By Marie Vibbert
We weren’t, any of us, heroes. Aiden was a downright chicken. I’m allowed to say that; I love him. My husband doesn’t have to live up to your expectations of masculinity. I’ll beat the crap out of anyone who says otherwise. Me? I don’t stick my neck out. I mind my own business, which is selling ice cream and looking after the twins. That’s Aiden’s business, too. We take turns driving the truck and keeping the kids from falling out of it.
It was Aiden driving that particular day. I was counting the money and finding that we’d gotten short-changed about the price of a dream bar at the playground stop – always happens when there’s a large crowd. Little scammers.
“Count the dream bars, Stevie,” I said. He rolled his eyes as he got to his feet like I’d asked him to carry eight loads of bricks ten miles. Molly raised her head and with the air of a saint said, “I can do it, Momma.”
“Nothing doing, you keep on with your reading.”
I was being mean and forcing them to do the work the other one was better at. Builds character. Molly hid her annoyance well.
The truck screeched to a halt, sending all three of us rolling to the front. I took the back of the driver’s seat to the head as I grabbed my babies. “What the hell, Aiden?”
“Sorry! Sorry. Hon – the road…”
“Accident? Closed?” I made sure the kids were safe and got up.
“It’s gone,” Aiden said, just as I was able to see for myself.
Sure enough, a stretch as wide as a swimming pool was just missing from Fourth Street. The elementary school we were planning to hit right at closing was on the other side, screened by spraying water from severed pipes.
Molly crawled over her daddy’s shoulder to stare. I had to pick her up and set her down. “Back up – let’s turn at Malibu and head to Central Catholic.”
“Shouldn’t we find out what happened?” He asked.
“We’ll find out soon enough on the radio,” I said. See? Not a hero. “Better get out of here before the police block the roads and we’re stuck all day.”
“I want an ice cream,” Steve said.
“No,” I said.
“But I huuuuurt,” he said, and sniffled, and pointed at his completely injury-free knee.
“My reading book fell out!” Molly said, but I soon dashed her hopes by finding it under the freezer.
Aiden drove slowly and carefully, the back-up beep going loud until we reached Malibu Street, and then he crept along like an old lady or a drug dealer. I was about to yell at him to put his foot down or start the selling music, when he stopped the car again. “Honey?”
“Don’t tell me this road is gone, too.”
No such luck. I looked forward just in time to see a giant, scaly foot lift off the flattened remains of a mail truck on the corner of Malibu and Third.
Then we all bounced, rhythmically, with the measured tread of monster feet. No one would be out buying ice cream.
I might have said that out loud, because Aiden gave me such a look.
“Was that Godzilla?” Steve asked.
“There’s no such thing as Godzilla,” I said, but I wasn’t entirely sure.
“Let’s… go home,” Aiden said.
“Yeah,” I said. “Good idea.”
We hit the first crowd of panicked people fleeing the city a block away – Third Street was completely gridlocked. We wove through a few alleyways – it pays to know your routes! – but got no closer to home than Miami Street.
“WOAH!” Molly called out. “He’s here!”
We all bounced upward a second later, and a shadow fell over the truck. I gripped Aiden’s arm hard. “Get us out of here!”
“How? Which way?”
We backed onto Second Street and found it as backed up as Third. Aiden tried to k-turn and got stuck between a hydrant and a taxi that was trying to squeeze into the alleyway we’d just come from. We all bounced again. Brick dust rained down on us with a sound like pouring cocoa pebbles.
I got out of the truck, blinking through the dust at this giant lizard just smashing his way through my town. It didn’t look like Godzilla, actually – it wasn’t a biped. It looked more like one of those bad old movies where they glue some spines on a chameleon and send it through a cardboard set. Well, I mean, it had spines is what I’m saying, and bug eyes and elbows that stuck outward like a chameleon. But it was, you know, forty feet tall, purple, and picking up a bus.
