“Good ol’ Potosi. Had your Potosi today?” The speaker was a gray shopworn man of indeterminate age. Saint Velcrotm, a registered trademark, recalled Potosi as a locally-brewed brand of beer when he was a kid back in Albania.
“You mean potsy, a street game with marbles for money. Or if you are attempting to speak in Spanish...” said Bare-ass Pryn, likewise a trademark, Velcro’s trusty sidekick, as she extracted a Langenscheidt’s from an unsuspected pocket in her gossamer raiment. “Here in the American wilderness...”
“There’s no one but us. You and me. Believe me, it’s beer,” said Velcro.
There was a digital flourish of reference works. “In Spanish," said Pryn, “...the language of second conquerors, Potosi was the name they gave Indians who survived the Aztalan, the first conquerors.”
Velcro made a visor of his hand and peered into the distance the way explorers did. Prairie grass disappeared into a horizon rippled with heat. “Gets mighty lonely after a few millennia, Pryn.” It had been, by the saint’s count, a thousand years or more since the last tour passed through — Attila and his Hunnic Horde, their hardy ponies pulling an endless cavalcade of Airstream trailers that stretched to the sunrise. “Remember, Pryn — how the horizon tore?” At his feet the high prairie took a break that had allowed a meandering stream to carve a chasm millions of years earlier. Velcro tried to leap the stream. “Ow!” There was a considerable drop. He must have blinked and missed it, distracted by the ocean of golden-headed grass stalks. The eyes thing again. “Now who put that there?”
After he had he struggled back to the precipice’s edge Velcro looked around and felt foolish. No one had seen. There was no one, unless you counted Pryn. Velcro did not count Pryn.
“Wrong epoch. Should’ve had your eyes checked,” said Pryn. “And thanks for including me.”
“I am it,” said Saint Velcrotm. “All there is. You are a figment.” On the western bank low prairie flowed to the sunset. “You are not it.”
“Many in Paradise would jump at a comely sidekick,” offered Pryn, who bore a striking resemblance to Psyche at Nature’s Mirrortm on the White Rock club soda label.
“I’m it,” said Velcro, “the total population. I lusted; you wouldn’t put out.”
“You never properly asked,” said Pryn as she fluttered diaphanous wings and arched her tiny breasts. “A girl likes to be asked.”
“So, I’m asking.”
“Sorry, I’m a figment. You’ll have to make do.”
“For all practical purposes then, I am alone; this is what you are telling me.”
“Not necessarily,” said a voice. Pryn fluttered off to hide behind a boulder, the promontory’s only feature aside from the panoramic view. Velcro turned to confront the arrival. “You are new. I thought...”
“You thought you were alone. You are not alone, you and your figment,” said a lean sun-bronzed man who squatted by the campfire, Velcro’s campfire. “That’s what brings trouble — thinking.” He poked the fire with a stick. Embers rose as a charred end of wood erupted and fell. “Is it spring yet?”
“You mean the season. How would I know? For all I know it is the same as it is back... back... Well, wherever we come from.” Home... where was that? Besides, Velcro had a nagging feeling he had forgotten something. He squinted myopically. No, he had always stood here on a precipice at the banks of a wide muddy river.
“The Mississippi,” the stranger volunteered.
“We studied the Mississippi River in high school,” said Velcro. “In Albania. Tenth grade. Not so long ago — AD 126, I believe. I would recognize it. This is not it, not the Mississippi.”
“Good point.” The stranger’s joints creaked as he rose to stand with Velcro at the edge of the cut. “What is a Dubuque?”
Antares in Scorpius to Sirius in Canis Major, zenith to nadir, paint peeled, canvas flapped and a gateway gaped across the sky. A flock of Japanese schoolgirls dressed in identical Sailor Moon outfits bounded through. Distant vistas of golden-headed prairie grass and windswept mesas were thrust aside by knobbly knees and trampled on by black patent leather MaryJanes. The girls were led by a fidgety docent wearing headphones. The woman was repeating whatever she heard from the audio cassette player she carried on a strap over one shoulder. “Placental backwaters of Dada... the lesser works of unknown creative artists,” she droned. The girls giggled and nodded. One little girl echoed the stranger’s question. “What is a Dubuque?” she said.
