I answered a knock at the door. It was that girl Dorktown.
"You again? Hunkidory!" I shouted.
"No wait!" she said. "I have a Firebuddy now. Hunkidory let me in." She showed me her Firebuddy.
"I thought you didn't have any money."
"How did you get a Firebuddy?"
"Somebody gave me one."
"You still look like a homeless orphan."
"You're very insightful" she said. "What are you supposed to be? What's with the cowboy hat and leather jacket?"
"I'm a software engineer named John Binns attending a festival called Wasteland Weekend where we celebrate the apocalypse."
She laughed. It was a reference to my book. I mean my name really is John Binns but if your name translated to Potty Wastebaskets you'd change it too. So I go by Firebird.
"What do you want?" I asked.
"I have a surprise for you."
"I hate surprises."
"A friend of yours is here to see you."
"I don't have any friends."
"Yes you do. You wrote about him in your book. But Hunkidory won't let him in."
I thought about everyone I'd written about in my book. After all these years there was one person I still wondered about. One person I always hoped to see at the Gathering someday. One person whose name I hoped I would never see on the Gathering's memorial wall.
Could it be Messenger Kid?
"All right let's go" I said.
When we stepped outside I looked over at the Cage. Spectators had climbed up the sides and onto the top. The entire structure was rocking back and forth. The crowd hooted and hollered like animals. Hopefully tonight this Hellies and Gillies stuff would be decided once and for all and I'd never have to hear about it again.
We headed away from the Cage and toward the entrance gate. The light at the gate was out and Hunkidory was trying to fix it. All I could see was the silhouette of a man who was definitely not Messenger Kid. We were just a couple meters away when the light suddenly flickered on and revealed his face.
"G'day mate!" said a maniacal grinning mohawked head.
I leaped back in terror and fell to the ground. "Jesus frigging Crimean Peninsula" I said.
"I found Bruce!" Dorktown said proudly.
Yeah his name was Bruce but I referred to him as Mohawk Asshole. Pardon my language. Mohawk Hineyhole. The name is kinda stupid but I gave it to him when I was ten years old so what can I say. He got his first name cuz he had a mohawk. He got his last name cuz he killed my family. And if you're wondering how I got my name it's cuz after Mohawk Hineyhole did all that stuff I stole his Stellar Blue 1975 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am.
I got up off the ground and pulled out my FP-45 Liberator. I twisted the cocking knob into place and stuck it in Mohawk Hineyhole's face. It was a crap gun and it only held one shot but one shot was all I'd need.
"No fighting at the Gathering except for in the Cage" he said calmly.
Dorktown grabbed my arm. "What are you doing? I thought you two were best mates now." She got out her book and started flipping through the pages.
I was beginning to tire of people treating my book like gospel just because it had the word "nonfictional" in the title. But it was people taking my book seriously that had made Tomorrowland Weekend possible. And Dorktown was sort of right. At the end of that story I'd refrained from killing Mohawk Hineyhole because we'd become friends in a roundabout way.
I put the gun away. "It's Tomorrowland Weekend" I said. "And you're not allowed in."
"I'm already in" he said. He pointed at the tape on the ground that I'd relocated earlier that day.
Ok he had a point. "Dammit Hunkidory" I said.
Hunkidory looked at the tape and grunted.
"We're going back to my trailer to catch up. Don't let in any more psychotic killers."
"There goes all your customers" Dorktown said.
"Don't you want his autograph too?" I asked.
"Already got it" she replied.
To make things weirder Mohawk Hineyhole was wearing a tuxedo. "What are you supposed to be anyway?" I asked.
"I'm a millionaire at a fundraiser for the re-election of president Ronald Reagan" he said.
I sat the two of them down in my trailer and shut the door.
"What do you two want?" I asked.
They both started blabbering.
I pointed at Mohawk Hineyhole. "You first."
"Thought I'd pay you a visit. Have a cuppa tea."
"I appreciate the buddy buddy act" I told him. "But we both know it's an act."
"All right then" he said. "Give me my car back and I won't tell anyone your secret."
