Tales of the Asp: The Asp's Favorite Flavor, by Aidan Butler

     It was like a diabolical nightmare that set in upon waking.

     My coffee pot was gurgling, the scent of toasted English muffins was tugging at my stomach as I stepped onto the porch in my bathrobe to collect the morning paper. Turning back to my door, I found the treatise, folded in half, tacked under the doorbell.

     I opened it as I entered my home. It was a photocopy of a handwritten letter with frequent cross-outs, occasional misspellings, the lines of text angling down, not straight. In large printing at the top of the page, the author had written, "A Terrible Menace Threatens Our Community: A Call to Action by The Asp."

     I stopped in my tracks. Even as the odor of burning muffins reached my nostrils, I stood motionless in the hall, absorbing the bizarre content of the treatise:

     "As if crack wasn't enough, as if heroin and alcohol weren't enough, as if marijuana and cocaine weren't enough to dissolve the fragile moral fiber of our humble, vulnerable community, a new chemical demon has appeared to threaten our honorable lifestyle and our relationship with God."

     The letter began with these foreboding obscurities, then dove into a rather unlikely analysis:

     "It seems that the new menace can be purchased freely -- by any age group -- in supermarkets, convenience stores, at stands in shopping malls, and -- worst of all -- in the so-called `parlors' devoted to this wretched, mind-ripping comestible. What is this horror of which I speak? I speak of what might aptly be called a sixth element, the scientifically elusive, highly injurious substance called ICE CREAM."

     The letter described ice cream parlors -- of which there were three in our small city -- as "ice cream refineries" -- and accused them of trying to conceal the true, inedibly foul nature of ice cream with fruits, sugars, nuts, and colorful dyes. The letter explained the scientific nature of ice cream:

     "ICE CREAM is found in rock-solid mines underneath swamps, marshes, and bogs. Its fibers seep up through the soft terrain into pastures and fields, where a species of crazed, brutal mammals called `cows' consume and become pregnant with the fibers. Some of the fibers condense in monuments on the cows' heads, forming solid, deadly horns. With the cows' multiple stomach-chambers, some of the ice cream fibers are converted into hot liquid ice cream which is dispensed through unseemly, dangling pouches on the undersides of the cows. The human agents of ICE CREAM -- hopelessly addicted, derranged thugs known as dairymen -- collect the molten ice cream and distribute it throughout world in a global scheme to undermine God's will."

     The Asp argued in his psychotic treatise that the proof of ice cream's evil lay in its effect on people: Ice cream eaters seem unusually -- even suspiciously -- happy; they are often affectionate with each other; they are usually overweight, and often despicably lazy.

     The Asp quoted Genesis, 2:29: "And God said, Lookit, I gave you every herb bearing seed on the face of the earth, and every tree in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it'll be meat." Herbs, seeds, fruit, yes -- but nothing, nothing about ice cream. Ice cream was not something intended for a godly people.

     Did not the ice cream refineries flaunt their unlimited greed? The Asp noted that one nation-wide ice cream racket, Haskell and Roberts, flaunted sixty-nine flavors of ice cream: they sought, through cunning market research, to meet every possible flavor preference that human genes could produce.

     Staring at the tubs of ice cream arrayed in the refrigerated display cases of ice cream shops, an honest man could easily be hypnotized by all the colors and textures. But careful -- that is, un-beguiled -- customers, not yet seduced by the smooth, evil treats, might detect the subtle motion of the unserved ice cream: its writhing, coiling movement before being scooped onto cones. ("Is it any coincidence," the Asp asked, "That ice cream cones resemble the deadly horns on the heads of the sinister cows?")

     To further emphasize the paganistic aspect of ice cream, the Asp observed that in Hinduism -- a blatantly non-Christian excuse for a religion -- cows are holy. They are worshipped, like New Age people worship tarot cards, pentagrams, and crystal balls. They wander, dazed with ice cream fibers, across pastures, eating constantly -- never satiated -- swatting aimlessly as imaginary flies with their tails, moaning sorrowfully, their perpetually crossed eyes seeing nothing.

     The Asp pointed out the futuristic drive that ice cream stamps onto men's hearts: "Space-rockets are shaped like ice cream cones; they lauch into the sky, releasing huge clouds of polluting filth behind them as they surge up to the moon, which hovers above the earth like a great glob of vanilla ice cream, waiting for the delivish moment in which to break from its tranquil orbit and crash mercilessly against the fragile crust of the earth."

     Later that afternoon, a local news radio station announced that a fanatical Christian vandal, one Tim Greene, had been arrested in an assault on an ice cream parlor/refinery. Following the Asp's instructions, the shrieking Christian soldier had burst violently into an ice cream shop; he smashed at the glass panels of the refrigerators with a 4' metal cross, then poured kerosene over the ice cream and set it aflame. All the while, Greene recited scripture: his phlegmatic voice calling holy terror upon the sinning ice cream tribes, imploring the wrath of God upon the brutal, cold drug.

