The tall, lanky man cursed
as the rear tires of the battered pickup truck lost their grip and slid dangerously towards the precipice, sending a handful of peanuts sailing out into the void. He cranked the wheel and brought the vehicle under control, at least for the moment, and mashed the gas pedal to the floor. “Elephants,” he muttered. “It had to be elephants.”
His were the only tire tracks in the snow that was rapidly piling up on the crumbling blacktop. People did not come this way often in the best of times, and these were far from the best of times. Without the four kegs of Guinness and 1,000 pounds of peanuts in the back of the truck to provide ballast he would have sailed off the road long before. The snow would be deeper and he would be lighter on his way back down, but if he didn’t make it in time, none of that would matter. The Elephants of Doom were on the move.
The large dog in the passenger seat tried to turn at the sound of the thin man’s voice, but his tongue was connected to the “got fuego?” sign on the passenger door by a long icicle of drool. The dog blinked the snow out of his eyes and stuck his head back out the window.
Suddenly the thin man hit the brakes, sending the machine into a heart-stopping sideways drift and throwing a shower of goober peas out of the truck, pelting the man standing serenely in the middle of the road.
From the trees a pair of glowing red eyes, rather far apart, watched the truck skid to a stop. The eyes narrowed as a robed figure pitched a metal barrel into the back of the truck and climbed into the passenger seat. With the sound of grinding gears the truck lurched forward, but the extra keg in back seemed to help traction. The glowing eyes followed the progress of the truck until it was lost around the next curve. There was no mistaking the message on the sticker that took up the entire width of the 2×4 that served as the truck’s rear bumper. “I brake for kung fu brew masters, ivory-billed woodpeckers, pervious MOH’s and rock stackers,” the sign read, but it said so much more.
The elephant crouching in the forest twitched his trunk nervously. This is not good. I’d better warn the others. It’s as if… The glowing eyes widened as they spotted the objects scattered on the road. Peanuts!
Peanuts! Peanuts! Peanuts! Hoo Boy!
The two said little to one another as the truck rumbled on. They both knew time was short. They both knew that it was going to take more than beer, peanuts, and Kung-Fu smack-down to stop the Elephants of Doom.
The Monk broke the silence. “Rock slide around the next corner,” he said.
Rather than slow down the tall man gripped the steering wheel with white knuckles, ready to swerve.
“Relax, become one with the truck,” the monk said.
“Bite me.” The truck roared around the corner almost sideways, heading directly toward a boulder lying on the double yellow lines. With a curse and a yank on the wheel the tall man whipped the rear of the truck around, almost off the road once more, drifting toward oblivion, when the rear wheels caught and powered the beast down the road.
“How’d you know that was there?”
“I have achieved harmony with the trees, with the snow and with the rocks themselves. Also, I saw an Elephant of Doom hiding at the side of the road.”
“They’re on to us, then.”
“Oh, yes. How could they not be? But what else did you see?”
“Now that you mention it, it was odd the way that second rock was balanced on top of the big one.”
“There are few hands on the planet that could have done that. Whatever the message was the rock stacker was trying to send us, we’d best not forget it. In the meantime — watch out!” In the road ahead stood a small knot of squirrels, shivering and groggy from the cold, but with determined looks in their beady little eyes. They shot each other reassuring glances as the truck roared down upon them.
The tall man didn’t flinch. He roared directly over the squirrels. He heard the rapid-fire thump-thump-thump and checked his rearview mirror. No trace of the rodents remained. He let out a sigh of relief.
The monk was less sanguine. “You didn’t even try to avoid them! You willfully killed living creatures! What kind of man are you?”
“I’m the kind that doesn’t swerve off the road just because a suicidal critter wants to take a shortcut to oblivion.”
“But isn’t that a special horn to repel them mounted right on the front of your truck?”
“Yeah, but it’s too cold to put my lips on the mouthpiece right now. Besides, the squirrels wanted to die; I was just helping them out.”
“That is not for you to decide.”
“Look buddy, you might be willing to wait until some ninja rodent shoves a black hole up your Zen ass, but me, I’m not giving them the chance.”
The silence in the cab of the truck seemed chillier than it had before, but then again, the heater was broken.
