12 – Dasher’s Heart
Patrick Kibby and Stacy Dasher had been driving for what seemed like forever. Stacy had been insufferable and Kibby questioned why they brought her son Terry on what seemed like a dangerous reconnaissance mission. Stacy had been snorting what Kibby believed to be meth for the entirety of the drive. Kibby was forced to listen to Stacy explain the dangers of glory holes to Terry, along with meticulously pulling the breading off of a twenty-piece chicken McNugget box while explaining that carbohydrates caused Dasher to get Low T. Just as Kibby thought he was going to completely break and give up on saving the country, they pulled close to the location of the car that spontaneously exploded, which Stacy had seen on the news. Kibby checked his phone once more. He was surprised and concerned at how viral his article Top 10 Times Duke Dasher Beheaded a Terrorist while Singing an Acapella National Anthem with a Nude Pentatonix Cover Band had gone. The intention was not to split the country down the middle, ruin families, and sow distrust in the government, but the article had to be published. All he ever wanted was the truth.
Kibby pulled over to the road, dutifully putting on his hazard signal. Stacy Dasher stumbled out of the car and rinsed her mouth out with a Mountain Dew Code Red. She offered the abused can to Kibby for a similar freshener, but Kibby politely declined. Terry Dasher gnawed on a Yankee Candle in the back seat and stared indifferently out the window. Something had absolutely happened here. There was a visible piece of concrete missing from the shoulder of the road along with an enormous crater where the car had landed, skidded, and finally stopped. Kibby wondered how anyone had missed this, but noticed that the crash site was directly across from an iconic American roadside wonder. The world’s largest human fleshlight stood erect with patriotic glory, casting an enormous lecherous shadow on the accident site. A sex toy this large could distract even the most astute police officer or pedestrian. Tempting passersby to take an Instagram to commemorate what would be considered a formative moment in their pathetic lives.
Stacy and Kibby approached the crash site and immediately noticed an extremely apparent trail of blood from the crash site into the forest. Despite Kibby’s objections, Stacy maintained that Terry would be fine sitting in the car – she had “left a window cracked.”
“That’s Duke’s blood,” Stacy commented, looking at the ominous path into the forest. Kibby didn’t bother asking how she could so confidently identify Dasher’s blood, but something about her tone made her seem more sure than she had ever been in her life.
“Should we follow it?” Kibby asked nervously. The gravity of the situation suddenly set in.
“Duke wouldn’t leave a trail of blood unless he wanted someone to follow it,” continued Stacy. Kibby again wondered about the accuracy of the assumption, but the underlying vibe that Stacy had experienced something similar before made him willing to follow the trail of blood. The two walked into the forest, uncertain what they would find. Dasher could very well be dead, but at least they would know. If he wasn’t dead, they needed to help him and he needed to help this country, which, by virtue of mathematics, meant they needed to help this country. For once in Kibby’s life, he felt like someone.
Somewhere in the Forest,
“You don’t talk much do you, Serone?” Dasher asked, as they wandered through the forest to claim revenge on the two remaining mercenaries that had kidnapped Duke.
Serone suggested heading to the highway so they could hitch a ride back to civilization and regroup, but he had been promptly ignored as they ventured deeper into the forest. In reality, Serone was quite talkative. He was an eclectic man with interests that covered the spectrum of potential conversation topics. The past few days had made Serone a shell of a man though; the combination of Dasher’s misinformed interpretations of the world combined with his insatiable bloodlust had rendered Serone more or less mute. Dasher considered Serone’s suggestion to return to society, but something about being in these woods was making him feel alive again. A part of him really didn’t want to return to the mundane reality that was his wife and kids. His characterless house in the suburbs. His daily anti-abortion rallies and dreams of starting his very own Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat-themed conversion therapy center. In many ways, he felt he didn’t belong. Perhaps society did not need someone like Dasher anymore, and in his mind, he certainly didn’t need it.
