Saturday, March 24, 2012

Road Trip-Part 5: The Psychological Impact of Interdimensional Travel

The next morning, I paced around the parking lot while Clem worked on my car.  The gravel made a wet, crunchy sound beneath my feet.  Arnold's son sat on an oil drum by the garage's opening.  For once he was quiet and respectful as he watched Clem work.  His heel tapped against the side of the oil drum, echoing a slow steady beat that I started pacing to.  
It turned out to be the starter.  For the part and the "Tool Rent," Frog-faced Arnold charged me enough to buy a new car.  For his service, Clem charged me $20.00.  
Fifteen minutes after it was fixed, I was driving past Deer Trail in my car.  I flipped the town off as I passed.  I was now officially restarting my trip.
I wasn't as worry free as I was the day before.  Breaking down in Deer Trail had cost me.  I wondered if I had enough money to buy gas to reach my parents' house in North Carolina.  I planned on sleeping at rest stops in my sleeping bag instead of motels.  I decided to eat only twice a day.  
My original plan of driving to North Carolina, see my sister get married, then heading off to start my acting career was looking more imaginary.  It been so clear the day before, like a memory of something real, except it was going to happen instead of something that already had. 
In some perfect dimension, maybe it did.  In this dimension, it was about to become pure fantasy.
It happened in Kansas.  It was sunset.  There was a red, angry glow across the flatness around me.  I was some distance east of Hays, Kansas when blotches started appearing on my windshield.  Bugs?  No... These were big splotches.  Liquidy.  Smearing up my windshield.  Coming from ... Under my hood!  
I pulled off to the side.  My car was chugging and huffing like a dog choking on a bone.  I stopped and shut off the engine.  It silenced itself with a "chunk" that rang with permanence.  
Smoke billowed out when I opened the hood.  The engine compartment was coated with a glistening layer of what had to be oil.  I checked the oil cap, thinking that maybe it had come loose, but it was still tightly screwed in place.  
In that moment, my reality shredded just a little bit more.  
Frog-faced Arnold must have done something.  All the quantum possibilities collapsed into that single truth.  Like watching a surveillance camera in my mind, I could see him sneaking under the car when no one was looking and letting the oil drain from the pan.  I have no proof this happened.  But it IS what is real to me.  
Looking east I saw an off-ramp climbing up a bridge that crossed over the highway.  North, I saw a collection of buildings.  There was nothing else around.  I started walking.
The name on the sign was Gotham, Kansas.  About halfway from the overpass bridge to the nearest building, I heard an engine roaring from behind.  A guy on a motorcycle whizzed by.  I saw him give me a look over his shoulder.  I kept walking.  
I came to a "community store."  I told the guy behind the counter my situation.  His reply gave me no room for hope.  
No, there wasn't any mechanic or garage in Gotham.  The closest one was in Hays, Kansas, or Russell farther east.  No, there wasn't anything like a motel or rest stop or anything like that.  And...  They were getting ready to close up early, on account of the long holiday.  Was there anything I wanted to get before they evened out the register?  
Not unless they could sell me a time machine that would let me go back twenty-four hours.  The guy shook his head.  No, they didn't sell anything like that.  
I walked back toward my car.  The roaring sound returned.  The guy on the motorcycle went past me again, heading toward the freeway this time.  Again, he looked back over his shoulder at me.  This time, though, he swung around.  I stopped as he pulled up toward me.  
"Hey..."  He called out to me as he let his bike idle.  He was a bit older than me, with short blonde hair.  No helmet.  He had a light blue tee-shirt on with a yellow oval in the middle of his chest.  In the middle of that oval was some black shape I couldn't recognize at first.
"Hey," I sent back.
"I saw you walking in from the highway."  He hooked his thumb in that direction.  When he twisted around on his bike, the symbol on his tee-shirt resolved itself.  It was the outline of a bat.  It was a tee-shirt for one of my favorite TV shows as a kid.  "You lost or something?"  
I explained my situation to him, pausing between reeves to keep his bike from dying.  "That's pretty tough..."  He nodded to himself.  "I know the town sheriff, where he lives..."  He reeved his bike again.  "I could take you to him."  
Either this was an offer to help, or it was the politest citizen's arrest in history.  "Sure..." I nodded back at him.  Then, "Thanks."  
I picked my way through the weeds between where I was standing and the road.  I swung my leg over his bike.  I had a moment of confusion as to where to hold on and opted to grab the edge of the saddle between us.  
He reeved his engine a couple more times.  "You secure?" 
"Yeah!"  The reeving engine made my insides shake.  I suddenly wanted to go to the bathroom.  
"Name's Al."  
"Yeah."  He reeved it again.  "Short for Alfred."  
I nearly tumbled backwards off the bike as it leapt forward.  
