The Legend of CA Man | A Tale of Tay-logo

The Legend of CA Man | A Tale of Tay


A wandering traveler stops to rest for the night when an unforgettable man appears. Follow their fictional misadventure, inspired by conversations with friends.


United States


A wandering traveler stops to rest for the night when an unforgettable man appears. Follow their fictional misadventure, inspired by conversations with friends.




13 | Bluebird

Without drugs in my system to keep me down, my adrenaline kept me going until I realized we were flying through the woods with no idea where we were headed. Was the bear behind us? Who knew? When my knees buckled, I had no choice but to stop running. My heart threatened to give out with a tight squeeze and I sunk to the floor, propped up by a tree trunk. Where are we? I asked, gasping for breath. Wind howled through the trees, blowing a strangely warm breeze with it. At least we wouldn't be cold that night. There's a power line! I yelled. We can follow it to town tomorrow. At that moment, I needed to sleep. The ground wasn't comfortable but I was too tired to care. The next morning we followed the power line through the trees, dodging this trunk and that branch. In some places, branches wound through the lines, straining them in ways I was sure couldn't be safe. When a gust of wind blew a little stronger, you could see the poles struggling to stay standing. Finally, the sun began to set again and I feared we would spend another night alone in the woods. Until, there was a light ahead of us. But I hadn't seen a road. When I rounded the last bush, I stopped, awestruck, at what we'd found. In the middle of the woods, stood a classic Bluebird bus, painted white with red flames. Lights sparkled from inside, where people were clearly having the time of their lives. A line of people wrapped around the bus as if this were the highlight of life in the woods. I was a little afraid we would run into CA Man there. It was his kind of scene, afterall. But we had to have run far enough to be safe from him by now. I checked my backpack for cash, happy to find CA Man hadn't taken a cent. To the bus we went. Well, to the line for the bus we went. How bizarre, I said. Where did all these people come from? Inside, open flooring, with marks where bus benches used to live, led to a rustic looking bar, backed by a stout ginger man with a slightly diminishing hair line and a thick beard. Looking around, I was sure this had to be the kind of place I could replenish my stash. I'd been out of shrooms and any other relevant substances for far too long. A day to be exact. When I reached the front of the line, I asked the bartender for a beer and, after looking side to side, a plug. He raised his eyebrows at me and asked where I was from, because I certainly wasn't from here. I gulped, somehow thinking I'd randomly stumbled upon an extension of the Bible belt buried in the California mountains. Then he smiled and I realized he was just messing with me. Next, the bartender took a step and disappeared behind the bar as if he'd sunken into some invisible trap door. When he came around the end, I gasped. All 5 feet of him barely reached above the countertop. It was like I was staring down at a leprechaun and, in fact, if I had been tripping still, I would have been convinced I'd stumbled upon some sort of bus hiding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Drew, as his name turned out to be, led me to an especially brightly lit corner, where a woman sat in a white dress that I could have sworn was a wedding gown. She was surrounded by a colorful assortment of Holland Lop bunnies. Their ears flopped around as they hopped on their leashes around her. She had every color of bunny except for white. This is the White Rabbit, Drew explained. Her tiara sparkled.


12 | Run

Never thought I would make it out of that situation, but eventually, I did. Gonna need to go fix that part on my truck soon, I said.Give me your keys, CA Man replied You do realize that to work on a vehicle, I need the keys, right? I quipped back, surprising myself a little. Up here, you can’t get away from me, he sneered after a moment. Never dreamt of it, I replied. Although, I was planning on it. Gonna check on you soon, he conceded. Let me work on my truck in peace, please? I asked. You can’t be trusted, CA Man replied, cracking open a beer. Then he sunk down into a fluffy, green corduroy-looking couch, as if that settled the matter. Down the hall, CA Man’s friend was exiting a room of some sort with a large bong and a massive jar of weed. That’s when I realized that if I just stopped drinking, I could probably escape.Fine, I’ll fix the truck later, I said. First, the mountains on my can went silver and I tried my best to hide them, but every now and then, CA Man noticed and replaced my beer. Then, finally, the Hen Heckler passed out. It was only a matter of time before CA Man’s eyelids drooped enough for us to make a move, but the keys to the truck were clenched in his left fist, his beer in his right. When he was solidly snoring, we tried to replace the keys with another beer, but CA Man growled and rolled over in his sleep, placing the key ring squarely below his gigantic torso. Nothing was going to make him let go. We had to make a run for it. My breath was the only thing I could hear as I sprinted away from the cabin. Each heave in and out brought with it an onslaught of fear. CA Man murdered Mad Mike. I had to get away before he killed me, too. I figured we would find a town, somewhere to regroup, but I never knew California had so much wilderness. I always thought California was all city and beach. If anything so far hadn’t convinced me I was wrong, this escapade would. We stayed off the trail in case CA Man and his hen-disrespecting friend followed. A few hours later, I realized we were lost. Looking up at the tree line to navigate by star was useless, too. Tall, thick sequoias blotted out most of the night sky. I guess we should make camp, I said. With what, though? I looked around at the thicket of wilderness where we had landed. There really wasn’t much to work with, at least not at that time of night. So, we settled for a dirt floor and waited for morning. The sun shined into my eyes the next morning, and I thought that was what woke me up. Laying there, waiting for the feeling to come back into my body after a night on the hard ground, I heard footsteps, big footsteps. My eyes shot open, expecting to find CA Man, but I was shockingly disappointed when it was not him. Instead, I was nearly nose-to-nose with a black bear. My backpack was in his claw, and he seemed almost as stunned to see me as I was him. So, I took my chance. I punched that bear in the nose, grabbed my backpack and ran. New Exclusive Merch! We're celebrating the return of the Legend for season 2 with CA Man Merch! Get yours NOW while they last! (Limited time only.)


