H. Turnip Smith
art by kiyotei
"I'm out of here!" Moose triumphantly hurled the last load of slightly-used underwear into the trunk of his '90 Taurus and headed south. No more boring lectures, no more research papers, no more stiff sweat socks.
He was headed for Daytona and Spring Break warm breezes; booze; soft, soft sands. And most important-jiggly women!
Cincinnati was a smoky afternoon blur as he hurtled across the bridge into Kentucky, anticipating the sweet scent of Southern magnolias.
At dark he was just crossing the line into Tennessee and beginning to get sleepy when the mother of all spring storms hit. A terrorist package of rain, snow, sleet, and hail turned the highway into a 50-mile-an-hour ice rink. As traffic cranked down to 40, Moose frowned at monstrous, yellow lights blocking the freeway. Then he saw the sign.
Bridge Out Ahead--Follow Detour Next 40 Miles. Laying down a barrage of masterful curses that would have made Howard Stern blush, he angrily followed the snail-parade off the highway onto a Tennessee secondary road designed by an engineer from Hell. The ice-covered detour wound in and out of the mountains as though it had been expressly designed to make motorists remember why they hadn't elected Al Gore.
After a half-hour of creeping, and realizing he was in bad need of taking a leak, Moose breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the lights of a Fuel Boy up ahead. The bad news was regular was selling for $1.97 a gallon. Highway piracy, but what the hell. Get five bucks and take care of business. Moose wheeled into the station.
After he pumped his own and came out of the cockroach-ridden can, he strolled to the counter to pay. The attendant was a mental hospital escapee with a ballcap on backwards, a long, blond mullet, a scorpion tattoo on a dirty neck, and a gold earring in his left eyebrow.
Moose handed the idiot a twenty. The attendant stared at the bill like he'd just been handed a British pound sterling note.
"We cain't take no twenties after dark," the attendant muttered through stumpy teeth. "Ain't you got nothing smaller?"
"I got some quarters," Moose said, "but not five bucks worth. Give me one of those Ding Dongs and a 16 ounce bottle of Mellow Yello then."
"I cain't sale you no Mello Yello unless you got something smaller."
"Look, all I wanted to do was use your restroom," Moose said. "I was nice enough to buy five dollars worth of over-priced gas I didn't need, and now you're telling me good, old American currency won't cut it in Tennessee?"
"I didn't say that. You could probably pay with a credit card."
"I don't have a credit card." Moose shifted his feet nervously. "Just take it out of the twenty!"
"I cain't take it out of no twenty. It's aginst the rules."
"The rules of my daddy's Fuel Boy gas station."
"OK, so you won't let me pay with a twenty, and that's all I got. Now what?"
"I reckon I got to call the sheriff and have you all arrested."
"Are you crazy or what? I've got the money to pay for the gas right here!" Moose shook the bill in the idiot's face. "I'm beginning to hate this fucking state!"
"You shouldn't oughta swear at nobody."
"OK, OK, look, Nobody, I'll put some more of your overpriced gas in the tank; then you can give me an even ten bucks change."
"Count of that there Mello Yellow that'll have to be another thirteen dollars and seventy two cent worth of gas."
Defeated, Moose rolled his eyes, then stomped out of the station and pumped thirteen dollars and seventy two cents worth of gas before he hit the road. The station attendant was the biggest loser Tennessee had produced since Gomer Pyle.
Throwing the Taurus in gear as a renewed assault of hail the size of golf balls pounded the windshield, Moose thought, "Jesus, it's slick. The best thing to do is forget about making it to Georgia tonight. I can go back to that motel across the road from the Fuel Boy. Just get a room and make the best of it."
The Rosy Slumber Beauty Rest Motel looked like something left over after an atomic attack with its little office trimmed in sagging, gray shingles and a series of cabins that looked vaguely like outside toilets fixed up to masquerade as motel rooms. A blinking sign with a number of dead bulbs proclaimed: "Cheep," and an ancient Ford station wagon with two flat tires sat in the front grass beside an abandoned, push lawn mower.
"Dump ought to be cheap," Moose said to himself. But at least the Rosy Slumber had an adjoining bar. That would make up for a lack of the amenities. As lightning crackled to the west, competing with pellets of hail for dominance, Moose slipped and slid over to the office.
Behind a desk that had seen better days underneath a 1987 calendar with a picture of a grinning Elvis on it, the huge, fortyish night clerk at the Rosy Slumber sat in a yellow undershirt, pulling on a Lucky Strike. He was staring at a black and white TV tuned to "So You Want to Be a Millionaire."
"Got to be the clerk at Fuel Boy's daddy," Moose said to himself. The bald motel dude must have weighed 400 pounds and was wearing little black glasses that badly concealed bulging, yellow eyes. He had a livid scar down his left cheek and tattoos across his tobacco-stained fingers that said "Love-Hate."
