by Davyne DeSye
So, there was a scientist, a New York cabby, and a woodsman. That was me—the woodsman.
I know, sounds like a bad joke, and I guess it was.
The cabby had picked up his fare at La Guardia—this scientist-type from England: Real fine suit, real nice accent, soft-voiced and polite, and wearing the biggest glasses on his honker I’ve ever seen—looked like television screens if he looked into the light, with us as a whole group of characters reflecting off the lenses. Then the cabby’s copter wrecked—something about the maintenance team, but I had the impression he was just spouting off to keep from getting sued.
I was at the lodge, enjoying Selma’s stew with a big warm hunk of her heavy brown bread, when these two came stumbling in. I looked up, but most of us didn’t, and Selma kept mopping up the table nearest me as she said, “Howdy, folks.”
The cabby marched forward two steps, said, “Say,” real loud, looked around and then said, “Say, who runs this joint,” doing his best Rodney Dangerfield impression. It was pretty good. I chuckled. That was before I knew it was the only way he knew how to talk.
To make a long story short, they needed a guide, and I happened to be sitting there, so Selma led them over to me. She raised an eyebrow to ask if it was okay to interrupt me, and I almost said no, because the cabby was already annoying me with the way he was crowding her. For some reason—maybe the quiet way his fare was looking at me—I didn’t.
The cabby pulled a chair away from my table, spun it around, and sat with his legs spread around the back of the chair, leaning over toward me aggressively.
“Hey, pal,” he started, with an expression on his face like he was getting ready to pick a fight with me, “I’ll tell you what we need.”
“I know what you need,” I said very quietly, wondering if he’d shut his mouth if I stuffed my half loaf of warm bread in it—but not wanting to waste Selma’s cooking like that. “Why don’t you let your friend talk?”
The cabby just looked startled, said, “Hunh,” and looked up at his fare.
“May I?” said the fare, in a voice so quiet I felt like he was trying to make up for the loud mouth.
“Sure,” I answered.
“You see, sir, we are in need of a guide. Would you be the gentleman who can assist us?” Real nice manners. I liked that.
“Guide to where?” I asked.
I think I must have stared for a moment, because he said, “I see you’ve heard of the place.”
“Yeah. Why don’t you just call for another cab?”
“I’m afraid I haven’t the time to wait for another to reach these outer climes. It isn’t too great a distance is it?” He lifted his chin to look more closely at me through the bottoms of his glasses.
“There are a lot of strange things that go on up there,” I said.
The cabby spoke up in his bellowing voice. “Strange? Strange like how?”
I glared at the cabby whom I had nearly forgotten was still with us. Wishful thinking on my part.
“Excuse me for living!” he muttered, while straightening his collar and shooting non-existent cuffs.
The Englishman quietly said, “Indeed.”
“Why Kendrow Peak?” I asked. Wasn’t sure I wanted to know.
“I am a scientist. A specialist of sorts. I am sorely needed at the facility there and am running a bit late. You will be well paid, I assure you, if you can assist.”
We dickered over an exorbitant price—I didn’t really want this job—which got even more exorbitant when I found out he didn’t carry cash (what was he planning? to slide a credit card in and out of my mouth real quick?) and I’d be paid only on getting him there. At least part of the price was compensation for having to bring the cabby along, since the copter that was picking him up was already headed for the Peak. Within half an hour, I knew I hadn’t asked enough to make up for his loud mouth. Live and learn.
I had my kit, and Mr. Sanders, the scientist, was in a hurry, so we set off. It was only just noon, and I figured I could get them there and hike back down before nightfall. The cabby, unsurprisingly named Spike (I had guessed Mack or Spud, and ruled out Fat-Headed-Ignoramus only because I didn’t think he could handle that many syllables) spent the first half hour trying to sell us athletic shoes like his own (he “had a deal with a guy”) since my well-worn hiking boots were unfashionable (not that he used the word “unfashionable”—he had called them “hard on the eyes”), and the Brit’s polished shoes were not for hiking. I recited Robert Frost in my head to keep from braining the guy.
We came out of the trees at the top of a rise, stepped around a copse into a bright meadow, and nearly came face to face with a largish black bear.
The scientist whispered “Oh, my,” and loud-mouth stopped talking mid-word. In a normal voice, I said, “It’s fine. Just keep talking. We’re going to move up-wind slowly to give him a whiff of us. He doesn’t want to mess with us. We just need to let him know we’re human, and he’ll move on. Keep talking. Talk normally.”
Needless to say, this was the moment when the cabby couldn’t think of anything to say. Useless idiot.
The scientist whispered, “Are you sure this is quite alright?”
“Don’t whisper. Just talk. Yes, we’re fine. Back off and slide to your left. Stay close to the trees.” I slowly pulled the pepper spray from my pocket.
I had to pull on the cabby to get him to move. His eyes looked like cartoon pop-outs, glued to the bear, and his color looked like he was getting ready to attack the beast with projectile vomit. But he shuffled along with us, while Sanders and I talked about the weather. His voice shook a bit, but he was a trooper.
The bear stuck his snout in the air, snuffled a bit, and then growled his complaint about an interrupted lunch, and lumbered away.
