Remembering the Marketplace of the Midsouth

Battle Creek

A long time ago, when the climate of the Earth was much cooler, tusked, thickly-furred mammals called Mastodons roamed the banks of Nonconnah Creek. Here in this lush, fertile basin, they herded, mated, and browsed on the soft shoots and berries and foliage. These elephantine beasts were some of the largest animals since the dinosaurs—their very presence could shake the crowns off your teeth. But like the dinosaurs, they followed the natural, and perhaps unnatural, progression of all living things: they became extinct.

Today, the face of Nonconnah Creek has changed drastically since the fall of the great mastodons. After the last glacial period, warmer weather patterns gradually replaced cold climate trees with the more modern oak, beech, and sugar maple. Loess—silt deposit carried in by the wind—now covers the bluff land more heavily. Nonconnah Creek’s tributary water level has dropped considerably, giving the land a wider stretch. The actual streamflow of the tributary had been altered—erosion and deposition a natural factor—but due mostly to the urban growth of newly-arrived creatures, the Homo sapiens.

Humans, bless their hearts and tinkering hands, have also caused a depletion of trees, vegetation, and animals, not to mention contaminated the area with things that surely do not grow on exogenous life, such as beer bottles and candy wrappers.

Yes, Nonconnah Creek has changed, and not all for the better. But one thing hasn’t changed: giants still roam there.

Lumbering out from the distant stars arrived two warring factions of metal mega-machines. Hailing from the planet Cybertron, both the heroic Autobots and the conspicuously evil Decepticons fell to earth while in search of precious energy to fuel their struggle.

Their constant battling brings them to almost every locale on the globe. Often times, Optimus Prime, the Autobot’s leader, would square off with Megatron, tyrannical ruler of the Decepticons. But nearly as often, the friction of their tireless war sparks a one-on-one skirmish, as it did one cool day under a bright blue sky in the city of Memphis, Tennessee.

Sideswipe, a cherry-red, sixteen-foot tall Autobot, his alternate form a svelte, classic Lamborghini Countach, stood next to a Nonconnah Maple tree, lifting nineteen-year-old Bryan high onto a branch. Despite his age, Bryan was a kid at heart and still loved a good tree climb. Sideswipe didn’t mind helping him out, although the Autobot had become a bit paranoid.

Decepticons in the area may have been alerted to Sideswipe’s activities. They always seemed to know when and where the Autobots went looking for sources of energy, even if the place was merely a small creek. Sideswipe wasn’t searching for an energy source today, but presently, other Autobots were. His brother Sunstreaker, another Lamborghini Countach, was not among them. Last time Sideswipe checked, he was nestled inside the Mall of Memphis, basking, rather goading in the spotlight of its shoppers’ attention.

Sideswipe couldn’t help but wonder what Deceptigoon, if any, Megatron had dispatched this time. Just to play safe, he’d keep an eye out.

“You see anything, Bryan?” Sideswipe asked, although his vantage point was on par with the human's.

“No,” Bryan answered. “Just more trees.”

“You sure? No Mall of Memphis?”

Bryan cupped a hand over his squinting eyes, scouting the terrain like a common Safari tourist. His blue jeans and loose-fitting chambray shirt ruffled in the cool, fall breeze.

“I can’t see it, Sideswipe. I wonder, does it still exist?”

Sideswipe chuckled. “Sure it does.”

“Maybe not," Bryan replied. "Maybe the Constructicons bulldozed it to the ground.”

The Constructicons were earth-moving Decepticons: bulldozer, dump truck, etc.

“No, no,” Sideswipe insisted playfully. “That’s impossible. They’re a million parsecs out on Cybertron. Besides Bryan, if they were really here, we’d have heard them by now.

Right?”

“Right.”

Right.

But then the ground quaked and trembled. The reverberations were like thunder, as if Odin had split the ripe soil with his hammer. Mire sucked and plopped. Branches gave way. A bird cried out in earthly trepidation. Something heavy and mechanically monstrous was footing through the trees, drawing closer.

Sideswipe said, “Bryan, get out of the tree.”

“Why? What is it?” Bryan asked, his voice quavering.

“Just come—”

A mirthless chuckle, more like a digital titter, echoed out from the forest.

The laughter had emanated from a Decepticon: Soundwave!

Soundwave, Megatron’s diabolical communication officer, possessed an alternate, and preferred, form: a microcassette recorder. His towering, monolith form jutted at the edge of the tree’s canopy. Mud and muddy water streaked the blue and grey chassis. Both of his arms were relaxed at his side; fingers were loose, flexing, concussion blaster was nowhere in sight. Voice was a monotonic cassette tape playing at one-half speed.

“Good afternoon, Sideswipe. Hope I’m not interrupting.”

Sideswipe clenched his fists. “Well you are, so leave.”

“Oh, man,” Bryan said. He was still in the tree, now hanging on for dear life. His legs felt weak, rubbery.

Like his friend, Sideswipe feared the evil Decepticon’s intentions, but he couldn’t show it. He needed sand coursing through his cydraulics, not ice water. Exude strength, mettle, and valor like Optimus Prime.

