The van roared down the dark highway headed East toward Holtville and Tom had been talking nonstop the entire time. He talked about wanting to be a firefighter when he was a kid, working construction, his guitar collection, and outer space. He seemed really interested in outer space.
He talked about stars, different planets, antimatter propulsion, and aliens. He yammered on about reading classified FBI documents regarding an alien craft being caught on film over the Arizona desert. He said he’d seen not only photos from inside Area 51 but also the alien carcasses that are kept there. And after all that, it was an avalanche of conspiracy theories and talk of secret government programs which have made contact with alien lifeforms. I figured this was good time to ask him about the crate which was labeled PROPERTY OF NASA and seemed to be vibrating.
“Say Tom, what’s in that crate?” I asked.
Without any hesitation Tom replied, “Oh that? It’s an NSTAR electrostatic ion thruster I borrowed from a buddy at NASA.”
I had a feeling ‘borrowed’ wasn’t the correct word for how he came into possession of an ion thruster… whatever the fuck an ion thruster even is. Luckily, Tom was more than happy to oblige with very detailed information about the thing in the crate and what it can be used for. It would be used for the rocket which he built himself. At first, this didn’t really strike me as strange, as rockstars always have weird hobbies they indulge in during their off-time. Being an amateur rocket enthusiast didn’t seem like much of a stretch. That reasoning made sense in my head. But, I wanted to pry a bit more for my own reassurance.
“Like one of those model rocket kits? Only bigger, right? I built one of those as a kid but it wasn’t that big.”
Tom chuckled. And countered with, “That’s what she said! Ha! Ha! Ha! No man, it’s for a real-sized rocket that I built and that we’re gonna launch tonight. I need a copilot to watch the GPS and to swap fuel cells! Mark totally laughed when I asked him to come with me. But that was the first version of my ship and it barely fit two people. So I built a bigger one and tonight is the only night we can launch undetected. And I can’t do it alone!”
I felt my chest tighten; I’d felt this pain before. It was after a huge coke binge with Creed’s backstage crew which ended me in the hospital in full cardiac arrest. The feeling I had at that moment was somewhat similar. While I unfortunately didn’t have a head full of coke this time, I did have a terribly uneasy feeling about where this night was going. Apparently, it was going up into space.
It was after midnight when we arrived in Holtville, a pretty typical farming town. Being the hour it was, there wasn’t a soul around. Just dark country roads and a lot of “Sorry we’re closed” signs. Neither of us had spoken a word for the last leg of the ride into town. My anxiety was turning my guts into liquid. I guessed Tom had sensed the whole ‘going into space’ surprise freaked me out a little so he stopped regaling me with the wonders of the universe. That was until he decided it was time to give me a little preamble on his friend, Raoul.
“Okay, dude. One thing you need to know about Raoul is that he has a temper and hates being interrupted. Like a lot. If he’s going on a rant, just let him. I brought Travis with me once and he and Raoul did not get along at all! Raoul takes his work quite seriously and he totally hates being interrupted. Oh! And his place is really hush hush. He designed his compound to be a safe place for like-minded people to discuss and work on special projects that the government kinda frowns on. It’s really underground so you gotta be cool!”
He paused as we reached the gate of Raoul’s compound. As the dust settled, I could just make out the words on the sign written in whimsical letters that spelled out ‘Moon As My Witness Ranch’ which were surrounded by clusters of rusted stars and moons.
“Oh yeah. And they’re like totally nudists, so you gotta lose the jumpsuit before we go in. It’s the rules, dude!”
A classic ‘needle scratching a record’ moment. I was still wondering what Travis had done to upset the hot-tempered Raoul before my brain could process the word ‘nudists.’ I was at a impasse. At that moment in a van in the middle of nowhere with a rockstar asking me to get naked, I wondered if I needed $500 that bad. The bourbon had worn off a while ago and the sheer terror that is sobriety was making its presence known. I had to act fast. I had two choices. Either I could kick the van door open and run off into the safety of the darkness or drop trou. Then Tom spoke again.
“Look man, I can barely trust anyone these days. I don’t know you, but I trust Derek with my life. So that gives you a pass. I don’t bring just anyone out here. I tried to bring Mark, but that dumpweed just made fun of me. It’s for real a top secret place. If it’ll help change your mind, I’ll pay you $5000 to help me out on this!”
