I found the camper at a time when I was down about as low as I could be. Or should I say it found me.
My business partner in a large regional auto parts company had been embezzling our profits for the last five years and sending the funds into offshore bank accounts, and I didn’t find out until he disappeared. To add to the dilemma, my wife went with him after cleaning out our joint bank accounts. It seems they had been having an affair for quite some time while I traveled building clientele for the business and had been furtively plotting to steal all my money.
After they were gone, I was left with all the bills to pay and had to sell all my assets, including my house, to pay off the debts. One of the last things to go was my 2018 Mercedes S-Class I’d been so proud of before the bottom of my world fell away. Now I was getting around in a faded blue 1977 Ford Maverick that badly needed a valve job. It smoked so much I would often look in the rear-view mirror and see the driver behind me waving their hands to clear the smoke from the air. The police tell me they traced my partner and now ex-wife to Switzerland, where they dropped out of sight. Homeless—and nearly penniless, without any ambition to start another business, I instead decided it was time for a life-changing experience.
I rented a studio apartment from a storekeeper downtown and picked up some stay-alive cash working as a substitute teacher at the local community college, but it was a minimal existence at best. One rainy day I was driving home after teaching a class and stopped to help an older couple trying to change a tire on their motorhome on the side of the road. Traffic wasn’t slowing up much, and they were getting drenched every time a car drove past, so I pulled up behind them, threw a rain jacket on, and asked if they needed help. The man was on his knees, straining with the wrench while his wife stood over him with an umbrella, trying to shield him from the pouring rain.
“That would be very kind of you, mister,” the older gentleman answered, struggling to get back on his feet. “I can’t seem to get a good grip on the lug wrench. Maybe your hands are stronger than mine?”
“I’ll give it a try,” I said as I kneeled and started popping the nuts loose. Ten minutes later, I had the spare tire cinched up, and the grateful couple made me an offer that would send my life in a new direction. “Let me pull this rig off into that mall parking lot, and we’ll fix some hot coffee,” the man offered. “Would you like to have a cup with us?”
I didn’t have anyone waiting on me, so I told them, “That would be great. I could sure use something to warm the insides.”
Following them as they pulled up the street and into a strip mall with a nearly empty parking lot, they parked as far out from the stores as they could, and I pulled in behind them. The rain was slacking up a little as I stepped into their home on wheels. “Thank you so much for helping us,” the lady said, pushing water off her face as she held out her hand. “My name is Bonnie, and that drenched old man is Frank. He had a bi-pass just a year ago and hasn’t got any muscle in his upper body anymore. Sit down while I get some coffee perking,” she said, pointing towards a small table with four chairs around it.
I couldn’t believe how richly appointed the interior was. There were plush leather captain’s chairs in the front, with an electronics panel that looked like something out of a fighter jet. A long sofa and a vast kitchen area, and farther back, I could see a spacious bedroom with mirrored doors going into a bathroom. “I’m Larry—Larry Kosinski,” I responded, shaking Bonnie’s hand, “I’m glad I could help. It was sure coming down.”
Frank came out of the bedroom area, still drying himself off, “You can hang your raincoat by the door, Larry. Please, have a seat. It won’t take long for her to get a pot brewing. Do you live around here?”
“Yes,” I replied as I hung my dripping jacket on the coat hooks, “just a couple of miles away. What a beautiful camper you have. I’ve never been inside one of these before. Are you on vacation?”
“Kind of a permanent vacation,” Frank said, laughing, “we live in this rig full time and travel wherever it suits us. I retired a few years ago, and we sold our home in Chicago and bought this. We’ve been coast to coast three times since then.”
“That sounds like a lot of fun. Do you have trouble finding places to stay?”
“Not really,” Bonnie chimed in. “There are lots of campgrounds available if you make plans far enough in advance, and if you need a place for the night, you can always find a Walmart parking lot in a pinch. We have a generator we use when we can’t hook up to shore power.”
“So, you are self-contained, pretty much. Kind of like a land yacht,” I said.
They laughed at that comparison, and Frank replied, “Yes, and like a boat if you don’t like your neighbor, you can go find someplace else to park.”
“I like the sound of that,” I told them. “How much would it cost to get into, say, a starter camper, not quite this fancy?”
Bonnie was handing coffee mugs around as Frank answered, “You can pretty much find anything to fit your price point. There are tons of used rigs just sitting out there waiting for a new owner. A unit like ours would set you back a couple hundred thousand if you bought it new, but there are fixer-uppers around if you’re handy with tools.”
