My Road Trip with Rumphous

Tucked into the far corner of a strip mall, the Happy Pawse Pet Store looms. It’s three stories high, and on the first floor, there’s a semi-open area for new and seasonal animals like bunnies and chickens that kids can pet and cuddle around springtime. Today, however,

My Road Trip with Rumphous
Photo by Sean Benesh / Unsplash

by Cecilia Kennedy

Tucked into the far corner of a strip mall, the Happy Pawse Pet Store looms. It’s three stories high, and on the first floor, there’s a semi-open area for new and seasonal animals like bunnies and chickens that kids can pet and cuddle around springtime. Today, however, something different cruises the corral. An employee whispers in my ear that they should probably turn this thing over to the zoo, but they don’t want to, when they could sell it to someone who would care for it. What I see in the corral is a motley mess—a kind of oversized rodent-like thing. But the employee tells me, quite firmly, that it is not a rodent because of its horns. The horns are small, but they’re beginning to curl nicely. The employee says it will probably get much bigger. Of course, no one wants it. It just kind of sits there, in the corral, its greasy fur emitting a strong, musky odor. It nestles into the cedar hamster chips, looking forlorn as people come by to stare.

By this time, though, I’ve picked out a name: Rumphous. Rumphous and I will be happy together, but I don’t want to buy him. (The employee tells me it’s a he—because of the horns. The females, apparently, have feathered crests on their heads.) I don’t want to buy him because I think it’s cruel to exchange him for money. That would just cheapen him. Instead, I ask to hold him. He pushes his horns into the crook of my arm and shoots a blast of foul odor from the other side, and I know he’s the one. He’s my Rumphous, and I will take him with me on a road trip. I’ll find him a mate, and I’ll fall in love, too.

With Rumphous’ horns still resting in the crook of my arms, I run to my car, ready to fight anyone who wants to stop me, but no one does. The pet store owners and employees could care less if Rumphous is stolen, and that just breaks my heart.

“Don’t worry, Rumphous. I’ve got you now.” I pet him, and grease slides all over my fingers. Wiping my hand on the passenger seat, I notice Rumphous’ teeth, which are scraggly and sharp, like a snaggle-toothed shark.

Pointing the car towards the freeway, I step on the gas and drive all day and all night until I come to some small town with one tiny motel by the side of the road.

The next day, I decide to explore the town, so I take my Rumphous out to the local diner for lunch. There are some dirtbag-looking guys at the counter, but they’re still kind of hot. The kind that wouldn’t mind an out-of-towner gal who might sit next to them at the counter and order the biggest milkshake they’ve ever seen.

To break the ice, I say, “Can I show you my Rumphous?”

They stare at me for a while, but then I point to Rumphous, who has been hiding behind me on the barstool to my right. The tallest one, Dan, invites me to dine at the Steak and Fry, and I feel like I’m on my way to finding love. I still need to find love for Rumphous, but I don’t think we’ll find it here. Not enough pets in this small town. No pet stores, either. So Dan and I won’t work out. I break Dan’s heart, but leave him a musk-stained napkin that Rumphous has personally autographed.

In the car, Rumphous looks bigger. He has taken a liking to burgers and fries, and they stay down pretty well, so I’ve made them the main part of his diet. As he’s grown, he’s also gotten oilier and slicker. I miss baby Rumphous, but unusually-large-rodent-sized Rumphous is growing on me, so we keep driving, heading west and then south. The landscape changes ‘til we get to desert roads and by now, he’s outgrown the car, height-wise. I have to drive with his window open, so he has a place to put his horns.

At a Tastee-Freez in New Mexico, I find another man named Dan, and we hit it off, but Rumphous has wandered away, and I have to find him, so new Dan will have to wait on my love.

When I find Rumphous, two miles outside of town, he has devoured a family of cats and is growling at a boy and his dad, who are locked in their car, too scared to get out.

“Rumphous! Get back in my car!” I say. But he won’t budge, so I put both my hands on his backside and push him until he moves on his own and gets back in my car.

At night, back in our motel room, I dream of Dan 1 and Dan 2 and wonder how I’ll ever find love for Rumphous. When I wake up, in the middle of the night, I think about what to do next. I feel Rumphous stirring, so I turn on the lamp near my night table and discover he can stand on his two hind legs next to his bed, which kind of creeps me out. I tell him to knock it off, and I turn the lamp off again. But I feel something moving, stirring, so I turn the lamp on and see that he’s in front of his bed now, moving in my direction. I mutter something under my breath and turn the light back off again, but inside I’m shaking. When the rustling sounds stir again, I tell myself that Rumphous is just getting back into his bed, but with trembling fingers, I turn on the light—and he’s towering over me, with his mouth wide open. My life—the kind I would have lived with Dan 1 or Dan 2 flashes before my eyes—and I have no regrets.

Cecilia Kennedy (she/her) taught English and Spanish language/literature in Ohio for 20 years before moving to Washington state with her family. Since 2017, she has published her stories in international literary journals, magazines, and anthologies. Her work has appeared in Pigeon Review, Maudlin House, Coffin Bell, Idle Ink, Tiny Molecules, Streetcake Magazine, Wrongdoing Magazine, Rejection Letters, Open Minds Quarterly, Headway Quarterly, Flash Fiction Magazine, Kandisha Press, Ghost Orchid Press, and others.  Additionally, she enjoys being a volunteer adult beverages columnist for The Daily Drunk, a proofreader for Flash Fiction Magazine, and a concept editor for Running Wild Press. Twitter: @ckennedyhola