A short story written about Rodger Sullivan, a man who can't stop getting hit by lightning
|I consider myself a lucky man, but not in a strict sense; I’m not superstitious. I feel that luck is something wish-washy, but looking back on my life, the events that—guided or misguided—have landed me on a somewhat level playing field, are to be considered average; nothing too horrible, and nothing too magnificent; so lucky, for the most part. But then came Rodger Sullivan…
Rodger is what most people would consider a freak-of-nature. His father, Roy Sullivan, had been hit by lightning on seven different occasions before committing suicide at the age of seventy-one over an unrequited love. Roy was also attacked by wild bears—in a figure unverifiable, but most likely true—twenty-two times. To many who know his story, Roy is considered to be the most unlucky man to ever live (or luckiest if you’re an optimist who hates happy endings). But most of those people acquainted with Roy’s story have yet to hear his son’s.
Three weeks ago I was contacted by the Yellowstone National Park Ranger Service. They’d read some of my freelance work and asked if I’d drive up and do a story on a man they were calling “the catastrophe kid,” Rodger Sullivan. After they briefed me with some background info, I willingly took them up on their offer and readied my things to go—but there was a problem. I needed a photographer, and after the encounter with the Popobawa, Doug was nowhere to be found. In a last-minute desperate attempt to get things moving as swiftly as possible, I went over to the temp-labor business down on 8th street in Miami, and asked if one of their construction-worker immigrants would be able to drive off with me for the weekend and take some snapshots of what was to become my exposé. At first the employees there looked at me like some crazed, rich, white homosexual who wanted to rent a lover for the weekend, but then I showed them my press credentials and things got cleared up.
After taking stock of the applicants, I picked the one who best spoke English. My new partner was a young twenty-something-year-old named Gustavo Geraldo-Geronimo-Ramon-Roman. He was a four-foot-tall Guatemalan who spoke next-to-no English, but I had no one else to drag off with me at last minute’s notice, so he was going to have to do.
‘Alright, Chicharrón (I was trying to pronounce it with the correct accent),’ that’s what his friends called him, so I stuck with it. “You see that button on top of the camera?”
“Jes, jes señor. Cahmahra,” He snapped off a shot that blinded me. “Buh-ton. Cahmahra, jes?” he smiled. “I take good picture for you.” Then he snapped me with another shot.
‘Listen Chicharrón, I don’t want you snapping off shots in people’s eyes like that. You’re going to piss off this lightning guy and—‘ he snapped me with another shot.
‘Yes, that’s the f-ing camera, quit the shit, Cheercharone.’
“I take picture for you, señor.”
‘Alright, screw it. Let’s just get the hell out of here, we’re on a deadline. You have enough clothes and crap like that for a two-day trip?’ He looked at me wide eyed like I was speaking Cantonese. ‘C-l-o-t-h-e-s, Cheecharone, clothes… You know, f-ing pants? You got any extra pairs of f-ing pants? Pantalonays?’
“Aaah, si, pantalónes,’ he walked over to his car, pulled out some paint covered jeans and a shirt, then stuffed what looked like a .50 Desert Eagle in his waistband and walked back over smiling. “We go road treep.”
‘What’s with the God-damn cannon, Cheecharone? Big gun? Boom-boom?’
'Well, alright then.' We hopped into my rental Kia and drove off like bandits. Cheecharone seemed happy, and I figured to him, getting paid to take pictures of crazed gringos sure beat the crap out of carrying bags of cement for minimum wage; he couldn’t stop smiling as he stared out the window, excited for a new adventure.
The twenty-one-hour drive to Yellowstone was horrendous—for me, anyway. Cheecharone kept pulling out his gun, waving it in the air, and talking to me in Spanish. I would smile and agree, then send up a silent prayer that he’d get bored and put the thing away. My prayers were answered when he decided to slide the gun under the seat so he could pull out a house key and a tiny bag from his pocket.
“Cocaine, señor?” this was going to be one hell of a trip.
‘Cheecharone, I need you to promise me something…’
‘When we get to Yellowstone I’m going to need you to keep that gun tucked away. No waving the gun around,’ I motioned my hand around with my index finder pointed out like a pistol. ‘No boom-boom, O.K.? No boom-boom.’
“Jes, boom-boom,” he said, smiling and nodding his head.