“Yes,” Bonnie added, “We’ve seen old school buses that have been fixed up very nicely. Franks right—RVs don’t hold their value very well, so if you find a used one that’s a few years old, you can pick them up much cheaper.”
I was intrigued by the possibility and figured I was handy enough to do some fix-er-up work if necessary. I finished my coffee and thanked them for the information, driving home with my head in the clouds, thinking I might just have discovered the new experience I was hoping to find.
Over the next few weeks, I spent every spare moment looking at used RVs. Like Frank and Bonnie had said, there were scads of them to choose from in every condition imagined. Once I started looking, I found them everywhere. On used car lots and RV centers that covered hundreds of acres, just like wall-to-wall superstores. I’d see them on vacant lots with FOR SALE signs in the front windows and parked along the curb in housing subdivisions. Regrettably, all the ones I liked were far beyond the meager budget I figured I could afford, but the more time I spent looking, the more I began to understand what I was getting myself into and how much could go wrong on one of these caravans.
After looking at every style of camper, from a travel trailer, to a motorhome, to fifth-wheels and customized buses, I’d decided that what would probably suit me best would be a motorhome. I could easily fit all of my few possessions in one and would only have one vehicle to maintain as opposed to a trailer and tow truck. Simple, simple, that was the way I wanted to go from here on, except for one slight obstacle. I couldn’t find a camper I could afford.
It was the day before the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and the weather in the city was stifling hot as I finished the class and headed for my sparse apartment. Traffic was heavy even for a Friday, and out of the blue, I felt compelled to exit the freeway and take another route home. The road I chose wound away from the suburbs and through the countryside with hardly any other traffic. It was almost like I had the lane to myself as I traveled through timbered hills surrounded by farms and orchards; it even seemed as if the air cooled off a little. The old beater Ford didn’t have a functional air-conditioner, so the coolness was a welcome relief to the brutal summer heat.
Coming around a sharp bend in the road, I saw an auto salvage yard ahead full of wrecked cars, and in a field next to it sat a junker of a camper. At first glance, it was ghastly—an abomination on wheels, but something made me pull over and stop in front of the gate to the yard. I felt compelled to get out and walk over to the fence to get a better look at the rig, but the closer I got, the worse it looked. I stood there looking it over, just shaking my head at the dreadful discovery, when a voice behind me shouted, “I’ll make you a good deal on that RV if you’re interested.”
I turned and faced the man at the gate, a burly fellow in a pair of farmer john overalls and a worn-out baseball cap. “Does it even run?” I asked, for what reason I can’t tell you, because, at that point, I was sure I wouldn’t be caught dead in the trashy vehicle.
“It ran when I towed it in here two years ago, but no one has had any interest in it since then, so it may need a little encouragement to get her running. Won’t take long to find out.”
“You towed it in here,” I questioned. “What happened to it?”
“A strange story I can tell you. It was owned by this feller that worked for a carnival that came through town, but he up and disappeared one day, and the carnival left town without him. That camper was sitting in a field for several weeks until the Sheriff asked me to tow it away. He figured the guy would show back up looking for it, but two years have come and gone, and you’re the first person that ever took a second glance at it. Why don’t you let me show it to you?”
I laughed and told him, “I doubt I could afford it anyway, even if I liked it.”
“Mister, you don’t know how good of a deal I might make you. Come on; it won’t hurt to look at it.”
I decided it was worth a look, and I had nothing pressing me to get home, so I followed him through the gate and out into the pasture. As we walked, he put out his hand, “Names Clyde Driskell. You from around here?”
“Larry Kosinski, Clyde. Nice to meet you. Yes, I live in Turnerville.”
“You’re not by chance the Kosinski that had that big parts warehouse out on the end of town that closed up and went out of business?”
“One and the same, Clyde.”
“Well, I was sorry to see you shut down. You had a good business.”
“That’s two of us, Clyde. But there was little I could do about it. Some things are just out of our control.”
“You can say that again. If I had my druthers, I’d be living on the beach in Key West, Florida, instead of selling bits and pieces of wrecked cars and trucks,” he noted, chuckling.
