The second short story I am posting from my novel and the first of which coming from the Burning Man section of the book.
It was Sunday, that made it God’s day out there in the Christian world. Here at Burning Man, Sunday means it is time to burn the Temple and bring the formal Burn to a close. Tomorrow will be the last official day of Burning Man, but you can stay longer. Right now, tomorrow feels like it is a lifetime away.
For me, Sunday also meant my facial wound from an amazing and daring swordfight was now healed enough to begin flaking off, and the fight itself legendary enough to earn me my own Playa name, Captain Safety. I was amazed by how quickly I healed out here and suspected it had something to do with the climate or alkaline dust. If I nurtured this facial wound right during healing, in time I could have a real bad boy scar. You know, one of those scars with a story, a scar right over your eye. This Sunday also meant I’d regained enough serotonin to be my normal talkative self again, mostly.
The best way I’d discovered to spend the long, hot hours in the middle of the day was with hookah, friends, and Pabst Blue Ribbon. PBR was a fine beer, with a better flavor and usually a lower price than Budweiser and other cheap beers. Yet one had to cope with the hipster stigma attached to it. A devils bargain, but everything was a trade off.
At Burning Man no one seemed to care what you drank or wore, in fact I don’t recall even hearing the word hipster all Burn. Most burners complained more about tourists than hipsters; tourists were people at the Burn as observers, often considered to be not true burners because they didn’t fully embrace the burner ethos. But tourist, like hipster, was in the eye of the beholder and a pejorative applied to a person by a stranger who knows nothing of who an individual really is, other than the caricature they are presenting at a given moment. And moments are merely snapshots in time. Maybe I looked like a tourist, maybe I looked like a hipster. Neither one was relevant when we were all covered in the same dust.
We were relaxing in the long shade created by the RV by the afternoon sun; the whole crew was assembled. There was the Trio de Chicas Locas, the three gorgeous and fierce girls Foreman had helped out earlier in the week when one of them got a concussion. It was nice having a medic in your camp. There was, of course my camp, Coffee and Cigarettes, our leader Rhyno, Foreman, my friend Chyutknee, and various others. We were based after comedy movie of the same name and gave away the very obvious and appropriate coffee and cigarettes, as well as having nightly open mic comedy. We also had some new faces. The Chicas had managed to find a Trio de Australians and brought them over. Two of them looked like decent blokes, and one of them looked like a fucking butcher. It was something about his eyes, kind of shifty and not trusting, which made him seem out of place at the Burn and not trustworthy to my drug addled brain. His eyes and his Mohawk, which was held together by some combination of Elmer’s glue and safety pins, made him look rather menacing. Matching the mis-matched pins through the glue-ridden unicorn horns of his hair were two larger safety pins through his ear lobes. They looked to be the same thing he pierced the holes with originally, who knows how long ago that was.
Ramona, easily the most loca of the trio, was soberly and then drunkenly telling us how this was her last day out here and she had to leave before the Temple burned. Missing this experience was something she was not okay with, but she had a backup plan. She insisted on having an image of The Man branded on her. She wanted a true hot iron brand, cowboy style, though maybe not hog-tied. This gorgeous young girl wanted us to leave a mark on her physically, as we already had emotionally, and specifically she wanted that mark on her ankle.
Her ankles were slender and beautiful. I could wrap a hand around one and touch my finger tips together. In all ways imaginable this was a less than ideal location for a brand. We were in a desert, over 100 miles from the closest hospital. Instead of getting the brand on a nice fleshy area, like her gloriously round ass, she picked her dainty yet boney ankles.
One of the Australians, not Crocodile Dundee or Steve Irwin, but The Butcher, offers to do the deed. “Oy, I’ll burn it on you,” he says with a sly, suspecting, and suspicious grin, “let’s go back to my camp where my tools are.”
When he says tools I see a twinge of something cross his maniacal face and I know what he means.
“My Gods,” I exclaim loudly in my head, still not fully able to articulate speech after the MDMA crash. “This scheming bastard with a rat’s nest for a head wants to take her back to his camp and work her over with his tools. He wants to whisk her away and have his way with her. By the looks of him he’ll rape her, chop her up, and then maybe eat her and only maybe in that order.” You can never tell how depraved these types can be. Retrospectively I am not sure how much of this was the drugs talking to me and how much was legitimate worry for a new friend.
I come back to the present moment, out of my head, to see Ramona beginning to fall into this twisted cannibal’s plot. I grab her by the shoulder, gently but urgently and pull her aside. “Don’t go with that kangaroo fucking madman, you cannot trust people who fuck marsupials. Besides that, did you see the look in his eyes? He sees you as meat, fresh, warm, red meat for the slaughter. The man is a butcher, a kill you first and fuck you later type. Jeffrey Dahmer dressed in a t-shirt and furry boots, every safety pin jammed through his body a former trophy. I count six trophies Mona, do you think this crazed wingnut likes symmetry? I doubt it! Do you see what I am saying?”
She was hesitant to reply, looking torn between perplexed amusement and sage decision making, “I think…”
“What I am saying is we have a propane stove, vice grips, and hell we even have the saran wrap and medical tape we need to doctor it up right. We have you covered, stay here with friends.” She nodded, I had won her over.
“Oy, are we doing this or not?” The Butcher was getting antsy to leave; he knew I was onto him. I could smell his fear.
“Yes, but I’m staying here. Coffee and Cigarettes has everything I need and I would rather not walk a bunch after branding my ankle.”
As a man of many talents who had traveled the world over, Chyutknee offered his services at this crucial juncture. “I’ve branded cows and sheep before how different can this be?”
At this utterance The Butcher dejectedly signaled to Crocodile Dundee and Steve Irwin that it was time for them to piss off. He scowled at me, a crudely mohawked savage with pins through his ears and murder in his eyes. They walked out of camp into the dust laden winds and were soon nothing but a memory.
“Alright, if we’re going to do this we’re doing it by the books, as best as we can.” Foreman settled into his role and drew from years of experience as an EMT to make sure our semi-sober selves did not make a complete mess of things. “Captain Safety, get your medical tape and vicegrips. Rhyno, start wiping off that metal necklace you were gifted with this sanitary towelette, we’ll use that as the brand. Chyutknee, get some gloves on. I’ll turn on the stove and grab the saran wrap!”
This process, while done with the utmost expediency, was being conducted on “Burner time,” meaning time became quite relative. Two beers later we were all assembled and ready to go. Ramona was propped up in the comfiest folding chair in the camp, the one with all four legs and no rips in the fabric. Her intended leg was elevated, bare, and erected for this moment of great anticipation. While the necklace was being transmogrified into a hot brand, Mona cracked open another beer and we toasted to her decision.
I had always hoped to witness a live human branding someday. I just never expected to see one so early in my life, or to be so intimately involved in the experience. I even had my camera there to get photos.
The brand was ready and we readied Ramona with a cloth bit in her mouth. With a big grin, the grin of a proud craftsman birthing a new creation, Chyutknee let the scalding, blistering hot metal kiss the delicate ankle of our dear little Ramona, gently, like a politician kissing a baby. As one would expect, she squirmed from the pain but took it well and ended up with a very decent looking brand of The Man. We wrapped it in saran wrap, taped it down like one does a tattoo, iced it, and she was good to go.
Like a real champ, while many of us were still paralyzed with wonder, Ramona laced up her boot over the newly minted brand. She stood up, chugged the rest of her beer and was ready to go party. I was awestruck by this beautiful, tough as nails desert flower who just bloomed before my eyes. This girl was of a breed too strange to live and too rare to die.