"Just my favorite type individual," Moose thought as he said, "How much is a room?"
"That'll be seventeen dollar and forty-one cent, tax cluded," the clerk drawled.
"How can you beat that?" Moose said.
"Cain't. We're the onlyiest motel for forty miles."
Moose thought he heard the clerk add, "And Knoxville's broke," but he didn't pursue it.
"I'll take it," Moose said. "You do take twenties?"
The clerk shot him a funny look and grabbed the bill. "Forgot to tell you the hot water don't work."
"No problem." Moose said. "I don't need a bath."
"Good. And the air condition's busted."
"So what? It's freezing, buddy," Moose said, thinking this place must be one of Tennessee's top ten tourist attractions. Oh well $17.41. It was still a bargain.
"Number six on the right," the clerk said, tossing Moose the key and turning back to stare at the television with the avidity of a monkey in pursuit of a monkeyess.
When the door of number six groaned open, Moose could see at once it was badly over-priced at seventeen dollars. The sagging bed was covered with a greasy, brown bedspread covered with motor oil, a used condom lay on the dresser, and the smell of a week-old pizza that nobody had bothered to clean up assaulted his nostrils. In addition, someone had crushed an anchovy onto the light switch.
"Oh well, didn't come here for the atmosphere," Moose said to himself. "Just go over to the bar next door, have a few, fall asleep, and tomorrow get the hell back on the road to fun, adventure, and women in Daytona."
A minute later he walked past six motorcycles sitting outside Rosie's Fun Bar, which was located on the blacktop adjacent to the Rosy Slumber. There was an ominous silence as he stepped into the dim confines of Rosie's; then the juke box suddenly burst alive with "I'm a Member of a Country Club."
Moose sidled to the bar and plopped on a stool. "No women, damn!" he thought as he looked around. Six motorcycle dudes with red rags tied round their greasy hair threw cards at each other under a green lampshade. Moose edged to the semi-deserted bar where he plopped down three stools from a strange character wearing an orange serape and a white painter's cap. The painter, sitting behind a half dozen empty shot glasses, had a three day's growth of beard and intense, crossed eyes that seemed to be scoping out another planet.
As Moose took a pull on his Lite, the painter suddenly whirled his direction and cried, "Has Jesus Christ saved your immortal soul yet, son?"
Moose mumbled, "I'm a Jew."
"I don't reckon I heard you right, boy. You didn't say you were a Christ killing son of a bitch, did you?"
Oh Lord, he's going to pull a knife, Moose thought.
"I said you're not a Christ-killing son of a bitch, are you, boy?" the painter repeated.
Moose lowered his head. "Say if you don't mind I never talk religion past six o'clock in the evening."
"Is that right? Well what'd you think about that there Dale Earnhart business?" the painter said, easing closer.
"I didn't think anything."
The painter began to thump Moose's arm. "Oh, Jesus, deliver us from blasphemers, agents of the devil, and fools who don't know auto racing. Make us strong to resist evil. Use your mighty power to destroy the agents of darkness! Rise up against the infidel! "
Feeling nervous as a dog searching for a fire hydrant in the desert, Moose picked up his beer and sidled over to the jukebox. There was no doubt in his mind who the painter was talking about destroying.
Unfortunately the crazed televangelist followed him to the jukebox, and the voice of judgment got louder. "Music is the devil's tool, boy. He who listens to the seductive sounds of music will be the first to roast in Hell!"
"I happen to like music." Moose dropped some quarters in the juke box, determined to blast him with Pink Floyd.
The painter hurled his shot glass Moose's direction, barely missing his head. The glass crashed into the wall and shattered as one of the motorcycle dudes leaped up and pulled a mile-long revolver.
"What the hell's the problem over there, Cletus?" the motorcyclist shouted.
"The forces of sin and corruption are at work on these premises," the evangelist moaned. "Save us, the righteous, from the heathen, Lord!"
With that the motorcyclist gestured at Moose. "Looks like you done enough damage for one night, son. You better pack your bags and get on out of here."
Little butterflies jumping in his stomach, Moose backed out of Rosie's Fun Bar. He had barely cleared the doorway when he felt a touch on his shoulder from behind. Whirling in terror, expecting to confront another crazed individual wielding a knife, Moose couldn't believe his eyes.
The innocent-faced girl asking him for a light was built like a brick shithouse. She was wearing spike heels, carrying a strange black, leather bag, and was decked out in a tight black sweater that emphasized a pair of giant watermelons.
Moose threw up his hands in despair. "I don't smoke," he mumbled, wishing to hell he'd never decided that lung cancer was a bad thing.
"Why you must be a stranger around here," the girl drawled, pushing a pancake of dark hair back from her eyes. "Where you all from?"
"I heard of Michigan. That's out west, ain't it?" She stared in his eyes expectantly.