We walked up to the appalling camper, and I just stood and looked at it in wonder. It was about thirty-five feet long, I guessed, and I don’t know what color it had been painted, but it was rust-colored now—from rust. Long streaks of rust ran down off every bolt, screw, and rivet, giving it almost a 3D effect. It had big dark windows down the sides, so dark you couldn’t see inside. The tires, all six of them, were so cracked and split from the sun that I had trouble figuring out why they weren’t all flat, but they all held air from what I could tell.
I walked around the back and saw that the license plate was from Montana. “That’s one of those lifetime tags. You never renew them, so it’s still street legal to drive,” Clyde informed me. “This must have been a real fine Class A in its day. But darned if I’ve ever seen another quite like it. There is no manufacturer emblem on it, so it must have been custom-built, is all I can guess. The doors unlocked if you want to see the inside.”
I walked to the front and pulled on the handle expecting it to be stiff, but it opened smoothly like it had been recently lubricated. “You just grease these hinges, Clyde?”
“I’ve never done nothing to it since I pulled it into this pasture. I can’t tell you why, but I’ve always felt strange, even looking at it. I’ve only been inside it once myself, and no one around here has ever cared to so much as open the door.”
The steps had folded out as the door opened, and I gingerly put my weight on them, concerned that the overwhelming rust and deterioration might cause them to collapse, but they held me and didn’t so much as creak when I stepped into the old camper.
A thick layer of dust covered every surface. The cab area had twin chairs, but the fabric had split and was torn in several places, with the foam padding poking through in places. The instrument panel held large gauges, with the engine RPM and matching speedometer almost the size of dinner plates. Switches and controls for lights and motors that I couldn’t figure out at first glance and a separate panel marked GENERATOR. Certainly not state of the art, but serviceable it seemed. Behind the cab was a dinette table covered in a large map or chart that looked very old. Cosmic patterns and planets interweaved with lines and symbols going in different directions. Only one chair was slid under it, indicating to me that the last owner hadn’t entertained too many guests.
The kitchen was simple, though the cabinets looked solid and well made, around a two-burner stove and small refrigerator, with a sink and rusty faucet between them. A gnarly-looking sofa with storage above it, and beyond it at the back, I could see a bedroom and door that must go into a bath beyond. Nothing fancy, I thought. But it would certainly qualify as a fixer-upper.
I hadn’t moved as I looked over the interior, and behind me, Clyde hollered, “Why don’t you see if the engine starts? There is a button just right of the steering wheel.”
I stepped forward, feeling the carpet flooring kind of crinkle under my feet, and slid into the driver’s seat. For a second, I thought I felt the seat kind of form around me like it was molding itself to my shape as I reached around the wheel and pressed the start button. Not expecting anything to happen, but then a low growl was emitted from in front and below me as the engine roared to life, then settled into a deep, steady, thrumming.
I was startled that the batteries still held a charge after two years, and the motor sounded solid as if it didn’t have many hours on it. I stood up and went down the steps to see if the engine was smoking, but there was no indication of any issuing from the exhaust. “Geez, Clyde. I can’t believe it started without having to be primed. I’m pretty familiar with engines, and the way this one is running, I’d almost think it was recently rebuilt. It sounds pretty good.”
“You’re darned tootin it sounds good. I told you I’ve always thought there was something different about this old tank. What do you think? You interested in taking it off my hands?”
“Well, I don’t know, Clyde. I’m very short of cash at the moment, and my employment is so shaky I’m hesitant to enter into any kind of payment plan. Just for grins, what would you take for it?”
He stood and rubbed his chin with a rough hand as the engine idled smoothly behind me. “Tell you what, seeing as how you’re in a tight situation right now, and I don’t exactly have anyone else showing interest in this old beast, how about I make it easy for you. What say you give me the pink slip on that old Ford out there, and you can drive this camper out of here free and clear.”
I stood there—dumbfounded.
While this old camper looked pretty rough, it was certainly worth a few thousand dollars, while the crappy old Ford wouldn’t bring a couple hundred if you could find a drunk blind person to buy it. “Clyde, I appreciate the offer, but that wouldn’t be fair to you. Certainly, you could find someone to pay you more than that for this rig.”
“I don’t want someone else to buy it, Larry. I’ve known this camper was unusual since I dragged it in here. It’s sat right where you see it for two years, and no one has so much as asked me about it till you stopped here today. I want you to have it. Maybe you’re meant to have it. I don’t know, but to me, I see it as a good deal. In my world, if two parties come out winners on a transaction, it’s a good deal, so how about it? You ready to trade straight across the board?”
