The rain came down in a steady patter, a light rain, just enough to soak the grass. Cooder stood on the plastic cover of the utility hole under the tree. The concrete bench was too wet for sitting. The city didn't provide enough shelter at most of the bus stops. There was a time when the hole cover would have been steel, but nowadays everything was plastic.
It was just past 6:30, still dark. He dropped his 2000 Mazda 626 at the Texaco for its 55,000 mile service, struts and flushes, $2045. The blue book price was $2600. Last night, Chesty told him that he should get a new car. It cost as much to fix it as it was worth.
"It ain't broke," he had said. "This is preventive maintenance. It's a good car. If I keep it in shape, it will run forever."
"Think about it," she said. "Next time it will need all of the belts and hoses replaced."
The car was in Ben's Texaco. Ben had a choice a few years ago, when Texaco sold out, to become a franchise of British Petroleum or an independent. He went independent. He must be happy about that now, with oil gushing out of a hole a mile down in the Gulf, coating Brown Pelicans in Alabama and Louisiana with tar.
It would be decades before the country's dependence on oil was relieved by wind power. Cooder had seen the turbine blades lashed to flatbeds heading along I-35. How long were they? Two hundred feet, as tall as an
eight-story building. Rumor had it that they might be a threat to migrating waterfowl.
That's when Cooder saw the creature. It dropped down out of the sky and landed in front of him. It looked like a pelican, but it was black and slimy, the first sighting of a new species, a mutant. Cooder had the camera
phone that Chesty gave him for Christmas and he started snapping away, capturing the first images of what would come to be called Pelicanus cooderoosis, after the first human to record its existence.
He emailed the photo to Chesty and called her. "Did you get it?"
"The picture I sent you?"
"Cooder, it's not yet seven in the morning. Can't it wait?"
"No, look at it."
"Oh, alright. Eww! What is that?"
"It looks like a bird," said Cooder. "But it has no feathers."
"What's that dripping off it?" asked Chesty.
"It looks like tar," said Cooder.
Then another dropped down and another. Pretty soon, the street was full of them. They bums rushed Ben's Texaco, knocked the oil bottles from the rack, unscrewed the caps and guzzled the contents. They left black slime marks on the linoleum floor. Then they tore up the tiles and ate them along with the empty oil containers and caps.
"Cooder, what's happening?" asked Chesty. "Are you still there?"
Two pelicans nudged Cooder off the hole cover he was standing on, dragged it into the street and lined it up with the wheels of the incoming bus. As the bus moved away with Cooder feeding coins into the fare box, he heard the hole cover cracking.
The driver checked the rear-view mirror. "They're eating the pieces," he said.
"Cooder!" It was Chesty again.
"They're eating petroleum and petroleum products," said Cooder.
The flock passed the bus and flew ahead to a shopping center. The driver stopped to pick up another passenger. The mutant avians slimed into an all-night supermarket and started swigging shampoo, which is made from petroleum.
"Are you recording this?" asked Chesty.
"No, but I got a good picture of the thing."
"I wouldn't call it a pelican."
"What would you call it?"
"How about an oilican?"
"I like it," said Chesty. "I'm going to call the local media and send them the picture. Maybe we'll be on television."
"You and me?" asked Cooder.
"Us and the oilicans."
"I don't have any oilicans, just a picture."
"We'll have to capture one," said Chesty, "or, it will just be another chupacabra story. Two would be better, a breeding pair."
"We?" asked Cooder. "Are you going to help me?"
"I'll get the gear together and meet you in my car. You track them."
"How am I going to track them? I'm on a bus and they can fly."
"Is there a bicycle in the rack?"
Cooder stretched up so he could see. "Yes."
"Get off at the next stop and take the bicycle."
"Good idea. Whose bicycle is that?" he shouted down the aisle.
"Geez, Cooder! Don't ask, just take it," Chesty said.
"It's mine," said a bearded man in a Harley Davidson cap.
"Can I have it?" asked Cooder. "I need it for a TV show."
"Can I be on the show?" asked the man.
"Sure, but first we have to capture a pair of oilicans."
"Right," said the Harleyman.
Cooder pulled the cord for the stop. "I'll ride on the handlebars. Can you
peddle for both of us?"
"I'm small. But I'm wiry," said Harleyman. "Besides, it's a tandem."
They pulled the tandem from the rack and mounted up.
"Call me when you leave the house," said Cooder to Chesty. "Bring some gear for Harleyman, too."
"He's he cyclist, no time to explain. The oilicans just passed us. Go! Go! Go!"
"I prefer to be called a biker," said Harleyman.
They were off, pedaling furiously after the flock of marauding mutants. If Cooder, Chesty and Harleyman couldn't intercept them before they crossed a wind farm, the blades might slice and dice the brave new species into Julienne fries.
John A. Ward was born on Staten Island, attended Wagner College in the early 60's, sold his first poem to Leatherneck magazine, and became a scientist. He is now in San Antonio running, writing and living with his dance partner. Links to his work can be found at Booger Jack.