11 | Hen Heckler

Shasta Lake’s teal ripples melted into the shoreline and I tried to reach out to touch them, only to find my right hand was full of tiny blue mountains. I giggled. I guzzled what was left in the can and held it up in front of my eyes until the mountains were silver… and a moment later they were blue again? What the fuck? A boisterous laugh boomed to my left, making me jump out of my skin. My eyes nearly popped out of my head when I realized I was still with CA Man. He’d been handing me beers for the past hour while I silently processed his news. The hand free of a Coors can searched my baggy for another nibble of shrooms. They were gone. Well, almost. I dropped the few small crumbles that I found in the bottom corner of the bag into my mouth. Dammit. I hadn’t had nearly enough to make me forget what he said. So, what now? I asked. The mountains were beginning to dribble into the lake in the setting sunlight. We camp, CA Man answered. The trees rustled, as if the winds were whispering to me to run. Of course, I said, chugging the rest of the beer in my hand. We climbed through tense silence into the truck cab. Vague details from the first night we met flashed through my mind. So many beers. Did he tell me about this then? Why did I feel like I already knew? Was this deja vu?When CA Man turned back around and drove into Whiskeytown, I couldn’t help myself. Laughter burst from my gut as if I had been hit with a Tickling Charm from Professor Flitwick himself and I forgot all my woes. Where are we going? I asked. This is where we came from. Aren’t you on the run? More laughter. Unencumbered and inappropriate laughter. CA Man told me of a friend with a place nearby. He went past it in case we had been followed. The cabin we arrived at in Brandy Creek was no better than the trash shack we’d been in that first day when we let him hitch a ride. It had walls made of wood, but they were paper thin, worn by time and human carelessness. A wooden chicken coop surrounded by wire fencing sat to the left of the cabin, about 50 yards away. To the right, a fire road led to Whiskeytown Lake. I stared into the eyes of the ominously moss-darkened face of the cabin as we approached, nearly entranced by its deteriorating beauty. The sun dipped past the mountains behind me, illuminating every pine needle in the trees above the cabin. As the sun continued to fall, the last of its light rose into the darkness of the night sky, and I sat there watching until the day faded into black. Finally, my near overdose of shrooms faded away. The sun was rising again, behind the cabin I’d been staring at all night. It’s blinding morning rays brought me back to reality. Push it out! C’mon! Yeah! UH! I whipped my head around just in time to see a stranger thrusting his hips forward and back, yelling into the coop as a chicken honked through the frustration of birthing an egg. Who the fuck are you? I asked. Who the fuck are you? he replied. We stared each other down, like two gun slingers in a wild western. Neither of us said another word until CA Man burst through the front door with his obnoxious laugh to introduce us. Do you often heckle your hens? I asked. Instead of answering, the hen heckler spit, glared at me, and walked inside. What are we doing now? I asked. My eyes threatened to roll in their sockets, but I didn’t feel like getting knocked out again. So, I held them steady. CA Man didn’t answer. He followed his friend inside while I trailed along behind them, like a confused puppy.