“Okay, Clyde, if you’re sure about it. I think I could fix the old motorhome up with a little time and elbow grease, but that old Ford needs a valve job and a whole lot more to make it right. If you’re good with it, then so am I.”
“Fine then. Why don’t you get in and drive it on out? Check the brakes work, and you can get your things out of the Maverick.”
He turned and started walking back to the yard while I stood there looking at my new home on wheels. She wasn’t much to look at yet, but she was mine, and the price had been just right for my budget. I climbed the stairs once again and shut the door. Sliding into the driver’s seat, I looked over the controls to familiarize myself with where everything was at, then I released the emergency brakes and shifted the engine into gear. The big RV moved out smoothly as I turned it around in the field and pointed it towards the yard gate. I tested the brakes a couple of times to make sure I could stop, but they appeared to grab well and didn’t even squeak from not being used. Pulling up next to the Ford, I put the transmission in Park and set the brakes. Clyde was standing there, watching as I opened the door and came down the steps.
“You get your stuff, and then let’s check to make sure the brake lights and turn signals work. I wouldn’t want you to get a ticket the first time out on the road.”
I sure wasn’t sad to see the faded blue Ford in my rearview mirror as I pulled my new—previously owned motorhome out onto the road. I took my time, feeling her out as I eased my way back into town. Pulling alongside the curb in front of my apartment, I’d already decided I would not renew my rental agreement that was up in three days. Now that I had a home on wheels, there was no sense renting space elsewhere.
It took me most of the three days to clean the insides of the RV and load up my few belongings. I tested all the electrical systems and figured out how to start the generator, which ran as smoothly as the engine. Just like the camper, there were no tags on either the engine or generator to tell me the make or model, so my only worries were if I needed belts, hoses, or filters. I didn’t let it dampen my enthusiasm, as I figured I could find replacement parts when push came to shove. Instead, I tried to make the rig livable.
Other than the cosmic tabletop, not much at first glance had given me a clue about the previous owner until I started opening storage doors and drawers. On the inside of the tall doors, thumbtacks held pictures and show posters revealing that the camper’s erstwhile resident had been a man named Thomas the Magnificent-World Renown Illusionist-Wizard of the Supernatural-Enchanter of Demons-Virtuoso of the Underworld.
…and he had left all his shit behind.
Closets were full of his costumes, and the storage cabinets and drawers were heaped with the props from his act. Stuff I couldn’t explain was stuck everywhere, in every nook and cranny, leaving little room for my few belongings. I could have tossed all the stuff out, but the thought never occurred to me, as if I was sharing the space with the former tenant, so I didn’t throw anything away.
Instead, I pared down my few possessions, and what didn’t fit in the drawers, cabinets, and closets took up space on the sofa and bed. I had the room. It wasn’t like I was having guests or anything.
Finally, after I had cleaned and swept the apartment on the morning of the third day, I handed over the key to the shopkeeper and pulled away from the curb. Surprisingly, no one had asked that I move the unimpressive camper from the city street the whole time I was there.
I planned to head for a KOA campground north of town that I knew of, thinking I would stay there for a few days to get adjusted, but I first wanted to pick up some groceries and fill the fuel tank. The needle hadn’t moved since I left Clyde’s salvage yard, so I believed the gauge to be stuck. I could replace it easy enough, but I wanted to make sure the fuel tank was full — no sense running out of fuel on a busy highway. Turning into the Pack-n-Save, I pulled into an empty section of the parking lot and shut off the engine, then hurried into the store and filled a basket with basic stuff that would get me through the week, maybe more. I didn’t need much, just coffee and a sandwich were fine, but I grabbed some cans of beans and things that didn’t require cooking just in case I couldn’t get the stove to work. I’d already checked the fridge, and it was cold, though I didn’t know what power source it was running on yet.
I was familiar with the GET-IT-ALL-HERE truck stop at the intersection of State Highway 37 and Interstate 101, so I headed there, figuring I wouldn’t have to worry about getting in and out. I was quick to realize that having a thirteen-foot-tall roof had some limitations at many gas stations. There were several empty bays open at the fuel pumps, and it made me feel like one of the big boys to pull into a long-haul trucker’s fuel pit.
I got out and fed my debit card into the pump, and after punching the zip code into the keypad, it told me to lift the nozzle and proceed. I performed that function and pulled the lever on the handle, which immediately shut off. I tried it again, and it shut down, but this time a little fuel overflowed.