It blinked the little centers of its huge eyes, peering into the bus, and then tossed it aside. It looked unhurried, stomping down the street, breaking streetlights and news stands like you or I would step on twigs and grass. What do we care, right? Just a bunch of dumb grass.
In the movies, there would already be army trucks pulling up to shoot at the thing. I wondered how far the nearest army base was, and how they’d get through the expanding rings of stuck traffic as everyone tried to get the hell out of the way.
When I was in elementary school, we had chameleons – eight of them. The horticulture club bought them because they were supposed to be better at eating bugs off your plants than pesticides. I remember putting one on my red sweater and waiting for it to change color. It just clung there, looking helplessly up at me, bright green.
There was something almost cute and helpless about this guy, too – his outsized skinny legs and his rolling eyes. He picked up a VW and his tongue came out to taste it. The people inside screamed as he tossed it over his shoulder. It landed with a sickening crunch, upside down on top of the Langshaw Building. There’s no way those people weren’t human jelly. So… forget I said “cute.”
“He’s looking for food,” I said. “Shit. What kind of insect would that thing eat?”
“Julia, would you please get your A-S-S back in the truck?” Aiden always spells profanity around the kids. He’s more aware of that than I am, the sweetheart.
“Hang on,” I said. I was getting an idea. “Let me drive.”
There was a perfectly acceptable stretch of sidewalk to turn around in, if you didn’t mind knocking over a few trashcans, which I did not. I got us back to Fifth and out toward the freeway onramp. It was backed up for miles, people stuck in the blazing sun on all that bright, hot concrete.
“We’re not getting anywhere,” I said. I parked under the overpass. It was quiet here, at least. No sign of anything coming. We all stared at each other. The radio was static. There was no way the kids would go back to their schoolwork. Aiden knelt next to the freezer, gently banging his head on the serving counter.
I switched the music on. “Okay kids! We’re going car-to car. Get out the beach coolers.”
When we hit the beach roads, sometimes we pack a few dozen bars into these lightweight coolers with shoulder straps. A little saunter down the beach, and you can sell out your load before the cops come to chase you off for soliciting on parkland.
I said, “Come on – it’s not coming this way, and these people are going to not care so much about money.” And we needed to DO something or we’d turn into four gibbering wrecks.
I charitably decided to only double our normal prices. The first car I came up to, when I quoted them six dollars for a dream bar, did not bat an eye. The next car screamed bloody murder, called me a communist, and rolled up their windows. “That’s the way it goes,” I said to the kids. “There’s always someone willing to pay and someone who isn’t. Remember that. Also, a communist would have given away the ice cream. We’re capitalists. We’re the opposite of communists.”
“I want to go back in the truck,” Steve said.
“I want to see Godzilla!” Molly said.
“We can do both when we’re out of ice cream,” I said.
“I don’t WANNA see Godzilla!” Steve said. “Moooom!”
Well, we didn’t have a choice either way. We were at the top of the onramp when the chameleon came into sight. A police helicopter was dogging him, someone shooting a riffle out the side. Chameleon was blinking and winking like it was bothering him, like hail might bother you, and damn if they weren’t herding him our way. “Get back to the car,” I said.
The kids dropped their coolers and bolted back the way we’d come. “With the ice… aw crap.” I told myself to be grateful they had such good self-preservation instincts. I picked up their two coolers and hooked them over the same shoulder as mine.
I’m sure you see where this is going.
The heavy coolers were bulky as cows, and I couldn’t turn around – there were cars on the berm, see, trying to make a third lane, so there wasn’t much room for foot traffic – not that I’d been worried with the kids because the cars weren’t going anywhere. But now? Now the giant lizard was nosing the overpass and people were jumping out of their cars and running for it, back after my kids, screaming and flailing and every idiot for himself and likely to trample my children!
I don’t know what possessed me, I really don’t. Maternal rage? I ran the other way – partially because I could, and then I was there, under the lizard’s head, in the shadow of its chin. “HEY!” I shouted. “HEY LIZARD!”