It took a bit to convince the two neophytes that the bear wouldn’t be back, that we weren’t really in too much danger, that I run into bear pretty regularly in these hills.
“I was quite convinced we should run,” said Sanders. “It was only your calm response that stilled the instinct in me.”
“You can’t outrun a bear. They may look slow, but they run thirty, thirty-five miles an hour. Besides, that might have convinced him that you were prey. Bad idea.”
Sanders just raised an eyebrow at me, shoved his glasses higher onto his nose, and gestured for me to lead the way. It didn’t take many more minutes before the cabby came out of his funk and began regaling us with how he would have taken apart the bear if it had made a wrong move. “You shoulda’ seen the time a bunch of Hell’s Angels…” I went back to Robert Frost and counting backwards from ten million and such-like. I toyed with tracking the bear down and feeding Spike to him, but didn’t want to create a man-eater in the hills where I live.
The mountain lion we crossed paths with went much the same way. Sanders listened carefully when I told him to raise his arms and hold his suit coat out, in order to look bigger. Spike fell on his knees and started saying Hail Marys.
“‘Bigger,’ I said! Get off your knees!” This had no effect, naturally, so Sanders and I waved our arms and talked, until the lion darted away, thankfully deciding we were too big to attack.
I wanted to clout loud-mouth on the back of the head, but frankly, he looked pathetic at the time, down on his knees with his head bent over his hands.
The worst moment came when we walked up on a moose and calf. Mama stood six feet high at the shoulders, at least, and there’s no more dangerous animal in the woods than a fourteen hundred pound block of muscle with hooves protecting her baby. So what does the idiot cabby do? Just pretend you had no brains at all beyond those needed to make the ridiculous noises he calls speech, and you’ve guessed it.
“Yo! Now THAT’s an animal!” he said. Then he pointed at the calf and said, “Looks like my dog!”, and started walking toward it. What was he going to do, pet it?
“Stop!” I yelled, but too late. The fur on the back of Mama stood up, she started snorting, and I yelled, “Run! Run behind a tree!”
Sanders didn’t hesitate, Spike did, and I somehow managed to see the shocked expression on his face when Mama charged him. I’ll give him this. The man can run and dodge through trees like a professional running back. He nearly got hit twice by sixty pound antlers before Mama gave up to return to her calf, snorting threats all the way.
After I caught my breath, I took the time to explain to Spike just how stupid he was. I don’t think he heard a word, because he just clapped me on the back when I finally wound down and said, “You’re a funny guy!”
Thankfully, we were nearly to the foot of Kendrow Peak. I say ‘thankfully’ because the trip was nearly over—not because I wanted to go near the Peak. We all know better than to wander near Kendrow, what with the stories that circulate.
I paused for a water break, putting off the inevitable.
“So, professor, what’s up there?” I indicated the peak with my head.
“A crossroads of sorts,” he answered cryptically.
“Crossroads,” I repeated.
“I am, eh, needed to assist in translation.” A smile flickered faintly over his face, and he looked apologetic. “I am terribly sorry. I am afraid I cannot explain further.”
“My money’s at the top of the peak, right?”
“Oh, yes, quite,” he answered quickly.
“Indeed. I would not deceive you, dear fellow. With perhaps a bonus for your excellent guidance thus far.” He smiled again.
I grunted and started leading them uphill.
We were nearly to the top, the cabby finally and thankfully quiet, when we heard a distinct rustling from the bushes ahead of us on the trail. I put an arm up and admonished silence. Then the damnedest thing happened.
This… creature steps out of the bushes. It wasn’t faintly like anything I’d ever seen or even had nightmares about. Looked like it had three heads, red leathery skin, and tentacles coming from the stomach area. It had no arms and big pear-like stumps, wider at the bottom than the top, for legs. I think it was drooling some kind of slime.
The cabby fainted like a tree crashing backward, and I took a step backward, ready to make the three-hour trip back to the lodge in ten minutes flat, when Sanders said, “My dear sir, please do not run. You will only entice it.” Or something like that. My head wasn’t working too well at the moment.
“I, uh… I, uh…” was all I could say.
“Please, do as I do,” he answered. “Flap your left elbow up and down,” he said, and started doing a one-armed funky chicken. I hesitated, and then decided that since I was dreaming, I could dream-flap my elbow, too.
“Now, plant your right foot, and walk in a circle around it, like this.”
I followed his lead.
“Rock your head back and forth from your shoulders,” he went on. I waggled my head. I didn’t try to copy the strange squealing sounds he was making, since I didn’t understand how anybody could possibly make such a noise.
In seconds, the creature was gone, back into the bushes. I could hear it crashing through underbrush for some time after that.
I stood frozen for a bit after the crashing finally faded away. I might still be standing there if Spike hadn’t sat up just then and said, “What the heck am I doing down here?”
I don’t remember much of the rest of the trip up, and then back to the lodge. The cabby caught his return copter, I got a pocket full of cash it’ll take a while to spend, and I figure I know what to do if I ever run into a Flapdoodle, or Humblebug, or whatever the heck that thing was.
That’s it. That’s the punchline.
When you figure out what’s funny about it, you let me know. Okay?