“I smell food.” Baltha’s keen canine olfaction had come in handy along the road.
“Please tell me it’s not kangaroo turds again.” Tante’s dietary tastes, while broad, did not include the true omnivory of her shapeshifting companion.
“No, this is meat.”
“That last roadkill was pretty rank stuff. I’d really kind of like something a little more comforting, something like Mom used to make. Maybe some possum and karol stew, that sounds grand.”
The crone had become wistful in her old age, the anger of her youth behind her. Either that or her hunger had left her without the energy necessary to fuel any real rage, maybe a whine or two at best.
After a few more deep sniffs, Baltha shifted into a Cate Blanchett look alike. They’d not had any luck hitch-hiking as an old Koori woman and dingo.
“No, love, this is the real thing, smells like pig on a grill, just a few kilometers east.” She panted a bit, salivating. Old habits are hard to break sometimes.
The very next car stopped to give the twosome a lift.
“Say, aren’t you……?” the driver started.
“No. Everybody asks me that. My name is Baltha, and this is my Auntie Tante.” B. knew that the look she’d adopted might cause problems, but she hadn’t bothered to put the same time and effort into her own appearance as they had with Tante’s. Her external beauty was, after all, like that of all humans, ephemeral. Lucky for her, she could just try on a new look any time it suited her.
“But your gown is that same one she wore to the Oscars, rather inappropriate for road travel out in the woop woop, don’t you think?” The driver clearly wasn’t convinced.
Tante decided to pitch in, being a bit more skilled at improv than B.
“Dear Baltha has gone mad as a meat axe, I’m afraid. Ever since that woman you’re referring to won that silly award, she’s insisted on wearing that dress everywhere.” Tante was channeling information directly from the driver of their chariot, an old Toyota SUV, as they made their way into Dubbo. She was rather easy to tap into.
“It’s amazingly clean.”
“Yes, it is the way of our people.” That was typically enough to shut up the white folks ignorant of the indigenous culture of the land they’d overtaken. Guilt worked wonders for those who wished to appear hip enough to know something without being offensive. Nobody dared ask about the apparent lack of any genetic connection between the two.
They were dropped off just outside a place called Lion’s Pride where indeed, pigs was a roastin’. More saliva graced the gown. Tante pulled a piece of cloth from her nappy sacky and gave B the look as she wiped her face.
“Uh, table for two?” A nice young man approached them at the door. His smile betrayed some discomfort with the odd twosome, but not much. Towns such as Dubbo were on the edge in lots of ways, a place between worlds ancient and new. He’d seen stranger pairs.
In fact, he’d seen one quite recently.
“Yes, please, and some of that wonderful meat, and drinks, we must have drinks. Our time in the wilderness had been long and thirsty.” B. was working on perfecting the accent she’d picked up from their driver, quite a lot different from what they’d heard along the way into the modern world. They were more than halfway to Sydney.
‘Right this way. The pulled pork is on special today, and Toohey’s on tap are two for one.”
“Perfect then, Toohey’s for two and pull plenty of pork.” B. smiled.
The gravity of their first error didn’t become clear until they were on their third round of beers. Baltha turned out to be a two pot screamer and her boots were wobbly after the first. While Tante held her’s a bit better, it wasn’t by much. The Taphao Thongian two were drunk before the first round of food arrived.
The altered state only fueled their hunger and they fed ravenously, trying everything that looked appetizing. Life thus far had taught them feast and famine, and it was good to feast on a wide array of choices.
Especially the beer.
When Bob Marley cut loose from the restaurant’s sound system singing about that Iron Lion in Zion, B. as Cate roared and Tante jumped up into a Reggae groove that infected every person within her radar. They stood as one and shouted “Iron Lion Zion” before dropping back down into their seats, dazed and slack jawed. Tante winked and sat back down, too, smiling.
The smile faded when the waiter showed up with the check.
“What’s this?” They’d yet to pay for anything in life thus far.
“Uh, that’s the bill ladies. It’s been fun and all, but surely you’ve not just dropped in on life outside the big screen, eh love? ” He winked at Baltha as Cate. Most of the crowd was convinced that B was indeed crackers, and not an Oscar winner, what with the gown and the roaring and bad table manners. They assumed that Tante was perhaps her caretaker. The waiter wasn't so sure, he'd been around.
