'Twas after 3 weeks o' preparation, on what meteorologists predicted would be the hottest day in the year, when we finally punched the road through the Mustard Mountains straight into Vertitropolis like a needle being lodged straight into the veins o' the earth. "No," was Autumn's predictable answer when I asked her to attend---her being the only 1 who needed convincing. "¿Why not?" I asked. "Edgar said he'd go." "Well, that's good for him," she replied. "I'm busy." "¿When aren't you busy?" I asked. "That's why I'd ne'er be able to go on 1 o' your pointless joyrides round the island." "It might jog your mind. That might be the problem: your creativity's so sapped by wandering round the same old streets & seeing the same drab skyscrapers." "¿How would wandering off to some irrelevant land far 'way help me plan for what I need to do in this city?" she asked. "Maybe there are better thieving opportunities in Verditropolis," I answered. I saw by the way she paused that she was starting to see my way o' thinking. Only, she still shook her head & said, "Sorry, but I have other duties in which I must attend," as if we were in a business meeting, slow cold eyes o' a cat---as she always acted, or a'least as I'd always seen her act. E'en when she was touching on Edgar in ways she clearly saw passionate, she kept those cold eyes & slow, methodical movements. Everything could be boiled down to method. Well, I had my own methods, & I used these persistently to get her to finally agree to join us. "You don't want to leave Edgar all 'lone, ¿do you?" I asked her the next day. "He won't be; he'll be with you guys," she replied. "You know what I mean. Come on, it's not like you can't plan during the trip, anyway." "¿With what internet?" "There's internet all o'er the place. Just pick it up." "I'm 'fraid your grasping for wood now," she said. "Look, if I agree to this inane nonsense, will you stop pestering me." "Why, 'course." & that was my brilliant plan to get her to join our already rainbow gang o' misfits. I e'en asked Felix to bring that 1 friend o' hers---I think 'twas Violet, or something. Anyway, we loaded nobody in particular's electric car, a scrunched li'l white sedan so discreet it could hide in the middle o' a jungle. We all packed inside like the Banana Bunch into a clown car in messy mountainous positions I'm sure was not legal, though we were ne'er stopped by the law once. "¿Everyone in?" Nobody in particular asked. "Yeah," we answered in unison. Suddenly the car charged forward @ a monstrous 40 km per hour, streaking 'cross the oil-stained roads like a hang glider. As we dashed, "Grandpa & the Delightful Tadpoles" blazed through our speakers. Throughout the trip I could hear Felix's friend---both o' whom were right next to me---whisper verbose words o' panicked shyness in Felix's ear. "I must conclude that I am an aberration 'mong this contrarily congruous congregation. I should veritably withdraw." "No... I'm sure everything'll be fine, just fine," Felix assured her, though she sounded kinda nervous herself--as she always did. So I made sure to introduce them to everyone. "Everyone, these are my friends Felix & Violet, & o'er here's Edgar & his girlfriend, Autumn; guys, these are Scratch,"--I pointed to Scratch, the adorably chubby 1 with a bush o' short, spiked hair that always seemed to cover his eyes, who waved with a smile--"Nora,"---I pointed @ the blonde 1 with wide cheeks & shades, who waved without a smile--"the gremlin hanging off the side o' the car, & in front's nobody in particular. That's literally his nickname, 'cause he's so low-key." "I must announce how impressed I am @ the gremlin's exquisite portrait," Violet said. I nodded. "He uses his cum for all o' his work, 'cause bodily fluids are mo' meaningful than paint." Violet nodded. "Affirmative. O, how this noble craft doth possess mo' lurking complexities than any mortal could discover in one's lifetime." "Hey." The gremlin spoke in a creaky whine. "I'll have you know that in my day we got 'long fine with stories that just mentioned cum & hairy assholes & long paranoid diatribes 'bout aliens landing. You spoiled kids seemed to be getting bored o' that sort o' thing, what with your internet porn & your Photoshops for pasting your vaginas o'er Dracula's slong." "I only did that once," Nora said with a scuzzy look. Through the corner o' my eye I could see Autumn & Edgar squeezed far to the side, Edgar clutching the edge o' the window with his eyes---¿eyeholes?---staring round @ the scenery in wonder like a dog, Autumn clutching her knees in a compact ball, as if she'd hoped to gradually shrink into an invisible mote. Her eyes were haggard, & I could see that she found the whole thing terribly annoying so far. Scratch, e'er the most wary o' his surroundings, while throwing his eyes in every direction in desperate need to feed his insatiable energy noticed the 2. "Hey, I just noticed I recognize you," he almost shouted as he thrust a finger toward Edgar as if accusing someone o' murder. "You're the kid with the frigid skeleton mask. Hey, I'm sorry 'bout accusing you o' stealing mine. Turned out I left it @ my grandma's." Edgar chuckled nervously. "O, that's all right." "& that means the 1 next to you must be Autumn," Scratch said. "That name doesn't mean you can control the seasons like Dawn can, ¿does it?" "Um..." Edgar turned to Autumn, whose eyes were still staring out the window with such strict concentration that you'd think she was trying to find Waldo in the urban mess outside. Edgar turned back to Scratch. "She's, uh... I think she's kind o' busy right now." Scratch nudged me in the shoulder. "Hey, she has the same hobby you do. ¿Have you 2 had competitions yet?" "I don't think she'd want to," I said. From so close, I could hear Felix's friend whisper into her ear, "That's that 'treasure-hunter' acquaintance you referred to, ¿precise?" Felix replied with only a shy, "Mmm hmm." "How aberrant. I had anticipated someone possessing a temperament mo' sanguine & less melancholic." I wanted to mention her behavior being due to her being "in the level," or whatever they call it, but thought she'd probably be e'en mo' annoyed @ my adding light to her spotlight, so I quickly changed the topic & asked Felix's friend to blather 'bout her favorite book, only for us to suddenly stop. I looked out the window to see 'twas @ a diner called "Greasy Dick's," whose name amused me, since there were 3 Dicks who ran it, making it an egregious apostrophe misplacement. "We have not succumbed to an expired tire, ¿have we?" Felix's friend said in panic. "No, we're just stopping for something to ear," nobody in particular said in his deep voice. "¿Why here?" I asked, half laughing. "You always stop @ diners on roadtrips. ¿D'you know nothing?" nobody in particular said. We went inside & took a table, Nora ordering 1st, asking for their mysterious blue "String Theory" soup---after confirming 'twas vegan, 'course. Legend says that this soup's made from the secrets o' the universe, but is probably just made o' ramen noodles & food coloring. As for me, I let chance drive round in the wind & quickly programmed a random # generator & used that to pick the Adam's Apple, which was so juicy, it dripped its red sauce all o'er me. When I tasted it, though, it had the metal taste common in blood, if you can believe that. 