Harvey “Happy” Trail took the side streets to get back to the edge of town. While it wasn’t technically illegal for him to drive an ATV on the streets of Santa Creda, Happy did his best to keep a low profile when driving it. The police in Santa Creda weren’t bad, far better than the ones in his hometown, but it was still best not to present an obvious target. It was one of the reasons he had installed an exhaust silencer on the muffler. There was no use in making people mad. On most days, Happy chose to walk into town, but if you had to haul something, the ATV was handy.
Before her could head into the woods, Happy first had to stop at his storage unit. Happy had been reluctant to get a unit, but as his little online resale enterprise had grown, he’d found it better to store and price things here instead of in the woods. It also benefitted from being just a half-block from the post-office, which made it easy to ship things.
Happy’s unit was set up for resale and resale only. Happy did not store personal items there. There were three wire racks of goods that were either on eBay, on Etsy, or being prepped for sale. Because most of his business was clothes, it was easy to keep things organized by size and type. Happy wasn’t opposed to selling other items, but only if seemed easy to sell for a good profit. He liked clothes because they were easy to haul, easy to store, and easy to research.
At the back of the storage unit was a plain white wooden table with three lamps in various positions. That was where he took his photos to post online. Good photos were the key to sales, and Happy used a mounted, high-quality digital camera (that he had acquired from a thrift store) to take the photos. There were a few people out there who were better at sales photos than him, but he took a certain pride in the quality and thoroughness of his presentation. He was not going to lose sales over bad pictures. There was also a laptop that he kept there. It was another used purchase. He rarely used it in the storage unit, but it was better to keep it here, take the pictures, then run over to the coffee house down the street where he could plug in, sip some oolong tea, and process everything.
Once he had divested of his inventory, Happy headed to the edge of the town. The path he took to his property had been a dirt road once but had not been maintained in years. It was mostly grown over with grass and weeds, but a narrow path through the middle, allowing for just wider than his ATV. After another mile, he turned onto the ruts that just fit the ATV and drove another quarter mile through light woods to his little patch of land. His plot was a little over two acres. There, the path was nicely maintained cobblestone as he drove the additional two hundred feet to the little clearing where his trailer sat.
It was a small, teardrop trailer, where the interior served as a very simple sitting room during the day and bed at night. The top of the trailer was covered in mounted solar panels, which powered his lights, his small refrigerator, his water pump, and his twin-burner stove. He could also charge his devices there, and if needed, run a heater, although Happy had gone two winters without doing do, preferring to add extra blankets.
The trailer wasn’t the only feature of the property. He had a fire pit, and a half-cord of chopped wood. There were a pair of lawn chairs, and a picnic table he had built himself. There was also a homemade shed. It had been one of the first things he built. It leaned to the left a little, and leaked in the rain, but provided reasonable shelter for his tools and supplies. There was no lock on it, and he had been robbed twice, but almost anything in there could easily be replaced from local thrift stores. He had a low, better-built shed where he kept his ATV and his mountain bike. He’d been more skilled when he built that, while there was no true lock, it could only be opened by sliding a certain piece of wood out of place, then pulling a cord to release the internal latch. So far, that had proved sufficient.
There really wasn’t a lot of foot traffic out here. The more popular walking trails were closer to the ocean or to the mountains. This in between area still got people, but they mostly stuck to the creek, which only touched the western corner of his land. Happy didn’t necessarily mind visitors, as long as they behaved, but he constantly found himself picking up after the trash they left behind. There was no garbage service, so Happy would have to cart their trash out with him when he made his run into the city.
After he put away his ATV, Happy noticed a thin figure emerge from the woods and start walking towards him. They wore blue jeans and a blue Oxford-cloth shirt that seemed out of place with their long, curly green hair. He stared at them for a moment until he realized with was the young person he’d met at SCAG. “Hello,” he said and smiled, “I recognize you, but I don’t think I got your name last time.”
“Hello Happy,” they said, “I’m Aadi. I thought I would come see you. I had thoughts.”
“Thoughts about what?” Happy asked.
Aadi spun around in a slow circle. “I like this,” they said, “I usually sleep on the beach, but I like the forest. How long have you lived here?”
“Oh, about twelve years. I used to live in this big bland city before that, but then the recession came and, well, things changed.”
“The recession,” Aadi repeated, “Low tide for money.”
Happy looked at them for a moment, then nodded. “I lost my job. I wasn’t quite broke yet though, so I adapted a bit.” Happy spread out his arms. “Better than a condo in Glendale.”
Aadi smiled. “Better to live in an enchanted forest with the tree people.”
“That’s one way of looking at it,” Happy said.
Aadi’s face turned serious then. “Why did you leave early?” They asked.
“What, from SCAG?”
“Yes,” Aadi said. “You left before the power went out. Before the beast in the sky showed itself.”
“You mean the jet that broke the windows?” I heard it was a cargo plane that got off course when the power went out.”
Aadi gave him a long look. “Why did you leave?”