10 | Chute

We reentered Bear Mountain Pizza under its awful awning. My eyes darted from corner to corner for the massive, bearded man we seemed eternally attached to. Ben Then and Ben Now eyed me from the wall. CA Man was nowhere to be found. We could just leave him. He got us a new motor, I replied. We have to at least get him out of here and drop him off somewhere he can get another ride. Outside on the bright orange launchpad, CA Man stood next to Rainn Wilson with a small crowd of Ben's celebrators gathered around. They were both vigorously sucking on the sides of Coors cans. Not again, I said, elbowing my way to the front of the cheering crowd. Dude, let's go, I pleaded. CA Man laughed and tossed me a beer, simultaneously raising a new one to his lips. Blue mountains or not, I would not drink that beer. We had to go. I was determined. We couldn't be there when the police arrived. It would ruin everything. And yet, as if independent from myself, one of my hands cracked open the can before the other raised it to my mouth. I chugged and let go of whatever sense of control I had left. What the hell, why not? Rainn finally dropped his can, finishing his shotgun a full minute after CA Man. The crowd dispersed, seeming slightly disheartened by the fact that Rainn Wilson lost, even if it was to a sasquatch of a man who could swallow the beer can whole if he wanted to. I don't usually drink like this, Rainn said. Sloppily? I asked. Rainn scowled for a moment and then walked away muttering about how he'd at least gotten Ben a present, despite the fact that the present had carried Ben away from the party. Shouldn't have done that, said CA Man. Why not? I asked. As it turns out, Rainn had brought more than the one jetpack for Ben. He had ten with him. The plan was to give Ben the pilot flight and then choose ten others to join him. I clearly was not going to be on that list, but I was fine with that. Why would I want to ride a jetpack? Listen, I said, and explained what I had heard on the radio. A quick search on my phone confirmed my suspicion that an investigation into who was on the jetpack was already underway. CA Man raised an eyebrow and then his beer. He stared silently into my soul while he chugged before he answered, It's fine. What? Instead of answering, he told me to take more shrooms and settle in for the night. He had business here. I didn't even want to know what that meant. I just wanted to leave, but somehow, I felt obligated to stay. That night slipped into the same drunken stupor I'd become accustomed to with CA Man, but this time, I was prepared. I was consciously cross faded, like a lucid dream. Meanwhile, Ben and his birthday crew buzzed around the skies on jetpacks. By the time we both passed out, I'd convinced CA Man to sleep in the camper, while I crashed in the cab. That way, when my alarm went off early the next morning, I was ready to go and CA Man was clueless. We were already at the Fresno train station before the giant even started to stir. His snores woke us through the camper and cab walls before my alarm. So, we drove, got breakfast, and rummaged through his things before sunrise. Inside his backpack, the black trash bag found my hand, like a magnet to a vault door. I carefully peeled back the plastic to reveal a wad of crumpled bills of varying amounts alongside stacks of banded hundreds, a journal, and a photo. He had a lot more cash than he’d let on. The photo looked old, but it was clearly just faded and worn by the wind and sunlight, as if it had ridden on a car dashboard proudly alongside someone for years. A burly younger version of CA Man stood next to a man that looked a lot like Mad Mike. How long did he know Mad Mike for? I whispered. CA Man grumbled in his sleep and I remembered that we weren’t alone in the camper. Once everything was back in its proper place, I triple checked that I hadn’t left any of his thing...


9 | Jetpack

We gathered on the lawn behind Bear Mountain Pizza. By then, the clouds were spinning with my mind. The ground felt like it was up and the sky was down. Gravity was backwards. I probably did too many substances, but I didn’t care. Ben was about to take off on a Jetpack. Whatever barbequing materials I planned on giving Ben for his birthday from my camper could never compare to the Astra Jetpack bobbing on his shoulders in the dusky setting sunlight. An orange tinge radiated from the left cylinder as Ben approached his makeshift launchpad in the clearing. A few moments before, one of his friends had spray painted an X on the rocky ground between some shrubbery with neon orange construction paint. Wait, Ben, I said. Your glasses. He gratefully handed me his spectacles, which I promptly positioned on the bridge of my nose. If I thought I’d been disoriented a moment ago, now everything was distorted to a new dimension. I wondered if my face was, too. Ben walked out to the center of his redneck launchpad and readied himself for takeoff. His fans cheered from a few dozen yards away, but I was still among them, frozen like a statue in thrashing waves. I couldn’t help but see Mad Mike flying down from the clouds, splattering beyond Ben in the distance. Was I about to watch another man plummet to his death? I didn’t want to find out. When Ben flipped on the Jetpack and gave us his thumbs up, I slowly backed away from the crowd, turned, and sprinted toward the Tacoma. I didn’t get very far, though. About ten strides into a full-speed, head-down sprint, I ran head-first into a solid torso. Shit! I’m so sorry, I said as we both picked ourselves up from the ground. Ben’s shattered glasses fell from my face into my hands. Idiot, the torso’s head said. I couldn’t help but notice the man’s voice sounded oddly familiar. I’d been afraid to look him in the eye until then, but the way he spoke sparked the instinct to laugh so I had to see who it was. Clearly, I knew this man. My jaw dropped. All the courage I could muster would never have prepared me to make eye contact with Rainn Wilson. He asked me a few questions, but I stood like Roy in the trucker’s headlights until he walked away, muttering something about me being a nutcase. Apparently, he’d given Ben the jetpack, but we wouldn’t find out until later. The camper was like a beacon of safety in the middle of pure embarrassment. Where on earth had we ended up? California was nothing like I thought. It took a moment of hyperventilating to remember the Airband Scanner under the bed. Right! We can hear if Ben gets into any trouble with the jetpack, I said. We scanned the radio for thirty minutes with nothing to report. Everything seemed normal until one pilot’s tone changed. He said, Tower. Delta 978. We just passed a guy on a jetpack. Off the left side maybe 300, 30 yards or so. About our altitude. Oh fuck, I said. Air traffic chatter buzzed with news of Ben and his Jetpack until a few minutes later, another pilot confirmed, saying, We just saw the guy fly by us on the jetpack. Another flight seemed to be headed for Ben and we heard the controller tell them to use caution because there was a person on a jetpack reported about 300 yards south. The last thing we heard before shutting off the scanner was, Only in California. Shit. Well that’s not good. What are we going to do now? We run. What about CA Man? Dammit, I said. You’re right. We have to go get him.


