After taking a little while to regain my composure, both of us head inside of the building without hassle and stop in-front of the store clerk. The man has dark-colored skin, a shaved head, and is sporting a noticeably fake smile that I can't help but find delightful. He is wearing a three-button black pin-stripe suit, and has a name tag near his chest spelling out, “Mr. Merino”. The man stands in-front of the counter looking down at the desk at something neither of us can see. However, once noticing our arrival, his attention turns fully to us.
“Hello, and how are you two doing this fine day?” the man asks with an enthusiasm I am easily able to decipher as bullshit, but am still moderately amused by.
I stand, looking to the ground. Oh dear, how much I want to fire back at him that not only am I doing super, I am doing super duper, but a lot of me just doesn't have it. My head is aching and I am waiting for myself to enter the 'dream world' again at any moment. I poke my head up and shoot James a glance wanting for him to be the one to do all of the talking.
“Pretty good, just got off of a flight from Acera,” James says warmly before continuing after a brief pause. “Yeah, everyone seemed really eager to get out of there, tackling, pushing, you know, the whole twenty-seven feet.”
“Oh my,” are the words Mr. Merino allows to escape from his mouth, “So, what can I do for you two today?”
“We're looking for my father, George Schultz. He told me that he was staying here?” James says with noticeable skepticism regarding his father. Like he doesn't believe him, and instead believes that George is in-fact somewhere else.
Mr. Merino nods before taking and placing his sight on the laptop resting on the top of his desk. The desk resides in the middle of the room with a stairway on its left and right. The left stairway is marked in italicized letters as way “A” while the opposing side claims to lead to way “B”. I can hear the sound of him tapping at the keys of his laptop until saying under his breath, “Schultz, okay, that's room 3B, okay.”
He turns around and picks up a wired telephone for a moment before putting it back down in its plastic cartridge. The man neither types anything on the dial or speaks on the phone. He merely picks it up, puts it to his ear and puts it back. Finally, he looks back at us and throws us his same flamboyant smile, showing us his pearly whites.
“I'm sorry, he's either not here, or not accepting visitors at this time, you'll have to come back later,” the man informs, still smiling.
“Okay, do you happen to have a guess as to where he is?” James asks curiously.
“I don't, I'm sorry, is there anything else that I can do?” the dark-skinned man replies.
“Can you call again,” I reciprocate calmly.
“Certainly,” the man says before going back to his laptop to get the number, he punches at the keys once again until turning back to the phone. However, before even getting the chance to clutch the phone, it begins to ring.
He picks it up immediately and puts it to his ear.
“Hello,” “Yes, of course,” “Well, we're doing the absolute best that we can,” “alright, well,” “yes, okay,” “alright,” are the words of the conversation that we can hear.
We decide to take this as an opportunity to make our leave up the right stairway, the stairway holding all of the “B” rooms. Both of us hustle up the steps, but try our best to be as discreet as possible while doing so until we trudge to a hallway housing several doors. I slide my hand up the rail on the way up and take note of the intricate looking wallpaper lining the sides. The look is peculiar, sticks and leaves, and trees, all working together to create a camouflage effect. Some might call it tacky, but I think it's fitting for where we'll be heading next.
Each door in the hallway has a specific number on it. The hotel isn't very large, and in the hallway is only about five or six rooms, so it was easy to find the room that we were looking for, “Room 3B”.
The door's slightly cracked open, and we take advantage of this by opening the door the rest of the way as we enter.
The room feels almost not worth describing.
Nevertheless, the room is small, an old-fashioned television, one with nobs and an antennae protruding from the top of it rests on a brown wooden dresser. Beside both of those objects is a petite single-sized bed. Aside from that, I can also see a small bathroom, and a microscopic replica of a kitchen. The only thing missing is George, who is nowhere to be seen.
“What the hell,” James announces to himself while I eavesdrop before tossing his bag on top of the bed and parking himself on the mattress.
* * *
I can feel myself dissolving with every inch the vehicle crawls, the wheels rolling themselves forward while a squealing sound comes eroding away the remains of my already limited patience. I know that the time for exploration into my psyche is over, but why? All we are actually doing at the moment is patrolling over to a weapon store to retrieve our hunting licenses, as well as equip ourselves with weaponry for the occasion.
After we entered the Blue-Top Inn, we came to the realization, thanks to the assistance of the flamboyant hotel manager, that James' father wasn't actually there. Quite the contrary, he had already gone ahead and started hunting without us, without even bothering to leave us the littlest of a note for his whereabouts. We had absolutely no ideas where the hunting grounds inhabiting George were, and because of that, we simply hung around the hotel.
The lights had already dimmed considerably outside, and by that, I mean it was already starting to darken, before George returned to the hotel, a wasted day of our time transpiring, but George was all smiles, all drunken smiles. The idea of apologizing never occurred to him, but he had a glad expression, which apparently to him was sufficient enough. He told us about the glorious happenings filling his day, and the merits that layered it.
He must have been feeding his stories exceptionally well because the next few times he retold us of his accolades, his kills grew larger in scale. It wouldn't be until now, a day later, that James and I are actually going to get to do what we came here for. James and I are riding with his father in his rental car, a gray Cadillac, and are once again being continuously spoon-fed more absolutely fascinating stories.