'Fore we'd e'en entered, Felix's friend panicked o'er the condition o' the diner--which is fair, considering it had tilted sign letters, a sticky floor like a movie theater, & a smell o' spoiled meat. "This establishment is... it is sanctioned by the health department, ¿precise?" she asked, the 1st words not aimed only for Felix's left ear. "I sure hope so," I replied. "You can ne'er trust health inspections, anyway," Scratch said. "¿You e'er notice that the people who make them ne'er eat @ these places? That's rather suspicious." A man in an overcoat so high it covered his face's head perked up & he waved his partner o'er toward us & went next to Scratch. "Sir, we need to discuss something with you," 1 o' them said. "Aw, I can't go 1 roadtrip without something like this happening." Nora, nobody in particular, & I all laughed. "You have such bad luck," I said. "Well, time to be tortured in exaggeratively zany ways, I guess," he said as the cloaked men grabbed his arms & dragged him 'way. Suddenly, the gremlin from before hopped onto his chair & said, "See, now in my day, if that happened to him, he'd be being anal probed or a lot o' other exaggeratively disgusting things happening to him. Now he'll probably just be tickled to death or something. Kids these days are so pampered." "Why are you still here?" I asked. "You needn't worry," the gremlin grumbled; "I plan to pay for my own meal. No need to feel burdened by my presence." Though I hoped she would take this meal as payment for going on this trip she claimed she didn't want to go on, & still rudely refused to enjoy, I was unsurprised to see Autumn mutter, "I don't need anything, thank you," when asked her order. Her eyes were surgically attached to a napkin on the table below her, her arm scribbling something on it. "That's not what your boryborygmic says," I said with a waving finger. "Hmm," was all she replied with. Everyone---'cept Edgar, 'course---slid funny eyes @ me as if it were my fault just 'cause I brought her 'long. Also unsurprising, Felix's loudmouthed friend became panicky 'gain. "¿Why is she so temperamentally caliginous? ¿What is askew? You do not postulate that it is due to transgressions performed by me, ¿do you? I am so disinclined toward agitation such as this." Nora looked back @ Autumn & hesitantly asked, "¿D'you mind if I ask what you're writing? I am a bit o' a writer, too." "Nothing interesting," was all Autumn muttered. Still, Nora pressed further. "That's not true. We have truly low standards." "It's not writing," Autumn mumbled. "Now, now. That's not true. There's no 'true' writing & 'untrue' writing. As Capote says, it's all just typing, after all&45;&45;'cept when it's writing with a pencil, 'course, but you know what I mean" This time I made the mistake o' deciding to knee in, tepidly, like a stickman creeping past the hangwomen. "Uh, actually, she's probably just making plans for herself," I said. "See, she's a, uh, thief. It's her career." Nora only blinked @ me as if I spoke in Westron. "¿You can get a career in that?" she asked. I nodded solemnly. "¿How's it work?" Scratch, who popped up under the table, 'scaping from the secret hatch under the floor from his torture chamber. "¿Do you just bust people's windows, climb in, & swipe stuff? 'Cause it seems like it'd be hard to get 'way with that kind o' thing." "Well, that's obviously why she's planning so hard," nobody in particular said. The waitress returned with our bill, which I found odd, since none o' us had eaten anything yet. I picked it up, looked @ it, & sighed @ its steep price. "You know what President Truman said; we must cut down on the cost o' living." "¿Who's 'President' Truman? ¿Isn't the American president that Clinton woman?" nobody in particular asked. This was when Felix's friend almost leapt out her chair with a hand raised as if we were in school, saying with nervous rapidity, "O, O, Harry S. Truman was the 33rd president o' the United States o' America, a Democrat, elected after the death o' Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This quote is a reference to Truman's support for greater involvement o' the government in improving the economic status o' the postwar US." We all---'cept Autumn & Edgar, 'course---nodded silently. "Sure, that sounds right," I said. "Now, ¿who's ready to continue on our quest?" We stopped @ a building known only as the "Game Zone," where time wasn't spent, 'twas only twisted round. Or so the flashing neon sign claimed. "If we're s'posed to be on a roadtrip to Vertitropolis, ¿why do we keep stopping @ random places in Boskeopolis?" I asked. "What, you don't expect us to do nothing but drive all night in the barren wasteland, ¿do you?" nobody in particular asked; "that's much funner during the day, ¿don't you think?" I knew I couldn't argue with that logic. "I cannot be unequivocal regarding this location," Felix's e'er-talkative friend whispered in her ear. "This is habitually where illicit enterprises are enacted, ¿is it not?" I had to assure her that nothing wrong would happen. "I assure you that nothing wrong will happen," I said. "Well, if you say so it must be so," her friend said. But just when I thought I'd immunized everyone's mind from tranquility viruses, Autumn had to grumble, "¿What are we s'posed to do here?" I turned to her. "O, you'll love it. You can play games a win tokens for treasures which can be cashed in for money." "¿You mean gambling? You know that's rigged gainst you, ¿right?" she said. I shook my head. "These are minigames. You know, those same cliché