8 | Ben’s Birthday

A very confused and heartbroken trucker grew smaller next to a lump in the middle of the road behind us. We were still going the wrong direction, but for now all that mattered was getting away from the scene of the crime. Roy was roadkill and we were guilty of pig napping and accidental swine slaughter. Do you think he got our plates? I asked. He was too stunned. Riding shotgun, panting, just as Roy had been a few minutes ago, CA Man did nothing but shout directions to turn this way and that. At one point, he said he wouldn’t step foot in Fresno so we needed to pick another route, which meant taking a bunch of strangely straight roads through nearly nothing but nut farms. Finally, when the gas gauge needle tilted dangerously close to E, I found the nearest Valero. We pulled in and CA Man shuffled through his backpack until he found his black trash bag again. I would have asked him what the hell he carried that thing around for, but I didn’t want him snooping into my business so I figured it was best to not ask. After he hopped out of the cab, I checked the hidden compartment in my own bag. This was the first time we’d been alone since CA Man decided to stow away in our lives and I was happy to find everything where I left it. Peace of mind back in place, I refueled the Tacoma, or tried. Gas spewed from the nozzle after a minute. Dammit, I said, lifting the handle to let a soft rush of air out of the tank. We needed a new vent solenoid, too. It would have been nice if CA Man had been able to wrangle his mechanic friend into adding that to his work, but it wouldn’t affect much for the time being. It was just annoying. When we were back on the road, CA Man continued shouting directions until I finally said, If you would tell me where you’re trying to go, I could probably get us there a little easier. Instead of answering, he demanded that I pull over right then and there to satiate his hunger. So, we ended up at a random place on the side of highway 180, between a hillside of trees and more tumbleweed producing shrubs. On the outside, it was only a step above the tin trash hut where he'd taken us hostage. Its riveted metal walls were painted white and it had an outdated maroon awning above the door that read, Bear Mountain Pizza. Fine, I said, slamming the truck into park, taking note of how full the parking lot seemed for such a secluded location. At least it was next to a NAPA. I had high hopes of finding a replacement part for the Tacoma. In fact, that was my first mission and I let CA Man wander away to get us a table while I made a beeline for the parts store. When I returned, I instantly regretted my decision. The first thing I saw when I walked in were Ben Then and Ben Now posters plastered on the back wall with a ribbon streamed between them that said, Happy Birthday Ben. Both photos were of a white man’s face, taken from the bridge of his nose up. The only difference was that in one he had a massive pile of curly, light brown hair on top of his head to rival Napoleon Dynamite on a humid day, and in the other, he was bald with a pair of black rimmed glasses. In front of the posters, CA Man was in the center of the room, chugging a pitcher of beer, encouraged by a crowd of cheering fans who were led by a man I could only presume was Ben. A moment of sheer panic fled through me when I realized the entire place was covered in Ben’s birthday celebrators. There wasn’t a single unoccupied table in the room and we were officially crashing a birthday party. Thankfully, CA Man didn’t notice when I turned on my heel and walked straight out the door. Back in the Tacoma, I took a deep breath of our finest Cannabis, left over from the last joint CA Man had passed around, and gobbled down a few shrooms. If we were partying, we were partying. I ran inside to join CA Man, hovering around the edges of the room until the man from the posters walked up to me and said, Hey y'all. I'm Ben.



