Right about now your probably wondering how the woodpecker fit into all this. Truth was that the woodpecker was the only one who saw Blossom leave. He was sitting on the side of a light poll drilling for dinner when he saw her pass underneath him. Seeing her as a definite source for some good grub he flew down onto her back and was not disappointed. Blossom's back was crawling with these little mites, elephant lice or whatever you want you to call them, and they were so thick that the woodpecker hardly had to aim to get a mouth full. As Blossom crossed Shiloh Church Road and headed out into the woods the bird just kept eating and eating until he got his fill and, never one to leave a good thing once he had found it, just curled up behind the elephant's head and went to sleep.
Blossom was first missed by this wormy looking long-hair with a spider web tattoo on his cheek. He scratched that cheek as he and another fellow pulled out the ramp that Blossom would normally walk up into her car on the circus train and she wasn't there to lumber up it. Within a minute or two her keeper was there with one of the owners of the circus, scratching their cheeks, which did not have tattoos, and wondering where in sam hill that a five-ton elephant would hide. In side of an hour every employee of the circus from the owners to the midget that shoveled dung were combing the driving range, Shiloh Church Road and the surrounding woods. The only sign that they would find pointing to the direction in which Blossom had headed was a limb broken on a tall elm about six feet off the ground. It was dark before the carnies had started looking for the elephant so the limb went unnoticed until the next morning when the Welbourne County Sheriff, Leo Dorsey, had been notified and the word had gone out that a full grown African Elephant had escaped from the circus. For all residents to be on the lookout, and not to try and apprehend the animal himself. That if you sight the elephant call the Welbourne County Sheriff's Department immediately. The message went out over the local radio station WGWR 1220 AM and all the television stations that broadcasted out of Winston Salem and Greensboro that served the Welbourne County area. It made the headlines in the next day's edition of the Ashewood Falls Harbinger and for the next few days would be front-page news overshadowing all mention of the town's first annual Harvest Festival that was to be held the following week-end. Despite all the publicity it would be two days before anyone saw, heard or smelled Blossom, aside from the woodpecker that is, for what good that did.
The news of the Blossom's disappearance was lost on the general populace of Welbourne County. Most of them only half paid attention to such new sources as newspapers and television, putting more stock in the community grapevine and the gossip that always seemed to running along it. One of the few people who were paying attention to the elephant story was Ronald Simmons, the director of the county Art's Guild, and it wasn't because he was gung ho to go out and bag it himself. No, the only thing that Ronald Simmons ever hunted was his keys every morning and he couldn't find them half the time. Ron was more than slightly ticked about the press that the elephant was getting and the little press that the Harvest Festival received. The Harvest Festival had been thought up and organized by Ronald himself, as sort of a chance for the whole town to get together and mingle, not to mention charge people for booth space and bring in merchants form all over the state. There would be a parade, music, crafts, merchandise and Sunday there would be a barbecue cook off to decide who made the best barbecue in Welbourne County, a county which always prided themselves as making the best around. Even better than Davidson County, who has always claimed that their barbecue is nationally known.
The truth was that Ronald shouldn't have worried. Yes the elephant was sponging all of his press but it was the Harvest Festival that was first and foremost on the minds of the people of Welbourne County, especially the barbecue contest. They knew real news when they saw it.
It was Daniel McDaniel who saw Blossom first, although he did not know that it was the missing elephant. Daniel had kept up with the story in the paper. As head of planning and zoning for Welbourne County he thought it was best to keep up with the goings on in the area, for talk around the water cooler if nothing else. Again it just didn't register that the thing that loped across the road in front of him on the old Mocksville Highway was the elusive pachyderm. It was Tuesday night and Daniel had been at Mike's Bowling for the Tuesday Night All-Stars league where he bowled on a team with the mayor Johnston "Birddog" Farley, Mitchell Misenheimer and a couple of the other movers and shakers. After they tore up the other team they sat around in the five-pin lounge like they did every week and made a good attempt at drinking the place dry. Daniel had staggered to his Bronco having had about twelve Miller High Life's too many, assured his buddies for the eleven hundredth time that night that he was alright to drive and started weaving his way home. He had just crested a steep hill before he was to turn into Oakton Estates, where he lived, when this gigantic black shape loomed out at him from the darkness. It was walking up the road making straight for him. As he screamed out a question of his own ancestry and swerved to miss it the light of the headlights reflected off of all four of its eyes, one on each side of the head and two small ones, like pin-pricks, sitting atop it. As the thing angled to the left Daniel had to cut hard to the right and knowing the effects of malt and hops on the reflexes of a terrified man, he was about as prepared for such a maneuver as your Grandma is to race in the Daytona 500. The ride of the Bronco got really smooth for a second or two as it left the road and went airborn, and then got really rough again as it hit the ground. The impact of the landing threw Daniel up against the steering wheel and his foot pushed the pedal to the floor. If it had been daylight and if someone had been watching it would have probably looked like an outtake from Smokey and the Bandit. The vehicle hit the ground at the bottom of the embankment