All Stories, General Fiction

In the Land of the Salamander by Harrison Kim

I’m chopping wood with Norbert. We chop in man bikinis, on Catfish beach.  I consider the meaning of life as my axe head cracks into the wedge that splits the stump.  I’m here as part of the “Campfire Quartet” reality TV show.  Our mission today is to create and mime a song, yet also to show off our other attributes, which for me include long hair and axe whacking.

“I can’t burp, man,” Norbert says.

His bikini is yellow, maybe a bit too loose. 

“You need a shot of botox in the throat sphincter,” I tell him.  “That will awaken your salamander swallow brain.”

“It’s food repression,” he says.  “I focus too much on the swallow and not the chew.”

Jenna, the razor-thin camera girl, moves closer to his axe.

“I want to get the glint of the evening sun,” she says.  “Brilliant off the steel.”

“Gut health is primary,” I tell everyone.  “Without a bowl of oatmeal per day you’re bound to suffer.”
“Yeah, but botox seems a bit much,” Norbert argues, and he’s right, because after a month the muscle paralysis wears off, the sphincter tightens, and everyone’s back to their original condition.

 “Unless,” I say, “You manually strengthen your esophagus.  You kinda go like this,” and I mime the way a bullfrog croaks.

“I’ll look it up on my phone,” he nods. “When we get into wifi range.”

Jenna keeps filming our flashing tools, as they and our muscles whack the wood to bits.

We dump a load into the red wheelbarrow and haul it over to where Elisha and Doctor Sammi watch the scene with binoculars as they recline atop bleach coloured Stonehenge-huge rocks which are foam props brought in for the occasion.

“It’s time for weiners,” Doctor Sammi calls.  “Come on, Campfire Quartet.”

The goal of this episode is for the various reality actors to mingle on the beach and create a hit jingle based on one of the show’s advertised products, concluding with a hot dog roast.

This morning, in the suspense of our filmed togetherness I leaned towards Elisha, who was linked to Norbert and Doctor Sammi by an acapella version of “Can’t Buy Me Love.”    Her low voice version swung me, she’s not nasal like the usual bulimic. Her teeth shine bright along with the axes, and Norbert’s an excellent tenor.  As we vocally mingle with Doctor Sammi, the only person here qualified to administer botox, we are able to rustle up a righteous and catchy tune.

Elisha says she likes my bushman confidence and bricklike abs.  I tell her the colour is sunburn and she gives a low chuckle. She’s up on the rocks in her gold string thong, a replica blue navel piercing of a star’s eye sticks out from her concave front view curves.

“We’ve got some sharp wire sticks,” Doctor Sammi passes them down, “For the roast.”

She’s wearing sparkle shorts with pockets that carry botox needles, and a T shirt that reads “Danger Dog.” 

“When are you going to clean the port-a-john?” she asks.  “You messed it up good with your all-prune diet.”

“Everything’s fine now on the digestion front,” I tell her. “I think we’ll just let it all sit and mature.”

“I can’t believe the roughness of this wilderness,” Doctor Sammi says. “Norbert, you should let me release your throat sphincter with a botox shot.”

She’s scanning the horizon with one sparkle purple nail hand.

“Perhaps,” Norbert says.  “It’s a matter of trust.”

“Descend, Doctor Sammi” says Jenna.  “We’ll get a great shot of your skin against the stone.  While you are at it, warble the national anthem.”

“Yeah, sure,” Doctor Sammi’s long legs move in a downward direction, and she sings like an angel.

“Watch the boulder!” I say, for one of the foam ones we rolled here this morning is on the move. 

I block it with my sledgehammer.

Norbert’s chugging a very low alcohol beer, highly carbonated.

“Is this how I strengthen my esophagus?” he asks.

“Swallow,” Doctor Sammi tells him.  She watches.  “You only need a touch of paralysis.”
She brings out one botox needle, and Norbert strokes it with his pinky finger, but Jenna interrupts.

“I want you standing in front of the boulder playing air guitar,” Jenna says.  “Put that bubbly down and make your chopping tool like a musical axe.  Later I can photoshop it for a six string Yamaha.”

We hop on the sand, sing the song we wrote in the van this morning entitled “Free Up The Swallow” about gut health, that we’re doing for our sponsor, J. J. Robinette Healing Inc. The themes included in the song may be “Hush Bikinis,” “Large, light foam rocks,” “Improvement by Injection,” and “A Beautiful Voice.”

The latter is Elisha’s.  She warbles while we stand on the foam boulders in our swimsuits and pretend to play musical instruments.   I split a few more pieces of wood and sit down to light the fire.

“I’ve seen iguanas sunning on the rocks,” Doctor Sammi says.

“They’re so cute,” Elisha agrees.

“Apparently, they taste like chicken,” Norbert tells us. 
“The salamanders are creepy,” Jenna says.

Every night, after dark all over this island, night insects emerge from the sand.  Then the salamanders arrive, thousands of them with their red piercing eyes, all swallowing at once, chowing down their quota of flies and tarantulas and hexagon shaped bugs.

I’m rather looking forward to vicariously experiencing their connection with food.

Jenna’s filming the way I’m building a campfire, as the sun descends across the sea, except she’s focussed on the gap between my chest and my hands.

“You must have been in boy scouts,” says Elisha.

“I can teach anyone a thing or two about wilderness survival,” I say, as the flames rise.