We drove the entire way without making a single stop. I didn’t feel like flipping through all the different radio-stations to find music I liked, so I never touched the damn thing. Cheercharone, on the other hand, had different plans. As we made our way through the Deep South, he scoured the A.M. radio-waves for Spanish folk tunes, and somehow always managed to find the same song playing on each one. It was his favorite.
“Ay, candela, candela, candela, me quemo aé.
Ay, candela, candela, candela, me quemo aé.”
It’s the soundtrack to my nightmares, my day dreams, my wet dreams. Since that ride, it’s never stopped.
Cheech and I slid out of the car and into the Yellowstone Ranger’s Department parking-lot like two venomous snakes. I must have done over five grams of cocaine in the time it took us to get from northern Alabama to Idaho and my head was pounding but I was wide awake. These country bumpkin Idaho screw-heads are going to think I’m a damn meth addict when they see me, I thought. I was trying to make myself presentable when a freshly pressed brown uniform trotted over to us from the log cabin it called work.
“Gee, yall got here quick! You must’a been drivin’ all night, eh?” Was it a man? Was it a woman? I couldn’t be sure.
I gestured over to Cheech, ‘Cheecharone here insisted we make good time. Love’s to hunt big game—bear, lion, hippo, rhinosaurus—whatever you got sneakin’ ‘round the bushes, he’s got the answer. Let’s see that damn howitzer you keep between your legs, Cheech,’ Cheecharone gave the odd specimen a wink, then started to pull down his zipper. ‘C’mon, man! Where’s your professionalism? The gun, man, show her the gun!’ he frowned and zipped back up, then reached around his back and pulled out the .50 and kissed the tip.
“Oh my,” it had to be a woman, and she seemed flattered at the gesture. “That’s a mighty fine piece you’ve got yourself there, Mr. Cheecharone.’ She smiled.
“Gracias, mi amore,” Cheecharone licked his lips.
‘So where can we find this human lightning rod Rodger Sullivan? Is he in the cabin?’
“Oh, well, no, you see, Mr. Sullivan lives up there in the woods where it’s safe, don’tcha know. It’s safer up there for him. There’s less metal outside the town, and he’s got himself a spiffy little cave to live in, beats the pants off my humble little home!”
‘Alright, which way’s the cave then?’ I was ready to get this garbage over with and fly back home, screw the car.
“Well he don’t like me goin’ up to visit no more, so I won’t be goin’ with ya, but here’s a map that should be easy for ya ta navigate over there,” she walked up and handed me a map with some red scribbling on it. “That there circle is Rodger’s place. It’s about a four hour hike, but you should be able to make it by sundown.”
Oh, God damnit, I thought.
‘Alright, got it, thanks. Let’s go Cheech, get your happy slimey ass in gear and let’s get this shit-show on the road.’ I had no idea how to navigate maps, but I figured Cheecharone had probably navigated a jungle-or-two back at home, so off we went into the woods.
Three and a half hours into the woods, we were lost—horribly lost. Blair-Witch-Project-hillbilly-molestation lost.
‘Where the hell are we, Cheech?’ he was holding the map upside-down, smoking a cigarette.
“Oh, señor, I don’t know señor. Maybe we are here?” he pointed at a spot on the map that looked like a lake.
‘That’s a f-ing lake, Cheecharone! I thought you could read a damn map! Aren’t you from the f-ing jungle?’
“But señor… I am from Spain…” just then, as it dawned on me that Cheecharone was not Guatemalan, and had most likely never been to a jungle, or even a forest for that matter, an arrow flew past my face and embedded itself in the tree next to me.
“HALT! Who goes there,” boomed a voice from an unseen location.
‘I’m a journalist, don’t shoot! We got lost out here! We need help, me and this faux-Guatemalan conman have been walking for hours,’ the arrow shook me up, and I felt a few drops of pee trickle down my thigh. A large man draped in bear skin emerged from the brush, holding a crossbow. He walked up slowly, then stared quietly at us for a few awkward moments.
‘You wouldn’t happen to be Rodger Sullivan, would you? We’re out here looking for this guy who gets hit by lightning all the—‘
“Shhhhhh... You hear that? Rain’s coming… We need to move.” It was Rodger alright, and either he or I smelt like a gallon of piss. He took off running, and we followed suit, falling over loose rocks and debris. We’re going to die out here, I thought, I wonder if Cheech has any more of that cocaine…
Outside Rodger’s cave was an elaborate system of traps and gadgets. “Protection,” he said. His cave was exactly what you would expect, a hole on the side of a mountain filled with bugs, dirt, and Rodgers feces—the last place on earth I wanted to be. There were blasts of thunder sounding off in the distance, and I wanted to run for my life.
