This story picks up with your hero on his way to a hotel in Las Vegas where his assistant will shower off the Death Valley dust before talking to someone about a job. When she’s done, they plan to gloat on Instagram about their triumph against all odds. Read Part 1 about The Mighty Truck’s long hike here. Read Part 2 about Mom and Oscar overcoming fear and a firing squad here.
“Okay, let’s go,” Mom said. “I have a couple of interviews this afternoon and I need to shower before they start.”
“Shower?” I asked suspiciously. “How?” I had just started to feel safe in The Mighty Truck, but if Mom was hiding a shower somewhere, that changed everything.
“I got us a hotel room in Vegas. I can’t take an interview from the back of the truck now, can I?”
“Why not? I thought The Witch let you work from anywhere because she has the keys to the internet.”
“Because people don’t like to hire homeless people and we don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea,” Mom said.
“But we’re not real strays, we’re just pretending. I thought you said it was good to know how to thrive without the things most people can’t live without.”
“I know,” Mom said. “But interviews are a different kind of pretending, and you need to show that you know the script.”
“I don’t think that you should do a job where you need to pretend that you’re something you’re not,” I told her.
When The Witch ordered us off the freeway, Mom looked around at the tall signs and bright buildings.
“Oh crap! This is right off The Strip!” she howled. “This keeps happening!!!” The Strip is the part of Las Vegas where the people are, and people do to Mom what salt does to a slug. The Strip lays Mom traps with cheap hotel rates, and the trap springs shut when Mom doesn’t look closely at a map until after it’s too late to cancel. “Oh well. Hopefully we won’t need to leave the room.”
“Why are we staying in the dungeon?” I asked as Mom led me to our room. “Have I done something wrong?”
“It’s not a dungeon, it’s just the basement,” she said.
“Then what’s with the mold and the pieces crumbling off the wall?” I asked.
“The lady at the front desk said they’re remodeling. I have a feeling they save the upstairs rooms for people without dogs.”
“I knew we shouldn’t have snuck into Death Valley!” I said. “Now we have to stay in doggie prison!”
Mom waved the magic wand that let us into our cell. I sniffed the air that had been trapped in there since the beginning of time. I couldn’t smell for sure that someone had died there, but I also couldn’t smell that they hadn’t. “See, Mom? It’s a dungeon. Or else why would it be so dark?”
“Oh boy, this lighting is not going to work on video,” Mom said, whipping open the curtains as wide as they would go to let in the ocean view.
“That’s not the ocean at all! It’s the freeway!” I said, climbing on the bed for a better view. The window was high on our wall, but when I craned my nose to see over the sill, I found my eyes were even with the ground on the other side. “Are we in a grave? We don’t even sleep this close to the freeway when we’re in The Truck!”
“It is disappointing. Even for $90 per night,” Mom sighed. “But a shower will feel good.” She shivered in the dank air waving her hand through the water for a very, very, very long time. I kept expecting a wizardly steam to waft from the shower like it does at home, but no matter how many spells Mom cast by waving her hand through the water, the steam never came. She sighed again, and stepped in anyway.
“Shall we go back to The Truck where it’s more comfortable?” I asked after Mom had said goodbye to her laptop and closed the lid.
“I have another call in a few minutes,” Mom said. “Then I need to grab a few things at the supermarket.”
So I flopped back down on the bed and watched her pace across the cell until she wore the last fibers out of the rock-hard carpet. Then she went into the potty.
I heard a flush, then a scream.
“Don’t worry, Mom! I’ll save you!” I shouted, running into the bathroom to hide behind Mom from whatever horror was happening in there. When I came around the corner, I saw Mom reaching into the potty. This was strange, because usually things go into the potty and never come out. When Mom’s hand came out, she was holding The Witch.
“Mom! I’m so proud of you!” I cheered. “I knew some day you’d realize that you’re better off without her.”
“Dog doo! Dog doo! Dog doo!” Mom said, wrapping The Witch tenderly in a towel and caressing her face. Then she relaxed. “Oh thank god, it still works.”