Happy sighed. “It’s a long walk back to my place. I wanted to be back before midnight. I’m old. I need my sleep.”
Aadi continued to look at him. “You seem honest. I want to trust you.”
Happy smiled. “I don’t like to have to keep track of lies,” he said. “It weighs on the soul.”
“Agreed,” Aadi said. “People sink.” Aadi spun around again, looking at the forest. “I like that you live here. It seems real to me.”
“Would you like a beer?” Harvey asked.
“Free beer,” Aadi said, “Yes. I’d like that.”
Happy went to the back of his trailer and opened the hatch, revealing a small outdoor kitchen. He opened the tiny refrigerator and pulled out two bottles of Miller High Life. He screwed the cap off each and put them in the recycling bin next to the trailer. He handed a beer to Aadi, then gestured to the two chairs next to the fire pit. “Let’s have a sit,” he said.
The two of them took their chairs. They silently sipped on their beers for a couple of minutes. “Ever since the… plane… I’ve felt unsafe.” Aadi said. “I don’t believe in dragons, but I still worry about them.”
Happy took a sip of his beer, then said, “I read the Bible a lot when I was a boy. My mama, she believed. She liked it when I read, so I read. It never made a lot of sense to me, but I knew better than to say so. I was a good boy, so I quoted verses and nodded when the Good Reverend Wright got in front of the congregation and told us we needed to be true. I didn’t lie, I didn’t steal, and if I ever cheated at cards, I felt bad about it. But to be honest, I didn’t believe. I didn’t feel a thing. It wasn’t until I came here that I felt anything like a closeness to God. I can feel it here though. I can feel it in the trees. I can feel the magical world. I’m not magical myself. Not even a little, but I like to feel it surround me. Is it the God I read about? It’s hard to say. Still, that’s the world I see because the words are inside of me.”
“Things can happen here,” Aadi said. “I can happen here.” Aadi paused and took another sip of beer. “I like to be outside. I like so sleep outside. I used to sleep on the beach, but now I don’t feel safe. I stay with my friend. He lives on the pier. It is so close to being where I want to be, but it isn’t. It isn’t where I want to be. I was hoping I could figure out what happened. No one seems to give it another thought though.”
“You want to know if it is a plane or a dragon?” Happy asked.
“It doesn’t matter what it was. I need to know why it was.” Aadi said. “If it had been something you did or Missalia did, that would be something… maybe not enough, but something. I don’t think it is though, which means…”
“Which means you can’t sleep on the beach.”
Happy thought for a moment, then said. “I was married, once upon a time. We tried to have children. We tried for a while, but it turned out that we were…” He paused. “It turned out that it wasn’t in the cards for us. I wanted to move on, but she couldn’t. She couldn’t get past it. I couldn’t help her. It was very hard.”
Happy stopped and took a drink. “That was the beginning of a bad series of events. Eventually, I found myself alone and expecting to die. I won’t go into the details, but I truly didn’t think I’d spend another year in this world. It was this overwhelming pressure. Then, the rest of the world followed suit. The economy crashed and I got laid off. They gave me a bit of severance, but there was nothing out there for me to do, and like I said, I thought I was going to die.”
Happy took a deep breath, then said, “I had nowhere to go, so I started going to this little park by my condo, just to go somewhere. I’d sit on this bench in the shade, just watching. I felt like I was taking everything in for the last time. That’s when the strangest thing happened. This man, old as hell and dark like me, came and sat on the bench. He just started talking. I figured he was lonely. He talked about when he was a twenty-one he got out of the army and had no idea what to do or where to go. He said he went to a bus station and told the guy he wanted a ticket on the next bus leaving. That’s how he ended up there. He said he spent his whole life in the city, and it had been the right place for him. After he was done, he turned and looked me dead in the eye and said, “The next bus.” Then he got up and walked away.
Aadi nodded. “Did you get on the next bus?”
“Screw the bus. I had a car. I got in my car and just started driving. That’s how I got here, and as soon as I did, I knew I’d done the right thing. Once I was here, I found a better doctor, I found a better way to live, and I learned to accept. That last part was hard, but I did it.”
“So, you don’t have the worries?” Aadi asked.
“We all have worries.” Happy said. “I get by because I find ways to live up to this dumb nickname of mine. Trust me, it’s hard work.”
“It didn’t used to be hard for me,” Aadi said.
“Things change,” Happy said. They sat there in silence for a while, then Happy said, “I’m pretty sure you’re getting ready to turn on that smile of yours and ask if you can stay. Yeah, I know your talents. So, before any of that, yes, you can stay. There’s a hammock down to the left and I got blankets if you need them. I’m going to cook some dinner. I assume you’re hungry.”
Aadi smiled. “I won’t play tricks on you Happy,” they said. “I promise.”
“Good,” Happy told them. Happy went into his trailer and came back out with a whistle. “Blow this if you run into trouble. I’m pretty handy in a scrap.”
Happy started dinner. As he cooked, Aadi took out their harmonica and started to play.