I waited a minute, knowing that even if the tanks had been full at Clyde’s, which I thought illogical, I’d put over forty miles on the camper, so it had to be down a few gallons anyway. But it would take no fuel.
I was confused, thinking I was doing something wrong, but I now had a truck hauling cattle behind me, waiting to fill his tanks, so I reset the nozzle and climbed back into the rig. Pulling out slowly, I decided I would trace the fuel lines later. There might be an auxiliary tank somewhere the engine was running off that I wasn’t aware of yet. There was so much I needed to learn about this camper yet.
I didn’t know at the time; just how much I was about to learn.
Twenty minutes later, I pulled into the KOA campground entrance, noting that the sign said VACANCY, leading me to believe I wouldn’t have a problem getting a spot. But when I pulled up to the check-in board at the office, I realized something was wrong when this large woman in Bermuda shorts, a white tank top, and flip-flops darted out of the office waving both hands over her head. Pushing myself out of the driver’s seat, which was showing signs of severe rapid deterioration, I stepped outside to greet the frantic person.
“YOU CAN’T STAY HERE,” she screamed. “Pull right back out and keep going.”
“But I saw your VACANCY sign,” I replied, confused at the apparent misunderstanding.
“Not for that hideous monstrosity. Where in the hell did you find that ugly beast? We allow RVs over ten years old, but that rig looks like it barely survived the Great Depression. We’d scare good campers away if we let you stay.”
I turned and looked at the old rust-streaked caravan and sadly had to agree with her. Compared to the other RVs I could see in the campground, there were few redeeming qualities exhibited in my new home. “Where do you think I can find a place to let me camp?” I asked her.
She thought a minute before replying, “Only place I can think of is Burnum’s Happy Campground on County Road 47,” pointing north up the highway. “they’ll take anyone. But if it were me, I’d drive that into the desert and put a torch to it. Just looking at it makes me want to spew my last meal. Please get it out of here—before I get sick.”
She ended the conversation by walking away. I climbed back in and pulled around the office, then turned right and headed north, looking for CR 47. About six miles up the road, I saw a faded sign with an arrow pointing down a dirt road proclaiming RVs and tents welcome. Another four miles brought me into the campground. The track in was a little rough with plenty of potholes, so I took my time, not wanting to blow a tire that I worried were on their last legs, which gave the reception committee at the office time to get outside to welcome me—or not.
This time it was a man and woman, both standing there gawking as I pulled up, their open mouths inviting flies, with stunned expressions blanketing their faces. I had to break their trance as I spoke first, “I need a place to camp, and the lady back at the KOA told me you allowed older RVs to stay here.”
“Never had one as old as yours,” the man said, “Where in hades half-acre did you find that relic?”
Ignoring the sarcasm, I asked again, “Do you have a spot I can fit into?”
The pair looked at each other before the lady spoke up, “Not in one of our regular campsites. You’d scare away even the low-life campers we get in here, but if you go on down the hill, you can park it behind the barn where no one can see you. There’s no water or power, and it’ll still be twenty bucks a night. If you don’t mind that—you can stay as long as you like.”
Well, beggars can’t be choosers, so I agreed to the proposal and paid them cash for a week. Driving through the campground, I elicited shocked looks from all the resident campers. Although none of them had anything resembling a new RV, they all seemed relieved as I drove on past and through the campground. Exiting the main camping area, the road got rougher, with such deep ruts I worried the rig would bottom out, but there was just enough clearance to let me slide over. I pulled past the old barn and turned around, facing the road on the flattest spot I could find, which wasn’t even remotely level.
This would be my first night staying in the camper, and I didn’t want to roll out of bed on the incline, so I knew I needed to find out how the leveling system worked. I went around and stuck chocks in front and behind the wheels to keep her from rolling, then went back inside to the panel that read, AUTOMATIC LEVELERS. There were two buttons, one was labeled ENGAGE, and the other, DISENGAGE. How simple could it get?
The motorhome was tilted at such a severe angle I wasn’t even sure if the system would get it even close to level. Still, anything would be an improvement over the way it was sitting now, so I pressed the button marked ENGAGE, and instantaneously the camper felt level.
I didn’t hear any motors or the sound of jacks deploying—it was just suddenly level. I went outside to see what mechanical method of equalization was in play, but there wasn’t anything holding the camper level, to my complete surprise. Instead, it appeared as if the ground beneath it had flattened out like a tabletop.
