Well I'd finally gone and done it. I'd pulled the pin and retired on disability and now my time was my own. I'd recently bought an Aliner camper to road trip with, but a windstorm and a large tree had put paid to using that for anything. Fortunately I was over-insured so I got a nice check from State Farm, after considerable protestations on their part.
I had recently upgraded my tow vehicle from a Subaru Forester, barely able to tow the lightest Aliner, to an S10 pickup with considerably more towing capacity, though it was still a four cylinder. It got around 20 mpg in town and I hadn't gotten around to figuring the highway mileage yet. I had considered a self contained camper van, perhaps a class B, but they were pretty expensive and difficult to get anyone to work on. In addition to those issues, you can't park them easily so I opted for a more versatile approach.
I figured the truck/camper trailer combo was the best of all possible worlds. I could tow the camper to where I was camping, then if I wanted to go somewhere with restrictive parking, unhook and just take the truck. In addition, if something happened to the truck I could repair it anywhere, since it wasn't anything special, and in a worst case scenario just rent another truck to move the camper if need be.
So I took my check from State Farm, quit my job, applied for disability, using the insurance money to live off of until a few months later when I was approved, then applied the back pay I was owed to the "camper fund". I'd found another a-frame camper online to purchase for considerably less than my settlement and so had a trip fund in hand.
I had a bit of a bucket list I wanted to accomplish. Nothing too grand, Visit Dave Canterbury in Ohio, Drop in on Mick Dodge in the Hoh rain forest, Maybe hook up with Eric Jacobs, the Nomadic Fanatic or Justin 'Credible, a couple of YouTube personalities in the RV Living category. I'd gotten my passport so I'd be able to cross the border into Vancouver to see Justin, and since he was just across from Washington State and Dave Canterbury wasn't currently in Ohio I'd bypassed him and moved on to tracking down Mick Dodge.
My camper is a Chalet Alpine, not the same brand as my earlier A-frame but of comparable quality and had considerably better equipment. It has a big storage box in the front, a Cool Cat heat pump, three way fridge, three burner stove, large dinette in front and gaucho couch in back that pulls out into a bed. Mostly I just slept on the couch without pulling it out as I didn't need much room.
I'd set the camper up for "dry camping" or "boondocking", essentially camping off grid with no hookups. I could WalMart camp, stop at any rest stop and set up and camp, and also camp in dispersed camping sites in any state without power for extended periods. I could also, if desired, set up at any pay campground with full hookups. I'd removed the hot water heater and integral water tank and pump in favor of aqua pods and other containers, but hooked up the sink to the outside outlet so I could use hookups when they were available.
So there I was, driving across the United States. I had stopped in for a visit with my brother in Wisconsin, near St Paul Minnesota and was making my way West after taking his leave and had stopped at a visitor center on I 94 at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Painted Canyon Visitor Center was interesting and I'd stopped to check out the kiosks and scenery. I might have walked the trail but I didn't want to leave my cat alone in the camper that long so I stuck to the nearby attractions.
It was nearing dark and I was thinking about heading back to the camper to bed down for the night. I'd asked and nobody objected to me camping overnight in the parking lot. I'd picked an out of the way back corner spot to park in and just left the camper attached to the truck so I'd be ready to pull out in the morning. As the sun got low enough that I could no longer see the canyon very well I turned toward the camper...and then I saw her.
She was dark haired, fine featured, pale, and exquisitely beautiful. She was sitting on a bench near one of the signs and oddly not looking at the canyon or scenery, or anything else of note. She was sitting facing away from all the interesting scenery, In fact she seemed to be taking a rather intense interest in me. I couldn't place her age, but her size and slightness of build suggested she was a teenager. On the other hand her clothing was not that of an unsophisticated teenager at all. It was like someone had dressed a 14 or 15 year old up in her mother's wardrobe.
She was wearing the typical black leggings, I think they are called yoga pants, most teens wear these days, but she'd paired that with a long sleeved white shirt and a black vest, almost like a female tuxedo look. She had a smart little black purse on the bench next to her and it was expensive looking, not something you'd see a kid toting around. She also had on a wide brimmed black hat, probably to keep from getting sunburn, and some medium sunglasses. Her poise was not that of a young person, for instance, when she saw that I'd seen her staring at me, she didn't look away. She was studying me as if she were trying to decide something of great import.
I was still trying to discern her age, trying to use her hairstyle as a clue, but I know little of hairstyles and was unable to determine anything. I was also wondering why she was so intensely interested in me when she seemed to come to a decision and picked up her purse and walked toward the main building. If she'd been a man I'd have been thinking she was casing me for something, but since she was so slight and unlikely to be a threat, I simply shrugged and headed off to the camper.
My cat, Missy, was ready for her dinner, and let me know all about it when I opened the camper door. I cuddled her first, as she seems to have less interest in the food than a greeting when I've been away...not that she'll forget she's hungry mind you, but cuddles first. I gave her a Perfect Portions entre, she loves those, and settled down to relax and read an ebook on my Nook Simple Touch.
Missy had climbed up next to me on the couch for some petting as I read, and I absently stroked her with my left hand as I explored an Honor Harrington novel. I had read them all but some books are worth a revisit and my favorites are series books with lots of titles in them.
When I was working I had worked late into the evening, so bedtime was still around 2am for me, my newfound freedom from work not having altered my schedule significantly as of yet. My schedule was still pretty advantageous in congested areas as rush hour was normally over by 10am and since I was just hitting the road around 11am I was usually out of the congested area before the evening rush hour started. That was not a concern at the Visitor Center, my truck and camper were alone in the parking lot so I was expecting no company, save the potential for some "solution looking for a problem to solve" cop harassing me about camping in the lot.
Missy suddenly perked up alert, as if she'd smelled or heard something. Next thing I knew she was hiding under the table among the items stored there. I drew my Taurus, just as a precaution, because I really didn't expect any threats around and if something spooked my cat, there was something afoot. Perhaps a coyote or some other nighttime predator that could stalk close quietly enough not to alert me. I have always been a cautious type, preferring to look silly rather than ignore a potential threat and look dead. Besides, nobody was here to see me looking silly holding a pistol in an empty parking lot.
