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~Chapter 1~
My Quest Begins
A Torch is Passed and Atlas Grunts

Flashes of mercury, the whine of burning planes. The ground shakes and the walls of the tent vibrate. He swipes at something in front of his nose, then relaxes into his dream. We are in a war zone. I don't know why. I have other things on my mind.

My name is Elk Undercarriage. You're probably wondering why I'm writing Strapping Danforth's column this month. I did not choose this burden. But it is one I accept with pride. For I am the son of Strapping Danforth and it is my duty to proclaim to the world that our Greatest Living Writer will soon be simply the Greatest.

If you read last month's article, you know that Strapping Danforth is pounding on death's door. My father often told me that he wanted to die in a spectacular manner, something with explosions, silly string, gunfire, and cherubic, naked, matronly women. After his mysterious collapse during his last interview, this is unlikely. Like virtually everyone not living in the Middle East , Strapping Danforth is going to expire slowly, with bedsores and no control over his bowels.

Do not coo. He would not want our pity. He would not want our prayers. He would want only for us to spend frantic hours trying to find a taxidermist willing to stuff his body in a pose of attack, just as he specified in his living will.

And so I have done this. But I have not succeeded. Evidentially, it is illegal to stuff a human being, even a dead one. I've gone to every taxidermist in the tri-state region and received the same response from each: “Get the fuck out of my office you perverse freak.”

I am beginning to believe that this is no accident. As his only living heir, I'm well aware that Strapping hated me. He didn't even know I existed until I breezed into his life two years ago and dragged him to Guadalajara where I involved him in drug deal that nearly led to his death. So it would only make sense that he sends me on a vindictive quest to preserve his last remains. But I will not be swayed. For though it be hopeless, I will do Strapping's last bidding.

If I cannot find a willing taxidermist in the US , I will pack Strapping's remains on ice and together we will make one final journey to Guadalajara , where I am certain that I will find someone willing to stuff him. Guadalajara is city where I was conceived. It seems a fitting place to render Papa's body immutable.

But all this talk of conception and beautiful sunsets is premature, for Strapping Danforth still breathes. He squeezes my hand periodically. He flips me off when I demand that he tell me where he buried the coffee can full of silver dollars he purloined from the Third Duchess of Kent on her second visit to Kent State .

And all the while I wonder about this man before me. There is much the world doesn't know about Strapping Danforth. While we are lucky to have been lucky enough to get to know him through his writings for the final four years of his life, it's a goddamn shame that he's left us with nothing but hazy memories of his youth, adulthood, middle age, and early senior citizenry. It's a shame. Perhaps more details lie in the reams and reams of paper the went up in smoke when I accidentally burned his cozy cottage to the ground. Never leave a frydaddy on and unattended for more than sixty hours.

Anyway, as I sit in this chair in this tent next to the supine form of Strapping Danforth, his huge chest bellowing air, I'm pretty sure I can hear bombs going off in the distance. Time is short.

Shhh, I think he's trying to tell me something.

“Hey,” he says, in his phlegmatic voice, “Shithead.”

“Yes, Father.”

“Imposter.”

“You're confused.”

“Shut up. Get the brush. Paint a target on top of this tent.”

The bombs are coming closer. I'm torn with fear, but I will do his bidding. For he is pointing a gun at my crotch.

--Elk Undercarriage, March, 2005

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