A FAREWELL TO ARMS
(OR, THE PERILS OF REPTILE WRESTLING!)
Mike, Charlie, and Bob – or, “Slugger, Peanut-head, and Scrappy,” as they called each other – stood in the deli in the front of a Wal-Mart store in a nondescript little Texas town. All three of them were twenty-five or thereabouts; scruffy looking young white men with shaggy hairdos, goatees, and assorted tattoos on their arms. In short, they looked like any other trio of millennial skate-rats that could be hanging out in any mall or store in America, checking out the babes and seeing if they had enough money to buy some Jack Daniels, or at least a case of Budweiser – but with one exception. While Mike (Slugger) had two long, hairy arms with a yin and yang symbol tattooed on one and a geisha on the other, Charlie (Peanut-head) had one arm tightly wrapped in a white gauze bandage and supported by a sling. Bob – AKA Scrappy – did him one better: his left arm was missing at the elbow and had been for a long time, as evidenced by the well-healed stump that he swung back and forth as he talked with his friends.
Brittany Jane and her best friend Daisy saw the three guys standing by the deli and checked them out. It was freaky, thought Brittany, with the three of them standing there in a row, one with both arms present and useful, one temporarily disabled, and one permanently maimed. She was a pretty, perky young blonde with a long track record of getting guys to do whatever she wanted, so she decided to find out what their story was.
“Hey, guys,” she said.
“Hello yourself, sweet thing!” said Mike.
“Ignore him, lady, we just took him out of the special kids’ home yesterday,” said Charlie.
“Actually, they’re both retarded,” said Bob. “I’m the only respectable one in the bunch. How are you doing?”
Brittany laughed – she loved watching guys trip all over themselves when she turned on her signature smile. Daisy, who was quiet and shy by comparison, enjoyed watching her brassy friend turn guys into gibbering idiots.
“The three of you are quite a team,” she said. “I couldn’t help but notice your injuries. Were you, like, in Iraq or somewhere?”
“Worse, we’re from Louisiana!” said Scrappy.
“So what happened to your arm?” she asked.
“This old thing?” he said, waving his stump. “Well, it’s a bit of a long story.”
“If I buy you each a latte, can I hear it?” she said, curious now.
“Sure thing, sweetcakes!” said Bob.
“She’s gonna put vinegar in yours if you keep that up, moron!” said Scrappy.
“I’ve heard worse,” she said. “You guys order and I’ll pay. Daisy, you get one too! But -” she gave the men a sour look – “if the story’s no good, you three have to take us out for Mexican!”
The three millennials ordered their coffees and sat down side by side, across from the two girls. Brittany and Daisy were both cute and they knew it, and the guys were already trying to figure out which two of them were going to score dates and which one would strike out.
“OK, fellas, story time!” said Brittany.
“All right,” Scrappy began. “My real name is Bob, but my buds here call me Scrappy because I love a good fight. We all grew up in Sabine Parish, just across the border, near Toledo Bend lake. We used to fish, hunt, drink, and chase girls all summer long up and down the eastern shore. Lots of parks and campgrounds, lots of pretty, bored chicks trying to get away from their family vacations for a few hours. Well, one day we were tossing a frisbee back and forth at Huey Long State Park when Peanut-head here” - he nodded at Charlie – “made a bad throw and the disk went into the water. Well, we were all in our trunks anyway, so I dove in after it, hot-dogging it off the dock and swimming underwater and generally being a show-off. I was holding the frisbee up to show I had it and yelling ‘There can be only one!’ when something grabbed my free arm and yanked me under, hard!”
“Wow!” she said. “What was it, an alligator? My Dad always said that lake was full of them.”
