Stairway to Evil (15)

Synopsis:  Roger Kiser is new to the far cast town of Buffalo Rind, North Dakota.  Evening is approaching and the temperature is dropping quickly.  The town’s largest church is closed for cleaning and the only other possible help is from an old man named Minot and his three conniving dogs, Lucifer, Beelzebub, and Mephistopheles.  The old man has an option for Roger although the young man may not like it.

This is a continuation of the Buffalo Rind story.  To read the beginning of the story, please look in the Buffalo Rind category.  If your looking for the regular DodoEggs.com posts, skip this.
 
A knowing grin spread slowly across Minot’s countenance.  He rose slowly and his cumbersome boots started making strides for the front door.  “Perfect!  Stay here for a second.  I need to grab my flashlight and keys.  Then I’ll show you your new home!”

Less than a minute later, Kiser was being led behind the brick home to a heavy wooden door mounted at a slant against an extension of the foundation. It took Minot a while to release the stubborn lock.  Finally with a heave, both men managed to release the door from the ice that bound it.  Snow slid off the door with muted thumps.  A three-foot post stood an arm’s length from the cellar.  It had a slanted top, which readily accepted the door’s weight.

Roger straightened and investigated the opening that remained. The bare concrete stairwell before him melted into a darkness and shadow.  Many of the stairs were chipped and there were several cracks that meandered like bolts of lightning from the cellar walls to the stairs.  Beyond the steps, Roger could see nothing. 

However, it wasn’t what he saw that most disturbed him.  It was what he heard.  Roger stopped moving to better hear the moans, screams, and other wrenching sounds.

Minot spoke in a surprisingly indifferent tone.  “The cellar has everything you need.   The bathroom is on the north side someplace.”  The old man took off a glove and rubbed his temples.  “There is an old fridge down there and a hooked up rotary phone.  Anything you find in the fridge is old so throw it away.  You’ll be asked to pay for any long distance calls.  At one time, I was going to rent this place and not give it away.”

Roger turned back to the stairwell.  He wasn’t sure at first but now he was quite sure.  There were sounds of torment echoing from the home’s darkened cellar.   Was the old man unaware of this?

“Sir, uh, do you hear…” From behind him, the sound of twelve rapidly advancing paws interrupted Kiser. 

“Stand your ground this time son.”  Minot placed his hand on Roger’s arm.  “They are just trying to frighten you.  Don’t let them.”

Despite this admonition, Roger deftly took one step back from the dog’s direct path.  The Dobermans slowed as they came upon the cellar entrance.  They then took easy flights, each one bounding from just a single step, down the steps into the darkness below.

Still nonchalant as ever, the older man continued, “Well, I haven’t any idea what that was about.”

Both Roger and Minot bent over to try and catch a glimpse of the three dogs.  The light near the street and the old man’s flashlight didn’t help much.  The dogs couldn’t be seen and all that could be heard were the sound of maniacal laughter and gut-wrenching screams.

Minot straightened and continued, “Yea, I’m sorry about the noise and clutter down there.  I don’t hear it in the house most of the time.  The local Charity Cause had its usual haunted house fundraiser here.

Anyway, this year they asked if they could store all the props and scenes down here instead of their self-storage unit.  I said no, but Oswego thought it would be a great way to involve himself with more women.  That’s a whole other story.”  Minot scowled a bit.  “I guess they thought it would be cool to play their stupid soundtrack while filling the cellar full with this junk.  They somehow buried the stereo and loud speakers before turning them off.  I guess it’s set on some sort of repeat because, well, it just never shuts up.  I’ve been so busy this past month and a half that I haven’t been able to fix it myself”

Roger was in a state of shock.  “And what am I supposed to do about it!  It’s freezing, I’m frozen and you’re asking me to stay in a dark basement full of Halloween props!  This isn’t normal!  This makes no sense!”

Minot just shrugged his shoulders.  “That’s fine with me.  All you need to do is go down there, sort through the junk, and unplug the stereo.  I’m sure my old space heater is down there.  It’s still early enough this evening for you to get something done.  Just tell me you’re not scared.”

Seemingly on cue, the dogs burst from the darkness.  Lucifer almost knocked Roger over.  Once above ground they ran in circles yelping as if terrified with their tails between their legs. 

“Ihr ist verruckt!  (You guys are stupid!)  Dumb Hunds!”  The old man didn’t consider their little prank amusing. 

“Geh weg oder essen Sie nicht!  (Go away or you won’t eat!)”

With that last shout, the Dobermans stopped their show and scampered off into a snow-covered hedge. 

Minot turned back to Roger.  “Hey, don’t let those stupid dogs get to you.”

The breach in Kiser’s confidence was now miles wide.  “Minot sir, I don’t think I can do this.  I appreciate your offer but there has to be some other place for me.  All I’m really looking for is a sweet old lady who has a small upstairs room for rent.  Maybe she bakes me cookies, knits doilies, and has too many cats.  I wasn’t planning on dealing with anything like this.”

“Suit yourself.”  Minot shrugged his shoulders and leaned over to pull up the door.  “But it seems to me you have as many options as North Dakota has coastline.  After all, with that stupid Alien Days is in town there aren’t too many rooms left.  I’m sure you can just pop a fifty-dollar bill in some clerk’s pocket and he will locate a room.  Am I right?”  

Roger closed his eyes and clenched his teeth.  “I have no friends, no family, no money.  I’m lost in a frozen no-man’s-land with nothing but a tattered backpack full of garbage.  My only option is the storage shed of the undead guarded by a three-headed canine terror. So I suppose I’ll take it.”

Minot had the door halfway shut before Kiser agreed.  “Great.  Good decision.  You will grow from this experience.  Just push all that junk down there as much to one side as you can.  It won’t hurt anything.”

Once he had set the door back down, he began making his way toward the front of the home.  “Alright look, I was in the middle of something really important.  If you need something, just come to the front door.”  The old man turned the corner and the last thing Roger heard was, “Otherwise I’ll see you in the morning, if you live that long!  Ha!”

On The Porch (14)

Synopsis:  If you’re just joining the story, Roger Kiser is a young man who was abandoned by his foster family at a bus stop with nothing but a backpack and a bus ticket.  The bus eventually dropped him off at a western outpost known as Buffalo Rind, North Dakota.  Without shelter from the mid-winter cold, Roger sought out the town’s largest church in hopes of receiving help.  Instead he was directed to the large home next door.  The home’s resident called for Roger to approach the home.  While walking up the yard, three dogs freighted Roger and he slipped on an icy patch breaking his family’s jar of urine (boys used it in the car for emergencies).  Let’s pick it up…

It took several minutes for Roger to reach the screen door.  He opened it and gave a weak greeting. “Uh, hello sir.  Are you Minot?  I understand he lives here and the notice on the church door said he could help me.  I need a place to stay for the night.”

The older gentleman narrowed his eyes.  He studied the young man trying to tag an age to him.  Roger waited uncomfortably for Minot to answer.

Minot became trapped by a stampede of quick thoughts.  “Hmmm, he looks like he’s about a junior in high school.  Probably a run away.  Look at that!  He’s not even wearing a coat!  Wait,” Minot sniffed a bit.  “Is that urine I smell?”

“Sir?” 

The smell put a scowl on the Minot’s face that was impossible to soften.  The old man’s demeanor and freezing breath gave him the look of a puffing dragon. “Yes, I’m Minot.  Kid, how old are you?  Where are you from?”

Kiser leaned stiffly to one side and placed his backpack on the ground at the base of the porch steps.  “Sir, I just turned nineteen and I’m from Lexa, Arkansas.” 

Roger was still standing awkwardly in the porch doorway.

