“A Stinking Rose by Any Other Name,” by Lawrence Barker

Aug 20th, 2011 | By | Category: Prose

Fiasco, Part the First: “It’s them lousy Sasquatches,” Vinnie grumbled as he emptied the trash into the dumpster behind Gatlinburg’s Bigfoot Inn. “They get the breaks. We don’t get nothing. Nothing, I tell you.” He flicked away a banana peel that had stuck to his long, orangish fur. “Just look at that “People Used to Deny Cryptids’ Existence” exhibit at Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum. Bigfoot takes up half, and half the rest goes to them attention-whores Nessie and Jersey Devil. They get everything. Why, this stinking town’s got three stinking shops that don’t sell nothing but knitted Sasquatch hair.”

Phil sat down the trash can he carried. “Your own words drive to the heart of the matter—stinking. Our name and nature both oppose us. There is little that we can do to alter that state.”

“And, making things even worse,” Vinnie said, continuing his rant, “there’s a half-dozen ‘Have your picture taken with Bigfoot’ joints.” He nodded knowingly, snorting through his flattened nostrils. “Now those guys have it easy. Just sit and have folks snap touristy photos.”

Phil stepped into the building’s shadow, allowing his orange eyes’ natural glow to show. His brother Vinnie’s words sounded like the prelude to disaster. “Surely you do not propose that we follow the Sasquatches’ formidable footsteps?”

“Imagine.” Vinnie squatted in the posture that, before everyone went public, his kind had used to vanish behind palmetto and hide in the shadows of swampy forests. “Just sit. Look cuddly when tourist types want you to.  Snarl when they want you to look fierce.” He gestured at the garbage cans. “Don’t getting pictures taken sound better than janitoring?” 

“We had jobs that let us ‘just sit’ before you decided that Smoky Mountain bear wrangling was the life for you.” Phil reflected wistfully on the days of working with a telephone instead of a broom. 

“I’m just saying. That’s all.” A dreamy looks filled Vinnie’s eyes.   

“Were we to undertake the endeavor that you implicitly propose, failure would be the inevitable outcome.” Phil’s hairy hand gestured, indicating a street on the motel’s other side. “Who, among those visitors who pass through this town, would stop to ‘Have your picture taken with Skunk Ape’?”  

Vinnie snapped his fingers. “Phil, you’re a genius.” Vinnie slapped Phil’s hairy back. 

Phil sighed in relief. “I have shown you the dubious wisdom in your ruminations about our current state?” 

“Nah,” Vinnie answered.

Phil cringed.

“You hit the nail on the head when you said nobody ain’t stopping at a ‘Have your picture taken with Skunk Ape’ joint.” Vinnie’s prehensile lips pursed. His yellow eyes glittered. “So we stop being Skunk Apes.”

For an instant, Phil considered distancing himself from whatever notion had coagulated in Vinnie’s bullet-shaped head. But the last time Phil had balked at a Vinnie scheme, he had wound up hoofing it from Sarasota to Knoxville to extricate his brother from the mess into which he had gotten himself. That’s how they had wound up being Gatlinburg janitors instead of remaining telemarketers in Sarasota. Phil groaned. One of his frequent headaches was starting.

“How would we manage not being Skunk Apes?” Phil asked, not really wanting to hear the answer. 

Fiasco, Part the Second: Phil sniffed. He had never thought that their own natural reek, a mixture of decaying garlic and fermenting feet, was so bad. The lilac and lavender perfume with which Vinnie had doused them? That was truly vile. 

“I am less than certain that we have set ourselves on an optimal path,” Phil muttered. The purple and orange plastic aquarium plants Vinnie had glued to their heads for antennae itched worse than Florida’s famed red bugs. The crimson contact lenses Vinnie had found rendered them one step from being blind. Maybe that was for the best. Phil had little desire to see the faux wings that Vinnie had moussed their newly washed and blow-dried fur into. 

“It’ll be great,” Vinnie replied, standing back to observe his newly painted ‘Have your picture taken with Mothman: $5’ sign. “Anybody with smarts—which leaves out 99% of the G-Burg tourists—knows there ain’t no real Mothman. You know what that means?” 

“That we, in addition to looking ridiculous, are pathological liars?”   

Vinnie’s nose wrinkled. “It means we ain’t got diddly-squat for competition. And the tourists will love it.” 

Much to Phil’s surprise, Vinnie’s words proved prophetic. The tourist trade grew from a trickle to a small river. By the end of the third week, the line stretched from their simple booth to the Museum of Salt and Pepper Shakers. 

