When I came to the van was moving. Wrench had apparently woken up before me. We were on some kind of super highway. Eight rows of traffic, all moving very fast. Given our sparse, almost apocalyptically empty travels thus far, this was kind of surprising.
“Where the hell are we?” I asked.
“Have no idea.”
“Did you look at the map?”
“I tried but it was blank.”
“Yeah, the last time I looked at it it was just a picture of a dog.”
“I think someone is messing with us.”
“I’ve kind of thought that for a while.”
“It’s most probably the Nefarions. They are the source of much confusion and bewilderment.”
“Yes. By the way, I think we need to talk.”
“Okay.” I pulled myself up in the seat and silently braced myself for what Wrench was about to say. Whenever he said we needed to talk it was usually pretty cataclysmic.
“About those corpses back there...”
“Yeah. What about them?”
“It was all a farce. Or, well, here’s what I think... I think they were all imposters.”
“I’ve been thinking... If everyone has an imposter then do the imposters have real lives? Do the imposters have imposters? I mean, they can never be assimilated into the lives of the people they are imitating so...”
“I’m not really sure about that.”
“But you’re an imposter.”
“Actually, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“You’re not an imposter?”
“No. I’m your real father.”
I buried my head in my hands. What the hell was going on?
“Then why tell me you’re an imposter? If you’re my real father then why did you wear a costume for the past twenty years?”
“You might as well sit back.”
I again leaned back in my seat, looking out the window of the van at all the other traffic. Part of me wished I was in one of those other cars, full of people doing mundane things like going to work or maybe just going on vacation or headed home or going out to meet some friends. But, I realized, I was glad I was not one of them. I had tried that, albeit briefly, and it had failed miserably. Wrench began speaking and I heard what I was supposed to believe was the true story of the last twenty years or so.
All the strangeness began on that day the elephant wind came to take my grandfather away. Of course, when that happened, my father was well aware of the Nefarions because, ever since my grandfather had stolen Brilliance from them, our family had been cursed. In fact, the whole world had been cursed. Bringing a piece of them into our world opened the door between our world and theirs. Their main goal seemed to be to break down our reality. Hence the imposters and strange towns that do not live under any law. Whereas my grandfather knew he could simply return the flame and end it all, he refused to do this. Part of him wanted to make the academic world and, really, the whole world, pay for ignoring him. He wanted to prove his point on a grand scale. Another reason was Grandfather felt the presence of the Nefarions actually enhanced the world. It kept the boredom factor down and introduced an element of the unexpected into people’s lives. He knew he was taking a risk but he still refused to return the flame.
My father did not feel the same way at all. He only wanted things to go back to normal. He had a family to raise and he wanted to do that in the most traditional manner possible. Like my grandfather, he had dabbled in anthropology but, seeing that his name was sullied before he even began, he dropped out of school, started a family, and went to work in a hot air balloon basket factory. The work was not rewarding but the normalcy it provided was. Then, when my grandfather came to live with him, he knew the normalcy was over. My grandfather was anything but normal and, even more than that, was the unrelenting cause of the family curse. At first, my father refused to let him in the house if he insisted on bringing the flame, thinking maybe this would inspire him to return it. Instead, my grandfather just slept out in the yard for an entire summer, the flame tucked securely under his arm. Once it became cold, my father couldn’t bear the thought of him sleeping out in the frost and let him enter the house, flame and all. His plan was to wait until the old man separated himself from the flame and then set it outside, knowing it would probably be gone by morning. But my grandfather never did that. He kept himself shackled to the flame, pulling it behind him like a pet until deciding to hide it. After a few years, no one really thought anything of it.
And then the elephant wind had come to take Grandfather away and everything changed again. My father went looking for him, taking the flame, much like we were doing now. The factory, however, had only given him two weeks off and, once the two weeks were over and he still hadn’t found my grandfather, he returned to the old farmhouse, stored the flame up in the attic and waited. He couldn’t just leave Brilliance out for the Nefarions to come and reclaim. He needed it as a bartering tool. He needed it if he ever wanted to see my grandfather again.
My father had apparently always struggled with his weight, as though it were something that appeared daily and challenged him to a fight. While he was on his journey, he met a group of people who subjected him to twenty-four rigorous hours of diet and exercise and, when the day was over, he had found that he had lost an incredible seventy-five pounds. The sight of his return so shocked my mother and the children (neither of us recognized him) that she insisted he wear the costume. They had one specially made and he discovered he liked it. Part of this was too avoid all the gawking when he went back to work. At the factory, you couldn’t do anything different without everyone not only noticing it but pointing it out to you. So like if he got a haircut he would have a hundred people a day say, “Haircut?” and he would have to either say the obvious, “Yes,” or just lie and say no. The only other alternative was to get a haircut every week so it looked as if his hair never grew. Until he had the costume made. Then no one ever asked any questions. Then he looked the same every day. There was also a creepy sexual roleplaying undertone that Mom derived from the costume. Like being married to one man but having sex with another, since he had to take it off to do that. But I tried not to think about that too much.
So they settled into the routine. He in his costume, Mom doing whatever it was she did, the kids doing whatever it was we did. For years and years.
And then the Nefarions had stolen Mother. That was pretty much where our story began. They had stolen Mother and Dad didn’t know how he would tell me so he planted the mother doll on the floor, faked a funeral and told me she was dead. But she wasn’t dead, only missing, ha ha. And then, because I had walked in and caught him without the costume on, he had told me that he was an imposter and tried to escape because he didn’t want to bring me into it and planned on doing it alone.
So, Gary Wrench, the swinging bachelor bestialist, no longer existed. I found I kind of missed him given he had become more a father to me over the past couple of days than my real father ever had been. But now I discovered he was my real father. Only it had been my real father playing the role of someone who was not my father but had only pretended to be for the past twenty years. All very confusing. I had to fight the urge to take a nap. I should have known it was my real father by the napping. An inherited quality, no doubt.
“So,” he said when he finished the story. “What do you think?”
“What do I think? I’m kind of trying not to think because I’m pretty sure whatever I think will be wrong.”
“Fair enough,” he said and savagely cut the van across five lanes of traffic, barreling down the exit ramp.
“Where are we going?”
“I just had to get off that highway. The traffic was killing me.”
I had been so engrossed in his story I hadn’t even noticed the traffic.