7 – An Unlikely Friendship

Somewhere in Montana,
United States

Dasher approached the scent of incense through the thick forest. He reached a clearing with a finely manicured lawn all things considered. He knew this was someone’s dwelling by the feel of the grass. That someone was likely a criminal given the scent of sandalwood incense emanating through the chimney. Though the smell infuriated Dasher beyond belief, he had to admit that crawling around, blinded by chemicals on the floor of the dank forest, felt more like home than anything else had in the last decade. 

The insufferable routine that accompanied suburban life had been slowly bleeding out Dasher for years. Unbeknownst to him, he was growing dull. Indeed, his religious fanaticism and immovable set of societal beliefs had kept some edge, but his survival instinct and his connection with the earth itself had withered. Wandering aimlessly in an enormous air-conditioned department store and fighting to maintain consciousness while grinning lunatics tried to shove free samples into his mouth was the most considerable discomfort he endured now. Though the wholly forgettable days came and passed, Dasher had never questioned them, as human beings really had no control over what God’s plan dictated. If someone was made to be born and die with virtually no legacy and no contribution to society, than that preconceived destiny would at least provide them eternal happiness in the afterlife. Dasher was lucky though. God gave him the explicit right to defend family and country by any means necessary. He gave him the strength to murder anyone who threatened either entity and blessed him with the ability to forget the atrocity all together once it was done. 

He crawled for what seemed like hours, all in an effort to shame and reprimand whatever poor sap thought he could light incense on his personal property in the middle of the woods. Despite being hunted by four ruthless mercenaries, no one was exempt from condemnation in Dasher’s mind. He reached what felt like a sidewalk and crawled forward. He would hit the door soon enough, and whoever was inside would get a stern talking to.

The owner of the house gazed out the window. An extremely burned, irate man appeared to be seizing his way up to the house. He recognized him instantly as Duke Dasher. He had seen his face on the news, which had been broadcasted by all of the major news networks. He was considered unstable and extremely dangerous, according to CNN. The owner of the house opened the door and receded back inside; he sat in his worn leather chair and drank his tea, waiting reluctantly for Dasher to eventually approach.

Dasher reached the front steps and called out.

“Hello! I smelled incense coming from your house. If that is to cover up the smell of marijuana you are in deep shit,” said Dasher. Silence.

Dasher continued to painstakingly crawl and entered the house wondering if he had made a mistake expending this much energy in an attempt to confront someone over a misdemeanor crime. He also contemplated the idea that the mercenaries might be waiting inside the house with pillowcases full of Irish Spring soap bars, eager to bludgeon him to death. He immediately justified the choice in his head, noting that no one was exempt from God’s watchful eye. If that meant his death, then so be it. 

“Duke Dasher,” said the shadowy figure. Dasher could smell the thick aroma of tobacco and dander in the air.

Dasher heard the voice and immediately got to his feet in a fighting stance. Whoever this sick pile of garbage was, Dasher was not going to stand for taunting. The thick Spanish accent put Dasher on edge, hastily assuming that whoever this stranger was, he did not have United States citizenship. Though citizenship has no bearing on any human’s propensity for kindness or intrinsic contributions to this world, Dasher trusted Americans a hell of a lot more than he trusted anyone even remotely foreign. He didn’t care if it was Europe or Mexico. Dasher preferred someone with half the intelligence so long as they were a fundamentalist Christian, devout Republican and looked exactly like him. 

Dasher, of course, failed to account for the enormous Latin population that both lived in the United States and offered incredible cultural contributions that helped shift the trajectory of the country. Dasher could not grasp the concept of tacos when things like steak dinners existed, even though tacos oftentimes contained the steak in question. He couldn’t conceive anyone living outside of his rudimentary understanding of the human experience, which consisted mostly of prayer, murder, and irrational judgment, in no particular order.

Dasher looked around wildly, trying to determine where the voice had come from. The smell of incense had been replaced by the smell of tobacco, which comforted Dasher because, although still a vice, it wouldn’t send whoever was smoking it straight to hell. They would likely only have to exist in purgatory for several centuries before having to beg and plead at the pearly gates to get in. Many good men on his Special Forces team had smoked and that was a hell of a group of men. He looked forward to seeing them all in heaven several years after he had immediately gained entry. 

“How do you know my name?” Dasher said, attempting to calm himself down and avoid expending any more energy.  

“Dasher, you are a very popular man,” said the figure. 