Perhaps a few bratty kids pulled Phil’s fur. Perhaps a few cryptid fetishists pinched his behind. Perhaps an occasional retired couple would reminisce, swearing that Phil was the very Mothman that had swooped over their car on that deserted West Virginia highway in 1978. Phil could tolerate the occasional bump in the road. The work was easier than janitorial employment, and the money rolled in. 

It was late on a Thursday afternoon when things fell apart.

Fiasco, Part the Third: The two newcomers floated from the dark clouds. Their pale blue wings reminded Phil of a cross between a hang glider and an oddly colored luna moth. They circled Phil and Vinnie’s booth twice, then landed, ignoring the frustrated tourists’ calls of “Wait your turn in line!”

Phil looked them over. One stood a good eight feet tall, well beyond Phil’s modest 5’1”. Fine blue threads that resembled, but clearly were not, fur covered it. Its red eyes glowed with a hot coal shimmer. Its arms ended in three stubby fingers with two joints each, instead of the three shared by human and Skunk Ape. The second, perhaps two feet shorter, was similar in appearance but was  silvery in color and its exterior was metallic in texture. In addition, one of its hands clutched a extra-extra large swirly twister lollipop. It repeatedly brought the lollipop to its tiny mouth, resting in the center of its swollen head, and rasped at the tip with a serpentine tongue that resembled a hungry lamprey.

Phil swallowed hard. The realization that Mothman, not imaginary after all, had simply chosen to eschew the other cryptids’ mass coming-out, would have been substantially more valuable had it occurred sooner. “Mothmen, I presume?” Phil asked, making every effort to look friendly.

“Are,” Blue screeched in a voice that sounded like fingernails rubbing on a blackboard rubbing on yet another blackboard. At that screech, the tourists scattered.

Silver, apparently unimpressed by either the brothers or the departing tourists, kept rasping the lollipop.

“You got this all wrong,” Vinnie sputtered. “We ain’t trying to pass ourselves off as Mothmen or nothing.” Vinnie shook his head, setting his aquarium antennae jiggling. “That would be wrong, and we ain’t frauds or nothing. Are we Phil?”

Phil nudged Vinnie. “Cease your prattling, before you send us further up the proverbial paddleless unsanitary tributary,” he whispered. Putting on his biggest smile, he turned to the newcomers. “I am certain that, whatever impression my sibling has given, any difficulties between us can be resolved in a civilized manner.” Phil warily extended a hand. 

Blue took it. “Gertrude,” Blue chirped. 

“Samantha,” Silver added, with a nod of her antennaed head and another scrape at her twirled lollipop. 

“Gertrude and Samantha,” Phil repeated, taking his hand back. His fingers felt as though he had worn a glove lined with fine-grade sandpaper. “I am Philippe, and my brother here is Vincent.” 

“Our kind few,” Gertrude burred. “Look long. Now find two.”

Phil cleared his throat. “You see, we aren’t really Mothmen. My brother and I engaged in a miniscule masquerade. Our harmless shenanigans have purely been for entertainment purposes. No mischief or aspersions were intended.”

Gertrude gestured in a northeasterly direction. “With us. Fly.” 

“I believe you might have misinterpreted my meaning,” Phil continued. “We are no more capable of unassisted aerial acrobatics than we are of singing starring tenor roles at the Metropolitan Opera.” To emphasize his point, Phil hummed a few bars of “Di Quella Pira,” his favorite aria from Il Trovatore. “Our bodies are simply not constructed to complete these tasks.”

“Like he said,” Vinnie blurted. His stubby fingers clawed at his moussed faux wings, reducing them to a tangle of coarse Skunk Ape fur. “We can’t fly because we ain’t got no wings.”

“No wings?” Gertrude turned her head. Reading that alien face was difficult, but Phil would have sworn that he saw sympathy.

“No wings! Can’t fly!” For emphasis, Vinnie jumped up and down, beating his arms as though they were wings.

“Help you,” Gertrude replied.

Before Phil could speak, Gertrude had Vinnie in the air. Her altitude increased by the second. “You misunderstand!” Phil called.

It did no good. In moments, Vinnie and Gertrude disappeared into the clouds.

“But we’re Skunk Apes,” Phil moaned.

“Knew from first,” Samantha answered.

Phil removed the itchy antennae. “Then why didn’t you say something?” 

“No point.” Samantha’s very peculiar shoulders did what Phil thought was a shrug. “Sister no think. Sister do. Try to stop, just fail.” 

Phil cringed. Her words had an eerily familiar ring. “Where is she taking him?”

“Mothman Mating Mountain.”

Phil stood up straighter. “Could you possibly lend me a hand in extricating my brother from the situation into which he has placed himself?” He raised his arms in a half-hearted imitation of Vinnie’s demonstration of his inability to fly.

“Could. Why should I?”

“Out of kindness. Out of compassion. Out of consideration for a fellow outcast from the greater society.”