“Maybe you should throw another bucket of water on her then, because I don’t think we can count on a house falling on her down here…” But Mom ran into the hall before I finished.
She came back a few minutes later with a man carrying a tube that hissed and sprayed an evil-smelling mist. They sprayed and wiped The Witch all over. Then they did it again. And again. I wondered if maybe Mom was trying to drown The Witch in spray since the potty water hadn’t worked.
When the man left and all was quiet except the buzzing coming from between Mom’s ears, she said, “I feel like there’s something that I should do after an emergency like that.”
“Take a deep breath and calm down?” I asked.
“Hm. Maybe. But isn’t there something else you’re supposed to do when you nearly lose everything so it doesn’t happen again?”
“You always keep worrying after the danger is over. What did you learn in the desert? Sometimes danger doesn’t build, it passes,” I reminded her.
“You’re right. I’ll just play Candy Crush to relax until my call,” she said, tickling The Witch.
After Mom said goodbye and unstuck The Witch from her face, she put my leash on and we mounted The Truck to hunt for fresh food. Mom plugged The Witch into her leash, and with everyone in their places we rolled into the maze of downtown Las Vegas. When we’d gone left, and then right, and then right again… or was it left? …Mom sat up straight and started shaking The Witch.
“Oh crap. The screen is going,” she said in an emergency voice.
I looked at The Witch, who suddenly had a big, bright line across her face. “Does she always look like that?” I asked. As I watched, two more lines appeared.
“Oh dog doo! No!” Mom said, unbuckling The Witch from her leash and trying to shake her awake. Every time I looked, The Witch grew another wrinkle. Then she began to blink.
“No! No, no, no, no, no!” Mom said.
“What?” I said. “I thought you hated The Witch too.”
“If the screen doesn’t work, we can’t do anything! I don’t know where to click, what to type, where to go… The responses are even muted when I’m not wearing headphones.” Then she brightened. “Wait! My headphones!” She pulled out the ear kibbles and then spoke into the empty air.
“Take me to the nearest Apple store!” Mom said.
“Which one do you want?” The Witch said in a tiny voice from Mom’s ears.
“Oh for heaven’s sake,” Mom said to me, then to the empty air she said, “The first one.”
The Witch didn’t say anything.
“Take me to the nearest Apple store!” Mom said again.
“I don’t see The Store in your contacts. Who would you like to call?”
“Give me directions to the nearest Apple store,” Mom said again.
“I don’t see The Store in your contacts…” The Witch said again, like we hadn’t just had this conversation.
“Directions to the Apple Store!” Mom said in the voice she uses when she asks me to do something a second time and doesn’t want to ask a third time. The Witch ignored her.
“I think you’ve made her angry,” I said.
“Dog doo, dog doo, dog doo!” Mom said again, with real despair this time.
“Don’t worry, Mom,” I told her. You’ll be happier without her. You’ll see.”
“Without my phone I can’t respond to emails from new jobs. And I don’t know where the trailheads are, let alone the trail maps. I can’t even use my laptop because my phone is our wifi,” she wailed. “I don’t even know the way back to the hotel!”
“I see the problem,” I said. Then the problem dawned on me. “Mom! We’re lost in the worst part of Las Vegas. Will we be doomed to wander The Strip forever like ghosts who don’t know they’re dead?!”
“I’m going to ask for directions,” Mom said.
“But The Witch isn’t talking to us, remember?”
“No, I mean ask another person,” she said.
“What? Like in medieval times?” I asked.
“Do you have a better idea?”
But my brain couldn’t come up with ideas because it was busy realizing that all this time I’d been following Mom, she hadn’t known where we were going any better than I did. Mom wasn’t the alpha, The Witch had been the alpha this whole time! It was a lot to take in.
Mom went back into the store and came out a little while later with a piece of paper. “Okay, the nearest Apple store is in Caesar’s Palace,” she said. “At least that should be easy to find…”
“Oh good!” I said. “The palace must be right above our dungeon! Dungeons are usually in castles, right?”
“No, it’s on The Strip,” Mom said. “But if there’s one good thing about The Strip, it’s that you can find your way around by sight.”
“There’s a good thing about The Strip?” I asked.
