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No, no, no, no, I cried, cranking the engine. It turned over, but a heinous knocking sound pounded from inside the hood like a mad man trying to get out of his cage.
What do we do now? We can’t stay with this guy.
We have no choice, I replied. I think we just threw a rod. This engine won’t take us anywhere.
In my sideview mirror, CA Man was still standing, shoulders slumped, in shock, between a tumbleweed and the edge of the asphalt. His face contorted first from confusion to betrayal, and then finally he hit anger in a full sprint toward the Tacoma.
Oh shit, I said.
By the time he’d reached the door, I was already fumbling to get out of it, half way through a heartfelt attempt at pretending it was a practical joke. Then, CA Man’s fist connected with the bridge of my nose and I hit the ground as my view faded to black.
While I was unconscious. somehow, he’d transported us from the side of the road to what I could only assume was an underground bunker on another planet. In the opposite corner of an astonishingly large room, CA Man was muttering, deep in conversation with a small, rat-like person, trash bag still in hand, his black backpack now slung loosely over his shoulder. I surveyed the riveted, rusty grey walls around us. This wasn’t another planet at all. We’d been taken inside the trash-hut.
Um, I said, unsure of how else to get their attention.
They turned toward us and silence hung in the air with CA Man’s body odor, until, true to his nature, he handed me a beer. I cracked it open and noticed he was barefoot again, apparently not planning on leaving any time soon. So, we slid into the night, starting to mourn the loss of our chariot with our strange new companion and his skittery sidekick.
I asked him if he’d brought my bag, which he simply answered by handing me some shrooms.
Where’s the bag, though? I asked. He nodded at the other side of the room, where I could see a tiny lump in the corner. Did he find the hidden compartment? I’d have to look later.
Where’s the truck?
Gettin’ a motor.
That’s expensive. Won’t that take a few days?
It’s taken care of, he replied.
CA Man reassured me that not only would the truck be done by some time the following day, but that I’d also owe nothing for it. He apparently knew a guy, whatever that meant. I didn’t want to imagine who he’d been able to persuade to replace my motor so quickly on such short notice in the middle of nowhere. I was curious about how he paid for it, but I wasn’t about to argue.
Now maybe you won’t try to ditch me, he said, sipping his beer.
Did he just threaten us? I thought.
His friend snickered and CA Man scowled at him. I tried to smile back, but I still wasn’t sure if we’d been kidnapped or not. It didn’t really matter, I supposed. There was only one option for now. I chugged the first beer and it was replaced by another before I even thought to ask.
After some time, I was aware of the walls rippling with our voices. They were breathing. I giggled. CA Man looked at me and I fell over in a fit of laughter. Why was I laughing? Somehow this question made me laugh even harder. Then it hit me.
Wait, where the fuck did these beers come from? I asked. How are they cold? I’m still not sure what I was suspicious of, but it perplexed me into paranoia.
Now it was their turn to laugh. Apparently, I’d missed a major detail when I was knocked out cold. There was a fridge running on a generator out back.
My shroom fueled suspicion subsided and eventually I passed out right there on the ground. In my dreams, Mad Mike strapped me to one side of his rocket and CA Man to the other, but I wasn’t scared. I was just laughing.
A rough tap on the shoulder brought me back to reality in the afternoon of the next day. CA Man’s face hovered inches above my own, excited to let me know my truck was alive and well. His breath almost knocked me back out again before I could push him away. Personal space was apparently not one of his strong suits.
Outside, in the blinding sunlight, the Tacoma’s engine was purring like it hadn’t been baking in the desert for the past 2,000 miles. Glorious. Freedom, and yet, now I definitely couldn’t just leave CA Man on the side of the road.
At the request of CA Man, we decided to stay on the back side of Lake Isabella that night. He knew of somewhere called Stine Cove Recreation Site. I was fairly certain he was heading to a secluded place to kill us and dump the bodies, but I followed his directions anyway. A lake sounded like a nice place to clear my head.
When we arrived, there were more people around than I expected. Out on the rocky shoreline, one group was preparing to launch a homemade rocket. Hobbyists or flat earthers? I thought. CA Man walked right up to them and greeted everyone like an old friend. Did this man know everyone in the entire state?
Not in the mood to meet more new people, I walked the other direction along a row of tires, half buried in the sand and painted white, taking in the ominously rocky mountains in the distance. Boats sped across rough, murky, blue water beyond the shoreline, but my attention was caught by something else passing by. A naked man was sprinting through ankle deep water in pursuit of a pig running with a backpack in its mouth.
Komm mit meiner Maschine zurück! the man yelled, galloping after the pig with his fist in the air and his ass cheeks flapping in the wind. I’ll never unsee that.
What language was that? I asked.
I don’t know.
Then, a ranger pulled up, ready with a routine response to whatever this was. She must have been alarmed by the circumference of my eyes because she stopped to let me know that this was fairly normal.
Don’t worry, that’s just 1.0, she said.
I raised my eyebrows, so she continued. Apparently, he lived in Kern County and showed up here every once in a while to sunbathe naked with his pet pig, Roy. 1.0 refused to be called by his real name. In fact, he wasn’t actually even German, she explained, he was from Florida.
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