9.9 – The Tollbooth

“That hadta be the Peak of The Perception,” I told Wings.

“But what if this is just the beginning of a long descent into Hell?” Wings said.

“Then we hafta say this is only a Perception, and it can’t last forever.”

Soon we came upon a sign telling us to slow down for a tollbooth.

“Man, I hate this kinda Road,” I said and hadta dig into my pocket to grab some money.

“This Tollbooth looks kinda weird,” Wings said.

The car was right.  Instead of several lanes with a TollBooth for each, The Road narrowed down to one lane with a long bearded Old Man just standing in the middle of it.  When we got closer I could see he was so old that his skin was rotting off his bones, and he barely even had eyeballs anymore.

“Toll,” he screeched like his vocal chords were rotting, too.

“Maybe we should just turn around a take a Detour,” Wings said.

“Ugh,” I said, “that would be like the longest thing ever tho.”

Then we hadta pull up right in front of the man.

“How much?” I asked him.

“One dollar,” he screeched.

“Oh, that’s not too bad.”

Then I gave him a single one dollar bill outta my pocket.

“Silver dollar,” he screeched.

“Look, you hallucination,” I said.  “No one’s had those on them for like a hundred years.”

The TollBooth Man responded with a high and powerful and long shriek that hurt my ears.

“Wait,” Wings said, “remember you got one from The Banker earlier.”

“Oh yeah,” I said, “good thinking, Wings.”

And then I dug back into my pocket, found it, and handed the shiny gold Sacagewea to him.  The near-corpse nodded and took it.  Then he put it in his mouth and swallowed it.

“What now?” I asked.

“I take you from here,” he screeched.

Then he tried to open up the door and get in the driver’s seat.

“Do you have to?” I asked.  “You look like you’re not even alive.”

He let out another high and powerful and long shriek.

Then I hadta let The TollBooth man get in, and I moved to the passenger side.  Soon everything around us got even weirder, and I was glad he was behind the wheel. Fog rolled in from everywhere and I couldn’t see anything, not even The Road below us.  The car just kinda floated on it, and I couldn’t tell how fast we were going or if we were even moving forward at all.  The TollBooth Man smelled like a dead body, but at least he seemed to know how to navigate thru it.

“How far are you taking us?” I asked.  “Cuz we wanna stay on Road-70 Kansas all the way to Colorado.”

“No Colorado,” he screeched.  “The UnderWorld.”

“Of course,” I sighed.

“Could we die doing this?” Wings asked.

“Only if you get out, haha” The TollBooth Man screech-laughed, while his jaw looked like it was going to fall off.

As we went along we descended into a big dark tunnel, and the fog on the sides turned into shapes.  They got clearer and clearer until they became heads and arms and legs. They were all reaching out to us, and their mouths were open and moaning.

“Ghosts,” The TollBooth Man screeched.

Some of the ghosts got so clear I actually started to recognize them, like Jack Kerouac, Le Rouge Baron, and my old pet Dogritos. There was even one old man in rags and sunglasses with a nametag that said “THERESA S.”  Most of them were unfamiliar and scary tho, and they started to swarm the car, and we could barely move anymore.

“Yearning for treasures of the living World,” The TollBooth Man screeched.  “Give offering.”

“Like what?” I asked.

“Your blood.”

“What about Dr. Pepper instead?”

“Don’t know Dr. Pepper.”

I decided to try it anyway, and I rolled the window down a crack.  The ghost fingers were trying to get in, but as soon as I poured a little pop out, they immediately dove down to lick it up.  Then I shook it up a little and sprayed it out at them and they lunged at it away from the car.

“Pepper blood working,” The TollBooth Man screeched.

Then I took the whole two-liter and threw it out as far as I could behind us, and all the ghosts ran after it, and the path was totally clear.  Then you could see a light at the end of the tunnel ahead of us, and it was made of pure fire.

“We’re here,” The TollBooth Man screeched.

“Where?” I said.  “Hell?”

“The Trial.”