Copyright© 2010 by Lazlo Zalezac
Pepper looked around at his surroundings in confusion. He was currently standing in the middle of nowhere. There wasn't a single thing made by a human within sight. There were a few scrub trees, a lot of dirt, a few cacti, and not much else.
He asked, "Where's the hotel?"
"What hotel?" Donny asked amused by the question.
"You said this is where we are staying for the night," Pepper said.
"That's right," Donny said.
Pepper said, "So where's the hotel?"
"We aren't staying in a hotel," Donny said.
Rose giggled at the expression on Pepper's face.
"So where are we staying?" Pepper asked.
He was beginning to wonder if they were having a problem communicating.
Pointing down at the ground with the forefingers of both hands, Rose said, "Here. We are staying right here."
"There's nothing here," Pepper said blankly. "Where are we supposed to sleep?"
Vincent said, "I swear that he is the dumbest man in the world. I really think we ought to make a call to the folks at the Guinness Book of World Records."
Rose was too busy laughing to make a comment.
Donny said. "We are sleeping on the ground."
"There are liable to be animals around here," Pepper said looking around frantically.
He really didn't like the idea of being around wild animals. He was pretty sure that all wild animals attacked people.
Rose said, "We are in the wilderness. I can guarantee you that there are animals around here."
Worried, Pepper asked, "What will we do if something shows up?"
Donny said, "If it is small and furry, I suggest that you piss on it. If it is big and dangerous, then we'll kill it with our guns. If it is between those two extremes, we'll just hold a world conference to decide what to do."
Rose broke out laughing. She said, "I can just picture Pepper running around after a jack rabbit with his pants around his ankles trying to piss on it."
Vincent chuckled and said, "I can just imagine the head guy at the United Nations getting up in front of the General Assembly and saying, 'A cow showed up at their camp, whatever should they do?' I figure they would come to a decision, a couple of years after the cow dies of old age."
Irritated at being the butt of so many jokes, Pepper said, "Quit making fun of me."
"Stop saying stupid things," Donny said.
"I've never been out in the wilderness," Pepper said in protest of yet another attack against his intelligence.
"Welcome to the real world," Vincent said while gesturing to their surroundings.
Donny said, "Look around you, it doesn't get more real than this. If you strip away the houses, the cars, energy, appliances, tools, and clothes that have become so essential to most people's lives, you're left with you, and this. It doesn't get more basic than that."
"That can't happen to us," Pepper said.
He knew even while protesting that it had just happened to him and he wasn't happy about it.
"It can happen at any time. If you spend enough time out here you'll come to appreciate that civilization is just a thin veneer over what is real. Circumstances can lead you to where it is you and nature. Nature has all of the advantages. There are things that will eat you, weather that will freeze you, and things that you can't see that will make you sick," Donny said.
Vincent said, "You can fight nature, or you can go along with it. If you fight it, you'll lose. If you go along with it, you'll lose. The point is that you'll last a whole lot longer if you go along with it, than if you fight it."
"Old Doc Taylor likes to say that life is a terminal disease -- we're all going to die, someday," Rose said.
Vincent said, "The preacher says that we all owe God a death."
"What we saw in Los Angeles goes against nature. The people there have come to the mistaken conclusion that the veneer is what gives them strength rather than the reality underneath. They posture and pose while spouting ideas that just don't hold water. They've never learned the basics," Donny said.
Pepper asked, "What are the basics?"
Rose looked over at Donny and smiled.
She said, "You live so that you can raise a family."
"You protect the family, so that it survives," Vincent said.
"You protect what is yours so that your family can grow," Donny said.
He put an arm around Rose and hugged her.
Rose said, "You sacrifice yourself, so that those you love can live."
"That's the simple version of the basics," Vincent said with a smile. "It's the implementation that gets a little complicated."
Looking at the sun, Donny said, "Speaking of implementation, I suggest we get camp set up before night falls. I don't want to go looking for firewood in the dark."
Pepper's store carried charcoal in paper bags and little bundles of firewood wrapped in plastic.
He asked, "Where will we buy firewood?"
Shaking his head, Donny asked, "Do you see that tree over there?"
