aron still had the program from his mother’s funeral in his leather jacket. He just didn’t know it yet.
It had been a very mild Winter in Los Angeles, if you wanted to call it Winter. Aaron would never call it that. He chose to live the last 10 years of his life in the city, yet all he did is complain about the hot weather, especially in the Fall and Winter months.
But Aaron wasn’t in L.A. for the weather. He was there to chase a dream. At least at one point. He moved to LA at 20 to try and pursue a career as a rock and roll guitar player even though it was 2010 and the genre was dead.
That fact played a major factor in him quickly transitioning into a standard nine-to-five life instead of a rock star lifestyle. He lived in a small apartment in the San Fernando Valley, had a steady job in an online retailer’s warehouse managing inventory, and rarely even played guitar. He didn’t even have calluses on his fingertips anymore.
Aaron had a change of heart shortly after his 30th birthday when he visited his mother on her deathbed. He took three weeks off of work to spend as much time as he could with her as the lung cancer faded her away.
It got to a point where she could no longer speak, but she could write notes to Aaron on a notepad and hand it over to him. One of the last notes she ever passed expressed her regretting not truly living her life.
Aaron’s mom had spent her entire life working in administration for the local school district. She regretted it. Like Aaron, she was a musician at a young age, a concert-level pianist, but she completely gave it all up once she got a job, eventually got married, and had Aaron. She regretted all of it, except for Aaron.
He took it to heart. He planned to take a leave from work for an indefinite amount of time after he got back to L.A. and buy an airstream trailer. From there, he was going to take a year to travel the U.S. and work on an album. He had more than enough money saved up to do it comfortably and he was going to use some of the small inheritance to buy some recording equipment.
Aaron found a perfect airstream at an affordable price for sale in south downtown Los Angeles. The seller, Chuck, was willing to part with it for just $1,000, and the photos looked great.
The only thing that threw Aaron off was that Chuck’s email was firstname.lastname@example.org, but he let it go. He figured Chuck was at least 50 and the Internet was hard for people of a certain age. He took out $1,000 in cash and headed to the bad side of the Arts District.
Aaron was greeted by a bald, sunburnt, shirtless guy covered in tattoos missing a few teeth who looked like he would be an interview subject in a Netflix documentary about a dark topic. This was Chuck.
Aaron thought he recognized Chuck from somewhere as the man showed him around the airstream which was in good condition for something being sold for $1,000, but Aaron was sure Chuck probably just needed the money and wanted to get it off his hands so he went with it.
The transaction took place as Aaron caught sight of a large RV parked behind the airstream with a methy-looking woman sticking her head out of the door at them. He assumed this was where Chuck called home, his situation likely horrifying the trendy coffee place that rested across the sidewalk from it.
Aaron hooked up his truck to the airstream as Chuck watched.
“Do I know you from somewhere? Were you like an actor, or something?” Aaron asked Chuck as the man further burned himself, baking shirtless in the March sun, squinting at him.
“You watch America’s Most Wanted?” Chuck said with a phlegmy laugh.
Aaron wasn’t sure if Chuck was joking or not.
It didn’t hit Aaron who he thought Chuck was until he was home that night sipping dark rum and ginger beer and listening to music in the tiny backyard of the backhouse he rented, not worrying about disturbing his renters in the main house, knowing he was hitting the road in a week in the airstream. He thought Chuck might be a bass player named Pickle from an underground L.A. punk band in the 80s called Later.
The band was only known by punk aficionados and Pickle was only slightly known outside of that community because he was part of a documentary about the death of a prominent punk scene member who died of an overdose, but who had rumors about being intentionally overdosed by a bandmate. The rumor was Pickle was the guy who delivered the fatal shot of heroin to the victim.
Aaron drank enough dark rum to where he was able to forget about Pickle.
Aaron’s plan was to start in the Southwest for the final cold weeks of the year and eventually start to get his way up north during the Summer. Other than that. He didn’t really have any plan.
He went to Vegas first. He didn’t have a particular reason. He just wanted to get drunk off cheap whiskey and play black jack at a Fremont Street casino by himself.
