Pam and I finally made it out to our little piece of heaven near Laramie. It had been more than a decade since we’d been there. Even after all this time, though, we’d never stopped thinking of the plot of land as our retirement destination. We’d spotted the lots for sale on our honeymoon road trip. Neither of us had much money then. But I had a decent job and the lots were cheap. Two years later we were able to scrape together the money.
For several years, we had traveled to Wyoming for an annual or sometimes bi-annual camping trip, even when the kids were little. As time went by and the kids and our lives got busier, the trips became less frequent. We thought about taking the grandkids sometime, but now the youngest ones were in high school. They didn’t have time for Grandma and Grandpa.
Not long after I’d retired, Pam and I were having one of our leisurely late breakfasts. Pam peered up at me over the top of her New York Times and said, “It’s time to go build that cabin.”
Our drive took a detour through Park City. Our skiing buddies had retired there, and Pam had always wanted to visit Sundance. I think she secretly hoped to run in to Robert Redford. She said The Candidate was her favorite movie of all time. Pam always denied it, but I’m pretty sure she harbored unspoken Robert Redford fantasies.
We arrived at our lot mid-afternoon, full of pent up anticipation — anticipation, though, that quickly faded. What had been beautiful open land twelve years ago was now sliced up by strings of ugly barbed wire. Though there were a few small run-down houses, most of the lots were either covered with trash or occupied by rusting mobile homes.
When we finally found our lot, we couldn’t believe it. There was already a house on it — and not even a pretty one. Pam turned to me, eyes blazing, “Did you forget to pay the property taxes?” With Pam, if something went wrong, it had to be somebody’s fault. Usually that somebody was me. And if not me, then some Republican.
“I paid the taxes,” I bristled. “Somebody must be squatting on our land.”
Pam and I had met in 1968 at a Eugene McCarthy rally. Pam was there because she thought wars were immoral. I was there to meet cute girls who’d burned their bras. Gene was my guy, though. Like most young men at the time, I didn’t much countenance an overseas adventure in far off Southeast Asia. Together, Pam and I did “Get Clean for Gene” that summer. We married six months later. Our first-born kept me out of the draft.
Even after three kids, Pam had kept at it. She became seriously discouraged when Nixon won the election in 1968 and then again in 1972. But the flame re-ignited when he turned out to be a crook. Pam borrowed a friend’s VCR so she could have a permanent record of Nixon leaving the White House that August Friday in 1974. She put it on continuous loop at the big shindig we threw that night for our Democrat friends. Pam made sure our front drapes stayed wide open, so the Republican neighbors across the street could witness our collective joy.
For a time, I’d go with Pam to her meetings and rallies. But my enthusiasm eventually waned. I’d already snagged my cute braless hippie chick. Besides, somebody had to tend to the kids. I caught up on my reading and football while she went out to save the world.
“How could somebody just squat on our land?” Pam snapped.
“They probably saw it was unoccupied and just built a place,” I replied. “In most states, adverse possession laws allow someone to take over unused property — I think after about ten years.”
Pam’s anti-war fervor came roaring back. Only this time it was personal. “But it’s our property,” she declared. “Who told them they could do that?”
“I doubt they asked for anyone’s permission,” I replied. “It’s the law.”
Pam cursed the Wyoming legislature and the (probably) fat cat Wall Street type who’d taken our land, but not before yelling “Fuck the law.” She demanded that we immediately high tail it to Cheyenne. Those fucking Republicans needed to be set straight!
I knew better than to point out to Pam that our home state of Oregon likely had similar adverse possession laws. She’d have just blamed the techno-billionaires who’d invaded her beloved political tribe. After living with her this long, I knew how this would play out. It was better to just keep my mouth shut.
On our way through Laramie, I noticed the Big Boy Hamburger stand where we liked to eat. We made a point every visit to have at least one meal there. When I suggested we stop for a bite before the drive to Cheyenne, Pam grunted and said no, we needed to get going. Time was a-wasting.
I glanced over and saw that she had started texting. “What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m getting hold of Tony to tell him we’re headed his way, and that he needed to go out to our land and find out what was going on.”
“What help can your goofball brother be?” I snarled.
Pam chafed. “Sure, he’s got some weird ideas sometimes, but he’s really good at uncovering shit.”
“Honey, let me say this as lovingly as I can. While your conspiracy theories are confined to the military-industrial complex, the NSA, and Wall Street, Tony’s aren’t confined to the planet.”
“I know, I know,” she bristled. “But he doesn’t let up.”
Another signal that I should keep my mouth shut. “Yep,” I concurred. “That’s true.”
Pam had me drop her off at the state capitol. On the way, she’d found out that the Wyoming Legislature was, in fact, in session. She’d arranged a meeting with a legislative aide who worked with the Minerals, Business & Economic Development Committee.
I told Pam I would wait for her at Tony’s place. She said she’d get a cab or Uber there after she’d given the Wyoming Legislature a piece of her mind. I’m sure in her head she was already designing the placards and composing the chants they’d use at the rally she was planning.
I didn’t dare tell her that I was going back to Laramie first. I figured a little poking around on my part wouldn’t hurt anything. And I needed to get there before Tony.
By the time I arrived back at our property, it was dusk. The place was eerily spooky this time of day. Fortunately, Tony hadn’t gotten there yet. Though the hair on the back of my neck was starting to stand on end, I decide to preempt Tony by knocking on the front door. Worst case, I’d get to put a face on the enemy. Best case, I could find out that all this was a simple reconcilable misunderstanding.
