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Immortality and Tow Trucks by Tom Fillion | Word Riot
Short Stories

December 15, 2009      

Immortality and Tow Trucks by Tom Fillion

Listen to a podcast of Tom Fillion’s “Immortality and Tow Trucks.”

Hal looked down the beach toward the Bird Sanctuary. Seagulls and pelicans thickened the sky.

“Somethin’s going on down there,” he said to the Worthingtons, an elderly couple seated nearby.

Something half dead more than likely, he thought. He cupped his hand over his eyes and squinted at the scene.  A throng of Thanksgiving beach-goers had gathered.

“The sea turtles must have hatched,” said Mrs. Worthington.

She sat with her husband, Bill, at a patio table.  Hal had just tightened the umbrella for them with his new crescent wrench.

“You think?”  Hal asked.

“They hatch at night,” Bill stated with some authority. “It’s broad daylight. Can’t be turtles, Martha.”

A gentleman in a white suit, white as the sand, sat at another table. It was his first year at The Siesta.

He said, “This time of year, I’d say it’s the Great Red Sea Turkey mentioned by ancient historians, migrating from beyond the pyramids of Egypt in search of a nesting and burial ground.  There’s been only one in existence since the time of the pharaohs.”

“That right?” said Hal.

“Never heard of it,” said Bill.

The Worthingtons glanced at each other.

“I’ve heard of an albatross and the Ancient Mariner,” Bill said. “‘Water, water everywhere.’ But never the Great Red Sea Turkey.”

“Legend has it that the old purple and gold crested bird flies until its wings give out.  Then it lands and finds a nesting spot, and from the looks of it, the bird sanctuary is as good a spot as it could find,” the man said.

“You don’t say,” said Bill.

Hal put his wrench down on the patio table, the metal tumbler chimed. Bill turned so that his good ear pointed at the man in the white suit.

“The Great Red Sea Turkey builds a nest for itself near palm trees and sunshine. The nest is a cocoon, an oven filled with herbs and spices, cinnamon and the like, sealed into a large ball of frankincense, myrrh, and resin.  The sun bakes the bird in the fragrant nest of its own making until it becomes so hot that a great conflagration occurs. The old bird is burned to ashes. From that is born the new bird.  It is mother and father, son and daughter to itself. Whoever should eat a tasty morsel of the reborn bird becomes immortal,” the man in the sugar white suit said.

“Think I’ll go take a look,” Hal said.

“You do that,” said Bill. “We’ll be right here.”

“Stop in for some Thanksgiving dinner about four o’clock,” Mrs. Worthington said. “Immortal bird isn’t on the menu, though.”

Hal stepped down from the patio and onto the sand. His bowed legs rocked in sync with the buoy markers that bobbed when powerboats or jet skis raced by.

He hadn’t walked down this way in a while.  The old Oasis Motel next door was gone. All that remained was an empty lot that wind blew through whenever it stormed. When he got to the Bird Sanctuary, he wove through the crowd of onlookers to see what the hubbub was about. So this was the Great Red Sea Turkey, he thought.

A speedboat was stuck in the sand behind a trailer.  The trailer was hooked to a yellow truck, jack-knifed at a forty-five degree angle.

“Happy Thanksgiving,” the half-drunk man in the bathing suit yelled at the people milling around. He revved the truck, dug it deeper into the sand.

There were whispers and snickers at the man’s defiance of the laws of physics, sand and surf.

“He’s an idiot,” someone said loudly.  “He can’t trailer that boat off the beach from here.  He’ll be at it forever.”

The large outboard motor with a bent propeller weighed the stern of the boat into the wet sand. The longer Hal stared at it, the lower the boat sank. There wasn’t going to be any bird rising out of this mess.

The boater stood on the edge of the trailer and saluted the crowd with his middle finger.

“Happy Thanksgiving!” he yelled.

Shellers and beach strollers laughed at the spectacle.

“Maybe he can float it out at high tide,” someone suggested.

“That’s six hours from now,” Hal answered. “That’s long enough to cook a twenty pound turkey.” Laughs rose from the crowd.

“I’ve worked on the beach for thirty years and have never seen anything this ridiculous,” he added.