The High Council of the Elephants of Doom sat around the campfire, discussing the latest crisis while some of their minions prepared the sacrificial bonfire on a hilltop nearby.
“The squirrels have failed.”
“I never did trust those little rats.” The Elephant shuddered. “Too much like mice, if you ask me.”
“They were a little too eager for this mission.”
“Came out of hibernation for it.”
“We can conclude,” trumpeted Doom Leader, “that squirrels are not to be trusted. I was not relying on them in any case. Have we heard from Elephant of Doom Second Class Snorky?”
“We found him staggering along the road. He’s still coming down off his peanut high, but it’s safe to assume that the robed one is now with the thin one.”
Council of Doom Member Ollie used his trunk to adjust the enormous earmuffs he was wearing. “How can you tell them apart? They all look thin to me.”
“The one operating that shamelessly sexy vehicle. It doesn’t matter. Things are coming to a head. Nothing must be allowed to stop our evil plan of DOOM!”
“Evil? Our plan is evil?”
“Well, not for us, of course. For us it’s pretty damn good. But for the rest of the world, I think it’s safe to call it the ‘Evil plan of Doom’. Just so there’s no confusion. It’s easier that ‘Evil Plan of Doom for Everyone Except the Elephants of Doom’.”
“Too many Dooms in that second one.”
“Doesn’t really trip off the tongue.”
“Might be hard for people to remember.”
“We can remember it, though. We never forget.”
“Maybe we could call it ‘Evil Plan of Doom for Everyone Except the Elephants of Doom which Only the Elephants of Doom can Remember’.”
“EPDEEEDOEDR for short.”
“No, look. Evil Plan of Doom. That’s it. Now, how long until the tall one reaches the checkpoint? We have to activate our next trap at precisely the right moment.”
“Umm… judging by his previous rate of progress…”
“Taking into account the steadily worsening weather conditions…”
“…and the deterioration of the pavement at higher altitude…”
“When the hell will they be there!?”
“We just missed it.”
“That’s strange,” the Monk said.
“I fully expected a diabolical and crafty trap to spring on us at that last curve.”
The thin man nodded. “It did look like a crafty-trap-like sort of spot. We must have them off-balance.”
“Off-balance, perhaps, but remember, elephants don’t tip.”
The thin man shot the monk an annoyed look. “You really expect me to pick up your straight lines?”
“Are we not expected to engage in witty banter as we, an unlikely pair of heroes, rides to near-certain death?”
“Key word: witty.”
“Well, then, I suppose I will have to provide the zingers, while you are the straight man.”
“Are monks even allowed to use the word ‘zinger’?”
“Ah! Now I see! You are the brooding, angry, witty type. I assume in that case you also have a story concerning you and elephants, one that makes this mission
more personal, but all the more difficult because of that. You and pachyderms have a… history.”
The thin man set his jaw and stared out into the driving snow. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
The Monk nodded, satisfied, and let it drop.
“But if you insist…”
* * *
“Peanuts! Fifty cents! Feed the elephants!”
The thin boy clutched his mother’s hand. “Can we, mommy? I want to feed the elephants!”
The thin boy’s mother smiled indulgently. “Of course. It’s the circus, after all.” She produced two quarters and handed them to the thin boy. “Go get your peanuts.”
Timidly the thin boy approached the vendor and held out the two quarters silently. “Here ya go kid,” the busker said. He handed the thin boy a paper bag, red and white striped, filled with peanuts. “You can feed any of the elephants you want, except that one over there.”
The thin boy looked in the direction indicated. “The one with the glowing red eyes?”
“Yeah, that one. He’s, uh, allergic.”
“O.K.” The thin boy gazed into the eyes of the forbidden elephant.
Peanutsssssssss. The voice was like a whisper at the back of his brain that only he could hear. He snapped his gaze away from the fearsome creature and ran back to his parents. They walked over to the pen that held the rest of the elephants. The towering beasts reached over the fence and with a snuffling whuffling trunk would lift the peanuts right from the thin boy’s palm.
“Say, what about that one over there?”
“No, dad, were not supposed to feed that one. He’s allergic.”
“An elephant allergic to peanuts? That’s absurd.”
“Really, dad. That’s what the man said.”
“Huh. well, if that’s what the man said.” The thin boy’s dad was still looking over at the red-eyed elephant. “He looks hungry, though.”
