Elephants in the Sky ((A Story About Timbuktu)(Reedited and Revised 7-2008))


 

This story was originally one of the few selected to be considered to be put into the San Francisco, thereloadershouse Magazine of Literature, as an award-winning story, the fall season of 2006.

Advance: Lee was discharged from the Army in 1980, whereupon, he traveled the world, one of those locations was in Mali, by the legendary city of Timbuktu; whereupon he found himself in the middle of a plague, a plague of locust.

[Diary-review]

There were swarms of locust over the top of my car, in front of me, swarms, a dark shadow covering the sky, descending onto the road-in front of me, ammunitionscenter behind me, it was locusts, locusts, locusts-locusts everywhere: so thick, impenetrable, layers upon layers flooded the sky, that my car was slipping and sliding as if on ice. My radiator was being blocked, plugged by these finger-sized carcasses. I had to pull over to the side of the road. It was but a moment thereafter when I saw some adolescents down the road a bit, not too far down-not too far to say, an unapproachable distance, just a little ways, three of them trying to beat them off with their belts, pants belts, forearms, hats, and hands as wave, after wave of them came. Then one resorted to a stick, a stick I say, would you use a stick? Under normal circumstances unimaginable, but in reality, บาคาร่าออนไลน์ at the moment when such a thing is taking place, anything in ones hands that can reach out and swat the little beasts, becomes possible, believable, so I learned! To be honest, I’d run I think hell; anyhow, he took a stick to beating them off, while the others used their hats, hands, kicking them, stomping on them, rolling over and over trying to kill them; they were dropping down like hail onto them from all sides; down and sideways: bombarding them like creatures from outer space, like in the bible, where it mentions such things happening back in the days Moses: the plagues God bequeath upon the pharaoh. This was like that; they were in their hair, noses, ears, climbing up their pants legs, flying straight for their mouths. skywings

The whole area was becoming infested with them [them: being, those locust creatures, the little beasts]. They were becoming as thick as the Great Walls of Troy, -twenty-feet thick. I accelerated the engine of my rented car to keep it running, it wanted to stop-it almost did, I turned the key to keep it going, to start it again, it spit and sputtered a bit, then came to a complete dead stop, a burping stop. I could not see the boys, only a cocoon of these creatures several inches thick around them-like mummies; they now rolled about on the ground like dying lions, screaming in agony, I think they knew they were dead, or as good as dead.

For a hundred miles around I had heard they were eating up the crops before anyone had time to harvest them; catastrophic damage to the yield, as the new generation of larvae appeared-thus, widening the dimensions of the one-hundred mile radius to possibly two-hundred miles or so.

In addition, they, these hosts from hell, were now on top of my car: yes, oh, yes, my heart beating two-hundred bangs a minute, while they remained there getting thicker by the second-like insane little beasts with beady eyes, and trampling little feet; and under the car they were, busy with making nauseating sounds, sounds of tapping from their wiry antennas, a buzzing sounds from their wings, and in the fields beside me they came, onto the road, wherever you looked they were there or coming, a harvest from hell. I was but twenty-five miles outside of Timbuktu. Ah! What could I do, I asked myself? affluentwords

As far as I knew, there was no means of spraying available to kill them, nor any other treatment, why that occurred to me, is beyond me, I mean who gives a hoot, I’m in the middle of it; yes, yes, no equipment as supplies were of a minimum and vehicles were scarce-I was lucky to have secured a deal with this jeep.

In the not so far distance, I was witnessing farmers beating the locust into trenches; what more could they do (so I asked myself)? Swatting them from all sides, and running, I mean running, like the boys should have done, looking for some kind of shelter.

Now I’m breathing in the hot air in the jeep, it seems to me I’m recycling my own air. In the five-mile area they, the little beasts covered most everything; there were at least, must have been at least, couldn’t be less than 250-million locust I figured (insects); hoppers, yellow winged hoppers-crazy and manic hoppers, as if they were on a sugar high, as if they were manic, or had taken some high energy drug.

As I sat there in the car, somewhat numb from this entire goings on, I calculated (in my head that is) the weight volume of these pests, which averaged out to be 5000-elephants dropping from the sky. I had a lot of time to figure that out, for the most part, let’s say hours watching these hoppers fly and descend, trying to eat my tires-trying to get into the jeep and eat me.

‘Try, try, try,’ I whispered, said to them (hoping they couldn’t but it was my only way of defying them and it made me feel better): ‘Damn you all to hell!…’ I cussed them.