It wasn’t often people from the southern United States made it this far north.  They usually froze to death somewhere in the middle of Nebraska. “Arkansas huh?  Ok then, come in son.  I shouldn’t be so rude regardless of how you smell.”  The old man turned from the doorway and took a seat on one of three weathered wooden chairs.  “Here, take the seat opposite and slightly downwind of me.”

Roger left his backpack where he had dropped it.  “I’m sorry sir.  When the dogs ran by me, I accidentally dropped my jar of pee.  I may not smell too hot but it’s mostly my bag.  You see it was my job to keep track of the boy’s bottle during long road trips.  In retrospect I should have gotten rid of it.”  He placed his carry case on a small table.  “My name is Roger Kiser.”

“Hello Roger,” the aged man’s face eased considerably.  His expression wasn’t pleasant just nonbelligerent.  It gave his breath the look of a white cloud instead of smoke.  The man brought his hand up to the chest of his heavy flannel.  “My name is Minot. Now, where is your family?”

“I have none.”   The look of desperation that lingered on Roger’s face turned forcefully to disgust.  “I sprang fully formed from a social worker’s garbage can in Little Rock.  She arranged my adoption to a proud family that can trace their lineage all the way back to the first marijuana plant.  After my usefulness expired, they mercifully released me to the whims of US interstate system.”
 
Minot responded with a heavy sigh.  He took a few moments to study his boots before responding.  “Well Roger, when you leave here where do you plan on going?”

This was bad news.  If Minot wasn’t going to help him then he had nowhere to go but back over to the church.  A bit of disappointment tinged his voice.  “Uh, well, I suppose I’ll go over to that church on the other side of the street.  If there is anyone there, I’ll ask for someplace to sleep tonight.  If no one answers the front door, I’ll try the buildings in the back.”   

Kiser stood and retrieved his carrying case.

“Wait, believe me, Ollie doesn’t want you over there.”  Minot sounded certain.  The old man paused again before continuing. “I can arrange a place for you to sleep.  But tomorrow we will contact your family and see if there is some way you can be reconciled.”

Roger turned and walked straight for the screen door.

Minot was out of his seat now.  “Look, you can’t just run off.  There is nowhere for you to go and I’m willing to bet you don’t have any money.  Why don’t you sit back down and tell me why you don’t want to go home.”

 “Sir, I would rather train roaches to do tricks on a street corner in Haiti than return home again.”

“Well, sit down and tell me what’s wrong with Arkansas?”

“Well, it isn’t really Arkansas anymore sir.”  Roger walked back over and took his seat he took a deep breath, and narrated his unusual voyage.

After hearing Roger’s story, Minot wasn’t sure whether to believe the young man or not.  His tale sounded surreal but the earnestness with which it was told seemed genuine.  In the end, he decided to offer the young man a more permanent solution and convince him to return to his family at a later date.  At least he would be out and lost in the middle of nowhere.

“Roger,” he began.  “I have a cellar that would make a fine apartment.  There is no access from it to the main house.  The only entrance is a heavy slanted door out on the back of the house.”  The old man raised his voice a bit.  “However, it takes two things to rent the cellar.  It takes commitment and courage.  It requires a little more of one than the other.  Do you happen to have either?” 

“Uh, what do you mean by that?”

“Do you want someplace to stay or not?”

Roger quickly responded, “Well, sure but…”

“Then get your pee bag and let’s go.” 

The large pet flap on the screen door opened and closed.  One of the dogs casually sauntered to his master’s side.  In his mouth was a segment of the shoulder strap from Roger’s backpack.

For a moment, the old man seemed amused. “It looks like the dogs have decided that you are below them in the pecking order around here.”  Minot leaned over and mumbled something to the dog that sounded Germanic.  “Das stimmt nicht.  Er wohnt hier.” 

In response, the dog growled and dropped the tattered remains of Roger’s strap.  It then scampered back to the front yard.  “Yea, sorry Roger.  I should have told you that anything in the yard the dogs consider theirs.  They show very little remorse or interest in compensation.”

“Uh Minot sir, what did you say to him?

“I told them you would be staying here and that they were not to eat you.  Relax while I grab the cellar keys.”

Devils or Dogs (13)

Synopsis:  Roger Kiser is homeless in the town of Buffalo Rind, North Dakota.  It’s just after Christmas and the weather is cold enough to give Santa frostbite.  Roger approached a large cathedral in search of some help.  The notice on the church doors instructed him to approach the stately mansion next door.  Roger approached the iron gate and was greeted by a trio of unwelcoming Doberman pinchers.  An old man emerges from the home and instructs Roger to toss each dog a penny.  He does and the dogs disappear. 

Giving the hinges a good hard stare, Roger skipped all three steps and ascended onto the lawn’s brick path.  He gently closed the gate behind him.  The squeak that had alerted the dogs had strangely disappeared. 

Roger took a few steps toward the home and nearly fell.  A transparent layer of ice over the snow made each step a bit of a balancing act.  The driveway near the home was free of ice and snow indicating that the path Roger had chosen was never properly cleared.

It was just another twist in his quest to find some lodging for the evening.  The older gentleman had obviously mistaken him for someone named Oswego.  On top of this, the dogs had disappeared again which meant they could reappear at any moment.  Kiser felt as if he was on the precipice of becoming dog food.
 
He was halfway up the path when the dogs made their unexpected reappearance.  Roger was nearing the home’s patio and was trying to make eye contact with the old man so he didn’t notice the rushing canines right away.  They came at a run but they weren’t barking.  The only sounds at all were the short multiple snaps of hardened snow breaking under their paws.  They came like bullets tearing around the mansion’s corner.

They were racing directly toward Roger.  When Kiser finally noticed them, he panicked and tried to twist his torso back to the safety of the gate.  As he switched directions his right foot slipped from underneath him with his left hanging in mid-step.  The backpack slid off his shoulder and Kiser landed face down on the unforgiving, frozen earth. 

He heard the sound of glass breaking but was momentary unconcerned.  He heaved himself to one side prepared to protect whatever limbs he could but the dogs had already passed.  One leapt gracefully over his backpack the other two altered their course slightly to transcend him on both sides.  An instant later they were around the mansion’s corner and gone again.

“Hey son!  Sorry about that!  Don’t let the dogs bother you!  If they didn’t want you here you’d be dead already!”

Kiser picked up his backpack and recognized the stench immediately.  He knew that his family’s travel jar of urine had broken, and that his scant belongings were forever tainted.  As quickly as he could, he removed the small carry-on to protect the cell phone.
 
********************

Before hearing the commotion associated with Roger’s arrival, Minot had been enjoying a crossword puzzle at the kitchen table.  Thursday evenings were the quietest part of the week for him.  He took that time to relax.  If only the puzzle would cooperate, he would be having a wonderful time.

“Hmm, let’s see…a ten letter word for successful and prosperous.”  He tapped the eraser end of his pencil against his pursed lips.  Inspiration struck.  “Hmm, B, U, T, T, K, I, S, S, E, R.”

He was in the middle of erasing several more reasonable answers that no longer fit, when he heard one of the dog’s resolute “your attention is necessary” barks.

Minot grudgingly grabbed his boots and stepped out the heavy front door, and onto the porch.  Before pulling the door shut, he flipped on the outside light.  It wasn’t quite dark yet but his vision wasn’t exactly keen.  He had left his glasses on the table and cursed his forgetfulness.  There was someone standing on the other side of the front gate, but it was hard to identify whom with seventy-year-old eyes.

The slumped stature however, did look moderately like his brother.  “Oswego?  Oswego is that you?  Well c’mon then!  Offer the dogs a penny, and they will leave you alone!  Then hurry on up here!  You should know that by now you brainless prop!”  He turned to retrieve his glasses.  “I’ll be back in a minute.”

