A wandering traveler stops to rest for the night when an unforgettable man appears. Follow their fictional misadventure, inspired by conversations with friends.
11 | Hen Heckler
Shasta Lake’s teal ripples melted into the shoreline and I tried to reach out to touch them, only to find my right hand was full of tiny blue mountains. I giggled.
I guzzled what was left in the can and held it up in front of my eyes until the mountains were silver… and a moment later they were blue again?
What the f**k?
A boisterous laugh boomed to my left, making me jump out of my skin. My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I realized I was still with CA Man. He’d been handing me beers for the past hour while I silently processed his news.
The hand free of a Coors can searched my baggy for another nibble of shrooms.
They were gone. Well, almost. I dropped the few small crumbles that I found in the bottom corner of the bag into my mouth.
Dammit. I hadn’t had nearly enough to make me forget what he said.
So, what now? I asked. The mountains were beginning to dribble into the lake in the setting sunlight.
We camp, CA Man answered. The trees rustled, as if the winds were whispering to me to run.
Of course, I said, chugging the rest of the beer in my hand. We climbed through tense silence into the truck cab. Vague details from the first night we met flashed through my mind. So many beers. Did he tell me about this then? Why did I feel like I already knew? Was this deja vu?When CA Man turned back around and drove into Whiskeytown, I couldn’t help myself. Laughter burst from my gut as if I had been hit with a Tickling Charm from Professor Flitwick himself and I forgot all my woes.
Where are we going? I asked. This is where we came from. Aren’t you on the run?
More laughter. Unencumbered and inappropriate laughter.
CA Man told me of a friend with a place nearby. He went past it in case we had been followed.
The cabin we arrived at in Brandy Creek was no better than the trash shack we’d been in that first day when we let him hitch a ride. It had walls made of wood, but they were paper thin, worn by time and human carelessness.
A wooden chicken coop surrounded by wire fencing sat to the left of the cabin, about 50 yards away. To the right, a fire road led to Whiskeytown Lake. I stared into the eyes of the ominously moss-darkened face of the cabin as we approached, nearly entranced by its deteriorating beauty. The sun dipped past the mountains behind me, illuminating every pine needle in the trees above the cabin.
As the sun continued to fall, the last of its light rose into the darkness of the night sky, and I sat there watching until the day faded into black.
Finally, my near overdose of shrooms faded away. The sun was rising again, behind the cabin I’d been staring at all night. It’s blinding morning rays brought me back to reality.
Push it out! C’mon! Yeah! UH!
I whipped my head around just in time to see a stranger thrusting his hips forward and back, yelling into the coop as a chicken honked through the frustration of birthing an egg.
Who the f**k are you? I asked.
Who the f**k are you? he replied.
We stared each other down, like two gun slingers in a wild western. Neither of us said another word until CA Man burst through the front door with his obnoxious laugh to introduce us.
Do you often heckle your hens? I asked.
Instead of answering, the hen heckler spit, glared at me, and walked inside.
What are we doing now? I asked. My eyes threatened to roll in their sockets,
10 | Chute
We reentered Bear Mountain Pizza under its awful awning. My eyes darted from corner to corner for the massive, bearded man we seemed eternally attached to. Ben Then and Ben Now eyed me from the wall.
CA Man was nowhere to be found.
We could just leave him.
He got us a new motor, I replied. We have to at least get him out of here and drop him off somewhere he can get another ride.
Outside on the bright orange launchpad, CA Man stood next to Rainn Wilson with a small crowd of Ben's celebrators gathered around. They were both vigorously sucking on the sides of Coors cans.
Not again, I said, elbowing my way to the front of the cheering crowd. Dude, let's go, I pleaded.
CA Man laughed and tossed me a beer, simultaneously raising a new one to his lips. Blue mountains or not, I would not drink that beer. We had to go. I was determined. We couldn't be there when the police arrived. It would ruin everything.
And yet, as if independent from myself, one of my hands cracked open the can before the other raised it to my mouth. I chugged and let go of whatever sense of control I had left. What the hell, why not?
Rainn finally dropped his can, finishing his shotgun a full minute after CA Man.
The crowd dispersed, seeming slightly disheartened by the fact that Rainn Wilson lost, even if it was to a sasquatch of a man who could swallow the beer can whole if he wanted to.
I don't usually drink like this, Rainn said.
Sloppily? I asked.
Rainn scowled for a moment and then walked away muttering about how he'd at least gotten Ben a present, despite the fact that the present had carried Ben away from the party.
Shouldn't have done that, said CA Man.
