Plugs

Every once in a while some smart-ass kid sneaks a machete or something into the zoo, lures Edna over with junk food, and hacks off one of her heads. For the kid, it’s a lark. For me, it’s one more mouth to feed.

If you’re going to look after a hydra, you have to be dedicated. And you have to realize that things always get more complicated in the long run, never simpler. Take love, for example. If you’re alone, it’s the simplest thing in the world: no double families to juggle at holidays, no having to orient the toilet paper roll the right way … but then you fall in love, and all of a sudden you’re making accommodations and trying to remember the anniversary of your first date date. Getting out of it isn’t exactly simple, either, which I think is why some people opt for marriage … which is even more of a mess. Not even mentioning children! And then you realize that it was never going to work out in the first place, and you get divorced, and instead of having one person who more or less likes you, you have one person who more or less hates you who usually starts going out right away with someone else who hates you (notice how it doubles?), and likely as not you’re on the rebound and are going out with someone again, so it’s not even like you simplified anything there!

At least when it gets more complicated with Edna, you know what you’re going to get. One more head, one more set of teeth to dodge, and fifteen more pounds a day of fresh meat.

I still like it better, though, when the kid leans through the bars and Edna eats the little creep instead of getting one of her heads chopped off. First of all, it teaches all the other smart-ass kids a lesson. Second, it’s one less person, which makes the world just a little, tiny bit simpler for a while.

The old garden gnome didn’t know where his captors were taking him. Albert sniffed, hoping to get a telltale whiff that would tell him his relative position to the concrete factory in Bellview, but the cloth sack he was in buffered smells.

Clever.

He guessed it was 00.45. Albert was sure they’d nabbed him around midnight as he slept under Aunt Martha’s shrubs. The memory made him shudder. He was getting old; nobody ever crept up on him when he was younger.

The door opened, and something heavy was dumped to his right. He heard a chink.

“Be careful Rob!,” a female voice whispered. “Nobody’s gonna pay ransom if they’re broken.”

The man grunted and closed the door. Should he try to escape? The girl’s tone had convinced him that he was dealing with lunatics, but the mention of ransom suggested that he might be better off sitting tight. No, who was he kidding? Aunt Martha didn’t have money.

The garden gnome was on his own.

Albert gnawed on the cloth and managed a hole, which he picked apart with his fingers. Then he took the tip of his stiff red cap and used it to enlarge the opening. Soon, he wriggled out.

The van was full of sacks. He touched one and felt the shape of garden gnome inside.

“Don’t worry buddy, I’ll get you out,” he whispered. The other gnome didn’t answer.

“Don’t worry, we’ll find a way to escape. Do you hear me?” Silence. Albert worked fast, worried that his comrade was in shock. He almost lost a molar but he got the knot loose and dragged out the unconscious gnome.

No pulse! He started CPR, took a second to remember that he needed to tilt the guy’s head and did so. He heard a chink.

“Shit!” He started tapping the gnome’s body. The guy sounded hollow.

“He’s dead,” the gnome whimpered, “I’ve administered CPR to a dead gnome.”

He worked frantically on the other sacks and pulled out one lifeless body after another. What kind of sick person stole dead gnomes? And why had they taken him?

Confused and trembling, Albert lined up his companions on the far side of the van. The lock was way too high for him to reach. There was no way out. The bodies standing to attention stared at him silently and chilled him to the bone.

Routing…

A. Portland, Oregon

1. Grand adventure is calling!
2. Slide your ass out of bed.
3. Drink a Stumptown or three.
4. Clear IPAs from your head.
5. Gas up the Subie wagon!
6. Put on your old Birks!
7. You’re in Oregon camo.
8. (In the city that works.)
9. Avoid roads with bored cops.
10. (You don’t want to go down.)
11. Stash the weed! Crank some indie!
12. Head straight south out of town.