     Its addicts were like a dark sea swallowing civilization. Strawberry. Chocolate. Pistachio.

     Walking to the vegetarian sub shop during my lunch hour, I saw a throng of middle-class housewives gathered at the steps of city hall; they were kneeling in prayer, their children, taken out of school, milling around them like giant gnats.

     "Sir!" I turned. A ruddy-faced six year-old boy was shouting at me. "Do you follow Jesus?"

     "Excuse me?"

     "Jesus is in jail, sir."

     "Jesus is..."

     "They imprisoned him for trying to save us from ice cream."

     "He...he tried to save you from ice cream? Who will save you from pie, eh? Allah?"

     "They imprisoned him this morning, and all they're feeding him in jail is ice cream."

     As I walked away, the boy began cursing me. After twenty strides, his ranting ceased. I thought he had given up, but the boy raced up behind me and threw a flurry of punches at my midsection, screaming like an exorcist at the ice cream he believed was breeding in my stomach. Rocky road. Rainbow sherbert. Caramel swirl.

     "Ice cream can easily escape its pint-sized containers, its five-gallon barrels," the Asp wrote in his treatise. "Ice cream can be dumped into the sewage drains of our fair city: it can leak like a venomous milkshake through the tunnels under our streets into our plumbing systems; ice cream can rise up like hooded, spitting cobras from your toilets, from your bathtub drains. It can breath in gaseous form out of your air conditioning units. It can seep into your nose. It can grip your brain like a baseball glove. It can bat your sanity like a softball into the bleachers of hell."

     Brownie fudge. Rum raisin. Jamoca almond sludge.

     At the entrance of the sub shop, a Christian -- dressed entirely in black, her face covered in a veil made of cheese-cloth -- handed out fliers. I accepted one, and looked at it: "The Mayor of Sodom" was its pithy message, under which was printed photograph of our local mayor enjoying a banana split.

     While I nervously devoured my hummus sandwich, a pre-recorded message from the mayor was broadcast over the shop's radio. The mayor repudiated the photograph: he insisted that the banana split contained no actual ice cream: by religious choice, he ate only Rice Dream, a rice-based ice cream substitute. Rice dream. Not caramel swirl, or toffee crunch, or raspberry sorbet.

     Taking the long way back to my office to avoid the abusive Christian youth, I saw smoke -- about two blocks over -- spiralling up to the heavens. Fire department sirens were screaming. Another ice cream refinery had been fire-bombed.

     When I returned to my office, I found my boss emptying out the refrigerator in the lounge.

     "Woodear," he said, "Lookit. I've got nothing against principles. Nothing against standards, or whatever. But let's face it: we don't want to alienate the public."

     He took three ice cream bars that a secretary had stored in the freezer, and -- wrapping them in carbon paper -- handed them to me.

     "Take these to the john, Woodear."

     "The john, Sir?"

     "Flush 'em. Flush 'em down hard. And Woodear? Don't tell anyone about this. It's our little secret, okay?"

     I looked at the ice cream bars as I fed them to the uncomplaining toilet. The flavors were marked on their wrappers: lemon crush, peach surprise, apple stupor.

     "The ice cream effect is permanent and irreversible," the Asp had warned the community in his treatise. "Ice cream destroys the god-given ability of man to reproduce. A good, upstanding husband -- strong, athletic, slightly prone to alcoholism -- is reduced to an overly-sensitive, lisping Dairy Queen. If a Christian wife should find her man surprisingly caring, it is her duty to send a sample of his feces to the ice-cream detection lab at her nearest church."

     Returning to my home that evening, I found an offical seal plastered on my door. Roman-esque type announced that my house had been searched by the anti-I.C. inspection league and found clear. A blue small ribbon was dangling from the tack. Gold print on the ribbon declared, "I am proud to announce that my home contained 0.00 ounces of Satan's frozen flavor-drool."

     I was unable to sleep that evening. Bonfires were burning at spots scattered throughout our small city. A triumphant chant floated in through my windows:

          "We'll eat ice cream when we die;
          only God will get us high."

     The conflagrations were small, fortunately, since ice cream, thrown onto fire, tends to extinguish rather than feed flame.

     Wearing my pajamas and -- for safety's sake -- the anti-I.C. ribbon on my chest, I wandered onto my porch. At the corner of my street and the main road half a block down, I saw the Asp. He was sitting on an upside-down five-gallon barrel of ice cream -- "Chocolate Mango Scream" was printed on its side -- and holding something up to his face. Quietly, I crept over.

     There was no mistaking it: the Asp was wacking his tongue against a triple-scoop ice cream cone. As if sensing my presence -- with his cunning, inescapable awareness -- he turned around. I froze. Like almond fudge swirl, like cookies and cream, like white chocolate chunk, I froze.

     "Whaddaya want?" he blurted out defensively, smears of melted ice cream gleaming on his mirror-lens sunglasses. "I didn't say all ice cream was bad. Fuck, neighbor, this is my favorite flavor."

Tales of the Asp
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