I asked Martialla what she did to fix the car and she told me that there was a rock jammed between some thing and some other thing that was pinching a hose. All she did was pull the rock out. Though it looks like a muscle car, the vegetable man’s machine is more like a dune buggy, there’s no back seat or trunk or any place for cargo. Ergo we were trying to figure out how much junk we could pack in the front and still have room for me and Martialla in the passenger seat. Please note, that seat seems to be sized for a large baby. While we were playing junk Tetris in our minds, Redlight (as we found out his name was) came across the stinking leaking fuel tank in the middle of the truck-fort.
His look wasn’t quite as ecstatic as during the car repair voyeurism but he was clearly in hog heaven. The acrid stench and the skeletonized bodies didn’t bother him in the least, he walked right into the stink zone. I was halfway expecting him to put his mouth up to the hole and start suckling the acid-poison slowly spilling out. Instead he grabbed a tool that looked like a hedge trimmer with a wrench on the end instead of blades and pinched the hole closed. More closed anyway. For reasons unknown, this process made the chemical nostril attack fifteen times worse and Martialla and I both fled the area, doubling over and retching. My eyes stung so badly it felt like they were sealed shut for a minute, like when you wake when you have pink eye and your eyelids are crust-glued together.
On my knees trying to twist my nose closed with my non-broken hand, I looked over at Martialla “Did you ever think we should have just hopped back into those tubes for a while? Let them sort all this shit out and try again?”
She spat up something that looked like pink toothpaste mixed with mauve chunky peanut butter “It’s a little late for that, those potato head people probably stripped the place.”
We were highly dubious that his muscle car dune buggy could haul the tanker but Redlight (when I asked him why he was called that he said “because it’s my name”) insisted that we help him hook it up. To his credit, it worked. This little machine was able to move that bulk out of the “fortress” without much trouble other than the tanker itself groaning and creaking. Even then we assumed that it wouldn’t work cross county, a flat paved parking lot is one thing but dragging several tons behind you overland? No way.
Way. What followed were the most uncomfortable thirty-three minutes of my life (so far). And when I say that, realize that I had dinner with Kevin James once. Since Martialla would crush me if she was on top (phrasing), I was sitting in her lap with a box of tools and parts that I estimate to have weighed somewhere about eighty billion pounds. Add to that my tender hindparts, a broken wrist, and general aches and pains plus the fun of wondering if the six thousand gallons of cyanide-arsenic behind us was going to explode, and you have a heck of a ride. Every bump felt like the boys at Guantanamo Bay were working me over. And there were lots of bumps because the machine didn’t seem to have shock absorbers so much as shock enhancers.
Rattle-shambling across the bush was unbearable but when we reached the road, the ride became merely intolerable. And the road was a real road, not an overgrown garden full of weed-ball-stumps and clothes-tearing thorns. I think it was part of the Golden Chain Highway. It wasn’t in good shape by modern standards, which I guess are past standards now, but it was a road.
Martialla peppered our new friend with questions about why and how cars exist but he had no answers. None that made any sense to us anyway. I’m eighty percent sure that I saw a dead kangaroo by the side of the road. This prompted me to ask what he ate and he reached behind his seat, forcing me to grab the wheel so we didn’t veer off the road, crash, and die. He pulled out a ceramic thing that looked like an ashtray with a lid. Inside was a kind of dirty brown mixture or what looked like tobacco juice, dead squid soaked in toilet water, and Dinty Moore beef stew. It smell liked barbecued dog hair but he slurped it down like it was a delicious milkshake. He assured us we could get all the food like that we want at AD. Goodie gumdrops.
Other fun things I saw along the “roadside” include a cluster of what looked like termite mounds, those big ones you see on the nature shows in Australia (or Africa? South America?) but I saw a little furry head poking out of what totally looked like a terrace/balcony thing. I didn’t get a good look but maybe it was something like a raccoon-weasel-badger. I saw a little canyon type area that had I-beams perched and wedged into it to hold it up. How could someone even do that? And even if they could, why would they want to do that?
Martialla had her arms around me like we were taking a damn wedding photo, so I couldn’t look her in the face. That would have been too close to us kissing. Ergo her hot sticky breath was right in my ear.
“So when we get there, wherever there is, what prevents them, whoever they are, from stealing our goods instead of trading with us for them?”
I wriggled uncomfortably “Why are you so bony? I feel like I’m in an iron maiden here.”
“No such thing.”
“There was never any such torture device as an iron maiden, a German dude made that up in the eighteen hundreds to make people of previous generations seem primitive and stupid, it’s just that bullshit about people thinking the world was flat, it’s propaganda.”
“I saw an iron maiden at the museum in San Diego.”
“Yeah, but it wasn’t real.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?! Are you saying I was looking at a hologram?!”
“No, I’m saying that what you saw was made later . . .” she sighs “. . . forget it. Anyway, what I was saying before, since we’re in Mad Max times now, what guarantee do we have that we can trade with these people rather than them going all Lord Humongous on us?”
“We may have to shoot a couple of them first, show them that we’re not to be trifled with, before we can open up commerce talk.”
“I believe those were Commodore Matthew C Perry’s exact words in Tokyo Bay.”
I sighed “Don’t be a nerd Martialla, you’re the only person left in the world I have to talk to, I don’t want to be trapped forever with a nerd. I don’t want a repeat of that time I made the mistake of doing an appearance at Comic-Con.”