Before sunrise the next morning, I found myself speeding away from Camp 9. Roy was riding shotgun and every substance I’d ingested the night before still coursed through my veins with fervent vengeance. What the fuck did we just do? The sun began to warm up the night sky with a purplish hue of enlightenment. A few hours ago, in a cross faded stupor, I’d coaxed CA Man into helping me steal Roy from 1.0, which was easier than I expected. I had no idea where CA Man kept pulling those beers out from and, until the fourth beer, I hadn’t thought to ask him. Seriously, where the fuck did these beers come from? I asked. We were huddled behind the camper shell, in front of a well guarded campfire on the lakeshore, celebrating our passive participation in the successful potbelly pig rescue. CA Man snickered. Fine, don’t tell me, I sipped. Had a cooler full in my backpack. We emptied it earlier, but 1.0 left his ice chest unguarded… CA Man trailed off and I stared at 1.0’s stolen beer, half drunk in my left hand. Huh, I replied. My mood lifted and I wasn’t sure once again if it was the shrooms or my relief that made me burst into a hysterical fit. It’s not that funny, CA Man said. He was right, it wasn’t. Except, I’d just realized Roy was nearby, also unguarded and ripe for the taking. Somehow, we’d ended up one campsite away from 1.0 and his spotted companion, who was curled up next to a smoldering campfire. 1.0 hadn’t returned from his camper in a while so we assumed he was passed out in there. It wasn’t even a question of yes or no. After a short debate over strategy, we seized the moment to capture ourselves a new pet pig. A bit of beer in a saucer was all it took to lure Roy into the truck. I buckled his seatbelt and off we went. Roy didn’t seem to mind the transition. He happily panted in the passenger seat like a dog, watching the scenery pass through the Tacoma’s window. After a while, the gravity of having stolen a pig sunk in on me. Was it the same as dog napping? Isn’t that another felony? I had no idea. A sharp jab of pain stabbed me in the chest and I pulled into a turnout on the side of whatever highway I was hurdling north on, hyperventilating, staring at my potential doom. I had to get rid of this pig. CA Man’s voice crackled over the radio asking me what we were doing. I told him to go back to sleep and it sounded like he did. Careful to keep the camper shell steady, I flipped around and headed the other direction. Roy was going back. This is the opposite direction, CA Man growled through the walkie talkie. We’re taking the pig back, I said, pressing harder on the gas pedal, much to the Tacoma’s dismay. The camper shell started swaying, tipping the truck with it, as we sped along on the highway. I let off the gas pedal and pulled over once again. CA Man burst through the camper shell doors just as we rounded the corner to face him. You could have killed us all! I yelled at him before I remembered he could and would probably murder me in my sleep if I pissed him off too much. His massive frame completely overshadowed me in the faint, early morning sunlight. Looking up and down the oddly straight two-lane highway, I could see nothing but farms for miles. Why was everything in California in the middle of bum fuck nowhere? A semi truck with two wire carts attached like train cars sped by and a few white, leafy bits floated off the top of their cargo piles, landing on the ground between us. The aroma of fresh, sun baked garlic suffocated the air. It was worse than CA Man’s body odor. Pig’s goin’ in the camper, he grunted. Everyone raced to the passenger door together but CA Man had legs to make a giant jealous. He got there first and we struggled to gain control over the pig, trying to barrel through his long, outstretched arm. We were no match for him. CA Man got Roy out of the cab and was well on his way to getting him into the camper when another garlic f...


6 | High Roy

Never seen anything like that before, I said, watching the ranger chide 1.0 in the distance. Gonna stare at him all day? asked CA Man, sneaking up behind us. Give me a heart attack, why don’t you? I jumped. You scare too easily. Up ahead on the shoreline, the pig was circling back around with the backpack still in his mouth. 1.0 was muttering in German, paying more attention to the pig than to the woman trying to get him to put on pants. Never once did the ranger look down. Though, you could see a tiny smirk curling in the corners of her mouth, growing larger with each passing second. Gonna get my bag from the truck. Gimme the keys, CA Man said. Let you have my truck keys? Hell no. You have to trust me sometime, he smirked. Down inside my stomach, something nasty turned. The hollow glint in his eyes told me that would never happen. Finally, 1.0 was done being scolded like a child and back to chasing his pet pig all over the shore. Roy seemed amused by taunting his owner with whatever was in the backpack and continued to lead him in figure eights until he caught sight of us. If you’ve never been in front of a pig running full bore, well, it’s kind of fucking terrifying. All two hundred pounds of pork were forcefully galloping toward us with no sign of intent to stop. Frantically looking left and right, I realized I would probably die in a true fight or flight situation, because I took the worst path: I froze. At the very last second, the gigantic potbelly came to an abrupt halt and I swear he was smiling at me. Was he mocking me? Hi Roy, I said. 1.0 came running after him, out of breath, pants, thank GOD, finally on. He apologized for his strange introduction and began to tell us how his machine, which I finally understood was his laptop after a few minutes of rambling, was inside his backpack. 1.0 continued explaining his career in something that had the word privacy in it, which struck me as hilarious considering his nudity when we met. In the corner of my eye, I noticed Roy had run off again. He was headed toward the group with the rocket on the edge of the shore. The pig was almost as social as CA Man. A tall man with grey hair and a wild beard bent over to light the fuse just as Roy approached with 1.0’s backpack still in his mouth. One of the rocket launcher’s friends chased Roy around the launch pad in a circle and a half until the pig managed to loop the arm of the backpack over the rocket. Both men took a step back. The two women they were with screamed at the men to help the poor pig and then at Roy to let the backpack go. Neither did either of those things. The spark racing through the fuse quickly reached its destination. Pig, backpack, and rocket were launched into the air. Poor Roy squealed through his clamped jaw. If only he would have let go of the backpack. High Roy, I thought. It was like watching Mad Mike sail through the clouds all over again. Except, when Roy popped back through the other side, a parachute deployed from the back of his rocket. Still shrieking through impossibly strongly clenched teeth, the pig landed gently in the water, two hundred yards or so from the shoreline. My machine! 1.0 screeched.