It was all I could do to hold on to the seat and not fall off as Al made lefts and rights seemingly at random.  It felt like some fun park ride.  On the last right hand turn, he slowed down enough for me to catch a glimpse of the street sign on the corner.  "Hidden Cave," it said.  Al gave his bike another quick spurt of speed and I had to grab on again as I swayed backwards almost to falling.  
We came to a halt.  I jumped off Al's bike.  Still nervous and shaking, I looked around at a typical, "quiet, neighborhood" street.  All the houses were built along the same plan, mirroring and matching each other as like some game pieces on a board.  
Al marched up the walkway to the house on our right.  I reached the porch just as he raised his hand and knocked on the door.  
The door opened a crack.  A youngish looking woman stuck her head out.  Her hand was at her throat, clutching closed a pink bathrobe.  
"Hey, Robin..."  Al gave her a wave and a nod, as if we were running into her at the grocery store.  
"Alfred?  Hey, yourself."  Her voice was friendly.  She gave me a curious look.  
"Found this fellow walking from the highway..."  He hooked his thumb toward me.  "I told him, maybe, the sheriff could help him out."  
"Oh...  I'm sorry, Alfred.  Bruce's gone fishing this weekend."  
I let out a groan.  Both turned and looked at me.  
"Nothing."  I waved their facial questions away.  "Sorry."  
"But the Deputy would be on duty," Robin offered with a helpful nod.  "I'll go give him a call."  
She left the door ajar as she went inside.  Al and I chatted about inconsequential things.  He mentioned to me that everyone "around here" went fishing this time of year.  I told him that I'd noticed.  
Robin came back and told us that the Deputy was on his way.  I could wait there, on her porch, for him to arrive.  Al wished me luck then walked back to his bike.  He kicked it to life, waved, then turned around and roared back the way we'd come.  
I sat on the porch.  Robin squatted down, feet together, hands wrapped around her knees, just inside her doorway.  We talked while we waited.  I told her where I'd been headed and where I'd come from.  She hummed, and oh'd like she was really interested.  At one point she went and got me a glass of water.  
A black and white police car pulled up in front of her house after a few minutes.  A tall slender man, older than I expected with a graying moustache, wearing a "Smokey the Bear" style hat, got out and walked up to the porch to join us.  
"Hey, Jim..."  Robin, the sheriff's wife gave the Deputy a wave.
"Hey, Robin."  He gave me an evaluating look.  "Something I can do?"  
She relayed the story Al had relayed to her, that I had to relayed to him.  He nodded.  
"Well, I'm not sure what we can do, but I'll take care of it from here."  He gestured for me to follow him.  I thanked Robin and returned her glass to her then walked to the police car and got in the passenger seat.  
Jim the Deputy drove me back to the highway.  He questioned me about what had happened, where I was going, my means, everything.  He had my entire story by the time we pulled up behind my injured car.
"Well... There's not much we can do for you around here," Jim said, "But I do know the owner of the service station in Russell.  I can at least get you a tow."
He got on his radio.  We sat in his police car and waited.  Jim told me that he usually got stuck with duty on the holidays, like Labor Day weekend, because he didn't like fishing much.  I told him that it was too bad.  
The tow-truck appeared.  My car got hooked up.  I followed in the police car with Jim.  
"You gonna be OK?" Jim asked me as the driver lowered my car.  I shrugged.  I asked him if he thought it would be OK if I slept in my car.  Jim said that he'd let the local police know so I wouldn't be bothered.  
"If something happens, let me know."  He handed me his card.  "Also, my daughter, Barbara, she works as a dispatcher for the local police.  You can give her a call, too."
I thanked him.  Jim got into his car and drove off.  
Standing in the light from an overhead security lamp, I looked at the card he'd given me.
"James Gordon," it said.  James Gordon.  Just like...
My head snapped up.  I looked down the street toward the highway off-ramp.  The police car was already gone from view.  
James Gordon...?  And his daughter, Barbara?  Alfred?  The symbol on Alfred's tee-shirt?  Robin?  Bruce?  In the town of...  Gotham?!  
Were you kidding me?  
I have since tried to find "Gotham, Kansas" on the map, but I never have.  There's a Gorman, Kansas between Russell and Hays.  But it wasn't Gorman on the sign I saw.  It was Gotham.  I swear.  
I figure one of two things happened: 
Either...  Over the years, trying to turn a series of random, stupid and unlucky events into something meaningful, even fateful, I've unconsciously changed names and places around, such as Gorman to Gotham.   
Or...  When my car broke down the second time, in the middle of Kansas, where trips into Wonderland are known to begin, I passed through some barrier.  A thin film separating us from some other dimension had become permeable, and I slipped into some fractal place not quite in "That" dimension, but not quite "This" one either.  A mixture of the two.  
Judging by the rest of the trip, I'm thinking it was the latter.  


Post a Comment

<< Home