Why not? I asked.
As it turns out, Rainn had brought more than the one jetpack for Ben. He had ten with him. The plan was to give Ben the pilot flight and then choose ten others to join him.
I clearly was not going to be on that list, but I was fine with that. Why would I want to ride a jetpack?
Listen, I said, and explained what I had heard on the radio. A quick search on my phone confirmed my suspicion that an investigation into who was on the jetpack was already underway.
CA Man raised an eyebrow and then his beer. He stared silently into my soul while he chugged before he answered, It's fine.
Instead of answering, he told me to take more shrooms and settle in for the night. He had business here.
I didn't even want to know what that meant. I just wanted to leave, but somehow, I felt obligated to stay.
That night slipped into the same drunken stupor I'd become accustomed to with CA Man, but this time, I was prepared. I was consciously cross faded, like a lucid dream. Meanwhile, Ben and his birthday crew buzzed around the skies on jetpacks.
By the time we both passed out, I'd convinced CA Man to sleep in the camper, while I crashed in the cab. That way, when my alarm went off early the next morning, I was ready to go and CA Man was clueless.
We were already at the Fresno train station before the giant even started to stir. His snores woke us through the camper and cab walls before my alarm. So, we drove, got breakfast, and rummaged through his things before sunrise.
Inside his backpack, the black trash bag found my hand, like a magnet to a vault door. I carefully peeled back the plastic to reveal a wad of ...
9 | Jetpack
We gathered on the lawn behind Bear Mountain Pizza. By then, the clouds were spinning with my mind. The ground felt like it was up and the sky was down. Gravity was backwards. I probably did too many substances, but I didn’t care. Ben was about to take off on a Jetpack.
Whatever barbequing materials I planned on giving Ben for his birthday from my camper could never compare to the Astra Jetpack bobbing on his shoulders in the dusky setting sunlight. An orange tinge radiated from the left cylinder as Ben approached his makeshift launchpad in the clearing. A few moments before, one of his friends had spray painted an X on the rocky ground between some shrubbery with neon orange construction paint.
Wait, Ben, I said. Your glasses.
He gratefully handed me his spectacles, which I promptly positioned on the bridge of my nose. If I thought I’d been disoriented a moment ago, now everything was distorted to a new dimension. I wondered if my face was, too.
Ben walked out to the center of his redneck launchpad and readied himself for takeoff. His fans cheered from a few dozen yards away, but I was still among them, frozen like a statue in thrashing waves. I couldn’t help but see Mad Mike flying down from the clouds, splattering beyond Ben in the distance.
Was I about to watch another man plummet to his death?
I didn’t want to find out. When Ben flipped on the Jetpack and gave us his thumbs up, I slowly backed away from the crowd, turned, and sprinted toward the Tacoma. I didn’t get very far, though. About ten strides into a full-speed, head-down sprint, I ran head-first into a solid torso.
Shit! I’m so sorry, I said as we both picked ourselves up from the ground. Ben’s shattered glasses fell from my face into my hands.
Idiot, the torso’s head said.
I couldn’t help but notice the man’s voice sounded oddly familiar. I’d been afraid to look him in the eye until then, but the way he spoke sparked the instinct to laugh so I had to see who it was. Clearly, I knew this man.
My jaw dropped. All the courage I could muster would never have prepared me to make eye contact with Rainn Wilson. He asked me a few questions, but I stood like Roy in the trucker’s headlights until he walked away, muttering something about me being a nutcase.
Apparently, he’d given Ben the jetpack, but we wouldn’t find out until later. The camper was like a beacon of safety in the middle of pure embarrassment. Where on earth had we ended up? California was nothing like I thought.
It took a moment of hyperventilating to remember the Airband Scanner under the bed. Right! We can hear if Ben gets into any trouble with the jetpack, I said.
We scanned the radio for thirty minutes with nothing to report. Everything seemed normal until one pilot’s tone changed. He said, Tower. Delta 978. We just passed a guy on a jetpack. Off the left side maybe 300, 30 yards or so. About our altitude.
Oh f**k, I said.
Air traffic chatter buzzed with news of Ben and his Jetpack until a few minutes later, another pilot confirmed, saying, We just saw the guy fly by us on the jetpack.
Another flight seemed to be headed for Ben and we heard the controller tell them to use caution because there was a person on a jetpack reported about 300 yards south.
The last thing we heard before shutting off the scanner was, Only in California.
Shit. Well that’s not good. What are we going to do now?
What about CA Man?
Dammit, I said.
8 | Ben’s Birthday
A very confused and heartbroken trucker grew smaller next to a lump in the middle of the road behind us. We were still going the wrong direction, but for now all that mattered was getting away from the scene of the crime. Roy was roadkill and we were guilty of pig napping and accidental swine slaughter.
Do you think he got our plates? I asked.
He was too stunned.
Riding shotgun, panting, just as Roy had been a few minutes ago, CA Man did nothing but shout directions to turn this way and that. At one point, he said he wouldn’t step foot in Fresno so we needed to pick another route, which meant taking a bunch of strangely straight roads through nearly nothing but nut farms.
Finally, when the gas gauge needle tilted dangerously close to E, I found the nearest Valero. We pulled in and CA Man shuffled through his backpack until he found his black trash bag again. I would have asked him what the hell he carried that thing around for, but I didn’t want him snooping into my business so I figured it was best to not ask. After he hopped out of the cab, I checked the hidden compartment in my own bag. This was the first time we’d been alone since CA Man decided to stow away in our lives and I was happy to find everything where I left it.
Peace of mind back in place, I refueled the Tacoma, or tried. Gas spewed from the nozzle after a minute. Dammit, I said, lifting the handle to let a soft rush of air out of the tank. We needed a new vent solenoid, too. It would have been nice if CA Man had been able to wrangle his mechanic friend into adding that to his work, but it wouldn’t affect much for the time being. It was just annoying.
When we were back on the road, CA Man continued shouting directions until I finally said, If you would tell me where you’re trying to go, I could probably get us there a little easier.
Instead of answering, he demanded that I pull over right then and there to satiate his hunger. So, we ended up at a random place on the side of highway 180, between a hillside of trees and more tumbleweed producing shrubs. On the outside, it was only a step above the tin trash hut where he'd taken us hostage. Its riveted metal walls were painted white and it had an outdated maroon awning above the door that read, Bear Mountain Pizza.
Fine, I said, slamming the truck into park, taking note of how full the parking lot seemed for such a secluded location.
At least it was next to a NAPA. I had high hopes of finding a replacement part for the Tacoma. In fact, that was my first mission and I let CA Man wander away to get us a table while I made a beeline for the parts store. When I returned, I instantly regretted my decision.
The first thing I saw when I walked in were Ben Then and Ben Now posters plastered on the back wall with a ribbon streamed between them that said, Happy Birthday Ben. Both photos were of a white man’s face, taken from the bridge of his nose up. The only difference was that in one he had a massive pile of curly, light brown hair on top of his head to rival Napoleon Dynamite on a humid day, and in the other, he was bald with a pair of black rimmed glasses. In front of the posters, CA Man was in the center of the room, chugging a pitcher of beer, encouraged by a crowd of cheering fans who were led by a man I could only presume was Ben.
A moment of sheer panic fled through me when I realized the entire place was covered in Ben’s birthday celebrators. There wasn’t a single unoccupied table in the room and we were officially crashing a birthday party. Thankfully, CA Man didn’t notice when I turned on my heel and walked straight out the door.
Back in the Tacoma,
7 | SMITH
Before sunrise the next morning, I found myself speeding away from Camp 9. Roy was riding shotgun and every substance I’d ingested the night before still coursed through my veins with fervent vengeance.
What the f**k did we just do?
The sun began to warm up the night sky with a purplish hue of enlightenment. A few hours ago, in a cross faded stupor, I’d coaxed CA Man into helping me steal Roy from 1.0, which was easier than I expected.
I had no idea where CA Man kept pulling those beers out from and, until the fourth beer, I hadn’t thought to ask him.
Seriously, where the f**k did these beers come from? I asked. We were huddled behind the camper shell, in front of a well guarded campfire on the lakeshore, celebrating our passive participation in the successful potbelly pig rescue.
CA Man snickered.
Fine, don’t tell me, I sipped.
Had a cooler full in my backpack. We emptied it earlier, but 1.0 left his ice chest unguarded… CA Man trailed off and I stared at 1.0’s stolen beer, half drunk in my left hand.
Huh, I replied. My mood lifted and I wasn’t sure once again if it was the shrooms or my relief that made me burst into a hysterical fit.
It’s not that funny, CA Man said.
He was right, it wasn’t. Except, I’d just realized Roy was nearby, also unguarded and ripe for the taking. Somehow, we’d ended up one campsite away from 1.0 and his spotted companion, who was curled up next to a smoldering campfire. 1.0 hadn’t returned from his camper in a while so we assumed he was passed out in there.
It wasn’t even a question of yes or no. After a short debate over strategy, we seized the moment to capture ourselves a new pet pig.
A bit of beer in a saucer was all it took to lure Roy into the truck. I buckled his seatbelt and off we went. Roy didn’t seem to mind the transition. He happily panted in the passenger seat like a dog, watching the scenery pass through the Tacoma’s window.
After a while, the gravity of having stolen a pig sunk in on me. Was it the same as dog napping? Isn’t that another felony? I had no idea. A sharp jab of pain stabbed me in the chest and I pulled into a turnout on the side of whatever highway I was hurdling north on, hyperventilating, staring at my potential doom. I had to get rid of this pig.
CA Man’s voice crackled over the radio asking me what we were doing. I told him to go back to sleep and it sounded like he did. Careful to keep the camper shell steady, I flipped around and headed the other direction. Roy was going back.
This is the opposite direction, CA Man growled through the walkie talkie.
We’re taking the pig back, I said, pressing harder on the gas pedal, much to the Tacoma’s dismay.
The camper shell started swaying, tipping the truck with it, as we sped along on the highway. I let off the gas pedal and pulled over once again. CA Man burst through the camper shell doors just as we rounded the corner to face him.
You could have killed us all! I yelled at him before I remembered he could and would probably murder me in my sleep if I pissed him off too much.
His massive frame completely overshadowed me in the faint, early morning sunlight. Looking up and down the oddly straight two-lane highway, I could see nothing but farms for miles. Why was everything in California in the middle of bum f**k nowhere?
A semi truck with two wire carts attached like train cars sped by and a few white, leafy bits floated off the top of their cargo piles,
6 | High Roy
Never seen anything like that before, I said, watching the ranger chide 1.0 in the distance.
Gonna stare at him all day? asked CA Man, sneaking up behind us.
Give me a heart attack, why don’t you? I jumped.
You scare too easily.
Up ahead on the shoreline, the pig was circling back around with the backpack still in his mouth. 1.0 was muttering in German, paying more attention to the pig than to the woman trying to get him to put on pants.
Never once did the ranger look down. Though, you could see a tiny smirk curling in the corners of her mouth, growing larger with each passing second.
Gonna get my bag from the truck. Gimme the keys, CA Man said.
Let you have my truck keys? Hell no.
You have to trust me sometime, he smirked.
Down inside my stomach, something nasty turned. The hollow glint in his eyes told me that would never happen.
Finally, 1.0 was done being scolded like a child and back to chasing his pet pig all over the shore. Roy seemed amused by taunting his owner with whatever was in the backpack and continued to lead him in figure eights until he caught sight of us.
If you’ve never been in front of a pig running full bore, well, it’s kind of f*****g terrifying. All two hundred pounds of pork were forcefully galloping toward us with no sign of intent to stop. Frantically looking left and right, I realized I would probably die in a true fight or flight situation, because I took the worst path: I froze.
At the very last second, the gigantic potbelly came to an abrupt halt and I swear he was smiling at me. Was he mocking me?
Hi Roy, I said.
1.0 came running after him, out of breath, pants, thank GOD, finally on. He apologized for his strange introduction and began to tell us how his machine, which I finally understood was his laptop after a few minutes of rambling, was inside his backpack. 1.0 continued explaining his career in something that had the word privacy in it, which struck me as hilarious considering his nudity when we met.
In the corner of my eye, I noticed Roy had run off again. He was headed toward the group with the rocket on the edge of the shore. The pig was almost as social as CA Man.
A tall man with grey hair and a wild beard bent over to light the fuse just as Roy approached with 1.0’s backpack still in his mouth. One of the rocket launcher’s friends chased Roy around the launch pad in a circle and a half until the pig managed to loop the arm of the backpack over the rocket. Both men took a step back. The two women they were with screamed at the men to help the poor pig and then at Roy to let the backpack go. Neither did either of those things.
The spark racing through the fuse quickly reached its destination. Pig, backpack, and rocket were launched into the air. Poor Roy squealed through his clamped jaw. If only he would have let go of the backpack.
High Roy, I thought.
It was like watching Mad Mike sail through the clouds all over again. Except, when Roy popped back through the other side, a parachute deployed from the back of his rocket. Still shrieking through impossibly strongly clenched teeth, the pig landed gently in the water, two hundred yards or so from the shoreline.
My machine! 1.0 screeched.
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Microdosing Hunter S Thompson
This is like microdosing Hunter S Thompson. Not enough to really get hyped up, but enough to raise the energy and make me laugh out loud. Devilishly short!