When he returned, the visitor was about twenty feet from the porch.  Minot gained a better view of what he thought was Oswego.  He then mumbled about his failing eyesight.  This young man was definitely not his brother, and the old man didn’t feel like enduring any solicitations.

“This better not be another stupid, worthy cause.  Just because of my profession, people think I should give to everything!  Well maybe I have priorities!   Just last week, I purchased twelve boxes of Youth Scout’s pastries.  Those idiots mixed up my order from blueberry to rhubarb.  Rhubarb!”  Minot’s face crumpled up with distaste.  He hated rhubarb, but was forced to eat them because he strongly believed food should never be wasted.

The young man was about halfway up the path when the dogs ran past him.  Sometimes his dogs would dash around the house kicking up snow.  He could only guess they were just chasing each other or racing.  Whatever it was, Oswego couldn’t complain enough about their adverse effects on his lawn and landscaping.  The old man should have cared for his brother’s concerns but often didn’t.   

The old man loved his dogs.  As pups, however, they caused more problems than they were worth.  Rex, King, and Caesar had been their original names.  After two weeks of ownership, he switched them to Lucifer, Beelzebub, and Mephistopheles.

“Ha, those dumb dogs are probably going to scare the pee out of that poor kid.”  
Roger jumped, and yelled for mercy as the Dobermans sprinted by.  He dropped his backpack, and fell hard.  Something broke when his bag hit the ground. 

The older gentleman could only shake his head in disgust. “Well crud, I suppose I’ll be asked to pay for that.”  He took a breath and raised his voice, “Hey son, sorry about that.  Don’t let the dogs bother you.  If they didn’t want you here you’d be dead already.”

The Gate (12)

Synopsis:  Roge Kiser has escaped his adoptive family by bus and found himself stranded in frostbitten Buffalo Rind, North Dakota.  His dirty sweatshirt and jeans are the only protection he has from the bitter cold.  He needs a place to stay.

The day’s sunlight was beginning to wane and the temperature began to plummet further.  He attempted to stay comfortable by briskly walking in and out of nearby businesses.  Each time he would walk into a business Roger would walk over to the batteries and other items near the doors.  After a few minutes of soaking in as much heat as possible, he would shrug or act like he forgot his wallet.

The act was getting old.  “Most of these places are closing.  Once the sun goes down, I won’t be able to bend over without breaking in half.“ 

With teeth chattering uncontrollably, Roger decided to address his lack of residency.  He dug the classifieds from a dented garbage receptacle, and shook the snow off.  He knew this was most likely a waste of time.  He had no money. 

Every listing required a substantial deposit and several references.  The only resources he had in his duffle bag were Nole’s phone, a kazoo he bought with his only cash, several completely useless Tour Exciting North Dakota! brochures, a quarter recently found under a bus seat, an assortment of  items from the carry-on case, and a jar of freezing urine. 

Then Roger found a listing that began,  “No hope?  Have you lost your way?  Does the world seem foreign?  Find help for life’s problems at Saint Vanilla’s Cathedral.”

Another frozen sigh escaped Kiser’s chapped lips.  “I suppose I have indeed reached charitable proportions.”  

He compared the address with the map of Buffalo Rind on the back of an Alien Days bulletin.  The church wasn’t far from where he was now. 

Roger began walking and invested little attention to the sidewalk before him.  After four careless steps, his dragging feet tripped on something jammed into the sidewalk and he almost fell. 

Roger glanced down to find a penny resting on its side.  The edge of the coin was remarkably stuck in the narrow crevice between sections of the concrete sidewalk.  About six inches away, another two pennies were stuck in a similar posture.

“Well, isn’t that remarkable.”  Kiser reached down and pried the coins loose from the bits of snow that clung to them.  “What are the chances of this lost coin landing on its side?  And then finding two more just the same!”

He spun one of the copper discs between his index and naughty finger and continued on his way.

********************

Roger saw the church well before arriving there.  In fact, he spied it as soon as he had left the business district.  The tall brick spire was easily the most important landmark visible other than the grain elevator that rose behind him. 

At first, Kiser’s journey took him past a series of drab homes surrounded by moats of ice and snow.  The only impressions of life came from a few stunted evergreen trees.  Then the land began to slowly rise and the parade of homes became more dignified and stately.  More were made of brick and the cleared driveways became longer. 

The last block before arriving at the cathedral was almost completely given to a home fantastically more noble than its peers.  The regal structure was three stories high with a steeply sloped roof.  Maroon shaded brick, rare for this region, held the mansion together with black trim lining each window and gable.  A high cast iron fence secured the abode and it’s even, snow laced yard.

The land rose subtly giving this home a pedestal or throne upon which to silently observe its domain.  The rest of the homes, many nice enough on their own, appeared before this home and the cathedral across the street as pennant worshipers quiet and reverent in the presence of betters.  Only the occasional pickup disturbed the neighborhood’s demeanor. 

“Wow.”  Despite his rush, Roger stopped to admire the home.  “I wonder what kind of money you have to have to live here?”

An extra gust of bitter cold pushed Kiser to continue toward the church. 

It was a massive, brick and stone structure with a single spire facing the same street as the front of the mansion.  Tall evenly spaced stained glass windows dominated the side facing Roger.  A thin layer of undisturbed snow covered the high pitched roof.  Behind the church were several associated buildings made with the shade of brick. Kiser guessed these to be the vicarage and church school.

Thankfully, Roger noted, it was still celebrating the Christmas holiday.  Holly laced the outside of the church, and all the evergreens were beautifully decorated with tinsel and lights.  From where Roger stood he could see the side of a simple, rustic nativity scene, which put to shame the ridiculous scene downtown. 

Roger crossed the street and marched up the steps toward the front doors.  The ten foot, heavy wooden doors were closed tight with a notice attached to a brass clip.  The posted paper read, “The sanctuary and offices are closed for year end cleaning.  If you are in need of assistance, please see Minot across the street.

Kiser turned back toward the beautiful home.  It was hard to hide his excitement.  “I guess I will get to find out who lives there after all.”

He now had a perfectly good excuse for disturbing the owner of this estate but his dirty jeans, sweatshirt, and unkempt hair couldn’t make the best impression.  But with no other options and a rapidly darkening sky, Roger marched back to the front of the home’s iron gate. 

He unlatched the gate and gave it a gentle push.  The hinges squealed in alarm as it drifted open.  Roger hesitated cocking one eyebrow and looking to either side before stepping up the couple steps to the yard.  Before him was a beaten and icy path to the front porch with an undisturbed layer of snow on either side.

Kiser heard the movement and sensed the danger at once.  There was a rustle in the thick row of hedges near the foundation of the home.  Then a trio of large Dobermans exploded from the greenery with a rush that disturbed the powder around and on top of it.  They raced toward the gate like darts.  There was no barking but to Roger’s sense of self-preservation the intent was no doubt his dismemberment.  With little time to spare, he leaped back, grabbed the gate, and swung it back into its original position. 

The dogs came to a halt inches from the black bars and began staring at Roger.  All three dogs appeared identical and dangerous.  The dogs were both thin and well muscled a perfect ratio of speed and strength contained in a sleek brown and tan body.  Each feature of these animals seemed stretched from their legs to their muzzle, torso, and ears.  Each kept a posture that was tense and still.  Their unhurried breath was the only thing that made any noise.  For a minute, Roger wondered what his next action should be. 

“Well, are you going to bark at me or what?” 

The middle dog answered with a series of sharp barks.  They did not sound angry just to the point with a very consistent cadence.