Just as he finished the sentenced, Dasher threw several punches where the sound had come from, but only came up with air. The figure was remarkably quick. Dasher continued and threw a spin kick, knocking over what felt like a bookcase, and smashing several bottles. Though the person hadn’t been an immediate threat, Dasher knew it was only a matter of time before he turned. They always turned. As Dasher loaded up enough energy for another combination of punches and kicks, he felt a prick in his neck. He recognized it immediately as a rhinoceros tranquilizer. Dasher thought back to the time he took a local youth group to a neglected petting zoo in Gary, Indiana and one of the 7-year-old kids discharged a goat tranquilizer gun into Dasher’s neck after a heated exchange about gay marriage. Though he was frustrated, he was proud of a kid for having the balls to pull the trigger. They ended up having a laugh about the whole thing while they fed the goats their deceased brothers and sisters. Dasher collapsed on what felt like a coffee table, glass shattering everywhere.  

Meanwhile, the mercenaries lay awake looking at the stars, waiting for a sleep that would never come. Each one dreamt of the hunt that would take place the following day. Each one hoping to unleash a lifetime of insecurities into Duke Dasher. He would pay for what he did, pay for what he stood for. He would pay for the sins of this country. Soon enough, Dasher would be dead. 


Unknown Home,
United States

Dasher blinked his eyes open. A sensation he had not experienced for several days or weeks. He stared up at the ceiling above; though his vision was blurry, it was there. Like Bartimaeus, Dasher was blind and now he could see. He struggled to sit up; every bone in his body hurt. He immediately disregarded the pain and recalled a phrase he claimed to have invented in his Special Forces team, “Pain is just weakness leaving the body.” His team did not have the heart to tell him that it was a poster in virtually every cross-fit gym across the country. Dasher also claimed to invent the phrase, “Don’t Tread on Me,” which his team also begrudgingly congratulated him on. Dasher’s imaginary successes were a crucial part of his personality because he was incapable of original thought. The delusional claims helped provide the flimsy straw padding that kept Dasher propped up on a daily basis. To Dasher’s surprise, someone had already created flags and merchandise with the phrases on them, which caused him to become quite paranoid about “the internet” stealing his ideas. He had several lengthy discussions with trademark lawyers who were confused at best. 

The first phrase was also not applicable here, as it was not a cross-fit gym and was instead referencing third-degree burns across Dasher’s entire body and likely multiple injuries to internal organs. He gritted his teeth and sat up anyway. He didn’t have time to be hurt.

“You need your rest Dasher,” said the voice. That familiar Spanish accent came from somewhere near the crackling fireplace. 

“You were in bad shape Dasher. You know, you really should take better care of yourself, friend,” continued the voice. 

Dasher immediately remembered the tranquilizer dart penetrating his neck and the subsequent fall into the coffee table, which likely only elevated his current state.

“If you’re going to kill me, just get it over with,” Dasher said defeated. “I’m too tired for any of your bullshit.”

“I’m here to help you,” said the man, which somehow was not evident to Dasher even after his vision had been repaired along with the rest of his wounds dressed. 

“My name is Mikel Serone. I’m the village healer around these parts,” said Serone.

“No offense, but you don’t exactly look like you graduated from Johns Hopkins,” said Dasher, whose rigid idealized version of a doctor also did not include women.  

Serone looked downright whimsical in a flowing poncho with graying long hair. He wore no shoes and his brown eyes looked like they had bared witness to the creation of earth 6,000 years ago. His face was concurrently young and old, covered in wrinkles, but each wrinkle held a pocket of skin with untold wisdom. That is what anyone observing Mikel Serone would have seen, but Dasher saw what he considered a confused elderly man who had treated him against his will and who was not an accredited doctor. He, in fact, did not look Christian in the slightest. Yet somehow, he had taken Dasher into his home and helped him when no one else would, which was the definition of a Christian. Dasher’s brain scrambled to make sense of the conflicting signals being sent. 

“I am a healer Dasher. Notice how you have your vision back. I made a special blend of herbs that counteracted the poison plaguing you. I applied a rare mud to your burns to help them heal faster,” Serone continued, chuckling warmly at Dasher’s confusion. 

“There’s something you need to see Dasher,” Serone said, leaving Dasher to ponder the effects of alternative medicine. Serone turned on the worn television set to the whining banter of two CNN stooges.

We are now receiving reports that ex-Special Forces commander Duke Dasher is responsible for the carnage across the country. He was last seen leaving the White House in a Blackhawk helicopter and has since disappeared. We believe he has activated cells across the country and is trying to topple the United States government in an effort to install a communist regime. Dasher is an ex-military officer and is considered armed and extremely dangerous. Police and citizens with concealed carry arms are advised to shoot to kill. 

