The Gypsy's Address
Well, well! Say I with lifted brows. Penny’s removing his goggles.
The others had no clue what Penny meant, but they repeated him exactly word for word. The mist from which they this time emerged was not a lot different from the light fog into which they entered, the sun just now sinking below the horizon. It was even darker due to the dark canopy of forest above their heads. It didn’t take long to figure they were in a swamp. They’d left the last world at eighty miles an hour. But that world was so slow that the ratio now saw them moving along now at only ten miles per hour, along a narrow path not meant for big trucks. The curves would have been difficult to negotiate without, much less with, trailers. Penny had seen not a few neighborhoods where he’d had to watch for low wires and fire hydrants. The path he found himself on was just as bad. He slowed to five miles per hour but wasn’t going to stop to argue with Makin’ and the Punc. He had no choice but carefully snap branches with his pipes or, preferably, the trailer. Sweat developed on Makin’s forehead as she shifted up to fifth to ram the rear of Something’s trailer with her moose bumper.
“Nice call, Penny,” Makin’ spoke by CB. “Thanks to the atmosphere here I can chew all day at Something’s rear.” Which she did, due to the steel bars which guarded her grill. Makin’ let herself fall back, shifted up to fifth again, then gave Strange another powerful jolt.
Had the Punc been behind Strange he could have pulled her to a stop with the steel teeth at his grill. But now, unless you count getting kicked out of kindergarten to pursue a life a crime, he made the first mistake in his life. Cutting a curve too short, his trailer wheels became bogged in mire. How this could happen with potatoes one wouldn’t need to explain. But how it occurred with toilet tissue isn’t so plain. Thus you may believe that the Punc was irked when he walkied Makin’ Wind. From a quarter mile ahead it took her quite some time to back around the curves. She then jumped from her truck and grabbed a heavy duty chain from her oil box. As she was fixing it to the hook behind the Punc’s front fender there was vicious snap near her ankles. She quickly turned and saw, not an alligator, but its more dangerous counterpart, a crocodile, at least thirty feet in length.
“You know what I like about a romp in a swamp?” Makin’ addressed the enormous reptile: “It’s that dinner comes just my size.” Upon which she grabbed the beast between its front and hind legs, raised it above her head and threw it thirty feet out into the water from whence it had come.
Penny and Strange, way ahead with their headlamps now making shadows before them, were getting an eerie feeling. They sensed something odd was occurring beyond the always-locked doors of their trucks. It wasn’t the sixty foot anaconda slithering out of the water up into a tree as they passed. It wasn’t the legion of piranhas devouring a helpless tapir with its legs caught in the mud. It wasn’t the screeching monkeys leaping through the limbs that dark night. Nor the parrots and macaws, higher up, taking flight. Nor the clouds of mosquitoes so dense they blocked the moon’s already hindered light. No, it wasn’t these. Penny and Strange had seen worse, whistling erelong. It was, rather, the occasional rustling of leaves in the beams of their headlamps, the nigh imperceptible flashes of movement, of bright colors dulled in the shadows. They were so quick as to cause one to wonder if one was but imagining, as like awakening in the middle of the night with the feeling of a presence in the room with you, uncertain which is telling the truth: your eyes, which see nothing, or what you sense.
“Penny, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” Strange talkied. Alias confirmed Something’s words with a low woof. What Strange could only sense Alias knew: someone, something, was out there. All about them.
“Beware,” Cuddly suddenly spoke from the passenger seat he shared with Alias at the window.
“Beware what?” Strange asked.
“Popsicle? We don’t have any Popsicles, Cuddly.”
“Beware. . . Popsicle. . . Man. . . Beware the Popsicle man?”
“If they’re not already, lock your doors, Strange,” Penny answered. “What does Alias think?”
“Highly acute.” Alias woofed to confirm again before Something continued: “Cuddly says to beware the Popsicle man. I think,” giving Cuddly a frown.
“Great – extraintelligence with a sense of humor. You better keep Cuddly in the sleeper. I feel the same as Alias.”
Strange gave Cuddly a look as if to say, “You heard him. Back to the sleeper with you.”
Strange blinked her eyes: “It doesn’t please Cuddly to go back to the sleeper.”
Penny gave us, you and I, Kia, a look of concern. We stretch our powerful peregrine wings a little, as if to say to the moron, “If you only knew.”
