In retrospect, I should have been suspicious when the only member of our crack research team Rob could muster to visit the newly uncovered Moundbuilder's mound in Ohio was himself. Yes, certainly some on the list had perfectly valid and non-suspicious reasons not to participate—for example, my dear friend Actor Graham Greene is currently ensconced in post-production and early publicity for his film Valley of the Sun; likewise, my dear friend Writer Graham Greene has currently been dead for just over 20 years, despite his avid interest in the moundbuilding Cahokia and Clovis peoples of North America—but the day when Billy Dee Williams declines to take a research jaunt to Ohio? Frankly, I should have smelled figurative rats right in that moment.
But, like so many males, I was flattered by an individual's undivided interest in the topic upon which I wished to discourse—again, that Rob so wished to learn more about the ancient peoples of these As of Yet United States should have tipped me to this queerness—and thus remained deaf to all but the satisfying timbre of my own nattering. As we tooled down the highway, me mounted within my velocitational suit and comfortably ensconced within the trailer of a U-Will-Haul 24-foot truck, Rob piloting same, I went on and an about the vast influence and trade empire of the Cahokia of what is now Missouri. Their central mound there, the literal seat of power of a culture which spread from Gulf of Mexico to the Lake of Superior—still stands ten stories tall, controlling the flat flood plane out to the horizon. In the years of its completion—around 1250 Anno Domini—it was easily the tallest structure in our Western Hemisphere, and the city which surrounded it was larger and more peopled than London (which, let me tell you, was a startlingly boring hamlet at the time, with only a single decent theater, and that itself "decent" only in the sense that they baked fresh hot-cross buns on the premises, rather than carting them in from Crotch Crescent, as was the case with the other theater and the bear- and witch-baiting arena). The Britons were still struggling to eke out a meager living of groats and pig-feet while they patiently awaited the birth of Chaucer and entertainments that hinged upon neither being shouted at about their impending eternity in Hell, nor on wagering as the number of dogs which a witch might kill afore being torn apart by the bear, nor in trading sea salt for clumsy sex acts. It was a pitiful time for humanity, and the ultimate ascendency of English-speakers is ample proof both that there is (are) a (several) God(s), and that none of them are very nice or reasonable.
Meanwhile, the Cahokia, blessed with the flood plain of the Old Man Mississippi, harvested vast mountains of corn which they, as any nation with a corn surplus might, parlayed into trade advantages that brought their culture, foodstuffs, and sports to the far corners of North America Atlantic Seaboard, and brought back the riches of this continent and its nubile hotties, to be wed and interbred with the richest corn financiers and chunkey men. Ah, for the giddy years of the height of the Southern Death Cult Ceremonial Complex! If I have only one regret—which, prior to arriving at Rob's mound, I did—it is that I did not first arrive on non-Pangaea North America until several decades following the collapse of Cahokia and dissolution of the Southern Death Cult (not to be confused with the British rock band of the same name; I had the pleasure of opening for these delightful gents during their Midwestern North America tour whilst I was the drumsman for the Gay Utopia).
At any rate, I was to near this point in my discourse when Rob abruptly applied the brakes, sending me stumbling to the front of the trailer, and shouted out our arrival. The aft door of the trailer rumbled up and away, and in blazed the dazzling light of cloud-skrimmed sun. Once my optically notable eyes had contracted to the appropriate aperture, I found that we were in a misty temperate pine forest, and gingerly clattered out from the trailer. Despite the unseasonably cool mist, birds flitted among the conifers, and Rob remarked that it was "basically a pretty OK day, in my humble."
I trod about the truck, my otherwise thunderous steps shushed by the deep carpet of pine needles covering the mud of the otherwise undisturbed dirt parking lot, and feasted my eyes upon the lake: a large, deep black kettle lake, its mirror-still surface, through the action of some occult geologic hand, now sunk some several feet below the lake's marge, thus revealing at the lake's center the previously concealed and perfectly rounded ovular peak of a cyclopean, symmetrical mound of curious origin. Had I breath, it would have been taken away. As it was, let it suffice to say that I was somewhat impressed.
