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Liz Carmouche and the Lesbian Ant Farmers

March 13, 2013

We fell in love; she died in childbirth.

She had said: There’s nothing quite like getting lost in a thick Russian novel in the winter when the roads are all black ice and gusty.

She also said: You have to dance every day.

I’ve been gardening.  It’s keeps me from crying in the house.  Instead, I’m all over the property, restoring order, selecting what will continue to propagate, what dies with exposed root systems under the punitive sun, the wicking wind.  The old novels went in the mulch pile.

Brambles, Dawg

[img credit: *ulafish.deviantart dot com]

We bought it to raise a family in.  It’s a new-ish house on an old plot of land, one of the ones that’s actually above street-level in the neighbourhood, so the sump pump isn’t working overtime and the yard isn’t leeched through with decades-worth of slurry and other such run-off.  A little bloodmeal, some bone and other organic material, maybe some mycorrhizal mycelia for good measure, and this place will be raging.  A rival to Eden itself, I think.

My first foray out beyond the garage, on the south side of the property, something wonderful presents itself.  There is a stump of a well-established rose bush in the middle of this bramble patch.  An indiscriminate mat of thorny fronds crowd the otherwise well-kempt plant.  The care that had gone into trimming it back for its first five or six years is clear.  Then it was swallowed by the wild blackberry, the Rubus armenias brought over as a cultivar by the braggadocio, foolhardy Europeans, but which quickly went native, out-flocking the local flora.  Carried in the guano of birds across the continent, extremely efficient burls dug in and deep deep racemes stretched out.  Seeing it all laid out there on my property, bloodlust, pure and unrefined, wells up in me.  I set to besting this botanical beast in battle directly.

If your environment beats on you, tries to wear you down for ages, yet still can’t manage to deal the final blow; well, then you kind of deserve to have someone help you fight back.  Oh, it’s cold, pulling on finger gloves and hacking away at the brambles.  And I get cut up a bit.  But I’m doing the work that God let fall by the wayside.

I feel like a very important individual.  Reviving an empire despite the barbarians.

Like Colonel Sanders – he once owned a hotel, ran it as a five star accommodation specialising in the little extras.  Shoe shine service, laundry, two meals inclusive.  One of the dishes the place served to guests was fried chicken (apparently the steak was also excellent.)  After some time though, the adjoining arterial road was changed to a highway miles away from the site, and travellers were no longer regularly driving past, getting tired, stopping for respite, no matter the fabled quality of the repast.

The doors might have shut, but the Colonel decided to commodify his chicken recipe, selling the breading mix and cooking techniques to area restaurants.  He took orders and delivered the stock in person.  He grew older.  Looked for a legacy.  Ex-Governor Brown of Kentucky came forward and bought out the sales business, only to resell it at great profit to a large company who turned what had been at its most basic stage no more than a recipe written on a bit of grease-stained card into a national restaurant franchise.

Some small time later, sales were suffering and the company sought out the Colonel as a quality control agent.  He whipped kitchens into shape everywhere the beleaguered conglomerate sent him.  The bombastic nature of the cane-toting old codger was soon recognised, and he was installed as a spokesperson for a product he no longer owned.  The role filled him with the frustrated pride of the truly screwed, and sapped his energies.

Now he’s in a nameless grave near an Indian cemetery on the edge of Wahawnee County.  Caesar is dead; all hail Little Caesars.

There’s a university around the land where the grave’s rumoured to be, a college.  It’s run by nuns; the nuns farm; there are artisan cheese-makers, organic pastures for the antibiotic-free cattle herd, a brewer with forty-foot tall pylons of hop vines, bookbinders and others of the requisite hemp-faithful, a stray pack of Amish candlers tallowing near the banks of the Tippecanoe River, and unsurprisingly a group of women who refer to themselves as the world’s first and only lesbian ant farmers.  They get on fine with the nuns who run the college, everyone being free of male penetratives and all.  The ants are sold via sundry mail-order catalogues, ads in the backs of comic books, word of mouth at the VFW and the like.  Very old-fashioned.

It is through one of these catalogues that I receive the call: INTERNSHIP AVAILABLE.  Tend and feed productive vegetable patch.  Experience helpful.  Apply in person to Lesbian Ant Farm, AncillaCollege, Wahawnee Trail, IN 45666.

