The Gypsy's Address
Penny and Strange said nothing to one another for the next half hour. The world to which they had come was more radical than some. Neither had suspected shape-shifting would occur, which required some orientation. Not certain they were ready, beyond barefoot, to face this new world, yet positive enough to give it a yank, they presently pulled into a truck stop which had a roadside lounge, the better to grapple with the truth. Penny himself could use a vodka martini, shook, no vermouth. Which, to render more faithful to his thoughts, was a vodka on the rocks.
Neither looked at either as they left their trucks, then walked across the parking lot to the trucker’s lounge. They observed, instead, all the big-rig schmucks who might likely admit, as to hares driving trucks, that they’d never thought a twit about it. One rabbit, who to be friendly could not elude, held the bar door open so Strange could her entrance conclude. She and Penny took stools side by side. Then waited ten minutes for service from the barmaid who was in back, brushing her hair. The wait, be as may, they not so noticed as what took much more to prepare: to finally look at one another once each had the courage to dare. They began with quick glances, gradually warming as onto their faces grins snuck, then looked each other full in the eyes as on each visage a smile broadened and stuck.
“You know. . .” each at once began the same.
“Go ahead, Penny. Lend your thought to me due fame.”
“You’re actually very comely.”
“You’re actually very comely,” the voice of the barmaid now mocked, to which she appended, unfriendly, “What’s up, Doc?” Penny and Strange were struck with awe. “Whach you lookin’ at, like a couple of tragedies to the core? You want somethin’ to drink, or should I stand here an hour more?”
“I thought rabbits were friendly here,” Strange nigh whispered to Penny, hardly able to speak, so astonished by the barmaid, appearing like a three-dimensional animation in Technicolor.
“What!” the barmaid exclaimed. “What you’ve said ain’t funny, honey. I ain’t no worthless rabbit! I’m a far better-drawn bunny! Insult me again and you’ll get your drink next season.” Indeed, such was Bugs Bunny, with whom our heroes couldn’t reason.
“Sorry,” Penny offered. “I think we have the wrong address,” as he and Strange dismounted from their stools and retreated to the exit.
“Give it up!” Bugs raised her voice as Penny and Strange reached the door. “If to find an address you silly rabbits own pretension, that you’ll never make it is my apprehension! This bunny further mentions that weak joints be your pensions in addition to arthritis full of tensions!”
“I’m betting that if they hunt for Easter eggs here to find one could take an inimical year,” Strange regarded once outside, returning with Penny to their trucks across the lot.
“We need to do a truck inspection anyway,” concerning which Penny had a sixth sense. For as he and Strange presently began bonking their tires with hammers he discovered a flat on his trailer.
“Hi there!” he heard with a sudden slap to his back that nearly knocked him into the tread he was inspecting. Penny quickly turned about to stand face to chest with none other than Makin’ Wind, the largest rabbit he’d ever seen, with the widest rabbit grin, ears so high above her head that the air up there was thin. “Need some help?” she proffered.
The Punc, meanwhile, stood atop Something’s chain box, took a hanky from his pocket and cleaned a smudge from her air cleaner: “No trouble at all! Trucks respond to good care!” He returned to the ground where all four now stood in the shade between Penny’s Pete and Something’s Ken.
“Sounds like a real low tire there,” Makin’ noted. “There’s the Hoodoo Hare Truck Repair,” nodding her head in its direction across the lot, near the lounge where Bugs Bunny lost no love on rabbits.
Penny considered to himself, “Is a rabbit the same as a hare?” Then aloud to Makin’, “Looks like I’ll have to mount the spare,” while putting his brain to silent reflection due to Makin’s neighborly complexion which left him in perplexion as to whether he could trust it or not. But it was absurd to not trust his own word. So in his jurying mind she was “friendly” defined, yet not leaving quotation marks behind.
“I’ll bet, like myself, you’re a gin lover,” the Punc offered Strange, pulling a flask from his hip pocket.
Something accepted the flask upon a moment’s hesitation. Her own mind, like Penny’s, had done some quick hovering to make sense of the world they were just now discovering. She unscrewed the cap of the flask the Punc handed to her and ran its sweet scent beneath her nostrils, to learn that the Punctuator shared her own taste:
“Thank you,” demurring again before she said it. “I think my mind you have read it.”
“Ah! Yes! Perfection to commend!” as Strange swallowed. “’Tween a sip and a swig I myself recommend,” the Punc receiving back his flask to drink the same as same asked.
Makin’ behind to help at whatever, Penny walked to the front of his truck to tell Strange, “I’ll be at the Hoodoo Hare Truck Repair,” pointing his finger across the truck stop parking lot.
