CA Man hadn’t said a word since we left Kramer Junction, an intersection so significantly in the middle of nowhere that its original three roadside stands and two gas stations had bloomed into a town, if you could call it that. By the time he’d clamored into the back of the truck cab, we were able to scour Google Maps and found that we still truly had only one option at that moment. We had to keep going and take this random, possibly flat earther, with us.
In the rearview mirror, The Crater of Mad Mike loomed ominously like a real life roadrunner reminder that bad decisions cost lives, most likely your own. To the south, there was nothing but one red traffic line after another. We could have continued north if the knife had just landed a few inches to the right of Mariposa, but from here until above that random little town, there were mostly nothing but disconnected routes, and I wanted to get rid of CA Man as soon as possible.
West it was.
I tried to remember the next major city that might have a train station or airport to dump him at.
Headed to Bakersfield? I asked, nearly begging the universe for the answer to be Yes. The smell of his stale sweat was stifling.
No, he said gruffly.
Clearly, he didn’t want to tell me where he was headed just as much as I didn’t want to tell him where I came from. That was fine with me.
We’d just passed a long semi truck with a logo that said, SMITH, In God We Trust, when CA Man reached across the cab to pull us off Highway 58. After fishtailing a few times, we slammed to a stop at the end of an offramp.
What the fuck? I yelled.
I’m not goin’ to Bakersfield, he said, staring straight at a sign pointing ahead and to the left for Mojave and to the right for Bishop.
So, then, where are you going? I asked.
We’re goin’ right, he answered.
Had we just been kidnapped?
I started laughing. Why the fuck was I laughing? There was a giant man sitting across from me with his arms folded like a four year old who didn’t want to go see the doctor for a shot. Still, somehow, I was terrified to disobey him.
What’s to the right? I asked.
CA Man shrugged.
I opened my phone to search the area. One bar. Not promising. The map in my pocket turned out to be just as useless. There was nothing in that direction for miles.
Alright, aimlessly wandering to Not Bakersfield, it is, I said, finally turning right.
I should have done more drugs. There was literally nothing out there, and I mean nothing. It was entirely the opposite of what I had in mind when I started out that morning. In fact, that morning, if we’d just kept driving past Mad Mike and his damn Flat Earth Research Rocket, none of this would have happened.
When we passed a sign for California City, I saw a total of two buildings nearby. Wherever California City was hiding, it didn’t feel worth stopping to check out. There had to be somewhere to ditch him. I begged the road for a place to escape, suddenly afraid he could hear everything I was thinking.
So, do you believe the earth is flat, too? I asked, breaking the silence.
You were upset, I started explaining my assumption.
Stop here, he nearly shouted.
Out in the brittle, baked desert sand, between bushes that would eventually become tumbleweeds, a shack had sprouted from the roadside trash. From 100 yards away in my Tacoma, I could make out some aluminum siding and a few tires. There wasn’t another building anywhere in sight.
Here? Stop here?
I’ll be back, he said, pulling a trash bag out of his backpack. After that, he hopped out of the truck and shuffled through the weeds instead of taking the driveway up to the front door.
What a fucking weirdo, I said, considering my options for less than half a second before I was speeding away yelling, Woohoo!
Just then, the engine clicked a few times. Then it clanked, sputtered, and died, ruining my joyful escape in a wisp of smoke. I wished I was in Mad Mike’s crater with him.
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