I pushed a wobbly cart down the dead-light aisles of a place called Food Cave. It was an old and beat-down place but a grocery store just the same. I tried to keep my head down and not look at people, but that didn’t keep those strange desert rats from looking at me. I had to wonder if I was on fire or something the way some of them people stared.
I found Roy’s Lucky Charms and since I thought I loved him so much I got the really big box. I picked up some cheap plastic bowls and spoons, a gallon of milk, some bottles of water, and grabbed a box of donuts with chocolate frosting on them. And since I felt bad about ditching ol’ Karl from Indiana, I snagged a case of cheap high-gravity beer in hopes he might forgive me and not cause us any trouble.
When I got up to the checkout lane it was backed up because they only had one god damn cashier. Hell, it doesn’t matter where you go, it’s always the same. Nothing is ever how they show it on the god damn commercials – never. How do we keep falling for this bullshit?
When it finally came my turn, I put my things up on the belt. The cashier was a shaky, middle-aged lady who had a black eye and a cut on her bottom lip. When she tried to smile like the fortune gods tell her to, I could see she had a front tooth missing. I looked at her nametag and it said HELEN.
I asked her for two packs of Camel cigarettes and then I said, “Are you okay, Helen?”
She looked up from her scanning and her eyes got real wide.
“I fell down the stairs,” she said.
“Them stairs must have had a fist of stone,” I boldly replied.
She stopped what she was doing and looked at me like I was her worst enemy ever.
“I told you. I fell down the stairs.”
“And they still made you come to work?”
“I can’t afford to miss. I’ve got bills to pay, honey. Now why don’t you mind your own damn business and pay yours.”
Yep. Nothing like the commercials.
When I got back to the Furnace Springs Motorlodge, Roy was sitting outside the room with that crazy Karl from Indiana. The motel had set out metal chairs and a round metal table crowned with a dirty orange ashtray the size of a cereal bowl for their road-weary patrons, and that’s where they were – smoking and drinking beer and acting like they were best friends.
“Holy hell, Sally. Now you’re in trouble,” I whispered to myself as I roughly moved the car’s shifter to the P.
I just sat there in the car for a minute looking at them looking at me. Roy had shaved his face baby-butt smooth, and he had a red bandana strapped to the top of his head. That creepy Karl would take a sip of his beer, laugh, and then oddly turn his head to look at me. It seemed he was somehow reading my soul as if my thoughts were brightly etched in braille and his eyes were dirty fingertips.
Roy finally got up and came over and opened the driver’s side door.
“What the hell, Sally? Are you getting out of the car?” He looked over at creepy Karl and they both just laughed.
“You’re drunk!” I snapped.
He stumbled backward as I got out of the car. “Hell yeah I’m drunk. Me and Karl over there are having ourselves a little party. Why don’t you put them groceries up and join us?”
I slammed the car door and went around to the trunk to get the bags of groceries.
“Are you going to help me?” I said to him.
“All right, all right. Let me just go set my beer down.”
Once inside the room and with the door closed, I confronted Roy.
“Why in the hell are you carrying on with him like that?” I angrily whispered.
“What’s the big deal? I’m just being neighborly and having a little fun.”
“He could be trouble for us, Roy! I thought we were supposed to be careful.”
“He’s just a lonely old dude down on his luck. He’s harmless.”
“What if he’s not?”
Roy looked at me and shook his head. “Well, after what you did to him, I figured it was the least I could do.”
I glared at him.
He raised his voice. “That’s right. He told me you promised him a ride and then ditched him when he wasn’t looking.”
“He was creeping me out, Roy.”
“It made him suspicious.”
I brushed past him in frustration and worked to put some of the things I got at the store in the little refrigerator the motel people had there. He watched me intently as I moved around the room.
“I was just trying to mellow him out, Sally. It’s no big fucking deal! Let’s just get through this hot ass night and we’ll be gone in the morning, and we’ll never have to see him again.”
“Fine!” I finally said.
“Good. I’m going to take a piss. Take him some more beer and try to be nice.”
He put a can in my hand and slapped my butt before going into the bathroom and closing the door.
I went outside and creepy Karl was sitting there quietly smoking a cigarette. He eventually turned his head to look at me.
“Hi there,” he said.
I set the beer down on the table in front of him and he started to glow. He reached for it, popped it open and took a long drink.
“Why don’t you sit down?”
“I’d rather stand, thanks.”
He shrugged and took another sip of beer. “Suit yourself.”
I started getting more uncomfortable by the second and I finally went to open the room door.
“Roy!?” I called out.
I could hear the shower running. Why was he taking a god damn shower at a time like this!?
“Something wrong?” Karl asked.
I closed the door.
“No. I was just wondering what Roy was up to.”
“Oh. That Roy of yours has been pretty nice to me. Unlike some other folks around here,” he said in that high-pitched fluty voice.
I knew he was talking about me. Of course he was.
“I’m sorry about that. I’ve got a lot on my mind.”
He slowly shook his head in agreement. “I’m sure you do.”
And because he said it with a hint of accusation, I asked him, “What do you mean by that?”
He looked at me and snickered like he was busting to tell a secret. “I know who you are.”
My heart started thumping in my chest.
“You don’t know anything about me, mister.”
“Well. I don’t really have to. You see, nowadays the world does the knowing for me. I don’t need eyes when there’s other eyes all around. And I don’t need to do the hearing when all this technology does the listening for me. And then you know what they do, Sally?”
“They send it out. And it flows through the wires, and it flows through the ground, and it flows through the air on its way to everyone’s brain,” he said, oddly fluttering his fingers in the air. “And then those people do the same, and then some more people do the same again, until everyone in the world knows everyone else’s secrets.”
“What the hell are you talking about, mister.”
“I’m talking about all the cameras and the phones and the televisions and the computers and all these other miraculous devices gifted to us by the star people. Everywhere you go and everything you do – somebody somewhere is watching and listening and spreading it like butter on warm toast that eventually runs off the edge and gets into every crack and crevice in the world.”
“You’re fucking paranoid.”
He chuckled strangely and shook a crooked finger at me.
“No. I’m not. But you should be.”
Roy suddenly opened the door and came out. He was eating Lucky Charms like a bowl of dog food.
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