"What is that stuff under it?"
"Branches that have fallen off the tree," Pepper asked.
"Those branches burn," Donny said. "There's our firewood."
"Oh," Pepper said. "What about the owner?"
"If the owner comes by, we'll politely ask him if we can stay the night here," Donny answered.
"What if he says no?"
Vincent said, "We will apologize for having trespassed and then we'll pack up and go."
Seeing that Pepper was about to ask another question, Rose said, "Before you ask, we'll take turns driving through the night."
"Dumbest man in the world," Vincent said looking up at the sky.
Glaring at Vincent, Pepper said, "I'm sorry. When I travel, I stay in hotels and eat in restaurants like you're supposed to. I don't park out in the middle of nowhere and burn branches to cook my food."
Donny went over to the car and returned to stand behind Pepper. He grabbed Pepper and pulled him to the ground. Pepper squawked like a hen at finding himself being manhandled. Vincent went over and sat down on Pepper's legs. Donny went around to Pepper's feet and put on a pair of hobbles with ankle cuffs that locked.
Once the ankle cuffs were in place, Donny said, "You can get off him now."
Indignant, Pepper asked, "What did you do that for?"
While unlocking the wrist cuffs, Donny answered, "We don't want you to run off when we free your hands."
"Oh," Pepper said watching what Donny was doing.
After the locks had been removed, Donny undid the strap on one of the cuffs.
He said, "You can get the other one yourself."
"I never thought I'd be able to move my arms again," Pepper said working on the other cuff.
"You'll have plenty of opportunity to move your hands," Donny said. He pointed to the tree and said, "You're in charge of collecting firewood."
Pepper looked over at the tree. He didn't want to collect firewood. He wasn't even sure what it meant.
He was about to object when Vincent said, "Do it. Don't complain. Just do it."
"I can only move my feet eight inches," Pepper said after trying to take a step forward.
"Then I suggest you carry as much wood as possible each trip," Donny said. "We need enough to burn for three hours."
"How much wood is that?" Pepper asked.
"Just keep bringing wood until we tell you to stop," Rose said.
"I'll get out the sleeping bags," Donny said.
"I'll make the fire pit," Vincent said.
"I'll get the stuff for dinner," Rose said.
Rose always ended up getting the stuff for dinner whenever they went camping.
She looked over at Vincent and asked, "Who makes dinner when I'm not camping with you?"
"We eat it raw," Vincent said with a wink.
Donny said, "I do."
Everyone went to work on their various tasks. Pepper shuffled his way slowly to the tree and looked around at the branches. He reached down and picked up a thick one. It was so old and dry that it broke. He picked up the rest of the branch, which broke into two lengths of four feet or so. He carried the three pieces back to camp.
Vincent looked up at him and said, "You'll need to carry more than that each trip. You should try for three times that much each load."
Pepper made his way back to the tree shuffling with six-inch steps.
He mumbled, "They are making me do all of the heavy work. It is not fair. I didn't do anything to deserve this."
He picked up a bunch of branches and headed for the campsite. He had to be careful not to trip over anything while shuffling his way back.
He muttered, "They're treating me like a slave. I don't have to do this. I'm not going to do this."
When Pepper reached the camp, he threw the branches to the ground. He crossed his arms and, like a petulant little child, announced, "I'm not doing this."
Vincent looked over at the car and said, "Rose, get the switch."
Rose climbed out of the car carrying a long horsewhip. She tried to hand it to Vincent, but he said, "Keep it for now. Donny!"
Donny and Vincent picked up Pepper and carried him over to the front of the car. They pushed him down so that he was bent over at the waist with his hands resting on the hood. They held onto his arms to keep him there.
Donny said, "Give him five to start with, Rose. If he still refuses to work, give him an additional ten. If he still refuses, give him an additional twenty."
"Let me go," Pepper shouted.
"You want me to do it?" Rose asked.
She swung the whip back and forth making a nice whishing sound. Pepper didn't think much of the sound.
"We're holding him down," Vincent answered.
Pepper was struggling to get loose, but his actions were not successful at all.
"You can't possibly intend to hit me with that thing," Pepper said his voice was an octave higher than normal.