After a time, we stick our meat on the end of the metal wire sticks and hold everything out in front of the fire.

“When do we go back to the hotel?” Doctor Sammi asks.

“Later than dusk,” she says.

Jenna’s so thin that when she turns to the side she almost disappears except for that camera in her hands and her long green hair like seaweed against the sunset.

The weiners spit and crack above the flames, and we eat and let the meat roll down our gullets.

I find it excellent to be in a place with sand, so many grains beneath my lumpy feet.  After eating, I dance the dusk away, being the vicarious rhythm chord man here beneath the huge flat rocks upon which Elisha drums.  Our weiner sticks become symbolic guitars, and our playing rolls virtual.  Jenna will special effect the forms of real guitars and drums into our arms and hands before actual airtime.  

“Editing is the key factor in reality T. V.,” she states.

The producers chose me because I came to audition in a caveman outfit. 

“You outfoxed our expectations,” they exclaimed.

“I’m trying to find the meaning of life,” I said, “By breaking the limits.”

They loved my choice of rebellion by costume.

“You can sell the world on your meaning,” they told me.  “Through your posing actions.”

Norbert’s on the show because he’s buff and doesn’t like eating. Jenna uses him for the half episodes entitled “disciplined living,” sponsored by the Buddhist Foundation.  That’s where the holy ones equate the growing of a large gut with the decadence of the years.  According to head monk Lance Garrison, we swell up as our lives take the world in, while we consume milk and sugar and carbohydrates.  It’s a stimulation addiction.  We’re born, open our mouths, and suck in the dark cloud of badness.

“It’s gonna rain soon,” Elisha says, “It’ll be salamander time.”
“And I want you to dance and sing throughout that deluge,” Jenna answers.  “No matter what amphibian is dripping from your torso.”

“How do you feel about me, Jackson?” Elisha asks, as we all stand around the roaring fire, waiting for the salamander explosion.

“You don’t need botox,” I say. 

“I think you have a very strong back,” she responds.  “You can carry me right down to the ocean,” and she leaps onto my chest like I’ve seen in so many reality T. V. shows but this time it’s me in the show, so I have no choice but to be the actor who takes her to the water.

“It’s all about what’s on the surface,” I tell her as Jenna films us in a private tete a tete. “Then I say her name, “Elisha.”

I reach down to feel the purple star’s eye that pierces her navel.

I feel something slide over my feet and gaze down to see the salamanders are on the run, red pointy headed splay legged critters with a purpose, which is to open their mouths to swallow what I believe are large clouds of flies appearing against the dusking sky, right above the old rotting seaweed on the shore. 

“Pull on that star eye,” Elisha says, and I ask her the question that’s been bothering me all day.

“Whose eye is it?” for we know all the time we are being watched whether it’s by the camera or the big pupil of omniscient god which is the sun we cannot see through but which lights us all in its vision.

A great musical note pierces the night.  It’s Norbert, and he’s not burping, he’s singing opera style all across Catfish beach, he has broken through the botox barrier, Doctor Sammi must have administered the medicine thru his esophagus and now he sings like a fat lady.  I hope our skinny camera person has it all on video.

I run my eyes around Elisha’s outline and the outlines of the foam rocks and our fellow quartet members and the thin edge that is Jenna and swallow hard.  Under my feet, the salamanders rush towards the sea, I swear they are almost flying now, towards the dark insect cloud between us and the setting sun.

Harrison Kim

Image by Alois Wonaschütz from Pixabay 

9 thoughts on “In the Land of the Salamander by Harrison Kim”

  1. Hi Harrison,
    You were really up against it as we are three Reality TV haters.
    I’d give the contestants big knives and let nature take its course!!
    Brookmyre took this subject on brilliantly and was years ahead of his time.
    I can’t express how much I hate reality TV and would rather chew a testicle off than watch ‘Love Island’ (Syphilis Beach, Attention Seeking Marbella or I’m a Fuckwit In Famagusta) It was only due to the subject matter that put me off.
    …If they had been slaughtered in a brutal and entertaining way, with the sponsors also getting it, I may have been on board!
    You were a victim of writing something so realistically that it irritates due to the subject matter and the fuckwits involved!
    …And that is why I’m delighted to see this on the site! For a writer to get a natural response from any reader that shows how much realism and perception they’ve got throughout their work.
    I hated this – So Brilliant!!!!!
    All the very best my fine friend

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment, Gwencron. I was fascinated by “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” for example, the editing done to create the connections and conflicts among the contestants, how everything was tailored and sculpted to fit a certain theme. Charles Darwin would have a lot to say about this. I didn’t want to off anyone though, too easy! This Brookmyre sounds interesting, hadn’t heard of him before, just checked out his bio.


  2. This was an unexpected mix of philosophy, commercialism, and a reality version of reality shows (mega meta). The above are not the only ones to hate “reality”, but here there seems to be one who is above it, yet in it. More stories with amphibians please. Totally irrevant except to me – I decided that hybrid cars are the amphibians of vehicles – the have both the gills of ICE cars and the lungs of BV. They’re between fish and reptiles.

    Keep on rocking HK.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Doug! I camped by a lake in the middle of an island one night. It poured with rain. When I awakened hundreds of small red salamanders lay everywhere, on the leaves, on the tent, over the ground, floating in the lake. They were sticky little creatures, falling it seemed, from the sky.


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