5 | The Rod

No, no, no, no, I cried, cranking the engine. It turned over, but a heinous knocking sound pounded from inside the hood like a mad man trying to get out of his cage. What do we do now? We can’t stay with this guy. We have no choice, I replied. I think we just threw a rod. This engine won’t take us anywhere. In my sideview mirror, CA Man was still standing, shoulders slumped, in shock, between a tumbleweed and the edge of the asphalt. His face contorted first from confusion to betrayal, and then finally he hit anger in a full sprint toward the Tacoma. Oh shit, I said. By the time he’d reached the door, I was already fumbling to get out of it, half way through a heartfelt attempt at pretending it was a practical joke. Then, CA Man’s fist connected with the bridge of my nose and I hit the ground as my view faded to black. While I was unconscious. somehow, he’d transported us from the side of the road to what I could only assume was an underground bunker on another planet. In the opposite corner of an astonishingly large room, CA Man was muttering, deep in conversation with a small, rat-like person, trash bag still in hand, his black backpack now slung loosely over his shoulder. I surveyed the riveted, rusty grey walls around us. This wasn’t another planet at all. We’d been taken inside the trash-hut. Um, I said, unsure of how else to get their attention. They turned toward us and silence hung in the air with CA Man's body odor, until, true to his nature, he handed me a beer. I cracked it open and noticed he was barefoot again, apparently not planning on leaving any time soon. So, we slid into the night, starting to mourn the loss of our chariot with our strange new companion and his skittery sidekick. I asked him if he’d brought my bag, which he simply answered by handing me some shrooms. Where’s the bag, though? I asked. He nodded at the other side of the room, where I could see a tiny lump in the corner. Did he find the hidden compartment? I’d have to look later. Where's the truck? Gettin' a motor. That's expensive. Won't that take a few days? It's taken care of, he replied. CA Man reassured me that not only would the truck be done by some time the following day, but that I'd also owe nothing for it. He apparently knew a guy, whatever that meant. I didn't want to imagine who he'd been able to persuade to replace my motor so quickly on such short notice in the middle of nowhere. I was curious about how he paid for it, but I wasn’t about to argue. Now maybe you won't try to ditch me, he said, sipping his beer. Did he just threaten us? I thought. His friend snickered and CA Man scowled at him. I tried to smile back, but I still wasn't sure if we'd been kidnapped or not. It didn’t really matter, I supposed. There was only one option for now. I chugged the first beer and it was replaced by another before I even thought to ask. After some time, I was aware of the walls rippling with our voices. They were breathing. I giggled. CA Man looked at me and I fell over in a fit of laughter. Why was I laughing? Somehow this question made me laugh even harder. Then it hit me. Wait, where the fuck did these beers come from? I asked. How are they cold? I'm still not sure what I was suspicious of, but it perplexed me into paranoia. Now it was their turn to laugh. Apparently, I’d missed a major detail when I was knocked out cold. There was a fridge running on a generator out back. Oh. My shroom fueled suspicion subsided and eventually I passed out right there on the ground. In my dreams, Mad Mike strapped me to one side of his rocket and CA Man to the other, but I wasn't scared. I was just laughing. A rough tap on the shoulder brought me back to reality in the afternoon of the next day. CA Man's face hovered inches above my own, excited to let me know my truck was alive and well. His breath almost knocked me back out again before I could push him away.


