Callie woke up early; it was now Saturday.
“Mike, get up!” she said.
She leaned over the back of the front seats and prodded him.
Mike wasn’t ready to get up just yet. Callie had to twang his earlobe and slap his head around for a few seconds.
“Alright! Alright! I’m getting up!” he said.
“Go check on Dad!”
“Why? What happened?”
Mike had somehow ended up on his stomach, his least favorite sleep position, and now his right arm was crushed under his body with a cramp to end all cramps, and his back ached like an old man’s, after a fall.
“Gimme a minute.” he said.
He extricated his right arm, and then began the arduous task of turning himself around.
“Is this going to take long?” Callie asked.
“Me kill you now if not shut up.” Mike answered.
He sat up and opened the passenger door, which was closer to the kitchen entrance. He scooted out of the wagon and tossed his pillow behind him to the backseats as he did so. Once out, he yawned and stretched, then walked into the house. He flicked the kitchen lights on, as it was still dark, and looked over to the living room, where his father had been placed.
His father was not there.
Mike’s breath staggered to a stop.
Hoping his bleary eyes were only being deceived by the dark, he walked into the living room, switched on the lights, and blinked as they flickered on.
There he was.
A sigh of relief escaped Mike’s lips when he saw that his dad had only fallen backwards, but was still well bound. During the night he must have somehow tipped himself over. Now he lay there next to the sofa like an upside-down turtle; asleep, apparently, in that awkward position.
Just for scaring me, Mike thought, I’m going to leave you like that.
Charles Longstreet opened his eyes.
Mike almost screamed; his father’s eyes had gone jet black.
At least they had seemed so, for a moment there. A second look showed normal eye coloring; the whites of the eyes still…white.
Just a trick of the light, that’s all, Mike thought, Had to be.
He went back to the garage. Callie waited for him there. She had a change of clothes ready, as well as a plastic baggie of toiletries.
“So?” she asked.
“It’s okay, he’s still there.”
“What kept you?”
“Well then. Let’s wash up so we can get the hell out of here. I’ll go first.”
She walked past him, into the house.
“Steer clear of Dad, Cal.” Mike called after her.
“I intend to.” she called back.
They did not dally.
Ten minutes later they were both back in the wagon, and good to go.
Mike backed the wagon out of the garage and onto the empty street. He turned them in the direction of the shortest route out of town.
“We’re really doing it this time.” Callie said, with a nervous flutter in her voice, “I can’t believe we’re really doing it this time!”
Soon, their hometown of Noah’s Oak was behind them.
Half an hour later, they were out of Fasenbuk County altogether. A few hours after that, as they neared the state line between New Heedol and Minnago, they stopped for gas in a town named Crayton; then drove over to a nearby picnic area for breakfast.
They located a decent table under a shady tree and brought to it their provisions. They had the whole park to themselves, and the breeze was delicious.
Callie had packed pancakes in foil. She also brought paper plates and cups, utensils, napkins, and juice.
They set their table, sat down, and had their breakfast. They ate in silence; in enjoyment of the moment, the scenery, and their freedom. Only when they were about finished, were they ready to get down to business.
“I think it’s time we talk about where it is we want to go from here.” Callie said, “Putting miles between us and Dad is good for a start---but sooner or later we’re gonna have to figure out what to do with ourselves when that’s no longer the pressing issue.”
Mike thought it over as he washed down the last of his pancakes with a swallow of juice.
“I think our basic problem,” he said, “Is that we don’t have any relatives to turn to…that we know about, anyway. Our only known relative is Dad, and he’s the problem, not the---“
“Mike…” Callie interrupted, “What about Mom?”
“What about her?”
“We can try to find her!” Callie said, already enchanted with her idea.
“Find her where? We don’t know where she is. She could be dead by now, for all we know.”
“Dad’s alive. Why not her?”
“If she’s alive, why didn’t she ever come looking for us?”
“We don’t know she didn’t try.”
“What if she doesn’t want us?”
“What if she does?”
“I’m not talking you out of this, am I?”
“Okay, you got my vote.” Mike said, throwing his hands up in mock defeat, “Beats wandering around aimlessly, I suppose. So where do we even begin to look for her?”
“Let me think.” Callie said, and gnawed at her thumbnail, “What about that city you always tell me we used to live in, when we were little; back before Dad took us from Mom. Maybe she’s still there.”
“But where? I only remember a city; I don’t know which city it is.”
“Well…” more nail biting, “You say you remember that the trip from there to Noah’s Oak took several days, right?”
“Yeah, but my memories could be wrong. I was just a little kid, and that was so long ago.”
“True, but there’s no reason we can’t take a blind stab at it.” Callie said, and spat out a speck of thumbnail, “Go over to the gas station and buy us a road map.”
“New Heedol too.” Callie said, “Might as well cover our bases.”
The gas station was close enough for Mike to walk over to it. There was a mini-mart there, and there Mike picked up the maps at the counter. The clerk had bright yellow skin and golden eyes. Mike tried not to stare; Sardossians were rare in this part of the country, and he had never seen one before, outside of television. He paid for the maps and rejoined Callie at the park.
Callie had already cleaned up the picnic table, and thrown the refuse into a nearby trashcan. She was storing their supplies back into the wagon, when he arrived.
“You got ‘em?” she asked.
“Minnago and New Heedol,” he replied, “Just like you asked.”
“Let’s try New Heedol first.”
She took the New Heedol map, unfolded it, and spread it out on the table. A rising wind tried to snatch it away, but they weighed it down with stones off the ground.
Callie studied the map, “The closest thing to the kind of city we’re looking for in New Heedol is the capitol, Elaan. Not quite the bustling metropolis. Let’s give Minnago a look.”
They unfolded the Minnago map, placed it on top of New Heedol, and reset the stones.
“There’s a lot of minor cities here,” said Callie, “But I don’t see---“
“Right here, Metromax City.” said Mike. He pointed it out to her.
“Ah! Looks just like what we’re looking for,” she said, “And it’s about four or five days away; a possible match with your memories, Mike.”
“There could be a problem. See all this yellow expanse several towns before Metromax? According to this,” Mike said, referring to a block of text boxed away on the lower left of the map, “This area is known locally as ‘The Rough Country’. It is a dead region that takes about four hours to cross. If you want to go around it, it’ll take more than a day longer to get to Metromax.”
“It’s a dangerous area. Gallanashes, wullarks, and cwarnas have run of the place. Nobody lives there. There are no rest stops or gas stations. Just one long stretch of paved road. Used to be a whole county, but went to seed, or went bad, or somesuch.”
“We’ll deal with that when we have to.” Callie said.
“Okay then,” Mike said, “We have a plan. Metromax City it is.”
The moment he said this, a strong gust wrenched the two maps from their stone weights and sent them scurrying through the park, like unruly sprites. Mike and Callie ran after them, but only managed to catch Minnago; New Heedol fluttered away like an unbound kite, over a hill and out of sight.