games every video game throws in for filler. Though I did think 'bout showing you round this casino I know. If you're good." I gave her a sexy wink, which she only responded to with a weak, "No thank you." Inside was a black hole full o' its own neon lights & bumping "Good Weather" by Masashi Kageyama, which everyone knows is the hippest tune out there, 'cept for maybe "Fight gainst a Stronger Enemy" by Yoko Shimomura, which is the true turtle's pajamas. The second we entered, everyone scattered, the place branching out into many orifices in which to have one's attention sucked out o' them like a straw. For me, that creamy core o' attention was the bar, not for alcohol, but for mo' sentient drinks. My eyes wandered round the lined-up prey like a hawk, watching for the weakest carcass. They stopped on a fragile li'l specimen tittering in her seat so the rattling o' her mug gainst the counter rang 'cross the scene. The top half o' her head was covered by a gray hood so that her eyes couldn't be seen @ all. I saw that the seat 'side her was empty. I moved in for the kill. I ordered iced maple tea & immediately turned to my victim with an arm leaned on the counter, ready to attack with the perfect pick-up: "¿Having a good evening, Madame?" She startled & then turned her head to me---though how she could see me through that hood, I had no idea. "¿Were you... were you talking to me?" she asked, her voice low & soft like black coffee. I reached my hand out & gently touched hers. "'Course. ¿Who else in this place would I rather speak with than you?" I asked. She paused, as if trying to think o' an answer, & then finally answered, "Uh... I don't know you much, so I can't know the answer to that." "O, you need not be modest," I said. "I would guess you're already with someone, ¿right?" She shook her head vigorously. "Nope. I don't know anyone. Just me." "That's impossible. ¿A Li'l Gray Riding Hood like you? That's a crime." She gripped the edge o' the table tightly & shivered. I must confess, I have no idea what this reaction meant, since I'd ne'er seen such a thing in my life. ¿Is she play-acting?, I wondered. "¿I-is that true? I'm sorry, Madame, I swear I had no idea," she said, her voice cracking as if she were 'bout to break down into tears. "Please, don't take me 'way & feed me & drop me off the top o' Atlas Tower so I'll fall in a bloody splat. I'll be good, just tell me how." I smiled sympathetically as I patted her hand. "Don't worry, Madame; I don't believe in bad people; only those who need treatment. ¿Would you mind if I took you in & delivered it to you?" "I swear, I won't do anything wrong anymo'. I promise," she said. "You're a good person, ¿aren't you?" I said. She nodded. "Uh huh. Ne'er hurt no one." "I like good people," I said. "W-well, that's good then, 'cause I'm good," she said. "S-so you have no reason to drown me in the Spinach Swamps." I shook my head sadly. "I ne'er thought o' such a thing @ all. ¿What would make you think I'd want to do such a thing?" She hesitated 'fore whispering, "You know why..." I was authentically confused @ this point. I blinked blankly @ her to show this. "I'm sure I don't," I said. "I apologize for my naivety, but ¿is this a game o' some sort I don't understand?" "Everyone knows they're after me," she whispered back. "¿Who's 'they'?" I asked. "Just they. They don't have to be anything but themselves," she said. Technically, I guessed she had a point. Still, I went on. I put an arm round her shoulders & rubbed the farthest. "Come on, now," I said. "You have no reason to fear anything." She only stared down shyly @ the counter. Clearly, she didn't believe me, since she continued to shiver, despite it being almost 30 Celsius. I let go & turned back to my drink to wash out the soreness o' guilt lodged in the back o' my throat. As had happened so many times, my fantasies o' prey melting in my grip were deflated by the reality o' prey being traumatized by my obnoxious harassment. I became a li'l mo' optimistic a few seconds later when I heard her squeak that she needed to use the bathroom---indicating that she still considered me in her company---only to finally realize almost a half-hour later that she'd almost certainly given me the slip. This only shamed me e'en mo'. "You should've left her 'lone earlier," my mind chided. "Now she probably thinks you're some crazy kidnapper." These swampy thoughts were interrupted by a soft voice saying, "¿Dawn?" as if asking a question. I turned & saw Edgar standing there. "Uh, sorry if I'm interrupting anything..." "What, this exciting adventure I'm on"---I spread my arms out to show him said adventure---"How dare you." Edgar blinked 'nough to realize the sarcasm, & then said, "Uh, Autumn just wanted to know if she could, uh... borrow money, which she promises to return with 10% o' what she earns." "O, she doesn't have to do that," I said as I reached a hand into my pockets. "¿How much does she need?" "Just 500 pts." I handed him a 5 hundreds & then he thanked me politely & went. My spirits raised for a'least this moment, I scoped round the bar for mo' candidates, but didn't find any receptive. 'Sides, I'd lost the mood. Rather than sit round soupping @ a greasy countertop all night, I got up & out for some new air. Anyway, they were now playing the Richard Jacques version o' "Green Grove Act 2," when everyone knows the Jun Senoue version is much better. It was such a relief to get out, too. The black night was like a waterfall o' cool water splashing o'er a body full o' sunburns; the stars made it look like the Programmers left their Marxmas lights out till July 'gain like they always do. The moon was grumpy as e'er, though, & was still aching to crash into the earth in 3 days & destroy it, but that just cheered me up if anything. I saw a motel nearby & decided while I'm there to check out a room for us, thinking nobody would want us to have to sleep the night in the car. To save money, I planned to order 1 with just 1 bed we'd all share. Though I knew none o' the other idiots would care, I did worry that Felix's friend might be unkosher 'bout it, but then decided 'twas too late, anyway, by then. "We'll see how it goes," I told myself. But as I walked up to our room, I heard a familiar voice call my name & turned to see Scratch leaning out a doorway with his hand stretched out & waving. "We ordered a room," he said. "¿Truly? So did I," I said. "Unorder it." "I don't know if I can actually do