Out with the OLD … in with the NEW
The Old Trucker looked up and noticed the sign. “Welcome to Louisiana” it read. Hmm...the Chicken Coop on Interstate Ten ought to be a mile or so over the line...and yup..there it was. Bubba was acting funny. Bubba’s was cat, and as much as a cat can be owned Bubba was HIS cat. Bubba rode with him. Bubba was restless. Odd that.
The Coop is closed.
As it should be.
He drove on down the road a while...Not very many people out and about that early. It was pretty easy getting thru Lake Charles. He’d seen it a lot much worse. He went on over the bridge and through the town and was soon rolling cross country.
Bubba was really upset for some reason. He was restless. He was really, really aggravated. He’d curl up on the dash.. and look out the windshield. Then he’d get in the passenger seat and curl up. He wouldn’t settle down. He was nervous. He was talking to himself. Louder and louder meows and growls.
Then Bubba rubs against the old man’s leg. He reached up with his paws and pulled on the old man’s leg. He reached up with his mouth and nipped his hand. HARD. Then the cat ran back into the sleeper and hid. That cat had a lot of hiding places in the sleeper . If he didn’t want to be found it wasn’t going to happen. He was NOT going to be found.
“OH!...What’s the matter with you Cat!” the old man explains. He turns back to driving...Cats...what can you say?
A little bit of mist here and there. He’d hoped it wouldn’t develop into fog. If the fog got thick enough he’d stop. He didn’t care who wanted what or when. He was NOT driving in thick fog. He was double especially NOT driving in thick fog on that bridge ahead. The Atchafalaya Basin Bridge. Between Baton Rouge and Lafayette over the Atchafalaya Basin. It was damn near 20 miles long over that swamp. Very damn few exits. He did NOT want to be on it in fog..
But it didn’t. He was getting a bit drowsy. He was a few hours ahead of schedule. Plenty of time to take a little nap. He pulled into Frog City, a truck stop in Rayne Louisiana.
Time for a little steering wheel nap. Bubba was nowhere in sight. He was in one of his hidey holes in the bunk.
It seems he’d just crossed his arms on the steering wheel and lowered his head when…..
“BAM! BAM! BAM!”
...whuh? the old man raises his head. He’d gone to sleep as expected..but what was that noise?
“BAM! BAM! BAM”
...someone is pounding on his door. He looks out the window to see a guy standing there. It’s almost light now...he rolls down the window.
“You’re on FIRE!!”
Shouts the man...pointing at the front of the truck.
The old man looks thru the windshield into a cloud of smoke. Smoke is just billowing out from under the hood. Lots of smoke.
He opens the driver side door and just about falls out. He’d not been getting much exercise in the last few months and it shows. He hobbles around the front of the truck. Yup..lots of smoke. He unlatches the hood latch on the passenger side, then stumbles back around to the drivers side and does the same thing.
Then he goes to the front of the truck and puts one foot in the foot slot in the bumper and pulls. The hood tilts up at the bumper exposing the engine. Maybe he can see what’s burning.
Flames shoot ten foot into the sky. Whatever it was that had been smouldering burst into flames when the air got to it. Lifting that hood might not have been the best idea.
“Whoooooooooooumph!”...again.. louder...bigger....flames shot higher as the fuel ignited. The old man, standing beside the truck feels the heat. His eyebrows begin to singe.
“Meaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaoooooow!”..he hears a panicky scream from inside the truck...the cat was trapped. His cat was going to be burned alive.
Can’t let that happen. Bubba is his responsibility. Bubba is his boy.
The old man, holding his breath and shielding his face as best he could, climbed thru the flames into the burning truck. He grabbed for his cat. He and the cat were on fire..the cat was in a total panic and insane with pain. The old man’s was slashed as he reached for the cat and tried to pull him free. The cat was wedged in somehow...he couldn’t tell how cause his beard was on fire...he couldn’t see..his eyebrows were burning.. He was holding his breathe and about to pass out. He finally got the cat loose mainly by feel and dived out where he thought the door ought to be. He guessed right and fell almost six foot to the ground. He was a fat man and in poor shape. He didn’t land well.