“It was the biggest gator I ever saw, fourteen feet if he was an inch,” interrupted Mike. “He surfaced with Scrappy here in his mouth, screaming bloody murder, going into a death roll. I jumped off the dock without thinking and grabbed goofus here by his free arm, with Peanut-head right behind me, and we played tug-o-war with that gator for what felt like five minutes, although it was probably just a few seconds. I remember seeing that the beast was really old, with lots of scars, and one of his front legs had the foot bitten clean off. About that time I heard a loud ripping sound, and we went tumbling over backwards with Scrappy landing on us. The water was churned up and bloody, and we all floundered back to the beach as fast as we could, but the gator had done made off with Scrappy’s arm! I grabbed my belt out of the truck and used it as a tourniquet while Peanut-head called the ambulance. In the middle of all this, Scrappy suddenly held up his good arm and somehow, he was still holding the stupid frisbee!”
“I was pretty light-headed,” said Scrappy, “but I remember tossing it back to Peanut-head and saying, ‘Keep it out of the water next time!’ right before I passed out.”
Brittany was impressed despite herself, and Daisy was staring in wide-eyed wonder at the one-armed storyteller.
“Wow, that’s a great story,” Brittany said. “I’ve never met someone who survived an alligator attack before!”
“Oh, that’s not the half of it!” Peanut-head told her.
“There’s more?” she said with a raised eyebrow.
“You think I was gonna let some oversized lizard eat my friend’s arm and get away with it?” he said. “Me and Slugger started hunting that critter the very next weekend. Problem was, he was an old gator that didn’t move around much, and his haunt was in that state park. He had lost most of his fear of people, too, and that made him dangerous. It’s a miracle he didn’t eat some kid in that swimming area, but there were usually enough jet skis around to keep him scared off. We talked to the rangers, but they were absolutely insistent that we could not shoot him anywhere in the part itself. So we got a john boat and began following him all the time, whenever we could see him. He was easy to track; he was hands down the biggest gator on that part of the lake.”
“After I got out of the hospital I joined them,” Scrappy said. “I owed that dang gator one for eating my arm! So we rowed around, or used a trolling motor, for the next two summers, tracking the stupid beast.”
“I’m not sure how stupid he was,” said Slugger. “He never once let us catch him outside the park. It was like he knew exactly where the property line was! We sure knew – we had it figured out just how far the park extended on either side of the public swimming area, just in case we caught that gator over the line. But we never did!”
“But a few weeks ago we noticed that one of his new basking spots was only about twenty feet from the line,” said Peanut-head. “So we decided, if the gator wouldn’t leave the park on his own, we might help him a little, you know?”
“Wait a minute,” said Brittany. “You decided to kidnap an alligator?”
“Well, I wouldn’t call it kidnapping,” said Scrappy. “Just relocating to his place of execution. The state does it to criminals, right?”
“And for what it’s worth, this gator was getting really bold,” said Slugger. “I watched him follow a fisherman down a hundred yards of shoreline, waiting for him to step off the bank.”
“I actually hit him with a boat paddle once because he was so close to some kids swimming,” said Peanut-head. “It was just a matter of time before he actually ate somebody.”
“So, anyway, about two weeks ago, we saw him basking on a mud bank just a few yards from where the park’s property line ends,” Scrappy said. “We decided that it was time for Mr. Gator to meet some Louisiana justice!”
“We had actually gone to the gator farm and practiced wrangling some smaller alligators, just to get used to it,” said Slugger. “My cousin works there and he got us in after hours. So we ran the boat up on the bank a hundred yards away and cut up into the woods with some rope and duct tape. Me and Peanut-head led the way, with Scrappy bringing up the rear since he was short-handed, so to speak!”
“Up yours, dipweed!” said Scrappy.
“Well, hey, we let you carry the most important piece of equipment,” said Peanut-head.
“What was that?” asked Daisy, speaking up for the first time.
“The gator-killer,” said Scrappy with a grin. “A .44 automag!”
“So anyway,” said Slugger, “I jumped on the gator’s back and pinned its head down, just like the old Crocodile Hunter used to do! He was monstrous strong, mind you, and it was all I could do to keep him from dragging me into the lake!”
