Fossil Driver by Travis Dahlke

We are going down the list, putting the final touches on an open-air butterfly sanctuary that has almost taken four months. Customers will stumble upon it as they veer off the Double White to Blue trail, right into a patch of mangroves. A little reward for the adventurous who take the route less traveled.

St. Roy is kind of skimming through the objectives like he’s done every day. Red Fisher Farms: LAA55, 56, stone wall with lichen, moderate to severe. His voice is losing its sense of importance, creaking with boredom now. Some of the hardwoods here are not real, rooted in cement. The soil is made healthy with the blood-rich fecal matter of ticks. LAG06B is responding poorly to the sponge.

My friends. My friends are all dead scuba divers and actresses from Disney’s Haunted Mansion who have turned religious. A map we’ve drawn of the tiniest, brown blood vessels looks so pretty from far away.

“These monarchs are plunging around like they are drunk,” Gayle notes, drinking syrup flavored methanol out of a bottle with a tiny ship at the bottom. Her eyeballs are wide, squelching at the vessel. “I can’t believe how they’re falling into one another and crashing to the grass like that.”

Chemicals from the spray paint maybe. I’ve been too preoccupied checking over my shoulder for what seems to be someone following us down the trail, always staying far back enough where they might only be moving in my imagination. It’s humid as can be, I don’t think this paints going to dry very well. Corporate wants us to check out LAG06B and see what’s going on. “Gayle, you killed a bald eagle and cooked it,” I tell her.

“Worth it,” St. Roy says under a wide-brimmed hat that looks homemade out of something’s husk. He is pulling flesh off a drumstick and chewing its cartilage partly while outside his mouth. I am watching him wipe grease on the front of a Gloria Estefan concert shirt.

“It was already dead,” Gayle is telling me. “Whatever you fed the butterflies is making them act drunk,” she says, gingerly placing the ship in a bottle down on the grass. St. Roy picks it up, making a flinching face when his mustache hairs get stuck in the lip, although he pretends to be blinded by the sun, I can tell.

Somewhere there’s a poplar that we carved things into, “Tom and Farrah ’13,” good American names I’d say. Customers will wander aloud who they were, and where they are now. They’ll think about when Tom took out his pocket knife and started etching into the green dermis of bark. About a quarter mile from this is a brook which feeds four pools in a subsequent runoff, as part of a key line irrigation system. We’ve stocked the old ‘cow pools’ with crawfish that glimmer in the sunlight like a handful of screws I saw in a tidal pool once, when I was small. We’re going to have to cut down the muskrats. Muskrats were applied to eat the chickens, which were applied for the deer ticks. Turns out muskrats don’t eat chickens.

No one has noticed my craning around every few minutes to see behind us, and I am happy in my own charge.

Gayle has a real pistol that looks like it came from a catalogue called Ranchero or Dusk-erado. Real and silvery, barcode filed off with a new scrawled on. 667. It bounces around in a holster on her sweatpants. I can see myself grabbing it with my jaws and saving us all. In the other holster is a can of spray paint, balls knocking against the tin inside. No one is complaining about the air temperature here, but we haven’t ruled out going for a swim later. It doesn’t have to be all work, right? I think there’s a defunct spring a mile or so off the former path, which we ended up abandoning and diverting towards something rural-chic. Now it is manmade nature being reclaimed by nature–a male turkey courting a fiberglass one.

“They are drunk!” St. Roy confirms.

“We are still in a fight,” Gayle says. A skunk-monarch lands on her knuckle and seems to labor its wings back and not forth, but back again. She blows at it, and it takes a few seconds to stir. The poor black and white creature, dying out because no one can see it as a viable mate.

“From the bald eagle are you kidding me? You got to get over this, you even ate some,” St. Roy tells her.

Gayle moves through the gutted out line in the flora, in a loose fitting shirt bedazzled with palm trees and Hawaiian orchids. Little fishing boat wrinkling on the oversized sleeve hole, where her limbs are skinny and tattooed by sludgy tributaries. Banqueter (Gayle’s gun) will take care of those muskrats, she announces. Though it’s funny I haven’t seen any today.

I didn’t know it was an eagle. I thought maybe it was a turkey vulture, and I was completely starving. Some of us didn’t go to college for four years. I am training my shadow to tell me what time of day it is. I turn quick, but haven’t seen anyone behind us for a while now. We are supposed to be marking imperfections with spray paint, but I’ve been preoccupied.

“Good girl, good girl,” they say evenly.

Tasted a lot better than turkey vulture. It tasted exactly like Saint Roy said it would. He shakes the can and drags its wet hiss over a grandfather root. Turns it bright orange.

Roy did say the eagle would taste like a turkey, but more hay-bails and mashed cherry. That’s only because it was a fat bald eagle. It was strange. Scavenged like seagulls do. St. Roy’s hair fizzles out at his jaws in patches. I can hear all his cheap looking, turquoise jewelry clanking together, which he keeps on all the time, and I mean all the time.

“The boat fire in town was something else. Pointed at the beach like it had some ravenous appetite for the buildings and people who live in them.”