Even so he rolled his sprained and bruised body over and over in an attempt to put out the fire. It had rained earlier and there were puddles of water, that helped some. He used his elbows to hold his body off the ground and cradled Bubba to his chest. Bubba had quit moving. He rolled away from the burning truck. It was totally engulfed in flames now. Flames reached twenty foot into the sky. Somewhere in the distance a siren screamed.
The old man continued to roll and attempted to shield and protect his partner of a million miles on the road. His Cat. His dead cat. The cat had breathed fire. It had been a painful death but it had been quick.
The old man lay splayed on his back, with his cat on his chest. Some of his clothing had caught fire and he had several burns here and there. His hair and beard had caught fire and was smoking still. He lay on the pavement as his truck went up in flames. It pretty much burned to the ground.
He was gasping for breath. A Firetruck arrived. It was too late for the truck so they just kept the fire from spreading, the truck was just gone. When it was over they packed him away in an Ambulance to the hospital.
It turns out he wasn’t so seriously injured as he’d looked. His clothes were a total mess but they didn’t burn well since he’d been dressed for the job. Much of what he wore was nomex. They had protected him from serious burns.
The definition of serious varies according to the ability of the patient to pay. The old man had no insurance so his burns weren’t all that serious. Even so it was a miracle. It should have been impossible. He should have been burned much, much worse in that inferno. Yet there he was. He had some facial burns...he’d probably scar. He wasn’t pretty any longer, but he wasn’t seriously injured. He was mostly just singed and crinkled around the edges some.
He never saw his cat again. Someone had disposed of it’s body while he was unconscious. When he asked about his cat no one knew anything.
It took the insurance company <spit> over a month to pay off. During that time he lived in a nearby motel.
Eventually he got a check. It was a pretty hefty sum although he still felt cheated. He felt that since he’d been paying premiums on the 50K assigned value of the truck then by God they should pay him 50K. But no. The insurance company <spit> was more than happy to take his money for $50K payments but they only paid on ‘market value of the truck’...which turned out to be 30K. He didn’t think that was right.
He paid his bills, paid off his debt, paid off his taxes and put the pitifully small remaining amount in the bank. Everything he’d worked for in a long life of hard work. Reduced to few dollars in the bank.
No more trucking. He’d never be able to sleep in a truck again. No more cats either. The memory of the sound of Bubba screaming while he was burned alive would haunt him for a long, loong, time to come. He was old enough by a few years to draw Social Security so he did. He’d retire.
He did grow his beard back. Oddly enough it did grow. Many people with scars can’t grow hair over the scars. He could. Another anomaly. It covered the burn scars. The beard was pure white...as was his hair. All his hair was white now.
Where to live? Where to live? Might as well stay in Texas. Most other states had personal income taxes, not that he’d make near enough money to be taxed. It was the principal of the thing, when he was much younger he’d sworn to NEVER live in a state with a personal income tax. He saw no reason to change his mind.
Where in Texas? He decided on Austin. Austin was the most expensive place in Texas to live and had a fascist city government BUT..it prided itself on being weird. He looked and felt weird right now. The fire hadn’t left him any prettier and he was still fat. Some places a 300lb bearded man with burn scars would attract attention. Not the Austin area. No one would even bat an eye.
So he got a tiny dome apartment in a residence inn complex just off I-35 near Kyle,Texas. It cost a third of his Social Security check for rent. The other, pitifully small, two thirds had to pay for everything else. He had internet installed, his one luxury.
Surely he could live on the remainder.
Hungry. He didn’t eat a lot but he had to eat something. There were restaurants in walking distance. Not that he went to restaurants much. He used to pay four dollars for an omelette at a truckstop. It now cost eight at IHOP. He couldn’t afford that very often.
One day he’d gotten dressed. He put on Shoes and shirt and everything, and was wandering through the MegaMart. The huge Super Center was adjacent to the dome complex. It was within easy walking distance of his front door. He was out of beer and low on coffee.