“All right. Alias wants water,” neglecting to mention Cuddly. Being friendly didn’t mean blind trust, even when the Punc wasn’t wearing guns. Alias had meanwhile stayed in Something’s cab, keeping Cuddly in the sleeper where safe.
“Need any help?” the Punc asked Penny, not usually characteristic of him to offer assistance to anyone, except as an artifice to his profit via their loss. He and Makin’ had parked to either side of Penny and Strange, in a “holding” manner, again, ambiguous as to quotation marks.
“Thanks, no. It’s just across the lot,” as Penny climbed into his truck.
“I’ll bet Cuddly would love a big green head of lettuce,” suggested Makin’, Something not certain what to think of this expression of interest in Cuddly’s welfare.
Makin’ and the Punc tagged along with Strange to see how they might be of some comradely assistance as Penny drove over to the ‘HOODOO HARE TRUCK REPAIR’, spelled out on a big weathered sign above the one-truck garage. Penny jumped from his Pete and walked into the office to behold everything inside as worn as on the outside. The walls were stained and dust was thick all about, even atop the customer counter. Yet everything seemed perfectly tidy, such as a stack of papers on an old desk at the rear wall in which not one page was in misalignment with the rest. The floor of wood planks, placed long before linoleum, creaked with each step. But for the large scummy window in front, with cracks running from corner to corner to make a jagged ‘X’, the room was dark. The only light in the room was an ancient tungsten lamp on the rear desk which wasn’t being used. Beneath its age-yellowed shade of a floral design the chain that pulled the switch hung to a tiny bell. Indeed, a bell had rung when Penny had entered. But more peculiar were the many bells hung from cords crisscrossing the entire ceiling, together with strands of fabric and strings of lace the, significance of which Penny hadn’t a clue. Metallic symbols, such as a cross and a pentagram, appeared to be properly placed to purpose on the walls, along with old photographs of the no longer living. But what fascinated Penny most were the drawings and writings on the walls, esoteric beyond his comprehension. Such codes, sigils and whatnot had been drawn in chalk, charcoal and paint. One odd heraldic device had been carved into the cracking plasterboard. Penny could see his upper torso reflecting in the cloudy glass of a large mirror built into the wall above of the desk across the counter. Below it was an old black dial telephone. At the end of the counter he saw a box the size of a cereal carton, its cover inlaid with tile to depict a black raven. Penny couldn’t contain his curiosity. He stepped over to the box, lifted the lid and took a peek: dried up cucumbers, side by side, covered in glowing orange mold. What once were two was now one as the oddly beautiful mold cocooned them together. Just as Penny quietly lowered the lid and drew away his fingers the curtain of beads and bells in the wall behind the counter jangled and rattled. A dark female entered in a blood-red, ankle-length dress with a floral pattern. Part-human, part-hare, atop her head she wore a purple scarf above large hoop earrings. Her eyes were large and round, her lips the color of liquid ruby. Various baubles, trinkets and gems adorned her neck, wrists and ankles of bare feet. The nails on her hairy phalanges were unusually long, painted to match her lips. From a simple twine about her hips dangled the red felt mojo bag of the root doctor. She’d been observing Penny the entire time that he waited. She’d seen him look into the box.
“Tricks are for hares, silly rabbit,” she spoke superciliously.
“Hi, there! . .” Penny greeted in his usual friendly manner before being interrupted.
“I’ve no need for explanation as to our relation. The reason you’re visiting me is tire deflation.” The root doctor indifferently scratched two long fingernails together, loosing a spark, then walked to the wall near the box and pulled on a tasseled rope four times slowly without taking her eyes off Penny. While waiting for her summons to be answered she stepped directly before him to the other side of the counter, placed her elbows on top and rested her chin on her intertwined toes, which were fingers to that hare, being human to some share. One foot away from Penny’s eyes, into those did she now stare: “Who poke about in a cemetery ought to beware of dark forces that can suddenly scare. Many ways are there a fool to bury. Or with some dreadful fate to intermarry.”
Penny took a step back as the dark-haired root doctor penetrated his eyes. She then retrieved the box with the raven on it and slipped it beneath the counter. Upon which a tall rabbit entered from a door to Penny’s left. From the neck down he wore greasy blue overalls. But from the neck up he was in grisaille, like out of an old black and white motion picture. Penny was further taken aback that, though a rabbit, the mechanic looked remarkably like James Stewart.
“Jimmy,” addressed the black-magic hare, “this rabbit would like a trailer tire replaced with his spare.”