637 miles later (about 10 hours, 2 minutes):

B. San Francisco, California

1. Cross your choice of big bridges.
2. Pick one – pay the damn toll!
3. Go up and go down.
4. Don’t stop at stop signs – just roll!
5. Go up and go down.
6. Get lost and then again!
7. Do E with a homeless dude.
8. He’ll become your best friend!
9. Good luck finding parking.
10. (Though it helps some to pray.)
11. Kick the homeless dude out.
12. And head south to L.A.

381 miles later (about 6 hours, 26 minutes – up to 7 hours, 50 minutes in traffic):

C. Los Angeles, California

1. Oh! The freeways and cloverleafs!
2. Lots of lights! Lots of cars!
3. Oh! The silicone breast implants!
4. Lots of strip clubs and stars!
5. Don’t turn down the wrong roads.
6. Never trust a valet.
7. Careful snorting while driving.
8. Buy a hands-free coke tray!
9. Party at clubs with ridiculous covers.
10. Drive like you’ve got the heart of a beast!
11. Avoid being on a reality show.
12. Onward, the desert awaits to the east.

792 miles later (about 12 hours, 19 minutes):

D. Albuquerque, New Mexico

1. Take that left turn.
2. (You know that you want to!)
3. Make fun of the town’s name.
4. Just where no one can hear you.
5. It’s a good place for business.
6. And for jobs (Forbes says so).
7. But they drive like they have
8. Nowhere special to go.
9. So just drink some peyote.
10. View the great color fountain!
11. See hot air balloon fiestas.
12. Then head on up the mountain!

449 miles (about 7 hours, 11 minutes):

E. Denver, Colorado

1. Celebrate that you’re here!
2. Your adventure is done.
3. Drink beer and get stoned.
4. Pretend you’re in Oregon!
5. It’s the Mile High City.
6. Snow’s a beautiful scene!
7. Reflect on your adventure.
8. All the places you’ve been!
9. You’ve had traffic and parking.
10. Yes, at times you were vexed.
11. But it’s your destination!
12. Where will you go next?

The time traveler pulled up a chair, placed her holorecorder on the table and pressed a button just in time for her ghost to appear.

Across the table, her ghost was apparently sitting on air.

“We need to talk,” said the ghost, “about some things you need to do. And not do.”

The time traveler nodded. “Go ahead,” she said.

The ghost laid out times, dates, places, people to watch out for, objects to be sure not to misplace or to avoid if they were falling from a great height.

The time traveler nodded, checking that the recorder’s green LED still glowed. She could have sworn that, under the otherworldly blur, the ghost was looking older already. That had to be a good thing.

The ghost must have talked ten minutes before she paused. “Actually,” she said, “I made it all up. I’m not your ghost exactly.”

“What?” said the time traveler. “Then who are you?”

“I’m the ghost of your clone.”

“I have a clone?”

“You will,” said the ghost, “The Rosenkrantz institute has a secret cloning project. That’s what all the samples were for. They had nothing to do with your fitness for time travel.”

The traveler held her head. The organization that had invented the time machine and recruited her to use it apparently had a deeper, perhaps more sinister agenda. “What should I do?”

“I have no idea,” said the ghost. “To be completely honest, the clone wasn’t exactly your clone, but a clone of your twin sister.”

“I don’t have a twin sister.”

“Not in this universe, you don’t…”

“Wait a minute!” The time traveler jumped up, bumping the table.

The ghost shuddered in the air; perhaps that’s what ghosts did when they were surprised.

“You’re the ghost of the clone of my twin sister from another dimension?”

“Exactly!” said the ghost. “Well, no. I made that up too.”

“Then who are you?”

“You.”

“Me?”

“You have a multiple personality disorder, and recorded this whole mad spiel as a joke on my most boring self.”

“That can’t be,” said the time traveler. “I got the recorder right before I left, in factory packaging.”

The ghost pointed to the depressed button on the recorder’s top–“PLAY” not “RECORD.”

“But how? I haven’t had time. And how would you… I… know what I was going to say?”

The ghost/hologram grinned, “Isn’t time travel great?”

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