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.”

9.3 – The Bank

Since I didn’t hafta be a Reality Traveler anymore, I didn’t worry about hitting the Road again right away.  I stayed at The Smaller Nest, sleeping and watching TV until my Hangover was gone.  Then when I was ready I asked my parents for some money to pay for the trip back.

“Don’t you have any money?” they asked me.

“No, pizza delivery pays me so little I couldn’t afford this entire trip even with the money you gave me before.  I’m going to get a new high-paying Adult job as soon as I can think of one tho.”

“That’s great,” they said, “but I think you still have The Shoebox in the basement somewhere.  Maybe there’s enough to tie you overfor now.”

“Oh yeah.”

I remembered when I was a kid I used to save every coin I found in The Shoebox.  I went down to The Basement, and it was still there.  I lifted the lid, and it was still full of pennies and nickels and dimes and quarters and even a couple of strange larger coins, which were worth even more.  I liked looking at the money and smelling its metal smell and hearing how it sounded when you shook the box.

“I’ll have to get as much of this as possible when I start my New Adult Life,” I said to myself.

I knew it would be hard to pay in coin form for all the gas and Dr. Pepper I needed for The Road, so I hadta go to The Bank so they could give me bills for it.  It was right next to The Mall, and it was the cleanest building I’d been in yet on The Great Trip.  Its walls were all glass with no streaks or smudges, and the furniture inside was all smooth and crisp and looked like no one had ever sat in them before.  The air smelled like absolutely nothing, and it made me realize how good that smell actually is.  Everyone who worked there smiled and seemed to be at complete It’s Alright, Baby peace even tho they’d never hugged an Angel before.

The Banker I got was a young woman Reality, who wore the typical rigid Adult jacket that made her shoulders look pointy and heavy makeup that made her eyes and lips stand out, but this time I had a new appreciation for the Uniform.  I could see how much time and effort it took to control your looks that much, and it seemed like a more amateur Reality wouldn’t be able to pull it off.

“How may I assist you, sir?!” she asked and smiled at me.

“I need to trade this for real money,” I said and handed her The Shoebox.

I thought maybe she’d think it wasn’t Adult enough to store your savings that way and have some big MeNotzie reaction about it, but instead she kept smiling.

“Oh my,” she said, “you’ve really saved a lot of coins.  Good for you!”

“Thank you,” I said, “I need it for a trip.”

“Oh my, where are you going?!”

“Colorado.”

“I hear that’s a beautiful state, sir!”

“It is.”

“I’ll just put this in our convenient money counter right away, so you can have the best trip possible!”

Then she went into a back room, and you could hear coins falling and the buzzing of some kind of machine.  She came back after a few minutes and told me how much was in it.

“Wow!” I said, “that’s way more than I thought and enough to pay for the trip a couple times over.”

“Those pennies really do add up!” she said.

Then she handed me all the things that wouldn’t go in the machine, like a paperclip, lint, a RISK Army piece, and a dead bug.

“I also found this silver dollar you might want to keep,” she said.  “They’re good luck!”

Then she handed it to me, and it was shiny gold and had Sacagewa on it.

Sacagewa is a Native American Reality about leading the explorers Lewis and Clark into the far off and exciting and mysterious lands of the AmericanWest, where they became the first non-Native American Realities to see Where-ThePlains-Meet-TheMountains.

“Thanks,” I said.

“Now, how would you like the rest of this, sir?” she asked.  “Twenty dollar bills?!”

“How about fifty dollar bills?!”

“Sounds great!”

Then she handed me the crisp new money, and it felt so much better than the crumpled up soft money I usually had on me.

“Is there any other business you’d like to take care of here today, sir?!”

“Not that I can think of,” I said.

“Well, it’s been a pleasure helping you today, sir.  Feel free to take a lollipop!”

Then I reach into a little basket in front of her station and found a Dr. Pepper flavored one.

“Thanks so much for everything!” I said.

“Once again, it was my pleasure, and I wish you a safe and wonderful journey!”