‘So Rodger, how many times have you been hit by lightning exactly?’
“Forty-eight times,” he whispered in the same throaty tone that he’d used outside.
‘Any scars or things of that nature?’ Rodger took off the bear skin he was wearing and revealed his mangled nude body, almost void of hair from various third-degree burns.
“¡Ay, caramba!” Cheecharone started snapping shots left and right.
‘I don’t want to cut this short, but I honestly feel like this isn’t the best place for us to be with this storm coming and your being here. Is there a way back to civilization that we can take and maybe come back tomorrow when there’s no storm?’
“There’s always a storm coming, ain’t no escaping it. Only thing to do now is ready the dead-fall trap and line the spears,” he never took his eyes off the coming clouds.
‘Dead-fall trap, spears? Why?’ If I wasn’t scared before, I sure-as-shit was now.
“When the rain comes… the bears come too…”
“Ay, Santa Maria! I want to leave, señor, please. My gun has no bullets!”
“You leave now and you’re both dead. Pick up two of those sticks and start getting used to the feel of it in your hands,” he pointed at a pile of oak he’d cut down, “any man been within ten feet of me’s got the curse too, till he can find some milk to bathe in; and I ain’t got no milk. Storm should be here ‘round midnight… If you got cell-phones I suggest you call your loved ones, ‘cause this might be the last chance you get.”
It was nearing midnight, and Cheech and I were sitting at the mouth of the cave, trying to listen for the sounds of doom approaching. We could hear the pissed-off wails of creatures unknown, trumped every-so-often by the roar of a bear. The air was moist and frigid, and breathing alone was becoming crisp and painful. Rodger had left us there to go collect more fallen leaves for the dead-fall trap, and I felt grim to the point of despair—hopelessly lost to a world I once thought had been drowned out by civilization.
“I’m sorry I lied to you and said I was Guatemalan,” said Cheech. “My name’s really Jose, I just really needed to make some money because I owe some people back in Miami… The whole accent thing was just a joke. I guess it’s not so funny anymore…”
I looked over at Cheech and smiled. ‘Can I still call you Cheech?’
“Haha, sure man. If we make it out of this place alive, I’ll buy you a few beers back in Miami.”
‘Sounds like a plan.’ I smiled at him again, but our few seconds of comforting camaraderie were cut short by the sound of Rodger rushing back to us through the trees.
“Spears up!” he shouted. A gigantic grizzly was barreling through the brush behind him, snapping saplings and foaming at the mouth. I froze.
Cheech sprung to his feet and drew his spear up over his head. I'd lived twenty-three years and had never seen the look of a warrior ready for death, but I had now.
“I HATE NAAAATTUUURREEE!” screamed Cheech, charging headlong at the eight-hundred-pound beast.
I regained the use of my limbs and jumped up after him, taking up the warcry. “I HATE NAAAATTUUURRREE!”
We threw ourselves in-front of the bear like two untrained gladiators. It grabbed Cheech’s spear, ripping it from his hands and sending Cheech sprawling onto the dirt. It tried to move in for the kill, but I was close behind and managed to stab its ribs and distract it before it got to Cheech. In a fit of anger, the bear spun, reeling, and knocked me to the ground with the back of its paw; the bear on its hind legs hovering over me, I closed my eyes and prepared for death. But nothing happened. A few seconds later I opened my eyes, and Rodger was standing over the corpse of the bear, urinating down its throat.
“Sixty-two... That’s all you are, you big dumb bastard! You’re number sixty-two! And when number sixty-three comes, he’ll be tasting my piss in his last dying moments, just like you, you son-of-a-bitch!”
Rodger had used us as a distraction. When the bear was fixated on killing Jose and I, Rodger waited in a bush for the right moment, then shot out quick as a fox and slit its throat.
“Listen here, reporter. Go back to the city, go back and tell them what you saw here. There ain’t nothin’ in this god-forsaken world that can kill Rodger Sullivan, and I dare any mother f-er who tries to say otherwise!” Then the world lit up in a crackling white-blue explosion. A trident of light danced around the scene like a shotgun blast, ricocheting off rocks and trees—leaving charred marks on everything it touched—before finally landing where it had forever been destined to; Rodger Sullivan’s naked and scarred body.
In memory of Rodger Sullivan
1961 - 2010