H. Turnip Smith
Birds of a Feather
It was one of them powdery blue September mornings when the sky looks like a fresh-pressed, poop-free baby's blanket as Butch strolled out of the Pee More Valley truckers’ coffee shop and glanced at his rig. Seventeen! He counted seventeen of the suckers squatting on the roof of the cab and trailer.
Black as poop down an oil well, they looked like vultures except they had faces that sent chills rumbling down Butch's rattlesnake boots. The suckers were uglier than Grannie Clampett wearing a mudpack and a bikini. Why hell--the worst of the birds looked like that dame that was married to that dude that used to use the Ovalt Office to make out with women.
Bozart grabbed Butch by the elbow. "You smell them dang things, Butch? They been sitting in shit. And look at their nasty claws. They ain’t from this planet."
Butch shook free of Bozart's grasp. There wasn't anything worse than an imaginary traveling companion that had diarrhea of the mouth and kept telling you what any damn fool could see with his own damn eyes.
"What the hell, Boze. You think I ain't got eyes or a nose of my own? Them's vicious-looking suckers. They’s pure plug ugly."
"You know what they are, Butch?"
"No, I don't, Mr. Know It All. What are they?" Butch took off his Stutson and waved it at the buzzards.
"They's interplanetary terrorist birds; that's what they are." At the word "terrorist" the dark birds suddenly rose on their clawed feet as if to take off, then shuddered back to squatting position with a silky flap of wings that reminded Butch of snakes wiggling into girls’ panties.
Butch gawked. "Sure, Bo. Here we are in West of Sin, Utah, two hundred miles from the nearest Dairy Queen, and they's a bunch of interplanetary, half-human terrorist vultures sitting on my truck looking for a free dinner. That makes about as much sense as Dale Earnhardt driving a race backwards or Madonna becoming a nun."
Bozart stared at Butch like he was one tower short of a cell-phone connection. "No, no, Butch, you don't get it. It's what you’re hauling."
"I ain't hauling nothing but pork bellies, same as always."
"That's where you're wrong. There's something in your trailer different this time, and them dang half-human, half-interplanetary birds, trained by Eye-rack terrorists, is out to get it."
"Now just how the hell would you know that?" Butch said, with a disgusted burp as he climbed up and slung open the door to the cab. Having an invisible know-it-all midget traveling companion was a royal pain in the ass, but Bozart had been hitching along, uninvited, ever since Butch got his release from the Evergreen Mental Health and Human Adjustment Facility at Yakima Valley.
"I know about them birds because I ain't no stooge like some people I know," Bozart said. "I read stuff like The Enquirer and People magazine and The Sun. I know what the hell’s going on in the world."
Before Butch could reply that anybody that read People magazine didn't know vinegar from apple cider, one of the extra-terrestrial vulture-people suddenly took wing and darted towards Butch's eyes.
It was only by the grace of the gods of trucking that Butch was able to catch a glimpse of the sucker coming. Dodging sideways, Butch smashed the screeching predator right in the back of the neck. The winged invader crumpled to the ground like it had been hit by the entire Dallas Cowboy defensive line on a Methedrine high.
As the other birdlike creatures watched, Butch probed their fallen companion with the toe of his steel boot. The loathsome black creature had long orange claws, a swollen belly that leaked pus from a perforated wound, a face that resembled Usama bin Laden on a ten day drunk, and a scarlet, six-inch nose that leaked little driblets of what looked like Salad Time mustard. Taken as a whole it was about as ugly as a diarrhea cocktail for breakfast.
"Look there," Bozart said, "you see the face on that son of a bitch? I'll tell you he was cloned on another planet and trained in one of them al Coyote training camps in Afghanistan."
"Al what?" If there was one thing, Butch couldn't stand it was intellectuals like Bozart blatting on about Iraqs, Irans, Afghanistans, Akistans, or Who Flung the Goats wearing towels on their heads. Hell, America had enough problems of its own with Mexicans jumping the border, idiots wanting to be governor of California, and tree huggers hiding inside redwoods. The last thing in Hell we needed was a bunch of loud-mouth know it alls or hand-grenade brains trying to blow up the world.