“Now, honey, I’m sure they know what’s best for their animals,” the thin boy’s mother said.
“Yeah, yeah, you’re right. Still, what harm could one lousy peanut do?”
“I don’t know, and neither do you. You’re supposed to be setting an example.”
“You’re right. I’m sorry, dear. That poor elephant will just have to wait for his regular meal.”
The peanut bag was nearly empty when the thin boy realized his father was not by his side. He turned to see his father walking, trance-like, toward the forbidden elephant, a single peanut in his outstretched hand. The thin boy looked into the red eyes of the elephant and saw there madness, rage, and mayhem.
He ran after his father as fast as he could, watching as the elephant reached out for the proffered treat. The thin boy was going to be too late. He dove, gravel flying behind him in slow motion. “Nooooo-” he called out as the elephant’s nimble nose picked up the peanut, just beyond the reach of the thin boy’s outstretched hands. “-oooooooo-” the boy continued as the elephant placed the peanut in its mouth.
* * *
“-oooooo!” concluded the thin man, while the big dog howled along. He took a moment to gather himself. “Fourteen people were killed that day. My parents were two of them. I’ve never been able to look at an elephant the same way since.”
The monk blinked himself awake. “Interesting,” he said. “You could hear the elephant’s voice in your head?”
“That’s what I thought then.”
“Hm. Have your eyes ever glown red?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Good. If they do, I’ll have to kill you.”
“Because if I don’t, you’ll become a person… of Doom.”
There was a pause in the conversation as the thin man digested that. “That would suck,” he finally said.
They rode in silence for a while as the snow continued to deepen. “I’m impervious,” the monk observed.
“Lucky for us I’m not.”
The monk raised an eyebrow. “You’re pervious?”
“As pervious as they come.”
“I don’t remember your tenure.”
“Honestly, how many do you remember?”
The monk nodded. “You’re pervious, that’s all that really matters. Do you think the Elephants know?”
“They do have a reputation for remembering things.”
“We’ll have to assume the worst.”
“We’ll have to assume the worst,” Doom Leader said. “With a bumper sticker like that, the chances of one of them being pervious is just too great.”
“That’s all right,” one of the others said. “Most of those guys never do anything anyway.”
“Yes, but should one of them choose to exercise their power, it would change everything.”
The other elephant snorted through his trunk. “Pfff. That’ll never happen.”
The Youngest Elephant of Doom on the council asked, “What is this ‘pervious’ thing anyway?”
Doom Leader closed his eyes for a moment, remembering back to times long past. “There was a time, long ago, when men were real men and elephants were real elephants. There was among humans a special group, the elite of the elite, who would wander the Earth. They were crusaders for justice, defenders of the weak, pickers-up of the downtrodden, brushers-off of those who had sand kicked on them, mediators for the…”
“We get the picture,” one of the other Elephants of Doom said.
“Yes, well, these men were known as the pervious Men Of Honor. They were few, but their power was legendary. No Creature of Doom dared oppose them. Now, ‘pervious MOH’ is nothing more than a name, just old stories that no one really believes anymore.”
“Then why should we worry?”
“Because although the power lies dormant, it still exists. It would be just like the power of the pervious to awaken on the night we execute our Evil Plan of Doom. Pass the marshmallows, would you?”
While Doom Leader carefully skewered a marshmallow and held it over the fire, one of the workers from up on the hill came down to report. “The pit is ready, and the firewood has been stacked. The sacrifice has been prepared. We can begin whenever you are ready.”
Doom Leader ran his trunk over his long tusks, and his eyes glowed brighter. “Eeeexcellent. Prepare the trumpet, prepare the drum. It will not be long now.”
The worker Elephant of Doom stood nervously nearby. “Uh, sir?”
“What is it, lad?”
“They say, that is, some of the boys are saying, and I don’t know what to believe…”
“What is it they’re saying?”
“They’re saying that people are coming… with peanuts.” The last word was little more than a whisper, lost in the wind, but it carried with it a mixture of fear and secret longing.
“It’s true, boy, it’s true. But don’t worry; once the ceremony starts, the power of the peanut will be unable to reach you. We will be beyond temptation. Tell the others that the Council of Doom will protect them.” Doom Leader curled his trunk over his head defiantly. “It will take more then Beer, peanuts, and Kung Fu Smack-down to stop us this night!”