The alert must have reached the mansion.  A porch light came on and the front door opened.  An elderly man appeared from the house.  He stepped outside, but stayed on the porch.  He was wearing a flannel and overalls.  Roger could see that he was attempting to determine his visitor’s identity.

Eventually, the old man took a guess, “Oswego?  Oswego is that you?  Well c’mon then!  Offer the dogs a penny, and they will leave you alone!  Then hurry on up here!  You should know that by now you brainless prop!  I’ll be back in a minute.”  He opened the door and rushed inside.

Roger was confused but the old man seemed authoritative enough.  He dug in his pockets and found the pennies.  He then tossed the three coins through the barricade.  The dogs each licked one up, and scampered off toward the back of the home. 

This time, the gate opened silently.

This is Skechenko (11)

Synopsis:  Driven by a bland temperament and a thirst for normality, Roger Kiser has arrived at one of western civilization’s most isolated outposts, a small town in western North Dakota.  A shuttle service has dropped him off in the middle of this small town and he is again left to fend for himself.  Despite the frigid weather, all he has to wear is a thick sweatshirt.  Everything he owns he carries in a large duffle bag.

The small commercial district was constructed for the simple sophistication of a previous time.  There were brick sidewalks beside fairly narrow streets and the intersections didn’t have stoplights.  Each brick building was a flat fronted two-story shop marked by large windows in the front.  Cars were parallel parked or rolling by at a snail’s pace.  A layer of snow and ice sat on every sill and awning.

Everyone seemed to be minding his or her own business.  No one spoke to one another.  Strangers felt no obligation to say hello or even look at each other.  The cold weather was to blame for part of this the rest must have been innate.    

Roger spun, and caught sight of his reflection in a storefront window.  His clothes, face and hair appeared completely disheveled, but his expression conveyed someone satisfied with the pair of deuces he had been dealt.

It was then that close to a dozen children in alien outfits went started down the street.  All wore long coats imbedded with billions of green sequins.  Together the children’s matching outfits almost forced Kiser’s eyes to blur.  Some were cute with large luminescent eyes and blinking antennas, others were gruesome with claws and fangs keeping their fingers warm.  Four adults (who looked about as if they were seeing snow for the first time) flanked them.

Their quick chatter sounded as confusing as their appearance.  They parted only slightly as they wandered by Roger.  “Hey, let’s go hunt down some rangores… do you think Skechenko will use his lightning rays this time… I heard you like Suzy…hey, you got a frozen booger…that’s no booger, that’s a loose sparkly…hey, you know what?  Skechenko is blasting you with an eye beam!” 

Roger turned away, and took a closer, more critical look at his surroundings.  There were portrayals of bearded men everywhere, but few were Santa.  Green, especially the sequined variety, appeared dominant over its red counterpart.  Sleighs and reindeer competed with saucers and antenna for every storefront window.

Kiser finally took notice of the brochure the van driver had given him.  On the front was a bearded man in a green robe that possibly representative of God.  He was standing with a group of frighteningly happy children and adolescents.  Behind them was a starry expanse filled with exploding flying saucers.  Above this, near the top of the pamphlet, it read,

 “Welcome to Alien Days!  Your post Christmas, pre New Year’s Eve Boredom relief!”

He opened the brochure, and his confusion multiplied geometrically.

It read, “ *Are you sick of the wasted days between December Twenty- Fifth and January First? 

*Do you want to squeeze every last bit of enjoyment out of the year’s leftover week?

*Did you know that most astronomers in 15th century Europe predicted that America would experience a massive extraterrestrial invasion?

*Be sure to Meet Skechenko, Direct Descendant of 9 out of 10 European Astrologers, and Defender of Mankind!

The elation of normalcy disappeared behind questions piling upon each other.  Roger needed a rational explanation. 

Directly behind him, the whining of a small child and a perturbed adult caught Kiser’s attention.  A normal looking middle-aged man was dragging his reluctant daughter after the previous group trying to catch up.  The gentleman wore a black scarf, a brown overcoat, and an undiluted expression of discontent.  It was plain to see that this gentleman was not at all enamored with his surroundings.  The child at his feet wore a neon green parka and fake antennae.  The little one was jumping with excitement, her nose bright red from the cold. 

When the man noticed Roger’s approach, his countenance shifted from unhappy to upset.  For a moment, Kiser considered engaging someone else.  Before he could turn, the gentleman’s dower expression turned into a sarcastic smirk.

“What’s the matter?  Isn’t it what you expected?”

Roger realized he was holding the brochure somewhat protectively between him and the man.  “Um, uh, I was hoping this was a, uh, you know, a quiet, remote place to call home.”

“Not during this time of year.”  The man replied.  “The town council decided we don’t have enough morons in the Rind the way it is so they try to import them this time of year.  ‘We’ll be the next Wall Drug, South Dakota they say!  We wish!  It’s too cold to be out wondering around!”

“Wall what?  Why would a place like this want to import morons?”

The man took a breath and adjusted his scarf.  “Well before this area was settled, the indigenous Indians would take this time of year to have a wild celebration.  When they did this, no one was charged five dollars for stuffed toys and they sure didn’t charge their own people twenty dollars for a freaking T-shirt!  Can you believe that?”

He paused to lower his voice.  The girl at his feet was becoming impatient.  “Anyway, the point was to scare away the evil ‘spirits’.  Whatever the heck that means. The event generated little enthusiasm since people today are far too intelligent to believe in ‘spirits’.”

The child pulled a plastic laser gun out from her coat, and proceeded to vaporize several others who were strolling along the sidewalk. 

“Sally, stop that!”  The man waited to make sure he was heard. “Anyway, the ridiculous town council changed the theme to aliens, and now we get visitors from as exotic locations like Wyoming.”

Roger pointed to his brochure.  “And what about this bearded guy?”

“You mean Skechenko the Magnificent?”  The man’s voice took the subtle step from sarcasm to mocking.  “Skechenko is actually a failed theater major from Local College.  How you fail theater classes is anybody’s guess.  Anyway, the planning committee uses him to play Santa during Christmas and shaman during the festival.  Every year they slap a robe and a beard on him, and send him to work.  He’s a nut case, a weirdo.  Him and his partner too.”

The young girl beside Roger’s informant became impatient, and began yanking his arm.  “C’mon Daddy!  I want to eat some alien brains! C’mon, c’mon!”

An Icy Hug (10)

Synopsis:  Roger Kiser has been abandoned by his adoptive family and tossed on a bus headed through North Dakota.  The bus’s path will take it into Montana where Roger could meet his family again.  To avoid this, Roger decides to get off the bus just before it leaves.  Another passenger named Elvis tries to befriend Roger and convinced him to stay.  When Elvis is rebuffed, he curses Roger.  Coincidentally, Roger slips getting off the bus.  

Roger groaned and lifted his throbbing torso away from the bus.  The two paneled door immediately slid shut behind him.  Through the glass, Kiser could still hear the muffled sounds of Elvis further berating him.  Soon, the protests were drowned as the purring of the bus’s engine grew to a roar.

Hesitantly, the bus rolled slowly away, and Roger was left in a low cloud of white exhaust and chilled breath.  A moment later, the frigid wind’s force scattered the exhaust. 

Kiser straightened completely then wrapped his arms tightly around his body.  “I don’t remember it being so cold outside.  This is crazy.”

The bluster seemed to be affecting the people adversely as well.  The few folks outside scampered to their destination with a slight bend to their bodies.  Most had thick parkas and caps.  All Kiser had was a thick sweatshirt.

Roger pulled up his hood and began marching to the bus stop.  Surrounding the large cinder block building was a sea of asphalt covered in used cars, filthy ice, waiting buses, and piles of snow.  It was little more than a frosted box built for purpose and not style.  On one side was a large mural of a man taking a large step with bowling ball stretched out on the arm behind him.  A creepy smile made it appear the man had more on his mind than making a strike.  Above this was a failing electric sign that read, The Paragon. 