He wandered up and down the aisles. He was mostly just looking at people. Fascinating but strange critters….people. They’d see him looking and glare at him, perhaps even assume a threatening posture. Mostly the men but the women weren’t much better. He had the impression that he wasn’t wanted there. Even if it WAS Austin his type should know their place.
He never was much good about knowing his place. Even so no need to draw unneeded attention. He might get kicked out. Then what would he do? He got an idea. He walked back up to the front door and acquired one of the store’s electric scooters. It was for disabled people but fat people used them too. That was ok...he was fat.
He went back to people watching. It was easier from the little scooter. People looked right past him for some reason. He was in a different category now. He was acceptably ‘odd’. He was one of the politically protected classes. He was...perhaps, disabled. He was definitely strange and probably a freak. People didn’t want to see his kind of people but they couldn’t admit it...even to themselves. Yet there he was. He was ‘politically correct” now so they couldn’t object. People were supposed to “relate” to him. They really didn’t want to. The just didn’t want to see him so they didn’t. They didn’t see him...they looked right past him. They ignored him.
Unseen. Ignored and overlooked he roamed the aisles. He happened upon odd activities and he saw some strange people. Stranger than himself. That would be….Very strange. Take the eaters for example. The Eater’s would go into the grocery section of the SuperCenter and snatch a bag of ………...something, anything. Something to eat on.. Then they’d wander all around the store eating from the bag. He guessed their strategy was that if they didn’t leave the store they couldn’t be apprehended for shoplifting. Apparently it worked. No one seemed to be the wiser.
Then there were those ‘parents’ (and he thought of them in quotes) who deposited their children in the toy section and told the kids to play. The parents then went off shopping on their own leaving the children with all those toys.
The children took advantage. The Old Man had nearly been run down by kids on skateboards and bicycles. He’d been shot by BB guns and stuck by darts. He’d learned. He stayed away from the toy section. Odd the store didn’t interfere. Must be a legal reason.
Speaking of legal. The shoplifters. They were as ignorant as they were prevalent. The things they thought they could get away with were incredible and stupid. He guessed they didn’t realize that the store had cameras mounted everywhere. Nothing that went on in that store went unrecorded.
He wandered around for some time...then decided it was time to go back to the apartment. He oriented himself . Beverages was “that” way. Off he went. Just by luck he passed the pet food section.
Suddenly he stopped dead in his tracks. He backed up a few feet..
Dog Food. Dogs were omnivores with a preference for meat. So were people. This caused him furiously to think.
A little bit later he had exchanged his electric scooter for a shopping car and had pushed the loaded cart to his apartment door. He’d unloaded the beer, coffee, tabasco, toliet paper and paper towels. There were a small number of other items….and a fifty pound bag of dry dog food. He returned the shopping cart to the supercenter. For the first time in a long time he still had a few dollars left over at the end of the month.
While in the military he’d been to South East Asia, the South Pacific, North Africa, also Europe. He’d tasted a lot of different foods. Dog food wasn’t actually that bad by comparison of some of the thing he’d eaten. Not bad at all actually. Gravy Train was best. He used beer instead of water at night. He’d use Coffee in the morning….or sprinkle it with Tabasco Sauce...or eat it dry.
Clean up was easy too. No cooking. Cheaper that fat-food.
A day in the life of an internet hermit
He’s wake up when he woke up. He absolutely did not care when. He’d open his eyes and get out of the office chair in front of the computer where he’d fallen asleep. The FirstThing after visiting the bathroom was to start coffee. He always had coffee available. He had a cheap coffee maker. It was a really complicated device. It’s instrumentation was impressive. It had an “on/off”switch. That was it. Simple. He liked simple. He kept coffee in it all the time. He shut it off in the evening when he switched to drinking beer. He made coffee first thing in the morning and drank what was leftover from the evening before while it was still making. He nuked the cold coffee in the microwave. The apartment kitchen came furnished with microwave.
With a cup of hot coffee in hand he sat down down in front of the computer. He had internet. It wasn’t impressively fast but it worked...that was all that mattered.
Except for brief trips to the coffee maker he’d sit in that chair all day and much of the night, surfing the net. He’d surf the net for hours. Days. He’d fall asleep in that chair in front of his computer, not even know he was asleep, and wake up and continue to surf. His dreams merged seamlessly with his net surfing.
