Free Ticket to Nowhere: Chapter 8
A Stark Mystery
We walked for miles through blackened corn fields. “We” being Rambo Lion, Fred the munchkin, and me, Stark, the bewildered private investigator who’d started chasing a simple case and ended up in the middle of literal Nowhere.
The corn stalks weren’t burnt as I initially thought they were. They were infected by a fungus that ran like black veins up their lengths. After we’d been going for a couple hours I broke one of the husks open and dead, white kernels looking like baby teeth rained down into the dirt.
“Okay, what the hell is going on here?”
I tossed the husk to the ground and folded my arms over my chest to make it clear that I wasn’t going anywhere until the lion and the munchkin got a little more detailed on what I was getting into. Up to that point, all I knew was that Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz had become a wicked witch, and I was supposed to sing to her.
Lion Rambo looked ready to keep up his tough-guy “shut up and walk” act, but a glance from Fred stopped him. He nodded to his diminutive friend and finally handed me one of the cigars I’d been begging for. He gave one to Fred, too, and lit his own.
We stood smoking beneath the malicious Nowhere sun.
Fred pulled on his cigar and squinted at me through the smoke. “Do you know how many millions of minds have absorbed the Wizard of Oz over the years? The story has been imprinted on millions upon millions of minds, rube.”
Lion Rambo nodded. “It’s a part of the collective unconsciousness now.”
“A big part,” Fred added.
I looked from one to the other to see if they were messing with me. They appeared dead serious. “Collective unconsciousness?”
I’d finally had enough of the continuing spiral of weirdness. I started kicking up dirt and tearing stalks out of the ground and using them like baseball bats to smash down other stalks. It’s possible I was screaming like a child having a temper tantrum, too.
Yea, not my proudest moment.
When it was done I looked up, breathless, sweaty, cigar still in my mouth.
Fred continued like nothing had happened. “Dorothy can’t be corrupted without corrupting the collective unconsciousness, rube. And consciousness is the foundation of reality.”
The munchkin lifted a particularly black ear of corn as evidence. “Dorothy’s corruption corrupts the whole world. Nowhere’s feeling it first, but it won’t stop here.”
I kicked up some more dirt and tore out a few stalks, just to show them who was in charge. Once satisfied that I’d proven my manhood by showing that no one other than myself could stop my temper tantrums, I said, “Fine. I don’t even care about how batshit crazy all that sounds. What’s this got to do with me?”
Fred took a huge pull of his cigar and exhaled a smoke ring that expanded into the size of a hula hoop as it rose through the air.
“When you got that letter saying there was a need for your particular skill set, you assumed they meant your private investigative skills.”
“You were wrong,” Lion Rambo added.
“How’d you know about the letter?”
“Everything’s connected,” Fred said.
“So there was no stolen manuscript?”
“Oh, there was. There is. And you’ll get to that, too. For now, though, we have to deal with Dorothy.”
“What does Dorothy have to do with me?”
“Ten years ago,” Fred said, “you sang karaoke in a dive bar named the Pilot’s Reef. Do you remember?”
I did. How could I forget?
It was the only time in my life I ever sang karaoke, and I only did it because I was blind drunk and thinking about my mother. She’d just died in a terrible crocheting mishap. I was feeling bitter. Angry. Mostly sad.
When I sang, I sang for her. For my mother. Up there in heaven crocheting mittens for eternity. The song was “Whip It” by Devo.
I channeled every bit of my grief into “Whip It.” I felt the surge of divine inspiration in my voice. I danced and wailed harmoniously.
“That performance was the reason you were contacted,” Fred said, “and the particular skill set referred to in the letter was your karaoke singing.”
Fred ground his cigar out under his foot and stepped closer to me. He got down on one knee. “Only your singing can break Dorothy out of her wickedness.”
Lion Rambo nodded and got down on his own knee. He looked me gravely in eye. “Rise, private investigator Stark, and claim thy rightful place as the Karaoke King.”
“Lead us!” Fred’s voice cracked with emotion. A tear dribbled down from his cheek and burst in the dirt.
In unison, Lion Rambo and Fred the munchkin entreated, “Rise, Karaoke King!”
Just then I heard the sound of flapping wings in the distance and turned to see a terrible flock of winged monkeys coming in our direction.