After blinking a couple of times, I got on my hands and knees and looked under the camper, sure that I would find some type of stabilizer, but nothing was there. I walked around it four times, trying to understand what had befallen me, but I couldn’t come up with an explanation. The ground under the camper that had been on a slant when I pulled in was now as flat as a pancake.
I had planned on trying to clean up the exterior and make it more presentable, but storm clouds were moving in, blotting out the sun, and rain began to come down so hard it drove me inside. I made a sandwich and thought I’d try to heat some water to make coffee in my french press. I found a small pot under the stove and filled it with water from the rusty faucet. It dawned on me that the water had been sitting in the tank for a long time, but a small sip of it tasted fresh and quite good actually, so I set it on the burner, which instantly started. Confused as to what had lit the flame, I lifted the pot and watched the burner go out. I wasn’t familiar with RV stoves, but I’m sure that at least one of the salesmen I’d encountered in my search for a motorhome would have mentioned a pressure plate actuated cooktop. Strange though it seemed, I set the pot down and had boiling water within a minute that I poured over the ground coffee in the french press.
With my appetite satiated, and a warm brew down my neck, I surmised that the rain had set in and would keep me inside for the rest of the day, so I set about trying to straighten and sort it more to my liking. I went through all the drawers and cabinets again, consolidating all of the magician’s paraphernalia as best I could, and in doing so, amazingly found all the room I needed for my trappings.
I was extremely bothered by the two captain’s chairs in the front of the motorhome. They seemed to be in a state of declension, literally falling apart before my eyes. I worried that soon I wouldn’t have a seat to sit in to navigate the unit, and I sure didn’t have the money to replace them or get them reupholstered. I spent a couple of hours working with duct tape, trying to secure the foam padding in place, but I wasn’t sure if I had made any improvements on them at all.
As darkness enveloped the camper, so my exhaustion took hold, and nearly falling asleep on my feet, I laid down on the bed and fell into a deep slumber, and from that, down, down, down into the deepest of dreams.
I walked into the center of the RV, the kitchen area on the left and the long sofa on the right, and a vortex appeared, slowly circling me, wind and smoke, fog, or clouds I could not tell. Then a loud humming in my ears, but somehow, I perceived that I was the only one hearing it, then I fell through the aperture, like being sucked into a black hole, and my vision was consumed with enormous stars and limitless galaxies, until finally, I stopped, in a remote, desert-like landscape, of sand and stone.
…and, I waited.
Before me, through the empyrean, a man appeared dressed in a classy white linen suit with wide lapels, over a white silk shirt that glistened, behind a dandy red and white bowtie, stepping jauntily in black and white wingtips, his head topped off with a tightly creased mother-of-pearl fedora. His smile was infectious, and I felt myself grinning as I noticed the colossal balloon he held streaming behind him that said THOMAS the MAGNIFICENT.
“So, my young neophyte, you like my camper?”
Bewildered, I searched for a retort, “Your camper? You disappeared; I was told.”
“You’re correct,” he replied with a chortle that sounded like harmonious bells, “I left it for you since I no longer needed it.”
In a quandary, I inquired, “You left it for me? How did you know I would need it?”
“I saw a ripple in time that told me there was someone who would require the use of my home, who would, when they no longer needed it, like myself, leave it for another. And then, when the time was right, I sent Bonnie and Frank to set you on the right path.”
Now I was totally flabbergasted, “Bonnie and Frank. I changed their flat tire.”
“Yes, you did, but you also showed that after all the trials and tribulations you have been put through by your business partner and wife, you still had the compassion to help someone in need. That is a powerful thing, my friend. But now you have to return. You can only concentrate here for a limited time, and then you will awaken. But before you go, hold out your hands.”
I wasn’t sure just why, but I held out my hand’s palms up, and into them, he dropped two toy-sized replicas of leather captains’ chairs. When you get back,” he said, pointing at the toys, “these should make your ride a little smoother.”
Then he stepped back and waved his hands through the air, and beside me, the air folded back like a piece of Japanese origami. I looked at it and asked, “What is this?”
“That, my friend, is the fabric of the universe. Anyone can step through it if they will it. All it takes is intent. Intent is the strongest force in the universe. If you focus your intent, anything you need can be yours. Just step through. We will meet again.”
And with that, I took a step, and darkness enveloped me.
I awoke to feel remarkably refreshed but with a nagging reflection. The kind you get when you want to remember a dream but can’t. Hoping for a dry day so I could work on the outside of the camper, I busied myself fixing coffee while I ate an apple. Fruit is about all my stomach can handle for breakfast.
