The ride. I tell you, it’s numbing. My ass has been bouncing around on this hard back seat forever. Jeff has us listening to Ennio Morricone, which is somewhat enjoyable, but Reed keeps trying to talk over it, so he has to shout to be heard and everyone else screams, ”What?” and he repeats himself even louder. Meanwhile the windows are rolled down so the wind too is roaring in my ears and blowing my hair back. To make matters more difficult Dean keeps drinking out of my water bottle and I can’t tell if he means to or if he’s just clueless.
Twenty minutes ago we were paused by the railroad tracks of some little town, I think it was called Crows Landing. Mostly dirt and fields and sagging houses. The main street had a taco place with those round tables with the permanent umbrellas stuck in their middle, the kind that are made out of plastic or something else hard so they look more like flying saucers than umbrellas. There was also a barber shop, no barber pole or anything so quaint, just a white sign with a head of hair on it, a picture that seemed like it too hailed from 1976 or maybe 81.
Jeff had taken out the map and spread it over the steering wheel and after a few moments of examination he’d said, “The way I see it, we can keep going this way, or we can cut over this mountain right here and hit the 380 which is what we want to do eventually.” Somehow or other we decided that the mountain would be a nice change of pace since we’ve been driving all over the San Joaquin valley for two days straight, looking at fields and orchards and a lot of flat land. All this is Jeff’s idea, a road trip for the band, full of dusty ghost towns and farmland where we can stop and pose for photos to fill the sleeve of our next CD, which of course, we haven’t even started recording.
So here we were bouncing up this sub standard road, the sun gleaming like brass as it sunk, tall wild grains waving around, positively golden under that hot sun. Suddenly there are long horn cattle everywhere, grazing in the rolling hills, standing in the road. I reach my hand out the open window. They are so close I can almost touch them, but I always pull my hand back the instant it seems possible.
I start to shout, “I want to get out and pet one!” Jeff just laughs from behind his mirrored shades but I keep insisting, shouting over the sound track of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, “I really want to touch one!”
Reed is looking at me in the rear view mirror, wisps of dark hair hanging over his brown eyes. The nostrils of his banana nose flair a little, which I know means he’s annoyed or disgusted or something. His gaze shifts from me to Dean and I catch a really strange look in his eye, but he quickly turns his attention back to the road ahead before Dean notices he’s being observed.
I stop shouting to give Reed a break. After all, we’ve still got a long ride ahead of us and I myself am not all that happy with the close quarters. Reed’s been moody all day, looking at all of us as if this was the stupidest God damned bunch of fools he’s ever been stuck with. It doesn’t bother me too much because Reed is generally a little snobby, a feature that I, as a west coast native, attribute to his upbringing in New York. In the last year and a half that I’ve played with him I’ve come to be fascinated with his mannerisms, including his manifestations of annoyance.
Dean is another story. He’s only been around for a month or so. I’m not sure if we’ve ever had a drummer that I did like, but if so, it definitely isn’t Dean. I can’t even say why. Maybe it’s because he’s too tall and gangly and has those pale freckles all over his face, but today the problem is that his breath is atrocious. It’s the main reason I’ve been willing to cope with the added noise of rolled down windows. That and his cracked and peeling lips malingering on my water bottle are wearing on my nerves.
“Look at that.” Reed bellows over the din.
That’s our cue. We all shout, “What?”
“I said LOOK AT THAT!” Reed’s pointing out his open window ahead of the car. Jeff starts slowing down.
“Holy crap.” Jeff yells, “Look at that.”
I do. We’re approaching a little turn off whose main feature is an outcropping of stone covered with swastikas. The thing is at least three times as tall as I am and completely covered in paint. There are even swastikas spray painted in the middle of the road. Jeff pulls over and we all get out to look at the bizarre monument.
I grew up in a semi rural area and there you’d see rocks covered in graffiti along the road, stuff like ‘L.M. heart B.G’ or ‘Fuck’ or even ‘God Bless’, but I have never seen anything quite like this. There’s nothing else visible on any surface of the massive body of stone. It’s swastikas all the way.
“That’s weird huh?” Jeff says and I just shrug. The turn out drops off into a little valley and some cows are down there grazing happily. I go over and look at them and Jeff gets out his camera and takes some shots of the Nazi rock while Dean takes a piss on some bushes and Reed lights a cigarette. After a minute Jeff comes over and stands beside me taking pictures of the animals meandering below.
“What’s that?” he asks pointing at something big and white resting on the rolling brown grass of the little valley.
“A boulder.” I tell him.
“Are you sure?” He asks.
Even though I am sure, I’ve got to prove that I‘m right. I start making my way carefully down the slope. I’m still wondering what would happen if I tried to approach one of the cows but their long horns urge me towards caution. They are all pretty far out of my way and I head straight for the boulder. I slow way down when I‘m about 15 feet away and begin to realize that I am wrong.
My heart starts beating rapidly and I can barely breath. I have a feeling, like I want to run away, but I keep walking right into the stench, because there’s this other urge propelling me, the urge to be sure of what I am seeing. I come right up on it and try not to throw up. It’s a dead bull, solid white, except the head is completely gone and maggots are pouring out of the open neck.
I start waving frantically to Jeff and Reed and Dean. While they scramble down the embankment I make a careful study of the corpse. I look around first of all for the head. I keep thinking it could have died of natural causes, but where is the fucking head? I walk slowly around it and see that its anus is gone and in its place is a burnt out hole, big and perfectly round. The genitals are also gone and there are burns on its back. I wonder where the blood is. It seems like there should be some, but there isn’t. I’ve heard of things like this, but I never dreamed I’d ever encounter it.
By then Jeff and Reed show up, covering their noses and exclaiming things along the lines of
“what the…” and “Holy Shit.” and “Fuck.”