I respond to the ad immediately, firing up the old Dodge to rattle along the B roads to the college’s property.  Pick my way down the paths to the lesbian’s array of tipis on the eastern edge of a barley field.  Hold up the bitty square of newsprint.  Oh, look, a man to order around, one remarks.  They hire me with a modicum of questions.  Get out of the desolate atmosphere of my abortive bridal home for three days a week?  Help to support the world’s most important source of beneficial ant species?  Share a tipi with a few hairy-legged women?  Yes, please!

Celebrating means leaping in through the doors of the local honkey-tonk after I return home.  I change a fifty dollar note into quarters for the jukebox.  Merle Haggard gets a royalty check.

When I’m nice and drunk on wine and beer, mescal and rye, I like to throw my glass on the ground, you know: to show how happy and rich I am.  The next day I call work, which has been giving me time off anyway, and inform them of my new past-time.  My boss says it sounds therapeutic.

Three weeks in to the internship, I decide I could save on gas by not going home on my days off.  Help out instead with some of the other farmers.  Seven weeks in, I get a phone call from my sister-in-law:

‘You left?’  ‘Yes, I’m gone for a month or so by now.’  Silence.  Irritated breathing.  ‘Well, when are you coming back?’  ‘I don’t know.’  ‘That’s a lie – you know you’re dying to come back, you just want to, I don’t know, feel isolated… it’s pretentious.’  I count to five in my head.  The air smells fecund.  ‘No, it’s a lie because I don’t want to go back.  I’ve already come back, I don’t want to go back.’  I hang up.

I guess I’m kind of annoyed after this conversation, pent up restlessness leads me to drink.  Seeth away my clear head.  In my battle against negativity, I had seemed to have prevailed, but, huzzah! – how the alcohol seems to clarify my rage to a point on the horizon that I can squint towards, personify and spit at.  For weeks I had been facing life in a better way, fully regimented: every morning, a cup of gritty coffee and a shit.  Read a half chapter of this bad zombie story I checked out of the college library.  Shower in the faucet stall set up by the Amish.  Go out to the fields and put my sweat into the ground, alongside the others who preceded me in the internship; the sharecroppers before them, and the homesteaders before them, and the millennia of Indian terraformers and cultivators who started it all rolling.  Just a breeze blowing over the farms now, because I want to fucking hit someone with my empty bottle.

So I go on a walk.  Blow off steam.

Look, there’s the spot one of the lesbians told me they buried Colonel Sanders.

The barley fields to the east have been blown over by the wind.  A storm coming on soon.  The corn, just two feet high in the adjoining land to the west, rustles in a convincing mimicry of polite, excited whispers before a film screening.  Being angry and full up with spirits, I dance off through the rows, immature fronds slicing at the backs of my hands.  At the centre of the field, there is a clearing and I trip over something.  On my hands, I’m in a depression three times wider than that between the tilled rows.  And at the centre of the depression is a trapdoor that I have only narrowly avoided splitting my forehead on.  No joke, when I tug on the dirty iron ring that serves as its handle, I kind of feel like a Goonie.  There’s a spiralling stairwell cut into the moist earth.  The walls are lined and buttressed.  I go down for a while.  Then a passageway.  A few torches here and there, pitch on linen and they put out a reek that cuts right through my own boozy stench.

Why I walk so long before I get scared, I guess I can blame on the alcohol.  But, yeah, I get acutely, childlike scared when I feel the dry breeze that brings a smell worse than the torches, like a stroke victim’s mouth.  And when I see someone running towards me, I do piss right down my pants.

It’s only Liz Carmouche sweeping up the tunnel.  A Marine by trade, she’s trained as a mixed martial-arts fighter for the last handful of years and has only recently come off a closely-called fight in the UFC against none other than Ronda Rousey.  I am surprised to see this woman, and not just because we’re in a corridor cut from the limestone and clay about forty feet below a corn field; also, I recognise her.  We had attended the same primary school until her family moved to another country when we were seven.  Used to kick the hell out of me at tetherball, football, every kind of ball.  Everyone else, too.  She recognises me too, and gives off a very protective air after the initial look of friendly surprise flees her face.  Pulls me aside under one arm.  In a hushed tone:

‘Jesus fuck, Keith – what are doing down here?’  Snuffs her nose.  ‘You’re sodden drunk…’ then she pushes her weight on her back foot, holds up a mean-looking black shank of a combat knife.  ‘Were you coming to help with the feeding?’

