His hands are filthy. You can see the black stuff thickening under his finger nails. Even though it’s almost winter time, his skin is dark; wrinkles getting together to form a layer of human cells that look like dry mud on a field hit by the worst drought of the century, with a twist: Cutaneous pigmentation. An army of red moles.
“Gonna get there soon if you wanna look for it,” he says, toothless. He looks down at his hands through his piercing blue eyes while he uses his red pocket knife to unclog the dirt off his nails . Tanker – his secret nickname, he says – is an old farmer from California. He is so old he doesn’t want to tell me his age. He says he has forgotten it anyway. No wife, no pets. Now he is sitting by the fire place. He is posing next to a golden framed picture of Nixon, the only decorative item in his lair. He adds wood to the small fire that, surprisingly, warms up the entire room. “Come on, now, it comes out at night.”
There’s a 1961 green Chevy pickup waiting for us. It’s in great shape, given its age. “Come on, now,” he says through the opened window. “Git in, fella!” He’s already waiting for me sitting inside the vehicle. It smells like tobacco. He is chewing it. After a few failed attempts to start the engine (all show and no go), it finally emits a loud roar. He is so proud trying to show off his truck, that he forgets he’s already rolled up window. Yeehaw. A huge, brown mix of tobacco and saliva sliding down the glass, finding its way slowly -and disgustingly- to the interior door handle. That thing is sticking everywhere, like a dense muddy waterfall. Without saying a word, he grabs a white handkerchief out of his pocket to clean up the mess. He smears it everywhere. The ex-pristine embroidered handkerchief now reads Tank… and a nice brown slimy stain. “Let’s git it on!” he says as I fasten the seat belt. I wonder what he means by that.
There’s a thirty minute trip to Tanker’s kale crop. The conversation is going to get interesting on our way there, I think. It turns out I was right. He beings to unspool his odd encounter.
“Found the basterd twice already. Once in the summer, on a different crop just a mile away from the other one. We goin’ to a kale crop now. I grow kale in winter time. The other one time I saw him, well, just the other day. Ugly basterd. Sonbitsh. Thought I wouldn’t see him again. Surely did. Was checking for frost damage, with this cold I thought even the kale was gonna die! Hell I got a bad pipe myself,” he coughs, spewing a few chunks of tobacco. “Got down on a plant, dang! Saw the whole head through the hole. Huge damn head. Pull my hands back quick, it startled me. Sheesh!”
He takes his hands off the wheel for a few seconds.
“So, I jump back and bring my blade out of my pocket, the entire sonbitsh comes out, I’d say…four or five feet long, gets straight up like a bear on its back legs. He had teeth. He spits some deal on me, yellow crap, I dodge it, chase it down with the blade. Too late, he was gone down where he came from. Shame.” He explains, excited, almost enjoying it. His eyes have become misty.
He assures me that the creature wasn’t a snake, or a rat and that “surely not a mole, hell no, not a mole.” He wishes that he had “punched that beast down the throat and sent it back to the hell where he belongs, in the name of Jesus!”
The Mongolian death worm is known for behaving in a similar way. This cryptid is supposed to inhabit the dunes of the Gobi desert. It measures an astounding two to five feet in length. Mongolian Prime Minister Damdinbazar describes the worm in detail: “It is shaped like a sausage about two feet long, has no head nor leg and it is so poisonous that merely to touch it means instant death. It lives in the most desolate parts of the Gobi Desert.” Local witnesses report an acidic substance that the animal spews out of its mouth, which corrodes anything it touches.
The Mongolian death worm had been relatively buried for decades until 1996, when British zoologist Karl Shuker brought the topic back to life with his book The Unexplained. Later, he theorized that the worm could possibly be an amphisbaenidae, also known as worm lizard. To this day, there is no documented evidence to prove the existence of this magnificent creature.
It’s a big crop, or at least, it looks big to me. Row after row of exotic looking kale planted across the field. We stop on a dried, wild vegetation patch and I see his hand pulling the dirty door handle as he gets out of the truck. I feel the incoming arctic wind kicking on the back of my neck. Then, Tanker proudly begins to explain the size of his land. Hi nose is watery and it’s dripping profusely. He probably has a cold.
“All this is mine, all the way up to that tree you can see up there,” he points at a tree just across a slight hill. “And see here, right here…” he asks me to follow him, “…right here is where I found the big fella.” I can feel the kale touching against the bottom of my pants, and it’s making me nervous. He bends over to show me a hole in the ground. He uses a small orange flashlight to point at the burrow. “Right here, see? See the big hole?” All I can see from where I’m standing is the man’s butt crack.
He grabs me by the arm. “Git here!” There is a fifty inch diameter hole. He reaches down again, this time to pick up a stick. “There, there,” he says as he inserts the stick into the hole. Sparks of joy in his eyes. He seems to like it. Even though I believe that’s probably a mole hole, I back up a little, just in case; you never know what could come out of it.
I suggest he should leave it alone and we just wait and see if it comes out. No need to use a stick. I don’t like disturbing any wild animal in its natural habitat. “What, you scared now batty boy? Sissy.” He spits some tobacco out, next to my shoes. I have been called worse things before, so I don’t care much about some old school slang and funny profanities from an elderly bully; I am more focused on the cryptid. Suddenly, the man screams. When he brings out his hand, there’s blood on it.
“It bit me! see? told ya there was something here,” he points the flashlight at his hand. Right, I told you, Sherlock. Blood is dripping on the kale. For all I know that could be a rat’s bite. I see something right behind Tanker. It’s a pinkish thing, timidly coming out of the burrow. As soon as I move forward, it leaves. It was big, but I have no idea what the creature is. Perhaps the nose of a mole.
The blood is still running down his dirty hand. I feel somehow responsible for what’s just happened -even though I knew the stick wasn’t a good idea- and I can’t keep Tanker there, bleeding. Besides, he has to drive me back to civilization. After thirty minutes trying to reason with the man, he agrees to leave.
Sitting at the airport, I begin thinking of today’s incident. One of these days… I’m more afraid of people than I am of cryptids. I have my own reasons, I suppose, but I don’t learn. I can’t help it. I need to do this. One of these days. I wonder what Tanker is doing right now. Probably cleaning his dirty nails next to the fire place. I picked him not because I believed his giant worm story. It could be true, I want it to be true. There was an animal in that hole, without a doubt. But no, I chose Tanker because of what he represents in America. That portion of America that keeps me hooked on this thing.
L.A. looks so small from the plane’s window. The cars headlights look like shooting stars. The paper says there is a meteor shower tonight. I feel like I am upside down. One of these days…
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