“S-s-sure. B-b-back your trailer into the garage there,” Jimmy nodded, then turned to leave.
“Jimmy! Tell Harvey to get off his ass,” the doctor reminded. “I want that floor swept for real, not pretend. If he don’t want a mammy of a whammy that’s what I recommend.”
“S-s-sure. I’ll try to t-t-talk some sense into him.” Penny couldn’t but gaze in astonishment as Jimmy, the rabbit, in three-dimensional black and white, wearing greasy overalls, disappeared out the door to find his companion, Harvey.
“Whach you lookin’ at?” asked Mammy Whammy. “You deaf in some compartment? With ears like yours one wouldn’t think you’d checked in that department.”
“Yeah,” Penny blinked. “All right. Thanks.” Then found the door.
Meanwhile, Something Strange herself was bound in wonder as she observed, from her bunk, Makin’ and the Punc feeling so friendly that they glided about the parking lot, hand in hand, in roller skates.
“Charms,” Cuddly suddenly uttered, seated on the floor.
“Charms? Well, I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say enchanting,” Something replied, thinking Cuddly referred to Makin’ and the Punc themselves, flowing about in the breeze on their wheels. She took out a brush and tended her hair.
“Spells,” Cuddly spoke again.
Something wasn’t getting Cuddly’s meaning even as she glanced through her windshield at the big high sign near the road that read ‘CROSSROADS TRUCK STOP’. She traded her brush for her cell phone and tried to call the broker:
Ring! Ring! Blank. Dead, the broker’s telephone now submerged beneath rising floodwaters. The team in the helicopter overhead could see the river pass four feet deep through the old house that was, the day before, the broker’s office. He and his secretary were long since gone, like everyone else in the neighborhood whose property now floated along the current past the broker’s sunk telephone. So Something called the shipper. . . What? . . Because the number was the same as in the world Something’s own:
Ring! Ring! “Forget it!’” some man yelled. “Get downstairs!” From his window he could see the twister coming, throwing from its path its debris of cars and trees. On a television in the same room a reporter warned of the danger. Ring! Ring! Blank, as the telephone flew with the furniture. You may think it too great a coincidence for both phones to go dead at nigh the same time, thus doubt the truth of what I relate, being phenomena that rhyme. But regard that one was Eastern, the other Central time. Not the fib, then, but this telling of it, is the far greater crime.
Something Strange snapped her cell phone shut, to which narration I append that as to Cuddly’s mind, since you ain’t read it, I’ll here for him have said it, that his thoughts you may more smartly attend:
It just so happened that Something used candles. She found it quieting to light one on occasions when some anxiety or anger welled up. She brought one out of a crate by her bunk and placed it on a shelf. Penny, meanwhile, went in to pay Mammy Whammy for Jimmy’s fifteen minutes of labor. She patted the receipt on the counter before him.
“One hundred dollars!” Penny exclaimed. “That’s a twenty dollar repair in any world anywhere.”
“Thank you for declaring it. As for your spare, your trailer’s wearing it,” was Mammy’s explanation.
“I’ll bet you get a lot of repeat customers,” Penny remarked while reaching for his wallet without much choice.
“This is the Crossroads Truck Stop, pilgrim, where the devil dines quite gaily. Once you’ve been, you’ll be back daily,” ever with the slimmest smile due that no one opposed her will. Upon Penny stepping out the door the Whammy Mammy vanished behind the curtain of beads and bells into a dark room lit with candles. “Oh, Acid, let’s have some laughter,” the Whammy Mammy addressed her viper as she drew it from its tank and wrapped it about her shoulders. She sat down to one of the old wicker chairs about a large round table within which contour a square had been carved, within which was further carved a design of crosses and X’s. On the table’s surface was set an incense holder for fragrances from sweet to foul. An eye of Horus had been painted across the ceiling. About the room were drawn or hung ancient symbols such as Egyptian hieroglyphs. Locks of hair and ripped fabrics hung from lines stretched wall to wall. On one wall was affixed a chalkboard on which letters in seemingly chaotic order had been written. In the many boxes and drawers about were buried secret treasures for such occasions as required their exhumation. Other drawers contained herbs, spices and seeds. A statue of Baal rose from one desktop, an obelisk from another. Dolls in various conditions were set about. One, directly across the room from Whammy, was missing both its left arm and eye. There was a row of shelves on which were stored rocks, shards of broken vases, molding clays in plastic bags, wax pads and various soils in thick glass jars. What else the room contained were secrets of hoodoo I’ll not mention, so accursed, nor the entities and watchers with whom the Mammy oft conversed.
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