They drove all morning.
At noon they ate on the road. Callie had packed plenty of sandwiches; stored in a cooler to keep them fresh. When the juice ran out, they stopped at a store and bought sodas.
They drove all afternoon.
Around six, they stopped on a lonely dirt road, to have supper, and so Mike could get some rest. They got out and set a blanket under a canopy of trees. Mike lay down, rested his head on one of the pillows Callie had brought with them, and fell asleep right away. Callie decided to wait until Mike was awake to get the cooler out and eat something. She brought out one of her paperback books, leaned back against a tree, and started reading.
Twenty minutes passed, and Mike awoke with a scream.
“Mike? You okay?” Callie asked.
“Man alive!” Mike gasped, as he sat up and looked around.
Mike nodded. “You know me.”
“Was it the falling off a tree one again?”
“No, it was something new.” Mike said, “Me, you, and some guy I don’t know, only in the dream I did, were walking through the empty ruins of a city.”
“Metromax City, by any chance?” Callie asked.
“Don’t know. Could be, I suppose. Anyway, we were walking through this empty city, on the tops of cars for some reason, and then these things started to flow out of this huge hole in the ground. They were black as coal and blubbery-looking, like wet seals. They had no eyes as far as I could tell, and they made awful grunting noises, like the kind pigs make when they eat. There were thousands and thousands of them! Pouring out of that hole, leaving behind oily streaks everywhere they passed.”
“They started to come after us.”
“Then? What did we do?”
“Not sure. Things got kind of surreal at this point. I think there was flying involved, or something. It’s all a blur after that.” Mike rubbed his face. “I think I’ve had enough rest for now. Let’s eat.”
They went to the wagon, retrieved food and drink, and returned to the blanket.
“Oh! I forgot to give you something.” Mike said, and slapped himself on the forehead.
He unbuttoned his shirt pocket, and brought out a ring.
“I took this off Dad.” he said, and handed it to Callie, “I thought you might want it. It’s the ring that cut your face.”
“It sure is.” Callie said, inspecting the ring.
She considered it an ugly thing, best thrown away, but did not want to seem ungrateful for the gesture. So she put it in her own shirt pocket.
“Thanks Mike.” she said.
By nightfall, they entered the town of Gough.
“We gotta find a place to stop for the night.” Callie said, “Nice hotel maybe?”
“Sorry, but no. We have to make our money last.”
“Yes, yes, I know,” Callie said, “…cheapskate.”
“Come to think of it, we should also start rationing our food supplies.” Mike said, “We’ve been eating like there’s no tomorrow.”
“Alright already, but where do we stop for the night?”
“There.” said Mike.
He pointed to a grungy motel called (without any apparent irony) Rottsett’s Inn. Mike drove in and parked the wagon at this establishment’s parking lot, between a battered yellow van, and a white car with MACATTO INSURANCE stenciled on its sides in black paint.
They would see this car again…later.
“What a lousy excuse for a firetrap.” Callie said, referring to the motel, “But I guess it’s better than nothing.”
“We’re not staying in the motel.” Mike said, “We’re sleeping in the car.”
“Oh-h-h. Yes, I see.” Callie said.
“Anyone sees the wagon; they’ll think it’s just another motel customer.” Mike said, “At least until morning. Just don’t forget to lock your doors.”
Callie climbed over to the back seats and retrieved pillows and blankets from the back compartment of the wagon. She handed a set to Mike. They made their respective beds.
Five minutes of silence passed.
Then, from the back seats: “Mike?”
“What if Dad…”
“He can’t. He won’t. Don’t worry about it.” Mike said, “Even if he did, he could never find us. We’re too far away now, and he doesn’t know where we went. He’s out of our lives forever.”
“That’s good to know. Thanks Mike.”
“Sleep easy, sis.”
She did, and he followed soon after.
Thus ended their first day on the road.
Back in Noah’s Oak, Charles Longstreet lay, pretty much in the same position Mike had last seen him in. His stomach growled and cramped. The last time he had eaten was lunch, yesterday. Callie had brained him before he’d had a chance to eat supper. He also stunk to high heaven, having been forced to relieve himself, both ways, where he lay.
Despite the hunger and physical pain of being on his back for all this time, he had not moved or despaired.
He was waiting for something.
It came with the sound of a click, and the dark living room was suddenly bathed in flickering light. Longstreet heard the sounds of a late night talk show.
Someone had turned on the television.
He turned his head in the direction of the tv (the bones in his stiff neck crackled like dry twigs all the way) and saw channels zip by, but there was no one there to change them, and the remote was sitting on the tray next to the sofa.
The channel surfing stopped at a station showing static. From behind the static, a pair of glowing eyes appeared…then the face that went with the eyes. It was a face known to him.
Hello again, Longstreet thought; he knew the owner of that face could read his mind.
“You remember, then?” the face asked. It spoke through the television’s speakers, just above the hiss of static.
I remember everything, now. They removed the ring.
“I have another task for you.”
What do you want this time?
“Come morning, someone will find you and free you. You will kill him, take his car, what money he has on him, and make whatever preparations are necessary before you leave. I would suggest a bath. Eat a hearty breakfast as well; you’ll need your strength. You may have to kill someone else along the way to change cars and replenish funds.”
Where am I going?
“After your children. I think you know who they’re going to go look for.”
I do. Are they headed in the right direction?
“Being who and what they are---of course.”
What do I do when I catch up with them?