He then reached under his seat and pulled out a paper bag. He reached into the bag and pulled out a giant wad of cash.
“Here dude, cash up front! There’s at least $6000 there. I’ve already paid for all my supplies and fuel. This is the last of my cash. I’m under time constraints so we need to get what I need from Raoul and then we gotta get on the road in no more than an hour! That is… if you’re down to come with and make history happen.”
He seemed desperate, but sincere. I opened the door to the van and stepped out. Tom’s eyes grew big and welled up as he thought I was leaving. But to be honest, I’ve done a lot weirder shit for a lot less money. My guess was that this dude was having a breakdown after all. This whole rocket business is the act of a man on the razor’s edge of reality. And if all I had to do was get naked for $6000 in front of some dude named Raoul, then that silly jumpsuit was coming off! I told Tom to hold my money and I ripped my jumpsuit off and got back into the van.
There was an intercom box at the gate. Tom reached out and pressed the button. It beeped. There was static. And then a voice answered.
“State your business. Intruders will be shot on sight!”
It was then that I noticed a red dot floating on my chest. It was from a laser scope which I assumed was attached to a very real gun. Tom didn’t even flinch and responded.
“Hey dude! It’s Tom, lemme in!”
The gate opened and the little red beam disappeared from my upper torso. With all that tension, I expected some fanfare. Maybe something like a secret password or at least something other than ‘hey let me in.’ I was mildly annoyed, but I remembered the six thousand reasons tucked away in my jumpsuit which sat crumpled at my bare naked feet. In my mind, I’d already spent a chunk of it on a new passport and a one way ticket to Bangkok.
While my mind was distracted with thoughts of planes and trekking to exotic locales, Tom had also disrobed. Now that he was naked, I didn’t feel quiet as vulnerable which put my mind at ease. He pulled the van into the compound. Out of the darkness four men in jumpsuits similar to mine rushed out of the darkness with assault rifles pointed at us. Again, Tom was extremely calm. He got out of the van and put his arms in the air as he was directed to do. Two men stood with Tom and the other two opened my door and ordered me out. I obliged because they seemed pretty serious about putting a bullet in my head if I didn’t. Once the men felt the situation was under control, another figure emerged from the shadows. This person moved slower than the armed men and seemed to have a limp. It was then Tom looked away from the armed men and towards the advancing shape.
“Raoul! Dude, tell em to calm down! They know who I am! I pay them!”
As Raoul now stood before the headlights of the van, I could see why he was limping. He had a prosthetic leg. His body was built like that of Danny Devito. His scalp was bare but he had the remainder of his hair pulled back into a greasy ponytail. His ears were adorned with a number of gold hoop earrings of varying sizes. He wore several puka shell necklaces which were entangled in his thick chest hair. He was also completely nude except for a gun belt that was slung low, just not low enough to cover his shriveled balls. He wobbled over to me and introduced himself.
“Greetings friend! I am Raoul. Dr. Cornelius Raoul. I am a scientist. Welcome to my compound.”
He reached out, grabbed my hand, and shook it. I introduced myself and told him I had no idea why I was there. He said it was probably better that way but they’d wipe my mind before I left regardless. I pretended not to hear that last part as I was somewhat occupied by his grotesque body odor. Once we were done with introductions, Raoul gave a hand signal to the armed jumpsuits and they disappeared back into the darkness.
Tom said he was going to pull the van into the barnyard to unload the crate. Raoul asked me to follow him so that he could show me around the compound – which was really just a barn and a rundown two-story ranch house. As we got to the front door, Raoul stopped and said this:
“We all have our crosses to bear, burdens we carry. But that’s our station in life. We are burdensome creatures.”
What the fuck did that even mean? It was completely out of context, yet the way he said held so much conviction. I remained silent; I truly had no response to such a bold and bizarre statement. I just wanted to be drunk again. This night was getting stranger by the minute and the less grip on reality I had, the better.
Once he opened the front door, I realized my need for drink was ever more urgent. All I could see was balls. The nude scientists Tom had mentioned were all men. I guess there’s not a lot of female scientists who would care to strip down in front of the horror I witnessed. Everyone in the room was over fifty, so gravity was starting to call all the shots. I asked Raoul if there were any female members in this collective.
“Nonsense, my boy! Women are a wretched distraction to our work! We have all that we need here. Food, fresh air, and my homemade moonshine!”
