Dawn DeBraal lives in rural Wisconsin with her husband Red, two rat terriers, and a cat. She has discovered that her love of telling a good story can be written. Published stories with Palm-sized press, Spillwords, Mercurial Stories, Potato Soup Journal, Edify Fiction, Zimbell House Publishing, Clarendon House Publishing, Blood Song Books, Black Hare Press, Fantasia Divinity, Cafelit, Reanimated Writers, Guilty Pleasures, Unholy Trinity, The World of Myth, Dastaan World, Vamp Cat, Runcible Spoon, Dark Christmas, Siren’s Call, Iron Horse Publishing, Falling Star Magazine 2019 Pushcart Nominee, Dark Poetry
Ricky Jeff sat on the front porch of his mother’s doublewide, out of the hot Florida sun. He opened a bottle of Swamp Beer, taking a long pull, belching loudly.
“Ricky!” his mother called out. Ricky laughs. He sits in the chair next to the old recliner under the overhang.
The recliner smells of cat urine a year after the cat is long gone. Ricky knows he should burn the chair, but it was in such good shape. He hoped someday the smell would go away.
Rows of alligator heads displayed on the lawn. Ricky and his friend Cooter hunted those heads in the last few weeks. The severed heads gave off an offensive smell, though Ricky had salted them, they needed to get past that rancid dead-meat stage.
Ricky and Cooter had an idea, to make slippers out of the dried alligator heads and call them “Gator Gaits.” Tourists will snap them up.
Ricky went through taking short sticks to prop open the gator mouths so they would dry that way. Cooter and he were going back to the swamp tonight to find more gators. They only needed the heads. Cooter would take his chain saw, harvest the heads, leaving the bodies behind to feed the swamp creatures. The two men did not want to get caught by wardens, so they went at night, under cover of darkness. It was a messy job the chainsaw threw up an awful lot of blood and gator meat on them. Ricky’s mom came out on the porch.
“The smell of those gator heads is putrefying,” she opened the fridge fetching some things out. His Ma would think differently once those Gator Gaits caught on, and the money poured in.
Ricky and Cooter came up with the idea under the haze of alcohol and assorted prescription drugs. It seemed so clear back then. Now under the hot sun the smell so intense mixed with the strong odor of cat urine, Ricky was second-guessing the vision. Before his mind came to a different conclusion, his friend Cooter pulled up.
“Gimme one of those!” Cooter points to Ricky’s beer. Ricky opened the old refrigerator, tossed Cooter a cool one. They sit in silence.
“That lounge chair smells like cat piss.”
“Why do you think it’s sitting out on the porch?” Cooter laughs. The sun hangs low in the sky when Ricky’s girlfriend Darcy, pulls up in her little white Escort. Cooter is perturbed.
“She’s on the rag. Gators can smell that.” Ricky responded tersely sensing Cooter’s dismay.
“Seriously, you mean to use your girlfriend Darcy, as gator bait?” Cooter looks at Ricky like he doesn’t know what he’s doing, Ricky only thinks he does.
“Yup.” Ricky holds his bottle of beer up as if to toast his girlfriend. Darcy bounces out of the car carrying a six-pack. It is one of the many reasons Cooter thinks Ricky loves this girl. She never comes empty-handed.
The johnboat hangs out of the back of Ricky’s truck. The plan is to get as close as they can to the park, sneak in under cover of darkness. Darcy reaches the porch wrinkling up her nose with a disgusted look on her face.
“Ricky, those gator heads smell really bad!”
“That is the smell of money right there, honey.” Ricky’s Ma hollers out the back door.
“Are you hunting again tonight?” Ricky shouts back they are, and hints to Cooter and Darcy they should get going.
A bucket, spotlight, rope, bug spray and the chainsaw are put into the johnboat. The chainsaw smells as bad as the heads drying in the sun.
“Damn, Cooter. You could have cleaned that saw off better.” Ricky complains as they walk to the front of the truck their hands over their noses, they climb into the front seat..
When they get to the boat landing, Darcy pulls out a bottle of oxycontin she stole from her grandmother after the woman suffered a hip fracture. She doles them out one each. They wash the pills down with beer. As darkness approaches, they slip the johnboat into the water.
