“There Ain’t No Cheeseburgers Where We’re Goin” a short story
My father was an avid historian, he was particularly passionate about Ancient Rome. Thus my bedtime stories were of an educational and bloodtinged variety. He made up a fictitious Roman soldier and each night gave me more historically accurate details about this guy’s life. The soldier’s mother told him to fight for the glory of Rome and to come back home either “Carrying his shield, or Lying upon it”.
I asked my dad what that meant and he explained that their shields were so big that they used them as gurneys. I asked my dad what a gurney was and he said a stretcher. Oh I said.
The Roman Empire was very large because it had conquered great swathes of land, and all of the peoples living on them. But why it was so successful for so long, my dad explained, was that these people’s lives were often much better after Roman occupation. Wars back then actually spread new ideas because it was often the only time these different peoples would mix with each other. Wars caused the peoples from all these different little tribal settlements to get to know each other and live together. During Roman occupation new trade routes were opened and people were taught more efficient farming methods such as building aqueducts to carry water to the fields. Also, all the young men were given a job. They had to be soldiers. At first this was very dangerous because brand new recruits had to start at the frontlines of each battle and thus run the risk of getting killed first, said my dad.
But, if they survived, they got to move further and further back in the ranks until they were relatively safe. After 20 years, they were allowed to retire as Roman citizens and were given a sizeable plot of land bequeathed to them by the Roman Empire. There they could farm and enjoy being with their families.
“It still doesn’t sound like a very good deal to me” I said. “Fighting for twenty years”.
“Well you have to put yourself into a certain kind of guy’s shoes” my dad said “which may be difficult for you since you are a small girl” (he smiled and rumpled my hair that unfortunately stuck straight out like I’d been electrocuted). “But for certain soldiers,” he went on, “The battle was what they lived for. Some were Germanic tribesmen and they already had a very rich warrior heritage. When they transferred their allegiance to Rome, they fought for her with that same passion and pride. These guys were young men and healthy and full of vigor. They could not wait to get out on the battlefield to kill and destroy their enemy. It was a rush. It was the ultimate assertion of manhood.”
“Huh” I said.
“Anyway, the Roman soldier loved his wife,” said my dad, getting back to the story he’d made up, “But his true passion, his true calling, was War. The joy of using his testosterone fueled aggression, skillfully manipulating his muscles and weapons in three dimensional space, so that he could smote his enemy. He loved this. He loved the feel of his sword cleaving flesh”. At this point my mom would yell “Michael!” from down the hall, warning my dad he was getting too explicit with the violence. So then he’d tone it down for a little while.
“Was that how it was for you in Vietnam?” I asked him. My dad’s name in the army was Sergeant 1st class Carter and he was assigned to Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Special Operations Augmentation, Command and Control Central, 5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces in 1970 when he got shrapnelled all to shit trying to rescue one of his wounded buddies and he received a Purple Heart.
“No” he said.
I loved my dad. I loved my mom too but I could talk a little easier with my dad for some reason. There was one thing I thought I couldn’t tell him though. Which was probably silly because in addition to Ancient Rome, my dad also knew a lot about other faraway lands and cultures. He’d told me a lot about India and their gurus who could work miracles like levitating and manifesting perfumes out of thin air. He even showed me a black and white picture from the 1920’s of an Indian yogi meditating, only the photograph shows that while he is doing this he is hovering about a foot off the ground. I asked my dad if the photo was real and he said it was.
But when I brought a dead bug back to life I didn’t think I could tell anyone no even my dad. The first time I did it was at age eleven. I was sitting in the back yard in the wild weedy lawn that sort of resembled my hair. Dad never mowed the lawn and my mom had given up asking him to. I was just sitting back there quietly like I do when I found a big black beetle next to one of my hands in the grass. It was dead and laying on its back. Its little legs were sticking straight up in the breeze. I picked him up. “You are very pretty” I told him. He was. His shell had a marvelous sheen to it, even though it was pure black it had rainbows deep inside it. “What happened to you?” I said. “I’m sorry you died.”
I held him in my open palm and just held him there not thinking anything besides that I guess I was going to have to give him a dignified burial and that I wished he was okay. That’s when his little legs began to move again and he flipped over and crawled off my hand, giving me a little antennae wave as he went.