Raoul smelled like a dumpster fire, but he was cordial. I tried my best to contain the mixture of severe anxiety and the urge to laugh my ass off as I was introduced to the members of Raoul and Tom’s naked science club. Through clenched teeth I shook hands with each of them as Raoul rattled off each man’s code name. They didn’t use their real names for security reasons. So I met Mr. Vector, Dr. Ringo, Buttons, and The Rad Man. Raoul said the rest of the men were out on the property at a campsite testing a synthetic hallucinogen. I asked to use the bathroom. I was dizzy with anxiety and needed to be in a room that wasn’t wall to wall balls. Raoul was more than gracious and it began to border on creepy.
“Sure thing my boy! Down the hall, first door on the left. Mind my alligator.”
I thought he was joking about that last part so I paid it no mind. But I wish I had. As soon as I sat on the toilet, a baby alligator leapt out of the tub. As it scuttled across the floor towards me, I panicked and jumped up onto the toilet seat, slipped and fell into the tub which was filled with dank water and gator shit. I heard the gator hissing at me from outside of the tub because I just trashed its house. The porcelain was slippery and my naked body was covered in filth. So naturally, I started to scream like I was on fire. The door burst open and Raoul entered, laughing.
“I see you met Toby. He is harmless, I assure you.”
I stopped flailing only when Raoul picked up his pet gator. Now, I smelled just as bad as Raoul. Any dignity I had left after having to strip naked was gone the moment I learned what gator feces tastes like. Raoul held Toby like a kitten and the gator seemed to act like one in his arms.
“Come on Toby, let’s leave this young man alone. You have put such a fright into him, you little devil!”
He left the bathroom and Tom walked in carrying a Red Bull and a towel. He said there was another bathroom down the hall that had a shower and was free of wildlife. He was adamant that I drink the Red Bull.
“Get cleaned up and drink this. You’ll need the energy. Finish the whole can. We have work to do in the barn!”
He seemed oblivious to how upset I was. Apparently, my mood and well-being we’re not mission critical. To oblige my employer, I cracked open the warm can and took a swig. I immediately spit it out.
“What the fuck is this? This isn’t Red Bull!”
He laughed and said it was a new formula that he and Raoul had been working on. They had designed a more concentrated version of the action sports beverage plus an additive that makes your blood run hotter. He was standing there, staring at me, waiting on me to finish the can of questionable Red Bull. I powered it down in one gulp just to get it over with.
“Yeah dude. We totally designed it just for this trip. You’ll be like way amped and you won’t freeze to death in space since I couldn’t get us legit space suits but don’t worry because I redesigned some scuba suits with extra insulation! So we’re gonna be fine up there!”
Okay, playtime was over; I couldn’t entertain this much longer. Whether or not we were going up into space was something I had yet to believe. I still hadn’t seen this craft he was talking about. Tack onto that the all organic gator shit bath and the exposed genitals. It’s safe to say that this gig had finally worn on me.
“Tom, seriously it’s been fun but I’m gonna need to go now. Keep the money. I’m just gonna leave!”
And that’s when I started feeling funny. My head began to spin and the walls began to melt. Tom stood there smiling. His skin began to change and Raoul walked up behind him still holding Toby the gator. Except this time Toby was a tiny unicorn. My insides started to feel hot and then I started to profusely sweat. I was losing motor skills. The three of them just stood there changing forms. One second they were two lizard men with long tongues whipping around the room. Then suddenly, Tom morphed into one of my elementary school teachers, Raoul turned into an alligator, and Toby turned into a tiny man and was running around the bathroom (which now looked like the entire solar system) shouting in Latin. Blood began to pour down from the ceiling. Everything was rapidly decaying around me and began to burn. Tom and Raoul had melted into one mass of greasy pulsating flesh. And every bad thing I’d ever done in my life was playing before my eyes at light speed, yet somehow I could comprehend it all. It was then that I saw God. I felt that was a good time to address my situation.
“W-what did you motherfuckers give to me?!?!?” I’ll fucking kill you both and I’m going to eat that fucking unicorn! Fuck you, Toby!”
Before I blacked out, I heard Tom ask Raoul if they had given me too much “space dust” to which both replied with laughter.