Ricky and Darcy make Cooter take some time to wash off the chainsaw. It’s quite comical when Cooter starts the saw up and saws through the calm water that splashes up and hits Cooter in the crotch. Darcy and Ricky laugh, Cooter’s feelings are hurt; he is quiet when they head out into the swamp.
Darcy is pissed. Her cell phone doesn’t get a signal. Her brightly painted red nails click away on the lighted keys of a cell phone that has no service. Darcy can text faster than anyone they know, but without a signal, the message isn’t going anywhere.
It is Darcy who spots the first gator. He is a big one. They try to guestimate how big it is. The lucky gator is too big for their purposes, he will not meet the Gator Gait slipper size. They follow it further into the swamp, spraying themselves down with skeeter dope. Ricky comments the oxy is kicking in, he feels fine.
They turn the johnboat away from the big gator in pursuit of a smaller one. It isn’t long before they’ve found one. Cooter throws a rope around a perfect-sized gator. Ricky lets out a hoot telling Cooter he should have been a rodeo star. Cooter could sure work that rope. The gator spins around trying to get the rope off.
“Get him up to the boat!” Ricky shouts, starting up the chainsaw. Darcy takes a seat in the front of the boat, getting away from the noise. Why is she wearing white jeans? Cooter drags the gator up to the boat. As soon as the chainsaw comes near, the gator goes wild flips out of the water and somehow manages to get itself into the johnboat.
Cooter drops back, trying to catch the gator from behind its neck. A gator only has a few muscles to open its mouth but plenty to close it. Cooter clamps the gators mouth shut from behind. Darcy is screaming to get it out of the boat before it eats them.
Ricky starts the chain saw back up. Cooter screams Ricky’s forgotten about Cooter’s hands that hold the gator’s mouth shut. It’s horrible. Darcy is shouting for Ricky to stop, but Ricky has to kill the gator before the gator kills them. Ricky closes his eyes and continues to saw putting a hole in the bottom of the johnboat.
The gator has already escaped back into the water. Cooter is in bad shape. Blood spurting out of his handless arms. Darcy is still screaming. The boat is taking on water from the jagged hole Ricky has put in the bottom.
Darcy comes to her senses, she tries to stem the flow of blood from Cooter’s arms, she gives Cooter a couple more oxycontin, just to shut him up. She and Ricky can’t stand Cooter’s wailing. The boat continues taking on more water.
Ricky tells Darcy to start bailing. She takes the bucket scoops the water over the side, but it’s a useless effort. The water continues to rise, Darcy can’t keep up. The hole Ricky put in the boat is too big.
Ricky orients himself, heads the boat in the right direction. The moon is out, making things easier to see. They are nearing the boat landing. Ricky says he will leave the boat sink once they get to the shore, they need to get Cooter to the hospital. Ricky tells Darcy to keep bailing but see if she can find Cooter’s hands. Darcy screams back at Ricky.
“I can’t do both!” Cooter isn’t screaming anymore. The oxy is working. Thank God Darcy had it. Between the hole in the boat and their combined weight they can’t keep the boat floating. They are still some distance to the shoreline. Ricky tells Darcy she has to get out of the boat. Darcy swears at Ricky a few times and jumps out.
The boat rises in the water a few inches. Darcy hangs on tight to the rope Ricky has tied off. She lets her body float out.
They’ve all forgotten about the big twelve-footer they passed up earlier. The boat is back in the gator’s territory.
Darcy is the bait, hanging in the water, being her time of the month and all, Cooter bleeding out all over the place, the hole in the boat in the sinking boat, has served up the perfect storm.
The gator took Darcy first and then Ricky when he went over the side after his girlfriend. Ricky is shouting Darcy’s name. More gators come from every direction, descending upon them. Cooter floats in the boat in an oxy haze. Eventually, the johnboat bumps into the shoreline. Headline in the next day’s newspaper,
“FLORIDA MAN CUTS FRIEND’S HANDS OFF WITH A CHAIN SAW”
Cooter Bang, the only survivor of that fateful evening was found the next morning by the warden who also found his hands floating in the johnboat with him. Cooter was able to fill him in on what happened. The hospital was able to reattach his hands, but they never worked the same. Darcy and Ricky were never found. They became the stuff that makes up those local legends.
His name was Ricky Jeff. His claim to fame? He is another bizarre “Florida-Man,” headline.