Penny, nevertheless, rolled down the passenger window: “You’re safer on wing, Kia. Go.” Which we do to please Old Penny in his ignorance, his child’s pastime of pretend. “What happened to those two behind us?” Penny asked Strange.
“I don’t know. One moment they were following. The next they were gone.”
“What’s that noise in the distance? It sounds like a danged ice cream truck.”
Strange squinted as she listened intently to a tinkling melody: “That’s Mendelssohn’s Spring Song. When I was a kid it brought me out to the street headlong to trade a quarter for a cone.”
If, before, Penny and Strange could but vaguely sense a presence about them, their headlamps now caught eyes flashing to the left and right of the road.
“Why am I suddenly reminded of Apocalypse Now?” Penny wondered aloud to Strange.
“Why am I suddenly reminded of Heart of Darkness?” Strange responded alike.
Penny heard a noise to his left. He looked out his driver window and saw himself face to face with a painted pygmy, wild-eyed on the other side of the pane, as if peering into his soul. There was a sheath of darts about his shoulder and his hair stood a foot high on end. Another second and Penny felt a pounce to his passenger side, this one banging against the window with the palm of his hand, his other gripping the mirror while holding a hollow wood tube by which he instrument he brought death to his prey. It was the same with Strange, her truck crawling with pygmies like ants. At only five miles per hour it was nothing for them to climb onto the hoods and stare into their cabs through the windshields. Not able to see where he was going, Penny had no choice but stop. The air conditioner was blasting. Yet he still sweated as he looked at the human piranhas glaring in at him. Strange could feel them hopping atop the sleeper portion of her truck. Cuddly had made his presence unknown in the sleeper, but Alias stood in the passenger seat growling defiance. She was faster than a poison dart and could save herself relatively easily. But her mission, never thinking herself heroic, was to guard Strange and her concerns. Alias had been through a lot with Strange, but never before headhunters, not in Coppola’s Asia, not in Conrad’s Africa, but in the Amazon rainforest where all seemed an hallucination only the sovereign jungle cats had the vision and competence to dare apprehend.
Some time before Penny and Strange were brought to a stop Makin’ Wind and the Punctuator were brought out of the rear of a small white box truck. What greeted them was a dimension few have lived through to mention. Three hundred feet beyond them was a great white mansion with a pillared porch. Fifty feet before its steps burned a great bonfire. Other fires all about revealed huts of branches and leaves. Makin’ and the Punc were led past one fire over which a two-foot beetle was being roasted on a stick. Throughout the camp were poles imbedded in the ground, atop which were mounted human heads in various sizes and conditions of decomposition: large and relatively fresh, medium with rotting flesh, miniature with no skin left to the wretch. Pygmies stared at the new arrivals being pushed by armed men in white ball caps, white work suits and black work shoes toward the big house. As Makin’ and the Punc were brought past the large bonfire they were met by others in white suits, fitted with ammunition belts across their torsos Poncho Villa style. They could hear Mendelssohn’s tinkling Spring Song being piped through loudspeakers to each side of the house. Halted ten feet before the steps up to the porch, they looked up to see a man sitting in a rocking chair. Glancing down at them for several seconds, the man looked away, appeared to ponder for about ten seconds, then filliped a finger with a motion of his hand to bring the pair atop the porch. A man with a rifle motioned them to follow him up the steps. As Makin’ ascended she sighed with relief. Upon reaching the porch she grinned at who, obvious to her, was the law in that part of the jungle. She waited for the man to address her, he neither rising nor smiling, though acknowledging her with his gaze.
“Makin’ Wind. It’s been twenty years,” the man finally spoke, his skin nearly as pale as his white silk suit, his expensive white shoes. Two men armed with rifles stood to each side of his chair just behind. Before him was a glass table over white wicker on which sat a pitcher of water next to a glass, a bucket of ice, a bottle of tequila and an ashtray cleaned by a servant after each cigar.
“I thought they put you away,” Makin’ greeted.
“Who’s this of lesser size? Him I don’t recognize,” the man inquired without looking at the Punc. Resembling Christopher Walken, because Rod Steiger wasn’t available, there seemed an empty sadness in his eyes as he spoke evenly, dead seriously, it seemed each word to emphasize.
“Punctuator, meet the Popsicle Man. Four hundred thirty-nine dead from coast to coast, then never heard from again.”
