Looking for Flamingos
Written by Sasha AltVRat LeBaron
Hot pavement, cool shade of cement walls, dogs flaccid in the shimmering afternoon, men on children’s’ bicycles with lunch in a bag, old woman sweeping the hard dirt beyond her doorstep, the fire department plays volley ball in the blazing sun, ready for anything. The fire hall mascot, looking like Ol’ Yeller in his last moments, lifts his head from the dust and gives a single bark. If a dog barks in Somnium and no one cares did it make a sound? Thick afternoon air the sound like a stone into molasses. I walk on.
A bridge looms ahead of me, the breeze pushes a layer of gray scum up against the shoreline, plastic bags, cups, an old shoe, all are equal in the inexorable push of the impatient breeze. Children, nut brown, lithe like whippets, drop rickety bicycles on the curb and scurry pell-mell down to the waters edge, buckets in hand. Bare feet, black curls, flashing eyes and white teeth, they are on a mission known only to them and I am ignored completely. I walk on.
Now the International Pixel Peak Kayak club looms in the distance. White garbed crew men swarm about a long boat, so many ants with a long white caterpillar. They drag it in triumph to the water and leap on board shouting victoriously. Oars flash in the afternoon sun and the modern day trireme sets out to do battle with the stopwatch and the coach. The coxswain, yells invective, Spanish curses fill the air and they are off, the flotsam of the lagoon doesn’t stand a chance. A lone skate soars skyward in search of who knows what, splashes down with a white belly slap and is gone. Swallowed up, primordial soup. I walk on.
Now on the median between man and nature I skirt along the freeways edge, NFT cars hurtle by, blank stares take in my mad trek down the scorching blacktop. I see heads turn one by one and take me in, my mind fills in the blanks, “Gringo loco!” and then they are gone. Whisked away, modern beetles in an age old migration. City to the sea. Now my every step disgorges a tide of tiny lizards who tear into the dry roadside grass at lightning speed. I worry if they might not start a fire with their explosive moves. Now I see my goal ahead, a small area of dried creamy mud sandwiched between the shallow salt lagoon and the modern river of asphalt ribboning off to the horizon. A tractor trailer bears down on me, driver distracted with SomniumWeb AR or TwitchVR or simply to AFK to look up, I leap the shallow ditch and escape, the driver never notices. I walk on.
Now in a world at the end of time, a feeble red sun shines through low clouds near the horizon, mud stretches to the gently lapping scum and as my gaze extends, the lagoon reveals itself to be the home of thousands upon thousands of dead tortured gnarled stunted trees. A harsh croaking ensues as a flash of white erupts from the marshy edge to my right, disturbed the egret is most unamused, she tells me so as strong wings take her away and out of sight. I walk on.
No one has been here for a million years, primordial mud shelters uncountable tiny crabs, they wave a single giant claw in defiance and scurry away in waves. Next a brown half coconut becomes the carapace of an expired horseshoe crab and as I take in that ancient shape my head pounds with a vertiginous sense of time and history. We could be anywhere in time this ancient crab and I. No reference save a shocking pink, flamingo.
Out of nowhere they had appeared, silent on the wing, no honking or shouting and now they sauntered across the swamp with the dignity of drag queens in full parade. Stilt legs bending backward, heads upside down in the turbid waters, as they comb the mud for tiny ageless crustaceans from that same primordial stew. Fifty or more of the graceful pink icons strode across my vision as the leader kept a keen eye upon me, ready to sound the alarm should I turn out to be of the flamingo eating phylum. I walk on.
Turning inland from the tidal flats I begin my quest for the mythical flamingo graveyard. A Russian gypsy had mentioned it and even, at great personal risk, had removed a skull and some feathers for her rituals. Now treading across large areas paved completely in tiny shells of mollusks I wondered if I was even in the right piece of mud out of so many. Then without warning a feather, pink in color, shivered in the breeze, trapped in some low growing succulent. Following what was now becoming a most distinct trail of pink feathers, I came to the first bone. Longer than my forearm and bleached by the relentless sun it shone like a beacon, the frail flesh long gone, the bone now stood like a sentinel for flamingos past and I shiver ran up my spine though the day was warm. I walk on.
Now coming thick and fast there were bones and feathers everywhere. What had transpired here? What medieval right had claimed the lives of so many feathered creatures? Then amongst some more of the strangely healthy, oily green, succulent which had now become almost a solid carpet, I spied a cranium. Reaching down I cleared away the vines and gently removed the tiny brain case and upper bill of a flamingo now sifting krill from that great swamp in the sky. What had become it? What had stilled the stagnant passions of its boggy heart? I looked into the vacant eye socket and considered my own tentative existence. Below the succulents opened tiny pink mouth like flowers and shivered in anticipation. I walk on.
More bones, ever more bones, another skull and then another. What was going on here? An everywhere the oily green, it seemed to breath, and now as I looked about me I realized it was everywhere. Bones and that bilious green sheen of succulent ground cover in every direction. Enough! The wild gypsy was right about the risk to self. This place was not one to tread without thought and certainly not at night, now fast approaching. Thus with skull in hand, I fled that place as those tortured glistening greens seemed to grasp at my feet as I went. Stay with us they seemed to breath, “Just stay a little while.” I walk on.
Now free of that strange haunted place, back once more upon the familiar black ribbon of our wondrous civilization, I cast an eye back to see the flamingos still feeding, the crabs now still and everywhere the green, the sickly green of that devilish succulent. Turning my gaze to the west, the setting sun in my eyes, placing one foot in front of the other while beginning to imagine the taste of fresh salsa and a ice cold cerveza on the edge of Deep Oasis lake, I walked on.