What eventually caught Kiser’s attention were a couple of dingy green banners hung above the bus rear door.  The wind whipped the banners into spasms yet the message across the front read could still be read.  It said, “ Aliens Go!” 

“What was that supposed to mean?”  Roger could only assume that it referred to the local high school team.

Everything seemed perfectly lower-middle class, so Kiser hustled through a set of soiled glass doors.  He passed a retro looking bowling alley, and then an aromatic lunch counter.  Once Roger’s nostrils filled with the scents of fried food, his appetite returned with a vengeance.  Considering he had no money, there was no point in torturing himself.  He pushed through the front doors and gave the lunch counter one more passing glance.  Even the display pie looked good and it was probably twenty years old.

From the front of the bus depot, Kiser could see an expanse of commercial road and finally survey his new home.  There were few trees.  Those that did exist looked more dead than dormant.  Pickups outnumbered cars and most were neither new nor foreign.  Homes and nearby businesses were distinctly practical, with a keeping-up-appearances-is-a-waste-of-time look. There were a few working class citizens strolling in one direction or another.  Light snow covered everything and the sky was awash in gray.

Roger’s attention returned to the front parking lot.  About twenty feet to his right was a bored looking driver leaning against a small, courtesy van.  The driver had wrapped his coat and scarf tightly around his body in a futile effort to remain comfortable.  Most of his coat was bright green with sequins stitched into every seam. His bright outfit contrasted strongly with the listless expression on his face. The decals along the vehicle’s side spelled out, “City of Buffalo Rind – Transport for non-aliens.”  Below that was another strange proclamation.  “Extra Terrestrials must take a different Shuttle… to Heck!” 

The man’s glare eventually found Roger and his backpack.  Magically, his lifeless expression changed awkwardly to forced enthusiasm.  He stepped toward Kiser, and said, “Hello!  Welcome to Buffalo Rind! You’ve arrived just in time!  Let me drive you to the business district where you can find laser proof lodging, and equipment necessary for survival.  Or if you prefer, I can take you to Agmom’s Hotel and Electronic Casino.”

The man’s grin was outstandingly artificial.  The introduction sounded recited, which added to its confusing effects. As the driver approached, Roger found himself taking a few cautionary steps backward.

The man stopped a few feet from Kiser.  He began scanning for luggage. “Hmm, looks like you pack pretty light.  You are here for Alien Days right?  Or are you waiting for someone else?”

Roger knew he wasn’t expecting anyone but before proceeding he needed to check something.  “If I’m here for Alien Days, do I have to tip or pay you?” 

The driver’s expression became even less sincere, if that was possible.  “Well no, in truth it’s a free shuttle service.”  His breath escaped in white puffs that the wind immediately whipped into nonexistence.  “And since you’ve stripped me of any courtesy, are you coming or not?   It’s (uncouth clause) freezing out here.” 

The driver spun toward his van without making sure Roger was following.  Kiser pulled his backpack closer and rushed after the sequin green coat.  Before marching to the driver’s seat the man carelessly opened the van’s side passenger door.  The interior was a dark blue and without notable amenities.  Roger jumped in, and with in seconds the van was fish tailing into traffic.

When he had regained control of the vehicle, the driver glanced Roger’s way and asked, “You don’t have any money for a tip huh?” 

“Sorry.  I am without any disposable income.”

The driver didn’t seem surprised.  “Well,” he began as he reached for the radio dial, “I sure hope you like Pokka!”  Within seconds the wail of an off tune accordion drowned out any other noise and any hope of a conversation.

The final destination was not far.  They drove over a set of railroad tracks. Just to the east, a tall grain elevator stood huddled against the tracks.  About a half-mile later the street was dominated by gas stations, fast food establishments, and farm supply stores.  A generous coating of snow and dirt covered everything. 

The van stopped in the parking lot of a huge gray and blue striped department store.  A massive, lighted sign above the three sets of glass doors read, Alfa & Omega Mart.  And below that was another, smaller sign, Buy here now or when we’re the only store left.  Your Choice!

The driver turned down the volume on his radio and rotated to ask Roger a question.  “Ok, kid how’s this?”

“No thanks.”  Roger replied.  “We have these in Arkansas.  Is there anywhere else you can drop me off?”

“Sure. Really, the only reason I brought you here is so I could spin cookies in the parking lot for a second before I take you down town.”  The driver returned the volume of his radio to earsplitting levels and slammed his foot on the accelerator.

Roger grabbed the back of his seat and held until the vehicle came to rest again.   When Kiser next opened his eyes, the driver was opening his door, and gesturing for him to step out.  Grudgingly and thankfully, Roger stepped back into the cold. 

The driver’s voice sounded as if he was mumbling to himself.  “Once again, welcome to Buffalo Rind, North Dakota’s best kept secret, and that’s saying something.”  The man then handed Roger a brochure.  With blurring speed, he had returned to the driver’s seat, and Roger was left breathing exhaust.

Elvis and a Curse (9)

Synopsis:  Roger Kiser’s adoptive Arkansas family has tormented him for years with their outrageous country behavior.  When they decided to move to Montana, an old school bus was used to ferry the family north.  The bus eventually broke down and Roger was thrown on a commercial bus to an unknown location so his family could sell his belongings.

He found a lost travel case and a cell phone he uses to call some sort of executive counseling service known only as Nole.   After a week on the bus, Roger’s date with Dakota is fast approaching.

 
Roger was becoming more and more concerned about the number of others on the bus.  Upon his latest count, the freak to average Joe ratio was now three to one.  Roger shuddered.  The last thing he wanted was to engage any of the dirty, despondent passengers in any sort of conversation.

It was sometime around noon when the bus rolled to a halt in one of the countless small, prairie towns that dot the interstate system.  Initially, Roger cared so little for what he saw that he neglected to even note of the township’s name.  He knew he was somewhere in the far cast, snow-covered wasteland known as western North Dakota.

With a reluctant groan, the bus finally came to a complete stop.  The older, mustached woman he was sitting near pulled herself from her seat.  She wobbled to the front and slowly descended along with all the other freaks.  Kiser also left his seat, and approached the driver.

The rotund man operating the bus wore a stained gray uniform and a cap filled with souvenir pins from various states.  At Roger’s approach, the driver turned and flashed his yellowed teeth. “Hi there!  Pretty state isn’t it?  You know around here they measure distance in hours not miles.”

The statement took Kiser by surprise. “Pretty state?  It was like driving on a never-ending tablecloth.  Everything was white and flat as far as the eye could see.”

The driver only shrugged so Roger continued.  “I’ll bet you call every state a pretty one.”

“Yea, I suppose I do.  But wait till you see this next state.  Well, at least the western side of it.  Man, it’s really something.”  Then he smiled again. “Can you guess what state were headed to?  I’ll give you a hint, it isn’t in Canada.”

“Uh, are you trying to be funny?”  Roger decided to skip the game.  “Say, we seem to be losing passengers. Are we getting near the end of your run?” 

The driver flipped his arm over the back of his seat.  “Well see, it’s just past Christmas and most folks have already arrived at their stop.  We usually don’t start picking up with everyone going home until close to New Year’s.” 

He removed his hat and scratched his head unknowingly destroying a perfectly good comb-over.  “What that means is that this bus’s wheels stop rolling for a few days at our final stop.”

“So, uh, where exactly is this bus headed?”

His reply caused Roger to shiver. “Well, son, from hear the interstate only takes you one place.  That’s directly into the heart of beautiful Montana.  That was the answer to my question too.”