Before I had left on my trip I had gotten myself appointed a Deputy State Constable in Pennsylvania which afforded me the ability to carry a firearm anywhere in the United States and even imposed penalties for disarming me should local law enforcement wish to do so. I had been carrying my Taurus PT111 G2 in a smart carry holster for some time now and was pretty comfortable with it.
I admit my reasons for getting the appointment were not because I intended to serve papers or conduct other business as a Constable, but more for the ability to remain armed anywhere I went. Reciprocity is a witches brew of ever changing political horse manure and it is easy to run afoul of the law while trying to follow it to the letter. The badge was a 50 state carry permit everyone had to acknowledge and instant respect from law enforcement if I encountered them, assuming I wasn't the reason they had been called.
I also had my AR-15 along, as well as a few other choice weapons in my stash. I figured I'd rather have them with me and be able to safeguard them myself than risk a break-in to an obviously vacant apartment and lose them when I couldn't. I was considering whether I should pass on the handgun in favor of the rifle when I heard a sharp knock on my door. I jumped a foot in the air, not having heard anyone approach the camper, and not believing someone could approach the camper without me hearing them.
After a few seconds to slow my heart rate, and not detecting an obvious threat, I called out, "Who's there?" "Patricia," She answered, "I saw you earlier and thought you might be able to help me...I really need to talk to you, can you open up?" I peered out the window and it was her...the girl from the bench, you know, the exquisitely beautiful, finely featured one. I have to be honest, if she'd been ugly or otherwise undesirable, I'd have passed, but a pretty girl in distress gets me every time. "Ok, but we'll talk outside, I don't want the cat to get away and get lost out here."
Sometimes you can just tell when your life is about to change drastically, and sometimes it just happens nearly without you noticing. I was still wary, because I have been the target of many attempted con or scam, and wasn't about to fall into that trap. I detected a sort of urgency about her, even trepidation or fear, and it seemed genuine, at least as far as I was able to determine. I suppose I should explain that bit. You see I have Asperger's, which makes me socially inept to a certain degree, and makes it likely for people to target me as a "mark" even though I have learned to spot that coming and avoid it.
People can tell there's something different about me and the unscrupulous or bullying types see that as a sign of a target they can have their fun with. It had happened enough times that my responses were, perhaps a bit extreme for the instance at hand, but prickly enough that most don't try it twice. My bark is worse than my bite, right up to the point where I decide to actually bite...and then the response is metered to assure there will be no repeat performance required.
I usually start with a verbal warning, then a more forceful warning, and if that isn't heeded I escalate to whatever I feel will actually work, perhaps a threat of calling the police, or some other assistance, and ranging through threats of violence if that's what is required. I get a lot of flack for moving past harsh language too quickly, but in my experience I can save a lot of steps by jumping to the end and if the first two warning weren't heeded, ten more were unlikely to garner a different result. Don't get me wrong, I am not normally a violent person, but I can be forced to use it if I perceive it is the only way to stop someone from attempting to abuse me.
As it was, I didn't consider this slight figure a serious threat, but you never know, so my guard was fully up. She stepped back from the door some distance, which made me a bit more comfortable, and I stepped outside the camper door, closing it behind me. I had tucked my pistol into my back pocket, where it blended in with my dark grey pants pretty successfully, while still remaining pretty accessible. I try to avoid people seeing my firearms, some people just have an allergic reaction to the sight of a gun, best to avoid any drama.
She said, "I know you saw me studying you earlier, and I want to tell you why. I have a gift that allows me to see when other people have gifts as well, and though I've never seen one under these particular circumstances, I strongly believe my instincts on this." At this point I'm thinking ok here comes the punchline, either this chick is a bit out there or she's after something because this is just a little too weird. Any time someone other than your Mother tells you you're "special" in some way there is usually a punchline, and it usually isn't funny.
She went on to say, "Look, I know this is a bit sudden and probably sounds crazy...Too bloody right, I thought...but we can get into that later, firstly I am heading West and could use a ride...How far West are you headed?" This caused me to survey the parking lot...it was empty save my vehicle, and wonder how the hell this little slip of a girl had gotten here and found herself alone in this remote parking lot. It also weighed heavily on me that she was able to approach my camper without me hearing her, and my hearing is almost preternatural. When I played paintball the guys called me "Radar" because I could point out the locations of opposing players just by the noise they made moving through the woods.
"All the way to the Hoh Rain Forest," I replied without thinking it might not be good operational security to reveal that. Ooops, slipped up there, gotta keep thinking with the logical brain here rather than the emotional one. Like I said, I'm a sucker for a pretty girl in distress, and she was articulate and obviously insightful and intelligent, not to mention stunningly beautiful, and the more I saw the more I realized she was not likely a minor, looks aside. I still couldn't place her age though, even though my estimate was rising rapidly.
"How did you come to be here all by yourself and without a ride?" I said. "I was hitchhiking and went hiking down the trail and when I came back my ride had left," She said. I said, "How rude! Did they lead you to believe they were going to wait for you?" She answered, "Yes, but I thought something was up with him. Perhaps he figured out I wasn't interested in anything more than a ride and he wanted something else. Anyway, you have a camper so you're perfectly outfitted for a long road trip without stopping in hotels or motels and if you want I can sleep in the truck. I won't be any trouble, you don't even have to feed me, I can take care of myself for that."
At this point I'm thinking I'm not sure I can trust this girl, but given her conditions, and given her situation I can hardly leave her out here for the coyotes. Little did I know it was the coyotes that needed to beware. I told her she could come along for the ride, but she'd probably have a cat in her lap most of the trip, since Missy rides in the truck with me when we're traveling. I also warned her Missy was not aggressive but didn't take to new people very quickly and was likely to hide until she felt more at ease. I also decided to let Missy be the litmus test for the girl...if she didn't like her, she would be getting off at the next rest stop.
