In this episode, Keisha decides to stop patronizing rest areas for a little while, and for good reason.
Our humble narrator begins thusly:
I’ve been to a lot of rest areas in my life. Hell, I’ve been to a lot of rest areas this week. Parking is easier, and I kinda like the rustic feel of them versus a gas and shopping area. I like the trees and grass.
But for the next few days or weeks-or months, even-I’ll stop at the truck stops and gas stations instead. The hot dogs under heat lamps, and the tired people who are still a long way from where they wanted to be. I’ll take that crowd and noise to avoid the quiet rest stops.
Or the rest stops I used to think were quiet.
After the opening, Keisha talks about the town of Gilroy, where a lot of the country’s garlic is found. She says that it smells amazing, “like diced garlic dropping into a pan of oil.” She expresses some pity for the way that people eventually grow used to and just stop smelling certain smells before reminiscing about a strawberry stand her family used to frequent when she was a kid. Largely she remembers the smell of it, like strawberries and earth, and how the people at the stand had blocked the smell out: “Even as a kid, that seemed like one of the worst fates. To work in the best smell in the world and never be able to smell it.”
A bit later, Keisha comes across a town amusingly named Coyote, just a bit north of San Francisco. Eventually she finds that she needs to use the facilities and comes across a rest stop called the Crystal Springs Rest Area, where she shares a rather amusing thought:
Did you know that rest areas have Google reviews now? I looked this one up later, ad there was one review that just said, “If you’ve ever wondered if cops spit or swallow, come here. And then the review said, “Good coffee,” so the coffee’s OK.
Keisha then describes a statue of a man on a hill, pointing towards the highway, before telling the story of a man named Jerry Morrissette.
Jerry Morrissette was an alcoholic Vietnam veteran who had been hired to oversee the maintenance of the very rest area Keisha finds herself now in 1990. The area had apparently been a hotbed of criminal activity, particularly drugs and gangs. Jerry, who lived on the side, had the idea to paint “reserved for California Highway Partol” on a few parking spots, which seemed to scare the criminal element away. After that, he continued to live there. The state tried to kick him out, but this drew the ire of the locals, so instead they gave him a trailer. While he lived there, he kept the bathrooms clean and would often leave vases of flowers on the counters. He became known as the monk of the Crystal Springs Rest Area.
Back to Keisha, who enters the rest area. The parking lot is full, but the rest area itself is strangely empty. She sees a vase of flowers on the counter, which makes her smile a bit, then heads into the stall in the back.
You know, I read once that the first stall, most visible to the rest of the bathroom, is also always the cleanest because people choose it less. I don’t know where I read that. I have no way of knowing if it’s true, but I have spent the rest of my life believing it. Our brains are strange objects.
Keisha is in the stall when she hears an odd voice. The stall next to her had been empty when she entered, and no one had entered the building in the meantime.
“What have you seen?” the voice asked. It didn’t sound like the voice was in the same room with me. It sounded like a cassette, or an mp3 from the early 2000s, flat and faint.
“Uh,” I said, because, well, because all of this, because everything about this situation that was happening
“Two of you, like now, but two of you, both. Soon. Or already. I can’t tell.”
The feet in the stall next to mine shifted. The person was sideways, facing the divider between us that seemed to flimsy now. “I’m sorry, uh, I think you have mixed up with, uh…” I didn’t know how to finish that sentence, and then I realized I didn’t have to finish it and so I left the stall and headed briskly for the sink. As I did, I couldn’t help but look. The stall next to mine was open, and it was empty.
The stall doesn’t stay empty for very long, as a person in a hoodie suddenly appears. The hoodie is pulled down so Keisha can’t see their feature. The person is slumped against the wall, looking at their feet and whispering. The person, without any kind of transition, is suddenly standing, then they’re over by the sink, still whispering and tearing at the flowers in the vase. The whispering gets louder, and Keisha, wisely, runs toward the exit. As she’s running for the door, she can make out the word “praxis.”
Keisha then goes back to the story of the monk of Crystal Springs:
It started with the death of a dog. Spike died, and Jerry started drinking again. His work suffered. His monastery slipped back toward being a rest area again. Then he phoned a Caltran supervisor, who he believed had poisoned his dog, and threatened him. Police came. His trailer was searched. Three guns were found. Why did Jerry Morrissette, monk of the Highway Monastery, have three guns? Well, he did live in a parking lot that was once frequented by drug trade and gangs. But maybe it was because he lived in America, and so for better or worse…or worse…or worse…he could.