He couldn’t even imagine how good it would go. He instantly got on a hot street. Catching amazing hands, doubling down, and hitting a four-digit profit within an hour.
A floor manager even came over and said they would take care of Aaron’s room for the night. He was pretty sure the room at the rat shit Fremont Street casino couldn’t have cost more than $60 and he probably would have preferred to stay in the airstream, but it sounded cool.
A woman who was probably decent looking 15 years and 15,000 cigarettes before sat down at his table and started semi-seducing him, introducing herself and running her hands on various parts of his body as he kept winning and winning. His life had literally turned into a movie for the night and he was going to embrace it, fully.
What he also embraced were the free 7 and 7s the casino was comping him. He downed 10 of them, his tips getting a few chips bigger with each delivery until he was teetering on the edge of a blackout.
Then he started to lose money. The 7 and 7s came slower. The lady of the night whose name he couldn’t remember slipped away, following a guy in bedazzled jeans. The floor manager never came back to follow up on that room he was going to get. He was no longer the star.
He lost a few hundred dollars before he called it good and decided to cash his chips in. He tried to find the floor manager so he could follow up on that comped room, but couldn’t find him. He instead just went to the front desk and got the “best room they had to offer.” A penthouse suite that smelled like menthols and cum. He figured he was too drunk to make the walk back to the airstream off the strip and the room only cost him $205 of what he made.
Aaron’s last item of business was going to the casino’s steakhouse and ordering the biggest piece of meat he could. He got halfway through a 32-ounce bone-in ribeye and his ginger ale with no alcohol in it when he got sick to his stomach and retreated to his room to sleep on top of the sheets, face down in the mint on the pillow.
Aaron woke up with what he called a “I think I might die” hangover. It felt like his brain was recoiling inside his skull. His mouth felt like felt paper. Even his hands seemed so dry he couldn’t even pick up his phone.
He did a long walk of shame to his truck and airstream parked a few streets off the strip and dropped down to his knees on the sidewalk when he got there. All of the windows of the airstream were busted out. Black graffiti was scrawled across the outside. What looked (and smelled like) feces was splashed everywhere.
The inside of the airstream was torn apart. Broken glass everywhere. All of his belongings ripped apart and thrown in every direction. His food splattered all on the floor, stuck to the floor, and the windows.
Had he forgotten to lock the airstream? Was he stupid for just leaving it there unprotected? Would the thing still work?
The truck was fine. It fired up no problem. It didn’t have any damage. Apparently only the airstream was attacked.
The entire city and the air of Las Vegas tasted like poison to Aaron now. He couldn’t get out of there quick enough.
He had to fix the airstream first though. He jumped inside and started gathering pieces of wood and long plastic he could nail to the inside of the windows so he could safely get on the road south to the Grand Canyon.
He thought there might have been some good pieces of random wood underneath the sink. He saw some boards down there once, right?
He ripped into the little cabinet below the sink and saw only one two by four down there, but he also saw something he didn’t think he had seen before – what looked like artwork, scrawled in the material of the wall just below the sink.
He used the flashlight on his phone and shined in on the back wall. A pentagram burned in black with red scratches ripping through it smiled back at him.
He dropped the flashlight and it illuminated another pentagram carved into the floor and the waxy pools of six dead candles.
Aaron stumbled away from the scene and caught his breath while sitting on the floor of the airstream?
Had all that shit been there the whole time? He hadn’t checked back there, had he? He didn’t know.
“Hey fucker! You can’t park here past nine!” A ragged voice yelled at Aaron from just outside of the airstream.
Aaron turned around to see a short, fat, bald guy with a goatee barking at him, flanked by a young boy on a bike with training wheels.
“You’re gonna get towed!” The goatee man yelled at him again, way too intense for the situation.
Fuck it. Aaron was out of there. He wasn’t even going to finish boarding up the airstream.
Aaron jumped in the truck, fired it up, and drove up the road, almost crashing into a speeding sports car as soon as he pulled out onto the road.
One clear thought formed in his brain as soon as he got back onto the freeway and his adrenaline started to go down. The door to the airstream appeared to be locked from the inside when he went inside and it was almost impossible to climb in through the windows given how small they were and how high they were up from the ground.