After breaking my fast and with caffeine surging through my system, I was ready to get started, but as I walked to the front of the camper, my olfactory glands were enveloped in the fragrance of new leather—like a new car smell. I then noticed the two luxurious leather high-backed swivel chair ornamenting the front of the coach.
Stunned and amazed, I stepped forward and touched the one by the door, thinking I was delirious, possibly having a brain seizure or something, but the smooth texture of well-tanned cowhide beneath my fingers told me what I was perceiving was corporal. Forthwith, the earlier brain titillation I had felt took hold, and I closed my eyes, trying to grasp the thread of memory that was just out of reach. Incapable of embracing it, I sat in the driver’s seat and spun around, reveling in the motion that had not been attainable in the old ragged fixed seats. Either someone was playing a joke on me, or I was losing it, but the fact remained I had brand new custom leather chairs anointing my motorhome.
Ten minutes later and no closer to solving the conundrum, I went to work on the rust streaks outside with a heavy polishing compound and buffer, running the generator for power. I didn’t have a long extension cord, so I figured my work area was limited, but when I got to the end of the camper, the buffer was still running, so I kept moving. Without a ladder, I could only reach so high, and even though the buffer wheel was now rust color, it didn’t appear to me that I was doing much good, but I pressed onward. An hour later, it dawned on me that I must have far achieved the length of the power cord. Turning off the buffer, I walked back around and found the male end of the cord lying on the ground ten feet from the plug. Baffled, I pressed the switch, and the buffer spun up, despite the reality that it wasn’t connected to any discernible power source.
I’d owned this buffer for several years and knew it didn’t contain a secondary battery pack. Still, the actuality before me overwhelmingly revealed the ostensible veracity that it was running on an unknown power source. I was beginning to feel a tad stressed, first with the unusual nature of the ground leveling under the camper, then this morning’s discovery of new furniture in space that had held decrepit chairs the night before, and now I was holding onto a motorized buffer that was powered by nothing more than a zephyr.
The thought occurred to me that I might be affected by tainted water from the holding tank that was causing me to hallucinate, or maybe the stresses of the last few months had caught up, and I was falling off the deep end. Either way, I felt the strong desire to get my head down and eyes shut, giving my faculties a chance to rebalance themselves.
So, with hands full of buffer and power cord, I went up the steps, but my feet tangled in the worn-out carpet that chose this moment to come loose, and I fell facedown onto the floor, knocking the wind out of my lungs. I lay on the shabby rug gasping for breath until I gathered the strength to get my feet under me and stumble to my bed. I had barely closed my eyes, and I once again perceived myself falling through a vortex lined with limitless space until I stood in the barren landscape of an alternate reality.
My perception that I had been to this place anteriorly was immediate, and there was no astonishment when Thomas, the Magnificent-World Renown Illusionist, appeared out of the ether, smiling and laughing as he strolled gaily towards me. “Well, Larry, I didn’t think you’d rush back here so promptly. You are having a smidgen of tumult trying to fathom the endowment you have obtained. Don’t allow it to stress you. Come sit down a minute,” he said as he stepped up to a large rock. With a wave of his hand, it materialized into a round dining table covered in an embroidered linen napery with two large silver candelabras adorning it. Comfortable stuffed chairs awaited us, which we slipped into, “You see, Larry, your perception of reality has been tainted ever since you were a child. But then again, so has everyones. You were able to see the world as it truly is until your parents, who had lost the gift of sight, told you what you were seeing didn’t exist. It happens to us all.
“Years ago, through my work, I began to regain my sight. As an illusionist, my province is to, for a brief instant—allow the crowd of onlookers a glimpse of the real world. As I developed my craft, I was able to shift between alternate realities, which have always existed, with ease and clarity. It’s a shock to the system at first, but before too long, you shall ease back and forth without hesitation, and with it will come the ability to remember your shifts. You could easily lose your mind if you remembered this experience too quickly, and I’m here to tell you that sanitoriums and mental institutions have, for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, held those who stepped through the firmament and remembered. They would never be the same. A thousand years ago, they were called seers, but now they are addressed as lunatics.”
“Your camper does some bizarre things. I remember now that you gave me those toy chairs that are now full-sized, but this morning I couldn’t. It levels itself without any source of support, and power tools run even when not plugged in, and the fuel tank stays full even after driving it for fifty miles or more.”
