We were told that our mother’s life was terminated by killer bees while vacationing in San Marcos, Mexico with Dr Vargas at his family home.
After her mother dies in bizarre circumstances, heiress Eugenie Lund is abducted by Dr Vargas, a charismatic Svengali-like figure who educates her according to his own philosophy, an esoteric blend of anthropology and psychiatry. Isolated from outside influences, Eugenie’s life is spent on the run across North America and Europe, existing on the fringes of society, always trying to keep one step ahead of her past.
Taking in Mexico, Las Vegas, and the underground rave scene, Dodge and Burn is a psychedelic road trip recounted in beautifully crafted prose that pulses with frenetic energy.
Inspired by the likes of Carlos Castaneda and Hunter S Thompson, this is an exciting, iconoclastic debut novel from a remarkable new voice.
We were told that our mother’s life was terminated by killer bees while vacationing in San Marcos, Mexico with Dr Vargas at his family home. Vargas described how the insects had gone for the insides of her ears – a deliberate technique to destabilise the victim. Mother fell off the horse, waving her hands in the air to beat them off and hit her head on a rock. Vargas thought it more prudent to spring the brutal truth upon us rather than the fiction of a prolonged hospital stay in Mexico followed by eventual death. He bent down close to our faces with a pained expression and shining white teeth, miming the scene – Mother inert on the ground, Vargas swatting his way through the lethal cloud of screeching insects, his eventual defeat as he was heavily bombarded in a kamikaze-esque onslaught he likened to the attack of the USS Bunker Hill during World War II. Vargas assured us Mother was unconscious and had not suffered. The killer bee specialists informed him that the perfume she was wearing (Fleurissimo, commissioned by Prince Rainier III for Grace Kelly composed of tuberose, Bulgarian rose, violet, and Florentine iris) had incited the bees to violence. If she and Dr Vargas had been smoking cigarettes, the attack would never have happened. Killer bees abhor smoke, even from one cigarette.
Our father was in the midst of an expedition to Antarctica and could not be found. Dr Vargas adopted us at age eight, as was specified in our mother’s will in the event of her death and the inability to locate any kin. The adoption process was quick in light of the fact it took place in Mexico. We ceased to be Lunds and became Vargases.
We moved shortly thereafter, with our Japanese Akitas Viktor and Shiloh, from Mexico to the coast of Maine with bruise coloured squalls, milky blizzards, crystallised winter wonderlands and picturesque summers. The house in the forest reminded us of the Russian fairy tales and Tolkien epics our parents used to read to us at bedtime. For the first several weeks we wondered whether we had been swooped up into the hinterlands of Siberia but the fantasy was dispelled when Vargas took us for a drive into the Arcadian mountains where, along the way, we passed rambling farm houses, mobile homes, mongrel capes and ranches, all with American flags flying on the lawns.
The first two years we remained in hiding, confined to the house and grounds. The house was in the Queen Anne style, elaborate and irregular, made of stone and wood with towers, turrets, verandas, bays, ells, gables, dormers, and patterned shingles over the varied roofs. Vargas had reason to believe we were at risk of being kidnapped. A regimented life began. There is no behavior that cannot be learned or unlearned under the right circumstances. Vargas’ regime required a surface obedience we knew we had to maintain or else face unbearable consequences.
In spring Camille and I collected flowers to make tea with in the forest behind the house. After checking the rabbit snares we would follow a path to a break in the canopy of trees where white, lace-like flower formations out fanned out, seeming to hover in the air from a distance. The plant’s stalks were mottled an enchanting blood red and in the colour there was a message. It became immediately apparent to us both that the plant had been placed there by forest spirits to turn humans into faeries. If we could transform ourselves out of this world and into another, we would be free. We made a tea with the leaves, flowers and stalks and christened it Pan’s Elixir. To our great surprise, nothing happened. There was no discernible change in us or our environment. Then it dawned on Camille that the plant alone had little or no effect because it was meant to be used in an alchemy with other plants, rituals, or spells we had yet to find, but which would be revealed to us in time. There was also the possibility the desired result could only be attained through a cumulative effect. We had to continue to drink the elixir and follow the signs.
If we were lucky, four rabbits were caught in the snares. We rubbed pine pitch on our hands before skinning them. A knife is never necessary. You can just tear their hides off. It’s as though they’re wearing a snowsuit. In torrential downpours we gutted them in the shed. It felt cleaner to do the skinning and gutting outside. In the snow was best, on a clear day under the ice encrusted canopies with the sun coming through. The guts are easily jiggled out onto the ground once the rabbit is cut open and best left for an animal to eat. We tied the skinned, hollowed rabbits around tree branches straight as effigy poles and carried them home, pink in the sun.
Some days, before checking the snares, we would walk through the forest to higher ground where there was an abandoned cabin under pines eighty feet tall. Curiosity and the thrill of exploration had driven us there. The first time we set eyes on it the scene reminded me of Gustav Doré’s etchings, wreathing and humming, flickering before us with the darkness and light of fairytales. Camille’s eyes – round with exhilaration and surprise – held mine before we approached through beams of sun and shadow to the front door where she grinned impishly, batting off the gnats, mosquitoes and other flying insects. I knocked. Then we found a crowbar in a shed and popped a window open.
The cabin became our church. We prayed for Vargas’ deliverance from sin through incarnation, suffering and imminent death. We made an altar, burned sage and performed ceremonies consistent with accounts from the Passamaquoddy tribe described in one of the social anthropological studies in the library. Inside this book was an inscription in black ink in our father’s fluid scrawl, a pseudo-haiku poem he had written for our mother:
A Blue Morpho butterfly,
I would kill for your love.
It was unsettling. What the deaths of beasts and butterflies had to do with love, Camille and I could never figure out. According to our maps the Passamaquoddy reservation was a twenty minute drive away but Vargas never took us there, despite our pleas. He said that the foray would only lead to disappointment as the natives were hostile to white people on their land. We had to make do with the studies in the library.