Dad took the exit with ferocity, swerving all over. I hadn’t noticed it so much on the highway but he seemed to have trouble controlling the vehicle.
“Jesus, Dad, are you drunk?”
“A little, I guess.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t be driving.”
“I figured you were too lazy.”
“Okay,” I took a deep breath. “Just because I know you’re really my dad now doesn’t mean you have to start acting like it. Just act like you’re still Gary Wrench.”
“A guy who fucks a monkey when he leaves his fake family in the evenings?”
“Yeah, it has all the makings of a really good life, don’t you think?”
“Why are you so strange?”
“You want to talk about strange?”
“I’m too drunk to talk about anything very coherently right now.”
“Maybe that imposter slipped you something. You were fine just a minute ago.”
“Feeling a little woozy now, though.”
He stopped at a stop sign—actually, well past the stop sign, leaned his head out of the van and vomited.
“There you go,” I said. “Get it all out.”
He pulled away from the stop sign, his head still hanging from the window, and let loose again.
“You’ll feel better tomorrow.”
He pulled his head into the van and wiped his mustache with the back of his hand.
“I think we’d better stop the first place we come to.”
We drove down the road of a small city. There were no welcome signs so I had no idea what city it was. We didn’t even know what state we were in. Things had really been pretty foggy ever since the State of Jerry, I guess. For that matter, things had really been pretty foggy for a pretty long time.
A monastic silence enshrouded this city. I had the feeling that, if we pulled up to one of the motels, there wouldn’t be anyone there. It looked like a hurricane had just struck even though I knew we were nowhere near the coast. Had it been devastated by a tornado? No, tornadoes usually didn’t devastate entire cities. Maybe a street or two, a row of houses, but this entire city seemed lain to waste.
“Gotta stop soon,” Dad said. His head lolled back in the seat and he bumped a few cars parked along the side of the road. Not that it looked like it really mattered. A number of cars had trees on top of them. Most of them had at least a window smashed out. The paint flaked off all of them and they looked like they had been shot up with some kind of gun. The windows of most of the establishments were boarded over or just broken out. Signs were blown down. Waste littered the street.
I spotted a place called the Happy Motel and helped Dad navigate into the parking lot.
“You stay here, I’ll get us a room.”
“Need money?” he said.
“I don’t have any.”
“Here ya go,” he said. He pulled some coins from his pocket and tried to hand them to me but most of them ended up thumping onto the seat. I scooped them up and looked at them. They were not like any coins I had ever seen. The faces were strange; not just foreign, nearly alien. The script was something I had never seen before. I didn’t know if this would work or not but, then again, I guessed it wouldn’t kill us to sleep in the van for one night.
I tried the door of the motel’s office but it seemed to be locked. Everything was boarded up so I couldn’t see inside. I would have dismissed it as abandoned but their pylon sign glowed like a beacon, welcoming all passersby and, beneath their name buzzed a neon pink ‘Vacancy’ sign. I knocked on the boarded up front door. A slot opened and a worried set of eyes peeked out at me.
“What do you want?”
“I was wondering if we could stay here tonight. Your sign says you have rooms?”
“The storm’s comin,” the voice said.
I looked around me. Ominous thunder clouds rolled over the city.
“Here,” I said, grabbing the change and the money from the restaurant and cramming it through the slot. He seemed far too panicked to reason with. “That’s all I have.”
“Good enough. Good enough. Just gotta get in outta this storm.”
His eyes disappeared for a second and then some keys reappeared in their place, attached to a plastic tongue with 3078 printed on it. I assumed this meant the third floor even though the hotel looked like it only had one.
“It’s around back,” he said.
I hastily walked back to the van. Wind had begun to sweep over the city and I had the nagging suspicion that a storm had done all this damage. Maybe the same storm came every day, wreaking a new kind of havoc.
I didn’t think I had the time to move Dad and he was completely passed out so I just sat on his lap and guided the giant van to the back of the building. It must have gone on for three blocks. By the time we got to the room it had started to rain. I lifted Dad out and we went to the door. I unlocked it, tossed him in, and went back to the van for the flame. Reaching the room safely, I slammed the door and sat down, exhausted, on the bed. On the door was posted a sign that said: STORMPROOFED FOR YOUR PROTECTION. DO NOT LEAVE ROOM DURING STORM!
Just as I finished reading it, thunder boomed and I heard what may have been rain but was most probably hail pelt the tattered door and the boarded up window. On the bedside table was a laminated sheet of paper with a lightning bolt at the top and, below that, WELCOME TO TRUCULANT. It seemed like a history of the town. I figured I would most probably nap during the storm and thought I might as well read the history of their city before falling asleep.
It was written in all caps and gave me the impression that whoever wrote it was yelling at me:
WELCOME TO TRUNCULANT AND THANK YOU FOR BEING A PART OF OUR THRIVING TOURIST INDUSTRY! SITUATED ON THE BORDER OF KANSAS AND CALIFORNIA (?) TRUCULANT AND IN THE FABLED STORM DISTRICT TRUCULANT COUNTS ITSELF AS PART OF NO STATE. IF YOU ARE HERE IN TRUCULANT THEN YOU MUST BE HEAR FOR THE STORMS. THESE STORMS ASIDE FROM BEING AN AWESOME SPECTACLE ARE ALSO PART OF ARE CAPITALIST STRENGTH. EACH DAY AT SOME TIME UNKNOWN TO ANYONE BUT OUR MAKER A STORM DESCENDS ON THE CITY AND DESTORYS ANYTHING IN ITS PATH!! AS YOU CAN IMAGINE THIS WOULD BE QUITE COSTLY IF YOUR PRIMARY TRADE WAS NOT LABOR. SINCE OUR PRIMARY TRADE IS LABOR WE HAVE PLENTY TO GO AROUND. WE NEED PEOPLE TO HELP BOARD UP WINDOWS AND REPLACE WINDOWS. WE NEED PEOPLE TO REMOVE TREES FROM CARS AND CORPSES FROM THE GUTTERS. IN SHORT. WE NEED YOU!!! SO TAKE A LOOK AROUND. LIKE WHAT YOU SEE? IF YOU WOULD BE INTERESTED IN STAYIG GIVE THE PRESIDENT A CALL. HE WOULD BE GLAD TO HERE FROM YOU!!! ENJOY YOUR STAY IN TRUCULANT AND THINK ABOUT MAKING IT A PERMANENT ONE!!!
I placed the piece of paper on the bedside table and thought about how it may be the most hopelessly optimistic, depressing, and poorly edited welcome I’d ever received. And then I fell asleep.