Under the Rain Shadow
Perturbed by the lack of any rainfall for months in the Central Grasslands, one conspiracy theorist stormchaser bunny starts to seek the truth for himself.
Fort Garfield sat on the hill that overlooked a town called Remington, population 100, give or take 95. Gonzo thought the old, bone-dry wooden buildings and brick slabs looked like something out of a western. No rain here either—not that he was expecting it, of course. Only a single road led through town, and smack dab in the middle of it all sat the rinky-dink Remington Rest Stop, thankfully with a few other cars (and a Humvee, fittingly) parked outside and lined up to refuel. The camper van joined them before parking in the shade.
Gonzo pulled on his shirt and leapt from the van's steps, staying off the alkali sands and already rather toasty blacktop as much as he could. A cast of characters awaited him inside, not least of which was the bighorn sheep's skull mounted on the wall opposite the door—not a sight Gonzo was much used to seeing. Even stranger were the living: scattered among the booths were an assortment of bobcats, foxes, kangaroo rats, skinks, and geckos, each competing for who could look the most stretched and spindly.
Gonzo quietly slipped to the end of the bar and collapsed in the seat against the wall. Through the rest stop window, he could see the fort looming overhead, the oppressive, sweltering air causing its blocky concrete facade and barbed wire fences to warp. He wasn't hungry (more thirsty than anything else), but the background chatter and rest stop AC after a delirious, near-silent night spent melting in the van soothed him.
From down the aisle, a coyote approached. Gonzo immediately took note of his sharp ears folded back, his russet bomber jacket, and the dirty, ashen smell of cigarette smoke that choked what surrounded him (his weary brain puzzling over wearing a jacket in the deathly heat all the while). Gonzo wriggled in his seat as the stranger took a stool two away.
"You from up north?" the coyote asked.
"Oh, uh...yeah, actually. How'd you know?"
"Well." The coyote's angular muzzle pulled into a mild smirk. He leaned in. "You look lost. You got a whole ton of hair for around here. You pulled up in a van. Nice van, actually, you fix it up?"
"Wouldn't be running without me!" Whether he was boasting about his own handiness or cursing the previous owners, Gonzo couldn't say.
"Nice, nice. I work on junkers too, yeah." The coyote paused, leaning away and putting his elbow up on the bar. He feigned looking away, disengaged for a moment, before turning back to Gonzo. "But no, really—what brings someone like you to Remington?"
Gonzo hesitated telling the strange, smoky fellow lemon repairer what exactly that was. "Well—I'm—checking something out, man. Looking into something."
"And what's that?"
With an exhale, Gonzo scanned behind the coyote for any of the other patrons listening close. "Can you keep a secret?" he said with his voice low.
"I like secrets, yeah."
"I'm looking for why we haven't gotten any rain this year. A guy told me over the radio it might be...the government."
The smirk bloomed into a dry grin at the word "government". "So you came to see the base."
Gonzo nodded. "You think they're doing something to the atmosphere?"
The coyote climbed up off the stool. "I'm...not gonna answer that one out loud. Tell ya what. I got a little ranch a few miles off to the east. Why don't you follow me in your big van and we can talk there, yeah?"
Gonzo was both excited at knowing he wasn't alone in his quest and utterly anxious about what strange, forbidden knowledge the stranger would need to take him back to his house for. Bunny curiosity getting the better of him, he agreed.
Meekly, Gonzo followed him out of the Rest Stop, enjoying a few final moments of central AC before he had to disappear back into the heat. "...And you know something about the base?"
"Something. Name's Calhoun, by the way."