rolling, bounced over a wood pile rolled over the top of an old rusted out '62 Rambler, took out a chicken coup and finally came to a stop, entangled in a large scuppernong vine. The old lady who owned the woodpile, the Rambler, the chicken coup and the vine, Old lady Liddy Boumont, was sitting up at the time drinking a Papst and watching Johnny Carson. When she heard that truck crash down in her front yard she dropped her beer, knocked over her spit cup and grabbed a .410 shotgun that she kept in the umbrella stand by the door. She ran out after what she thought would be a pack of raccoons in the garbage or a fox or dog in the chicken house. She had taken out her hearing aid and had left it on the T.V. What she found was Daniel McDaniel trying to crawl out of his driver's side window and all hung up in that grape vine. Chickens were running everywhere, Liddy's German Shepherd, Violet was barking to beat the band and the horn on that Bronco had stuck full blast— this last unbeknownst to her, what with her hearing aid abandoned on the T.V. set and all. By the time that she had gotten over the shock of it all, Daniel had made it out of his window but was hanging upside down tangled up in the grapevine. Liddy walked around where she could get a good look at Daniel as he hung there, cursing and belching and as his back was to her she raised the shotgun and peppered his backside with rock salt that she had packed in the shells to scare away animals. The result, like the crash, would have been more entertaining if anybody else were there to see it. Daniel screamed something about his mother, or somebody's mother I don't know, whipped his body up flipped in mid air and was able to dive head first through the driver's side window. He raised the glass up in the window got the back cargo area of the Bronco and covered himself up with an old carpet that he was supposed to take to the dump two weeks before. That's the way he was when two sheriff's deputies got there and were finally able to calm down both woman and dog and cut their way through the vine to get to the car.
The woodpecker had been asleep atop Blossom's head and had been awakened by the soft roar of the thing as it got nearer. As it opened its eyes it saw the thing glaring down on them and for a second had started to fly off to the safety of the trees, but instinct told it to stay where it was. Its perch felt safe. Since it had first chosen this particular spot things had gone right. There was an endless supply of food that teemed along the elephant's back and neck, and there were no more of the worries that a woodpecker had to contend with on a daily basis. No cats, no foxes or other predators. Everything that would normally hurt it seemed to be leaving it alone. So why not this creature? It hunkered down and gripped the elephant's head as it made straight toward the thing. At the last minute his new home seemed to win the war of dominance over this strange loud animal and it ran off into the woods on the side of the road. The elephant kept on lumbering down the road for a few more minutes before it took an old logging road and walked off down into the woods again. As he felt the safety of the trees once again drape over him the woodpecker hunkered down on Blossom's neck again and went to sleep. Blossom found some low lying trees and picked around in them for leaves to eat before she lowered her head and dozed as well.
Daniel McDaniel was let out of jail on $500 bond and through the influence and persuasive abilities of Mayor Johnston "Birddog" Farley would avoid jail time on the agreement that he attend Alcoholics Anonymous, abstain from alcohol and otherwise keep his nose clean. He would also have to do 1,000 hours of community service, which through a deal struck by Mayor Farley included the hours spent at his job as head of planning and zoning for the county. In a private deal between himself and the mayor he agreed that he would never again mention the dinosaur that charged him out on Old Mocksville Road that night.
The morning after Daniel's run in with the triceratops— that's what Daniel's six year old son said it sounded like— barricades were already laid out by Welbourne Avenue, McLean Boulevard, Main and Depot streets and every other thoroughfare and alley in the downtown area. Those streets would be cordoned off for the much-awaited Harvest Festival. As Ronald Simmons checked his list and checked it twice, almost every vendor that had been invited to the festival had agreed to come. Those who hadn't wouldn't be missed and as he shut his planning folder and headed down to the county office complex to give his final report to the board of commissioners he had already declared the festival a rousing success.
At that same time Horace Spinks was putting the final touches on his big business venture, the newly refurbished Columbia Theater. For years the Columbia been the only movie theater, not only in Welbourne County but the only one between Lexington and Winston Salem. When the Cinema Twin theater had been opened in the early seventies the Columbia's business had diminished greatly, and it was reduced to showing second run movies and midnight horror festivals. It was shut down barely a month after the Ashewood Mall was opened, which included a five-screen multiplex. For over five years the theater had sat empty, the renovations costly enough to scare off most potential buyers. Horace had fond memories of the old theater however, had saved his money, made several good investments, mortgaged his house again and was now on the verge of opening the theater to show classic movies only. He had gotten with Ronald Simmons and corresponded the official theater opening with Gone With the Wind on the Saturday of the Harvest Festival. The unofficial opening would be that night and in the morning Horace put up the posters for Citizen Kane, The Wizard of Oz, Duck Soup with the Marx Brothers, Horace's own favorite comedy, and in response to a request from his most staunch supporter, town character Slobber McAllister, for a good old scifi movie, The Blob. The last Horace saw as a contribution to the history of motion pictures only for the fact that it was Steve McQueen's first major role. He did, however, promise Slobber and seeing as he was at that moment stripping and waxing the floors it was the least he could do.