I figured he must’ve been faking and was alive the whole time and kinda decided not to think about it further. But then another thing happened while I was walking home from school one day.
I was fourteen by now and I was in an extra bad mood. A girl had been mean to me. She’d moved here from Texas. Her parents were rich. Her name was Dahlia and I thought it was a pretty name. I told her so in the cafeteria, even though I didn’t know her yet. I never had too many friends. I guess in my head I thought maybe this new girl might become one. She had hair that was unlike mine, it was soft and smooth like a bird’s wing. She wore it in cute barrettes. I hoped maybe she could show me how to fix my hair like that. So I went up to her and said she had a pretty name. And she looked at me like I was a bug in jar (not the way I looked at that beetle). I waited for her to say something back, but she was just staring. And then she sneered at me.
“Your daddy is a gas station attendant” she finally said. “Yeah so?” I said. Who’d she think she was, J. Edgar Hoover? My fists tightened and I punched her in the face. I got suspended and sent home early. I guess she just hurt my feelings too much. She insulted me and my father in front of everybody. I’d even told the principal I wasn’t sorry. I was still very upset as I was walking home.
That’s when I saw a run over squirrel in the road. There was no doubt about his being dead. Blood had come out of his nose and behind and a little bit of intestine was visible through his fur. I started crying because his little face still looked so cute and all of a sudden life felt so mean and cruel. I picked up his lifeless body and carried him over to the side of the road.
I placed him on some nice soft pine needles and sat next to him. I told him I was sorry what happened to him and how I figured he must have been scared. But that it was all over now and he was okay, wherever he was. And I’m not kidding that’s when his eyes snapped open. I don’t know how to describe it because it happened in slow motion too. The whole thing was instant and slo-mo at the same time. His little eyes opened and the blood on him evaporated and the intestines whipped back in his belly with an almost imperceptible zipper noise. And then he was looking up at me with the funny naughty look all squirrels have.
He didn’t run away. He got up on four legs and shook himself like a wet dog does drying off. Then he squatted on his haunches and started licked some fur that was sticking up back into place, like he was preening and making himself pretty. Then he crawled up onto my knee. Carefully I reached out to pet him. I was afraid he might run away scared. But he didn’t. He let me pet him. He was soft and warm- and alive. Then he blinked his eyes at me in the sun one more time, rubbed his head in my hand, and then ran off. I watched him go up a tree and then run across a powerline and then hop up another tree trunk and then I couldn’t see him anymore.
I knew I hadn’t hallucinated it. I’d never done drugs. And I knew I wasn’t crazy. Oddly, the experience made me feel better. It was lovely to witness such a miracle. I still didn’t think I did it, I wasn’t even touching his body when it happened. But I felt like it was a beautiful gift that I got to behold, just like the beetle only even more hardcore magical.
So I walked home in a much better mood. And things were pretty good after that. My parents weren’t too mad about the suspension and the rest of the year was uneventful. And I even got a boyfriend the next year. His name was Henry and he was real nice. He’d moved here also from Texas but wasn’t anything like Dahlia. I had him over for dinner and my folks liked him. Then the wildest thing of them all happened. It started like this:
Across the street some guy was repairing our neighbor’s roof. From far away he looked normal enough, just maybe a little greasy or something. My dad didn’t like him because he said there was something off about him. I did notice the guy looking at me in a creepy way when I was taking out the trash one time but I just ignored him. But then later another day when I was walking home from school the man said something to me about my pussy while he was putting some tools away in his truck. I just said up yours to him and kept doing my chores but my dad was out in the yard and I don’t know how he managed to overhear it cuz he’s actually got some hearing loss but sure enough he did and my dad ran over there. He was already across the street yelling what the fuck did you just say to my daughter and then he cold cocked the guy in the face. Our old neighbor came out yelling too and it was this big drama. But the man came to and my dad told him to watch his mouth and the man said ok and he got in his truck and didn’t give us a dirty look until he was moving down the road. The neighbor Mr. Hastings was really apologetic. He said this guy wouldn’t be coming back, that he’d just finished the job that day.