Stunned and without further reply, Roger turned and staggered back to his seat.  His breath started coming in short, violent swallows.  Being stranded in a town with no place to stay concerned him, but the possibility of encountering the former family was at least equally disturbing.  He fell into his seat and carefully weighed his options.

Minutes later, the bus was preparing to leave and he had yet to decide.  Roger’s thoughts were wholly focused on his dilemma, until a noise from the back of the bus distracted him.  It sounded as if someone was gently tapping several steel cans together.  Roger turned and saw the older man from seat 8-C suddenly beginning to move in his direction. 

As the man shuffled sideways between the rows of seats, Kiser hoped he was headed for the door.  When the man’s half full garbage bags plopped into the two seats across the isle, Roger was forced to mask his alarm.

The traveler said nothing as he adjusted himself into the nearby seat.  Roger couldn’t decide whether the stranger’s clothing was dyed a rich earth tone or covered in filth.  The man’s hair was matted flat against his head, and his presence was surrounded with a foul aroma. 

A moment later, the gentleman leaned over, and said, “Are you a wanderer too?”
 
At first Roger rebuffed him with little eye contact, curt replies, and disinterested tones. 

The gentleman leaned a little closer. “Hey buddy, what’s your Social Security Number?”  His body seemed surrounded by a miasma of almost visible odors.
 
Roger continued to try ignoring the man by looking out the opposite window.

The stranger only spoke up, “What?  Are you hard of hearing?  Hey!  My name is Elvis, and I’m looking for a friend!”

With a shake the bus stirred to life again.  If Roger let the wheels start turning he would be trapped with Elvis and flying straight toward the last state on earth he wanted to be.  The scales that had been weighing Kiser’s decision to stay or leave where abruptly tipped toward the latter.  Roger snatched his backpack, and excused himself by Elvis. 

“After all,” Roger thought, “The local billboards look pleasant enough.”

The driver had just finished fastening his seat belt and adjusting his mirrors.  “Whoa, have you decided to get off?  I can’t wait for you, time’s up.  If you get off you’re staying.”  

“Yea, uh, I’ll be getting off here.”  Roger’s benediction was received with a nod and a wave from the driver.  He reopened the doors.

“Hey!”  Elvis was taking the rejection hard.  He had stood up in his seat and was pointing in Roger’s direction.  “Let me tell you something punk!  I’m crazy and I’m not alone!”

Roger abruptly stopped.  On the bus’s final step was a small pile of ooze.  The disgusting mound was mostly red with streaks of white and a few black clumps.  Roger was unable to determine whether it was safe to step on, around, or over. 

This pause in his exit encouraged Elvis to continue, “Ha!  I thought so!  Listen punk, I curse you.  Yea, that’s right, I curse you!  You’ll never escape strange people!”  As he spoke bits of spittle flew in every direction. 

Unwilling to risk the soles of his shoes being eaten through, Roger girded himself for a leap over the mystery mound.  The pavement looked as though it was sheathed with a slick layer of ice and a dusting of snow.   He pulled his backpack tight against his shoulders and hopped with both feet.  Roger was hoping traction from both shoes would provide friction enough to steady him.  He was wrong.  Upon landing, his legs went into a bit of folk dance before landing the rest of Roger’s body squarely on his stomach.

“Hey, are you ok?”  The driver’s concern was the first to reach Roger’s ears.

“Ha!”  Even Elvis was still audible.  “Fool!  Maybe you’re unfamiliar with curses!  They will take whatever form they please.  And yours has been chosen!  Now your only hope is to…”

“Enough!  Sit down and shut up!”  The bus operator’s voice boomed over Elvis’s then took a calmer tone when he addressed Kiser.  “Hey, kid see if you can drag yourself away from the bus.  I’ve got to keep rolling.”

Some Neglected Luck (8)

Synopsis:  Roger Kiser has been slipped on a bus to an unknown location so that is bumpkin family could sell everything he owned.  This was hardly a tragic turn considering Roger was desperate to leave them.  But like a rubber ball down a storm drain, there was no way to know where he would end up.

Roger stared at the blue bus seat in front of him in profound disbelief.  He had imagined leaving the Boykin clan a hundred times but never like this.  In his mind, he would stride away from the house with two suitcases and a nice suit.  They would ask him to stay and he would gruffly refuse.  One rude gesture and a ride into Little Rock would cleave him from them forever.

Instead, they cleaved him.  He was freed in such a way that the road, both figuratively and literally, was sending Kiser in any direction.  Here was his opportunity for a strange start to a normal life.

The bus shook.  Almost immediately, it slid into a comfortable idle and finally a low roar as it slid away from the bus station.  That was it.  He was free.

Roger took a moment to politely greet an older woman in the seat next to him before placing his backpack on the floor.  After unzipping it, he rummaged through to remind himself of all he had left in the world.  It contained his origami book, plenty of paper, a package of granola bars (rhubarb and fig), his wallet, and a bottle of urine.

For some reason, he was always forced to carry the bottle used by the little boys on long road trips.  Mother had feared B.J. and Jud would fall through the hole in the back of the bus.  It was all Kiser had to remember his family and it seemed strangely suited to the task. 

After a period of quiet contemplation, which quickly became a nap, Roger began glancing about for something to occupy his attention.  Snow-covered landscapes were nice, but somehow repetitive.  Many of his fellow passengers sat either asleep or lost in their own thoughts.  He looked quickly away from anyone who purposefully returned his gaze.  To his surprise, there was a small brown travel bag just underneath the seat. 

“Huh, looks like someone left some of their baggage.” Roger thought.  “How convenient.”

Inside were a toothbrush, comb, a little cash, a tube of anti-fungal cream, and a few other items.  Kiser attempted the nose hair clipper with painful results.  He then noticed something vastly more interesting, a small mobile phone and an adaptable charger.

“My, my how convenient indeed.”

The phone and its accessories were all simple black except for a vaguely familiar corporate logo on the phone’s faceplate.  The liquid crystal display seemed to function well, and it subtly invited Roger to attempt a call.

There were few phone numbers that he could remember or believed worth dialing.  Instead, Roger decided to try a random number.  He quickly pecked in 1-800 before spelling out MON-TANA in what he considered his own personal joke.  Roger then pressed SEND, and raised the phone to one ear. 

After two rings, a woman with a smooth voice picked up, “Thanks for calling the Nole Hotline!  On behalf of myself, I would like to thank you and your corporation for making this call.  Please give me your name and pass phrase in order to set up or access your account.”

After pausing for thought, Roger followed the instructions.

The woman’s voice adopted a sarcastic tone.  “Ok the name on your company’s new account is ‘Honorable Roger Kiser, Esquire’, and your pass phrase is ‘Help me, I’m abandoned on a bus.” 

There was a brief pause before she continued.  “Thanks again for calling.  This is Nole, what can I help you with?”

Roger shrugged.  To what did he just sign up?  “Uh, yea.  I don’t know.  Do you know how to get to the Land of Oz? 

Her reply was surprising and not very professional, “Well, that depends on where you’re coming from.  In your case that would be Stupidsville or maybe Moronsboro.  Look, either way you need to head to south until you find the exit marked Gate of Hell.  Take it.

Do you have any other questions sir?”

“Well, no.” Roger admitted, “not after that.” 

Kilwein had thought all people who make their living on the phone understood that they were automatically required to observe a higher standard of conversational etiquette.  This understanding is much the same as the way a professional truck driver is extra courteous on the highway. 

In what he thought was a genuinely polite gesture; Roger asked if she had any questions.

To his surprise, she did, “Yeah, pal, I do.  Where and how do you get a title like esquire anyway?  Did you complete some sort of college class?  Do you have to make love a certain way?  Maybe you can’t have any bad habits except cigar smoking, right?” 