“You said it Duke,” Serone lamely replied to Duke’s suggestion that he was a quiet man.
“In some ways, we’re kind of like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer out here! Coupla kids and our zany hijinks,” said a beaming Dasher trying to put the worrisome looking Serone at ease. The erroneous comparison only served to disturb Serone even further.
Dasher was still covered in mud and dirty as hell. The sound of soil disintegrating combined with the clamor of his clenched jaw and grinding teeth added to the serene noises of nature surrounding them. Thankfully, he opted to put his clothes back on, but he had zipped the bottoms off his convertible pant shorts. Noting audibly to Serone that he never thought he would see the day, but it was hot as all get out. Dasher was a man of severe modesty and the capri length pants he zipped into were in direct betrayal of that modesty. Nonetheless, he prayed on it and God had given him the green light to expose his shins and calves to the world. The sweet Lord was generous that day.
The two continued on their hunt, as Dasher tried to keep things light and cheer Serone up by doing things like tipping Serone’s hat off with his loaded shotgun, discussing the dangers of female empowerment and explaining the objective falsehood of other religions. Serone found his eyes wandering directly into the sun’s glow, hoping that it would burn through his retinas, enter his brain and eventually put him into a permanent coma. Serone fantasized about collapsing and having his dissolved brain pour freely from his ears. He wondered if Dasher would notice or care.
Just as Serone’s eyes were about to give, they came across an unusual sight. Dasher recognized the familiar, blue-collared shirt of the Christian icon that tried to kidnap him and murder his son only days earlier. Joel Oscreen stood, unnaturally still, by a river with a mild current. The sound of the river combined with the motionless beige mass was extremely unsettling. Dasher wondered if he was practicing a new homily technique and decided to watch from a distance to see if his intuition was correct. After several minutes of intense gazing, Dasher approached the man. Dasher was still uncertain whether or not he could kill this man, even after what he had done to his family. He was a man of God and nothing he did could change that.
“Oscreen, turn around!” shouted Dasher, pointing the shotgun at Oscreen’s head. Oscreen remained motionless; his body maintained just enough firmness to stay upright.
“Turn around!” Dasher screamed again. Joel Oscreen didn’t move.
Serone pushed Dasher’s shotgun down and began instinctively walking forward in an almost surreal dream-like sequence. This was not the behavior of a ruthless mercenary; something was off. He approached Oscreen and put his hand on his shoulder. The shirt and underlying mass underneath felt like uncooked chicken breasts: slippery, pliable, and seemingly not human.
“Serone, what’s happening over there? That must be one hell of a prayer!” Dasher yelled, lowering his shotgun and walking over to Serone and Oscreen.
Serone removed his hand from the shoulder of Oscreen and the body collapsed to the floor, crumbling as though it were boneless. Dasher and Serone stood there confused. They both wondered what the hell was going on. Even though the prior deaths had been inhuman and terrifying, at least Serone could wrap his head around the concept of murder. This was something his brain was not prepared to process.
“I think I have an idea, this is a known medical condition called prayer paralysis…it happens to people who regularly attend church Serone, not that you’d know,” said Dasher. “When people would get like this during one of Father Tony’s patented five-hour sermons back at my church in Rockford, we would re-baptize them in freezing cold water in an attempt to physically and spiritually awaken them,” continued Dasher.
His childlike understanding of modern medicine was both heartwarming and terrifying. Though Serone knew the waters of the river would in no way rejuvenate the pile of stinking flesh before them, he let Dasher perform the ceremony out of pity and morbid curiosity. Serone was still wondering what had killed Oscreen and why he was left in such a peculiar position. With nothing else to do, Serone saw no harm in letting Dasher attempt to revive the pastor by performing a baptism, even if he smelled as though he had been dead for hours.