I spent hours lost in fevered dreams, screaming and pissing myself. I had traveled back to the time where I was back on the road with Crazy Town. And then I was back at Woodstock 99’ throwing bottles at Kid Rock. Moments later, I was helping the guys from Lit bury a body. These flashbacks seemed to go endlessly… until I felt a stabbing pain in my arm and suddenly awoke. As my crusted eyes opened, I could make out a flesh-toned mass standing in front of me. It pulled a syringe out of my arm and began to speak. In mere seconds, I could see clearly again. But I didn’t recognize this naked man.
“We didn’t get a chance to meet earlier. I’m Arthur. I gave you an injection to counteract the space dust. That stuff can be nasty when taken in high doses. My guess is they gave you too much.”
I managed to ask him what he gave me; I was almost feeling completely normal again.
“Oh, just a little black tar, the pride of Afghanistan. It’s the only thing that seems to counteract the effects of the space dust. It acts like an emergency brake for your mind!”
Well, I could check shooting heroin off of my ever shortening bucket list after tonight. I made it to my feet but was still a bit wobbly, so Arthur helped walk me down the hall to a bedroom.
“How come your name is Arthur and everyone else has code names?”
He said it was basically because Raoul hated him. They had worked in the same government lab for years and both loved the same woman. That woman chose Arthur. Years later, an opportunity to work on top secret projects outside of the government’s watch presented itself. But it wasn’t until Arthur arrived at the ranch that he learned his new employer was also his longstanding nemesis. The work was too important and the funding was ridiculous so Arthur swallowed his pride and took the job. Since then, Raoul took every opportunity to let Arthur know he was still bitter.
“Whatever you do, don’t board that rocket” Arthur added. “I’ve seen the blueprints for Tom’s ship. They are based off of a rocket design that was scrapped by the government decades ago because the engines would explode on liftoff 96.4% of the time. I was one of the engineers that helped designed that rocket engine. I’ve seen the explosions and there is no way anyone could survive something so violent. I warned both Tom and Raoul, as well as the rest of the collective. But because of my history and Raoul’s influence over the others in the collective, everyone here treats me like I’m crazy. You have to leave tonight. Raoul is a dangerous man. But I fear Tom can be even more of a threat!”
Just then, I heard Raoul call out for everyone to head to the barn for a meeting. I asked what was in the barn.
“Your one way ticket to the afterlife, Tom’s homemade spaceship. Let’s go! Raoul gets punchy when you make him wait!”
I told Arthur I would meet him at the gate. I needed to find the van so I could grab the cash in my jumpsuit, then we could head back to the highway on foot. This was just too fucking crazy.
It was dark, as the ranch wasn’t very well lit. I clumsily stumbled around in the brush out behind the house. I could make out the barn located up on a hill in the distance along with several figures standing outside of it. I turned and headed in the opposite direction. Finally, I found the van situated behind an old tool shed. Tom must have parked it there after they unloaded the crate earlier. It was locked so I grabbed a rock and shattered the passenger side window.
Once inside, my fingers stumbled upon a small flashlight which quickly helped me locate my phone and money. Further under the seat, I discovered a Manila envelope labeled “Angels & Airwaves Words and Feelings: A Narrative that Goes in Circles.” Curious, I opened up the envelope. All that was inside were scraps of paper with nonsense scrawled on them. There was also a blueprint for the engine Arthur talked about. But it also had a bunch of Tom’s illegible writing on it. There is as also an unflattering drawing of Mark Hoppus’ head being attacked by cartoon dicks. I snapped a pic with my phone, knowing that nobody in the real world would believe me if I tried to explain everything I had seen.
I put my jumpsuit back on, stuffed the money and phone in my pocket, and headed for the front gate to meet Arthur. It was then that I heard rustling in the bushes and broke into a top speed sprint. The gate was in view, just ahead in the distance. I charged towards it with everything I had. As I closed in on it, I noticed several red beams of light reflecting off the brushed metal. The guards had seen me. It was do or die! Just as my left hand grabbed the top rung of the gate, a piercing sting resonated in my left ass cheek. Fuck. Any and all remaining strength in my limbs drained immediately and I fell to the ground. Looking up, I could see the guards surrounding me with guns drawn. Then nothing.
Struggling to keep up? Feeling a bit lost? Perhaps you’re wondering how a snake can wear a vest or be a band roadie? The answers to these questions and more are in CHAPTER 1! (Editor’s Note: Bad Copy does not guarantee answers to any questions in Chapter 1).