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.”

9.6 –Altamont, Illinois Gas Station

I made it all the way to Illinois before I started getting tired and my butt hurt.  Because I wasn’t a Reality Traveler anymore and didn’t hafta MeToo as many Realities as possible there was no rush, so I’d planned to rest whenever I needed to and maybe even get a hotel room.  But once I was on the Road I still anxious to get to Where-ThePlains-Meet-TheMountains as soon as possible, so I could start My New Adult Life right away.

My Dr. Pepper was only so powerful, and I had no music to keep me pumped up, and I was thinking about taking a short Power Nap, when I remembered I still had the mysterious pill Scorpion gave me.  I dug it out of my pocket, and there it was all fat and black&white and shiny looking like a piece of candy.

“Hmm,” I said.

Then I shrugged and swallowed it and washed it down with Dr. Pepper.  It kicked in almost right away.  Suddenly I was wide awake, my butt felt great, and my eyes grew to twice their size and could see everything on The Road.  I didn’t even seem to get any jitters or twitches like Speed Perceptions usually give you.  I just pushed the pedal down and felt like I could keep driving until an ocean got in the way.

Wings needed more gasoline eventually tho, and I decided to pull off Road-70 at an exit that said Altamont, Illinois, cuz it reminded me of the concert at Altamont.

Altamont was a concert all about The End of The 1960’s Golden Age of Reality Travel.  It was supposta be just like Woodstock, The Peak of the 1960’s Golden Age, where every single RockNRoll band played and a huge crowd MeToo’d at once about Music, Perceptions, Peace, and mud.  But at Altamont not every single RockNRoll band played, and for some reason a huge crowd of MeNotzies went and ended up going to War, and four Realities got destroyed forever.  It gave everyone who was there Big Doubt, and they all realized The Golden Age was over, and then everyone started quitting Reality Travel to become Adults.

There was only one gas station off the exit, and it didn’t have any of the names I was familiar with.  It just said “IT’S A GAS GAS GAS” on the sign, and there was no one there except the Reality working inside.  I’d been in Alone Reality for hours and wanted to keep it that way, but I hadta go in to pre-pay again.

“Okay,” I said to myself, “all you have to do is go in there and pay.  You don’t have to MeToo them or anything.  You can even go to War if you have to.  When you start Your New Adult Life, they’ll give you a credit card, and you’ll never hafta do this again.”

Inside the girl behind the counter was wearing strange tattered gray robes even tho it was modern times and sunglasses even tho it was nighttime.  When I went up to her she didn’t say hello or even seem to realize I was there.

“I need gas,” I said and handed her money.

“In time,” she said confidently.

She didn’t take the money or even notice I was holding it out for her.  It seemed like maybe she was blind even tho she’d hafta have vision to be able to succeed at a gas station.

“Can you see?” I asked her.

“Yes,” she said, “just not right in front of me.”

“Don’t you need good eyes to help me?”

“Don’t worry about that, Reality Traveler.”

“What?  Why would you call me that?”

“Because that’s what you are, Bluebird.”

“Who are you? Where did you hear that name?”

“I didn’t hear it.  I saw it, because I’m The Seer.”

I noticed her nametag said “THERESA S.”

“What do you mean?” I said, “like a psychic?”

“Yes,” she said.  “I can see thru nearly all time and space.  The past and the future.  This World and The Other World.

“Yeah, right.”

“Silence Big Doubter!  Serious things are happening right now in The Other World. The Gods are wise to your illegal Love affair, and The Goddess of Faith has been arrested.  Soon they will hold a Trial in The Underworld to determine both of your Fates, but there is still an opportunity to save her and yourself if you dare Travel to that dark and treacherous realm.”

“Look, I think I see what’s going on here.  I’m having some Side Effects from Scorpion’s Pill, and you’re just a normal gas station person, and I’m hallucinating all of this.”

“No, Scorpion’s Pill is making you see thru The Veil more easily.  Now you must listen to me and follow these instructions.  As you continue down this Road you will encounter The Guardian of The Gates of The Underworld.  If you can evade this powerful defender you will come to The Tollbooth, at which you must pay The Ferryman to take you to The Heart of The Underworld where the Trial is being held.  There they will listen to The Testimony of Witnesses, and if they are moved by your courage, they may allow you to Testify on behalf of yourself and The Goddess.  I cannot yet see the exact outcome of this, but I assure you it is the only way to avoid certain Elimination.”

“Nope, none of this is Real.  And if you can’t just do the pre-pay for me I’ll just go to another gas station, thanks.”

“Believe me or not, your journey inevitably leads to The Underworld.  It’s your choice whether you make a stand and possibly return or back down and get sent there forever.”