Progeny of the Dung Beetle

by Robert P. Kaye

I went to work on the projects, a whelp straight out of school intent on carving my indelible mark. The Goatman handed me an adze and said “Get to work.” That’s how it was done in those days. No training. No mollycoddling. No “theory.”

One break time, I approached the Goatman, a nine foot tall brute clad in calf-high strap sandals and miasmic odor. He had a goat face. And horns. “How about we build this?” I said, unscrolling my vellum, still damp with night sweat.

He spat on my elevation.“Don’t be an idiot,” he said, pointing skyward as he stomped away. “Follow the plan.”

I regarded the sketch above, partially obscured by clouds. A syzygy of elegance. Something I could rally behind.

Everyone onsite worked recycling parts—a VW camper van, a druid temple. A Walmart. None squared with the angularity implied by the design.

“Aren’t we building a pyramid?” I said. I’d majored in triangles. They had to have hired me for a reason. I pointed up.

A few beheld the vision. Then a few more. Grumbling.

“A pyramid,” I said, making a triangle by putting the thumb and index finger of one hand obverse the other equilaterally. “You know?”

That did the trick. Heads nodded. We commenced.

Architects hung plumb bobs and protracted angles while others quarried slabs with wedges and sledges. The sanctified conjured religion into artifacts and iconography. A writers room ginned up a cuneiform alphabet. Poetasters went to town with PR and semiotics. We dessicated the corpses of dissenters to jerky in slow ovens, shoved corpses into ostentatious boxes and organs into canopic tupperware.

It took dynasties. No vacations or time off for good behavior. No mental health days. The results, in my estimation, were stellar.

Then the Goatman came back around. “What the fuck is this?” he said.

“Pyramids,” I said, flashing the digital signal that portended so much.

Everybody dawdled, anticipating praise and validation, aglow with the presumption of accomplishment. I was sure proud.

The Goatman surveyed the pyramids—we built three, the mummies and artifacts of our enthusiasm overflowing inner sanctums into honeycombed antechambers. He squinted at the sketch in the sky, still obscured by scud.

“It’s not what we had in mind,” he said.

“What the hell do you mean?” I said. It’s not like they provided blueprints. Still, he was nine feet tall. He carried a whip.

“Whose idiotic idea was this?” the Goatman asked.

My people, my collaborators, my children all pointed at me. Threw me under the slab rollers.

“Figures,” Goatman said. “Listen, smart-ass, we’re going another direction.” He pointed a footlong index finger out across the desert. “Your services are no longer required.”

I took a last look at my clay tablets, my state of the art astrolabe, my finely calibrated Antikythera mechanism. They didn’t even throw me a going away party.

I worked graveyard shifts at McDonald’s and part time as a bagger at Safeway. Fired from both jobs because I couldn’t stop redesigning their antiquated systems. I hit the food bank and slept under bridges. Hung out in Home Depot parking lots hustling landscaping gigs.

A dark age passed before I found my feet again.

Every once in a while, I walk back over the desert far enough to see the tips of the pyramids over the horizon. I bring my sketchbook, but it’s no good. Triangles move on to rectangles. Corners wear away until we’re walking in circles.

Consider the dung beetle, who shapes its food into a giant ball two hundred times its own size, rolling it home using celestial navigation. The progeny of the beetle are no doubt ashamed of their shithole origins until they must build their own palaces. Then they look to the stars, hope for the best and begin to roll.

The walk back from the desert leads past strip malls to the tavern. I sit on the stool where I have inscribed my initials within a triangle under the counter. The Goatman occupies the opposite end of the bar, drinking beer, as we did in the old days. We take care never to acknowledge each other. We drink our failures in silence and follow the plan. 

Robert P. Kaye’s recent stories are forthcoming or have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Gulf Stream, Dr. T. J. Eckleburg Review, Jersey Devil Press, and Dark Lane. Details on past publications can be found at www.RobertPKaye.com. He hosts the Works In Progress open mic at Hugo House in Seattle and is an editor with Pacifica Literary Review.
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