They Had No Idea What the Thing Was, Where It Had Come From, or Why It Chose Them
December 9, 2012
In life, people collect a lot of things. I collect people. Lance Rossier, the aged sage of Saratoga, Texas, is one of them.
The little caravan rolled through the gray rain of an East Texas night, four trucks that groaned and grumbled and groveled their way past sleeping hamlets in the pines, and no one paid any attention at all to their passing.
The big man with the worried eyes stared into a darkness as empty as his wallet. His circus was dying, and all that could save it was dry weather, and the rains kept stalking him through the Big Thicket Country.
He glanced over at the bearded Hungarian who drove the lead truck down the narrow winding roadway. “Maybe we can book some performing chickens,” he said.
“So we can eat eat ‘em.”
The old Hungarian would have laughed if he hadn’t been so hungry. There was an old superstition with the circus. If it rained thirty days during a season, you were out of business.
Hell, thought the big man with the worried eyes, that ain’t superstition. That’s gospel.
He had quit counting the days.
He didn’t want to know.
Nobody stands in the rain to see a goat ride a horse, even it it’s a pretty goat, and his wasn’t.
And the dwarf was a disgrace. He had eaten too much fried okra and cornbread – dripping with red eye gravy – and had grown to five feet. The big man with worried eyes tried to bill him as “The World’s Tallest Dwarf,” but that didn’t work out either.
His circus needed an elephant.
Everybody wants to see the elephant.
And he could have gotten one, too, but he couldn’t afford a truck big enough to haul him around.
The big man tucked his red coat tighter around his shoulders and closed his worried eyes. He already had one star.
He had Herman.
But Herman was sick.
The big man cursed silently to himself. He had always depended on Herman to draw crowds, even in towns too small to have crowds. And Herman had never let him down before. But then, you can’t go on trusting a gorilla forever.
The truck behind them began flashing its lights, honking its horn. And the Hungarian eased to a stop by the side of the narrow country road.
The big man opened his worried eyes and watched as his white-haired assistant ran through the rain toward him.
“It’s Herman,” the old man yelled.
“What about him?”
The big man and the Hungarian slowly dragged the limp gorilla out of his private truck and dumped him gently into a red-clay ditch where the bluebonnets and red clover grew in springtime.
“There’s too much red tape if we haul in a dead gorilla,” the big man said softly. “Red tape costs money. We ain’t got any.”
He knelt, took Herman’s hand, said a prayer, and said goodbye.
He left his star in the rain.
Would have buried him.
Too wet to dig.
He was in the middle of the Great Depression. For a moment, the big man thought seriously about burning the circus down, taking his losses and the few insurance dollars he would earn, then walking away while he was still on his feet.
But, alas, the matches were wet.
So he crawled into his truck, and the little caravan rolled on toward Saratoga, and the rains beat down around Herman who, at last, didn’t mind much anymore.
It was late the next afternoon when the young boy, mudding home from school, stumbled across the body in the ditch.
The sight of it took his breath away.
The thing – whatever it was – was hunkered down as though it had grown rigid from too many hours in a straight-backed chair. It had long black hair, and a beard. Its shoulders were stooped, and it was hard to tell whether the thing – whatever it was – was grinning or grimacing. Its chin was propped up against the knuckles of long, bony fingers.
The boy ran.
He didn’t scream until he caught his breath.
His father didn’t believe him at first. But at last he followed his son down to the red-clay ditch where the bluebonnets and red clover grew in springtime.
Seeing made a believer out of him.
“It’s naked,” the man told a farmer down the road. “It’s just sitting there without any clothes on. And it’s barefooted.”
“Is it dead?”
“I sure as hell hope so.”
The East Texas farmers – most of whom had never been outside the Big Thicket – came by the truckloads on that cold, wet December day in 1934 to view the thing – whatever it was – that had intruded up their land.
It’s a prehistoric monster, some whispered.
It’s one of them walking dead, said another.
It’s the Anti-Christ, a preacher warned.
Fall down and pray.
The end is upon us.
Finally one suggested that Lance Rossier come down and look the thing over. Rossier was the sage of the big Thicket. He had read a lot of books and was a well-known traveler. It was rumored, in fact, that Rossier at one time had even gone as far as New Orleans, though probably under an assumed name and probably as an Episcopalian.
If the thing had a name, Lance Rossier would know what it was.
For almost an hour, Lance Rossier studied the beast before him. He knelt beside it. He even dared to touch it. He noticed how rigid the thing was, as though it had spent too many hours sitting in a straight-backed chair. He checked the stooped shoulders and the whiskered chin propped up on long, bony fingers. He stared at the mouth, trying hard to decide if the thing was grinning at him, or just grimacing.
Rossier stood and stepped back, thrusting his hands into his pockets.
“You know what it is?” he was asked.
“Then don’t keep it a secret.”
“Well,” Lance Rossier said softly as he headed on back down the road to Saratoga, “it appears to me that what we have here is a deep East-Texas domino player.”
The farmers argued for a while, then finally passed a bottle and a shovel, and they buried the thing – whatever it was, which seemed like the godly thing to do even for a domino player that had gone to the boneyard for the last time.