Dorktown looked at me. "What's your secret?"
I ignored her. I reached into my jacket pocket and took out the Firebird's VIN plate. I tossed it to him. "That's all that's left of the car."
He looked at the VIN plate. We both knew it by heart. 2W87W5N565657. He started reading aloud but he wasn't reading the letters and numbers. He was decoding them. He remembered what the letters and numbers meant. He'd loved that car as much as I had. "Pontiac. Trans Am. 2 door coupe. 455 cubic inch 4 barrel V8. 1975." He paused and looked up before decoding the letter "N."
"They ain't never gonna make another car like that again" I said.
"Why not?" Dorktown asked. "Why not make a new Firebird?"
I looked at Dorktown. I looked at Mohawk Hineyhole.
"Norwood" he said. He got up so fast he knocked over his chair. He ran out the door and started yelling at whoever would listen and also at whoever would not listen.
"There is no Tomorrowland!" he shouted. "John's book is a lie! Tomorrowland doesn't exist!"
"That's the secret?" Dorktown asked. "Nobody can swap timelines?"
At this point I should probably clarify that the reason Tomorrowlanders all seemed to believe they could come to this event and teleport into an alternate universe known as Tomorrowland did indeed have something to do with the book I wrote. In the book I claimed it was possible for people to swap places with doppelganger versions of themselves living in a nonapocalyptic alternate timeline called Tomorrowland. I claimed I'd visited Tomorrowland on multiple occasions. I claimed Mohawk Hineyhole had vanished into Tomorrowland and left here in his place a friendly Mr. Rogers version of himself I called Bruce who was now my best mate.
But none of that stuff was true. It was all just advertising. I was selling futuristic computers. I never expected anyone would actually believe the computers were from the future.
"Nobody can swap timelines" I said.
"So that was Mohawk Asshole?" she asked. "Not Bruce?"
Dorktown stood up. "Tomorrowland doesn't exist?"
"It exists in our hearts."
"I came all the way around the world for this."
"Tomorrowland is the friends you made along the way."
"Fuck you" she said. "I'll kill him with or without you." She stormed out.
I followed her out and grabbed her by the arm.
"Kill who?" I asked.
A rising tide of crowd noises emanated from the direction of the Cage. I turned to look. It was covered top to bottom with people and the entire structure was leaning to one side.
"I'd tell you if you'd listen to me for one bloody second" Dorktown said.
I turned to look her in the eye. "Why are you here Dorktown?"
"My name is Torkdown." She held my gaze with fire in her eyes. "And I'm here to kill Mohawk Asshole."
"He killed my pop."
"Who was your pop?"
"You used to call him Messenger Kid."
Just then there was a loud crack and a massive ground-shaking smash followed by screaming. The Cage had collapsed. I felt the heat of an explosion behind me and saw its reflection on Dorktown's face. But neither of us turned. Neither of us blinked.
Now let me explain who Messenger Kid is. Or should I say let me explain who Messenger Kid was. I refuse to write a flashback cuz time moves forward in a linear fashion. I ain't saying I'm happy about that. Especially when it comes to Messenger Kid. But if that's how time moves then stories should move that way too. Anyway back when the world went to the dogs I found myself stuck in Australia. Aside from my girlfriend I had only one friend out there and that friend was Messenger Kid. Messenger Kid was mute but like they say actions speak louder. He was the kind of friend who'd risk everything for you and not think anything of it. He carried a Bugs Bunny doll around with him everywhere and he'd pull the string on it and it would say phrases and sort of talk for him. The last time we saw him we were having a little dustup with Mohawk Hineyhole. Messenger Kid dropped his Bugs Bunny doll and I've been carrying it with me ever since. I was hoping I'd be able to return it to him someday.
"You came here for my help?" I asked Dorktown.
"I thought we had to get Bruce to swap timelines to bring Mohawk Asshole back from Tomorrowland."
"Bruce and Mohawk Hineyhole are the same person" I said.
"Then I'm gonna go kill Bruce."
"James Bond once said 'Before setting out on revenge you first dig two graves.'"
