I couldn’t hear what she was saying.”
“Where and how was it that you found yourself in such intimate proximity to a dying whale?”
The yin twin butted in, and declared, categorically, in that way of hers that she maintains on a short leash, “It wasn’t a whale. It was a leopard shark seven feet long that was trapped by plastic fishing line left irresponsibly hanging by some doofus who didn’t care what havoc he wreaked.”
I said, “That pretty much sums it all up.”
The yang twin said, “As if.”
I ventured, “But, how do you know it was a ‘he’?”
The yin twin deigned to respond, “Yeah, right.”
The yang twin said, “Dude, no shark is gonna caught like that by some dumb flimsy plastic.”
The yin twin said, “You’re so literal.” The yang twin said, “What’s a crack like that supposed to mean?”
The yin twin was not going to stoop that low to respond. Quasi-melodramatically, she stalked off. Now quasi-triumphant, the yang twin returned to the immediate task at hand. He consulted his electronic device. He opted for offense as his best defense. He’d traveled that route before.
He said, “So…”
I said, “Whales are smart, too.”
He said, “Dude, you always think you know everything when you know nothing.”
I said, “I know I’ve heard that song before.”
He said, “Yeah, from me.”
I said, “So, for once, that makes me right.”
He snorted, “As if.”
Later, I rolled and stuffed a customized calzone for each of them that I was confident would create harmonic convergence around the dinner table. I loaded mine up with red chili peppers, and drank two separate but equal interpretations of bottled brown beer to create a mood. I was certain that the yin twin was going to swoon over her fresh porcini mushrooms. I baked all of the calzones in the same pan, but not touching, at a very high heat. Pepperoni works on the yang twin like soma. I figured I had this one in the bag. Gorgonzola satisfied all of us. In the morning, they would return to school and leave me alone.
I said, “Yum.”
The scorpion who had contributed mightily to the ruckus was finding a new stasis in his alien environment as well. No obstacle was going to deter the fulfillment of his vendetta. He had death defying experience in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Mountains mountains against every conceivable enemy found in every environment on Earth, from tropical rain forest at sea level to glacial ice at 18,000 feet. He proved to be strong where enemies were weak. Enemies who depended upon food and water were such predictable prey. His personal best for days without water was 364, for food 298. His family record of victories went back four hundred forty three million years. To lose was inconceivable. None of these gluttonous humans who were pussies like all the rest could ever stop him. His anger was plenty food enough. His terrible purpose would be served.
He advanced smartly in goosestep as he bellowed,”Bipedal humans, let’s get ready to rumble.”
The battle was just beginning. Soon, it would be getting good.