"Al Coyote, Butch. Where you been?"
"In the state hospital at Yakima for Christ sake, Bozart. You don't have to rub it in. C'mon let's get rolling."
"Good idea. This place is beginning to stink."
"Well what about them birds left on the roof?"
"Let ‘em go play with theirselves." Bozart blew his nose on the sleeve of his flannel shirt.
Ten seconds later, Butch released the clutch, and the big old Kenworthy, farted hard, and was hauling butt in the direction of Denver as sixteen dark creatures squatted around their fallen comrade and Butch gave them a double blast with the air horn.
The rest of the morning rolled by uneventfully as the rig hauled ass down the semi-deserted back road into Cheyenne with Bozart playing the blues on the harmonica while snow-capped mountains unrolled in the distance alongside the barren, tumbleweed flats that somebody had bothered to name Wyoming.
Rolling south, the memory of the creatures faded from Butch's brain because by God he was no worrier. Humans hadn't been set on this planet to waste their time examining their own bowel movements for edible corn or sweating about what lay over the next dip in the road. Or so he thought as he saw the thing in the road.
From a distance it looked like a black rock, but as he slowed from sixty down to forty it began to take on a different appearance. Butch's eyes weren't as good as the year he hit 35 home runs for the Amarillo Armadillo's, but he sure as hell could see it wasn't no rock. By God, it looked like a body lying in the road! Butch stood up on the brakes.
"What you doing, man? You want to turn this sucker over?" Bozart turned pale as the trailer whipsawed right and left.
"There's a girl lying in the road."
"Don't stop, Butch. It's a trap! Them terrorists planted that thing. It's nothing but a dummy."
As the Kenworthy lurched, then settled to a halt under the blazing sun, Butch climbed down from the cab. The girl, who couldn't have been more than twenty, was obviously dead. A streak of blood oozed from one side of her mouth, and her skull had been crushed like it had been run over by a semi.
"Jesus!" Butch groaned, feeling dreadful for the girl.
"You shouldn’t ought to swear, Butch," Bozart whined.
"Will you shut up? I got to report this."
Bozart shook his head. "You know dang well your CB's been broke ever since we left Carson City."
Butch groaned. As usual Bozart was right. But now what to do with the dead girl? It was a damn shame, her so pretty and mangled, and him not able to do anything about it. He kneeled down next to the girl, and touched her hand. It was hot and swollen with the sun and hadn't turned rigid yet. Dang, he wanted to bring the girl back to life.
"She ain't stiff. That means she ain't been here that long," Bozart said, and then he suddenly shut up. Butch wheeled just in time to see what had stopped Bozart's usually non-stop mouth. Simultaneously Butch’s eyes nearly popped out of his head.
Back on the blacktop, the Kenworthy, with hundreds of black vultures squatting on its roof, rustling their feathers up and down like some weird movement in the wind, was sinking into a huge crater in the desert.
"What the shit?" Butch cried, running towards his truck just as he suddenly felt the sand crumbling beneath his feet. Then before he knew it, he was sliding downwards in a torrent of loose gravel and rock, crashing over his head, threatening to choke and maim him at once. An instant later he tumbled to a halt buried in sand and debris.
Struggling frantically, he clawed towards the surface, barely able to catch a breath. Sweat beaded on his forehead as he confronted the fact that he might die then and there. However, at the moment he was about to lose hope, Butch's fingers broke free of the wall of sand that imprisoned him. Desperately digging, somehow he managed to rip his way free of the dirt-slide.
As he caught his breath, he found himself in a dripping underground cavern, peopled by man-sized vultures that surrounded his truck like there was a girlie show going on in the rig. The doors of the trailer had been forced open and Butch could see for himself that he hadn't been hauling pork bellies as he believed. Instead the trailer was loaded to the gills with rocket propelled grenades.
"Jesus!" Butch groaned.
"I warned you about swearing." Bozart shook his finger at Butch.
"Why you," Butch said, grabbing Boze by the collar, but secretly glad that he was not alone this time.
"Let me down, Butch," Bozart cried.
Relaxing his grip on the midget’s neck, Butch whispered, "What the hell we going to do, Boze?"
