Monday, October 31, 2005

The Pueblo Incident

Some of my fondest memories of my youth come from my family outings when my parents and I would drive around on Sunday and visit the various tourist attractions of New Mexico. Mostly, we would visit the old pueblos and the ancient homes of the Native Americans. Usually, those trips would be sleepy affairs with a few oohs and ahhs but nothing too amazing outside of the historical wonder we were expected to feel. However, one trip will always stand out in my memory and sometimes will visit my nightmares. I was but a scant ten years of age, naïve and wide eyed. It was that mild summer day that I first encountered the true face of evil.
It was late July, that time of year when the plants start to give up hope, when we visited the Grand Quivera. It was a hot day filled with the smell of sun-beaten earth and dying vegetation. The temperature was high enough for us to risk showing off our pasty legs and arms in shorts and t-shirts. A mild breeze was circulating but it had all the cooling power of a furnace and only managed to kick up dust to irritate our eyes and throats.
The dusty trail we walked on wound around the large pueblo structures giving the tourist ample view of its splendor before leading them directly into its weathered depths. Lining the dirt-packed trail at random intervals were thorn bushes well over six feet tall that were far too sturdy to submit to a little draught. Lurking in those formidable walls was a vast collection of insects, most of which enjoyed feasting on the blood of others. Understandably, exposed as we were, we tried to give those areas a wide berth.
Our guide strolled ahead of us along the road absently pointing out the occasional historical fact. He was young; perhaps just a high school student dressed in jeans and the purple polo shirt that all the employees wore. His speech was uncertain yet careful, as if he had memorized it but this was his first formal recital. We followed him and nodded every now and then as he spoke. I really wasn’t listening to what he said, feigning interest to be polite. At that age, historical monuments didn’t hold a lot of appeal.
Little did we know as we innocently strolled along the path that a creature of pure malice had targeted our wholesome family outing. I can imagine it now lurking somewhere in the bushes plotting…
SLAP! My mother glared down at her forearm where a black insect fluttered away unscathed. Now, for those of you city folk who have never had the pleasure of seeing and/or being bitten by a deerfly, let me describe it to you so that you may appreciate the situation. Deerflies look like large houseflies with brightly colored eyes. However, it’s their bite that makes them so insufferable. Imagine being bitten by a large mosquito but instead of getting that lovely serum that they inject that numbs the skin, you only get pain...a lot of it. Try thinking of a fire ant bite, only ten times worse. To top it off, it still itches like crazy!
Another annoying fact that you won’t get on any website is the sheer persistence of those little devils. Insecticide only makes them stronger. Off is useless, and they will follow you to your grave if they have to. This deerfly was no exception; instead of going for a more unaware meal, it lingered by my mother watching her with its beady little eyes. Around and around her it swooped keeping clear of her swatting hands.
SLAP! My mother turned away from the high-pitched ramblings of the guide keeping her eyes fixed on her foe. The deerfly feigned for her shoulder but she dodged it and swatted. It swung away sharply then resumed its shark-like circling. I watched the interesting dance for a little bit debating whether I should aid her, risking the attention of the deerfly, or not. It was far more interesting than learning about how and when the pueblo had been built. I glanced at my father but he was too engrossed in conversation with the guide to notice my mother’s private battle.
Fortunately, the deerfly finally wandered off relieving me of the decision. My mother heaved a sigh then joined back in the conversation my father and the guide were having. Without that minor entertainment I was left to amuse myself. Once again shutting out the bland conversation, I concentrated on defending myself against the milder mosquitoes. They may not have been as persistent as the deerfly, but that didn’t make them any less annoying.
We moved on through another patch of thorn bushes picking up some more mosquitoes to add to our little collection. We stopped again a little closer to the pueblo and the tour guide pointed out a ceremonial pit describing its various uses. I looked down the empty blackness of the ten foot drop imagining a large tiger pacing, and then wondered where I could get a hold of a bunch of palm tree leaves. I looked up at my mother to ask, then froze. The large deerfly had returned and was on my mother’s calf. I could have simply told her but she would only scare it away starting the whole uncomfortable process all over again. I knew that the only way to save her was to kill it and the only way to kill it would be to take it by surprise. This operation would require a great deal of finesse and stealth.
Now, looking back, I admit that wasn’t the brightest course of action. I was young and reckless and unaware of my own mortality. Being older and wiser, I can now appreciate the horror and stupidity of what I was about to do. Just bear in mind that I only had my mother’s welfare in mind.
So, decision made, I slowly advanced on the deerfly raising my hand ever so slowly. I stopped mere inches from my target; my mother continued to chat oblivious to the imminent threat. Slowly I pulled my hand back as far as it would go keeping focused on the black insect, sensitive to the slightest wing flicker. My muscles trembled as I held my arm aloft poised for destruction. I took a deep breath, held it, and then released the tension building in my arm sending it flying forward. Time slowed as my hand advanced, the wind whistling past my fingers. Inch by inch I came closer to my goal and the deerfly remained still. Closer and closer I came, the force building from my velocity. My hand was mere inches from crushing the life from the foul deerfly. I nearly howled with glee, there was no way that it could escape now; my hand was just too close.
With a deft flutter of wings, the deerfly flew away through the small gap between my hand and her leg. ...Crap.... Futility, I tried to recall my hand but it was too late. I could only watch in horror; I was powerless to stop.
SLAP!
A sound that was half way between a squawk and a scream erupted from my mother as she whirled around. Her eyes darted from her leg to me and there was a moment of pure silence broken only by the mournful cry of the wind. A large, red imprint of my hand formed on her calf standing out brightly against her pale skin. My mother’s face turned a color that has no name. It was a strange combination of red and purple that covered her entire face and neck. Her eyes bulged and her lips were pursed so hard that all the lines of her face stood out in stark contrast. Her hands balled into tight fists and my life flashed before my eyes. I have seen this face before only in mothers and only in moments of pure rage. Thus, I have dubbed it the ‘mommy face’. I learned quickly in life that the only defense against the mommy face was a swift retreat accompanied by fervent apologies. So, I backed up with my hands waving desperately in front of me. All I could do was sputter,