"I'll dig as many graves as it takes" she said. "Are you gonna help me out or what?"
"I had a chance to kill him once."
"Page 129. Why didn't you?"
I couldn't think of any more cool James Bond quotes. Dorktown whipped her head around and vanished into the darkness.
Darnit. I should have said "Sit by the river long enough and you'll see the body of your enemy go floating by." Not actually a James Bond quote but Sean Connery might have said it once.
I looked over at the Cage. Or what used to be the Cage. It was now a heap of wood and metal and flames.
I grabbed my axe and found my carnival barker. I asked him what was up.
"The Helly president killed the Gilly president" he explained. "Everyone went berserk and the whole thing fell down. I think we just started a war." Then he ran off.
I turned around and quickly figured out why he left in such a hurry. Closing in on my left and right were two gangs of monsters dressed as squares. The Hamburglar led the group on the left. The police officer led the group on the right. There were secretaries with torches and farmers with pitchforks and yodelers with nunchucks.
"Death to Gillies!" one side chanted.
"Kill all Hellies!" the other side answered.
I tightened my grip on the axe and headed right down the center of this nightmare gauntlet. The two fronts went to war and I was stuck in the middle.
An airline pilot slammed into me and knocked me down. Then I had to crawl through the ruckus on my hands and knees. "Pardon me" I said. "Coming through."
As soon as I'd escaped that fracas of foolishness I got up and took off running. Someone shouted "There he is! The guy who saved the Helly president!"
I ran to my trailer but I found it in flames. The fireman was lobbing molotovs. My entire inventory of Firebuddies was burning along with the one that I used every day.
I went around back and hopped into my Pinto Cruising Wagon. 171 cubic inch V6. The thing looked like sex on wheels but it drove like a moose on rollerskates. Silver with yellow and orange and purple stripes. The paint was perfect cuz no one had the knackers to smash into it. Ford Pintos were famous for exploding on impact. Maybe it was just media hype but it kept the road warriors at bay.
I tried to get the Pinto started. I say tried cuz this car was no Firebird. It had one third the torque. One third the horsepower. And took three times as many tries to get it started.
The angry Tomorrowlanders heard me cranking the Pinto. They came running around back and surrounded the car.
An astronaut used their helmet to headbutt the side glass. The insurance salesman climbed onto the bonnet and banged his briefcase on the windscreen. The fireman set the Pinto on fire. I was concerned it might explode but as you can see this page has more words on it so that obviously didn't happen yet.
The engine finally turned over. I floored it and managed to shake them all off.
Tomorrowlanders were running in every direction. I headed for the main gate. My brand new Tomorrowland sign was on fire and a gaggle of radical librarians was rocking the scaffolding back and forth trying to pull it down.
The movie star was shouting at Hunkidory. While he was distracted a scary looking deep sea diver in a suit of armor built around one of those old hard shelled diving helmets grabbed the Six Million Dollar Man lunchbox with all my money in it and waddled away. Hunkidory went after him but the movie star tripped him.
As I neared the gate the sign scaffolding finally gave way and started tipping. I stomped on the throttle but the Pinto bogged down. Yeah that darned car actually slowed down when you stepped on the throttle. I just could not get that carburetor adjusted right. I lifted my foot up on the pedal and barely made it through the gate in time to look in the mirror and see my beautiful new sign smashing to the ground. A few burning boards bounced off the roof of the Pinto but fortunately it still did not explode.
I stopped the car and got out. I'd put everything I had into this event. Now the whole thing was up in flames. They'd burned down my new world just like they'd burned down the old one. I guess I should have bought that insurance policy.
I heard someone to my left kickstarting a motorbike.
I heard someone to my right calling for help.
I looked to my left. The deep sea diver with my lunchbox full of coins was about to escape on a Honda CR250M Elsinore just like the one Steve McQueen used to ride.
I looked to my right. Dorktown was trapped under the burning Tomorrowland sign.
I looked left again. I looked right again.
The deep sea diver rode off on his motorbike as I chopped away at the burning sign with my axe.NEXT: Chapter 2: Bakersfield