Chapter 3: Frozen in Time
King Thunder drove down the interstate. Her car, the latest model of the LANDSQUID-907 line, zipped through the lanes in near silence. The ice on the road melted with the heat of the defrost mechanism just as pain ebbs away when you’re with someone you love, leaving nothing but a murky trace.
The sun was setting over this fractured nation, casting ribbons of colorful light over the heavens. King Thunder would arrive at Coupon in less than an hour, but first, she had to make a stop. She turned on the hologram map projection in the car and checked her route. “Approaching junkyard in two miles,” announced the robotic navigation voice.
After driving for a few minutes, she swerved off the road and into the icy grass surrounding the junkyard, driving the car into a hefty bush. She extracted herself from the vehicle (and from the bush), then walked over to the enclosure. Junkyards served a slightly different purpose in the year 2100: they were a hub for depositing old, but not necessarily broken, technology, ranging from mobile phones to dump trucks.
King Thunder scanned the area for a silver 2018 Alfin with a missing left headlight and numerous scratches. She noticed it in the far right corner of an area labeled “Lot 4”, where medium-sized vehicles were kept. Nearly slipping on the icy pebbles, she hurried over to the car, which had an envelope tucked in the windshield wipers like a parking ticket. It contained the car keys, and a note that read:
Here is the (trashy) old battered-up car you requested for your trip to Coupon. It should blend in fairly well with the ancient nature of that town. It’s quite tricky to drive by modern standards, but you won’t have to go far. I’ve enclosed the keys (Whaaat? Keys? Haven’t seen car keys since my grandpappy Craigory took me for a spin in his 2024 Artichoke Automobile back in ’83) in this envelope (don’t lose them). The icy roads could pose a problem because this horseless carriage doesn’t have a defrost system, so drive slowly and look out for ice (gosh I sound like a safety manual). Gasoline is another problem (do you even know how to fill a fuel tank? I sure don’t), but there should be a gas station in Coupon. I think that’s it. Am I forgetting anything? Anyways, have fun at your (booger hole) town.
~ King Amber III
P.S. Please don’t tell Mr-Formal-Freak King Coriander about my use of parentheses.
She couldn’t help but giggle at the fact that Amber’s grandfather was named “Craigory”, but nevertheless, she got into the hunk of junk, whose doors were dangling open, and fiddled with the keys.
“Why…won’t…this…stupid…thing…work?” she grunted as she attempted to force the key into the keyhole. Then, a memory popped into place like pushing down one of those little bumps on a plastic lid to a disposable cup. Lord Snail had told her once that she had to turn the key. King Thunder smacked her forehead in frustration, but continued onwards with her journey.
The car rattled and shook with every nanometer it traveled. Did Amber really not bother to fix this thing up at all?, she thought. The grimy mirror underneath the roof bounced around in its socket, and after traveling for only a mile, it came off completely. It landed right on King Thunder’s head, then bounced off like an overweight pea.
After driving for only an hour, a sprinkling of snow started to fall. King Thunder didn’t think much of it at first, but then it escalated, becoming thicker and faster until all the surrounding trees were glazed with white. “Oh, shit,” she mouthed, “I’m going to have to stop somewhere. That’ll delay me by another hour or two. With how slow this car is, I was already doomed to arrive three hours later than planned.”
She glanced at the digital clock, which flickered orange like a dying flame.
18:53. Or was it 58?
The car screeched to a halt as King Thunder parked it under a feculent overpass. There she waited for nearly two hours, watching the snow drift down, piling the earth under a peaceful yet chilly slumber.
The hours between the end of the storm and King Thunder’s arrival at Coupon felt like a blur of warped time, when an hour lasts a minute and a minute lasts an hour. The sky was pitch-black by the time she arrived, with nothing but a smattering of stars to light up the night, as if someone scattered glitter onto a field of damp turf.
She had no idea how to feel as she stepped out of the junky car and into the frigid air. Lord Snail was here somewhere, in one of the numerous apartment blocks. But would she…accept King Thunder coming back, after an entire year? How different would she be now? Did she even remember King Thunder?
She took a tentative step onto the sidewalk and examined the town. She had been here once before when Lord Snail had brought her here in 2099, but she only stayed for a couple hours. Still, it didn’t look much different from what she remembered. The central road was called Muffin Top Boulevard, and even that wasn’t as large as a boulevard by normal standards. Smaller streets branched off of Muffin Top Boulevard at irregular intervals like roots, leading to housing, stores, and other places. Just like before, there wasn’t a single government building, law office, or police station in sight. However, multiple news and media outlets were visible, including a newspaper leaflet shop called Not Totally Tarian that King Thunder didn’t recognize from before. Every building had a 2010’s style to it, similar to the glass door she saw earlier at the Independents’ Peanut Mountain headquarters. Occasionally, an antique car like the one King Thunder had arrived in passed down the street.
“2521, 2521,” she kept repeating as she strode along the sidewalk. “Muffin Top Boulevard…to the right…side road…Lemon Chess Drive.”
She passed by more strange buildings on her way across Lemon Chess Drive. The oddest one by far was a vintage shop called S.S.E. Nation, whose window displayed stained cloth face masks, fidget spinners, and posters flashing “Make America Great Again!” A yellow plastic picture frame similar to Awesome's caught her eye. She made a mental note to check it out later.
Suddenly, a cacophonous explosion echoed through the street. King Thunder jumped, nearly slipping on the icy path. She turned around and saw a majestic shower of rainbow sparks, dancing and frisking through the sky like static pepper in a plastic container. They formed shapes like elephants, stars, flames, and even pimples.
“Fireworks…” King Thunder breathed, “It’s New Year’s Eve, I completely forgot in all the chaos. The clocks must have just struck 12…”
She whipped around and continued down the street at a greater pace than before. Somehow, she felt that she had to go faster now that she knew the time.
Crack. The ice on the road shattered with King Thunder’s powerful strides, flying everywhere like a cactus if it could shoot its spikes.
In just a couple minutes, apartment block 2521 loomed in front of her. She nearly tripped as she went up the stairs, but that didn’t stop her. She kept going for three more stories, until she reached Apartment 404.
There, she stopped for a moment. Lord Snail was…right behind this door? Just a few feet away? All of that tiresome work King Thunder was doing for a whole year was about to be…worth it?
She took a deep breath and knocked on the door.