[Entry]

I was in Timbuktu a few days ago, on my way back to Timbuktu now, I had been in the countryside-yes, here where theses creatures were breeding, I am not sure where it was in particular, but it was in Mali where they had breed I do believe originally, at first before they got here, someplace in Mali. I was doing what I love to do, checking out some old scrolls, ancient writings that were found in one of the old mud houses in Timbuktu; realizing at one time Timbuktu was a Mecca for learning for the Muslims, or better put, Islamic culture; on the old Silk Road you could say.

I was eager in thinking the phenomenon would move east, away from me, to Sudan or Chad, or all the way to Egypt; move away to anyplace, but out of Mali and for sure, away from Timbuktu in particular. I was surprised there was not a humanitarian crisis alert, or if there was it didn’t look like it; where was the United Nation’s vehicles? Someplace safe hiding from the impending doom they bring with them, these little hoppers.

The trick is to kill them before a new generations develop-breeds, that is, as a result stopping them in their tracks from breaking into other places-countries, and a new cycle starting. The crops I knew would be gone soon in the south and now in this area as well, if they were not yet, and should they go east-well, let them worry about that.”

They leaped, these hoppers, like little elephants on the hood now, the hood of my car that is; they looked, stared into my windows, deep into my porthole, nose against the glass, as if I was eatable, somehow I got the sense (Note: they had the scent I suppose) they knew I was trapped in the car, encased as in a tomb, for I was for sure in all respects at their mercy should they find a way through that porthole. But I remember what Solomon told me in Egypt, Cairo a few months back, should something like this occur-so it was somewhat forecasted-and it was now developing: anyhow he said, “(‘should this occur?’) Try to make it till morning, when everything cools down.

I figured the wingless ‘hoppers’ the new breed, were developing now in the fields around me as the adult yellow ones could be seen flying about eating, and killing whomever got in their path (the farmers and gosh, anything breathing).

[The Big Hopper: diary entry]

One big hopper gazed through my glass window, must be the size of a sparrow (I’m writing this down as he’s looking at me). At its sight I can see its milky eyes, they follow me, I sense it is somewhat blind, I mean, its eyes give out a milky yellowness to them, as if it has cataracts, its lips trembled from old age, it mumbled something, as if talking to itself, or me-now it stands aside to let the younger ones peer in on me.

“Come? súh!”

((Note: the author translates for the bug) the big one said)(smiling an amiable grin)).

Thus, with apprehensiveness my eyebrows were quivering with my nervous system was wacky. Panting like a dog, I was. I was so bewildered… I ended up looking out the window for the longest time? blankly; then turning my head demurely to see if any of those hoppers where in back of me-sneaking up on me; checking to see if they were getting inside the jeep. My eyes could not relax from this insidious invading force, if anything it was quite disarming?

This was a form of dying slowly-melting of the heart you might say until you couldn’t breathe, but then what would you expect I suppose, surely not harmony in the middle of an earthquake? In all of these so called, unaccountable events I found myself drifting at times, but I knew I couldn’t go to sleep. I mean who could?

There I sat behind the wheel, crouched forward to peer through the blinding storm of locust; these hoppers were like rain sheets hitting the windshield quicker than the wipers could fan it clean. My palm and forehead had glossy moisture to it, my body was reeking with a death scent, my skin turning into waxiness.

It was now mid-afternoon, and they were hot, those hoppers were boiling, and it was just plain hot inside and outside the car, I was hot inside my body as well, everything was blistering, to include the: glass, the metallic elements in the car, even the fabric in the car, the tires on the car were sizzling, the whole lot was hot, and consequently it was not going to get cooler this afternoon, nor tomorrow afternoon, it was only going to get hotter, so early morning would be my best time to make my move, when they, the little beasts would be cooled down, down in the crops around me, down around the car, because now they were starting to quiet down some, -that’s why, I had turned my car off and I figured I’d leave my car off, the suspense would come in the morning when I would have to try and start it again.