For the next hour, he watched the boater winch the boat onto the trailer.  The winch strained and creaked as the boat inched its way forward a notch at a time. Finally, the man had the boat nestled against the throat of the trailer. He jumped into the pickup truck for his triumphant departure. He gunned the motor and sand sprayed from the spinning, rear tires. The truck slumped further into the sand.  He got out and kicked the side of his truck.

“I’ll go call you a tow truck,” someone offered.

The crowd was still growing, like seabirds at feeding time.

“This is the most interesting Thanksgiving I’ve ever had,” Hal said to an onlooker.

“Yeah, beats the football,” the man agreed.

Even if I don’t see the Great Red Sea Turkey, Hal thought.

The crowd turned left, Lonnie’s Seaside Towing Service ploughed through the vacant lot and backed down the beach.

The driver assessed the situation and took planks of wood from the back of his truck.  He rocked the disabled boat, trailer, and the yellow truck free in minutes.  The boater took a slug of Captain Morgan’s rum then threw the half-full bottle onto the sand near a recliner. He turned to the crowd of detractors.

“Fuck you,” he yelled, his hand raised in a defiant bird. Then with a flourish, the truck, the trailer, and boat sped away through the empty lot at the Oasis.

The crowd applauded and started to disperse. The tow truck driver attempted to follow the boater up the beach, but he spun his tires into four deep holes.  The crowd turned back, ready for Act Two.

Hal glanced at his watch.  There was still time to stop by the Worthington’s for a Thanksgiving meal. He took up camp in the recliner next to the discarded bottle of rum.

~

An hour later, Hal heard the asthmatic breathing of the large diesel engine from several hundred feet away.  A larger tow truck from Lonnie’s Seaside Towing Service drove through the open lot at the Oasis.  The wind wafted the smell of diesel fumes down the beach. The truck came as close as it could before it was in position to help the smaller truck.

The two drivers laughed, the second more than the first. He pulled the hook from the hydraulic arm on the back of his schooner and unwound seventy-five feet of thick cable.  The first driver hooked the cable underneath his truck.

The crowd cheered. The two drivers worked together for the next three hours, a half foot at a time, dislodging the first tow truck from the sand.  Hal had all but finished the rum, and missed his date at the Worthingtons.

The first driver manoeuvred his truck around the right side of the tow truck.  Being on firmer ground, he easily made it to the Oasis and waved goodbye to his co-worker and the remains of the crowd. He sounded his horn and took off.

The second driver gunned his engine, rocked back and forth. The tow truck didn’t budge.

The cab door opened slowly.  The driver, scratching his head, jumped down to the sand. He examined the moat he’d dug with the four back tires. He squawked into a walkie-talkie. A reply came back several moments later.

“Fort Myers! Lonnie’s in Fort Myers with the Mud Hen?” he responded. “I’ll be out here till Christmas!”

The driver kicked the sand with his steel-tipped boot. Hal finished the bottle. The sun went down.

~

This is just beginning, Hal thought. It could go on forever. He lay back in the recliner and fell asleep, his snoring drowned by the waves. He dreamt of the Great Red Sea Turkey descending in all its glorious plumage, looking for a sanctuary to give birth to itself.

The Mud Hen, the largest tow truck in Lonnie’s Seaside Towing Service’s fleet, was big enough to pull a freight train.  It was bright red, half a city block long, and arrived sometime between midnight and dawn.  It shook the surrounding condos and motels.  People woke. They peered out windows, wondered if a no-name storm had arrived.

Bright lights and powerful purple and gold feathers emerged from the back, the sides, and the front of the Mud Hen. The feathers planted themselves into the sand and the body puffed itself up, and pulled the tow truck to safety.

At sunrise, cataclysmic treads remained. Hal walked back to the Siesta with a tale to tell. He’d start, he thought, with sea turtles hatching.

About the author:

I’m a graduate of the University of South Florida. I teach mathematics and coach golf and tennis at a Tampa public high school.  My short stories have appeared in many online publications. For a complete list please visit: http://dreammechanic.blogspot.com/

I have stories forthcoming at The Bicycle Review, SubtleTea, Houston Literary Review, Cantaraville, and Rose & Thorn.

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