We were somewhere around Davis on Interstate 80 when all hell broke loose. I remember saying, "I've got a bad feeling about this..." And suddenly, there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge, half-crushed cylinders with glowing red Cyclopean eyes and insectile hook-arms, all swooping and keening and diving around the car, which was going about hundred miles an hour with the windows down to San Francisco. And a voice was screaming: "Holy shit! What are these goddman things?"
"Probe droids!" I said, ducking as they came at us. "I don't know how, but they found us. Drive for it, Nardy!"
"Who found us?" came the reply. "The Libyans?"
I shot a glance at my driver. "Worse," I said. "Imperials."
Nardo Bones let out a gut-busting scream, slammed on the gas, and the car lurched forward.
Nardo Bones. Scarecrow thin and all sharp angles with floppy blond hair. Dressed in a black pinstriped zoot suit. Nothing at all like Emily Deschanel. Photographer for Plethora. A rookie, not yet bloodied on the journalistic battlefields. This was to be his Guadalcanal. His Trafalgar. His Khitomer.
I'd been sent to cover WonderCon in San Francisco for The Oblivious Plethora. My editor, Milton Seth Jones, had picked Bone to be my photographer. He lived in Sacramento and I had picked him up earlier that morning after spending the previous night at the Banner Manse exploring Mount Waterdeep with a team of fellow spelunkers that included a singing dwarven pirate, a gay halfling thief, and a cross-dressing male elven paladin.
The car suddenly veered off the road and came to a sliding halt in the gravel on the shoulder. The seat belt locked, keeping me from bouncing off the dashboard and flying through the windshield.
The driver side door flew open and Bones scrambled out, howling and flailing his arms.
I leaped from the car. "What're you doing?" I yelled. "We can't stop here. This is no country for Josh Brolin. Or Goonies."
"They're everywhere!" he cried. "They won't go away. And my eyes! They burn!"
"You little fool!" I said. "I told you. Short, quick sniffs!"
He screamed and flailed and ran in circles around the car.
This was bad.
A rookie, yes. But not just in journalism. In Liquid Paper, too. Before we left his house, he'd inhaled most of a bottle and decided to drive. I had tried to talk him out of it. Told him it was best enjoyed in short, quick sniffs rather than one big nasal suck. And no driving. The scent was intoxicating in that fuzzy-brained, light-headed, walking on storm clouds in metal boots way. But he hadn't listened.
I had to calm him down. And we still had to get to San Francisco before the Insanity of the Lines descended upon us.
Oh, the Lines! The Lines! The tintinnabulation of the Lines!
Panic started to creep over me in ninja-silence and I fought to keep it in check.
Focus, Jericho! Focus! One thing at a time.
First thing--I had to calm Bones.
I dashed to the back of my red 1994 Toyota Tercel hatchback and popped the trunk.
In the center of the trunk sat my funbag. The funbag was an important piece of journalistic equipment. I had mighty tools in my funbag, to wit: four classic bottles of Liquid Paper, ten large bags of Swedish Fish, a box of Mr. Sketch Scented Markers, and a red plastic pencil case that contained two black Sharpies, two double-packs of Pilot G-2 pens (black), three yellow Dixon Ticonderoga #2 pencils (sharpened), and a small green hand-held pencil sharpener (small), plus two steno pads and a small moleskine notebook.
Everything a journalist needed in the field.
But the contents of the bag weren't going to help in this instance.
No. I needed stronger, more powerful medicine.
That medicine sat next to the bag--a stainless steel tank thirteen inches long and two-and-a-quarter inches in diameter attached to a black rubber facemask.
Oxygen. Pure, lifegiving air. None of that crap stuff from across the border, from Sedona, tainted with gods knew what. Charlatans and mountebanks there. The lot of them.
No. This was from Big Sur. Where the air was fresh and clean.
I grabbed the tank, shut the trunk lid, and went to the driver's side.
Bones was still wailing and circling the car, kicking up gravel and dirt in his wake. His cries rose and fell in perfect 4/4 waltz-time.
I shoved the tank into the footwell behind the driver's seat then turned to corral Bones just as he came whistling around to my side of the car, "God Save The Queen" dopplering from him, and snatched him by the back of his pants. His feet shot out from under him and he dropped to the ground on his butt.
Then I pulled him to his feet and wrestled him toward the passenger side and into the car. He started raving and jabbering, arms still flailing, fingers jabbing at the sky.
"Here they come! They're coming! Run for your lives! Run for the hills! The hills have eyes! I, Robot! Robot Carnival! Carnival of lost souls! They want our souls! Funk soul brother! Brother from another planet, where art thou! Soylent green is Heston!"
I finally got him into the seat, all the while dodging and evading his flailing arms and jabbing fingers, wrapped the seat belt around him, and shut the door. He lunged at the window, clawing at the glass, foaming at the mouth, and yowling as if his ass was on fire.
Poor bastard. If only he'd listened to me.
There's nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the throes of a Liquid Paper high.
No matter now.
I pulled out my phone and checked the time.
We had to get into the city. And fast.
I clambered into the driver's seat, shut the door, then grabbed the steel tank and shoved it at him. "Keep it on your face, turn the knob, and inhale. Deep inhales."
His head snapped toward me, his face a Munch scream. "Will it make them go away?" he mewled.
"It'll keep you from screeching," I said. "I have something else for the monsters."
Bones clutched at the tank, jammed the mask into his face, and started taking deep breaths.
"Turn the knob," I said. "It works best that way."
He nodded in a violent bobblehead doll fashion, scrabbled at the knob, and air began hissing forth. He stuck his face deeper into the rubber mask and gulped like a trout in the middle of the Mojave.
Took a quick glance around.
Malformed shadows danced over the car.
They were still out there.
I poked my head out the window to check.
Yep. The beasts were circling overhead like greedy vultures, hook arms flexing, glowing eyes pulsing.
I ducked back inside and reached past Bones to the glove compartment and opened it, then pulled out a pair of fuzzy dice. Fuzzy polyhedral dice soaked in gun oil. A Chumash shaman I met in a Morro Bay dive bar just off Highway 1 told me it was an effective talisman against demons. "They are nunashish," he'd said, nursing his sixth fifth of Jack. "Demons. This will drive them out."
Clearly, that's what these creatures were. Demons.
I hung the dice over the rearview mirror and it worked immediately, like gangbusters.
The shadows squealed and vanished.
Not bad for the thirty bucks I'd ponied out for them.
Elated, I pointed the car toward the freeway and peeled out, spraying gravel behind us, little realizing what was about to befall us next.
Come back next week for another entry of The Jericho Files!
Read previous Jericho Files entries here.
Read previous Jericho Files entries here.