I sit and listen to St. Roy talk about boat fires, and I could listen to him talk about them all day, really. Gayle is crunching numbers and printing from a portable printer that screams like a pencil sharpener. It makes my ears hurt. She pulls the perforated side of her report and studies it.

There’s a little nervous feeling gouging at my stomach when I see St. Roy squinting because it means he’s thinking. He’s famous. In the top 4 Ecographers in the industry. His masterpiece was a twenty-three acre loop hike in the liver of Arkansas. Repurposed a landfill of toxic metals and grew a lush, outdoor terrarium on it. I haven’t been but I’ve heard stories. Those fat, blob white tree frogs will rest in your palm like a pile of electric gak. The peat moss smell trickles in tiki-wood. It’s been compared to touring the head of a teenage gypsy ripping her shit on vials of carnival sand. Reservations are backed well into next century (probably).

“What’s actually great,” Gayle announces while turning the map over on its side, “is that the muskrats eat the Thysallus plants. These guys were rooted at the edges of the trail to devour dog n’ horse shit.” Carnivorous little shrubs that sustain themselves off of digested grain.

“Once I saw a bunch of screws and bolts at the bottom of a tidal pool in Misquamicut,” I say to St. Roy’s back of concert dates, eaten by repeated washing machine cycles. I hear a twig snap and I spin around and I swear I see a floating head but it is gone too quick.

My Fossil Driver. Everyone’s got theirs. Their signature. Gayle’s was a species of air breathing mussels she harvested inside tree cavities. She has definitely calmed down a little and now she adheres them to river rocks. Designed them to breath fresh water. But ya know, a little extra salinity in a stream is a good touch. Makes the river lilies stay up.

Mine would have been moss that purred when it was pet, but I couldn’t get the funding as no one takes what I do here seriously. I could see hikers abusing it, peeling off the moss and shredding the delicacy of its roots. Examining their underside, the scalp of soil.

ARTISAN WELLES did this, ARTISAN WELLES did this, disguised as boat fire protesters. Your run of the mill corporate rivalry. Just rad knacks pretending they are concerned about oil, maybe they should get the oil outta their faces, first, right Saint Roy?

In the corner of my eye I see Gayle take her gun out and say, “I wouldn’t mind having a talk with those protestors!” She mimics shooting down some milkweed bushes in the distance, and St. Roy doesn’t even seem to notice that her gun is out.

We stop so I dig my paws into the tick shit, into roots of the fescues grass, to gain tiny couscous granules of watermelon seed under my nails. We had to delete that eagle. It didn’t act like eagles do.

On the back of St. Roy’s shirt are dates. August 10th, 1993. My 13th birthday. What was I doing then? Who was I? Somewhere Gloria was singing, probably encrusted with jewels and backlit. I’m pretending to track muskrat footprints but they could belong to anything. A wild chicken, which looks like it’s gotten kind of big and purply for a chicken, is trying to figure out how to hop up a tree. St. Roy uncaps his paint and draws a hexagon on it.

We stop at our abandoned barn-shed, which is part of the rustic theme of this particular trail. I think the LAG06B lagoon is somewhere around here, because our dilapidated stone walls are starting to taper off. These boulders have the illusion of something that used to keep in New England livestock. It was my idea to apply a wood-eating varnish that slowly fades the barn-wood and flakes off in little chips, which the caterpillars can actually consume. One might imagine the figures of agriculture who used to frequent this lean-to. It might evoke something of a simpler time.

“This is good, this is good,” St. Roy says. “Not too many hens, and not too few, this is good.”

We get maybe seven kilometers past the rusted out tractor. The suspension springs of which are still caked with false cocoons. I think the pool is close now, because we seem to be going downhill. One last look behind us, but there is still nothing. Gayle has rolled up the sleeves of her tropical shirt even further. I see a tiny little black dot poking out of her skin. A deer tick. I don’t tell her it’s there, I meet her eyes and I don’t tell her it’s there.

She crumples up her shirt and hangs it from a branch, along with her tool belt. St. Roy poses up on the ridge, shirtless under the brim of his hat. Tan, sagging skin which he looks upon disappointingly. A torrent of face primer runs down Gayle’s cheeks. She’s cackling. Bobbing up and down and spreading river water away from her.

Up on the ridge we are no longer speaking. They’re not even butterflies, they’re technically moths. I mean, they’ll eat your clothes if you don’t be careful. St. Roy is seeing Gayle float on her back. Here by LAG06B, the moss will hiss at you if it’s quiet enough to hear it.

I wade into the water, sucked in by clay. My tail attracts a hunting party of waterbugs. St. Roy is now looking behind him very intently, so I go underwater and when I come back up they are both gone like I knew they’d be.


Travis‘ writing has previously appeared in Five Quarterly, Sediments Literary-Arts Journal, The Tishman Review, Noble/Gas Qtly, and “Love on the Road 2013” (Malinki Press). He also has a recently published chapbook with the Head and the Hand Press. His writing can be found at sparrowmeat.com

 

 

 

 

 

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