that," I said. "'Course you can," he said. "¿What kind o' city are we living in where we can't unorder rooms we don't want anymo'? ¿The Soviet Union?" I wanted to tell him that the Soviet Union wasn't a city & didn't exist anymore since their mother ship returned & carried the whole government off to their home planet, but he'd already went back inside, so I went back downstairs & told the bellhop---I think that person @ the counter might be the bellhop---to cancel the room I just ordered. Turns out, 'twas as easy as Scratch had said. I went back into their room to see Scratch, Nora, & nobody in particular all sitting on the bed--apparently they had the same idea I did---playing some strange amalgamation o' "Monopoly," "Candy Land," "Clue," "Risk," & "Pokémon Master Trainer." It was a rather tubular room, too, e'en if it had torn wallpaper & cockroaches scurrying all 'long the carpet. "¿What are you all doing in here?" I asked. Without looking 'way from the board, where she was stamping her thimble up toward Peanut Brittle House, Nora said, "We were getting bored o' the Game Zone, so we came here so we could play some games. ¿Wanna join us? It'll only take half an hour for Scratch to 'splain the rules." "Wait, ¿so you left the only people who are unfamiliar with the Game Zone there?" I said. "O, they'll be fine," Scratch said. "Just so long as they don't touch door #9. Once someone goes through that realm o' non-Euclidean horror, there's no returning to sanity." "¿You think I should return & tell them where we are, in case they want to leave & can't find us & panic & blow up a building?" I asked. "Can't happen," Scratch said. "¿Where would they get the explosives? They don't just hand that stuff out, you know. This isn't the United States." "Yeah, I'd better go get them," I said. "Somehow I doubt they'll like the place any better than we did." So I returned, though I had a hades o' a time finding everyone. I hadn't remembered how inhumanly huge the place was till I went through that devil's maw entrance 'gain & saw the many twisting pneumatic tube passages there were. ¡& the crowds! ¿How was I s'posed to find an anthropomorphic cat & living skeleton in this herd? I must've wandered for a'least half an hour 'fore I spotted Felix & her friend sitting in the giant café, mountains o' mystery noodles piled on Styrofoam trays in front o' them. The friend also had a sheet o' paper & a calculus book, which she was paying far mo' attention to. "Additionally, that is the method in which computer biologists postulate patching the autoimmunity deficiency mechanic by reprogramming infected persons' primary white blood cell function so that infections no longer produce instant death for their white blood cells," I heard her say as I walked o'er to them. When her friend finished, Felix turned to me, waved, & said, "Hello, Dawn." Hearing this, the friend turned & greeted me as well: "Salutations, Madame Summers. We simply posited our interim in this luncheonette for a temporally efficient method o' redressing our comestible deficiency." "Ah," I said. "I like to do that, too, sometimes. Anyway, I just wanted to A, tell you that we're staying in the motel just @ the end o' the block, & B, ask you where Edgar & Autumn went." Felix's friend stared @ me in horror. "¿Are you insinuating that we are expected to perambulate? But... but ¿what if we are assailed by a defalcator or an Unassuming Local Guy?" "You won't, & e'en if you are, just run 'way or use PSI Fire Alpha on them. It's just a few meters," I said. Felix turned to her & said, "I'll make sure you don't lose any lives." "Regarding the skeleton & his acquaintance, they have yet to ingress our perceptions since we 1st abscinded." "Well, if you do see them, tell them where the motel is." But just as I was 'bout to turn, Felix's friend closed her book & said, "Surcease. I am of the inclination that we have concluded our mastication & would be content to agglutinate to your return promenade. ¿Is that precise, Felix?" Felix nodded. "Uh huh." "But then ¿who's going to tell them where to go?" I asked. "¿Can't you go with them when they leave?" She glanced @ Felix. "Well, if Felix assures me they are innoxious..." Felix nodded 'gain. With that settled, I returned to the motel, where we played Scratch's spacy board game for 'bout 2 hours 'fore I got a call from Edgar telling me Autumn wasn't feeling well & apologizing for both o' them bailing. "Wait, ¿where are you both going? My door's locked. I mean, I can guess where she's going; but ¿are you truly going to join her?" Edgar hesitated, which gave me an opportunity to hear Autumn in the background say, "You should go with them." Then I heard Edgar say, "But ¿what 'bout your anxiety?" "I don't mean to be mean, but I don't think you being round will help." Edgar just replied with an "O;" But 'twas an "O" stuffed with heartbreak, like ice cream cartons on a lonely Valentine's night. "I truly hate to do this to you, Edgar, & I truly wish you'd join them, but I just... I just can't be round them. I'm much too busy & they're distracting & I can't... I can't be round people right now," I heard Autumn say in the background. "¿You sure?" Edgar asked. I heard no reply, but I guessed there was some silent affirmative, for Edgar said next, "Well, I guess Autumn will just be the 1 going. She says she's truly sorry, though." "Uh, I understand," I said awkwardly. "¿Are you still @ the Game Zone?" "Near it." "OK. I'll need you to go back in, find Felix & her friend in the food court, & escort them to the motel just down the block from there---west facing the entrance." "OK... ¿You want me to tell them where it is?" "I need you to go with them," I said in exasperation. "Felix's friend is 'fraid o' random encounters when she should know that the enemies show up on the map in Boskeopolis." "OK, I can do that," Edgar said so affirmatively I could hear him nod through the phone. They arrived a few minutes later, by which time we'd already gotten bored o' our game & began playing video games while analyzing the deep metaphysical issues surrounding them making up bullshit 'bout them. Well, everyone but Felix, who kept telling us she had nothing interesting to add with a shaking head. Her friend joined, however, though she borrowed a bit too much from classical bullshit, like James Joyce, when the whole point was to make up the bullshit yourself. As for Edgar, who was in an awkward space 'tween her & us, he