“I'm telling you, boys, the bear came out of nowhere, but I shot it right between the eyes.” George says with a detectable smug energy oozing from his voice. “If you boys would've shown up then I'd've been able to show it to you.”
“Well, maybe if you would have given us the heads up that you were leaving, and where the hunting grounds were, we would have been able to get drunk off our asses with alcohol as well,” I respond with a ferociousness that nearly surprises me.
James shoots a negative glare my way before I shrug it off as if I had said nothing that could have offended his father.
“Ha, maybe,” George says with a smile on his face.
In the hours that I have spent with George, I have already deduced a few of his negative attributes.
He's irresponsible, selfish, dimwitted, neglectful to his son, and he likes me.
He deliberately refrains from raining on me with his thunderous insults and saves all of his berating for his son. James, for whatever reason, seems willing to portray the role of the proverbial punching-bag for his father.
He never dishes out a comment of his own, but stands there getting metaphorically beaten with a stick, and George happily beats the horse to death without remorse.
“God, this damn car keeps squeaking. Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!” George hollers before throwing his hands violently at his steering wheel. “I can't even have a goddamn weekend without a car blaring itself at me.”
“Dad,” James says, keeping calm.
“Not now!” He stops for a moment, slowing the car down to my relief, and throws his eyes to James. I can really smell the alcohol in his breath at that moment very clearly. I didn't know he had been drinking, but I suppose that I should have deduced as much.
I reach over and carefully apply my seat-belt. Sitting quietly while James' father continues.
His outbursts were explosive and without much warning, which made riding with him feel like an exciting and spontaneous experience.
“Fucking take care of you my whole life and you fucking take sides with the whore” George says before hiccuping to himself while I watch us slowly wander off of the road.
I think he's upset about something.
“Dad, you're drunk,” James responds with indignation in his voice.
James noticed it too. James didn't have the cognitive reasoning to put on his seat-belt though.
“Yeah, I'm just a drunk, it's all just good ol' dad having had one too many. And let's pretend that the only reason your here isn't because of the fact that your mother has an acting gig lined up for you in some piss-poor movie.”
James' father starts driving some more, albeit very recklessly and all over the place. I look over to James, he simply looks down at the glove-box with an embarrassed expression on his face.
George starts laughably manically for a moment.
“I'm just fucking with ya', boy,” George utters before punching James on the shoulder.
Thankfully, I notice us slowly ease our way back on our side of the road.
I don't like George, and to be perfectly honest, I'm not that much of a fan of him berating James, but I couldn't pull myself together to be entirely angry at him.
I have my own beast of burden. A beast that hungrily, angrily, frustratedly desired to rip away at my flesh, but now simply rattled around back in fourth in my mind.
“The guy that runs the store and I go way back, he's the whole reason that I'm getting to bring y'in on this, here, trip, so I reckon you can be all nice and well, you hear?” George announces.
I wanted to hit him with a stick for some reason.
George stops the car in one of the few remaining parking spots next to a small store with a sign that says, “Thrill of the Hunt”. He steps out of the car and naturally, we follow him into the building.
Inside of the building are several aisles, each differentiating in what they offer. One aisle features a row of rifles, and other guns, and another has a series of stuffed animals resting upon its top-shelf. I detect, ever so faintly, the odor of dead fish trailing itself into the mix. George walks up the store clerk at the checkout counter and smiles at him. The heavy-set man with slightly reddened short-brown hair, who is dressed in a bright orange t-shirt, looks at him before smiling back.
The man doesn't appear to have a neck, but that might be rude to point out.
“CJ, it's good to see you,” George says.
“Likewise, what will it be?” the man named CJ replies.
“What? A man can't travel a couple hours from Acera to see his old pal?”
“So, what will it be?” the man repeats firmly.
“We need two hunting licenses for my son and his friend,” George retorts, repressing a chuckle.
“Alright, just give me a couple of minutes and we'll be all set, maybe look around. you in need of any ammo? I can give you guys a good deal on it.”
George turns back to James and I, and his grin turns to a more serious expression.
“Look around here and see if there is anything you need, but don't break anything,” George instructs. “I don't have the money to pay for it.”
He seemed to have put a lot of emphasis on the last sentence, but I didn't pay much attention to it. While the words spurted their way out of his mouth and found their way into my ears, I could feel myself drifting back to my youthful days. I am a kid again, throwing a ball back in fourth with my good old dad.
Actually, that's not true, the only thing my father has any interest at throwing at me is proclamations that I am as vile a creature as he, and of course, bullets.
I smile back at George and fire back. “I am capable of formulating a coherent sentence, unlike someone in this room that cannot. You don't have to worry about me breaking anything,” it didn't really sound as quick-witted as I would have liked, but sounded more annoyed than anything else. An unfamiliar sense of anger and frustration that really wasn't all that unfamiliar.
“I know, you're not going to break anything,” George says while looking clearly at James.
His words did very little to calm my annoyance, but I swallowed the frustration and moved on. I didn't let his gasoline add to the flames. James and I begin to walk down the most tempting aisle of the store where the weaponry is held, and I successfully resist the urge to knock something over out of spite to George. I look over at some of the guns, looking below them to see an assortment of small boxes holding shells for each respective weapon.
The time comes when everything is all set, James and I bid adieu to the chubby, chinless store clerk, and reenter the car. Shortly after, George follows us out and enters the vehicle. Our journey to bliss has come to an end, and the time has finally come for the hunt to begin.