“Not really.  I just thought it was…”

Roger’s answer wasn’t satisfactory.   Nole’s harangue continued, “Yeah, I bet I know!  You just have to somehow convince others that that’s what you are right?  I’m on to you!”

Faced with an increasingly threatening situation, Kiser hit END.  He then wrapped the wire around the charger and placed the charger and the phone in his backpack.

*******************

Roger’s days riding the bus progressed without event.  He would use the restroom when presented the opportunity and finding a fountain was never too difficult.  Inside the restrooms were electric sockets he would use to charge Nole. 

On several occasions, usually during the middle of the night, or whenever he was especially bored, Roger would whip out the mobile phone and call Nole.  She always had a monologue of some sort prepared.  To be honest, Roger was never really sure if her speeches were prepared just for him or this was her job.  Whenever he would ask her, she would crank her ever-present ambivalence to new levels.

“So I’ve been thinking Nole,” Roger was slouched in his seat with his feet against the back of the seat in front of him.  “How many foods can you name that cannot be conceivably eaten with either cheese or chocolate?” 

He paused, it was the middle of the night and Roger was thinking in drowsy circles.  “You know what?  I cannot think of any!  You might consider breakfast cereal but they have chocolate kid’s cereal right?  Well, mark that off the list.”

It took a second for Nole to respond.  “If I had a pickle right now, I would shove it through this phone and ram it down your throat.” 
 
With Nole to keep him company and the country laying out for him in endless miles, Roger should have been content, yet this was not the case.  His stomach had been without food for sometime, and, after spending what money he had, there was no way of attaining any more.  At first, he thought this would be a major problem but after the first few days his stomach’s grumbling eased. 

Also, his clothing was becoming as stale his bus seat.  Roger was tired of turning his underwear inside out and washing it with hand soap from rest stops.  When it was wet, he had to go without and drape it over his backpack to dry.  The old lady beside him didn’t care for this method.     

A Ticket To Departing (7)

Synopsis:  Roger Kiser is traveling with his crude country family from Arkansas to the state of Montana, which they mistakenly call Mount Anna.  They are traveling in an old school bus(the Ark) that’s seen much better days.  Roger is miserable and would love nothing more than to escape them forever.  Roger takes some time to reminisce on his history with the Boykin family.  

From somewhere to his right, Roger could just hear Cecil shouting for his snuff can.  It reminded him of the first time he met the Boykin family.

Mother was rendered infertile sometime after her seventh or eighth child.  Father’s laziness determined that the labor force these parents had bred would be insufficient to maintain the homestead.  Roger was added to the family census count to ease the work and further lower Father’s income taxes.  To avoid wayward glances from the sisters, Roger professed complete relation.

Nevertheless, it was apparent that he was developing differently from the rest of the family.  The parent’s behavior reinforced this fact.  Affection afforded to the brothers and sisters flowed like spilt beer, while Roger was relatively shunned.

The Ark either hit a large animal or Father switched gears.  The resulting jars forced Kiser back into the present.

Father was speaking, “The way I imagine it, we will buy a mobile home.  Then, when you kids are old enough, you can buy mobile homes, and move next to your mom and me.  Soon, when we have enough mobile homes, I can open a bar.  Then we will be real town, and I will be the mayor.  Let’s chose a name for our town.”

One of the spawn said, “How about Armpit?”

They all agreed that Armpit is a name no one has used yet, would attract tourists from all over the world, and make great bumper stickers like, “Sweat Happens”. 

“Yea, that’s right, Armpit, Mount Anna here we come!”

*******************

Disaster struck in the snow-covered land of what might have been Michigan. 

Previously, the second youngest child had torn up the map.  A team of the three oldest repaired it by matching a few of the interstates together.  If some of the roads didn’t match up, they used a pen to bring them together. 

Father had been swatting hopeful fingers from his unrefrigerated jumbo pack of baloney, when the view before him became awash in darkness.  The bus, having borrowed its last second, began billowing thick pillars of smoke from both ends.  Father brought it to a halt at a bus stop in nearest small town.

The family’s arrival garnered the attention of just about everyone.  People with backpacks and carry-ons froze or at least slowed their walk.  Their chilled breaths rose and spread much like the exhaust coming from the idling gray buses.  Several homeless men reclining next to a dumpster jeered as the Ark’s momentum expired and it came to a stop in the parking lot.

Father was less amused.  “It’s (bad word) impossible to drive with all this (potty mouth) smoke!  The (evil speech) wipers don’t even help!”

There were a few moments of quiet peace while each considered how to repair the wipers, and what this delay meant.  Roger groaned and looked out his window for a Help Wanted sign in any of the nearby establishments.  One of the younger siblings started to cry.

“Paw, are we going to make it to Armpit by Christmas?”

Father scratched himself for a moment and spoke to the mother in hushed tones.  She turned, and waddled into the bus terminal.  During her absence, father tried to entertain his children by spreading assurances and wasting time flipping unlabeled switches on the bus’s dash.  Roger rubbed his arms in an effort to stay warm.

Soon, mother returned with boxes wrapped in a seasonal fashion.  Large bows of red and green brought joy to the offspring’s faces.  The older children received six packs of their favorite ale, while the younger set acquired jumbo cartons of night crawlers. Noticing that each gift was case specific, Roger held hope that she had purchased something that was geared towards his own wants and desires.
 
Roger’s gift was the only one to bear his name, but that was not the singular factor in its being unique.  While the other gifts issued happiness from every obnoxious, inexpensive ribbon and foil wrapping, his was far less festive.  In fact, it was wrapped in nothing but toilet paper and used paper towels.

“Well, open it Oatmeal.”

Kiser lifted his fist overhead, and punched through the exterior to the treasure within.  For a moment, he felt nothing.  Then, he found the prize, and his clinched hand drew forth a blank bus ticket and an impressive set of executive pens. 

The pens were encased in one of the most beautiful plastic enclosures yet observed.  It was clear as crystal with sharp edges and a taped enclosure.  Each pen appeared to be covered in different precious metal.  One pen resembled silver the other held a strong likeness to gold.

Mother seemed exceptionally eager. “The pens will help write where you are going.”

She snatched the pen case from a now confused Roger, and unsheathed the one similar to gold.  Utilizing the full extent of her second grade education she began to print a location on the surface of the ticket. 

She prompted herself, “Let’s see … one consonant…. A vowel here…. Two more consonants… another vowel… done.”

With just a bus ticket in hand and the backpack he had been carrying since Arkansas, Roger was pushed onto the nearest bus.  He had wanted to take his crate with him or at least secure it against his siblings but mother would not hear of it.  She assured him that the contents of the crate would be fine. 

Kiser turned and glanced at the ticket.  It was difficult to read what she had written but this was not uncommon.  He could only guess that she had written in a random location in Montana.

Roger was still confused, “But why was I chosen to ride the bus, and how would they complete the trip?  They hate me.”

The answers did not hide long.  Roger peered out of a window to surmise their strategy.  The family had gathered to raise beers, presumably his honor.  The toast was brief, and then they shuffled to the rear of the bus where the Ark had been parked. 

This behavior gave Roger a hint of their latest, asinine plot.  He guessed they planned on hitching their bus to the rear of the bus he was riding in.  Soon, they would find themselves in Montana at a fraction of the cost, but why had he been chosen to ride in relative comfort?

Roger turned an surveyed the half full bus.  The variety of people was somewhat surprising.  It appeared that someone from every corner of the globe was present.  Their only common trait was the look of impatience directed at him. 

“Uh, can I see your ticket please?”  Roger awoke from his induced stupor.  The driver was standing in the isle directly behind Kiser. 