Tante pulled out the shekel Baltha had barfed up after their encounter with Gwardar. It was solid silver. To the waiter, it looked like an old coin, and not the two hundred dollar food and bar bill he’d put down there. What’s worse, he was sure they were going to be great tippers; they’d been such good fun!
“Please, allow me.”
A very tall, very thin, very black person with eyes wide and narrow, the color of deep forest mist, eyes stretching back in perfect parallel with brows thin and inclined upward, handed a piece of plastic to the waiter. Spock meets Iman, the voice a mid range contralto, gender indeterminate.
“I am Haile Hackersan. My friend Ja and I shared your enjoyment of the Bob Marley song”. S-he gestured toward a table nearby, where the friend sat, a man with flowing white hair and a fabulous beard to match, wearing a t-shirt with a huge A circled in red on the front. He looked a lot like Karl Marx. Tante had already given up on the idea of a Think t-shirt; she’d done a lot more looking around online over time. B. shifted into a cell phone whenever they got close to a tower so they could continue their self-education. That stuff was addictive.
“Please, join us for dessert.” Haile led the way forward, smiling. “This is my friend Ja. He goes by many names.” On closer inspection, Ja looked a lot like Santa, kind of jolly.
“You’re very kind to pay for our refreshment. I guess we need more shekels. Will you accept the shekel as a gift in exchange?” Baltha smiled that smile at their tall companion.
“Only as a token of friendship. We have means.” Haile smiled. “Like you, we’ve travelled a long way to come here. Ja is from the Himalayas, son of a Tibetan woman, his father a Yeti. He speaks infrequently, but well.”
“And you?” Tante was getting a strong vibe off of Haile.
“Why, Taphao Thong, of course, both of us, by way of a really cool gig in Tibet! There was this thing going on, music playing and people dancing. I modeled myself off the one called Ziggy and his gorgeous model wife who were there with lots of folks from all over the planet, it was a genes fest. They were chanting and tripping and having sex and we were just vibing through the love wavelength and it was there going down so we just popped in. Apparently the bhikkhuni and the Yeti’d had a thing going on for a while, the vibe brought them down out of the mountains as well. This whole dimension has kind of an interesting story line. There are others here in this space time, scattered across the planet. We must find each other.”
“Oh thank the stars, I’m going to go change this outfit.” Baltha’s gown was covered in the BBQ sauce she’d been wiping from her fingers, as well as healthy doses of dingo drool and spilt beer. One of the lessons that Haile would teach them in the coming days would be the ways of the weird ones, things like use of fork and napkin and the plastic fantastic to the 0's and 1's of exchange in this culture, the ways of the end of the world into which they’d soon be wandering together. They’d debrief on the way into Sydney before setting out to meet the others.
A split second later B. made his way out of the bathroom looking a lot like Tante’s stepfather Josef.
“Oh, a shapeshifter, nice!” Haile’s appreciation of Josef’s look was genuine; he was a fine looking fellow. “I stuck with gorgeous androgyny.” S’he batted eyelashes and kissed the air. “I’ve also got incredible manners and brilliance with this silly binary communications system they’ve got running things here. We’ve got direct access to the Citibank for funds. Ja understands the language even better than I. He has access to data, runs wonders with 0’s and 1’s.”
“And semi-colons. Never forget the fucking semi-colons of control.” The anarchist had spoken.
“Let’s get on the road eastward, shall we?” Haile was signing the check.
The foursome headed out into the parking lot where a 1953 Studebaker Starliner coupe sat enjoying the shade of a big Eucalyptus. Baltha and Tante settled in for a snooze in the back seat as Haile took the wheel. Ja plugged his device into the car’s stereo system and the song of the horns of the High Himalayas and returning call of the Yeti filled the car.
They drove east, the sun sinking down behind them. The waiter waited and waited for Cate to come back out of the bathroom. When he could wait not more he went in, only to find the abandoned gown, which he took home and it is said, he treasures still.
The End is Near