The Demons of my Past

A personal memoir by Velma Dinkley

What I remember best is the smell of that van, that smell of wet dog. We had a big dog back then, it had to stay in the back, of course. And it would sleep there, yelping, ignorant of the tens of thousands of miles of American highway rushing away under it. We'd found the poor mongrel tied to a tree in some state in the Midwest, emaciated. We took it in and gave it some leftover pizza, which it seemed to adore. Over the next few weeks, the poor animal regained its strength. I don't think we ever found out its breed. It must have been some strange mix, but somewhere in the ancestral line, there must have been a Great Dane. When the goofy creature would throw its front paws at your shoulders, which it did often, it would be facing you, if not (in my case) towering over you. That big dog kept us together through the good times and the bad.
We, of course, were runaways. Like all teenagers, we'd thought about it, dreamt about it, and talked about it, but unlike all teenagers, we'd actually done it. We'd grown up, like so many of our generation, in a dreary suburbia with permissive and uninterested parents. We'd meet in whatever smoke-filled bar we could find, just so long as it could be deemed slightly alternative. By day, we walked like zombies through high school, bored to tears. We all realized at the time already that we were smarter than all of them put together.

The day that changed our lives was the day Fred got his driver's license. We'd always considered Fred the tame one, never understood why he hung out with us. But as it turned out it would be Fred who would call our bluff, force the group into action, escape.
"We can leave all this behind tonight", he announced, flinging his fresh driver's license onto the diner's formica table.
We looked up from our pizza. "Dude, you don't have wheels", Daphne said. But there was uncertainty in her voice.
"I don't", Fred replied. "But my Dad does."
He was referring, as you may have guessed, to his Dad's company van. Mr Jones ran a profitable plumbing business, and he owned one of those minivans. The plan, Fred explained, was not to just make off with the van, but to give it a paint job first. "The paint will dry under the hot California sun", he said with a grin.
That same night, drunk out of our skulls, we were breaking into Fred's dad's company garage. Fred knew the alarm codes and everything, and nobody suspected us. I'd brought the spray paint from my dad's hardware store, and drunk as we were, we started painting the van in all kinds of psychedelic colors.
"Wait, wait," said Shaggy, giggling, the little pothead. "Like, this van needs a name. Can't have a van without a name."
"Well, what do you suggest?" Daphne asked.
"I don't know", Shaggy said. "Who knows? It's a mystery."
"Tell you what", I said. "Let's keep things simple, and call it 'The Mystery Machine.'"
And honest to God, that was what we painted on the side of the van, in big letters: 'The Mystery Machine.'

As dawn came, we drove out of that stupid little town, never to return. We would spend the next years, no, decades, on the road, just driving, driving, driving like we were being chased. And in a sense, we were. I don't remember the names of the places we visited and the people we met, there were too many of them. Somehow, all those encounters seemed to follow the same pattern, which is why they all blur into one in my mind.
The thing is, none of us had a steady job or even obvious skills. Sure we were smart, but smart people spent most of their lives in office buildings, sedated into a 9-to-5 existence and paying off their mortgages. The wild and reckless life we'd chosen required manual labor skills, which none of us possessed. So we did the odd administrative job here and there, but we spent the money faster than we earned it.
It wasn't until a few months into our road trip that Daphne struck on the idea as she was leafing through an issue of Weekly World News. "You know, there must be some basis of fact in these articles", she said.
"You're kidding, right?" I sighed.
"I don't mean really supernatural stuff, of course, but something.. something that started the rumor."
"Well," said Fred. "we could always go to--" and he read from the page, "Marylakes, Wisconsin and see."
And so it was decided. We drove off to Wisconsin, bored with the California happy people, and drove into Marylakes.

I don't even remember what was supposed to have been lurking in that fine rural community, vampires or a ghoul or whatever, but when we first crashed down the door of that dilapidated old building, abandonded since the 30s, I must admit I got goosebumps. Sure I didn't believe in anything beyond the realm of reality, but still, a childhood of sneaking into horror movies for which I was too young had conditioned me into getting scared. And to add to the atmosphere, something very much resembling the demonic being from the tabloid made an appearance. At first, there was confusion among the group, and some of us were wavering; had we taken the wrong drugs the night before? Could there really be more between heaven and earth? It was up to me, nerdy rationalist par excellence, to prove the gang wrong and unmask the monster, literally. It turned out to be some local hoodlum who'd been pretty effective in scaring the shit out of the local law-abidin' citizens, and we delivered him to the cops. To our surprise, we got to stay the night in the town's finest hotel and were treated like kings.

From that moment on, we knew how to make money. You'd think we'd need to create some esoteric mumbo-jumbo of our own, but no, the blackmailing guys-dressing-up-as-monsters were everywhere, it seemed. All we had to do was read the most freakish article in WWN, ride our Mystery Machine over to Yellow Belly, Iowa, and do do that voodoo that we do. The only ones who never managed to buy a clue were Shaggy and the dog, even though they did buy all the magic mushrooms they could lay their hands on. They were always too stoned out of their skulls to realize what was going on, and pissed their pants every step of the way. But we didn't care. We were raking in the dough by the bucketload, almost becoming celebrities in the process.
But whatever I may have loved or regretted about those golden years, my fondest memories will always be being in the back of that van, hearing the rain drum on the roof, and burying myself in the warm, thick fur of good old Scooby-Doo.