It looked down, almost as if it understood me, and I swung my three coolers up and into its eye. “GO THE OTHER FUCKING WAY, YA BASTARD!”
It shook its head. The police helicopter swung around and away – maybe they were out of ammo. I’ve no idea. I swung my bag again and this time, the chameleon reared back. He snatched my coolers with his big sticky tongue and I had to let go or be dragged into his mouth. I let go. I staggered backward against a Volvo.
The chameleon tilted its head toward me, giant damn nose with two giant damn nostrils, sniffing at me. When I stopped being frozen stiff, I ran. The overpass shook. I fell. I looked behind me. The chameleon had one foot up on the bridge, and he was looking right at me. And he licked his lips. I swear to Baskin and Robbins.
“HE LIKES ICE CREAM!” I shouted. Well, really, who doesn’t?
I got to my feet. His giant eyes tracked me. When I got a few feet, he stepped to follow.
I was sure as taxes not running back to my truck and leading the thing to my kids and husband. I ran down the ramp onto Ninth Street. It was abandoned now, the people all run away from their cars, the doors hanging open and a million stupid indicators going “bong bong bong” to let all of no one know.
There was a Ben and Jerry’s on Ninth. I ran for it. The whole earth shook with chameleon steps, sending me stumbling three times before I got to the store. The door was open. Thank dumb luck. I ran in and grabbed armfuls of containers from the freezer. I turned to see giant nostrils pressed against the storefront window. A creepy three-fingered hand wrapped around the doorframe. I rolled a pint of Chunky Monkey out the door. He went for it. Then I ran out, dropping pints behind me as I ran down Ninth.
Well, you know the rest. The news crews caught up to me by the time I got to the Tasty Freeze on Queen Street. There the chameleon tore the roof off the place – I guess it’s their fault for shaping it like a giant cone – or maybe it was just that Tasty Freeze had been around so long the whole place smelled like ice cream. After fifty years, that’s gotta get into the concrete. My clothes sure stink of vanillin no matter how much I wash them.
I was exhausted, beat up – sore all over from a dozen spills on concrete and smashing glass windows and I had freezer burn on my hands. When the soldiers arrived with the truck from Dairymen’s, I sat down where I was and closed my eyes, content to die right there.
Aiden found a way around the traffic while I was saving the city. It was good to get home to our own bungalow on the south side. We’d lost two gross of fudgsicles with the beach coolers, and one gross of bomb pops. I was sore about the fudgsicles, but Aiden made spaghetti for dinner, and I was famished, and it felt good to clean my wounds, even though the alcohol stung — like bees it stung. The water beforehand stung, but then I was all bandaged up and I had spaghetti, and yeah, that felt nice.
“You made us sell ice cream in a national emergency,” Steve said, accusingly, having watched the news report in the meantime.
“You’re mean,” Molly said.
“We all could have been killed,” Aiden said. “Let’s never leave home again.”
None of that bothered me. I grabbed the kids and kissed their heads, and they squirmed and complained about it.
What did bother me were the headlines. “Hero Ice Cream Man and His Wife.” So help me. “Working Class Hero and Family Save the Day.”
“Hero Ice Cream Man Charged Ten Dollars for Snow Cone” was another headline, because people gotta complain. So I keep saying to anyone who would listen: We were none of us heroes. Especially not my husband. I do love him, but jeez.
About the Author
Marie Vibbert is a web developer from Cleveland, Ohio with over 15 professional short story sales. Her work has appeared in Analog, Asimov’s, Apex, Lightspeed, and many other places. She played for the Cleveland Fusion Women’s Tackle Football team and her favorite ice cream is Mitchell’s Toasted Hazelnut.
About the Narrator
Julie Davis lives in Dallas, Texas, where she does not have an ice cream truck but wishes she did after reading this story. Instead she reads favorite books on her podcast Forgotten Classics and discusses favorite books and movies at her other podcast, A Good Story is Hard to Find.