I’m feeling a little out of it, really dizzy, trying to make reasonable scientific observations because it seems terribly important to do so.
“This shit is beyond bizarre...” I hear Jeff say.
“If animal mutilation scares you, then I hate to burst your sense of security, but human beings are being mutilated as well....” Reed announces covering his nose and mouth with his arm. His chest is heaving and it seems like he might be about to hyperventilate.
“What?” Jeff looks at him. Dean has just caught up and joins us near the neck where we are watching the maggots wriggle.
“Gentlemen, some of these alien scum are hostile....” he tells us shaking his dirty blonde head.
I am trembling but I take Jeff’s camera out of his hands.
“Nothing proves aliens did this.” I tell them and start taking pictures. I’ve got this feeling like it’s my responsibility to document this. I can almost picture it being analyzed by the cattle man and the local Sheriff and agents Mulder and Scully. I’m freaking out, but I move as slowly and calmly as I possibly can, trying to stay in control of my shaking. Trying with my critical attention to make it less terrifying
“You seem so sure of that…” Reed challenges, “You do know that it is not only cattle being mutilated, but an entire variety of animals, including humans?”
“It’s not aliens. It's humans with nothing else better to do. Think about it. Bored people do weird stuff. Especially red neck neo nazis.” Jeff says it, but I’ve been thinking it. I just can’t imagine it being that easy to cut off a bull’s head. I wonder what they could have used, and speculate that the bull could have died of natural causes and the skinheads might have come along after the fact and done the mutilating… my head is swimming.
Now Dean clears his throat and tells us,
“I’m an abductee.”
We all stare at him. Even me. This is the guy I’ve been sitting in the back seat with all day, watching him eat my pork rinds and slurp my water. You think you know a guy.
“Nothing bad has happened to me.” He continues. “My girlfriend at the time was impregnated though, somehow.”
“What?!” Jeff erupts, sweat pouring over his brow, “You fucking moron! ‘Somehow’? She was your fucking girl friend! It was probably your baby! I’ll tell you what got the cow, it’s those mother fucking maggots, not hogus bogus aliens!”
Jeff’s face and neck have turned all red. He looks like he wants to strangle Dean, or maybe Reed, but can’t decide which one. This doesn’t surprise me. Jeff’s got a temper. We’ve been recording music together for seven years and have gone through dozens of bass players and drummers. Our deal is that he gets to be an asshole to everyone but me. What does throw me for a loop is Dean’s response.
“You’re the true moron. They’ll take your daughter, your son, and at the end of the day, all you’d do is call your own children morons. You deserve to have your adrenal glands eaten as if it were cocaine! Aliens don't eat our adrenal glands, right? Bunch of bullshit.” He kicks the ground and shoves his hands in his pockets.
“Yup. Luckily I got a chip in my head,” he withdraws one hand to tap his temple then puts it back again, “that prevents me from spoiling when it hits. This oil spill in the gulf, is just the beginning...” he stalks away from us in the direction of the sinking sun.
Jeff seems to be stunned, because he doesn’t do any more shouting. He waits till Dean is out of ear shot and whispers,
Even Reed is rubbing the stubble on his chin and eyeing Dean nervously.
“Yeah.” He says quietly, “I mean, this cow could have been mutilated by Aliens, but Dean… he’s just plain psycho. You remember when we stopped in that grocery store in Escalon yesterday? I couldn’t tell you because we’ve all been jammed together in that piece of shit car, but he got into a fight with the butcher over the price of ground sirloin. He’s about to pull the guy over the counter, he actually reached out and grabbed his collar! I’m like, what are you doing buying ground beef anyway? We aren’t grilling. He just took the meat and stormed off, so I finished getting drinks and snacks and stuff and when I came out of the store he was standing out side, EATING THE RAW HAMBURGER. He tried to throw it away so I wouldn’t see what he was doing, but I saw it.”
Now I’m really nauseated. We stand there looking at each other and at Dean’s back.
“We’ve got to get out of here.” Jeff says, then he looks at me and Reed meaningfully and adds, “Without Dean.”
“What?” I say, “We’re just going to leave him here? With that?” I gesture to the mutilated cow. Jeff nods slowly.
“Don’t worry.” Reed says, “I’m sure ‘that’ is a picnic as far as he’s concerned. He’ll probably eat it, maggots and all.”
I consider it. Dean might really be an abductee. If he is, maybe the cow really was mutilated by Aliens. Maybe the Aliens are Nazis. Maybe they’ll give him a ride home. I’m feeling really altered, as if I just swallowed a handful of pills or something. My heart is racing and my skin is crawling. My mind lurches. Maybe there are no aliens and Dean is a homicidal maniac. He craves raw meat. He doesn’t respect boundaries. Just like the red neck Nazis, he’s going to cut our heads off and… I mean, we all know Dean is weird, we just don't’ know how weird...
”Right now,” Jeff says, “We’ve got to go right now, come on.”
We three start to walk hurriedly away from the headless steer. The valley is full of shadows and the sun is out of sight leaving the sky streaked with pink. I’m not sure what I’m afraid of anymore. Nazis? Aliens? Dean? Somehow, all of us moving quickly together sets me off. I start to run and Jeff and Reed start to run too. We three climb frantically up the hill and scramble into the car locking the doors as if something were about to get us.
“Hurry up.” Reed is saying as Jeff fumbles getting the key in the ignition.
Dean hasn’t even missed us yet. Jeff starts the car up and takes off up the incline. Within a matter of minutes, trees are lining the road and we’re in a whole new terrain. The stereo is silent now and we’ve rolled up the windows and none of us says a word. I look over at the empty seat beside me covered in crumbs and half emptied water bottles and I think ‘We left Dean.’
The forest outside is growing dark around us and I shiver. Nobody says a word.