“Bill why the hell did you hire him in the first place?” my dad asked him. Normally my dad helped Mr. Hastings out with house repairs. None of us had too much money in this neighborhood but we all kinda looked out for each other. Mr. Hastings looked sort of sheepish and started talking about how this guy named Dan had knocked on his door and said he could do the job for cheap. I went back in the house so he wouldn’t be embarrassed. I think he just felt bad asking my dad to help him all the time so he spent some money he didn’t have. I could hear my dad talking to him about it and then they went into Mr. Hasting’s house for a while.
So the issue was resolved and I didn’t think I’d see the creepy guy again. And we didn’t for a while. But then a few months later I ran into him at the station where my dad worked. My dad was in getting change for a customer and the guy Dan pulled up in the big green pickup truck. He leaned out the window and told me what a pretty girl I was. I told him he was too and went inside the minimart to wait. When I came back out he was gone. “You tell me if you see him again” said my dad, “Piece of shit”. It surprised me to see my dad get so aggressive, he hardly ever did.
I saw the guy Dan at a distance a couple more times. One time driving down the highway going the opposite way of me and another time at the grocery store closest to our neighborhood. He was buying condoms and eggs and beef snacks encased in plastic. Gross. But I didn’t think he was following me.
One evening I was cutting through the Bureau of Land Management woods to get to Henry’s house. There’s a fire road behind my house and I walk down that a ways before I can get in the back way into Henry’s house. Henry and I always had an hour together alone before his parents got home from work so we had the house to ourselves and could be as loud as we wanted while we did it.
It was twilight and drizzling and I heard a large truck coming up behind me but when I turned around I couldn’t see anything because the headlights were in my eyes. I stepped off to the side in some brush to give it room as it passed and then there was a blinding flash of light in my head and I disappeared.
I came to and realized I was vomiting. I tried to move my hands and looked down and saw the puke rolling down duct tape. From my shoulders to my crotch I was mummified in duct tape. My head was killing me. I looked around and there was Dan sitting in the drivers seat of his truck and I was in the cab with him! I He’d duct taped me into the passenger seat.
He grinned at me. “I got ya just like a mailbox. I beaned ya with a baseball bat and dented your head”.
I was sick again. I couldn’t see out of one of my eyes. All I could see was a dark purple glow.
“Let me go” I said as my mouth filled with puke again. He laughed and then his voice got stern. “You’re making a mess of this cab, lil girl” and he flicked me in the scalp. I started hollering. He laughed again. I began thrashing myself around but I was stuck tight. My mind began to race even though it was all pulpy. I didn’t want to get raped. I didn’t want to die. My mind was spinning with images- I saw my dad and my mom and Henry. I saw the Roman Soldier. I remembered the stories my dad had told me. I got to be brave like him. I must smote this enemy and drink his blood I thought. “I want a cheeseburger and strawberry milkshake” I said. Evidently I was delirious.
“There ain’t no cheeseburgers where we’re goin” said Dan. I lolled my head to try to see out the window. It was dark and rainy out there. On the edge of the headlights beam I could see pines. We were still on the fire road I figured but way further up the mountain than I’d ever been. And he was going really fast.
The truck barreled up the road for I think about ten minutes while I went in and out of consciousness. Then I heard him yell “What the fuck!“ and all of a sudden the whole front of the truck sounded like it was caving in. My head was jerked back against the headrest as the truck made impact with whatever it just hit. A loud unearthly scream issued from outside and I saw a huge yellowish form sail over the hood of the truck.
“Goddamn it fucken christ” said Dan and he got out of the cab. He was gone for a minute. I was craning my neck to see where he went when he appeared on my side in my window. He was holding up something in his arms. “Look what we hit” he said. I couldn’t see it very well. My eye was worse and it was really dark out there. “Goddamn it put the fucken light on then!” he exploded. He reached in the window and snapped the ceiling dome light on. He elbowed me in the chest while he did it. “Mmmhmm” he said, acting like he could see my body underneath all the tape. Then he stooped down and picked up the thing again.
I saw what it was. A full grown mountain lion. He was holding the neck under her large head and grunting from the exertion. Her eyes were open and glassy and her tongue was bloody and hanging out of her mouth. Half her face was smashed in and I could see brain matter.
