3/19/13

Warding Off All Predators
By Patrick Hueller


When it was all said and done, and it was determined that their little girl had taken her last unassisted steps, and Hoern Health Insurance had repeated the phrase “pre-existing condition” for the last time, and their agent had repeated Sorry for the last time, when their debt had become so heavy that it bowed their backs and prevented them from seeing more than a few feet or minutes ahead, Tom and Sarah didn’t—couldn’t—blame their health insurance, or their health insurance agent, or even the doctors (who, really, had done all they could).

           
Instead, they blamed the horned toad.

           
They blamed the horned toad for continuing to plug their so-called health insurance on TV. They blamed the horned toad for making promises he couldn’t keep. They blamed the horned toad for not being what he said he was (according to their research he wasn’t actually a toad but part of the lizard family). They blamed the horned toad for behaving like a human being who had human feelings, when clearly he wasn’t and didn’t. They blamed the horned toad for acting as though he was warm-blooded when in fact he was cold-blooded. They blamed the horned toad for being cuter than the rest of his horned toad brethren. They blamed the horned toad for taking some struggling human actor’s big break. They blamed the horned toad for spelling his name differently than the product he represented (horn was not the same thing as Hoern; were they the only ones who could see that?). They blamed the horned toad for eating restaurant food instead of ants. They blamed the horned toad for having a human-sized wallet with a big wad of discretionary spending money inside. They blamed the horned toad for having better vision than they did, for being able to pick up ultraviolet light, for being able to foresee technicalities and loopholes that they had previously overlooked. They blamed the horned toad for being able to stand on two legs.


They simply couldn’t forgive him for being able to stand on two legs.


Until, that is, they realized that that’s how they’d find him.


Sure.


They would wait for him in the parking lot in front of his studio. At some point, they knew, he would have to emerge. At some point, he would have to be alone. He’d feel comfortable on the hot asphalt parking lot. They were counting on that. He’d feel at home, and let his guard down, and in that moment his life would be snatched away. One second he’d be strolling around on two feet as though it was the most natural thing in the world; the next he’d be lying flat in an emptied out Kleenex box, bouncing around in the backseat and then up the still-unfinished ramp leading to their front door, into the living room where the video camera was set up and ready to go.


They could just see it.


The camera would be on, the tape running. What do you want from me? he’d ask, blindfolded, scared.


Whatever you have to give, they’d say.


Money? he’d say. I have money. I have lots of money.


More, they’d say. Because while this was definitely a ransom video, money wasn’t all that they were owed.


Stock options?


More.


A house? Property? A company position?


More. More. More.


Nothing would be enough, of course. They knew that. Everything, after all, was limited to the present and the future. It didn’t, it couldn’t, include the past.


Or could it?


After the video, they would return the horned toad to the desert where he originally came from. They would strip him of his human clothes.


Better yet, they’d let him strip himself. Sooner or later he’d have to.


In order to fit in with his fellow reptiles, in order to avoid detection by predators patrolling from above, he’d have to cut the whole human act. He’d have to chirp instead of talk. He’d have to spurt blood from his eyes. He’d have to walk on all fours.


The horned toad, for once and forever more, would have to do all the things his given life required of him, and hope against reason that it was enough.


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Patrick Hueller has an MFA from the University of Minnesota. He's against instant replay in sports.


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