The Iceman by Adam McAlpine Clark

Little Lucas Moriarty hasn’t spoken to his mother in two weeks. She’s on a cruise to Hawaii and they don’t let people take phones onto the cruise ship. Strictly prohibited, said his pops in an affected rusty baritone as they drove north from Biloxi and away from the great Gulf Coast. His pops turned up the radio but couldn’t find anything worth listening to, so they settled on some grainy Pentecostal radio station from off in the Ozarks, which he proceeded to poke sticks at for the next hour while Lucas counted deer, the sunlight seeming to spend hours angled out through the drowned cypress trees.

You know I should’ve become a preacher, Luke, the way these guys line their pockets. But seriously, listen to this guy, and what’s-his-name in Georgia just got a quarter million in cash! Cash, Luke, a quarter million in cold, hard cash lifted one night from the church safe. Every Sunday, Luke!  

Lucas wanted to protest, to say that being a preacher don’t make nobody no shepherd, it don’t make nobody, you got to…but Lucas couldn’t remember how the rest of it went, he should have paid more attention to his mother, he thought, before she went off to cruise without her phone.

You keep a secret, boy? I thought so, ’cause we got ourselves, you see that trailer back there? That, son, is our goddamn golden ticket out of town. Lucas asked him which town he meant, Biloxi?, thinking that the scratched up trailer hitched behind their truck didn’t look like any golden ticket.

No! Not the—It’s the ticket out of this shit, I mean, what is this, a hot pocket sleeve? You know, figure of speech. Hold the wheel a sec? No it’s just about having the power to have the power in the first place, Lucas looks back at the trailer behind them, a dented aluminum plane floating behind the glass of the rear window, Thanks, that was cool, huh? But listen to me, buddy—Hey dad?Yeah? What’s up, buddyWhat’s in the trailer?I can’t tell you, I can only show you…Don’t be dramatic, yea, yea hold your horses.

Lucas’s pops had sold livestock out of that same trailer from time to time and once Lucas even encountered a pregnant water buffalo standing impassively like an ungulant ogre in the dark interior of the trailer and had stood transfixed, watching the steam pouring off its massive cobalt body in the cold morning air.

He’d spent two weeks with his father that time, and they had been flush after dropping off the water buffalo a hundred yards past a locked gate on some private land in the swamp. Fifty dollars! Anything in the store, you name it, buster! He recalled his pops promising at the time, casting his arms wide across the truck cabin as they cruised down I-10.

He asks his pops if that time was a golden ticket. Nah, hah, his pops drops his right hand on Lucas’s shoulder. He glances back at the trailer, I’d say that was bronze ticket, that was.

After a few minutes of father and son driving through the night scanning for deer together, The lawyer’s talking about copywriting genetic material, buster! Intellectual property rights? You bet! Find of the goddamn century is what I’m talking about, Luke! I mean, shit, says his pops before trailing off, his eyes looking right down the road.

Some hours later Lucas wakes up and has to pee and they pull off at a rest stop fifteen minutes later. The front wall of the bathrooms is painted white and bathed in light and geckos scatter around the bulbs, lunging at katydids, ants, June bugs, you name it. You know they’re goddamn invasives, right? That, Lucas steps over to examine a bright green tree frog tensed in front of a flopping moth, that’s from here, native, yes sir. These bastards are eating all their food out from under them. Invasive species, yep. This guy, Turkish gecko, she’s what we call a cosmopolitan species. They’re everywhere; all over the world, Luke, like coconuts, he says. Lucas laughs and it feels like peal of church bell to his pops’s heart. Or sparrows and starlings, his pops tries.

They drive over a bridge where a coyote trots past them. The cosmopolitan species. His pops laughs quietly. Lucas watches a small scattering herd, and he and his pops glance at each other. You think they mind being cosmopolitan, pops? Well, his pops takes a long breath and sighs deeply, it’s kind of terrible, right? Lucas shrugs his shoulders, scanning the wet fields outside for deer.

Again Lucas awakes with a full bladder. They are parked and Lucas is alone. His pops’s door is open. He pulls on a thin sweater and climbs over seats and out into the dark. They’re stopped in some state park campground. Lucas can see a dim, blue light coming from the trailer. At the back of the trailer his pops sits in a chair in front of a monitor, a black silhouette against the white screen. Between them is a huge cold locker. His pops has headphones on and talks to someone in a hushed voice over the computer.

Lucas totters up to the cold locker, almost dizzily, and, with all of his little might raises up the lid, up and over the big ticket inside. Below him sits a giant block of dim blue ice. In the center of the ice, a giant hairy body the size of a basketball player lies curled on its side. After several minutes, Lucas steps back, recognizing the thing as dead, and drops the lid shut. From the corner of his eye he sees his father jump out of his chair. Where are we going? Lucas cries, glancing back at the ice man.

His pops approaches, raises the lid open again and they stare at the ice man together for some time, We’re starting interviews tomorrow! I’ve got some soft offers on the internet, but it’s time to hit the press, buster.

To get to Hawaii from the Gulf, you must have to go all the way up the Mississippi, it occurs to little Lucas Moriarty, amid thoughts of water buffalo, steam curling up and out of the ice locker.

Adam McAlpine Clark has been writing fiction and poetry for over fifteen years. He recently completed graduate school for law and environmental and international development policy. As a result, he began writing nonfiction articles about international environmental and social justice issues. He has continued to write fiction, which has become all the more heavily inflected with concerns of globalization and loss.

Lead image“Water buffalo” (via Flickr user Bernard Spragg. NZ)