"Deerfly! Deerfly!" I gestured wildly. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see the deerfly anywhere. Bastard! He did that on purpose I know it! At any rate, the less than eloquent explanation seemed to satisfy her but she still scowled at me fiercely, the vein in her forehead throbbing.
"Next time, tell me," was all that she said. The tour continued and the deerfly remained absent. I walked a bit behind my mother still a little worried that she hadn’t believed my noble intentions. My only consolation was the knowledge that my actions had saved her from dire discomfort. Perhaps the deerfly was gone for good, frightened from its near death experience. Every now and then a mosquito would hover near her but a few slaps were enough to keep them at bay. They were no where near as cunning or persistent as the deerfly.
We stopped again just before another long stretch of the thorny bushes as the guide pointed out the historical relevance of that particular spot. I was busy squinting my eyes trying to make the distant pueblo look like a hat when I noticed a patch of blurry dots advancing on us. I fully opened my eyes and stared in disbelief. The great deerfly had returned trailed by its court of flying insects. They flew reverently in its wake, a small army preparing to strike. They wasted no time with me flying past as if I didn’t exist. They ignored my father and the guide casually discussing some architectural point of the ancient structures. No, this deerfly seemed to have an agenda. It had some unfinished business with my mother. It was about then that I realized how truly malicious and insidious that deerfly was. How many other deerflies commanded their kin in human raids? Deerflies are notorious for their relentlessness, but that was just crazy.
Hastily I called out a warning to my mother who was walking along oblivious to the impending danger. She sighed heavily and turned around, her eyebrows were drawn into a frown and her lips were still pursed. A small yelp squeezed out of her throat when her eyes fixed upon the advancing attackers. She stood frozen for a moment, her eyes wide. I charged forward with a fierce battle cry hoping to catch them by surprise. I managed to disperse its court of elite soldiers but nothing would deter the evil deerfly. It escaped my clumsy attack and flew full force at my mother. She backed away from the menacing flurry of black wings and her hands rose in preparation for battle. I lost sight of her as she rounded the corner disappearing into the patch of thorned bushes. I raced after her swatting madly at the regrouping vanguard. I rounded the corner; breathless from combat in time to see what a fatal error she had made. The deerfly had paused in its attack hovering in front of her. Then, from all sides, as if on cue, a small swarm of insects exploded from the foliage and closed in around her. I could only watch in horror as she flailed wildly emitting more of those half squawk- half screams that she’s famous for. The air was filled with the hum of bloodthirsty insects and the cries of my mother.
I guess I could have jumped in and sacrificed myself to aid her but...that’s a lot of itchy bites and my last rescue attempt hadn’t gone so well. Plus, it didn’t help that I could hear the stifled laughter of my father and the guide.
"Help me!" She growled. Her viscous slapping did nothing to stop the insect’s aggression and already small, red bumps were forming on her exposed arms and legs. So, she did the only thing she could in such a situation: retreat. Unfortunately, in her panic, she forgot about the bushes. She scrambled away from them right into the sharp embrace of the thicket. She let out another squawk followed by an interesting stream of obscenities that I had never heard before. The ironic thing about that is when she later caught me repeating those same phrases in a moment of pure ire, I got punished. On top of that she actually asked where I had learned such vulgar language! My mouth had been too full of soap to reply.
At any rate, there she was tangled in very sharp plants surrounded by all of those insects biting her. The coup de grace was when the deerfly finally decided to join in. It lazily flew up to her taking its time to choose a spot. My mother, tangled as she was in the bush, was helpless to stop it. The deerfly casually decided on her thigh settling there with ease. Its wings fluttered a bit and it crawled around a little, tapped her skin with its furry leg, then moving on. Now I understand the need for survival but that was just sadistic. I didn’t know that insects could be that cruel! From personal experience, I know how evil deerflies can be but damn!
"AHHHH!!" That did it.
With a mighty heave she broke free of her restraints and slapped her thigh with all of the anger and strength that she possessed. However, that malicious insect again managed to get away but this time with a bellyful of her blood.
I began to relax foolishly thinking that the deer-fly would leave her alone once it had gotten what it wanted, but oh no, nothing’s ever that simple. That greedy bastard regrouped with its squadron and made ready for another attack. To make matters worse, some of the mosquitoes were starting to meander in my direction. My mother sent a glare at my father who had lost his restraint completely and was just out and out laughing then bolted with me hot on her heels. As we ran I could hear my father calling after us,
"I’ve got the car keys." Of course, when you’re being chased by a bunch of highly coordinated insects, you aren’t exactly thinking clearly.
We ended up waiting by the car; or rather ducking behind the car, for ten minutes before my father and the guide leisurely arrived. The deerfly still hadn’t given up although it had lost its followers. It circled the car in wide arches that progressively tightened. The second my father was in range, my mother snatched the keys from his outstretched hand and fumbled with the lock. She flung the door open and swiftly leapt into the car. She didn’t look happy.
As we drove away, safely confined in a metal shell, I swear I could see that determined little deerfly flying after the car as fast as it could swathed in a cloud of dust.
To this day I have never looked at deerflies or mosquitoes the same. Also, I’ve never tried to kill an insect while it was on another person...unless I don’t like them. So when someone tries to tell you that insects are mindless creatures just trying to survive, remember this story. They’re all evil and out to get us. It’s all just a matter of time.
The End...?

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