The next day was a repeat….
….as was the next...and the next.
He lost track of time. Months passed. Years.
A New Look At LIFE
He went nowhere, he spent nothing, and yet he barely got by. He was getting older. His joints ached. He was weak, his once massive muscles had atrophied from inactivity.
He was having a harder and harder time making ends meet. The price of his minimal needs kept increasing. His social security check wasn’t keeping pace. Any tiny little unexpected expense and he had to dig into the remains of his meager savings. It was shrinking fast. He was one tiny mishap away from disaster. If he got sick or injured he wouldn’t be able to pay for it and he would die. If he got evicted, he’d be on the streets. At his age, and in his condition, he’d probably die shortly afterwards. One serious expense and he was done.
One day he got spammed. It was a new type of spam and it actually caught his interest. A new kind of nursing home.
HIGH FIVE Rest Homes.
And they were FREE!
He KNEW they were lying. He was a master at detecting lies and these people were lying. They had to be….had to. No one would provide room and board AND free medical care for old folks for nothing. No one could. There were too many poor old people and their numbers were booming. The Baby Boom had detonated. It had to be a scam.
Yet he was intrigued, interested, curious and getting desperate. His finances were insufficient.
“HIGH FIVE”…it said.
“the newest, cheapest, safest method of living on the planet.”
“Do you have a limited budget.. no budget?” it went on to say.
“Check us out…” and it gave a website…
Damn Liars. No one could do that. He knew basic economics. Either a company made a profit or it went out of business. It was bull shit. It was a waste of his time to even look at it.
Time….all he had was time. How could he waste it? He might as well check it out. He did.
Cutting thru all the BaffleGab, TechnoJabber and GeekSpeak it boiled down to a new way of Warehousing Old Folks.
Except that Instead of being in a nursing home these folks are REALLY warehoused. They are in what might be confused as mortuary cabinets. Science fiction fans might consider them to be cold sleep drawers. They are neither.
Inside the cabinets they experience typical wake/sleep cycles similar to any other people. The cabinets are HIGH FIVE. That is… they are Holistically Integrated Graphically Haptic.. Full Immersion Virtual Enclosures.
“The enclosure provide nourishment, physical therapy, sanitation, a secure environment, and Full Sensory
communications.” The website said.
He thought about it. Those old farts can access anything from their HIGHFIVEs. They can watch TV, surf the net, go virtual or connect to any of several telepresence outlets in real time They can even mind-meld with certain cybernetically prepared animals.
He thought about it for a second. No...more like a nanosecond.
He recalled a burning cat.
“Where could he sign up?” He was asking the HIGHFIVE sales representative over the phone. He’d not used a phone in a long time and almost sprained a finger punching in the number.
Yup...he could deal with that. Dog Food and beer was getting a bit old anyway….even if he did use Tabasco Sauce.
He moved in the next day.
There was surgery. He was wired. Tubal connections were attached. Sensors of great variety were implanted. He was drugged. His ‘coffin’ slid into it’s slot and the door clanged shut
Somewhere in the facility a computer ran diagnostics on the new arrival. The old man didn’t know it but he was thoroughly and completely interrogated, evaluated and diagnosed. Every psychological test known to man were applied to him. Sometimes several times.
While drugged and wired He was given every thing from the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory to the Waring Intimacy Questionnaire.
Eventually he “woke” up.
He felt different. He didn’t hurt. In fact he felt GOOD. He looked down at his……...body. Gone was the beer gut and rolls of fat. In it’s place was a cat like body virtually rippling with muscle. He even had a tail. If his cat Bubba could have been human this was what he’d have looked like.
“Well hellooooo Big Boy!” he looked up.
“Well hellooooo Big Boy!” he looked up.
There she was. The culmination and combination of ALL his fantasies and wet dreams since he had reached puberty. She was pure sex.
Not human either. Like himself she had a cat motif.
You know how cats are. Cats in heat. She was.
The next “little while” was……..as they say...interesting. Got his heartbeat going that’s for sure.