I was deciding how to break it to her the sleeping in the truck thing was probably best without sounding inhospitable, because I didn't necessarily want a person I was unfamiliar with to be having access to the kind of firepower I keep in the trailer when she added, "I really don't sleep that much anyway and probably won't spend much time in the truck. I like to be out and about at night and only require a few hours of sleep a night." Perfect, I thought, minefield successfully negotiated without detonation. I also figured she couldn't get into much mischief in the truck if I had the keys in my pocket anyway.
My trailer was cozy for one, a bit tight for a couple, and close to the point of awkwardness if you weren't a couple, and I don't really enjoy close contact with people too much, owing to my Asperger's. There was also her cryptic remark about a "gift" and me being "special" to sort out before I felt too comfortable with her. I am not a pushy person, when someone doesn't share, I don't typically push for more details, figuring they will let me know when they are ready. I suppose that makes me a good listener, or at least so I've been told.
I said, "Well, I'll leave the passenger door of the truck unlocked so you can get in there when you want to...there's nothing worth stealing in there anyway, but I lock it out of habit. Normally I park in the city." It was a nice night and I was outside in it, the temperature was comfortable, and the stars were out in the millions. Something I hadn't seen since my time in the Army at Pinon Canyon. You have to get far away from cities to really see stars. The amount you see when you do is absolutely astounding if you're from a city and haven't seen it before.
"I'm going to chill out here in the lot for a little bit and enjoy the night sky, maybe even use my Sky Map app on my phone to check out what is visible around here. I don't usually turn in until around 2am and get up around 10am to eat breakfast before hitting the road if that's ok with you", I said. I thought it odd she didn't have a backpack or something with her, given she was hitchhiking across the country, and asked "Don't you have any stuff with you?" "I left my bags in my last ride's car and I don't see them anywhere around here, maybe they got turned in at the Visitor Center," She said. It was after October and the visitor center was closed for the season but when I told her this she seemed a bit more unconcerned about her baggage than seemed normal for a young woman.
Another mystery, I thought, this certainly is more interesting than I expected this trip to be when I started it. I had done some limited work for a Private Investigator, mostly involving following cheating spouses, but I had an analytical, problem solving sort of mind and enjoyed a good puzzle. This whole situation piqued my interest, perhaps beyond what was good for me, but at 50 years of age, I might not be in the fighting trim I was in when I was in the Army, but I'm no slouch, and I was also well armed, so what the heck. A woman that travels light...shoot me now, I've seen everything, I thought.
After some stargazing I decided to turn in. Some years before I'd had an injury that had a dressing the doctors didn't want getting wet, so they'd given me some "bath in a bag" towelettes to use instead. I found them pretty effective, and looking at the ingredients and comparing them to other similar items found some wipes at Dollar Tree that would serve in their stead without being prohibitively expensive. I used these now as a "bath in a bag" solution for camping as my camper didn't have a hot water heater or shower, by choice truth be told.
After cleaning up just before bed, as is my habit...why, after all, dirty sheets when you can simply "shower" before bed? I turned in for the night. I was still trying to figure out what I'd gotten myself into and rolling the day's events over in my mind while I lay there. I never heard her get into the truck, but I sleep pretty soundly and the camper is pretty well insulated, being constructed of inch thick sheet foam and fiberglass. After a bit, Missy jumped up on the bed and curled up next to me for some caresses and then moved slightly off to a more comfortable sleeping position and we both drifted off.
When I awoke the next morning I heated some water on the stove to wash my hair and face with a washrag and shaved with my electric razor. Ready to make breakfast I poked my head out the door to see if she wanted any, but didn't see her in the truck or near it, or in sight at all for that matter. I had half expected her to disappear during the night, but didn't assume anything. Oh well, her loss, I thought and proceeded to scramble up an egg with a strip of bacon and a flour tortilla wrapped around it for breakfast. Missy got treats, rather than a full meal, as she didn't travel well with a full stomach. Patricia approached from the main building as I was standing outside the camper munching on my breakfast roll.
I assumed she'd been on the other side of the building for some reason. "Missed your shot at breakfast," I said. To which she replied "That's ok, I already ate" I thought to myself What the hell can she have eaten if she only has that small purse with her? I didn't pry, though, figuring it was her business. "We'll be getting on the road shortly," I told her. "Need any help getting ready to go?" She asked. "Nah, this is a really easy camper to take down, only takes a minute or two" I said.
I had stored everything after I cleaned up from breakfast and took Missy and her litter box to the truck cab so I could fold up the camper. Now I unlatched the driver's side panel and swung it down to it's resting place on the counter, then unlatched the door top half and dropped down the passenger sidewall on top of it. Then I pushed up on the front roof half to unhook it and pulled down on the back half. The bungees pulled the front half down with it and in short order the camper was flat and latched and locked. I then cranked up the stabilizers at the rear of the camper and stowed the crank handle in the doorway of the camper.
Having backed into the space and not having unhooked anything I was now ready to get on the road. "That's it, we're ready to roll out," I said. I told her I was concerned about Missy trying to jump out when she got in so I wanted to stand behind her as she got in just in case. She opened the door and Missy jumped into the extended cab area behind the seats on my side but didn't seem too concerned. Once Patricia was in the truck I went around to my side and hopped in, giving Missy a stroke for being such a good girl. Her eyes were wide, which is not unusual when she is around new people, but she didn't seem to be upset.
I fired up the truck and we headed west on I-94. My next planned stop was at Glendive Dinosaur and Fossil Museum near Makoshika State Park, other than the obligatory gas stops I was planning to run straight through to there and find a boondocking spot nearby. Once we got rolling and settled in she started asking me about myself, wanting a full life history. I thought this was a good time to broach the subject of my Asperger's since people have an expectation of how you will behave and become uncomfortable or even angry when you don't conform to their expectations. I told her I was, in a manner of speaking, born without the "social programming" everyone else gets, so didn't understand or automatically know all the"unwritten rules" of social behavior.