4 | Escape

CA Man hadn’t said a word since we left Kramer Junction, an intersection so significantly in the middle of nowhere that its original three roadside stands and two gas stations had bloomed into a town, if you could call it that. By the time he’d clamored into the back of the truck cab, we were able to scour Google Maps and found that we still truly had only one option at that moment. We had to keep going and take this random, possibly flat earther, with us. In the rearview mirror, The Crater of Mad Mike loomed ominously like a real life roadrunner reminder that bad decisions cost lives, most likely your own. To the south, there was nothing but one red traffic line after another. We could have continued north if the knife had just landed a few inches to the right of Mariposa, but from here until above that random little town, there were mostly nothing but disconnected routes, and I wanted to get rid of CA Man as soon as possible. West it was. I tried to remember the next major city that might have a train station or airport to dump him at. Headed to Bakersfield? I asked, nearly begging the universe for the answer to be Yes. The smell of his stale sweat was stifling. No, he said gruffly. I see. Clearly, he didn’t want to tell me where he was headed just as much as I didn’t want to tell him where I came from. That was fine with me. We’d just passed a long semi truck with a logo that said, SMITH, In God We Trust, when CA Man reached across the cab to pull us off Highway 58. After fishtailing a few times, we slammed to a stop at the end of an offramp. What the fuck? I yelled. I’m not goin’ to Bakersfield, he said, staring straight at a sign pointing ahead and to the left for Mojave and to the right for Bishop. So, then, where are you going? I asked. We’re goin’ right, he answered. Had we just been kidnapped? I started laughing. Why the fuck was I laughing? There was a giant man sitting across from me with his arms folded like a four year old who didn’t want to go see the doctor for a shot. Still, somehow, I was terrified to disobey him. What’s to the right? I asked. CA Man shrugged. I opened my phone to search the area. One bar. Not promising. The map in my pocket turned out to be just as useless. There was nothing in that direction for miles. Alright, aimlessly wandering to Not Bakersfield, it is, I said, finally turning right. I should have done more drugs. There was literally nothing out there, and I mean nothing. It was entirely the opposite of what I had in mind when I started out that morning. In fact, that morning, if we’d just kept driving past Mad Mike and his damn Flat Earth Research Rocket, none of this would have happened. When we passed a sign for California City, I saw a total of two buildings nearby. Wherever California City was hiding, it didn’t feel worth stopping to check out. There had to be somewhere to ditch him. I begged the road for a place to escape, suddenly afraid he could hear everything I was thinking. So, do you believe the earth is flat, too? I asked, breaking the silence. What? You were upset, I started explaining my assumption. Stop here, he nearly shouted. What? Out in the brittle, baked desert sand, between bushes that would eventually become tumbleweeds, a shack had sprouted from the roadside trash. From 100 yards away in my Tacoma, I could make out some aluminum siding and a few tires. There wasn’t another building anywhere in sight. Here? Stop here? I’ll be back, he said, pulling a trash bag out of his backpack. After that, he hopped out of the truck and shuffled through the weeds instead of taking the driveway up to the front door. What a fucking weirdo, I said, considering my options for less than half a second before I was speeding away yelling, Woohoo! Just then, the engine clicked a few times. Then it clanked, sputtered, and died, ruining my joyful escape in a wisp of smoke.


3 | Hitchhiker

I need to stop taking drugs every time I get bored, I said. Did that actually just happen? We were speeding away from The Crater of Mad Mike, looking for the next place to devour any kind of alcohol and substance absorbing foods. What the fuck just happened? He just... died, I said, still stunned. Whatever fast food joint we found next, I didn't care enough to remember. I had tunnel vision for burgers. Trying to process the fact that I just witnessed a man's death, I ate four double cheese burgers with bacon and barbeque sauce, nothing else because why ruin a good pile of meat by adding vegetables? I wiped the grease from my face and dropped the napkin into a crinkled brown bag with the rest of my shame, and leaned back in my seat with a heavy sigh. The entire pound of beef I'd just consumed settled like a fine replacement for the brick of anxiety caused by my sudden fear of death. Where to next? I pulled out the paper map of California I'd picked up at the last Valero before Barstow and pinned it to a tree in front of my parking space. After looking around for innocent eyes, I unfolded my Kershaw and threw it into the paper. Mariposa? Well it can't be too bad. It looks like Yosemite is just past it. I unpinned the map from the tree and tucked it into my pocket. Back at the Tacoma, CA Man trudged our direction from the road, like a lost puppy, backpack in hand, black steel toed boots finally on his massive feet. He wanted to come with us. Somehow, the charm of a single highway in the middle of nowhere was beginning to fade. There was only one direction we could have possibly been headed for so many miles, too many miles. It was impossible for CA Man to not catch up. I searched my peripherals for any physical route of escape, then realized that it might look strange to run away from a grown man I just watched cry not thirty minutes ago. Did we ever find out if he believed the earth was flat? My mind raced for any kind of exit from this situation, but it always landed at the same conclusion. There was nowhere else to go. It was hard to not consider letting him hitch a ride.