sometimes chimed in when specifically asked: "¿What 'bout you, Edgar?" I asked. "¿What is your opinion o' the symbolic meaning o' the long line block in Tetris?" "Uh... I wouldn't know anything 'bout that," he said. "Well nobody knows," I said with a shrug. "'Symbolic meaning' is 1 o' those things so vague it doesn't mean anything. You're just s'posed to make shit up." "O. I don't know how to do that." "You just do it. Just say anything." "But I don't know what to say." "Anything," I said louder. Edgar squirmed. "But I don't know what anything is." We all stared amongst each other with open mouths @ such incredible deepness. Edgar only stared @ us with increasingly desperate confusion. "I didn't say anything wrong, ¿did I?" From then on, we began to gradually fall like flies under the night's natural sleep gas. A'least, I assume that's what continued after I fell asleep, considering I was 1 o' the earliest to fall. On the other slipper, I was 1 o' the 1st to wake, 'cept for Felix, who was sitting quietly on the floor, staring @ the blank wall as if 'twere a Saturday morning cartoon. "Good morn, Felix," I said groggily. "Good morn," she replied, sounding much mo' awake than I was. "So, ¿what're you watching?" I asked. "O, nothing," she said. "Just sitting." "So, ¿how're you doing? It's been a while since I've seen you." "Nothing much. I guess you've met Violet." "O, ¿is that her name? ¿Where'd you meet her?" "She's a coworker. She's very smart." "I've noticed that," I said. "¿Can you understand a word she says?" Felix shook her head. "Nope. She apparently goes to college. She's always doing school work." We waited while the others woke up before packing into the car & driving off 'gain. We stopped @ a diner for 1 quick & uneventful breakfast just before driving through Wasabi Woods, singing 'long to Jun Ishikawa & Dan Miyakawa's "Begin Treasure Hunting." It didn't take long for the crowded canopy o' greens, blues, & browns casting cool shadows o'er us to quickly dissipate, replaced by dry brown crust left open to the boisterous sun as if its limbs were spread out & staked into the dirt. & this sun was just as irate as the moon last night, 'cept 'stead o' destroying the earth in one big crash, it just wanted to keep swooping down & torching us till we throw a turtle shell @ it. "¡We're pear out!" Scratch yelled o'er the speakers roaring Jerry Martin's "South Bridge" as he dug round under his seat. "¡We'll just have to keep dodging it!" I replied. "¿What astronomical divergence could compel this G-type main-sequence star to develop the impetus to concentrate on an exiguous approximately .000000070% o' the world's population for extirpation?" Felix's friend, Violet, exclaimed. But we didn't worry 'bout it too much. We did begin to worry, though, when we saw the car was running out o' fuel. Predictably, Felix's friend, Violet, panicked. "¡It is inevitable that we shall be consumed by the ravenous canines o' fulmination!" she cried. "Nah, thunder wolves don't hang round here," I replied. "Only the Hungry Chihuahuas." "I told you you should've gotten mo' o' the fuel pickups, but no... You said you were gonna fucking TAS this road trip," Nora said with a smirk while nobody in particular muttered incoherently down @ his controls. "Don't worry; I'm sure Dawn can whip up some potions that will magically fix this problem so that it'd be as if it ne'er happened," Scratch said. "No, I can't," I replied. "¿What?" "You don't think I'd be adding this to the story if it could be solved so easily, ¿would I? ¿What would be the point? ¿Should I add every time I scratch the back o' my head, too?" Scratch scratched the back o' his head. "Well, I'm grape out o' ideas." "I heard coal comes from underground. Coal is what's used to make electricity, so clearly we should be able to plug the car into the ground to refuel it," Nora said. I slapped my forehead, which hurt, by the way. "You can't just plug cars into the ground to refuel them." "¿Why not?" "Because they patched that bug in the last update. 'Sides, we knew this'd happen: car troubles always happen in roadtrips like these. We just have to tough it out." A kilometer or 2 later, the car finally sputtered to a stop, right in the middle o' the golden sands o' the Durian Desert. "Well, we might as well get out & stretch while we figure out what to do next," Nora said as she opened her door & stepped out. The rest o' us soon joined her. Standing outside was like being under an interrogator's lamp, 'cept without any o' the contrasting darkness. A hot white glare spread its arms 'cross every surface that could possibly shine, 'specially the windows. To keep my eyes from being boiled like eggs, I had to put on a pair o' thick shades that I, thankfully, remembered to bring with me. "So here's the thing," nobody in particular said: "we have no choice but to send someone back to the city to buy some power packs, which will take a'least a whole night." "I take it you didn't pack any power packs in the trunk," I said stern-faced. "We used them all. I was in a hurry," he said irritably. "I can go if you all want." "No, that's not fair," I said, softening my tone. "We'll draw straws to decide." Nora tore out a page from her spiral notebook & divided it into 7 pieces---1 for each o' us---and she handed what pencils she had to 2 others, which were passed on to others when they were done. When everyone had finished, we voted on each drawing, not allowing anyone to vote for their own, 'course. So frightened o' having to cross the Wasabi Woods all 'lone @ night was Violet that I could hear her teeth chattering, despite the debilitating heat, though they had no reason to fear; her & Felix's were actually some o' the best-looking straws. Coincidentally---or perhaps not; I just know I didn't make it happen on purpose---nobody in particular was the one voted to go get the power packs, anyway, making the whole exercise pointless. I wasn't sure if he was intentionally trying to lose out o' guilt, but his straw looked mo' like a lightning bolt than anything anyone could drink out o', though Scratch said he'd personally love to have a straw that looked like that, earning from Scratch nobody in particular's only high rating. With nothing better to do while we waited for however long it'd take for nobody in particular to get back, we sat round the dead car & stared @ the scenery. There wasn't much to see, save thick wavy air o' condensed heat that blurred the