“I was busy trying to duct-tape its mouth shut,” said Peanut-head, “Which was hard because the old monster was slick with mud and thrashing its head back and forth really hard. About that time it bucked old Slugger off just like it was a rodeo bull, and all of a sudden those big old jaws came clamping down on my arm! I was squalling like a castrated calf, and that monster started dragging me to the water. Then Slugger here got ahold of my free arm and was trying to pull me loose, and all I can think is: ‘Here we go again!’ Then old Scrappy comes running up with that pistol.”
Scrappy cut back into the story before his buddy could finish.
“I was scared half to death,” he said, “but all I could think was that oversized lizard was NOT going to eat my friend’s arm too! I stuck that pistol right at the base of its skull and pulled the trigger before I could chicken out. The gun kicked so hard it went flying out of my hand, and I ran after it because I thought I might need another round. But when I grabbed it and whirled around, that gator was barely twitching. That .44 made a hole the size of a marble going in and about the size of a softball going out! The vet who looked it over called it a perfect ‘internal decapitation.’ He had to explain to me what that meant, but apparently I cut the gator’s head off with that bullet without actually cutting its head off. That make sense to you?”
“Yeah,” said Brittany. “I saw it on Forensic Files one time. Severs the spine but leaves the neck muscles attached, is what it does! So what did you guys do next?”
“Well, I bandaged up Peanut-head here,” said Slugger. “Then all three of us dragged that gator to the other side of the property line and laid him out on a mud bank there. After that Scrappy helped our buddy back to the boat while I went over to where the tussle happened and tried to erase as much of our tracks and the blood as I could. When I was done, we got on our cells and called the ambulance and the Game Warden.”
“I had to have about fifty stitches on my arm,” said Peanut-head, “But the doc said I’ll have full use of it.”
“We’re all going in together to get the alligator stuffed and mounted,” Scrappy said. “We’re opening a bait shop next year, and we’re gonna hang him on the wall behind our counter.”
“That was the best story ever!” said Daisy.
“I agree,” said Brittany. “In fact, I think I’m gonna buy you guys Mexican. TaMolly’s OK?”
“That’s the place just down the service road, isn’t it?” said Slugger.
“One and the same,” she said. “Tell you what, since we’re an odd number, I’m gonna text my friend Jessica and have her meet us there. Think you could tell her the whole story again?”
“Why not?” said Peanut-head.
“Well hop in your car and follow me!” she said. “I’m driving the bright yellow Mazda parked over by the cart corral on the pharmacy end of the store.”
“We’re in a black F-150,” said Slugger. “See you in a few.”
The three guys didn’t say a word till they got in the truck, then all three collapsed in hysterical laughter.
“A giant, three-legged gator? Really?” said Slugger.
“It sounded better than a lawn-mower repair accident,” said Scrappy. “Thanks for playing along!”
“And it definitely sounded better than getting my arm half chewed off by my ex’s Rottweiler because I was trying to break into her house and get my PS4 back,” said Peanut-head.
“Well, let’s go over the details again, and make sure we have the story straight,” said Slugger, “and we might have a very fun evening ahead of us!”
AND HERE IS ELLIE'S STORY:
Grisvard: A Tale in 100 Words
“There’s no telling how much flesh the Master will extract in exchange for His blessing?” the Millennial nervously inquired.
“No,” answered the acolyte, missing an arm, result of the Old God’s “kiss.”
“Stick your arm in the black portal below the hidden storeroom at Wal-Mart,” the second acolyte told him, pointing to his bandaged limb. “Sometimes, He’s hungry, sometimes he only…nibbles.”
Heart-pounding with excitement at the idea of feeding the ancient master, slumbering these 7,000 years in the Cavern of Miseries, the initiate nodded and proceeded to the sacred altar, to offer his right arm in exchange for Grisvard’s blessing….