By Jon Wesick

After winning a hundred dollars at the horse races Jack Econski drove his VW Beetle north on Pacific Highway. About a half hour after maneuvering his VW past Coffs Harbor, he felt a beer shit coming on. There was no way to hold on until he made Byron Bay, so he searched for an exit. What he saw on the green and white freeway sign was as welcome as an angry landlord on the third of the month. Waggawolla! Jesus, he hated Waggawolla!

Econski took the exit and saw a bar not far from Waggawolla Land the amusement park he’d vowed never to enter. He drove around looking for a place to park and got more desperate every minute. Finally he found a spot under the purple glow of a mercury vapor light on an abandoned side street. The bar was mostly deserted except for a few hard-core regulars, who’d traded careers, lovers, and dreams for glasses of cheap whiskey.

“Hey!” the bartender yelled. “Restrooms are for customers only!”

“Give me a beer, then!” Econski muscled through the men’s room door. His beer was waiting on the bar when he returned.

“That’ll be nine bucks,” the bartender said.

“Nine bucks for a beer?” No wonder Econski hated Waggawolla.

After taking the money, the bartender disappeared into a back room. Econski had planned to drink up and leave, but after paying nine dollars he decided to stay and drink in the atmosphere to get his money’s worth. It was a quiet place except for the crunching of ice and sound of breaking glass coming from the back room. No one wasted money on the jukebox glowing in the corner. The woman sitting in a booth by the door could have been pretty, if alcohol and bitterness hadn’t made her features brittle. Econski smiled at her. She stubbed out a lipstick-smudged cigarette and turned her back.

A large wombat dashed through the door. He wore a tuxedo and a big stupid smile. The wombat’s eyes darted back and forth and settled on Econski.

“Hey buddy, can you hold these for me?” He tossed Econski a plastic bag and ran for the bathroom.

A policeman entered moments later. “Anybody see a short guy with long, digging claws come in here?”

The woman pointed toward the back, and the cop gave chase. Econski opened the bag. It contained a half-dozen pink pills shaped like wombat heads. He swallowed all of them and washed them down with beer.

“He’s the one!” The giant marsupial led the policeman to Econski’s stool. “I saw him selling drugs to the children outside the Gum Tree Forest.”

“Let’s see what’s in the bag.” When the policeman found it empty, he grabbed the wombat by the scruff of the neck and hauled him outside.

The bartender returned from the back room.

“You get many five-foot wombats in here?” Econski asked.

“What are you talking about?”

Econski shrugged and ordered another beer. By the time he finished it, he was beginning to feel strange. The pills made the colors brighter and the room seem flatter, as if drawn on an animation cell. The woman by the door now wore a long black dress and a gold crown. Econski made his way outside.

“Hey, watch where you’re going!” A kookaburra shoved past and stepped on Econski’s foot in the process.

Econski wasn’t sure he could find his car. He wandered past castles, wicked stepmothers their smiles dripping venom, and singing platypuses. A group of kangaroos looked in dumpsters for bottles and aluminum cans to stuff in the garbage bags slung over their shoulders. Some guy had a mermaid in the alley. He’d gotten her top off but didn’t know what to do with the rest of her. When Econski finally made it to his VW, the wombat and a goose in an ANZAC hat were waiting.

“I think you have something that belongs to us, mate.” The wombat tapped a cricket bat against his palm.

“I ate them. I had to when you ratted me out to that cop.”

“Then you owe us fifty bucks,” the goose said.

“Buzz off!” Econski reached for the car’s door.

He heard a whoosh and ducked. The cricket bat whistled past his head and dented the car’s roof. Econski spun, knocked the bat away, and grabbed the wombat by the balls. Strangely the wombat’s scream was no more high-pitched than his speaking voice. Econski heard an agitated honking, sidestepped, and caught the charging goose under the bill with an uppercut that knocked him off his webbed feet.

Econski stepped over the unconscious cartoon animals and reached for the car door. He felt a shock and a pain, as if a hundred cherry bombs had gone off in his skull. He hadn’t seen the six-foot koala come out of the shadows with a tire iron.

A fly buzzed and tickled his cheek. Econski brushed it away, sat up, and opened his eyes. The sunlight made his head hurt. He was sitting in an alley behind a green dumpster. A used condom lay by his left foot, and the air smelled of rotting fish. Econski struggled to his feet and patted his pockets. The hundred dollars he’d won at the track was missing. He bent over, vomited, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand before stumbling out of the alley. Waggawolla! He hated Waggawolla!

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Host of the Gelato Poetry Series, instigator of the San Diego Poetry Un-Slam, and an editor of the San Diego Poetry Annual, Jon Wesick has published over seventy short stories in journals such as The Berkeley Fiction Review, Space and Time, Zahir, Tales of the Talisman, Blazing Adventures, and Metal Scratches. He has also published over three hundred poems. Jon has a Ph.D. in physics and is a longtime student of Buddhism and the martial arts. One of his poems won second place in the 2007 African American Writers and Artists contest.

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