It turned out that I was right, because even though Mom could see The Palace, she couldn’t find its gates. It was surrounded by a moat of sidewalks, medians, and “No Left Turn” signs, and guarded by an army of valets that would lance you with their scorn before stealing your Truck. We entered the gates of a different royal kennel, and Mom told me that she needed me to be brave and guard The Truck while she tried to find a way into The Palace on foot.
“But I got to come with you the last time The Truck was in trouble,” I said.
“Oh my god! The pictures!” Mom howled. “They weren’t backed up! Why oh why didn’t I do a backup when the phone still worked?!?! All those pictures of Racetrack Playa and the Alabama Hills! Gone!” Then she kissed my forehead and ran away before the tears could catch her.
I waited in the copilot’s seat for a million years, and when Mom came back carrying a little sack the size of a lunch bag, I had grown a beard that filled the recycle bin.
“Did they have a magic potion to save her?” I asked.
“I had to buy a new phone,” Mom said like it was a death sentence.
“No! But you were finally free of her tyranny!” I said.
“I could have gotten a replacement, but they needed me to make an appointment and it was this whole thing. I’ve been thinking of upgrading anyway… And I didn’t want to leave you in the car for hours, especially since neither of us have eaten since this morning…”
“So you did get me a hot dog?!”
“No, we’ve got to get back to the hotel so I can start restoring everything over wifi,” Mom said. Then she poked New Witch’s face. “No! Nonononono!” she said again.
“It’s not set up yet so I don’t have cell service either!”
“Don’t worry, you can go back inside and ask them the way home,” I reminded her. “Like in medieval times.”
“I had to walk like a mile each way through two casinos to find the store! Do you know how lost I was? I had to ask directions like five times. And I felt like such a tool walking through there in my pajamas. No! I’m not going back in there. The hotel isn’t far. We passed it on the way here. It was just one turn.”
“I’ll know it when I see it,” she said.
But she didn’t know it when she saw it. It turned out that all the corners had a naked lady store, a murder hotel, a McDonald’s, a prison-liquor-store and a crazyperson howling at the moon.
“Oh look! Airplanes!” I said. “Airplanes go to The City, don’t they? Maybe we can ask one to take us out of this awful place.”
“We didn’t pass an airport on the way in…” Mom said. Then she turned into the one barking at the moon.
I won’t describe what happened next because it was too scary to remember, and I wouldn’t want to upset you even if I knew the words. But when the demons were done with Mom, she put her face back together and walked into a gas station. She came out a minute later with no cheese, and a face made of stone. Then The Truck swung onto the road so angrily that I bumped into the window before falling into the recycle bin.
I never thought I would be so happy to be locked back in the dungeon. When Mom let me off my leash, I ran to the bed and pretended to fall asleep immediately. When I was sure that Mom wasn’t looking anymore, I peeked through one eye and watched as Mom introduced herself to the New Witch, and asked her to please learn everything about us while we slept.
But when we’d served our time and it was our turn to be released from the dungeon, the New Witch hardly knew the first thing about us.
“Wifi this bad has got to be a human rights violation!” Mom said.
“You look kind of familiar. Who are you again?” The Witch asked. “What do you like to listen to? What you like to do in your spare time? What were all of your email addresses again? And what level of Candy Crush are you on?”
“Level 3086!” Mom said.
“Mom!” I eeped. “Important things first! Can we get out of here?”
“Speaking of human rights violations, the coffee maker in this room is busted,” Mom told me. Then to The Witch she said, “Where’s the nearest Starbucks?”
“I’ll tell you, but first you should be aware that everything I know right now is all I’m going to know until you get to wifi again,” New Witch threatened.
“But we won’t have wifi in the truck,” Mom said. “Can’t you just back yourself up over cellular? That’s faster than the hotel wifi anyway.”
“Don’t be stupid,” The Witch said. “What kind of a loser doesn’t have wifi? What are you, homeless or something?”
“Whatever,” Mom said. “Just find me some coffee.”
“You mean, Whatever you say, ma’am!” New Witch said.
But wait, it gets worse from here…
To be continued…