Whatever destroyed the airstream came from inside.
Aaron only stopped for gas on his way to the Grand Canyon. He arrived there right around nightfall and moved into the campground he planned on staying at.
He searched the airstream up and down as soon as he got there, but didn’t find a single sign of life. Just one dead lonely cockroach at the back of the pantry. Some local punk kids or goths had to have just spotted his airstream vulnerable in the night and decided to trash it then fuck with him by putting those pentagrams and shit under the sink.
He had nothing to worry about. But if this were really true, why did he keep regretting not getting a gun before he left instead of bringing a golf club and a chef’s knife? And why was he sleeping with both of them right within reach?
Aaron drank some beers to take the edge off so he could get to sleep. He was still too hungover to venture into any of his hard liquor that would have done a better job. Even just the beers we’re putting him through pain.
They got the job done though. Aaron drifted off to sleep in the airstream just before 9 p.m. He woke up in the middle of the night.
Aaron woke up in a panic, sweating beer out of his pours in the stuffy space. It was a hot desert night even though it was still March and beer always raised his temperature.
Yet the beer sweat all over him and the fact he had to urinate so bad he felt he might die weren’t his main concerns. It was that he could hear a scratching sound on the outside of the airstream.
Aaron jumped up and a squirt of vomit squeezed into the back of his throat, momentarily choking him as he stumbled around the space. The scratching sound kept going furiously outside as he tried to collect himself. It was probably just an animal. He hoped.
He moved toward the door regretting not patching up the last couple of windows back by the little bathroom due to the haste of getting away from the goatee guy back in Vegas. Something could have gotten in.
He stepped down on what felt like an ankle and fell to the ground. Something had gotten in. It was definitely a person’s ankle he stepped on.
Aaron hit his head hard on an open drawer on his way down to the ground and almost knocked himself unconscious, the pain and the startle temporarily blinding him.
It took a few moments, but Aaron felt for where he tripped, expecting to find someone, wishing he had carried the knife or golf club over with him.
“Who’s there?” Aaron asked into the darkness, terrified.
With all the windows boarded up other than for just a few, Aaron truly couldn’t see if anyone was there or not as he pushed himself backwards, trying to get away.
“Who’s fucking there?” He asked again after getting no answer.
No answer again. Aaron went for the door and pushed it open. He spilled outside into the blue light of the parking lot and looked back inside.
He couldn’t see or hear anything from inside and he saw a possum running away from the back of the airstream and into the bushes. He assumed it had all been just a mistake.
Still, he waited until the morning light before he went back into the airstream.
He found a jar of peanut butter where he tripped and fell in the back of the airstream. That must have been the “ankle” that took him to the ground. He could breathe again as he got back on the road and started seeing the Grand Canyon as much as he could.
It was everything Aaron had hoped for when he left L.A. He no longer had any stress about work or dating or the day-to-day malaise he had found himself in while in L.A., and the minimalist lifestyle he was living on the road combined with the amount he was getting from a sublet on his apartment meant the whole thing might have actually been a somewhat wise financial decision.
Most importantly, it gave him time to reflect on his mom in the setting he wanted. About the only little bit of adventure she had as an adult was going on road trips to the Grand Canyon during the Summer breaks she got from the school district.
She would take Aaron down with her until he got too old to think it was cool and they would just road trip all around the state in the blistering heat of the Summer. He didn’t care though. All he cared about was enjoying the little pools at the roadside motels they sometimes stayed at, swimming and splashing for hours on end as his mother watched and read trashy romance novels.
Aaron was trying to relive those days the best he could. He had his mom’s ashes, a trashy romance novel he bought at a truck stop in Nevada, and a reservation at a decent roadside motel in New Mexico he was on his way to just before sundown after a day of trekking around the Grand Canyon and seeing the sights.
He was almost to the New Mexico border when he noticed the black truck behind him. It didn’t seem like a big deal, but it registered to him that the thing had been following him practically since he left the Grand Canyon area and it always seemed to maintain the same 20-yard distance.
It was extra alarming because he had stopped for gas and to pick up a sandwich for dinner during the drive, yet the truck still followed him. What were the chances they made the same exact stops for the same amount of time as him?