Wasabi Woods & Mustard Mountain cliff tops so that it looked like someone had rubbed their hand all round a freshly-painted portrait. "Wasn't there s'posed to be some pyramid here---Pepperoncini Pyramid, I think 'twas called---that was s'posedly full o' ancient treasure or something...." Nora asked. "Nah, I'm pretty sure the UFOs already carried them all 'way," Scratch said with the assured nod o' an expert. "¿Already?" Nora asked. "I just saw it on Google Maps just a few months ago." "They're fast, those aliens," Scratch said with e'en mo' nodding. I couldn't help noticing while looking in his direction, Edgar furiously scribbling something on a sheet o' paper before stuffing it into the pockets o' his robe. Nora also must've noticed this, for she asked him, "¿You a writer, too?" Edgar shook his head & murmured so quietly, hardly anyone could hear him, "No, I was just writing myself a note for later, in case I forget." "You know, I've always told myself I wanted to do the same thing, but I ne'er remember," I said. "Guess I oughta write myself a reminder note to start writing myself reminder notes. Ne'er met anyone who actually carried through with it, either." Eventually night did come, which, whatever the circumstances, was beautiful. It's nice to a'least once just sit---or e'en better, lie--down & just watch the sky gradually change colors, so stealthily that you hardly e'en notice night slip in & day slip out past your eyes; the stars wink open 1-by-1, like the eyes o' a shy thousand-eye sky monster. The sights weren't the only thing that slipped by our attention; what was once an unbearable heat quickly plummeted to an uncomfortable chill. Luckily, nobody in particular did have the sense to pack sleeping bags in the trunk, knowing we'd need them whether we had fuel problems or not. Unfortunately, he hadn't planned on us having 3 extra guests, so we were stuck with only 4 for 6 o' us, 7 when---or if---he e'er got back. Luckily, to my surprise, Felix's friend offered to have her & Felix share 1, leaving me to try coaxing the 1 with the cold blood or the 1 with the thick head to join me. "I say you try the skeleton. I bet skeleton sex is the hottest," Scratch said as he aimed a mischievous smile @ Edgar, who reacted with only a frightful stare. "Don't be scaring him with your natural creepiness 'gain," I said. "& anyway, he's already taken, if you already remember." "¿With the ponytailed woman?" Scratch asked. I could tell this was unbelievable to him by his tone. I nodded. "Uh huh. He's quiet like her, that's why." "¿Is that your secret to getting with her?" he said with a wink. "No. ¿Why, you want tips or something?" I asked. "Maybe..." "I wouldn't try, if I were you---if you do e'er see her 'gain," I said. "Most people can only take you in small doses; she's the type who couldn't e'en tolerate a drop." He crossed his arms & turned 'way. "Hmmph. Well, maybe I don't want to share a sleeping bag with you." However, the cracking o' his frown betrayed this acting. I laughed. "¿You have a headache?" "Yup. Multiple." "¿You need to brush your hair?" "I think that 'scuse would only work from someone who looks like they'd brushed their hair a'least once in the last month," he replied. "This scenery's putting me in the mood, so if Scratch truly doesn't want to bunk with you, I wouldn't mind," Nora said while her glazed eyes were still glued up @ the sky. She always looked that way, though she ne'er did any drugs. She didn't need them; she was naturally high, anyway. "O, leave me out in the cold. I understand," Scratch said with a mock pouty face. "You throw 'way the key, you stay in the cell," Nora said. "I've ne'er heard that saying before," Scratch said. "It's new." "¿New? ¿From where?" "I made it," Nora answered. "¿What, you think sayings just grow on trees? People make 'em up & then others use them 'nough till after 'nough years, everyone knows it." "I must admit I'm a li'l offended by the 'I wouldn't mind' line," I said. Scratch turned to Nora. "¿See? You're a bad friend." "It's better to have unwanted wants than to want the unwanting," Nora said. "I think I read that in a fortune cookie once," Scratch said. "Well, they plagiarized me, then," Nora said. "¿What place was this? I wanna sue." "This was a'least a year ago," Scratch replied. "I think they came up with it 1st." "Bullshit. I'll go back in time & copyright it. ¿What'll they say to that?" We eventually agreed to put the 2 remaining sleeping bags together & share them 'mong the 3 o' us. Ironically, though I was exhausted last night, tonight I didn't feel sleepy @ all, though I did feel cold 'nough that I wanted to stay as tightly wrapped 'neath as possible. Edgar, Felix, & Violet, on the other nail, had quickly fallen asleep during the inane conversation I wrote 'bout earlier, so stealthily that I don't e'en know when precisely it happened. I don't know if I've mentioned this yet or not, but I don't have the greatest grasp o' time. It just runs past me without me e'en noticing. This day, in fact, felt like only a few hours in my head, e'en though most o' it was spent lying round staring @ cacti & the cracks in the earth's peeling skin. Thinking 'bout cacti reminded me o' how thirsty I was. "Remember what the doctors always say, Dawn: Always keep yourself hydrated... & always crank the heat up in waiting rooms so you can fleece patients with expensive vending machine drinks." "Hey, Scratch, ¿where'd you put that water bottle?" "Uh, I think we're out, actually." "¿What? ¿Didn't nobody in particular pack mo'?" "Nah, ¿why would he do that? That'd be like keeping extra power packs or sleeping bags." E'en under the dim light o' the moon, I could see Scratch's mischievous smile. But that wasn't important now; what was was the scraggly dryness crawling all 'cross my throat. "We won't be able to last long if we don't get mo' to drink," I said. Scratch shrugged. "¿What are we going to do?" "Cacti have liquid, ¿don't they?" Nora whispered. "That's a good idea," I said, & then got up with the bottle & snuck o'er to the nearest cactus, as if I were afraid it'd suddenly jump up & start galloping 'way with gaping mouth & eyes if it noticed me come near. It didn't, & I was able to cut a hole in it with my Scandinavian Army Knife & fill my water bottle full with ease. I guzzled almost a 3rd o' it 'fore I reached the other 2. They both reached a hand out; I handed it to Nora, who was closest, & who then passed it on to Scratch when she finished. "Wooo," Nora said as she laid her head back on the ground with her arms spread out, looking e'en mo' dazed than usual. "That was better than I expected. My heart is racing." I had to admit, I had a similar feeling. A drowsy feeling. I couldn't quit yawning.