“Nothing’s gonna happen,” Sideswipe boasted, trumpeting forward. “Not if I can help it.”

Soundwave relished Sideswipe’s bravado, rather his show of hand, immensely, but it wouldn’t save him.

“Courage is not a prerequisite here,” he said, “or even smart.”

“It is from where I’m standing!” Sideswipe shot back.

Not someone who lets friends fight alone, Bryan said, “Why don’t you just go away, huh!” He hadn’t meant to add his own two cents, but now that it was out, he was glad. Although that one scream had taken all the nerve right out of his body, and he didn’t think he could manage another.

Soundwave said nothing. The Deception, typically chest-loaded with a battery of mechanical minions, sported a painfully empty tape deck. He had deployed his cassette warriors, Rumble, Frenzy, Ravage, and Lazerbeak to the Mall of Memphis just minutes before the clamor from Sideswipe and the human had alerted his omnipresent powers of reconnaissance. Now he planned on doing away with them both. It would please the great Megatron after all. First, he’d quell the mealy-mouthed human. The effect would surely drain the spirit from Sideswipe. After he drained the spirit, Soundwave would then drain the Autobot’s life. It was a good plan, but how could he get the human without having to battle Sideswipe first?

Soundwave had already employed a way.

He pointed at Bryan. “Bring me the primate, Sideswipe, and your life I just might spare.”

Sideswipe glanced at Bryan. Primate? Is that what Decepticons called the humans now? Never mind. It didn’t matter what surname had been given to the humans, he wasn’t giving this one up, not on his life. “Never!” he bellowed.

Before Sideswipe could act, something overhead, a dark blot in his peripheral vision, swooped down at a steep angle, plucked Bryan from the tree, and then carried him helplessly back into the sky.

This was Lazerbeak, Soundwave’s most loyal subject.

“Aahhh!” escaped Bryan’s throat as he was whisked away.

Shocked, enraged, Sideswipe roared after him, “Bryan!”

Lazerbeak and the human caught within its midst, drifted out of sight, in the direction of the Mall of Memphis.

Sideswipe watched them, pinpointed the trajectory, and then he wheeled on Soundwave; acid corroded his inner workings.

“You mechanical slug! I’ll—I'll destroy you!”

“No need.” Soundwave responded, unfazed. “Resistance is futile. Give yourself over to me. Your execution I’ll make swift and painless.”

“I’ll just take my chances!”

Soundwave sighed. “Very well, Autobot.”

Shortly after, the battle between these titanic foes ignited. It raged for nearly fifteen minutes before Soundwave realized that the Autobot had turned out more than he had expected. Their battle played out in intermittent rounds, like a human boxing match, a regular slugfest. And ultimately, a dead heat. Whatever superiority Soundwave had gained with his surprise arrival was quickly dissipated by Sideswipe’s weary determination. Soundwave methodically and coldly reasoned he had suffered enough. If he ever wanted to squelch him, he needed to do it now!

“You fight well,” Soundwave commended the Autobot. “No matter, the battle is over.”

He charged full-tilt for Sideswipe, a bull-rushing maneuver. The gap between them, widened from the battle, closed. Sideswipe though, had another idea—like the Sugar Maple tree for instance.

Clinging his mechanical arms around the coarse-grained bark of the Nonconnah maple tree, Sideswipe put as much back-strut into the tree as he could muster, dredging it from its mooring. Roots snapped, unearthed. Moments later, he freed the tree from the soil.

Soundwave couldn’t reach Sideswipe quickly enough, not quick enough before the Autobot lifted the tree horizontal, pivoting the soil-clumped ball of roots forward, in the direction of the onrushing Decepticon.

Soundwave simply couldn’t stop in time—his momentum carried him too far.

“Heeeeyah!” Sideswipe screamed, his battle cry, and then with all his might, batter-rammed the tree into Soundwave’s torso.

The crushing blow released a mechanical oomph from Soundwave’s audio box, pain as well as surprise. Sideswiped was pleased. But not satisfied. Before the Decepticon could attack, Sideswipe began pummeling him with the tree, side to side, head to foot. Eventually the knee-joints on Soundwave buckled. With a jarring thud, he collapsed to the ground and moved no more.

Sideswipe stood poised but motionless; he was waiting for Soundwave to stir. He wasn’t convinced he had had felled the great Decepticon so easily. Just to make sure, he decided to nudge him with the tree, brush him over. There was no reaction. Far-off in the distance, a dog barked.

When Sideswipe became assured Soundwave was indeed down for the count, he propped the maple against a nearby tree and gave his own body a quick once-over. He wasn’t quite as vain as his brother Sunstreaker, but what he saw made him grimace.

If it weren’t for Bryan, kidnapped and possibly injured or even killed, he’d remove every last bolt and circuit from Soundwave’s hide just for the harsh makeover alone. But out of respect he wouldn’t. Right now he needed to alert Sunstreaker, locate the whereabouts of Bryan, and then obliterate Lazerbeak and any other Decepticon that got in his way. But Sideswipe would mostly certainly deal, perhaps conclusively, with Soundwave some other time. Without another thought except Bryan's immediate safety, Sideswipe headed for the Mall of Memphis.

To Be Continued...

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