The state began eviction proceedings. Insult of all insults: they didn’t let him clean his bathrooms anymore, brought in another worker to do it. The state even cast dout on the most fundamental aspects of his story. Maybe there hadn’t been so much crime at the rest area before. Maybe Jerry Morrissette hadn’t done much more than be real good at cleaning. His single-handed transformation of a troubled place into a beautiful garden might have just been very good PR.
And that was it for Jerry Morrissette. A dead dog, a drunken phone call, three guns, and the last of the decade and a half of his life cast into doubt.
Keisha goes on to say that Jerry had moved into a trailer in San Fransisco, according to an article she read from 2014. She believes that he had died of the terminal cancer he’d been diagnosed with before he moved, but can’t say for sure. “There is no moral to this story, but there is a real human life.”
Back at the rest stop, Keisha manages to suppress the urge to get in her truck and drive until she runs out of gas. She also notes that she’s seen the person in the hoodie a couple of times before, most notably on the video showing what had happened to Sylvia’s mother. Instead of leaving, she decides to go towards the statue on the hill to try and clear her head. Upon closer examination, however, she decides that the statues looks a bit too much like a Thistle Man for her comfort, and decides to risk going back into the bathroom.
On the way back in, she sees three women, laughing and joking as the enter the rest area. Keisha is a bit relieved, since she thinks that at least she wouldn’t be alone. However, when she actually enters the rest area, there’s nobody there. While looking for people in the stalls, she hears someone behind her. She turns to see an old man with a long beard arranging flowers in a vase. He says, “Excuse me,” and turns to leave.
As he’s leaving, Keisha hears the whispering again, and turns towards it to see a familiar form:
The person inn the hoodie, sitting in the stall, folder over at the waist and whispering to the floor tiles.
“Hello?” I said.
The whispering got faster, more urgent, but they didn’t move. I reached out my hand, as though I would be able to touch them, but I would not be able to touch them, so I took my hand back.
“Hello?” I tried again.
“You again?” said a voice to my left. The person in the hoodie was sitting on the sink, legs dangling. They were barefoot, and their feet were filthy. “Or is this the first time?”
“Who are you? What do you know about me?”
“I am…” They thought about this for a moment, kicking their dangling feet. “I am an oracle. In hidden place on the highways, in the bathrooms at gas stations, behind the painted scenery of roadside attractions, in vans parked far out in the grassland, there are oracles on these roads.”
“You can see the future,” I said.
“No,” they said. “You misunderstand me.”
“What did I get wrong about what you said?” I asked.
“No, I meant, you misunderstand me. You don’t understand what I am.”
“What do you want?”
“I want to help you,” they said. They were back in the stall, flopped backwards against the tiles like a person unconscious. I still couldn’t see any face under the drawn hood.
“You are in danger.”
“Huge revelation,” I said. “You’re blowing my mind.”
“You don’t understand the danger.”
“There’s a war,” I said.
“Yes,” they said.
“And I’m caught between the sides.”
“So that much I understand,” I said.
“No,” they said. “You don’t even understand the most basic shape of it.”
Keisha then asks the question that she thinks is at the heart of everything’s that happened to her thus far: “What is praxis?”
The oracle responds, “One day you will understand. And when that day comes we will be there to help you.” Keisha, insistent, asks again, and the oracle stands up and starts shambling towards her, whispering as it approaches. Keisha notes that the oracle smells strongly of heather.
I opened my mouth to scream, and, as I did, I saw for a moment in the hood two human eyes, and the wet reflected light of tears falling from them.
The moment is interrupted by the sound of laughter, and one of the women Keisha saw earlier leaving one of the stalls and the other two waiting at the sink. Keisha is also by the sink, trembling. She gets some odd looks from one of the other women, but she doesn’t ask her if she’s all right. Eventually they leave, and Keisha notes that the floor is now muddy and there are no flowers before she takes her own leave.
First off: holy shit the voice Jasika Nicole uses for the oracle is fucking creepy. The description of the oracle is equally creepy. The way the hood obscures their features makes me think of dementors, or nazgul. The way the oracle moves is also some Silent Hill level shit.
This is interesting because, while the oracle is terrifying, it doesn’t seem to be malevolent. Or at the very least, it doesn’t seem to bear Keisha any ill will. Then there’s the last conversation between Keisha and the oracle, which brings up the war that Keisha is caught in the middle of. It also seems to indicate, along with some of her previous interactions with them, that Bay & Creek may not be as benevolent as they appear.