The driver stared at it sometime before grunting, and giving Kiser an odd look.   “Uh, yeah, I know where that is.”  He returned the ticket.  “Ok, you just be sure to pay close attention in case I forget.”

Roger was still standing as the bus pulled away from the bus stop. As quickly as he could, Kiser moved to the bus’s rear.  He grabbed the nearest seat in order to keep from losing his balance.

The bus’s rear most windows were slightly coated in frost and haze, but after wiping the inside with his sleeve, it became clear enough to see through. 

Regrettably, Roger then discovered what plan had really been hatched.  A sheet had been spread across the parking lot with all the contents of his crate laid out for sale.  There was his stereo and his wristwatch and everything else that he owned that might have some worth. 

A stunned Roger could only conclude, “ I guess it is now presumable that a mother’s love is indeed conditional.”

The State of Mount Anna (6)

Synopsis: Tim is interviewing Skechenko in order to learn the origins of the missing Roger Kiser.  Skechenko is narrating the story with facts related to him by Roger.  Because Roger so strongly disliked the Arkansas family that adopted him the narration is subject to some exaggeration.

Previously, Roger’s father became infatuated with a police scanner forcing most of the family to use an outhouse.  This is the last straw for Roger.  He decides to try and escape his unhappy Arkansas home.  Fate is about to help him.

The reading picks up with Tim and Skechenko.


Skechenko threaded his fingers together and waited for Tim’s notes to catch up.  “You see, this is where Roger’s story takes a truly strange direction, literally.” 

Tim dotted a few Is and dashed his pencil across the tops of a few Ts.  “Um, ok, he was adapted by a family in Arkansas and they were a bit on the country side.  I’m sure Mr. Kiser was exaggerating a bit.”

Skechenko sighed.  “Well, if you think he was blowing things out of proportion with what I’ve already told you, wait till you hear this.”

************

The next morning began as regularly as any other.  Just after the break of dawn, several ATVs roared by the house throwing rocks and dirt against Roger’s bedroom window.  The plinking and popping of richoteing rocks made enough noise rouse him.

Bleary eyed, he stepped into the kitchen just as father was emerging from the restroom with a pronouncement.  “Pack your bags y’all!  We’re headed to Mount Anna!  I just heard someone on the scanner talking about this great place without dry counties or speed limits!”

“But our station wagon isn’t going to get us there.  I’m headed into town to trade it in for the nicest, sweetest, biggest camper you’ve ever seen.” 

The masses cheered as father marched out the front doors without finishing the buckles on his overalls.  With the flare of Ceaser, he entered the decomposing mass of steal and glass and coaxed the engine into turning over.  The wart next to mother’s wedding band gleamed a bit as she wished him away.

An hour later, he was back with a decommissioned school bus.  Everyone, except Roger, was delighted with exchange.  Cecil and Amos tore the back seats out to clear space for the family’s valuables.  Most of the larger items were placed in a beat up horse trailer, which was hitched to the back using non-conventional methods.  Everyone else busied themselves by throwing their belongings into wide garbage bags.  Most of the livestock had to be left. 

A few cousins also loaded the bus until mother reminded them that it was Saturday and there was no school. 

Roger packed his clothes and valuables in a large, cardboard box.  He also threw a few things in an old backpack, including his origami book.  There were no seats left when he finally loaded the bus so he just placed his box near one of the back windows and used it as a seat.

By three o’clock, a number of the extended family (and a few strangers, eager for a spectacle) crossed the gravel road to wish good fortune.  Like alcohol into the bloodstream, news travels from trailer to trailer with intoxicating speed.

On a crisp December morning, mother, father, their many children, Roger, and two chickens waved goodbye to the family (mostly cousins). The benedictions continued until the exhaust from their over sized and overburdened vehicle made their waving forms undistinguishable.  It was in this way that Roger Kiser left Arkansas.

********************

“Pa?  Do they play Razorback football up in Mount Anna?” 

The driver’s seat rocked a bit as father’s profile emerged from one side.  “They’d better!  Or I may just turn this thing around!  Sewwweeeeeee!”

From every direction, echoes erupted.  “Sewwwweeee!  Sewwweeee!  Sewweeee!”

Kiser pressed his forehead against the window’s filmy glass.  He knew this would only encourage pimples but he didn’t care.  Like the spirited chants of this family his angst was steadily creeping toward climax.  For the last six days, he had been striving to convince them that Mount Anna was actually the state of Montana.  And if that was the case, then they should be traveling directly north instead of choosing roads that seemed to be going up hill. 

There were several other reasons why the migration had descended into chaos.  Father was concerned about “those crafty fellers from the bank” and whether his parole officer was following his trail.  He had been ordered not to leave the state.  Father’s grand plan included avoiding any roads that might appear on a map.  Additionally, he randomly changed direction every half-hour.

Instead of gradual patches of snow, Roger was treated to the high plains of Texas and panoramic views of the semi-arid Southwest.  Finally, they ended up sitting at the border waiting to pass into Mexico.
 
Two days later, at a far cast, dust-covered gas station, Roger finally convinced mother who eventually persuaded father to purchase a map.  Due to the fact that only Spanish speakers populated this settlement, father’s conversations were forced to take on a strangely multicultural tone.

“No!  I am looking for a mapo!  You know, a (mucho bad wordo) mapo!”

An understanding was reached, a map was attained, and “the Ark”, as Roger had taken to calling the bus, took a more northerly route.

***********************

Besides what might be released from the bus (nuts, bolts, clouds of smoke, candy wrappers, tabloids, or human excrement), there was the rough cosmetic condition of the paint and lack of any semblance of recent bodywork.  Chemistry and time had given the bus’s yellow exterior long accents of deep, reddish rust color.  The lettering along the side of the bus had once read, “Phillips County Schools” now read, “lips Count    c ool.”  It didn’t make any sense but that wasn’t the point.

Inside the Ark was a world onto itself.  Most of Roger’s fellow passengers slept, stared straightway into the changing scenery, or played games that entailed the exchange of blows.  By this point a few of the younger, more stubborn participants probably required medical attention.

For those who needed to relieve themselves between stops, an adventure became necessary.  First, one had to climb, squeeze, and crawl though the massive hodgepodge of personal belongings that absorbed the rear half of the bus.  An old bed sheet with fishing weights tied to the bottom hung around the rear driver’s side corner.  Behind this a rough wooden box was nailed to the floor.  Once the top was removed, the only thing separating the user from the speeding asphalt below was a stiff down draft.
 
The Ark wasn’t equipped with a radio, so Kiser’s only distraction from the endless miles was to suffer through the inane comments of his family.  “The dogs there live in large towns they dig right in the ground.  They’re all yellowish tan and twice as big as a healthy squirrel. They don’t just dig holes like the stupid dogs back home do.  They live there.”

Father was referring to prairie dogs, although it was difficult to hear him over the pandemonium the bus’s engine produced.  Each function he forced upon the poor engine was meet with the agonizing sound of grinding metal.  Just below the shaking hood was the uneven glow of small flames.  

Most of the dials and gauges had simply died or registered whatever information seemed appropriate to it.  Kiser had a hard time believing a speedometer that read one hundred and twenty unless they were rolling off a cliff.  

Father was able to yell above the din.  “When you go hunting for those tasty prairie dogs, just set up your lawn chair, point your shotgun at the holes, and open a beer!  Pretty soon one will poke its head up, and say, Here I am shoot me!  That’s where mountain hot dogs come from.  The best anywhere!”

“Do the dogs really say, ‘Just shoot me.’  pa?” 
 
Father replied, “No boy, what they really say is, ‘Go ahead and pee wherever you like there’s nobody out there to see you.”