“A city someplace else,” said Saint Velcrotm. “Dubuque is a place we had when I was a kid in Albania. We looked for it across the water.”
“China flats and MaryJanes do not a summer make,” said the child. The girl gave a haughty sniff and galloped after her schoolfellows. As the sky healed itself, Velcro held out a hand to the hard-bitten stranger. “Saint Velcrotm, sagebrush. You...?”
“Cantrecetm the gunslinger, whistling down a roaming wind: ‘as strong as steel’ and ‘as fine as a spider’s web’ — a trademark of DuPont Hosiery. And if you don’t mind me saying, pardner, that’s a mighty fine handle you got, too. What’s your corporate affiliation, if I might ask? You don’t have to answer — this is the new land, we all are free here.”
“There don’t seem to be very many of us, so what’s the point, really? I was a catalog logo for a liturgical raiment consortium — Bold Christian Clothing: ‘Saint Velcrotm, Sinner and Saved.’ It was a T-shirt. ‘Saved’ was on the back.”
“Mighty toothsome wordsmithing,” said Cantrecetm the gunslinger, as he whipped a large-caliber pistol from his belt and fired it into the air. There was a heart-rending screech as of a martyr’s soul being ravaged on the rack and a white swan fell dead at their feet. Bare-ass Pryn fluttered to the swan and kissed it, weeping. Cantrecetm kicked the fire into full flame as he sharpened a willow skewer with a Bowie knife. “Hard travelin’ demands roast swan,” said the gunslinger.
Pryn’s waif-like eyes looked beseechingly at Velcro. “She’s breathing, but in pain. I can bring her back. If only...”
“Not mouth-to-mouth,” said the gunslinger.
“My name,” said Pryn, “is the Name of Power. Utter it twice and she shall be restored.”
“Just say your name and the swan will come back to life?”
“Yes. Say it. Out loud.” Here Bare-ass Pryn’stm cheeks flushed against her alabaster skin, an attractive rosebud highlight — two high points of modesty. “If she doesn’t respond, you may utter my name four times. But for no longer than a week and at four-hour intervals.” As she knelt by the fallen swan, Bare-ass Pryn’s hymation had crept up her thighs, going from mini to micro. Exposed was a floral tattoo, Death Before Life.
“Some wicked fine lineaments on that girlie of yours, Velcro,” said Cantrecetm. The gunslinger eyed Pryn’s exposed flesh appreciatively and, flashing the Masonic Grand Hailing Sign, fingered his pistol. “You a Freemason?”
“I’m a martyr. Like the swan; martyrs don’t shoot back. And Pryn — forget about her. She’s a mineral spring nymph. A figment.” As the painted sun rose pitilessly for the third time that hour, an air of surpassing beauty issued from where the fallen swan sizzled on its spit.
“That swan should be about done,” said the gunslinger.
“I hear her song,”
said Saint Velcrotm.
is from the Carmina Burana, a set of lyrics credited to wandering scholars of the 13th Century and set to music by Carl Orff in the 20th. A marvelous version of the entire cycle may be found at the equally marvelous Teach Yourself Latin website.
Olim lacus colueram,
olim pulcher exstiteram,
dum cygnus ego fueram.
et ustus fortiter!
Girat, regirat garcifer;
me rogus urit fortiter;
propinat me nunc dapifer.
et ustus fortiter!
Nunc in scutella iaceo,
et volitare nequeo;
dentes frendentes video.
et ustus fortiter!
Once I had dwelt on lakes, once I had been beautiful, when I was a swan. Poor wretch! Now black and well roasted!
The cook turns me back and forth; I am roasted to a turn on my pyre; now the waiter serves me. Poor wretch! Now black and well roasted!
Now I lie on the dish, and I cannot fly; I see the gnashing teeth. Poor wretch! Now black and well roasted!
St. Velcrotm and the Swan was first published in the December 2011 Nautilus Engine, Ron Warren, editor.
copyright 2020 Rob Hunter