By late Sunday evening, Mack wasn’t being much of a bad ass at all. However, he and his sister were singing a classic Willy Wombat tune as Mack drove the family mini-van into Tampa.
“I’m a wombat, wombat! You’re a wombat, wombat…”
“Hashtag old people who don’t know they’re old,” Paige lamented from the back seat as she drafted a short essay about her favorite brand of lip balm to post onto Lifebox.
Mack ignored his niece’s snarky attitude. The air was warm, the temperature was perfect, and for the first time in a long time he was feeling as though it wouldn’t be terrible to let his guard down.
Dylan, riding shotgun up front next to his uncle, stuck with a Stank Daddy jam in his earbuds. “Clock that grip bitch, no it ain’t funny when yo ass owe me money, clock that grip bitch, better pay me fast or it’s the gun blast, clock that grip bitch…”
“Bringing down the vibe, Dill,” Abby said.
Oblivious to his mother’s protestations, Dylan continued. “…aint no joke when your ass gets smoked, clock that grip, bitch…”
“Check it out,” Mack said as he pointed to an official Wombat World billboard on the side of the highway. It featured a smiling Chester Chimp peeling a banana stating, through a cartoon bubble, “Two Miles to Wombat World. You’d be ‘bananas’ to turn back now!”
“Ha!” Abby said as she slapped her knee. “Because he’s eating a banana!”
“Hashtag corny,” Paige said as she typed away on her tablet.
“How are you kids not flipping out?” Abby asked. “I went bonkers when I saw that sign twenty years ago.”
“Hashtag so did the brontosaurus,” Paige said nonchalantly without looking up from her Lifebox posting session.
Mack spotted another bill board featuring a basketball player performing a sweet layup. Next to the player were the words, “The Wombat Dome: Home of the Tampa Bay Marsupials.”
“You and me, sneaking out to a game one night this week, buddy,” Mack said as he tapped Dylan on the shoulder. “What do you say?”
“Eh,” Dylan said as he lowered the volume on his phone. “Sports aren’t really my bag.”
“What?” a shocked Mack asked.
“The entire professional sports team industry is just a scheme by the man to subliminally impose a sense of loyalty amongst the populace to their geographic location,” Dylan said. “Thereby rendering the masses to nothing more than unwitting slaves to corrupt local governments.”
“Is he always this much of a contrarian?” Mack asked his sister.
“You don’t know the half of it,” Abby said.
The next billboard featured a picture of a grand, sprawling estate with the words, “Stay in the lap of luxury at the Imperial Wombat Spa and Resort.”
Dylan perked up as noticed it. “Are we staying there?”
“Nope,” Abby said.
“Aww,” Dylan said. “Cheap.”
“Hashtag super cheap,” Paige said.
“When you two get jobs you can upgrade to the Imperial Wombat,” Abby said. “Until then, we’re Ferret Lodge folk.”
“The Ferret Lodge?” Dylan asked incredulously.
“Hashtag just kill me now,” Paige said as her fingers worked her tablet.
“You kids complain about the Ferret Lodge,” Mack said. “But that time I was running a snatch and grab in Somalia,I had to sleep under a pile of dead…”
“Appreciate the help, Mack,” Abby said. “But I don’t need my kids to become warped for life.”
“I’d like to hear the rest of that story,” Dylan said.
“No you don’t,” Abby said.
Mack looked down at his nephew over the edge of his sunglasses. “Your mom’s right. You really don’t.”
Soon enough, Abby found herself gawking in awe at the sight of an enormous green rollercoaster that staggered up into the sky.
“Jimbo the Frog’s Hopper Coaster!” Abby exclaimed.
“Mom,” Dylan said. “You’re such a nerd.”
“Hashtag nerd,” Paige said.
“Do you remember that, Mack?” Abby asked.
“Sure do,” Mack replied. “We rode it twice and you barfed on me each time.”
Abby sighed. “Good times.”
Twenty minutes later, the family found themselves driving through Wombat Hotel Row. There was the previously mentioned Imperial Wombat, temporary home to only the wealthiest, snootiest Wombat World enthusiasts.
Then there were the more moderately priced hotels like “Lonnie Lllama’s Sweet Suites” and “Princess Paulina’s Castle.”
When Mack reached the end of the row, he pulled off onto a winding dirt road that led to a pathetic little collection of brightly painted mobile home trailers on blocks.
The kids’ pie holes dropped in despair.
“It’s the Wombat ghetto,” Dylan said.
“OMG,” Paige said. “I knew it. We’re poor, aren’t we?”
“Go hashtag yourself, Paige,” Abby said.
Mack pulled up to a guard station. A kindly southern gentleman wearing a ranger’s hat stepped out.
“Howdy folks,” the guard said. “Welcome to the Wombat Lodge. Who might you be?”
Mack showed the guard his driver’s license and replied. “The Mackenzies.”
“Lanes,” Abby corrected her brother.
“Right,” Mack said. “The Lane family…and a Mackenzie.”
“Oh wonderful,” the guard said as he studied his clipboard. “The Lane family. You’re in bungalow seven.”
The guard handed Mack a room key, some Wombat World maps, and a stick.
“Here you go,” the guard said.
“What’s the stick for?” Mack said.
“That’s your wombat bonking stick,” the guard said. “If you see Willy trying to sneak into your room, give him a good old bonk on the noggin and tell him to get lost.”
Mack replied with a mild chuckle. The guard leaned in and whispered, “That’s a little joke for the kids but seriously, these things are loaded with rats so if you see one don’t ask questions, just smack the shit out of it.”
“Got it,” Mack said.
“OK then, Lanes and Mackenzie,” the guard said. “Enjoy your stay.”
Mack passed out the maps, then drove to bungalow seven. He parked the car, then he and Abby checked out their new digs.
The bungalow smelled musty. Two beds replete with stained comforters. A big crack in the wall. And there was definitely a squeaking sound coming from inside the wall.
“Well,” Abby said. “At least the price was right.”
“One time in the jungle, I literally had to cut open a tiger’s belly and sleep inside,” Mack said. “This is nothing.”
“Again,” Abby said. “Appreciate the help but don’t want to warp the…hey…where are the kids?”
Mack and Abby walked out to the mini-van and opened up the side door to find a pair of rambunctious children who were excitedly reading their Wombat World maps out loud to each other.
“Paige!” Dylan shouted. “Did you see this? Shock Rocket! The world’s premiere deep space flight simulator.”
“OMG,” Paige said as she read her map. “‘Princessify Yourself. Sit back and let our team of stylists turn you into royalty.”
“Pretty sure that’s for little girls, Paige,” Dylan said.
“I don’t care,” Paige said. “I’m doing it.”
“And I’m flying a Wombat Copter,” Dylan said.
“‘Lonnie Lllama’s Good Time Dance Party,’” Paige read. “‘It’s a spitting good time.’”
“Whoa,” Mack said. “Power Action Ninja Soldier Force Stunt Show! Now with fifty percent more power action ninjas!”
“This place is awesome,” Paige said.
“It’s so awesome,” Dylan said.
Abby’s eyes welled up. “Finally. They’re becoming little Wombat World fans.”