-[2:00 AM] I must had fallen asleep, and an automatic clock in my head woke me up, it was inky dark out there, outside my windows, from now, I started my car up, it choked a bit, but it started, and I noticed my water-gage going up, as if the water hose was plugged or ripped. I turned the car off. I didn’t want to make too much noise, just get out of here and get back to Timbuktu: I figured they’d follow the crops, and bypass the city; oh possibly a few million might divert themselves to the city, but that is not bad; I mean, what is a million when you got 249-million more. I knew they were all on the cool ground and in a few hours they’d be in the air again-over me once more; and should they decide to stick around I’d die of a heat attack, or stroke I figured, sooner than later that is, sooner than they’d get a chance to eat me. I opened my car door slowly, pacifying the moment; shinned a flashlight on the road beside me, there were many of these locust, these migratory grasshoppers whom sought warm regions to infest with those short antennas, there was an uncountable number about-quietly sleeping, almost stone-still-could I have hummed them to oblivion, I would have; my instant evaluation told me I could walk around them for the most part, and I did, yes to be sure, I did just that, then I opened the hood of the car, slowly, quietly, with more gentleness than I ever knew I had, as if it was a woman and I wanted to embrace her, next I looked at the hose, and several hoppers flew in my face, I had glasses on, they poked at my eyes nonetheless-what they thought were my eyes, but was glass, diabolical little malice beasts, that is what they were, right out of the abyss; I said nothing, not a word, or hum, just my heart beating, and softly swatted them away with the rag I had in my hand-and I didn’t use much force in doing that. One hose had a small crack in it. I knew I’d lose more water, all the water should I not fix it, I figured I could only go another five miles down the road should I not fix it and with twenty miles left to go, the numbers just did not add up, I’d be stranded right in their pathway.

The engine was covered with those winged hoppers, I wanted to cuss but I couldn’t, I’d wake them creatures up for sure I figured; I had woke a few of them up already, and they started to fly out and about clearing a passage to my hose.

They were not jumping on me, just a few tried to crawl up my pants legs-tickling me here and there: attacking my glasses again; I think they like glass, I told myself after a few trials. This was nothing to get alarmed about for my part, compared to waking the masses up. I tried not to open my mouth a few times, as if to get a breath of the morning air, a deeper breath than what I was getting, and as a result, a few seemed to spot it when I took in that deep breath as a sign for them to zero in on me, and they did like radar, consequently, they zoomed right at it, I had to spit them out as when they hit my face their legs seemed to have found their way into the crevice of my mouth also. Then I got an idea, I opened my trunk up, took out a five gallon can of gasoline, in this country you always carry extra gas, water and food, always, lest you find yourself in some deserted location, as I have at this very moment; I poured it on the side of the road, up about two-hundred-feet leading into the fields, then on my way back I took my first aid kit, put the white tape-normally used for bandaging wounds- put it around the hole of the hose (not making a sound), securing the hose and blocking its seepage, and started my car up, at the same time I lit the gasoline by throwing a match out of the window onto the road, and I hit the accelerator to fifty-miles an hour ((its as fast as my jeep would go)(it was an old US Army jeep they must had purchased from some Army surplus garage)) and I watched the road and fields explode with lightening like fire behind me.

Yes, yes, yes, behind me was a windless fire breeding into the fields, eating hoppers while sleeping, roasted grasshoppers, like hotdogs over a bonfire: yes, yes, yes they woke up, this horde of hoppers woke up to a French-fired position I’m sure; to them I expect it was their ‘Pompeii,’ and shall talk about it for a thousand years to come in this region of the world; to me it was salvation; oh for sure, it is what legends are made out of in the hopper-world; I got a mouth full of toxic fumes out of all of this, which was the only curse of the predicament for me, and a beacon light behind me as I raced to Timbuktu.

When I got to the city, it was locked up tight, I mean tighter than a nail driven into a two-by-four, everyone afraid to come out of their mud huts. I knew I couldn’t tell them I had lit the fire, if for any reason, for my sake; they’d make me pay for the corps I suppose, or put me in jail until someone paid my release bail, or hung me out of spite-to have someone to blame for their misfortune, or hold me hostage until they came up with something better to hold me for, it’s always after the crisis is over, people evaluate, to see what they can salvage out of it all that took place, and forget-fail to remember the prior impending disaster, yes indeed, humanity has a short memory when it comes to ‘Thanking you,’ after the fact, especially when money is involved. But all in all, I think they were happy to see it was all over, of course they were, and so was I, and a few heard my jeep motor as I rode on down the street, because slowly one by one came out of their shops, huts, houses, mosques, and so forth, until the whole main street was out looking about with their doors open, ready to run back inside in a moments notice. I had expected them to invade the city somewhat, those pests, to some extent anyway, as did the residents, but none had; and they did head east. Hence, had I told them about me lighting the fire-I repeat-they’d have roasted me in it, so my silence, or intuition to keep silent about it, was right on.

 


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