Dasher marched the body into the water. It sagged in his arms like a wet sleeping bag. Oscreen’s eyes and teeth had both fallen from his face, as did his finger and toenails. His fingers stretched limply towards the ground below. His tongue fell from his mouth and landed with a surprisingly loud wet thud at Dasher’s feet, it flopped around nonchalantly before seeming to lose momentum and submitting itself for supper to a swarm of flies. Dasher went on, somehow unblinking at the revolting skin sack, and entered the water to prepare for his rejuvenating baptism.
“In the name of the father!” he said as he dunked the head under. When he pulled it up, it had completely disintegrated. All that was left was a ball of hair and a bundle of nerves. The rest of the corpse bled into the water creating a jigsaw puzzle of innards. The liquefied organs and dermis were taken with the current, immediately consumed by a horde of seagulls who lapped up the skin soup and instantly retched it back into the water. Serone followed suit. Dasher stared at the hair and nerves, rubbed them between his fingers and felt something hard in the middle of the human debris. Dasher held it up to Serone.
“What the hell is this Serone?” asked Dasher.
Serone looked closely at the item in Dasher’s hand.
It appeared to be some type of microchip. He explained to Dasher that it was something generally found in computers.
“Are you saying that Joel Oscreen was a clone made by the Russians and implanted on U.S. soil with the sole task of killing and enslaving us all?” Dasher asked, making a rather unlikely diagnosis of the current situation. “Potentially…” Serone said, giving Dasher a hand out of the river. He was fascinated by Dasher’s thought process and propensity towards virtually any conspiracy.
“I can’t say for sure, but this microchip seemed to control Oscreen, and must have had some type of malfunction,” continued Serone. “We need to find someone who can analyze this ASAP. Dasher, I implore you to head back into the city.”
“It must have malfunctioned after it recognized he was a clone with an incorrect religious affiliation…cloning is a sin in the eyes of God, Serone. Didn’t anyone ever tell you how babies are born? And I’ll head back after I’ve killed that horse scientist and not a minute before,” Dasher replied sharply.
“I’ll decide who heads back into the city,” said an oddly horse-like voice that came from underneath the shadow of the giant oak tree. “I’ve been watching this whole time. Hand over the microchip,” Hisan said, emerging into full eyesight of Serone and Dasher. Dasher ambled up the bank and towards Hisan, who had his AK47 pointed at him and Serone.
“Walk the microchip over here slowly Dasher. I told Popov not to use these cheap pieces of crap for a mission as important as this,” continued Hisan.
Dasher instantly recognized the name Popov again and noted the term ‘cheap pieces of crap’. Cheaply made…pieces of crap…this stunk like the Russians, that much was for sure. Serone, on the other hand, was wondering if the two’s journey had finally come to an end. He was grateful that the trip was over in some ways. At least his time with Dasher had expired. A sense of calmness washed over him, knowing that soon enough, he would be dead and free from his self-constructed prison. If there was an afterlife, he hoped he would be sent to wherever Dasher was not.
“You really think it would be this easy…Hisan?” asked Dasher, smirking.
“Cool it with the psychobabble bullshit Dasher. Before long you and Serone will perish together and the United States will fall,” replied Hisan.
“Nice try! I have a wife and kid, Hisan. Serone and I’s relationship is strictly platonic!” stammered Dasher, completely misreading the situation and making everyone else wonder if he did hold some deep-seeded feelings for Serone.
“Reach into my right cargo pocket Hisan, and don’t you dare get handsy in there!” said Dasher. “Don’t worry, I won’t bite,” Dasher continued, making a snapping motion with his teeth.
Hisan was confused by the suggestion. Something inside him told him he had to find out what was in that pocket. Every fiber of his being told him to spend an entire round on these two goons, but something froze his finger on the trigger. He wondered why he was suddenly paralyzed, obsessed with the prospect of what was hidden in Dasher’s pocket, even though it was likely a family portrait taken at JC Penny of him and his wife posing fully nude as Adam and Eve. Then he heard a noise coming from the pocket Dasher had told him to check. A screaming that did not sound quite human. Hisan’s mind instantly flashed back to the hybrid mini horse slaughter in the desert all those years back. The face of one particular mini horse hybrid staring back at him after its head had been torn off by a wolf became clear as day in his mind. He yelled back in agony at whatever was screaming in Dasher’s pocket. Serone covered his ears and rocked back and forth on the ground.
