by Matt Rowan
These badlands aren’t pretty. Not to me. And whoever decided it pertinent to call them “The Badlands?” If you’re going for the obvious then why not get real specific and call them “The Giant Stalagmites?” You might get people wondering, what are stalagmites? I bet they’d see about finding out what they are, too. Certainly, nothing’s wrong with stirring people’s curiosity, especially with respect to the classification of natural rock formations.
I’ve concluded the Indian guide I hired is more than likely not an Indian. But I’m trying to come to terms with that possibility. I’m behaving differently. I’m allowing him to fall behind. I’m only so slightly displaying any interest in the yarns he spins without pause. I don’t have the heart to tell him I’d already, years ago, heard the only creation myth he seems to know, and he keeps retelling it with minor changes to characters and scenery. I guess he thinks I don’t notice. He’s trying too hard at regaling me – florid hand gestures and wide-eyed stares I sense emanating from him as he prattles toward my nape.
It is all very unbecoming.
If it’s possible, my ration of jerky and water has gone bad.
We’re in the Dakota Badlands, based on what my supposed Indian guide is telling me. I believe him, in part because what difference does it make what Badlands these are, precisely? What matters is the destination.
I’ve finished trying to explain this to my travel companion and guide, Fred (“Fred the Indian” as he has asked to be called, or “Indian Fred” for short). Indian Fred says I’m not making sense. Indian Fred thinks my thinking is foolhardy to the extreme. His meaning was clear: we’d better know where we are. He said thank the many deities that he does indubitably know where we are. He can thank whomever he chooses. Even the queer things he chooses.
I miss creamy, soft cheeses like my Brie and Camembert. I can’t remember the last time I was without creamy, soft cheeses and good wine for so long as this journey has left me. Indian Fred has implied we will be without them for no less than a fortnight longer, although very probably much longer. I’m determined to maintain my strong will and show none of the emotion I feel for our lack of such provisions.
I confess I broke down and let fly my deep sorrow that I have been without soft, creamy cheeses. Indian Fred was indifferent, saying of course there was nothing he could do about it.
The consistency of my jerky ration, leathery and taut, an over-spiced monstrosity, provided tactile evidence of my reality and impelled still more tears. But I must survive.
Today we met a tribe of natives. I asked Indian Fred to inquire about better jerky at minimum and, if possible, find out if they had any cheese (preferably French) lying around.
We had plenty of beads, as I’m a collector who’s grown bored with the pastime. I proposed a trade: some of my beads for the – hopefully French – cheese they had. If it were Brie then so much the better.
I worry, though, that Indian Fred made no attempt to inquire about what soft, creamy French cheeses (or French cheeses of any variety!) the natives did or did not have cached in their inventory. He spoke nothing of it when he returned to his saddle seat atop his horse.
And with that I suppose I’ll just betray the name of our destination, as I see no reason to keep its secret any longer. We are journeying to “The Lost City of Soft, Creamy, often French, Cheeses.” It is of legends: always a reasonable temperature of approximately 68 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit, ideally suited to engendering the best of all possible flavors for these cheeses. It’s further told the cheeses constitute many towering obelisks not unlike the jagged range of the Badlands here in which we travel, though these Badlands’ jagged terrain is hardly cheese of any variety – I made certain to be certain of that.
After a heated confrontation with Indian Fred today I will say only that the situation has been righted and the one who has always been in control remains in control. To say it politely, the one of us who’s boss proved his preeminence forthwith.
Indian Fred absconded with all supplies and horses in the middle of the night, and I fear I shall never make it to the Lost City, which as I’ve said holds within its glorious boundaries limitless soft, creamy, principally French cheeses. I have made a promise to myself that I will not give in to the temptation of dying here in the middle of these Badlands. I do not want someone to one day come across my skeletal remains, for that would be the greatest insult yet – though penultimate to my failure of creamy cheeselessness, certainly.
Days have passed without anything to eat but scrofulous jerky, which I won’t debase myself by eating. It’s creamy cheeses or starvation at this point. I have made my bed, and plan to sleep restfully in it one way or another.
Strength is waning. I ate the last of my creamy cheese reserve, which I’d intended as a celebratory meal upon arriving at the Lost City, for reasons I can no longer remember. If ever Indian Fred rears my way again, I don’t care what sort of fop he takes me as, I’ll mash his skull to smithereens with my own fulsomely gloved hands, no matter the gloves’ extravagant cost.
I have become equally savage at the prospect of my losing creamy cheeses until I arrive in the next world, which I imagine the hereafter to be a kind of Lost City of Creamy, Soft and French Cheeses – but much bigger and much better and much more refulgent, strewn with lacey bunting that’s generously supple to the touch.
Indian Fred made what I can only imagine he thought to be his triumphant return today, which turned quickly to bitter struggle, and oh lament, we are now once more a party of one! What’s more, the effect this time is quite certainly permanent.
I take no satisfaction in my part of the tumult. He easily cudgeled me to the earth with a blunt fist. It should be said this act was retaliatory. It was Indian Fred’s response to when, anon, I sought retribution for his incontinence – pique and vigor shone on me, gnarled and fearsome as I imagined I must look.
I was like the mountain lion, and I attacked. So I was roundly cudgeled. The pain was enormous. I saw the stars people never imagine, that seem only ever to strike me dumb, with ringing dreadful tones echoing in my purple throbbing head.
Fortunes turned in my favor, however, when, prostrate, I bit into Indian Fred’s Achilles’ tendon. He was felled by this, to be sure, but the deathblow came from his unfortunate landing on a narrow upturned rock, which punctured poor Indian Fred’s temple and, alas, ended him.
It must be said I’m not much crestfallen at the loss of my riding companion. His death was assuredly regrettable, of that there can be no doubt. But much worse was what I found in his indurate hand! It was gripping the creamy cheese like an apple, a semi-viscous slab of balled-up bovine secretion having a consistency and richness the likes of which I’d never tasted before.
“This needs be that for which I’ve hunted my whole adult life, monomaniacally. I must have it.”
Egad, Indian Fred knew more than it had seemed, and with him died the secret of the creamy cheese’s location. For I have found my way to Wisconsin, somehow, and I can say only that here they have cheese curds that are both salty and a sensible discursion from the humdrum of ordinary cheeses, the tiresome malaise of your cheddar, of your Colby and so forth. But they are not French and they are only minimally creamy, which means I still have yet to find what I unflinchingly seek.
How many miles must I go until I sleep on my bed of Livarot?
MATT ROWAN is co-founder and editor of the online-lit magazine Untoward (untowardmag.com), and blogs at Bob Einstein’s Literary Equations (literaryequations.blogspot.com). Previous and forthcoming publications include Bartleby Snopes, Metazen and Unheard Magazine. One day soon he hopes to be teaching high school English somewhere in his native Chicago(land), Illinois.