|Illustration by Mitch Handsone|
HATTIE AND I HAD BEEN walking together for many years and now found ourselves ascending a steep and foggy one-lane mountain road through the dark and incognizant Ozarks. It was another disgusting time to be alive, a repulsive landscape through which to cross. Hattie and I were getting tired of living by the rules of the evil fucking morons from hell: X attacked Y, so Y attacked Z. The government blew up its own cities of Blue, for its cities of Red had fewer juicy targets. In every dying tree a scarlet ashcroft cawed. Hopeless veins rejoiced as Afghanistans opium poppies bloomed brighter than ever. Taco Bell, Coors, Burger King, NASCAR and R.J. Reynolds scrambled for images to embellish the presidential-reinauguration halftime ceremonies. And the fighters and bombers flew ever overhead, menacingly low, and the arrogant hillbilly ground crews scrawled random Bible verses on the rockets and bombs, to aid their phony savior in sorting out the limbs of the enlightened, the subversives who had insulted God by reading more than one Book and voting against the incumbent messiah. The Supreme Court spread its robes and huddled in stall number 3, measuring its dick with a $100 bill. Everything was normal.
"You all right?" said Hattie.
"No," I said. "But thanks for asking."
Way back in the distance behind us, from the canyon below, some kind of sound broke through the fog. There werent many sounds in these parts that traveled that far, and we were having a hard time identifying this one. Hattie thought it sounded more human, I thought more machine. It seemed to be traveling quickly toward us.
"A party through a megaphone?" Hattie guessed.
"Bigger, I think," I said.
No. I knew this sound, but couldnt quite . . . hooting, thats what it was, in part. And not only hooting, but hollering. And revving. Hooting and hollering and revving.
But Hattie was right there was something festive about it, too. Closer and closer the sound came, but still nothing visible. So we figured wed keep walking and hope that when whatever it was caught up, we could scrunch our bodies against the mountainside and allow it to pass.
Then we saw it. It mustve been 50 feet high. Looked like something drawn by Ed "Big Daddy" Roth. At the top, it was twice as wide as the road, tapering down cartoonily to the bottom so that its enormous jet-airplane tires just filled the road. Wed seen the ads on television, but this was the first one wed witnessed in person: the new General Motors Macho Boogie-Hoot Power Studwagon Five-Story Deluxe Freedom Bruiser, fully equipped with the 48-cylinder 192-valve 24-liter Turbo-Apocalypse engine and room in back for the entire platoon.
And on the front was the biggest hood ornament ever a bowsprit of some kind, 8 or 10 feet long, and not shiny. The attack cruiser pulled closer now, and we could see that the hood ornament was a life-size crucifix, with a longhaired, rail-thin, semi-naked, bearded hippie freak attached to it with rope and nails.
"FUCK!" howled the tortured man on the ornament, spotting us. "HELP!! GET ME DOWN!! THESE MOTHERFUCKERS ARE CRAZY!!"
The attack wagon had dark tinted windows even the windshield so we couldnt see how many people were inside, or how heavily armed they might be.
The Freedom Bruiser was closing in on us fast. Hattie and I were just about to scamper up the mountainside when the sunroof opened, and out popped Reverend General William Zanzinger, M.O.G., wearing a homemade ground-squirrel tuxedo and pointing several automatic laser-guided weapons our way. Hattie and I knew the reverend general from television.
"Clear the road, civilians!" Zanzinger barked, shooting a series of warning shots into the air just above our heads. "The Lords work is coming through!"
"HELP!!" yelled the bowsprit. "CALL THE POLICE!!"
"We are the police, moron!" Zanzinger snarled back.
Hattie and I scampered up the mountainside then, just clear of the Freedom Bruisers side-mounted gun turrets. As the monster passed, we could see the five-story tailgate was down, revealing the enormous theater inside, lined with stained-glass portholes. On the ground floor sat hundreds of soldiers, each with an automatic weapon across his lap and an official United States Bible Picture Book open between his hands. Four layers of balconies, with more soldiers, lined the sides to the top, where a chaplain in a gondola was preaching through a megaphone.
"Yeeee-hah!" barked the chaplain.
"Yeee-hah!" the soldiers thundered back.
AND THEN THEY WERE GONE. Hattie and I got back on the road and continued our walk. We didnt talk so much anymore. We knew each other pretty well. Just listened to each other breathe and to the dirt and twigs and gravel scrunching underfoot. Two or three quiet hours passed.
As night fell, we reached the top of the mountain and came to a vast clearing. The Freedom Bruiser was pulled off to one side, guarded by a dozen sentries. The hood ornament, we noticed, was no longer in place. Beside the vehicle, embers still glowed beneath an enormous makeshift rotisserie long since scraped clean of its carcass.
And beyond the rotisserie, the soldiers had made camp. Lanterns had been hung, and the platoon seemed to be finishing dinner.
Reverend General Zanzinger spotted us and waved us over.
"Hungry?" Zanzinger said smiling, we thought. "The Lord provides!"
"Were fine," Hattie replied, as the two of us scanned the rows of dining soldiers, desperately searching, now, for signs of the missing hood-ornament man.
"Thank you, no," said I. "Awfully kind of you to offer."
"Nonsense!" the reverend general barked. "Corporal! Plates for our guests! Stack em high!" Then he turned back to Hattie and me, and again, we thought, smiled. "Cold night."
"Sure is," Hattie replied, as the young, proud corporal approached with two plates of sad, stringy flesh, roasted black.
We stared at the charred remains and fell silent. I reached into my back pocket, found two clean rags and handed one to Hattie; we raised them to our eyes and mouths and looked for a way out.