After a few days of wandering around aimlessly in the woods I came to a small stream by an abandoned cabin. I sat down to drink and nibble on some branches when I heard the door creak open.
“Scotty? Nice outfit.”
Phil was referring to the tunic Lulu had made for me out of some bedding her bees had salvaged from the wreck. That and the ridiculous sunglasses she had lent me.
“Where have you been? I’ve been trying to call you all week.”
I felt for my phone and realized I’d left it at Lulu’s.
“Phone must have died. How is your phone still working? And why didn’t you just -?” I tapped the side of my right temple. “And where did you get the clothes?”
Phil was wearing winter clothing, most of it looked like hunting gear. I hadn’t noticed how cold it was outside. As long as I kept eating, I didn’t get cold anymore.
“Mike ran into town for me. And I guess I was paranoid. About giving away our location.”
“The nearest town must be at least 30 miles from here.”
Phil looked off into the woods.
“Come inside. It’s probably nothing but better safe than sorry.”
There was food inside the cabin, clothing, solar batteries, whiskey. Phil was preoccupied with his phone.
“I’m glad you’re here Scotty. Mike and I have been driving each other crazy.”
I knew the feeling. Too confused and afraid to really trust anyone but too confused and afraid to be alone, and when you finally do trust someone to a degree, one or both of you has had enough. People tend to trust others in similar states of futility. Eventually you realize you can’t really help each other. That you might actually be hurting each other.
“We can’t figure out why no one has come for us. There’s been nothing about us in the news.”
“That’s pretty par for the course for us, don’t you think?”
“You know what I mean. The train explodes, the barrels don’t get delivered. There’s money involved.”
Phil must have noticed me eying the whiskey.
“You’re right. There’ll be plenty of time to drive you nuts later.”
“You might be a bit late for that.”
Phil uncapped a bottle and handed it to me, then started fumbling around in a brown paper bag,
“Here, take these.” He tossed me a couple of cold McDonald’s hamburgers. “What have you and Lulu been up to?”
“How did you know I was with Lulu?”
Phil tapped his right temple.
“There are other ways aside from phones or weird telepathy or whatever it is.”
I realized that Phil was already loaded. He tapped his temple some more and looked into my eyes.
He closed his eyes and put on an exaggerated expression of concentration. Jim dropped down from a rafter and held out his little hand for me to shake.
“Meet the little guy responsible for the destruction of the train. Shake his hand. Good monkey. I warned you idiots.”
“I’m just kidding. I have no idea what the fuck happened. Neither does Jim.”
“Was Jim changed too?” I took a big slug. Even with someone you’re familiar with, it’s hard to be comfortable when one of you is much drunker than the other.
“Jim escaped unscathed. He’s the same little idiot he’s always been. Wait a second, just wait! Watch this. Look out the window.”
I looked out the window and saw a moose staring in. He looked to his left and bolted and was replaced by a large black bear as Phil laughed.
“I’m like Aquaman now. Except on land. And vindictive. And drunk.”
He waved at me to pass him the bottle and took a big pull.
“The one thing I’ve learned from this is that animals really are kind of stupid. Smarter than we think, but stupid. There’s always a vague warning about something, so I hide in here.”
He took another pull and passed the bottle back.
“But there have been a few specific warnings, Mr. Wolfman. Nice hand and foot by the way. Do you have a cigarette?”
“I didn’t know you smoked.”
“I quit 20 years ago, and how could you have a cigarette in that sheet or muumuu or whatever the hell it is you’re wearing? Wait a second.”
He grabbed his phone and called Garbageman Mike.
“No, I need you to go back and get cigarettes. What? No, you’re misunderstanding me, I need you to get cigarettes. What?” He fumbled around in the same brown paper bag and removed a pack of Camels. “Yeah I found them. Sorry. And thank you. You gonna be back soon? What? I can’t understand you. We’ll talk when you get back, okay? What? Okay, bye. Goodbye.” He looked at me. “Shit. Do you have a lighter? How could you? Wait a second.”
He started to reach for his phone again.
“Maybe check the bag first?”
“Oh yeah. Here we go. Horrible phone reception out here.” He lit a cigarette. It seemed to calm him down and sober him up a little bit.
“What happened to Mike?”
“He just ran into town. Oh, you mean with the barrels. Or whatever was inside the barrels. He’s kind of like the Flash now, except much much slower. He’s more like a decent horse. Or actually another animal. What’s an animal that can run pretty well but can’t really carry much? A non-pack animal?”
“That’s perfect. An ostrich. He turned into a fucking ostrich. And speak of the devil.”
Phil passed out. The door creaked open and I smiled up at Garbageman Mike. He looked down at Phil.
“Poor bastard has been this way ever since the accident. Believe it or not, he’s actually worse sober. What have you been up to? How’s Lulu? What brings you out to our humble abode?”
“Just lucky I guess.”
“Huh. Lady trouble. I figured it might be something like that.”
He gave a me a frank look. I wondered how much he knew about Lulu. He chuckled.
“I always knew we were the sanest of the bunch.”
“Maybe. Pass it here.”
Garbageman Mike took a long pull.
“I’ve been trying to tell Phil all week. Maybe you’ll listen. We’ve all been a bunch of paranoid, dithering idiots. You know who isn’t an idiot?”
“That’s right. You may not know this, but his pappy started him out, all the Leon Harveys start out, at the bottom. As kids they’re with the grounds crew. They train with the acrobats. They get a little older, they work with the fortune tellers, game vendors and other hucksters. Then they start barking, learning how to reel ’em in. Leon acts like a buffoon because it works for him. You’ve got to show people something or they start to wondering about you, thinking you’re crazy. A buffoon like Leon, it’s hard to take someone seriously when you think they’re an idiot, especially when we’re all idiots ourselves. It’s hard to imagine another way of life.”
Garbageman Mike took another pull and passed me the bottle.
“Leon would start getting his shit together before he even knew what he was doing and from what I hear, he already has. It isn’t Roger or each other or the authorities we should be worrying about, it’s Leon.”
“I think I can manage to worry about all of it.”
“No point worrying about Roger. Nothing we can do about that.”
“But I don’t see the point in worrying about any of it.”
Garbageman Mike gave me another frank look.
“Pardon my French, but it’s time to yank your head out of the honey pot. We can’t hide in the goddamn woods forever. Sooner or later, we’re all gonna wanna return to the world, and one way or another, it’s gonna be through Leon.”
I was about to open my mouth but Garbageman Mike waved me down.
“Maybe you think you can stay in the woods forever. Maybe you can. I agree with you, fuck the world. But I want back in. And if you wanna be with Lulu, and I know you do, you’re gonna have to at least pretend to be a little socially conscious. So what do you say?”
Phil let out a loud fart in his sleep. I passed the bottle back to Garbageman Mike and gave him a frank look.
“I’ve got some time to kill. And I guess I’d like a better idea of what the hell’s going on.”
“Now you’re talking.”