Dasher looked on completely baffled. This wasn’t the first time he had been framed for trying to topple the United States government, nor would it be the last, but it was still shocking nonetheless. Dasher absolutely despised the concept of communism, or any political change for that matter, as it applied to the United States. If the founding fathers wanted communism, they would have damn well said so. The government was perfect in Dasher’s eyes, so long as Republican President Alphonso Knudson was the commander-in-chief. Had it been President Obama in office, he would have gladly accepted the rumors and perhaps even made a run at carrying out a military coup. 

“Why haven’t you turned me in yet?” Dasher said with his arms crossed, staring at Serone.

“Because you can’t believe everything you hear,” Serone replied, taking a sip from his tea.

What was Serone getting at? How could he trust a complete stranger? Dasher didn’t believe in the news either, especially CNN, but this hippie seemed like just the type of coward to turn in a soldier in need. He looked like the type of draft dodger Dasher would typically despise. The kind of woke asshole who would weep after reading a tweet about the injustice of continental breakfast from someone who looked like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. The type of maudlin cuck who would call his wife his best friend. Dasher shuddered at the thought of being friends with his wife. He considered Stacy his subordinate, or if not subordinate, they were at least incestuous soldiers of church and morality. Nonetheless, unlike the lunatic celebrity pastor who was attempting to murder his child, this peaceful, open-minded old man had helped him. Dasher grew frustrated with the challenging emotional thoughts that were shaking his fundamental belief system to its core. 

“Why did you help me? We’re nothing alike,” Dasher repeated, almost despondent after the report he had just heard on CNN. 

“We might be more alike than you think Duke. Although I’m not an abrasive fundamentalist with a body count totaling in the thousands, I also want what’s best for this country. People can be different but want the same thing,” said Serone calmly. “You can tell a lot from a man’s eyes and from his past,” continued Serone. “That, and I also witnessed the horrific car accident you were in with those four other unsavory looking strangers. They looked like the type to inflict hell.” 

“I see what you’re saying. Old-timers like us don’t change; we can’t change, nor should we,” Dasher replied knowingly. Maybe Serone was not so bad. Perhaps he understood that once you took a position on something, you refused to retreat, even when evidence showed that viewpoint to be entirely backward. Dasher was beginning to understand this mysterious shaman more and more, or so he thought. 

Serone looked on for several seconds, wondering if Dasher had actually heard anything he said. The man who held an untold number of Purple Hearts and Congressional Medals of Honor seemed to struggle mightily with basic emotions and conversation. Nonetheless, Serone needed to help this man; inexplicably, he was the last, albeit bleak, hope this country deserved. 

“Coffee?” asked Serone. 

“Extra black,” Dasher replied, grinning and already feeling more like himself.

Those special herbs and potions had accelerated Dasher’s recovery time by tenfold. Usually, when injured, Dasher would simply take pre-workout supplements and pray the pain away. These herbs actually seemed to be healing him. Dasher and Serone discussed the methods for healing Serone had employed in detail. Dasher sat looking confused and fascinated. For the first time in a long time, he didn’t have anything to say. No religious interjections, no moral high ground, just two men of opposite constitutions discussing alternative medicine in a remote cabin in Montana. Dasher was utterly captivated by the use of mud as a skin protectant and the use of plants as a method for detecting intruders. Serone also told Dasher about meditation and spirituality, being in tune with nature and other basic wellness principles. After the two discussed the varying practices in length and had a healthy debate on medium vs. medium-rare steak, Dasher paused for several seconds. 

“Have you been baptized, Serone?” Dasher said quizzically. 

“Oh…I don’t…” started Serone.

“I ask because those men are coming to kill us and despite our differences, I would hate to see a fine man such as yourself condemned to eternal damnation,” continued Dasher. “I’m not saying I expect to die, but the Lord works in mysterious ways my friend; and though I’m not expecting it, you better believe I’m ready for it.” 

Serone sat in the brutally uncomfortable silence like someone suffering through the stench of an asparagus piss by a coworker at an office urinal. He waited for Dasher to excuse himself or say something to diffuse the horrible awkwardness, but Dasher’s face remained unchanged, as apathetic as a member of the Blue Man Group on their fourteenth identical show of the week. 

“Maybe we can discuss this after we figure out how to not die today,” Serone said, offering Dasher the hope he sought of converting another person to Christianity. 

“I like the way you think Serone; send them to hell before they can send us to heaven,” Dasher said with that familiar, deranged grin. Again, Serone’s head tilted quizzically. It wasn’t necessarily what he meant, but he reckoned it was close enough. The two began preparations on the house to even the playing field. The mercenaries would have no idea what hit them when these two unlikely comrades put their heads together. When the stalking henchman came, Dasher and Serone would be ready.

Absurdist exploration into our agreeable descent to madness.

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