Or, Of the Travellers
MSS. FOUND IN AN ANORAK
“Yuck. All lousy options!”
Antaea pulled the hangers apart, scanning the rack. Mostly 70s & 80s, polyester pseudo-trendy crap. Cheap enough, but thrift store junk, icky with the itch of suburbanite hollow lives.
What was the saying, “losers can’t be choosers?”
Antaea wasn’t in a position to be picky. She didn’t even have panties. Just a pair of flipflops, a XL tshirt, and ill-fitting pair of boy’s jeans. She’d come off the playa with nothing but the shirt on her back, proverbially. And it wasn’t even hers. She’d snagged it from Lost & Found on the way out.
Shell-shocked, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, were it not for her two guy friends she’d hooked up with on the playa, and rode back into Reno with. Pablo and Mobius (his playa name, she hadn’t been able to extract his given name, yet), they were the ones footing the bill. To get her outfitted and on her way home, …later or sooner…
She’d probably wind up having to sleep with them — both!? — in some Reno or Carson motel. Or would they float her her very own room? Hm. Well, they were 20-something burner boys, 86%-pussy-whipped, about as safe as you could hope to find, in that sort of scenario; cute, and bright enough. Antaea was used to surfing such ambiguities.
It wasn’t at all clear, however, how far their generosity would extend.
Mobius, orange-haired and ambidextrous, dubstep-glitch devotee, airs of a wannabe rock star, with an endless appetite for herbs, digits and surf-snow gear — evidently the more cash-flush of the two. He spent most of the Exodus out of the Black Rock desert on his laptop. But Pablo was more attentive, sweeter, a Mexican hippie on his virgin burn. Driving, Pablo queried Antaea on the details of her seemingly impossible story, puzzling over the results of her phone calls out of Gerlach.
Antaea was already past panic.
BAD ENOUGH: her camp-mates had up and left without her; WORSE, with all her gear; EVEN WORSER, her clothes and wallet disappeared into a whiteout/acid blankout.
Nothing had turned up at Lost & Found. No one seemed to know of her camp, or her camp-mates. No record of their ticket purchases at the HQ. They waited a full day after the formal close, parked by the Lost & Found. Every call she’d tried so far to friend and family member met with a dead line, or a wrong number. She couldn’t find any trace of her employers on the web. No record of her name or social security number with credit card and bank. Even MIT claimed no trace of her three, troubled years in the Physics department — and literally everyone there knew her, or of her. Her FB and Tribe pages were gone. Ditto those of her friends, and friends’ friends. Somebody named Sally Grayson responded to her own Gmail test message.
It was like the universe was ganging up to pull some crazy ass performance stunt on her, and only her. Sure, she’d pissed plenty of people off over the years, but not enough to warrant — THIS.
The boys did their best to pretend they believed her story. It was all sorta fun and trippy, as far as they were concerned. A hot MIT dropout, naked, lost & needy on the way out of the burn. She’d already had three complete meltdowns in three days. Not like her – normally she was pretty tough, not given to drama. It was only the words of her old wilderness teacher, blurring with Hitchhikers Guide motto, “DON’T PANIC. Deal with the immediate situation, then deal with the next one.” Basically, it couldn’t be happening. But it was. Antaea was a non-person. She didn’t exist. Persona non-existentia? Yet here she was, shopping for threads in a Reno Salvation Army, proof enough of her own existence for her, anyway!
“Find anything yet?” Pablo called out.
“Mm, not really, selection sorta sucks. Plus, it’s probably going to be cold when, uh, IF, I ever get back to Vancouver.”
“Hey, how about this–”
Mobius pulled a puffy purple jacket from another rack in the men’s section. An anorak.
“OK, lemme see.” Antaea threw it on, zipped it up. It was cozy, smelt rather nice, didn’t feel too used and abused. She pulled it off just enough to check the label: “Amalfi Polar Explorers Club.” Maybe some Italian street wear label – it looked sorta mid-90s. Almost something she could curl up and sleep in. Extra pockets for stashing stuff. Fur fringe on the hood and wrists – faux or not, she couldn’t tell.
Antaea left it on and proceeded to pick up a pair of sneakers, some Uggs, a leather miniskirt, and a few other odds & ends. Enough for a couple climates, a couple different social occasions, she reasoned… wondering in passing how the hell she’d be getting to Vancouver when the boys were heading South, she had no cash, and no passport or ID. Twilight Zones were only for late night tv, not real life. Up the creek without a paddle… the only paddle here, she consoled herself, was her brain. And the refrain, “DON’T PANIC!”
As they were waiting in line, Mobius sidled over with a book in hand, something about Satellite Reconnaissance Photography, a college library text from the 50s. “Hey check this photo – what do you make of this?” Pablo and Antaea peered at the photo. It was labeled simply, “Antarctic anomaly,” with some longitude and lattitude numbers. It showed a circle inscribed with an equilateral triangle, presumably on ice or snowpack. No indication of scale. It could have been a hundred feet or a few miles across, no way of telling. They both shrugged.
“Some kind of landing pad maybe, near a polar base?” ventured Antaea.
“Cool,” offered Pablo. “Crop circle on ice?”
Mobius, “Did they even have an antarctic base in the 50s?”
“Sure, why not? I don’t know exactly, but they set up the South Pole station decades ago. Coulda been even the 30s or 40s. But I wonder how they kept the markings from getting covered over?”
“I heard it doesn’t snow all that much in the Antarctic. Maybe its a hatch to the Hollow Earth. Or a Nazi UFO base,” mused Mobius.
“The Hollow Earth?! Gimme a break. You’ve seen too many X-Files episodes.”
“Actually they never talked about the Hollow Earth in the X-Files. I’ve seen them all.”
The rest of the glossy photo section contained standard aerial photos of landscapes, industrial installations, charts. Mobius looked disappointed, and left the book on the counter.
With a big bag full of threads in either hand, she allowed Mobius & Pablo to escort her down the street, arm-in-arm, to the Lucky 7 Diner. They drew some stares. But everybody knew the festival was emptying out, locals were used to seeing weirder things than this.
At the booth, Antaea let the boys order for her. She noticed something bulky in the inside pocket, she hadn’t felt before. She had to search for a minute before finding a self-sealing slit, like a ziplock. There was some kind of book inside, in a wrapper. She opened it tentatively on her lap – the boys were gulping coffee and trading playa stories, oblivious. Unfolding the thin, translucent sheets, odd binding, Antaea frowned in perplexity – a look that was almost permanent for her, by now.
The page sequencing was off – the English was weird too, full of typos, almost too small to read. The cover was on the back, the ending was in the front.
In cursive script, the cover read:
of thee Travelllers
in thee Bassment Arkives
of thee Hotel Amalphi – Interriora
Decembre 20, 2028