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A serial adventure in fiction by Brad Sondahl

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Chapter 32
How I spent my summer vacation
by Phil Steen
    Alice and I had a fine trip planned to the Oregon coast.  But there were a few things that had to be done at home before leaving.  One of these, taking out the garbage,  was my special area of expertise.  Not that Alice couldn't do it--it's just that she doesn't enjoy it like I do.  My heavy duty weed whacker wore out on our heavy duty weeds, so I knew I'd have to go to the dump, not just the dumpsters.   "What about just putting your trash on the curb?" you might ask.  Lilac Valley, unlike most of the civilized world, doesn't have curbside pickup, so we go to the dumpsters a few miles south of town. They used to be referred to by the locals as the "Stop and Shop," since it was as easy to make withdrawals as deposits.  In recent years the county has gotten a little more strict (just short of armed guards in towers), so that not only can you take away anything useful, but anything that wouldn't fit in a garbage can has to go to the main dump, which is also a transfer station, only a lot bigger than our local dumpsters.
    I didn't know my weed whacker wouldn't pass as garbage until the helpful friendly guardian of all things garbage informed me of it.
    "If you'd taken it apart, I might have let it go, but, nope, that's too big for our dumpsters."  
    So I was on my way to the transfer station on the back roads of Idaho.  When driving it takes me a short time to fall into road hypnosis, cruising till the next thing happens.  That's probably why, when I felt a sudden tickling sensation all over,  I wasn't shocked at the sensation.  But I was highly alert when the giant spider began to approach my car in a purposefully malevolent manner.
I swung around through the forest of bamboo I found myself in.  "That's odd," I thought.  "You don't see much bamboo around here.  But then again, you don't see giant spiders either..."   I had to stop the car when there was a beetle blocking the path in front of me.  It was bright orange with black spots.  I hoped it was a Ladybird beetle instead of one of those Asian tiger ones--they pack a nasty bite.  It was dawning on me that my car and I must have been shrunk.  I've heard of garbage compaction, but this is ridiculous, I thought.


    I leaped out of the car and decided to hide in the brush.  I felt I was safely hunkered down, staring off at the giant beetles and grasshoppers.  Suddenly I felt a small wriggling at my feet.  It was an ugly white grub.
    "Hi, don't eat me," it said.   "My name is Greg Samsa and I'd like to talk to you about your life insurance policy."
    "I don't have one," I said.
      "In this dog eat dog world, you're likely to need one."
    "If I'm eaten by a dog, I'm not likely to care," I said.
    "Yes, but consider Alice..."  the grub said.
    "You mean the Through the Looking Glass Alice?"  I asked.
    "No, your wife.  Sure, you don't care what happens when you're dead.  But your wife does.  And if she finds out you're not insured, she'll kill you."
    "What would be the point?"  I asked, but the fine points of logic were lost on this guy.  "You're beginning to annoy me.  Usually I'm just nasty and abrupt with insurance salespeople, but in your case I might step on you."

   "Tread not on the poor of the earth," said a butterfly who flitted by.  "Greg is merely an misunderstood artist.  As are we all..."
    "He may be an artist, but only of the confidence type," I said.
    "Don't muck about in the mire of mudslinging when there are mighty acts to be done.  You must take the egg I give you to the largest milkweed you can find.  There you will find the way back to your mundane world, and then you can resume living your petty life."
    "Who are you to talk?  A butterfly!  You can't even fly in a straight line.  You've got no call to cast aspersions on my life..."
    "The butterfly is right," said Greg Samsa.   "Your human life doesn't compare with a butterfly's.  You can't even find your way to Mexico without a plane reservation...  So why question its wisdom?  Take the egg, and you can bring me along as well, for luck."

    So I gingerly stuck the grub in my pocket, wrapped the egg in a leaf, and started looking for some milkweed.  In a short time I relocated my car, which was now a comfortingly familiar object in this strange new world.   Might as well drive, I thought and hopped in.  Besides, it was starting to rain.  I placed the grub up on top of the dashboard.
    "I hope it's fully insured," said the grub.
    "There's probably a rider against shrinkage," I said.  We started driving along the currently empty path through the forest of grass (which I'd mistaken for bamboo).   After driving for a while, we approached a pond, and a battered car was on the shore.  The odd thing was that it was the same model as my car, and there aren't a lot of Imbroglios around.

    "This looks bad," said Greg Samsa.   "It looks like there was a minor time loop, and you didn't do too well in it.  It was probably the cat that's stalking us back there..."  Greg was neither swift to realize the import of the cat, nor good at pointing, but I quickly located it in spite of that.
    "We're stuck between the other car and the cat!  It's got us cornered.  We can't go in the lake.  We're doomed!"
    "Actually," said Greg,  "The Imbroglio resembles a boat.  If we can just push the wrecked one ahead of us into the lake, we might be able to escape."
    There was no time to consider the implications, as the cat, fully 5 times the size of our car, was bounding towards us.
    I said, "I just hope that other car isn't made of antimatter or something..."

  The other car pushed into the water easily in front of us, so that we resembled a short grain barge.  The cat was soon left behind, as we sailed into deeper water.  I lost the other Imbroglio finally by pushing it into a side channel and then backing up away from it.  I was careful not to look inside it, afraid I might see myself lying  in pieces.  As we cruised along the pond, I scanned the shore for milkweed, but didn't see any.
    Greg Samsa said, "Milkweed is a weed. It likes to grow along the roads.  You aren't going to find any along this pond."
    I conceded to his wisdom, and we found an empty stretch of sand to land on, and continued up into the bamboo forest.

    As the path grew smaller, we were forced to get out and search for a way up to the highway.  I picked up a piece of bamboo.  If I could just throw this stick in the water and be transported magically home.  But no, I was stuck with a grub and a butterfly's egg.  When we got to the side of the highway, I became aware that the sleepy highway I knew now hid terrors for shrunken me and my little toy car.
    "Say, Greg, " I said.  "Do you ever feel terrorized by how big the world is compared to you?"
    "No, I'm just bothered by this thick hairlike growth coming out of my tongue.  The pet amoeba I keep by my proboscis may feel terrorized that way, though.  Anyway, do you have a scissors?  I'd like to cut it off..."
    If it weren't for the fact that I'd dreamt of the same thing happening to me, I would have been thoroughly grossed out.  As it was, I found a fingernail clipper in the glove box, and removed the little speck off the grub's tongue.