“Goddamnit Dasher! Did you record the slaughter you limp dicked fool?!” Hisan demanded, cautiously approaching Dasher.
“Do you take me for some kind of pervert Hisan? I am a God-fearing Christian, remember? That type of thing would never cross my mind,” Dasher snarled, reaching slowly into his pocket and extracting a small television that appeared to be live streaming whatever was causing the ear-bleeding commotion.
Hisan picked up the handheld screen and cradled it in his hands. He began to weep instantly. One of his human mini-horse hybrids hung suspended over what appeared to be an oversized garbage disposal. The screaming subsided; it seemed the lights flashing on the camera recording it had only startled the horse. The hybrid appeared actually pleasant enough, well-fed, and content. Hisan, however, looked again at the several TRX ropes that suspended the horse over what resembled a makeshift, oversized garbage disposal. Hisan collapsed to one knee momentarily. He was still holding his gun, but simply overcome with too much emotion to even stand.
“Where the hell is this Dasher? Make no mistake, you’re dying today, but that horse does not deserve to, you coward!” Hisan shouted at the top of his lungs, nearly crushing the tiny television in his massive and extremely hairy hands.
“Your precious hybrid horse won’t die if you play your cards right Hisan. I’m not a spineless piece of human filth like you,” said Dasher smugly. “After the incident in the desert, I found one of the horses roaming around helplessly, picking the final meat off the bones of his brothers. I lured it in with an Omaha steak and captured it. It has been suspended over that garbage disposal in my basement for the last several years waiting for this very moment Hisan.
I am a man of extreme preparedness you see… I’ve made a lot of enemies and I’ll be damned if they think they’re punching my ticket to heaven.”
Hisan looked at Serone, desperately trying to understand what was going on. His tear-filled eyes sought any morsel of sympathy. They fell upon the surprisingly indifferent face of Mikel Serone. His face appeared similar to an old piece of waterlogged driftwood, an emotionless log simply abiding by the current of the body of water it resides in until eventually succumbing to the weight of the water and sinking completely. The most he could muster was a small shoulder shrug; the incident had actually passed without much thought given everything else that had transpired over the last few days.
Creating an elaborate death trap for the sole purpose of holding a lab-created, temperamental human-horse hybrid hostage based on the remote possibility that a scientist who had escaped a decade ago would someday seek revenge was almost downright predictable. Serone imagined the number of man hours that had gone into creating the device, not to mention feeding and caring for the horse, ensuring that, at a bare minimum, it was alive just enough to drop into the disposal and cause a mental breakdown for anyone unfortunate enough to witness it.
Hisan looked closer at the video. He noticed an enormous collection of Precious Moments statues in a glass enclosure in the corner of the room. When they initially kidnapped Dasher, there was a distinct, bordering on unsettling, amount of Precious Moments statues littered throughout the house. For an adult, a single Precious Moments statue is troubling; the several dozen he saw strewn about the Dasher household made him question whether he wanted to actually pursue this lunatic at all. The statues’ giant eyes were black pools that consumed the sanity of their owners.
“That’s your house Dasher. Your obsession with large-eyed commemorative statues gave you up. Now I can blow your head off and live happily ever after with my creation,” Hisan said with the vigor of the crazy old bastard who just achieved checkmate on a piss-soaked outdoor chess table in New York.