Abruptly he turned around and dragged her dead body behind the truck. I heard him thumping around as he got the gate down and put the body in the bed of the truck. The glass partition window between the cab and the bed was smashed out so I could smell her wild cat scent right behind me. Then he went around to the front of the truck and inspected it. The headlight illuminated him and I saw there was blood all over his wife beater and jeans and his green trucker hat had fallen off somewhere, revealing his greasy brown skullet. “It looks okay” he called to me and jumped back into the truck, threw it in reverse, straightened out, and we were back on the road.
“Grill’s all fucked up and we’re out a headlight but that’s alright” he said. “I’m gonna keep her. I’m gonna mount her head on the wall. I know a taxidermist buddy of mine. He’ll fix her good.” He looked over at me. “And he’s gonna love you. He’s gonna be impressed with you. My lil girl.” He leaned over and stroked my jaw line. I tried to bite him but he grabbed my neck hard and squeezed.
“You’re gonna like me” he said and he wrenched my larynx until I thought he was going to tear it out. When he finally let go I was coughing and then I was sick again but there was nothing left, just dry heaves.
“And who knows” he said, “Maybe when I’m done with ya I’ll put your head up on the wall too. And your titties. And yer cunt and yer asshole so I can always play with em”.
“That’s fucken gross” I said.
“Goddamnit” he said and he punched me in the stomach. And so I passed out again.
When I came to he was driving quietly. He noticed me looking at him and he started talking again. “Gotta take a piss” he said. “I’m gonna do it in front of you, so you can get a nice idea of what’s goin straight up yer a-“ but then there was that fast movement of fur and claws and I heard a deafening roar and she had him.
The mountain lion was halfway through the cab separator window and Dan’s neck was in her jaws. He wasn’t even yelling her teeth were probably in his windpipe. Her head was all in one piece again. Magnificent and undamaged in its noble feline splendor. I heard juicy sounds and growls and saw arterial blood shooting into her gorgeous sunlight colored fur. The truck swerved off the road and plowed through thirty feet of bushes and hit a tree. It wasn’t going fast enough to throw us through the windshield though. Besides I was completely taped down.
In a graceful fluid motion the lion jumped out of the truck with Dan in her jaws and trotted off dragging him. I could hear more sounds of what was probably crunching bones several feet away. And that was the last sensory stimulus I was able to record until I woke up to flashlights and men hollering.
Henry had called the police after I didn’t show up at his house and my folks didn’t know where I was either. It was early dawn when they found me in the truck.
And Dan’s carcass wedged high up in the crotch of a nearby tree. Paw prints and cat piss circled the bottom.
“Holy shit” the paramedic said.
I don’t think I told her to do it, or put it in her head. I think she wanted to protect me. And also was way pissed at Dan for running her over. All I know is the lion she saved me. As for the other thing, I don’t think its me exactly that can do it anyway. I’ve looked through some of my dad’s meditation books and near as I can tell, energy is something that flows through you. It’s not your own power exactly, you’re more like the pipe or the conduit for the will of whatever rules the universe. I don’t know why it happens. I don’t really see it as having anything to do with me. Except I have been thinking that after I graduate high school I could join the peace corps in Africa and maybe be able to save the elephants and rhinos and other animals around the world. I’d like to do some good with it. It only works on animals. I know because I was in the hospital room when both my grammas died and nothing happened with them. They stayed dead.
I’ve since demonstrated the thing for Henry. Made some bugs come back. And a dead lizard on his patio. It doesn’t work every time but most of the time it does. I showed my dad too. With a dead butterfly. We got to watch it fly away into the sun together. It was funny he didn’t act all shocked and horrified like I know my jumpy mom would. She’s a little afraid of the paranormal and ghosts or other supernatural type things. My dad’s the one who gave me the metaphysical books. Maybe he would’ve been more freaked out if I’d just told him about it one random day. But seeing as how it saved my life, weird miracles are kind of put in perspective I guess. When I’m out walking in the woods I hope I’ll meet the lion again. I’d sure like to pet her and tell her thank you.
Copyright © 2013 by Kim Campion
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