I can’t say anything.  My mouth is very dry, I feel the wind in it, feel it kind of try to work at rubber bands.  She relaxes a bit.

‘No, the nuns would never let a man in on the secret.’

My tongue and lungs grab a second’s worth of traction and I make a rusted-gate sound, “Secret?”

A momentary stone-hard look that decides a lot about me, my character.  I’m surprised how much of that little girl is still in her face after all the conditioning she’s gone through.  She turns around and faces further down the tunnel.  ‘It’s a farm for bodies.’

‘The whole operation above is a front that helps the underground here… helps them feed the living dead.’

Incoherent.  I remember once being so high on psilocybe mushrooms that I felt the words rolling along each of the articulators in my human throat and face one by one, but could not coordinate them in a way that assembled actual words – here it is again.  I guess this makes Lizzy impatient, because she smacks me, hard, on both cheeks.  I let it all out, terror, confused boiling fear: ‘… the FUCK are you HERE!? … are YOU doing … here!?  — the Living WHAT!?’

‘Keep your voice down.  I’m not one of those sick zombie farmers.  But I am a lesbian.  I’ve infiltrated the cult.  I’m here to take out their demonic leader.  The lynchpin.’  She turns her head to face me again, and it’s only then that I realise I have been following her in a crouch down the corridor.

‘It’s Sister Catherine.’

‘The head nun!?’

‘The head fucking virgin; she’s the totem for a cult of sex-pervert murderers and the custodians of the undead.  You civilians call them “Catholics.”’

Okay.  The Holy See… has at least one branch of clergy… who farm organic barley, apples, and human flesh…  It makes less and less sense the more Liz tells me.  But I feel more and more certain of its truth the less I resist the idea.  I reflexively try to piss myself again, but I’ve already done that so nothing comes out.  I start feeling like I might vomit.

‘There are zombies deep under almost every cathedral in the world, including the one in the chapel above us at Ancilla.  Don’t totally freak out,’  but I’m already ready to totally freak out, and her asking me not to doesn’t help one fucking bit.  ‘The sacrificial wine that is poured over the altar, it isn’t wine.  It’s blood.  And it’s not enough to keep the zombies satisfied for long.’

There’s a scratching sound ahead of us.  Liz halts.  So I halt.  She says it so soft I swear she’s only thinking it loudly.  ‘I’m going to stop all this.  Don’t you worry.’

Then the torchlight goes out.  I hear the ex-Marine helicopter pilot grunt as she springs ahead into the tunnel, and I feel very, very alone in the darkness.  There are loud wet smacking sounds, and horrible smells, now even worse than before, rush at me from ahead.  I turn, too quickly, crack my head on the cold limestone wall, things go viciously orange, I crumple.  I hear screams.  Novel screams.  Combat screams.  Screams of death.  I pass out.

I wake up by the opening with the trapdoor.  The storm is here.  I cannot move.

As I lie in the mud, rain thudding into my person, rivers of earth washing around my face, stinging my eyes, running into my open mouth; I’m a worm.  The worm sees this man.  Trudging through the sucking field in high rubber waders.  His feet have left huge puddles in the mud that describe his path back to a truck near the far end.  The worm can follow this path forward, sees that it will lead to the furrow with the stone set in it where the lesbians say the late, fabled patriarch of Kentucky-style fried chicken slow cooks his way through eternity.

He walks straight up to the undistinguished hump of earth and takes down his umbrella; goes first onto one knee, then prostrates himself, gushing; the worm’s ears may be concussed by gravity and water, but he can just make out the supplicant’s words:

‘I have been waiting years to stand before you, to get here and tell you: all the women who had hurt you, scorned you, used you – I found them all.  Tracked them down and seduced every last one of them.  I came in their mouths, spat whiskey in their eyes and told them your name had been avenged.  It took me decades and no small fortune.’

And then, still kneeling before the little flat gravestone, he puts his head in the mud and begins to shiver with sobs.  He keeps repeating one phrase.

‘I just hope it was enough, Colonel.’

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