she wasn't wearing The environment appeared sense into her. I could which was odd. Colors on my eyes, the khaki different. Browns replaced & the fat cigar in flaming reds. Cliffs . "Get a hold o' into screwy shapes, crooked ¡We need those stars felt like 'twas turning 'Whomp's Fortress'!" "I it were a boat on a internet once that Scratch, who somehow secret star if you me without me noticing. into the sun from mouse is 'bout to throw Scratch said calmly But His head slowly twisted @ him, he flickered frown & he said, "You to his normal color. I turned to Nora, to exactly what I was drowned in the quickdirt. replied, "It's a harmless round out o' the sleeping his palette problems peculiar part was that o' the screen while as they came crashing rational person would, to change, too, collar o' the shirt became mo' vibrant, mo' anymo' & shook some by neon yellows & feel the thick shades slanted. Cacti twisted fisher's hat on my head, & bent. The world the edge o' my mouth back & forth, as if yourself. ¿Are you crazy? river. I pointed @ to open the door to moved meters in front o' heard a secret on the "¡Look out, Scratch! ¡A Luigi would give you a brick @ your head!" shot yourself straight toward me with a grim outside the castle," fool. I am the mouse." when I turned to look make sure she hadn't green 'fore he returned She was rolling He apparently knew bag, naked; but the thinking, since he she was boxing stars bug. Sometimes stuff down on her. As any when it's on the edge I picked her up by the scrolling."
We must've made a lot o' noise, since I noticed Edgar stir under his sleeping bag & look up @ us laughing so uncontrollably we had to hold onto each other to keep from falling o'er. When I was finally able to recatch my breath, I whispered, "Sorry. We didn't mean to wake you," snickering throughout. "No, it's all right. I just thought something wrong might've been going on." "Nah, we're just pretending to be on drugs," I said. "¿Why?" he asked. "It's mo' creative than actually using them," I answered. "¿Want some cactus juice?" I added as I raised its bottle for him to see. "It'll raise your senses to the 4th level." I twiddled my fingers spookily @ him to show the seriousness o' that claim. "Uh... that's OK," he said. "It doesn't have any alcohol in it," I said. "I boiled it in 1 o' nobody in particular's pans 'fore putting it in this bottle." "No thanks. I don't drink anything, remember." I smacked my forehead, which still hurt, for some reason. "That's right, duh. Sorry. Well, sorry to disturb your sleep. We'll be quieter." "That's all right," Edgar said. Though I saw him turn 'way from us in, pretending to go to sleep, I could see by the longing present in those dark chasms for eyes that he was still as wide awake as we were. "¿You want to come hang with us?" "O... You don't want me to bother you guys..." Edgar replied. "Don't be ridiculous," I said as I patted the ground near us. He scooted out o' his sleeping bag & crept o'er to us as he rubbed his other hand as if it were a wounded paw & he were going to the vet. "Don't worry; you're safe with us, li'l buddy," Scratch said as he rubbed his hands together & smiled in a way that would inspire the least feeling o' security. "I like your robe," Nora said as she grabbed one o' Edgar's sleeves & began rubbing it through her thumb & index. "It's velvety." "Um... thanks," he said shyly. "So, ¿are you invincible?" Nora asked, looking up @ him with the same thick-lidded gaze o' wonder she always had plastered o'er her face. Edgar shook his head. "No." "¿Truly? But you can't starve to death, right?" Nora asked. "No, but I can still drown & all that." "¿You have lungs?" Edgar nodded. "How do your lungs keep from breaking down without protein & all that." "Now, now, stop making fun o' him 'cause his programming isn't as realistic. Some o' the greatest characters in literature are e'en mo' unrealistic, you know," I said. "I wasn't making fun o' him; 'twas just an honest question," Nora replied. We didn't say much mo' o' substance before the sky lightened & the sun began to peak 'bove the western cliffs. My eyes stung from the light o' an ambivalent morn, unsure if I were tired or wide awake. Either way, I knew I'd ne'er be able to get to sleep now, nor would I be able to function @ a normal human level. I got up, stretching legs that hadn't stretched for hours, & checked the trunk. "¿D'you think nobody a'least remembered to pack any extra food?" I asked. "I didn't see anything when we were getting the sleeping bags out," Nora said. "He probably planned on us eating @ diners all the time." "¿So he expected us to go hungry through the whole Mustard Mountain area?" I asked. "It would've only been a couple-hours' drive if he hadn't let the car go kaploop," Nora said. It wasn't for a few mo' hours till nobody in particular returned, by which time Felix & Violet were already awake, the latter o' whom was already freaking out once mo' when I casually mentioned we had no food. However, nobody looked so exhausted as he trudged o'er to us with the pile o' power packs in his arms that none o' us could stay peeved @ him. "Here they are," he gasped as he dropped them all on my feet. He sat there panting on his knees, face covered in sweat. We refueled the car while nobody in particular returned to the driver's seat, clutching the steering wheel as if he were 'fraid he might fall out. "¿How far is the next place with food?" I asked. "Well, 'less someone happened to setup a store or restaurant in the middle o' a desert, I would say we'll have to wait till Verditropolis," nobody in particular grumbled. "Aw, look on the bright side. A'least you got to get a good bit o' grinding in," Scratch said. "Maybe you'll learn 'Pack 2,' which should hopefully lower the odds o' forgetting fuel or food." I took it from his expression that nobody in particular didn't particularly enjoy that joke. However, all o' our moods bloomed as we drove onward, getting farther 'way from the Durian Desert while blasting that theme tune from "Wacky Races." After only 'bout an hour, we began to see trees, & then buildings pop up; & a glossy sign surrounded by bushes said, "Welcome to