Samantha’s red eyes blazed with nameless emotions.

“All you would have to do,” Phil continued, “is carry me to the location your sister is taking my brother. Judging by the small strain her flight appeared to involve, such an effort should negligibly trouble you.” 

Samantha turned away. Her wings flared, as though she intended to fly away.

Panic welled up inside Phil. He glanced at the cash box, containing all of the day’s receipts. He stuck the box under her… well, whatever served for a ‘nose’. “Here. Take it.” Bribery worked with humans. Why not Mothmen?

Samantha stopped. She turned back toward Phil. “Cash. What good to me?”

“You can buy things.”

“Name thing need and not have.”

Phil’s eyes darted about. What might a Mothwoman want? Designed clothing didn’t come in her size. If she desired a Caribbean vacation, she could simply fly there. She certainly didn’t seem the type to long for an evening out at a place like Knoxville’s Orangery. Then the answer hit him.

“Those extra-extra large swirly twister lollipops cost about $3.95 a piece,” he said, pointing at her brightly colored confection. “There’s enough here to buy scores. Maybe hundreds.” 

With those words, Samantha scooped up the cash box, and then Phil. They rose into the air. Phil closed his eyes, not wanting to watch Gatlinburg fade into a postage stamp below. Cold wind whistled in Phil’s ears. Fog pelted his face, suggesting passage through the clouds. In what might have been minutes, hours, or days (those who have ever tried to judge time while flying with a lollipop-loving Mothwoman will understand why), Phil felt her release him. He felt himself falling.

He opened his eyes to see a mountain, its top bare except for the bluish slime that covered it, rising to meet him. Phil wrapped himself into a ball, again closing his eyes. He crashed into what felt like melted ice cream and warm glue. After a moment of assuring himself that he continued to breath and was essentially intact, Phil opened his eyes. The tree line began perhaps thirty feet down the mountain. By the topography, Phil guessed he was somewhere in West Virginia.

Phil, looking around, saw no sign of Gertrude or Samantha. He saw only the sticky blue muck washing over everything, forming indiscriminant lumps that reminded Phil, save for their size, of the worst mashed potatoes that he had ever had the misfortune of encountering. No Vinnie. This residue was what marked this as Mothman Mating Mountain? Phil preferred not to think about it.

“Vinnie?” Phil tentatively called. “You here?”

A blue lump sat up. A pair muck-covered hands cleared a pair of yellow eyes. “Hey Phil,” Vinnie’s familiar voice said.

“You’re alive!” Phil shook himself as clean as he could manage.

“Sure I’m alive,” Vinnie enthused. He wiped the blue gunk from his face. His lips formed a vapid  grin. “And you know what? That wasn’t half bad.”

Phil suddenly developed a very bad headache. He wanted to sit down, but, having slightly unblued himself, felt reluctance about undoing his work.  

“What to we do now?” Phil moaned. He suspected it involved finding yet another line of employment, probably in the city whose skyline he could just make out in the distance. Based on the history of a generally declining life-style since leaving Florida, he was uncertain he really wanted to know.

Fiasco, Epilogue: “We never get no respect from nobody,” Vinnie muttered as he emerged from the manhole, the words ‘Wheeling WV Department of Sanitation’ emblazoned on the gray-green coveralls that he had somehow stuffed him broad form into.

Phil followed him up out of the sewer. “At least we have honest and honorable, although odiferous, employment. You might reconsider your grievances.”    

“But look at them guys,” Vinnie grumbled. He nodded toward a trio of hairless, red-eyed, spiny backed Chupacabras. As the Chupacabras ambled down the sidewalk, passersby averted their eyes to escape the Chupacabras’ gaze. In fact, most gave the Chupacabras a wide berth. “Them Chupacabras get the good clothes, the fancy cars, the hot dames. What do we get?” Vinnie gestured at himself. “Sewer jobs.”

Phil sighed. “We also are free of both enemies and the need to constantly watch our backs, something no local Chupacabra can claim.” He leaned closer. “As you might recall, Chupacabras run Wheeling’s organized crime syndicate,” he whispered.

Vinnie squatted in the posture that, once, his kind had used to hide in Florida swamps. “I was just thinking that if we shaved our fur, wore red contacts, and glued upright shingles to our backs, no one could tell us from Chupacabras.”

A skull-splitting headache struck Phil. He had a bad feeling about this… a very, very bad feeling indeed.


Lawrence Barker lives in Atlanta, Georgia. However, he has also lived in Florida (making him very familiar with skunk apes) and in east Tennessee (making him familiar with Gatlinburg, a tourist town that makes skunk apes look positively normal). In addition to writing, Lawrence frequently annoys his neighbors by playing old time banjo.

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