"Well sort of. It's kind of north of here," Moose mumbled.
"Well what's yer name?"
"Arthur Widmyer, but the guys just call me Moose because you see like I'm big."
"You shore are big, but you're real pretty too." The girl touched his wrist.
Moose trembled, but not from the cold. "What's your name?"
"My name's Sunshine. Sunshine Mae Hollypecker."
Certain she was pulling his leg, Moose said. "That's a nice name."
"My Momma gave it to me," she said. "Daddy he didn't give a care one way or the other. Only his brothers care "
"No kidding," Moose said, as Sunshine rubbed an enormous bubbie on his sleeve.
"You ever get hungry for a woman?" she whispered. "You see I just got out of jail, and I'm so hungry for a man I can taste it."
"You wouldn't know where I could find a man, would you?"
Moose tried not to tremble. "Well I'm a man. I guess."
"A pretty one too. You ain't got a room here at the motel, have you, Arthur?"
Moose pretended to tie his shoes so Sunshine couldn't see what was going on in his pants. "Yeah, I sure do."
"Well why don't you show it to me," Sunshine breathed.
"You're sure now?"
Three hours later Moose awakened with a feeling of strange foreboding. Someone or something was rattling the door of the motel room. Meanwhile Sunshine was sleeping blissfully naked, her luxuriant head of brown hair soft on the pillow. It had been a round of sex Moose had never dreamed of experiencing. Sunshine might have dropped out in the ninth grade, but she had a Ph.D. in bed mechanics.
Despite that fact, the door was rattling, and a dimly-familiar voice was croaking from outside the cabin, "Hey, open up in there!" As the flimsy door rocked back and forth on its hinges, and the chain threatened to break, Moose could hear additional angry voices muttering outside.
"Oh shit," he cried, leaping across the room to awaken Sunshine. "There are some guys outside the room, trying to get in. They seem madder than hell!"
Sunshine bolted out of bed like it was a drug bust and peered through the crack in the feedbag curtains as the men outside roared, "Gonna kill yuns."
"Oh Lord! It's my stupid Hollypecker uncles and my idiot cousin," Sunshine said in obvious fright. "They won't let me be."
Glancing over her shoulder, Moose got the picture at once: the motel clerk, the Fuelboy clerk, and the demented preacher were hovering on the blacktop, carrying clubs. Suddenly the crazy preacher crashed his club into the window.
"Watch out!" Moose cried as a rock flew through the window, and his heart became a volleyball.
"Come on out afore we get mad!" the preacher cried.
"Lord they mean to flat kill us." Sunshine pulled on her blue jeans. "Uncle Carl and Uncle Dudley always try to protect my honor. I keep telling 'em I ain't got none left, but they don't care. They just crazy men."
"Oh shit!" Moose said, feeling his testicles shrivel into dried peas as he saw Uncle Carl begin to hoist a can of gasoline. "What are we going to do? They're going to burn us out."
Suddenly there was a flash; and a roar of flames licked at the door, followed by a thread of black smoke creeping over the threshold. Moose shot a panicky look at Sunshine.
"Those dang assholes are always trying to run my life and regulate my sexual life," Sunshine cried rummaging in her leather bag, "but they asked for it this time."
"What's that?" Moose's eyes widened as Sunshine hoisted a tiny metallic effigy of a dog. Three rows of exceptionally sharp teeth resembling bush clippers served as its face.
"This here's a piranha dog," Sunshine said, holding the canine aloft triumphantly. "The girls at the reformatory give it to me when my time was up."
"What's it do?"
"You just watch!"
Sunshine jammed the button under the piranha-dog's belly. Instantly, accompanied by ferocious growling, the fifteen-inch- tall mutt began vibrating as three rows of stiletto-sharp teeth rumbled and flashed back and forth in man-hating frenzy.
Throwing open the door, Sunshine hurled the killer dog through the flames at her uncle, crying, "Kill!"
There was tremendous clanking and rumbling as the terrible metal beast thundered towards Uncle Carl. As Moose cowered by the bathroom, a terrified roar erupted from the demented preacher-man's mouth as the dog began to savage his calf.
"Now all you sons of bitches get out of here and leave us alone!" Sunshine cried as the piranha dog suddenly veered off and turned its attention to her idiot cousin, sending the three vigilantes from Hell scrambling across the parking lot in utter confusion.
Dashing through the flames for a breath of fresh air, Moose stood in the darkness with his arm around his naked, shivering lover's waist as the piranha dog continued to rattle after the vigilantes, jaws flashing like inexorable knives in the faint pink glow of the motel's welcome sign.
"Ain't he somethin?" Sunshine grinned.
"That's one bad, mean-ass dog," Moose agreed, searching in his trunk for a blanket to throw around his beloved, wondering if she was up to a trip to Daytona and trying to determine the quickest way to vacate Tennessee.
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