"There's only one thing to do-get the hell out of here." Bozart's eyelids trembled.
"We can't do that," Butch said. "You were right. Them is terrorists. And they ain’t from this planet. We got to stop 'em."
"Don't he crazy, Butch. There must be fifty of them."
However, just as Bozart's terrified words reached, Butch's ears, Butch felt the cruel sting of an ice pick at the back of his neck.
"My name is abu Haziz al Farti. If you move, I will insert the blade into your spinal column, instantly severing your brain from the rest of your body, thereby lowering your IQ even further if that is possible. Death will follow in seconds." The ice-pick man’s voice was ragged and weird in what Butch realized at once was a foreign accent.
"We ain't going no place," Butch said, trying to keep his cool, wondering if abu Haziz al Farti was a French spaceman and what the Turnerator would do in a jam like this.
At the same time Haziz al Farti breathed right in Butch’s face. The half-human black-feathered creature had the horrible orange talons of a bird, disgusting thin legs that would have embarrassed PeeWee Herman, the same repulsive, swollen, pus-leaking belly as the creature Butch had pickled back at Sinless, and a bad case of stinking breath.
"What'd we do wrong?" Butch said.
"You have worshipped the wrong God, fouled the planet with your sinful lusts, and sided with the Zionist oppressor," hissed al Farti.
Butch gave his head a shake, trying to clear his ears. He had no more idea what a Zionist oppressor was than he did what color underwear Rusty Wallace wore to drive in the Pocono 500.
"Don't argue with him, Butch," Bozart said. "He’s evil."
"Who said that?" Abu Haziz squinted at Butch.
"Just some imaginary friend of mine," Butch said, wishing to Hell Bozart could keep his mouth shut sometimes.
"Lying infidel!" Abu Haziz sprang at Butch, smashing the icepick into Butch's cheek.
Butch could stand a lot of shit like filthy restrooms with no toilet paper, two hour lines in license bureaus, being kept on hold at the doctor’s office until you were cured of whatever you called about, but there was one thing Butch couldn't stand. And that was an icepick to the cheek.
With an outraged bellow, he slapped the weapon aside and caught the feathery bastard by the neck.
To Butch's amazement, abu Haziz's neck was no more substantial than a chicken's. His captor's head came sliming off right in Butch's thick hands as abu Haziz's severed body did the dance of death and a few seconds later keeled over.
However, the cries of the dying man had alerted his comrades. Bearing weapons seized from the bed of the semi, they came roaring at Butch, firing as they ran. Filling with smoke, the cave reverberated with the blange, blange of rifles, and the scarlet flash of powder.
With a defiant scream, Butch staggered towards his attackers, waving the ice pick. "You sons of bitches will pay for this sooner or later. There's going to be justice. Justice you hear?" he cried as steel-jacketed bullets smashed into his thick, hairy body, but still he stumbled forward. Kill him they might, but he'd take some with him.
Blange, blange; again and again shots rang out.
"Run for it, Bo," Butch shouted, seizing a buzzard-man by the neck and smashing him to the rocks in a bloody heap, but now the terrorists were upon Butch, firing point blank into his face and chest.
Butch reeled sideways. "Momma!" Butch cried. "Oh Jesus! Somebody help!"
Then he lurched forward as the lights in the cave suddenly dimmed, and all he could hear was the mournful sound of harp music coming from a long, green hallway with No Smoking signs everywhere. Feeling depressed because he knew he was way too fat for an angel uniform, Butch stomped along, trying to remember if he'd ever performed a good deed.
However, he hadn’t stumbled far up the slippery corridor of eternal boredom when he felt a hand tugging at his belt from behind. Butch turned.
"Boze," he cried. "They got you too."
"Not to worry," his trusty midget winked. "I already talked to St. Peter. It was all a mix-up about our time to go. We’re supposed to go back to the exit. There’s terrorists to fight, a load of frozen chicken waiting for us in Cheyenne, and we got to report that girl."
"You got to be shitting me. Hallelujah!" Butch clapped his pal on the back. Then, smiling, the two of them marched, arm in arm, slipping and sliding back down the greasy passageway of the tunnel of death.