Plus, he had turned off the 10 a long time ago and was on a desolate road that led to an old Route 66 nearly-abandoned town where the motel he was going to was. He hadn’t seen a single car pass him going in the other direction in the 10 minutes he was on the byway.
This black truck was definitely following him. He put his foot on the gas just a little more, not thinking about how limited his speed and getaway capabilities were given how he had the airstream attached to the back of his truck.
Aaron turning up the speed seemed to make the black truck increase their pursuit. The vehicle was now about 10 yards behind him.
Aaron looked to his navigation and saw he had lost service. He anticipated this so he wrote down the directions to the motel on a notepad in the passenger seat and glanced over at them. He still had a ways to go before he got to the tiny town and the motel, at least 25 minutes.
He looked up and saw the black truck was now right on his ass. He tried to go faster, but he couldn’t, topping out at 75 miles per-hour. There was no way he was getting away from this truck.
He saw a farm road approaching in the distance, cutting through the scrubland on each side of him. He sped to it and skidded to a wild left turn to get onto the farm road, hoping that would lose the truck.
It didn’t. The truck kept pursuing.
He stopped just at the start of the road. The truck stopped right behind him.
Aaron knew he was too soft for the road. His 30-year-old single mother who was 120 pounds soaking wet seemed to be able to conquer it with a young boy, but he was just a few days in and sweating bullets in the desert darkness wondering what the faceless person behind the wheel of the truck behind him was going to do.
Aaron had to be brave. That was what he needed to do. He had no help on this farm road in the middle of nowhere. It was either fight or die.
He grabbed the golf club out of the passenger seat and stepped out of his truck. He stomped down the asphalt toward the truck with the golf club poised.
“Hey what the fuck?” Aaron screamed.
Aaron arrived at the black truck and saw the driver’s side door was open. He looked through the empty cabin and saw the passenger-side door was wide open as well on the other side.
He started to run back toward his truck, but it was too late. He had left the keys in the ignition, the engine running, the door unlocked.
Whoever was in the black truck following him was now behind the wheel of his F-150 driving away in the night.
“NOOOOOOOO!” Aaron screamed out, the pain in his voice fully aware his cell phone, wallet, and almost all his possessions were in the truck, including his mom’s ashes that he had planned on spreading across the Southwest on his way back home.
But wait. Not all was lost. The thief had detached the airstream before they drove away, leaving it on the side of the road.
Now, he was just stranded, way down this endless farm road in the darkness of the town, miles away from anything, just a lonely road cutting through it, with the thief of his truck still out there, still holding all of the power.
Aaron decided to ride it out in the airstream for the night. He finished boarding up the last of the windows and cried as he thought about a stranger throwing his mom’s ashes in the trash.
“Sorry mom,” he apologized out loud as he struggled to sleep.
The smell of burning embers woke Aaron just before sunrise.
He screamed out as he coughed up smoke and tried to find the source of the fire.
It didn’t take long for him to see black clouds rising out from underneath the sink. He rushed over and opened up the cabinet to let even more black smoke plume out.
He grabbed his giant jug of drinking water and doused out the flames. The fire quickly extinguished.
What was left after the fire was out bothered Aaron more than the fire. He saw a six-inch candle laying over on the floor that definitely hadn’t been there the last time he looked inside the cabinet below the sink.
This entire road trip had turned into a cross-country nightmare and Aaron just wanted to get out of it.
He spat endless curses inside his head at the candle as he froze there on the ground staring at it, thinking about a dipshit punk bass player who could barely play his instrument and something he had forgotten about the ballyhooed neerdowell.
There were definitely rumors Pickle dabbled in black magic. It was rumored he was part of, or led, a satanic cult that squatted in an abandoned mansion above Runyon Canyon in the Hollywood Hills for years.
He bought an airstream trailer from that guy, for $1,000? Aaron began to think maybe he deserved to be the satanic sacrifice of some cult outside of Standing Rock, New Mexico.
Aaron’s memory journey distracted from the flame of the candle lighting back up and burning the ground next to him, inside the cabinet. Rather quickly, black smoke was billowing back at him.