Mounting the front steps, I was met with a cold chill leaking through the decrepit door frame. When I rang the doorbell, my fingers began to tingle … and then the door slowly creaked open. There was a blue light shining from within. I found myself paralyzed by the light and the cold and the fear. I noticed several long rectangular boxes sitting on sawhorses scattered around the room. The house was filled with coffins! What had I gotten myself into? I wanted to run, but fear had frozen my feet to the floor.
Just then, Tony stormed through the front door. He’d seen the blue light coming from the house and had called out to me. But I hadn’t answered. He found me inside the house, frozen in place and staring at the blue light. Shielding his eyes, he dragged me into the front yard and over to his beat-up old jeep. “We gotta’ go,” he said with a sense of urgency that couldn’t be ignored. I was too dazed to argue.
It was night and the road was dark. As we passed a Highway 287 sign, I asked Tony where we were going. “I have some friends in Fort Collins. We’ll go there,” he replied. I was either too tired or too confused to ask why we weren’t going to get Pam first.
I fell asleep, waking up when we pulled into a parking garage. “Where are we?” I asked. Tony told me that he thought better about calling on his Fort Collins friends. By this time, it was the middle of the night. Besides, he didn’t want to get his friends involved with what we had seen in Laramie. We settled into the Motel 6 next door for a few hours of sleep.
Tony got us up at the crack of dawn the next morning. As we packed up to leave, Tony asked me to take care of the parking ticket while he was loading the car. When I opened my wallet, I discovered that all my cash and credit cards were missing. Everything else was still there. This was really weird. Why would just the cash and cards be gone? If someone had gotten access to my wallet, wouldn’t they just have taken it with them? I tried to imagine what could have possibly happened at the squatter’s house during my blackout.
Tony came over to check on me. We both stared at the parking machine display — $5.55. “At least it’s not 666,” he said. “Let’s pay cash. It’s safer.”
Our way out of town took us past Horsetooth Reservoir. The reservoir was quite full this time of year, overflowing onto the highway. We eventually lost sight of the road as we drove through the water. Eventually, though, Tony managed to navigate back onto the water-covered highway.
“Hand me your phone,” he said.
“What for?” I asked.
“Just hand me your phone.”
I don’t know why I trusted Tony with my phone, but I did. He proceeded to throw it, along with his, into the reservoir. We drove up onto dry land and left the reservoir, and our phones, behind.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“I don’t know what that was that you got yourself into,” he replied. “But we need to put some distance between it and us. We’re going to find someplace to hole up, just as far up in the mountains as we can get.”
I was not surprised that the rear of Tony’s jeep was full of survival gear. He had a tent and sleeping bags and plenty of water — even some dehydrated food and extra gasoline. Tony found a little-used Forest Service road that took us to a secluded spot where we bedded down for the night.
By the next morning my head had cleared, and I began thinking “What the hell?” Tony was already packing up the jeep. “We need to head back down the mountain so I can get in touch with Pam,” I told him. “She’ll be worried and probably mad. She doesn’t like to carry much cash, and she won’t keep credit cards with her. She’s convinced that the government uses those chips to track us.”
“Pam’s fine,” Tony replied. “I texted her this morning. She said you’d given her your cash and credit cards when you dropped her off at the capitol. By the way, Pam is right. Those chips on credit cards do transmit GPS information. What makes you think the government doesn’t try to keep track of everyone 24/7?”
I rolled my eyes. “How is it that you talked to Pam this morning? Yesterday you threw our phones into the water.”
Tony was incredulous. “You didn’t think I’d keep us totally out of touch, did you? I always keep a fully encrypted burner phone in the jeep. I replace the sucker once a week just to be safe. We’re going to meet Pam at your property. Apparently, she found out some shit she wants to tell you about.”
“Did Pam know where we were this whole time?” I asked. Tony nodded yes.
Pam was waiting for us when we arrived at the property. She was smiling. “We got all worked up for nothing,” she admitted. “I spent some time in the law library at the capitol. Since you paid the property taxes every year, our claim on the property was never in jeopardy.”
“What about this house with all its weird shit?” I asked, pointing to the squatter’s house.
Tony chimed in. “Pam was convinced it was a secret government-run weapons research facility, probably some sort of zombie virus experimentation. I told her it was too weird to be the government. It was more likely something extraterrestrial. You were acting so weird. It could have been either one.”
Pam grinned. “Turned out to be neither of those things. Some University of Wyoming frat boys have been using our property for a haunted house. They were very apologetic. They’d seen this crappy neighborhood and thought it would be a perfect place for their Halloween party. And since nobody seemed to be doing anything on our property, they didn’t think there would be any harm in putting up a temporary little building once a year. I told them they could wait until after Halloween to remove it.”
I didn’t know what to say. It was all still a little weird. And I was tired. Pam and I said our goodbyes to Tony and got in the car to head for home. “Bob’s Big Boy?” I asked.
Pam smiled. “You betcha!”
As we drove toward town, I turned to Pam, “How ‘bout we sell the land and use the money to buy a small RV, just big enough for two?” I didn’t have the heart to tell her I didn’t want to live this close to Tony.
“I was thinking the same thing,” Pam answered. “There are too many Republicans in Wyoming for my liking. I don’t think I could stand having a Cheney represent me in Congress. Besides, we’ve still got a lot of volleyball games and band concerts to attend. And we do love Portland.”
“You know, Oregon has adverse possession laws too,” I told her.
“I know,” she said, grinning. “I’ve already got the placards designed and the chants composed for our first rally.”
This was another one of those times to keep my mouth shut.