2 | Mad Mike

Hey, isn’t that CA Man? I asked, pointing to a man walking on the road a few miles from the RV camp. Did he just wander the desert at all times of the day? How on earth was he still barefoot? After a half-hearted debate, we decided not to stop. Not for CA Man at least. Although, we did stop for the Flat Earth Research Rocket we saw a few miles later. Who wouldn’t? A large crowd was gathering. Discovery Channel was there, among a few other camera crews. Somehow, we’d stumbled on a pretty important event that I’d never heard of before in my life. Why is the Discovery Channel featuring a rocket used for flat earth research? Of course, it didn’t take long for CA Man to arrive. He looked less out of place among the local crowd than he had with no one else around. Somehow, he seemed to fit, surrounded with other men and women who wore coveralls and faded Wrangler jeans. I’d never seen so many wife beaters and plain white tees in one place before. You could tell who was from out of town and who wasn’t, even without CA Man giving away the local crowd. They all seemed much more comfortable with the way their skin sizzled in the desert sun. They were also the only crew to bring coolers with Coors and Bud. Then he saw us. We made eye contact and I tried to look away, but it was too late. CA Man was headed my way, beers in hand. What the hell, why not? I said. So it began again. By the time my buzz kicked in, someone was finally announcing the start of something. I’d forgotten why we were there in the first place. I was having a blast partying with CA Man’s friends. So far, I’d hit the beer bong three times and shotgunned four beers. It was the start to a beautiful… morning? It was still before noon. How was it still before noon? The sun dipped behind a puffy cotton candy-looking cloud, providing just enough shade for me to look up at the cobalt sky. It was hard to believe a guy named Mad Mike was about to launch himself up there on a homemade rocket, for flat earth research of all things. Right, the rocket! I turned away from the crowd and looked toward the launchpad just in time. A plume of smoke carried the rocket into the sky as a parachute shot out from the back and was severed by the heat. The torched chute floated softly to the ground from a few hundred feet in the air and Mad Mike continued sailing above the clouds I'd just been imagining eating like a happy fat kid. He had a backup parachute, right? The crowd was silent as Mike reentered the scene through a fluff of cotton another 100 yards away from where he’d disappeared, plummeting into a yucca tree before he became a crater in the earth. I looked around, hoping that this was a joke, just part of the stunt. It wasn’t. Suddenly sober, I realized CA Man was crying. I wondered if he was a flat earther, too.


1 | CA Man

We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold. That is where CA man lives. Or, at least, that's what we would remember. We'd been driving for hours. Our last stop was somewhere just east of the Nevada border. The sun scorched the hood of our cross-country champion: a 1997 Toyota Tacoma with a camper shell. The camper seemed to put too much pressure on the engine for the past few hundred miles and it didn’t want to keep going. I couldn’t blame it. Finally, the car cooled enough to start up again and we headed west. Fuck it, I said. Next chance we have, we're stopping. So, we did. Not a mile later, we came up on Shady Lane RV Camp. It was tucked away off Old Highway 58, between a road and the middle of bumfuck nowhere. I wondered how anything stayed open out there. Look at that, I said. It's fate. Let's get some sleep. We spent two miles or so staring at nothing but bleak, desolate rock. The sun seemed to be the only thing alive out there and it was an intolerable bitch. It emanated so much heat that waves of humidity rose from the ashen yellow-divided blacktop only to be interrupted by our sad Toyota. Our destination seemed sketchy, but we needed to sleep and the next best choice was the side of the road with no air conditioning. Even at night, the desert was way too hot for that. Dry, heavy heat rippled through everything, not just above the asphalt. Around sunset, we settled in and grabbed a couple beers to head to the roof. That's when I realized two things. First, I was definitely tripping on those shrooms I took when we broke down. Second, we were being watched. I tried to focus on the heat waves, which was a mistake. I bent over to heave my nausea away when a long shadow approached me. His feet were bare and covered in the dirt he'd walked through for at least three days. The rest of him was just as dirty, all the way up to his wife beater with a torn seam. Rusty disheveled hair sat on his head and I wondered whether it was the drugs that made it like look that way or the reflection of twilight bouncing off the camper’s windows. A moment later, everything went dark. We must have had a good time, though, because we woke up with nothing more than a hangover and the debris from a raging party. I could hardly open my eyes the next morning. Who the fuck was that guy? I don’t know, he was fucking weird though. Did he steal anything? We combed the camper for missing cash and, well nothing else that wasn’t locked away was valuable, so it was hard to tell exactly what we thought would be missing. Do you remember his name? I don’t think he told us. He just handed me a beer and I drank it, I said. Do you think he drugged us? No, you drugged yourself. I supposed that was true. He didn’t take anything, I said, confirming all our cash and other crap was still in the camper. Well, that’s wild. What a start to our time in Cali! You can say that again. Let’s call him California Man. Do you think they’re all like that here? I thought everyone here looked like a surfer.