The Punc offered his hand, which gesture the Popsicle Man ignored: “Four hundred forty-two,” he corrected. “Five hundred sixty-six unconfessed and ninety-three I can’t remember. That’s one thousand, one hundred and one.”
“I recall now,” spoke the Punc. “Your reputation for being unpleasant makes Gacy look adolescent.”
“Makes Cullen look like a peasant,” Makin’ added, admiringly.
“Makes Browne, Ridgeway and Gaskins, all together, look obsolescent,” the Popsicle Man corrected again. “But they didn’t have an ice cream truck, making children so easy lure and eat. Nor did Fish have a refrigerated warehouse to keep fresh some savory treat. Nor was Dahmer compelled by a genius so great, or more fated lives he’d have had to delete.”
“I used to write to the Popsicle Man while he was in prison,” Makin’ explained to the Punc. ”I was just a starved adolescent back then, making news stealing ATM machines. He always answered with a recipe for a good snack.”
“Hungry?” asked the Popsicle Man.
“I ain’t no canary. Every ton I burn though it looks like as much I carry.”
The Popsicle Man rose from his chair and silently motioned with a finger to follow him.
Opening the screen door to his house, he ushered Makin’ and the Punc into his large, comfortable living room. Makin’ admired the huge plush sofa and armchairs covered with leopard fur, above which hung two ocelot hides. Punc noted the walls covered with framed newspaper clippings under glass, boasting tales of serial killing, no doubt. They followed the Popsicle Man over a panther rug past a series of rooms down a wide hall toward the rear entrance. From thence they reappeared outside, descended the steps of the back porch and walked twenty feet to another scale of steps at the entrance of a great metal building. The Popsicle Man opened a metal door for Makin’ and the Punc, through which they stepped into a refrigerated atmosphere with bright lights hanging from steel rafters high above. Slabs of meat swung from hooks thirty feet away, pygmies in dark parkas and knee-high rubber boots preparing human carcasses. Makin’s heart jumped a beat upon being able to smell the odor of blood even in the cold. The Popsicle Man handed a parka to the Punc, then dressed himself in a white smock. But there was nothing to fit Makin’.
“We won’t be long,” the Popsicle Man assured her. “Just a quick tour. Come. . . I bought this old slaughterhouse in Cuba and had it shipped here by barge ten years ago,” leading his guests deeper into his operation. “We freeze them in a large warehouse over there,” pointing his finger to a large opening in the wall through which the human carcasses were being conveyed by a pygmy pushing a button on the far wall. “As you can see, we flay them in here.” The Popsicle Man opened a door, inviting Makin’ and the Punc to step through:
“Here is where we decapitate and, depending on the process, chop, disembowel or drain.”
Makin’ watched a pygmy toss a head into a metal bin as the Punc observed a carcass flop from its metal hook onto a horizontal conveyor. The Popsicle Man handed Makin’ and the Punc strings of earplugs, then lead them through another doorway into an area screaming with buzz saws:
“This is where we make our bite-size Joys! The pygmies are especially fond of Joys!” shouting to be heard above the saws. “A chewy chunk too large annoys! But, as you can see,“ reaching into a small plastic bag on a shelf, “we dice dem bones just right!” producing a die-sized cube of meat, holding it up between finger and thumb to proudly exhibit, then popping it into his mouth. This caused starving Makin’ to start severely salivatin’. She withdrew a morsel from the bag the Popsicle Man held out to her, slipped it between her lips, then frowned as her teeth crunched. Taking a tiny piece of bone out of her mouth, she flipped it away.
“Thank you! Maybe later!” yelled the Punc when he was offered a cube. He was anything but impressed by the Popsicle Man, considering him to be but typically insane. “I’ve just eaten a python’s belly!” his disinclination to better explain.
“What was in it? Was it smelly?” Makin’ loudly asked, then frowned, “You didn’t give me any?”
“I did! You were in a coma! So you don’t remember!”
“Oh!” blinking her eyes.
“You’ll find it quieter and warmer here!” informed the Popsicle Man, pulling a handle on a door, then inviting his entourage to enter: “Our work is more surgically refined in this area. We can speed it if need it but I prefer to leave no scars. This is where we prepare transplant organs. We wash them down there, as you can see that pygmy with the hose doing. We package them over there. Then it’s off to the freezer. It’s a snap.”
“What is he doing?” Makin’ asked, pointing at pygmy making a mess further off.
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