A toothless smile formed on Dasher’s face, his lips stretching for what seemed to be an eternity. The mud on his face cracked and fell onto the leaves below like crusted snot falling from the congested nostril of a balding and sickly co-worker onto a worn keyboard. The other men present wondered what was going through his mind. Maybe this was just the face you made when you were going to die. Maybe Dasher was fantasizing about the homily given at his funeral. Perhaps he simply had enough of everything he despised in this world – all of the bitching and whining, the millennial snowflake bull crap. Maybe he was finally ready for some peace and quiet. Then he spoke.
“You really think I would be that careless Hisan? You can kill me if you want, but when you do, the horse is jammed right into that industrial-grade wood chipper,” said Dasher.
Hisan thought about what Dasher had just said and assumed it to be the last act of a desperate man. Nothing more than a bluff. Though given the precarious situation and his entire world at stake, Hisan had to entertain the thought that Dasher was somehow capable of killing that horse hybrid all these miles away.
“Spill it Dasher. There’s no sense in playing coy you little pissant,” said Hisan.
“For once in your entire miserable existence, you’re right Hisan. You’ve wasted enough of all of our time,” said Dasher snickering. “Serone, come over here.”
Serone followed Dasher’s erect finger, which pointed to a spot directly behind him. Dasher pulled Serone close and whispered something in his ear. Serone sullenly shook his head; apparently whatever was said was disagreeable. Dasher pulled him in once more – the verbal lashing was apparent even as a whisper. The awkward exchange between the two went on for several minutes. Hisan considered killing them both right there, but his curiosity got the better of him, and he let the two quietly negotiate without interruption. Finally, Serone wrapped his arms around Dasher’s neck and began slowly choking him out.
“What the hell is going on!” Hisan shouted at the bizarre occurrence taking place before his bloodshot eyes. Serone once again shrugged as his grip tightened around Dasher’s neck. Dasher was growing limper by the second. His eyes were wide open staring at Hisan, his face turning blue. He seemed eager for unconsciousness to set in.
As white foam of spit began to form on Dasher’s mouth and blood vessels burst in his eyes, Hisan heard something coming from the miniature TV – a cranking sound.
He frantically picked up the TV, fighting the urge to watch Dasher’s seizing body as it went to sleep by way of Serone’s strangling. The crane that held the hybrid horse was, in fact, lowering. Hisan cried out helplessly at what he was seeing, not totally sure of what was taking place within the confines of the cramped screen. Then he noticed a tiny heart monitor in the corner of the display; the crane was lowering in direct correspondence with Dasher’s heart rate. As Dasher’s rate slowed, the machine dropped the horse closer to its gruesome death. He looked up and Dasher was completely out, laying on the ground and drooling all over himself.
“Wake him up! Wake him up you idiot!” screamed Hisan, pointing the gun at Serone.
Serone abided by splashing some cold water, which coincidentally had the remains of Joel Oscreen’s skin and some seagull vomit, on Dasher’s face. His lifeless body rested for several additional seconds, followed by an enormous gurgling from his pants. He blinked both eyes open and took a colossal inhale of air, coughing several times violently. He looked at Hisan and grinned once more.
“By now you’ve figured it out. Kill me and the horse is dead. I blew Terry’s entire college fund, took out a second mortgage and pawned Stacy’s wedding ring to create this device and the look on your face is making it entirely worth it,” said Dasher. “You better take off Hisan. That crying horse ain’t gonna save itself,” continued Dasher, knowing he had bettered his rival this time around.
Hisan backed up. Holding the gun pointed at the two men, he took several steps back into the confines of the forest before finally turning around and sprinting away, eventually disappearing into the thick woods. The love he had for those animals trumped the hatred he had for Dasher. He had to find his prized horse, nurse it back to health, and give it the life he always wanted but could never have.
“I gotta say Dasher, that took an unexpected turn. I guess I’m just glad to be alive,” Serone said, rubbing the back of his head in complete astonishment. “It’s not every day you see something like that,” continued Serone.
“If I had it my way…this would be every day,” Dasher replied ominously.