While the administrative duties of the Harvest Festival were on Ronald Simmons' mind and Orson Wells and Judy Garland were on Horace Spinks' the only thing that was on the mind of Duncan Reid and his wife Mandy was barbecue. Duncan owned the Pig Palace: A five star (according to the owner) barbecue joint just outside of Nazareth. While they had been married for going on seven years and all in all it had been a good marriage Duncan and Mandy did not discuss barbecue. They could talk each other's ear off on any other topic: Politics, religion, sex, Rusty or Dale, Ford or Chevy, Carolina or State, the important topics that always seemed to drive two people apart never caused a ripple in the Reid's ocean of marital bliss, but barbecue that was another thing. Duncan was born and raised in Welbourne County and cooked barbecue the way it was supposed be, God's way. Pig meat, chopped and thoroughly blended, but not drowned with the special sauce, the family recipe. The recipe that he used at the Pig Palace and that his daddy had used in all their back yard barbecues while he was growing up. Mandy was a Texas girl and when she heard the word barbecue she thought of beef still on the bone and covered with a thick tangy sauce that stuck to bone, flesh, clothing and anything else that it came into contact with.
They both heard about the contest separately within minutes of each other and had not spoken since. There was no fight, no blow up, no falling out, but they knew that one word one hint at a put down of each other's cooking and that would be it. We're talking hatchets and butcher knives, pistols at dawn, a bloody your nose, stuff your teeth down your throat knock down drag out bar room brawl. At first all was fine. Duncan did most of his cooking at the restaurant while Mandy did it at home. Then Wednesday, while a lot of the town was at the newly refurbished Columbia Theater watching The Wizard of Oz, Duncan started missing the gallon of sauce that he had mixed up for the festival. He had mixed it up that morning at the house after Mandy had left for work and had forgotten and left it in the kitchen. He drove back home and, not seeing it on the counter where he was certain that he had left it, had the all out nerve to ask Mandy where it was.
"Why would you think that I'd want that mess?" She snapped from where she stood with her back to him at the stove and ding ding, the gloves were off and the fight was on. They screamed, they cursed, they threw things and somebody's shin, I'm not saying who's, took a right hard kicking. Their next door neighbors heard the racket and thought that it might not be such a bad idea to go to the movies after all. The neighbor on the other side's dog thought that it might not be such a bad idea to run off into the woods and hunt for rabbits after all, and the cows in the adjourning pasture thought that it may not be such a bad idea to go and stand and eat grass on the other side of the field. At about ten o'clock the volume of the war had gotten down to a dull roar and by eleven both combatants had reached the seething stage. Duncan had made himself a banana sandwich and stomped off into a back room to fix this screen in one of the windows. He didn't even want to think about barbecue, but Mandy fussed around hers for awhile until she had worked her dander up for round two. She kicked open the door and walked right up to him with what she wanted to say teetering on the end of her tongue. He turned to face her and threw his hammer down on the table lest he had an urge to use it. She started by telling him that his barbecue was slimy and tasted like a possum after it had sizzled on the road for a good week or two. She then yanked his sandwich out of his hand and started in on how he was a good for nothing, dim witted, ugly piece of Welbourne County white trash. He just stood there silhouetted by the light of one old lamp sitting on a table just inside the window. As he raised a hand and opened his mouth to respond Mandy saw this very long, snakelike object reach from between his legs, grab the sandwich out her hand and disappear from whence it came. All they could do was to stand there staring at each other for a good minute or two before they thought that it would be a good idea to forget barbecue for the night and go somewhere, anywhere, after all.
Blossom had missed her new friend. Throughout their time together the woodpecker would leave and fly up into the trees, but he would always be back in a few minutes. This time, however, she had been gone for a good while and Blossom had missed the pleasant feeling of the bird pecking around on her back and had been combing that section of the woods hoping that he would come back. Then a familiar smell turned her thoughts to food and she made her way to a big house on the edge of large field where she could smell other creatures milling about. The smell was bananas. Blossom loved bananas, and whenever she had performed well in the circus her handler, George, always rewarded her with whole bunches of bananas. She stopped several feet from the house and started to turn away because of the loud and savage sounds coming from inside. She could smell meat cooking, which was a familiar smell as well, but very unpleasant, as well as sweat and aggression. The smell of bananas, however, although it was faint as compared to the others pulled her right up to a window in the house where the sounds and the other smells were the strongest, but so was the banana smell. She wanted to get away from this place, but she wanted the bananas even worse so she sent her trunk in after it. The sounds stopped, which was a relief to her, but the almost overwhelming smell of fear replaced it so she grabbed the banana, stuffed it in her mouth and left. As she was walking away chewing what turned out to be a very strange tasting banana, the woodpecker came back and lit on her head. He started pecking around and she had to close her eyes and sigh at the pleasant, content feeling that it gave her.
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Copyright (c) 2000, 2004, David Erik Nelson, Fritz Swanson, Morgan Johnson