It was time for him to go. He burst out of the airstream and into the night.
He looked off into the distance and could see what appeared to be the lights of a farmhouse a mile or so up the road. He took off up the asphalt in the direction of the house, only looking back once to see the airstream starting to light up with fire and noticing the black truck which had followed him whose driver had stolen his truck was now gone as well.
Aaron felt like he had been stalked by evil all across the Southwest, ever since he left L.A. and now he felt like he was physically running away from it. He felt it nipping on his heels as he ran in old Chuck Taylor’s like some kind of too old hipster joke.
But it wasn’t just a metaphor Aaron was running from now. It was a definite physical presence. He could hear its feet pitter pattering on the asphalt behind him. He could see a shadowy figure when he looked back over his shoulder.
And it was gaining on him.
He darted into a tall field of small trees that lined the farm road next to him and started zig zagging through them as fast as he could. He made good time and was making athletic moves to lose the presence, but it was no luck, the thing just stuck behind him.
He eventually came to a clearing and the lights of the farmhouse. All were on, even though the sun was just starting to tease its rise, turning the sky a purple blue that was just hinting at light.
Aaron knocked and physically collapsed on the porch of the home. He pushed his back up against the front door and looked back at the field he had just escaped.
He watched as a shadowy figure walked away from the clearing of the house, deeper back into the field, and out of sight.
The door was eventually answered by a robust, gray-haired farmer who was already up and back in the house after milking the cows. He was happy to help Aaron and get him into the county seat so he could file a police report on it all.
Aaron made the police report, but he didn’t say anything about the spooky shit that happened to him, just the theft of his truck. He said the airstream catching fire seemed like just an accident.
The sheriff was even nice enough to get him a ride to Farmington so he could catch a flight to Vegas and then back to L.A.
Aaron went back to his normal life and was thankful for what he had. His company said they were just about to replace him and his job definitely wouldn’t be there after he went on his Into The Wild early-mid-life crisis.
He did have some guilt about following his mom’s dying words, but he tried. The world apparently was just different than it was in the 90s. More dangerous, he guessed, but maybe not. He was just a bad decision maker.
He moved past it. Except one night when he got drunk and tried to email the guy who sold him the airstream and it bounced back. Then another night when he Googled Pickle all night until he found a Reddit thread about how he and his wife practiced black magic. Then another night when he drove drunk down to that street where he bought the airstream and saw that it wasn’t a place you could park.
What the hell all happened? He wasn’t sure.
All he knew was he missed his mom. He took a lot of the money he saved up for his spirit quest and instead used it for regular tickets to go home and visit her grave. He felt horrible he lost her ashes so he wanted to apologize to her in-person as much as he could.
He made it through Summer and Fall visiting her every month. Then it got a little tougher in the frigid Winter in Colorado. He made a point to himself to complain less about Los Angeles’ heat, even in what should be Winter months. People moved to LA for the weather, not to complain about it. He didn’t need to be a living contradiction.
One of the reasons he stopped complaining about the heat was the convenience. He forgot to pack for freezing temperatures and just had his leather jacket on one Colorado trip.
He was freezing his ass off when he got to his mother’s grave at the edge of the cemetery where he saw a sight that made him feel even a little bit colder.
The jar of ashes he kept his mother’s remains in was resting on her grave. Had there been some kind of identification materials in them that whoever stole them knew where to bring them?
He stood there wondering what to do, frozen, before he just decided to go with it. Something bigger than him was taking place here, obviously.
He let it go and walked away from the grave. On his walk back to his rental car he stuffed his hand into the pockets of his leather jacket, hoping the softer interior of it would give his cold hands some relief.
He grabbed hold of something in there. A slip of paper. He took it out and examined it. It was the program from his mom’s funeral.
He put it in his travel bag when he got back to the car and slipped it into some files he was keeping for work. He wasn’t going to let this one get away.
He also slipped in another item he brought back from the grave he hoped wouldn’t be too hard to get through security on the airport in his carry-on, a pale pink urn he had just found on the grave filled with remains he needed to spread across the American Southwest
He decided some things are worth taking risks for.