I had learned to fake it well enough for most people not to notice, but some situations or circumstances made it become obvious, causing folks to sometimes get upset. I liked it quiet, low stim, easygoing, liked my schedule to be pretty rigid, and was, as a rule, brutally honest and preferred that from others. I told her to let me know if I was doing something that made her uncomfortable or upset. "I'm not fragile, you aren't going to ruin my day by letting me know if I'm doing something annoying," I told her. She just nodded and motioned me to go on.
I then went into my basic history, cliff notes version. I told her I'd joined the Army after high school and didn't do terribly well there, owing to my Asperger's. When I was discharged I went to work wherever I could find it, moving from job to job, mostly also due to my Asperger's. Today's "zero tolerance" workplace is not welcoming to people that aren't functioning well socially. I had always been praised on my work ethic and attention to detail, but inevitably lost jobs for social reasons in spite of the excellent work I was doing.
My stepfather was having a hard time hiring anyone that would show up for work in his factory in Ambridge, so for a while I worked there. I had one manager after another harass and bully me as a result of my Asperger's and I'd finally quit. Somewhere in there I went to college and got an Associates degree in computers but had lost a really good job as a Network Admin, again for social reasons.
Eventually I found a job where social interaction was minimal and manageable and for a time delivered pharmaceuticals to nursing homes. Exacting work with an expectation of perfect repetition with no deviation from procedure was right up my alley. It's my nature to work that way, so it wasn't hard for me at all. I did get stressed by dealing with traffic to and from work, as well as while working. Then there were the nurses who as I like to describe it "Had an allergic reaction to me."
Some people just can't leave an Aspie alone, they have to do things to aggravate us, mostly because it's so easy to do and the payoff is out of proportion to the effort. Also, they can do subtle things that will annoy an Aspie that would otherwise not irritate someone without sensory processing issues. If you've seen the movie "The Aviator" there was a scene where the politician played by Alan Alda put a big greasy fingerprint on Howard Hughes' glass because he knew it'd drive him crazy due to him being beyond fastidious and a known germaphobe. The bully can then use the anthem of all bullies throughout history "But I was just…." and claim the person overreacted to his innocent actions, thereby victimizing them a second time by vilifying them. I call it a bully bogo, short for Buy One Get One free.
Anyway, between the stress of traffic, some mounting health issues, and dealing with asshats, I'd decided to "pull the pin" as we say in the military, and retire early on disability. Too many things were "damaging my calm" as they like to say in Firefly. I didn't want to turn into a bitter old man swearing constantly at everyone and everything and felt I was just about getting to that point.
I told her a few interesting stories about my time in the army, like the time I faced down a Master Sergeant who issued me an unlawful order in front of the company at PT (Physical Training) I invited him to retract the order in a loud voice, so everyone present would hear and told him if he didn't my next conversation would be at the Judge Advocate General's office. He retracted the order, not that he had much choice, given the number of witnesses there he could never have hoped nobody would speak up about it.
On the other hand it did take a certain amount of chutzpah to call him out publicly like that. I had dared to do a lot of things while in the military that probably didn't make me a "model soldier" but I had always done what I felt was right. In the military it's easier, the UCMJ or Uniform Code of Military Justice, isn't a suggestion or open to interpretation, it says what it says and woe to the soldier that takes liberties.
Having brought her up to date on my situation I asked her if she'd like to tell me something about her life so far, since I'd been so forthcoming. She told me her friends called her Ta, a nickname that started with her little brother not being able to say Patricia as a young child, and which stuck with her. I thought it was cute and fitting and resolved to use it from then on. I asked her about her brother and she said, she didn't hear from him anymore. I didn't want to pry into that, feeling it might be a sore topic so I let the matter drop. I'm thoughtful like that. No piece of information that isn't vital to life and limb is worth getting someone upset over in my humble opinion. I had my own relatives I wasn't currently on speaking terms with for one reason or another and wouldn't appreciate anyone prying that pandora's box open myself.
She didn't elaborate any further on her family but told me she'd been to college and taken Computer Science, so I knew she was at least 22, but figured even older given her manners and speech, the way she dressed and her attitudes about things. I'm 50 and we had similar attitudes about things, which was unusual. I still hadn't nailed down her age, and she hadn't spelled it out yet, but one doesn't normally ask a woman her age, it's considered rude. I'd never understood that, being an Aspie.
Knowing someone's age gives you a lot of insight into where they are coming from and if you're older than you look, more power to you. Neurotypicals don't think this way so it's best to let it lie though. I did wonder at the "Computer Science" class, since nowadays and since about 2000 it's been called Information Technology or some such.
She said, she was going up to Washington State to find out about a little known event that took place there that she'd heard about and that it would require some old fashioned legwork to ferret out, since it was a sort of secret known only to members of a certain group. She didn't tell me too much about the particulars, which I thought odd, but again, didn't press for details. When someone is ready to tell me something, they will, and pressuring them may cause them to take even longer to get around to it.
She planned to start her search in Seattle, but knew it would take her to the North West corner of the state most likely. "Can you see your way to divert north from your route to stop in at Seattle for a day or so? She asked. I told her I hated cities but guessed we could swing by there, as long as she didn't mind me avoiding travelling there during rush hours and such. Cities are so...Peopley. I asked her if she felt she had enough to go on to make the trip worthwhile, and she seemed certain she'd find some clue there that would give her more information than she currently had.
I constantly use movie and book references in my conversations and have gotten used to people sometimes not understanding. For example, when I was delivering prescriptions I had a nurse at a med cart mixing up some kool-aid looking concoction in a glass and joked "So you're going to make them 'drink the kool-aid'?" Her response was a blank stare… I explained about the Jonestown Massacre and she responded with "Wow that sounds like a really good movie." I had to further explain "That wasn't a movie, it was a current event in the eighties"
I expected to run into such gaps in her knowledge of my older references, and strangely didn't. I was starting to suspect she was either much older than she looked, or remarkably well schooled in a great many topics one wouldn't normally find outside a game of Trivial Pursuit. There I go again...likely most of you folks don't know what that is. Go look it up, I'm gonna make you work for that one.
In any event I was starting to come to the realization that there was a lot more to this girl than was apparent, and figured most people who are not Aspies, and who have a heavy normalcy bias (you can look that one up too) wouldn't have realized it given so few data points. I began to wonder if she realized I was "onto her" but I gave no sign I was taking anything at other than face value.
After about an hour of driving we pulled into The Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum, which was a huge disappointment to me. Some guy had a bunch of fossils and was putting forth the theory that they somehow proved the Bible was a historically accurate document. All the science of evolution was incorrect, according to him, and people were deluding themselves to believe in carbon dating and such. Her reaction was akin to my own, great disappointment.
I'm not religious, being far too literal to believe in something like an invisible, all powerful being, that leaves us completely alone and in the dark about his existence, but expects us to believe in him anyway. I also see the hand of man in a lot of religions, for instance, the kosher laws of ancient times were likely more about hygiene and avoiding sickness than anything else. It was just easier to get people to obey a law from god than it was to suggest that eating pork that wasn't properly cooked, which was nigh impossible given the technology of the time, might make you sick.
After leaving the Museum, we drove to Billings. I had planned to hopscotch across the map using Walmart Supercenters as home bases where I couldn't find other accommodations or simply didn't want to pay to stay anywhere. I also figured Ta, having recently lost all her traveling gear, might need to pick up a few things. I assumed she had some cash on hand, she was dressed like she had some money, or at least had when she'd bought her current wardrobe.
If I'd pushed on to Missoula it would have been an eight hour drive, and I wasn't feeling that much urgency about the trip, this was supposed to be a sort of vacation. I had nowhere in particular to be, no clock to punch, no pressing need to put on more miles than I felt like on any given drive so I planned to stop at a Walmart between Painted Canyon and Missoula. There was another Walmart Supercenter in Missoula we could camp at and provision at a little less than six hours from this one, which would be a comfortable drive without becoming too much, and there didn't seem to be any worthy attractions on the way. Thank goodness for the internet, I'd seen many things on google maps I thought might be worth checking in on, but after the Museum I was going to check more thoroughly before making a planned stop anywhere.
It was about 3:30 when we pulled in to the Walmart lot and I found a spot near all the other campers, but as out of the way as possible. I prefer to be in a corner away from everyone to avoid hearing generators and whatnot and don't mind a long walk to the store if I'm not planning any major provisioning. Now that I don't work I need to get my exercise when and where I can, and heck, might as well do something useful instead of running in place.
It was actually a pretty good time to go into the store, since it wasn't yet crowded with the after work shoppers yet. I figured I'd browse around, maybe use the wifi to do some more trip research, and just see if anything I had to have jumped out at me. I don't impulse buy much, but sometimes you run across something useful browsing around. I didn't need much in the way of provisions this trip, having stocked up before leaving my brother's place.
I told Ta "Well if you need anything to replace your lost luggage this will be a good place for you to get it and stretch your legs a bit. We'll spend the night here but we have a lot of time to kill before it's time for bed. Do you have money to get what you need?" She answered "Yes I have all I need for now, and I won't need too much. This is my favorite outfit, I wear it most of the time. I thought that a bit unusual, some women even change clothes several times a day, but most change outfits at least every day. I hadn't detected any odor other than a hint of cinnamon and vanilla coming from her so she obviously wasn't getting ripe. I thought to myself Well, that's her business as long as I don't get fumed out of the truck.
I told her "I probably will just knock around here for a bit, maybe use the wifi and then head back to the camper around dark. I don't want to leave Missy too long." She responded "I'll get something to eat while I'm shopping, so don't hold dinner for me." It occurred to me I hadn't seen her eat anything as of yet, but hey she was so thin she probably wasn't eating much anyway. Maybe she was vegan or something.
While we were talking I was setting up the camper in the pull through two car spot I'd parked in. I cranked down the stabilizers first, then popped the camper up in about a minute or two. I left the camper hooked to the truck but dropped the front wheel to stabilize it on the front end. Once the camper was set up I took Missy from the truck to the camper and closed her up in there with her dinner so she could get settled. I left the vent fan on and some windows open so she wouldn't get hot in the afternoon sun, but it was November so it wasn't too warm this far North. My batteries were in pretty good shape, since I never used power for anything I didn't absolutely have to. I'd set up the fridge on propane and left it on that all the time. Some people say you shouldn't drive with it on so I shut it off when in transit, it didn't get too warm on the shorter drives I was taking anyway.
It turned out I did need a few items of groceries and I made a trip back to the camper with those before heading back to the store to use the wifi and kill some more time. I spent a little time with Missy, playing with her favorite toy and then giving her a q-tip to play with while I was gone. It's amazing what will interest a cat. I had bought an electric "cats meow" toy for her and she'd played with it exactly twice, then lost interest. But a piece of string made to resemble gold chain...heaven! A Q-tip, fascinating! Milk rings, hours of fun!
I'd learned long ago not to spend money on stupid cat toys that wouldn't hold her attention long. Laser pointers didn't even work with Missy, she was too smart and knew the laser was coming from the little thing in my hand. After looking at the dot for a second or two she'd come to me and nudge my hand, letting me know she'd figured it out.
I putzed around in the store's electronics department, watching the tv's there for a bit when news or something interesting came on, used the wifi to plan my next fuel stop and overnight stop. I had fueled up on the main drag before pulling into Walmart so we were good to go for a good bit, but I figured to have to stop for fuel once before Missoula. I always topped off before settling down for the night, preferring not to have to mess about with that in the mornings. I walked along the automotive isles looking at trailer and camping items to see if anything struck my fancy... nothing did. I decided to go back to the camper and read for a bit, maybe send some text messages to friends and relatives, letting them know where I was and that I was fine. I texted my brother and Jack, who'd tried to call when I was otherwise engaged and wound up in voicemail. Jack is a salesman who drives a lot and calls me on his commute to shoot the breeze. I hadn't taken his earlier calls since I wasn't alone and it'd be rude to ignore my passenger.
After I texted everyone I started some dinner. I made shrimp fettuccine alfredo with some butter, milk, grated parmesan and romano cheeses, california garlic, and assorted spices, and shrimp and noodles of course. It was nice having a fridge with a small freezer in the camper, it certainly opened up the possibilities for a varied menu. I boiled the pasta on one burner and heated the frozen shrimp, already cooked, in some water on another, then put the shrimp aside while I made the alfredo using the other ingredients. After combining the ingredients in the saucepan I'd made the sauce in I ate it right out of the saucepan rather than dirty another dish or use a disposable plate or bowl. I cleaned the dishes as I finished using them to avoid any dried on food issues, using the water I'd boiled the pasta in for a preliminary cleaning, and then fresh water to finish the job.
I settled down with my Honor Harrington novel and relaxed on the couch with the cat. Even when I'm travelling I'm sort of a homebody, preferring to spend time in my camper with my books and whatnot to socializing or engaging in some sort of stimulating activity. I'd learned I was MUCH happier when I limited my stimulation. I could do things that were stimulating, but they took a lot out of me, and I wound up exhausted and stressed. I'd need some decompression time to compensate for the overstimulation and it just didn't seem worth it to me. Something like a sporting event in a stadium or a concert with a large crowd might take me several days to fully recover from. A video arcade? Perish the thought. I guess I'm a hobbit of sorts, enjoying my comforts and my cozy home, even if it was an a-frame camper in a Walmart parking lot at the moment.
She knocked on the door when she was back from shopping, I had locked the truck in the parking lot so she couldn't put her purchases in it without me letting her in. I habitually locked the truck all the time, even in areas where I was the only one around. I figured it's a good habit to stay in for when you aren't the only person around or are in an area where it's not wise to leave it unlocked. Forgetting to lock it has worse consequences than locking it when it wasn't strictly necessary, so lesser of two evils and all that. I let her into the camper and she had a small backpack with her which obviously held some items, but not too much. I didn't pry, figuring it was her business what was in it. I assumed a toothbrush and some other hygiene products and maybe some spare clothes. She sat at the dinette and seemed to want to talk. Missy had gotten over her shyness and was starting to rub her leg some as we talked.
I told her my plans for the next day, and she seemed to agree with them. We'd be doing a bit longer leg tomorrow, driving from Billings to Missoula. There was another Walmart there we could visit in case we needed anything, and there were sure to be gas stations nearby. I planned a short stop about halfway through the 5-6 hour drive for fuel and to have a break from driving. Marathon drives are not much fun, and I was in no hurry. She didn't seem to be either. I thought it was pretty odd that her previous ride had just abandoned her...she'd been pretty damned low maintenance so far as I was concerned. I didn't have to feed her and she kept to herself any time we weren't in the truck together or specifically discussing trip details such as now in the camper. It was almost relaxing having her along, unlike most people she didn't seem to have to be talking all the time. She'd answer a question if I asked her one, tell me what she felt I needed to know about the same time I felt I needed to know it, but otherwise just sort of was there. That was pretty unusual for a non Aspie, I kept thinking.
After we discussed the details of tomorrow's drive she said, she wanted to walk back to the store and use the wifi. I said, "Wait you have a phone?" "We should exchange numbers so we can find each other when we're not together, you never know, something might come up," She said, "Sure." and pulled out her phone to enter my number. After telling her my number, she immediately dialed it and her number came up on my screen. That's funny, I thought. That's exactly the way I usually do it. Then she headed back to the store after putting the backpack in the truck on the passenger side and relocking the truck. I gave her the spare key to the truck so she could get into it to sleep when she got back if I wasn't awake. It occurred to me that I hadn't seen her sleep yet either. Rather odd, but everything about this girl is pretty odd when you think about it, I thought.
I decided to take Missy out for a bit and was using a baby stroller made for pets I had stowed in the truck bed under the tonneau cover in between uses. We strolled around the parking lot a bit and went into the store when I judged it was quiet enough to be less unsettling to the both of us. Busy stores are not my favorite places, Walmart in between peak hours and after say 10pm wasn't too bad though. Great thing about being able to bring your cat into the store, you can see if she likes toys BEFORE you buy them, instead of after. Nothing really interested her though, aside from catnip, which I had aplenty in the camper already. I didn't see Ta around as we walked through the store, nor did I see her in the parking lot anywhere. Well, she knows where we're parked, she'll be there when she wants to be. I know what you're thinking, nobody would be that relaxed about getting details from a traveling companion...I told you...I'm not your average guy...I'm an Aspie. Normal doesn't apply.
Missy loved her little cart, it allowed her to be outside without being outside. She was strictly an indoor cat and totally spoiled. I'd taken to treating her with flea treatments while on the road but previously hadn't had the need. She'd only left my apartment to go to the vet after I'd taken her in. Missy was an odd cat. She talked. Not meowed...talked. She'd meow, of course, if she just wanted attention, but she did this burbley sort of speech thing when she was particularly pleased with herself, or greeting me, or playing. One time she caught a bug and belted out a whole bloody sentence to announce how happy she was with that result. I about fell over laughing. She was pretty needy when it came to attention, not liking being left alone, even for short periods. When I was working I was typically only gone for about four hours, but this was too long for Missy. She'd be waiting in the window overlooking where I parked to see me come home. If I was gone for longer she'd whine and act like she thought I was never coming home. She would also get upset if she saw me getting dressed in work clothes to leave the house. Taking her on the road with me was a natural choice. I could hardly leave her at home or in someone else's care when she seemed so desperately attached to me. After our walk I read a few more chapters of my e-book and got cleaned up for bed. Then I lay awake for a bit mulling over my odd traveling companion until I drifted off to sleep with the cat snuggling my arm.
The next day I got up and gave Missy her treats, made breakfast, this time cereal, and got dressed to leave the Walmart. I had poked my head out to see if Ta wanted anything to eat, but she wasn't in sight. When I stepped out after eating she was waiting by the truck. Appears out of nowhere this girl, as if conjured, I thought. I put Missy in the truck and folded down the camper to get ready to get on the road and we were driving on 90 West again. I wanted to stop in at the Old Montana Prison Museum, which would give us a break from driving long enough to break up the day. We'd also get gas around there somewhere and then finish the drive to Missoula.
I was beginning to notice some oddities about Ta that were perplexing to me. She kept looking out the window intently at something only she would be able to see. I'd look in that direction and see nothing noteworthy or interesting but she was locked onto something. One thing about us Aspies, we are VERY observant. Our sensory processing issues mean we get more brain activity for a given stimulus than most people would. I think it makes us more intensely alert, certainly I notice things other people don't and it seemed to me as if Ta were noticing things I was missing, which would be a novelty for sure. It had been overcast the last few days and it was starting to clear up, at least for now. I was looking forward to seeing the Prison, mostly being interested in the architecture more than anything else. Prisons in those days were built like castles and I loved castles.
When we stopped at the prison Ta asked if she could just stay in the camper with Missy while I looked at the exhibits, expressing no interest at all in walking through the museum. I told her I was planning to take Missy with me in the carrier if they'd let me in with her. Usually I didn't get any flack from people running attractions. For all they knew it was a baby I was pushing around, the mesh kept anyone from really seeing Missy unless she was moving around or making noise. Sometimes having a black cat is an advantage. I told her she could hang out in the trailer if she wanted. I could pop it up in the parking lot without too much trouble. I figured it was a good time for her to learn how to do it herself and made it a teachable moment. She picked it up quickly and for a slight girl had no trouble lifting the panels and setting it up once I showed her how.
She told me she really didn't do well in the hot sun and needed to stay in the shade, and indeed jumped into the camper as soon as it was up, wasting no time in the sun at all. I can relate, being fair skinned myself. I told her she was welcomed to use the Skin-so-soft I had, which was both a bug repellant and sun block but she declined saying she couldn't stand the smell of such things. I didn't spend too long at the museum, it was not all that interesting. I found the story about "Turkey Pete" sort of amusing, the lengths the prison inmates and employees had gone to to allow him to live in his fantasy world when his mind went were pretty epic. The guy actually thought HE was running the prison, paying the guards with checks they'd faked for him and everything. He'd actually been given life in prison for murder and died there eventually, but had a good old time what with everyone humoring him so much. I remember thinking that nothing like that would ever happen today.
It was only another hour or so to the Walmart in Missoula. Ta laughed when I told her the "Turkey Pete" story. Since I had her in a good mood, I decided to pry just a little and asked her, "Say, do I need to be worried about some jilted ex boyfriend or anything like that?" "I mean is there any reason to be watching out for trouble on this investigative trip of yours?" She got quiet and sober immediately and said, "No, I don't think we need to worry about that at all. I do want to keep a low profile and not stir things up with my investigation, but I don't see there being any trouble for us." "Well that's good enough for me, you know I used to work for a P.I. so I might be of some help with the investigation if you let me know what we're on the trail of. You can do a lot with a name and a birthdate, or a social security number, or even just an address," I said. She told me she didn't have anything that specific but knew where some events had occurred and intended to look at some forensic evidence left behind there.
Forensic evidence, I thought to myself, this girl talks like me...and nobody talks like me. I wonder if she could be another Aspie… She didn't seem to need a lot of social interaction, nor small talk or pleasantries, and didn't seem disturbed by my not behaving "normally" Heck, she wasn't behaving "normally" either for that matter. Of course you don't just announce to someone that may or may not realize they have Asperger's that you think they may have a neurological disorder. There is some truth to the saying that "It takes one to know one" though. I resolved to discuss it with her at some point and to broach the subject by mentioning my own Asperger's again. That might get her thinking along those lines and leave her mind open to the idea.
I had decided to push on past the Walmart in Missoula, we were nearing Seattle and I wanted to figure our stops so we'd arrive relatively early on the day we actually reached the city. I had also decided I'd had enough of people and traffic noise and lights for a while and scouted the google map to find a suitable camping spot for total off grid camping. I had found a spot south of 90 that appeared to have a reasonably navigable turn around and was a forest service road so we shouldn't be disturbed. I wanted to get a little nature into the trip for a change. Ta didn't object so we wound our way up into the mountains, taking it slow with the trailer and a truck that wasn't built for heavy towing. I thought to myself that Ta must be a trusting sort if she's willing to be driven so deep into the woods. If this were a movie this'd be the part where I did something unsavory to her. She seemed totally unconcerned about any designs I might have on her. In point of fact, though I thought she was drop dead gorgeous, I certainly had no illusions she might be interested in me. I was fifty years old, and she looked to be in her twenties, I was starting to put on too much weight, and she was about as slender as one can be and still be healthy, some would consider her to be too thin to be healthy. I won't say I didn't entertain a fantasy or two, she was, after all, right up my alley, dark haired, almost anorexically thin, smart, steady, and we seemed to hit it off pretty well. That doesn't happen too often, and it made me all the more suspicious that she might be an Aspie. I told her she could crash in the camper if she wanted to and was comfortable with it, the dinette made into a second bed, but she said, she wanted to spend some time taking in the night in the forest and wasn't likely to sleep much that night anyway. I didn't stay up as late as I normally do, wanting to get an early start the next day, so after I fed Missy, ate, and relaxed with my book for a bit I turned in.
I was up much earlier than was usual for me and didn't see Ta around anywhere when I poked my head out. I wasn't really hungry, having had a relatively large meal the night before. Sometimes I wake up famished and others I just don't feel like having anything at all. I gave Missy her treats and then walked around a bit looking for Ta. I had gotten out of sight of the trailer on both sides as far as I considered reasonable on the forest service road and was headed back for the second time when I realized something...not Ta...was at the door of my trailer. Looking closer I realized it was a damned big black bear and he was trying to get the door to my trailer opened. Shit! All I had with me was my 9mm Taurus PT111 G2...not exactly bear medicine. On the other hand I'd seen a few TV shows where they show how you can bluff a bear if he's not terribly hungry so I hoped I'd not need to do anything more than wave my arms at it and yell. Thank goodness Ta wasn't here I thought, pulling out my pistol, just in case. I had it loaded with Underwood Defense xtreme defender +P+ ammo so it was about as good as I could hope for, but I'd sure rather have had the AR with me. I stopped, and raised my arms above my head to look as big as possible and yelled "Hey bear!" "GET!" That got his attention on me instead of the door but he didn't immediately move. He did look around though as if to find an escape route, and I wanted to keep him thinking along those lines so I stomped a bit in his direction, waving my arms and yelling at him some more. Then I summoned all my chutzpah and growled at him as loudly as I could, yes you read that right, I growled at the bear. I damned near scared myself it sounded so menacing. I was in no way going to let this bear eat my cat like a boxed lunch. She was my baby, I was responsible for her...not on my watch. The bear turned away as if to trot off, and then he saw Ta coming back down the road toward the camper and did the strangest thing...he ran away from her as if he was afraid of her.
Maybe it was the suddenness of her appearance, but he seemed spooked. The problem at the moment was I was in his direct line of retreat, and not sure if he was afraid or just pissed. You can't run from a bear, that triggers their prey response, and bears can run something like forty miles an hour, me...maybe five, and I'd pass out before I got more than a hundred yards anyway. I was feeling a bit trapped, and took aim with the pistol at the bear's head. I'm a damned good shot, but a running animal is awfully hard to hit, in my favor he was running right at me. Time was not on my side, I had to make a call. I decided to shoot less than a quarter second after he started loping in my direction. He'd be on me in a few seconds and I had to make something happen fast. CRACK! My first round was a hit but not in a vital area, As the bear got closer I started doing double taps, I was hyper-focused on my sights and the bear, nothing else existed. The bear was NOT slowing down, but seemed to be hit and irritated. I could have gotten lucky enough to get a side on shot, maybe I'd hit something vital in the lungs or heart area, but head on the bear was protected by a thick skull and greater penetration needed to reach anything vital on a body shot. Penetration my short barreled pistol in 9mm did not have.
As the bear reached me it took a swipe at me, but it seemed an afterthought. Almost as if he just wanted me out of his way. I tried to sidestep and step into the swing and succeeded partially...partially wasn't really good enough. I'd avoided his claws, given our closure rate he hit me with his forearm, if you can call it that, but he really HIT me. My upper arm bone cracked as I tried to block the blow from reaching my core, and then proceeded to at least crack a few of my ribs, I wasn't in much condition at this point to assess the damage, since I was busy being airborne and then landing in a heap in the ditch beside the service road.
I didn't lose consciousness right away, but I wasn't really functioning at the moment. I was able to observe though and what I saw was unbelievable. Ta, who had been some distance down the road, was suddenly there...right there...which shouldn't be possible as when I'd seen her she was at least a hundred yards away. and she was jumping on the back of this maybe 500 lb black bear and twisting his bloody head off! WHAT THE FRENCH TOAST?! I must be delirious. Then she did something even more odd if that were possible. She bit the thing right on the neck and appeared to be drinking it's blood. I coughed up blood myself, and thought oh crap, that means I may have a punctured lung. That's no bueno! If I had been standing in a trauma center I might be able to survive, but it wasn't looking good for me in the position I was currently in. I doubted I could get to a hospital fast enough for it to matter. I was strangely clear headed. I guess adrenaline does that for you. Ta came over to me after finishing off the bear. I simply couldn't believe what I'd seen, figuring I was out of it or something. She seemed very upset. I couldn't talk much, hell I couldn't breathe much. I managed to squeak out "Take care of Missy for me." and she said, "Don't try to talk. Just nod if you understand. I can fix this...I feel like this is all my fault, if I hadn't spooked the bear he wouldn't have attacked you. I can see that you are very badly hurt and I can save you, but there is a cost...You'll have to become one of us." One of us? Who's us?
"I'm a vampire, but I don't kill people, at least not ones that don't deserve it for a good reason. I eat animal blood, that's why you've never seen me eat." A lot of things started falling into place about then...and I had seen her eat...she ate the bear that killed me. Even though I wasn't doing too well my thinking was still accelerated by adrenaline. I had never seen Ta eat, use the bathroom, clean up, brush her teeth, she avoided sunlight and never let anyone touch her. It was a little mind boggling, a sort of rock your world moment, but I didn't have a lot of time to process it. "If you want me to save you just nod and I'll do it, I'll help you avoid killing anyone if that is what you want, it'll take you three days or so to change and I warn you it's going to hurt." "There are benefits though, as far as I know we don't die...ever...unless something kills us and we're pretty hard to kill. We can run a hundred miles an hour and are really strong." That bit I figured out on my own, watching an eighty nine pound slip of a girl just dispatch a 500 lb black bear in less than two seconds.
I thought about it for a second, and figured I really didn't have a lot of choice at this point, it was either die or try something else...something else sounded better, far less permanent, and if it sucked, well I could still always die. I wasn't sure she could really do it anyway...I mean, the whole last few minutes was just about as impossible as things could get. I figured what the heck. I nodded my head and Ta came in close and bit me right around my right clavicle. Geezus H Magillicuddy! That smarts! I felt like I was being stung by a thousand bees but without the numbness...I would have liked some of that numbness at the moment. It was like someone stuck me with a hot poker, and then injected lava into my neck and I somehow survived long enough to feel it.
The heat spread quickly to my head and extremities and once it was everywhere wasn't quite so intense...but it was no picnic. I remember hearing Ta saying something about being glad she was so full from the bear she didn't try to drink my blood as i tasted delicious. Well, I've been called a lot of things, some of them even complimentary, but delicious wasn't one I could say anyone had ever called me. As I was fading out I felt Ta pick me up and take me to the trailer. Missy was very upset meowing desperately and brushing against me as Ta put me into the bed. That's the last thing I remember.