People must have wondered what the young man in the men’s room was doing, running his jacket, jeans and shirt under one of the hand-dryers.
But Shades really didn’t give a damn what they thought. This would only be an embarrassing situation if he allowed himself to be embarrassed. So he simply stood there in his underwear, drying his clothes, which he had just finished wiping most of the mud off of with paper towels at the sink, smiling sheepishly at the people who stared at him as they came and went.
Mostly hoping no one called security or some other stupid crap.
And wishing he had a towel. Realizing that he was in another world, and no longer had any idea where his own was. Tried not to laugh as he continued.
He listened to his tape as he worked, thankful for the foresight to keep backup batteries in his backpack. As a further experiment, he had tried the radio again, finding nothing on either band, furthering his growing belief that he was indeed in another world. The fact increasingly baffled him as he got older, but for some reason that defied his comprehension, people still listened to the radio all the time on Earth.
But if this is another world, he wondered, then why is the vandalism here so familiar?
Through the bathroom mirror, he peered into the empty stalls, deciphering the larger inscriptions. It only took him a couple minutes to get the hang of reading backwards, and the varied commentary revealed itself to him. From low-brow pranks (flush twice / its a long way to centralict and All-Roy was here) to politics (Fuck Authority!— with an “anarchy” A and the f-word scratched out to where it was barely readable— and the hauntingly familiar wipe your ass with a spotted owl), it was really nothing new. Though he made a mental note to find out where this “Centralict” was.
As strange as it must have looked to everyone else, his plan was working. The one downside of denim, he reflected, was that it took forever and a day to dry, but once he was finished, he would be ready to explore this mysterious place. One thing he would have to find out was what time it was here. No mall he had ever heard of was open at three in the morning.
The past twenty-odd minutes had afforded him time for some serious thinking. He still didn’t know exactly what was going on, but he was starting to get an idea. This whole situation was starting to sound a lot like the kind of scenarios he read about in some of the stranger books he had come across over the years. The more he thought about that weird house, the more certain he was that someone had been performing some kind of experiment out in the mountains. The success of that experiment was a question mark, but one result was causing fractures in space-time, opening gateways to other planes of existence.
“In your face, Nimrod!” he muttered as he continued to work.
It was only a partial explanation, but it was the best his tired mind could come up with out of the scant puzzle pieces he had. It still offered no clue about where the hitchhikers fit in. Even the Black Van was an enigma, especially why its driver had singled him out. The most disturbing thought was that this might be happening up and down Highway 93 tonight.
He continued to think as he worked, trying to keep the nagging fear in the back of his mind in check as he hypothesized.