"Yeah, it's basically a pretty cool island," Rob said, surreptitiously glancing at his cellular phone. "You wanna, like, check it out?"
"I WOULD LIKE LITTLE MORE," I mumbled, still awestruck with the lake's placid and pristine beauty, as well as the thought of what this mound—unplundered by human hands—might offer.
"Super. Hey!" Rob exclaimed in a stilted voice. "Check out this, like, totally happy coincidence: Some fucker left a pontoon boat here," Rob jogged over to a copse of trees aside the lake. I took three steps forward and confirmed that there was, indeed, a pontoon boat in evidence. "With keys and shit in effect; we'll make it across, like, totally dry-shod."
Rob and I, like a latter day Huck Sawyer and Squidder Jim, then pushed the boat into the dark waters and nimbly hopped aboard. As Rob puttered us toward the beautiful little island, periodically checking his phone. I peered into the inscrutable water,—black owing to its depth, but crystal clear—and noted some flashings far below; perhaps trout, I idly considered, although it seemed passably odd that an actively stream-fed lake might have sunk so. I sifted my gaze to the slowly approaching island, contenting myself with considering the possible bounties buried within. We were more than five-sevenths of the way across when the lake when the first bump came.
"Shit!" Rob called, almost losing his phone to clatter to deck. "What the fuck?"
I peered again into the water, and saw the unmistakable black and white vestments rising up from the depths. Although it is trite, I could not help myself, and double-took:
"KILLER WHALES," I calmly announced.
"The FUCK?" Rob shouted as the deck again rose and dropped. He crammed his phone into his dungarees pocket and clutched the steering wheel desperately with one hand as he shoved the throttle to its utmost with the other. The boat did not noticeably accelerated. "No one said anything about fucking killer whales!"
Finally, sadly, pieces began to drop together, "WHO WOULD HAVE THERE BEEN TO HAVE SAID SOMETHING ABOUT KILLER WHALES, ROB?"
Rob crammed over his shoulder and looked upon me with desperate, round eyes; much was writ in those eyes, although the penmanship was illegible.
"I'm sorry," he gasped. The boat jounced again, and when it settled it did so askew, "Shit. Killer whales. Fuck. Okay." He looked again at the island, locking his eyes upon the nearing shore, still leaning hard upon the throttle, "But we're basically okay." The boat jumped yet again, and I took several involuntary steps toward the lower side of the crooked deck. "Right? When I was a kid, in school, they always said that 'killer whale' was a misnomer, and that killer whales were totally cool and not killers."
The deck shook and some metal structure mounted below the boat groaned piteously.
"Right?" Rob shouted, craning over his shoulder, his face a pale rictus sheened in sweat, like a mediocre wedge of swiss cheese suffering a cramp, abandoned on a sun-drenched counter by a careless suburban boy just prior to the detonation of an enhanced radiation device. "A misnomer? Right? Total bum wrap!"
"NO," I sighed. "THE NAME IS ENTIRELY ACCURATE."
"MR. MILLER!" a jovial voice called via megaphone. We both then turned to see a man in a light gabardine suit standing upon the shore, a still, bearded, mahogany monolith among a half dozen scurrying Detroit Police officers, busying themselves with the inflation of rubber Zodiac rafts. "YOU REALLY SHOULDN'T HAVE GOTTEN IN THE BOAT! DIDN'T YOU READ THE NOTE WITH THE KEYS?"
"What note?" Rob screamed. We both then looked at the ignition, where a laminated three-by-five card clearly dangled from the key ring. Written in large black letters on the side facing out were the words READ ASAP THEN DESTROY!!! Both READ and DESTROY were underlined three times.
"YOU'LL BE FINE" the suited man calmly said, "AS LONG AS YOU STAY THE HELL OUT OF THE DAMNED WATER!"
Predictably, the orcas struck again, the deck listed further, and Rob stumbled, wordless slipping into the black water without leaving so much as a splash or ripple. And, fool that I am, I dove after.
Until Next Week,
The Giant Squid
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Copyright (c) 2000, 2004, David Erik Nelson, Fritz Swanson, Morgan Johnson