Thomas laughed so heartily that I thought he would fall out of his chair. “Oh yes, and so much more that you’re yet to see. The fuel tank will never run out. It is perpetually full, as is the propane and the water tank, and the power field in and around the rig is constant, so there is no need to plug anything in to run it. Your waste tanks will never require draining, nor will the engine and generator require maintenance. Even the appearance of the RV is altered, so it strikes one as unsightly. I had to leave it like that so everyone who glimpsed it would be repelled. Only you saw something desirable, but you didn’t understand why. It’s because the camper has been waiting for you, and its unique powers, if you will, are derived from being in two different realities at once. It is a dream RV, and no others exist—that I know of, at least.”
I was beginning to feel slightly nauseous as the realization crept into my psyche. Thomas jumped up with a worried expression on his countenance and said, “Here, here. It’s time for you to go. You’ve been on this side too long. But before you leave, I’m going to let you retain some memory of this encounter. I only hope you can handle it without too much stress. And one other thing. You are working so hard to make the camper appealing; I’m going to help you with that—hold out your hand.”
Into my palm, he sprinkled about a teaspoon of colored crystals and then folded my fingers over them. “When you return, you’ll be exhausted, but before you sleep, toss that onto the rig. When you awaken, you will have a wonderful surprise—now go.” And once again, he waved his hands, and the surface around me folded back, and without hesitation, I stepped through.
My next awareness was of standing beside the RV in the gathering dusk. I felt painfully tired as if I’d been awake for days. But I remembered to open my hand and, with all the strength I could muster, tossed the colored crystal against the side of the camper. It was like a thousand sparks went off as they connected, then I dragged myself into my home on wheels and collapsed into a coma-like trance.
It was light outside when I awoke. I had slept all night, or it could have been days for all I could tell, as I sat on the edge of the bed, letting the fog slowly dissipate from my medulla oblongata. It took a while, but as the layers peeled back, it was replaced by the astounding insight Thomas had infused in me. Instead of insanity, I was reborn—with an afterimage of how the world truly existed. I wasn’t surprised when I opened my eyes and saw that new plush carpeting had replaced the old. The sofa now was covered in opulent leather to match the two swiveled captain’s chairs up front. The cabinets now were richly finished in dark lacquer, and the headliner and walls were textured in a marble finish. The space seemed to have doubled, from a narrow cabin to huge, spacious rooms.
I slowly walked through, admiring the detail, then stepped outside to see that what had been an ugly duckling wreck had turned into a glorious modern-looking recreational vehicle. Though I hadn’t perceived it inside, it dawned on me that I now had multiple slide-outs and underbelly storage galore. The paint on the exterior was in vibrant colors of burgundy and gold, with silver trails connecting the stars and galaxies. In fact, it was a perfect replica of the cosmic tabletop inside, and so deep was the finish that it seemed as if you could reach your hand deep into it. It was the most incredible finish I’d ever seen applied to any vehicle.
Then I noticed the tires, which were now 20-ply commercial truck tires, capable of carrying this gorgeous rig many thousands of miles. I walked circuits around the camper and finally realized it was longer as well, by at least five feet. Returning inside and taking a slow tour this time to delight in all the new appliances, a full-sized refrigerator, a convection/microwave that I had no idea how to operate, a new toilet, a walk-in shower, and fixtures with modern LED lighting everywhere.
There wasn’t anything lacking in this camper. It was entirely reborn, just as my consciousness was, to other realities. I wasn’t quite sure why I had been granted this new ability to see the world as it genuinely existed, but I wasn’t about to second guess it now. It was time to move on down the highway. There were places to see in this world and maybe others. And I had the perfect vehicle to do it in. I had the dream RV.
With renewed vigor, I fired up the engine and pulled out from behind the old barn that had hidden the camper’s transformation from all eyes in the campground. The looks on their faces as I drove out of the campground and past the office were, well, what can I say—priceless.
I turned onto the highway and pointed the camper south. I didn’t know or care where I was heading; I just let my newfound intuition direct me.
I was ready for this life-changing experience.
The End — or is it?
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Look for this story and others in, Behind the Mask- An Anthology of Short Stories, available here.
My latest manuscript which will publish as book #10 is in the works. Predators’ Highway, book #5 of The Forgotten Man series is well underway. I’m offering my voracious readers a chance to follow along as the story develops. A few episodes will be published each week on Kindle Vella. Click here: