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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.CA Man raised an eyebrow and then his beer. He stared silently into my soul while he chugged before he answered, It's fine. Click To Tweet
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 crumpled bills of varying amounts alongside stacks of banded hundreds, a journal, and a photo. He had a lot more cash than he’d let on.
The photo looked old, but it was clearly just faded and worn by the wind and sunlight, as if it had ridden on a car dashboard proudly alongside someone for years. A burly younger version of CA Man stood next to a man that looked a lot like Mad Mike.
How long did he know Mad Mike for? I whispered.
CA Man grumbled in his sleep and I remembered that we weren’t alone in the camper. Once everything was back in its proper place, I triple checked that I hadn’t left any of his things out and woke him. The train station would open in ten minutes and I wanted him out of my life as soon as possible.
If I thought the first time CA Man punched me in the face had been painful, it was nothing compared to his reaction when he found out where I’d taken him.
Are you insane? He asked, just before his fist tore into my temple.
It was hard to imagine what I’d done wrong this time. When I woke up, I couldn’t quite understand what happened nor how to get myself out of it. I had no idea where we’d gone, much less how long I’d been passed out for.
Fuck, I said, rubbing my head.
CA Man didn’t answer.
The sun was high in the sky and I realized he was driving and panic fled through my body with a jolt of pure adrenaline.
Where are we? What are you doing? This is kidnapping.Where are we? What are you doing? This is kidnapping. Click To Tweet
Told you not to take me to Fresno, he replied
So you kidnap me in my own truck? You’re insane.
We argued for the next 40 miles, which was enough time for me to watch the road signs pass by and find one with something I slightly recognized.
Shasta? How the hell did we get all the way up here? Why? This is way past where I was trying to go!
I’m on camera at that damn train station, now. Got a ticket to LA. They’ll think I’m headed out of the country. Just going to live in the pines.
His meaning was hard to miss. I went silent, afraid of what I’d find out if I asked who was looking for him and why he didn’t want to be found.
Perhaps worn down by our argument, or maybe discomforted by the piercing silence that followed it, CA Man finally told me his story. Or part of it at least.
As it turns out, he’d been employed by Mad Mike for over five years. Mike offered him a job after they’d met somehow in Slab City. CA Man was a wandering traveler who preferred a life of anarchy over that of one ruled by the power of The Man.
His plot in Slab City had been near the entrance, in a run down old Komfort travel trailer. The word OCCUPIED was crudely spray painted on the side. Out front, he’d built a sign out of pieces of wood and metal pipes that said “Handyman.”
After meeting Mad Mike, he crossed out OCCUPIED and wrote a note for the next owner of his humble home.
Mad Mike had inspired CA Man with his theories about the Earth. Its flat shape was clear to him after he met Mike. He was a true believer and Mike was the man who had led him to the truth. We were all on a flat Earth.
CA Man started crying after he told me that part. His faith in Mike seemed to have brought up the pain of losing him, or so I thought. I realized I was wrong in the next few moments when CA Man got angry. In his rage, he almost crashed the Toyota into the loose wall of rocky mountainside we were hurdling past, pounding his fist on the wheel.
Maybe you should pull over, I said. I was a little shocked when he did.
We stopped at the perfect overlook. A picnic table surrounded by pine trees of varying kinds sat at the top of a cliff that overlooked a glassy, teal lake. The beauty of the view was perfect to counteract the horror the man unleashed on me there.
He continued his story, slowly controlling his heartbreaking malice by whispering the rest of it. One day earlier in the year, he’d accidentally snuck up on Mad Mike talking to someone about his social media following and search rankings. His widespread fame was helping him generate money somehow. How, CA Man didn’t really understand.
Something about hidden affiliate links, but the way they said it sounded sinister, like no one should know they were there.Something about hidden affiliate links, but the way they said it sounded sinister, like no one should know they were there. Click To Tweet
That wasn’t what enraged CA Man, though. No, he had no idea what an affiliate was. His anger came from the fact Mad Mike had said out loud that he didn’t really believe the Earth was flat. It just gave him a great brand.
CA Man couldn’t speak for a moment while the details compounded in my head. A great brand? This man was a fraud and CA Man had been a true believer…
Did you? I started to ask him if my theory was true. No, never mind.
I took his backup parachute, he said. Then, I rigged his main chute to deploy too soon.
He killed Mad Mike. I was reeling.
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