“And tell them also…”
“Tell them the Council of Doom has run out of cocoa. Have someone make some more.”
The wind stopped, but the snow kept falling, in big, lazy flakes. An eerie silence descended over the forest, which the occupants of the truck could not hear over the roar of the International Harvester V-8 with the rusted-out exhaust system. Squinting, the monk pushed the large dog aside and peered out the passenger window into the unbroken blackness of the sky. “It’s going to be midnight soon.”
The thin man hit the brakes and the truck drifted sideways to come to rest perfectly positioned between two graceful stacks of rocks. He took off his sunglasses. “We’re here.” He killed the engine and opened his door, stepping out into the soft, powdery snow, the quiet ticks of the cooling engine the only sound, except for the dog panting, the door slamming, the monk hauling kegs out of the back of the truck, and the distant drumming.
The two men began to load the peanuts and beer onto the big dog.
“This stuff must weigh a ton,” the monk said.
“Shh. He doesn’t know that.”
“So then he can carry it?”
The thin man nodded.
“That’s a pretty stupid dog.”
The thin man shrugged and strapped another keg to the dog. “Ceremony’s started. Peanuts won’t be much good now.”
“No, not ’till the party after.”
“Good point. Load them on.”
“But they must–“
“Ix-nay on the eight-way.”
“Right right right. Throw me another bungee strap.”
The elephants swayed in a ponderous ring around the blazing fire pit, chanting ominous but unintelligible syllables. The flames jumped and danced with their utterances, gaining strength as the pachyderms accelerated their shambling dance. The thin man and the monk raised their heads up from the arroyo to the north, witnessing a landscape ravaged by dancing elephants.
“We’re too late,” the thin man said.
“We still must try. Beer, peanuts, and kung fu smack-down may not be enough, but if it’s all we have, we still have to try.”
The thin man nodded. “There’s always the chance that something unexpected will happen.”
“Well, then. It’s been good knowing you.”
“Yeah, something like that.” The thin man gestured to the dog, who stood drooling tirelessly. “Let’s party.”
The trio burst out of the gully. The thin man began pulling beers while the monk struck a kung fu pose with peanuts in either hand. His voice rang out in the still night air. “Stop! You foul creatures of Doom!”
One elephant paused to glance in their direction long enough to make a trumpet-like snorting sound through its trunk, then continued in its dance.
“Time to get up close and personal,” the thin man said.
Before they could move, a horrifying squak rose from fire, as the flames leapt the the height of the treetops. Slowly there rose from the flames a mighty creature, a bird with a pointed beak. The flames danced around it, but didn’t touch its feathers. “Squaaaaawww!” the creature called through the night.
“Ivory-billed woodpecker, if I’m not mistaken,” the monk said. “Though large for the species, and fireproof.”
“Ivory-billed woodpecker of Doom,” corrected the thin man.
“Sqwaaaauuuu!’ the titan bird called into the night, then fixed its glowing red gaze on the intruders. “Squau? Squee sqo squonk!”
“Not the traditional call of an Ivory-billed woodpecker,” observed the monk.
“You want to take it up with him? You gotta get though the killer elephants first.”
The two prepared for battle against the onrushing herd, preparing beer, peanuts, and kung fu smack-down.
“Squeeerrrawww?” The herd shambled to a stop, and turned to look at the giant bird standing in the flames. Next to the pyre was a stack of rocks, elegant, graceful, seeming to defy gravity. At the top of the stack was a peanut.
“It’s inside the doom perimeter!” Doom Leader croaked.
“Peanut,” the rest of the herd droned, their eyes brightening. “PEANUT!”
* * *
The thin man stretched out by the campfire, enjoying his beer. The elephant next to him shifted lazily and reached out for more peanuts. You can hear my words?”
“Yeah. Don’t tell the monk.”
Pfff. Friggin’ boy scout. Although he does make a fine Pale Ale.
The thin man raised his mug. “True enough, true enough. He is a man of God, after all. You guys done with all this Doom stuff?”
Ha! you may have thwarted us this time, puny human, but we will be back!
“Yeah, that’s what they all say.”