Verditropolis." Felix & Edgar in particular, who probably ne'er saw Verditropolis, hung their heads out their respective windows like dogs & stared round @ all the sights. Felix's friend, Violet, however, evidently had been here, since she told Felix all 'bout it in her usual obsequious diction, which I don't want to bust my fingers typing. We all pumped fists in the air & hoorayed---'cept Edgar, Felix, & Violet, 'course, who were much too shy. "Well, now we're here," I said. "¿What should we do 1st?" There was a long, drawn-out pause like a horn section sputtering out as nobody in particular slowed the car to a stop in some vacant parking lot. Everything stopped, as if we were in a movie & somebody hit pause. All I could hear were distant motors revving as their cars drove past 'hind us. It wasn't till now that I noticed the cavernous darkness in this li'l car, its contrast with the blaring brightness outside the window burning my eyes. The fast, cold air slowed & warmed, causing the prickly burn on the back o' my neck to return. "Hey, ¿didn't you guys say you were hungry?" nobody in particular asked. As if all struck by the same lightbulb, we all started vigorously nodding & gibbering, "O yeah, uh huh, that's right." So we rocketed to the nearest diner, where I had royal mushroom with a li'l crown on top & Scratch the scenery, which he told me went good with Boskeopolean brunch tea. But as we finished, the long, drawn-out pause began to creep in 'gain. We all sat back with our arms hanging limply, staring @ our crumb-covered plates. "So... ¿Now what?" I asked, feeling an odd sense o' deja vu. "What else is there to do round this town?" Scratch asked as he turned to me. "You're the one who wanted to come here." "Well yeah, 'cause everyone wants to go to Verditropolis. ¿Where else would you go on a vacation by car? ¿Ice Cream Island?" "Well, they have to have something," Nora said. "You can't just make a city that has nothing in it." "¿Can't you?" Scratch replied with a raised eyebrow. "This city has plenty o' things," I said, feeling pretty defensive. "It has diners & theaters & motels & stores & stuff." "¿Does it have anything that Boskeopolis doesn't?" Nora asked. "Uh... Well, I'm sure it has different people," I said with a shrug. "But we're the same people," Nora said. "I'm sure they have slightly different laws," I argued. "Laws aren't terribly interesting," Scratch said. I stopped, staring blankly @ my dish once mo'. No matter how I dug for ideas, I found nothing but dirty dirt. "Now that I think 'bout it, I'm not sure why we came here in the 1st place," I said. The impact o' this revelation blew me 'way so that I leaned all the way back in my chair, arms hanging loose. "Well... You know what they say: it's not the... it's not the reward but the trip there, or something," Scratch said. Now I went in the opposite direction, hunched forward o'er the table with my chin in my arms. "¿So what now?" I asked. "¿Do we just go back already?" Everyone was silent, spontaneously finding something to preoccupy their minds with, whether 'twas filing their fingernails on their sleeve or checking a nonexistent watch. "I do have to get to work tomorrow," Nora said. I turned to nobody in particular & saw a particularly angry eye twitch. I could tell he knew the outcome was inevitable, but still disliked it all the same--the whole trip was a waste. I touched his arm. "Don't fret. You know, you probably had a mo' exciting trip than us. Too bad I couldn't be there. I plan on writing a story 'bout this after we get back on this frigid typewriter I found lying 'bout. I e'en thought 'bout trying out this 1 weird scrambling technique some beatnik made up." So we packed back into the car & rode off into the sunset. & when we were done with that, we went back to Boskeopolis, dancing to David Wise's killer "Hot-Head Bop"---or rather, moving our knees up in down to it, since there wasn't 'nough room to truly move round that much. We dropped everyone off, 1-by-1--'cept Felix & Violet, who were apparently roommates, & Edgar & I, 'course. I have to admit feeling a growing pang as our car slowly emptied & the sun slowly left, ending this bright, warm vacation, & eventually the whole summer. This only intensified as Edgar & I were dropped off & we trudged up the steps to our apartment. Then 'gain, I was pretty sure Edgar's morose face was mo' o'er his continuing concerns with his girlfriend than with the end o' the trip. My mind was somewhere else @ the time, however; I was so exhausted when I got back, e'en though 'twas barely twilight--probably 'cause I didn't sleep last night, now that I think 'bout it--that I lay splayed on the couch with the door open to let the lukecold air in, having asked Edgar to close the door 'fore he went to sleep. That's 'bout all there is to say 'bout the trip, other than to maybe mention that Autumn the next day apologized for "ruining" our amazing trip, though I told her she needn't have done so, & assured me 'twas some personal stress she refused to talk 'bout that caused it & not us. 'Course, when I asked her if she wanted to impact @ my place, she said no, though that was normal on her part. Anyway, I'd better tie this story up soon, 'cause the narrator's getting itchy 'bout me stealing his job. I don't envy him, since this is a much harder job than it appears. You'd think the fact that this is all just events that truly happened would have made it easier, but for some reason I still kept getting writer's block in places--not in terms o' what to make up, but what things that already happened to include. You have to remember, a lot o' things happened within those 3 days, & I couldn't have included all o' it. Obviously I didn't include every time I went to the bathroom or every time someone coughed, since that would be boring & creepy; but there were also snippets o' conversations I thought were rather insightful, but didn't include since I didn't think you readers would get. They were those "you had to have been there" incidents, & nobody wants to read that crap. Anyway, I can see the narrator give me the smelly eye, so I'd better finish this. I guess I should probably give this a clever conclusion, as a true writer would do---& I'm sure Nora, who I must say is a much greater writer than I am, could do--but I'm running low on time & this story will ne'er get finish if I try that, since it's clearly 'bove my abilities. So 'stead, I'll just it the old fashioned way: