There will always be those who treat your work in a negative way.  When you write, you expose yourself in a way few will ever expose themselves.  Don’t let it deter you.  If writing is what you want to do, then go after it with gusto!  This is a long chapter.  Get comfortable and enjoy it as the pace of things picks up.

 

CHAPTER   FOURTEEN

“In a country where the sole employer is the State, opposition means death by slow starvation.  The old principle: who does not work shall not eat, has been replaced by a new one: who does not obey shall not eat.”

 Leon Trotsky

A frenzied mob rolled through the Valley University campus, smashing windows, turning over cars and setting fire to the library.  Thomas raced his Mercedes across university grounds, staying just ahead of the crowd and narrowly escaping the firebombs thrown at his car. He was deep into down town traffic before realizing the entire city was engulfed in flames and looting mobs.  The radio reported fires and rioting spreading along the entire west coast.

 Thomas was caught in standstill traffic when a ghastly scene unfolding at the intersection ahead stole his attention.  My God no, this can’t be happening.  His grip on the steering wheel tightened, as if to better grasp reality, but his mind struggled to comprehend the horror in front of him.

 A black man, dressed in a business suit was forced into the back of a pickup parked on the grass under a large oak tree.  His brief case had just been opened and the apparent leader of the group was throwing handfuls of money into the air for the surging mob to chase.  Thomas inched closer and the chant of the crowd filtered through the locked doors of his car.  Kill the rich.  Kill the rich.  Kill the rich.

 Next a rope was thrown over one of the oaks massive limbs and placed around the man’s neck.  The crowd chanted its approval.  Unwilling to believe what he was seeing, Thomas shook his head as if to dislodge a bad dream, but the apparition became more real with each passing second.

 Nervously working his way through the slowly moving traffic in hopes of slipping past the crowd, Thomas was nearly through the intersection when the pickup drove off.  The business man swung and struggled—the throng of people went mad with approval.

 Thomas looked away.  These kinds of things aren’t supposed to happen.  We have got to leave town—maybe up to our cabin.

 More and more people were taking to the streets and it seemed to take forever for Thomas to navigate traffic and the growing crowds, before arriving home.  The upscale neighborhood where he lived remained quiet, but Thomas was forced to detour around an ugly mob just a few blocks from home.

 The tires yelped at his hard stop in the driveway and Thomas sprinted across the lawn to his front door, but froze in his tracks just inside where Mary lay on the sofa crying. Gently wrapping his arms around his wife he held her and whispered, “Honey, we have to leave.  It’s not safe to stay in town.”

 “I can’t do this, I just can’t do this,” she kept repeating.  “We’ve lost our son and the world has gone crazy.”

 “I know sweetheart, but we can’t stay here,” he said soothingly.  “We need to go to the cabin.  Go get in the Land Rover while I throw a few things together.”

 She sat up and stared at him through blurry eyes.  “Leave our son!  You’re not taking me away from my son.”

 “I’m not taking you away from him.  We are not safe here.”

“NO, no I won’t go,” and she collapsed in tears.

 Thomas gathered her in his arms and carried her to the Land Rover.   His eyes caught on two red cans of gasoline in the corner of the garage and he quickly secured them to the back of the Rover.  Think Thomas think.  What will we need?  He dashed back inside and began filling two paper bags with canned goods.  The propane tank.

 Thomas tossed the canned goods into the back of the Rover and rushed to grab the tank from the barbeque.  Finally, he pulled two sleeping bags from a plastic storage bin and tossed them into the back seat.

 The garage door inched open and Thomas revved the engine in anticipation.  Then the door was up and he hit the gas, shooting out into the street.  That’s when he saw the Mercedes.  Oh to hell with it.  We need to get out of here.  But the thought stuck in his mind.  He was opening his door to get out and move the car inside when the approaching mob caught his attention.  It was the same group he’d seen earlier and they were less than a block away.

 The angry crowd blocked the road in both directions and was closing in.  Mary whimpered and curled up in her seat.  “Hang on Mary.  We aren’t letting these losers take us down.”

 Thomas slammed his door and mashed the gas pedal to the floor.  The Rover plummeted straight towards the crowd with Thomas on the horn.  At the last moment the crowd realized he was not going to stop and parted as if he was Moses honking at the Red Sea.  Stones and bats pelted the Rover and two windows cracked under the attack.

 The Rover was nearing the edge of the mob and Thomas was taking his first breath in what seemed like hours, when a human head landed on the hood and lodged against the windshield.  Blood splattered across the glass and Mary shrieked uncontrollably.  A strip of flesh flapped from the end of a stubby neck and Thomas shuddered at the vacant, glassy eyes peering into his soul.  Then a flow of blood emptied from the corner of its mouth and Thomas swore he’d seen the tongue move.  The head lingered a few moments longer before rolling off the hood to bounce along the pavement.

Keep your own head Thomas and find the safest routes with the least traffic.


 “Dustin, they’re nearly on us,”  Chris yelled.  Chris was turned around in the seat looking backward out the driveway and encouraging Dustin to step on it.  “Run them over if you have to, they’ll kill us.”

 Dustin floored the gas, the tires squealed sharply and the car was propelling into the surging crowd.  A loud crunch and scream broke through the roar of the mob attacking the car.

 “Go, go, go, go,” Chris yelled.

 The car was nearly surrounded by people beating on the windows and tearing at the door handles.  Dustin dropped the clutch and the car lurched forward to race down the street, backfiring once when he shifted gears.

 “Agghhhhh,  Ahhhhh,” Dustin screamed.  “I hit that guy.”

 “They gave you no choice.  You saw how they attacked the car.” Chris shouted.

 Dustin was still yelling.  “I hate it.  I hate it.”

 Thwack!

 A bullet smashed through the rear window and lodged in the car frame between the front and rear passenger windows, directly behind Chris’s head.  Chris was screaming, “drive, Dustin, drive!”

 Though they needed to get to Interstate 90, Dustin knew the freeways would be jammed with people attempting to flee the city.  Instead, he drove north, taking side streets when necessary to skirt congested areas.  In every direction they witnessed storefronts being smashed and buildings looted.  Other stores were set on fire, and looters shot other looters to steal what had just been stolen.

 Dustin took them north as fast as he could in an attempt to bypass the gridlock surely taking place on the freeways.  If only they could get north to Highway 2 they might have a chance to escape.  Though they would need to cross Interstate 5 at some point, Dustin was looking to get as far north as possible before attempting to do so.

 The men continued north and crossed the Boeing Freeway without incident.  Dodging traffic and angry knots of people they eventually made it to Evergreen Way and approached the city of Everett.  There they decided to take their chances on I-5 instead of going into town.

 Atop the overpass crossing I-5 Dustin slowed the car to look south towards Seattle.  About a quarter mile away two burning cars blocked the freeway, narrowing it to one lane.  Further south, a massive, oil slick of a cloud rose above the Seattle skyline.

 With traffic reduced to one lane, the freeway to the north was wide open.  Dustin sped down the entry ramp to I-5 and raced north to the junction with Highway 2 and Stevens Pass.


 Cliffson ran his hands over his face.  Prickly stubble reminded him it had been a while since his last shave.  The tension left him on edge and Jean was rubbing his shoulders, but there was nothing they could do but wait.

 “Cliffson, let’s go outside to the garden.  I’ll take the phone with us so we don’t miss any calls.”

 “Sounds good hun, the fresh air won’t hurt.”

 The carrots needed thinning and they each took a place at opposite ends of the row.  “Isn’t it strange how getting your hands in the soil has such a soothing effect?  Almost like grasping reality itself.  You feel that?”  Jean asked.

 “Sure do.  There’s something missing in a person’s life when they can’t get their hands in the soil. ”

 It was then Mrs. Crank sauntered up and leaned against the pole fence in front of the Lang’s property.  Standing there with hands on hips, her condescending attitude filled the air like a cheap perfume.

 “Hey there plowboy, playin’ in the dirt again?”

 Just digging your grave, Cliffson thought.  “Thinning carrots and weeding the beans is all.”  Cliffson tried to sound amicable.

 “I love green beans—I’ll have to come back by when they’re ripe.”  Cliffson pictured an evil tempest forming a dark cloud of spite over her head.

 “Why don’t you grow any of your own?” Cliffson asked.

 “Me?  Why would I want to do yard work?  We’ve got money, we don’t need to grub around in the dirt like you folks.  We just buy what we need and pay the illegal’s to keep our place looking nice.  And they’re grateful for the work too.”

 Cliffson was smiling now as he stood to straighten his back.  “I’m sure all that green will make a nice salad for you someday.”

 “Hmmph.” She turned her back and strutted across the street to a neighbor’s house.  The air freshened immediately.

 “Somehow wisdom has just never caught up with that woman,” Cliffson said.

 “And I don’t think is ever will.  What gall,”  Jean answered.  “She’ll be hungry someday and find out all that money isn’t as sweet as she thinks it is.”  Jean took up a watering bucket and began watering the tomatoes.

 “Did you see all the new raspberry shoots?” Cliffson asked.  “Doing their natural free born spring time thing.”

 “Yes, I did.  We need to pot some up to sell.”  Jean set down her watering bucket and walked to the nearest row of raspberries.

 “Without power we’ll have to put up a sign on the fence instead of advertising on the web.  Maybe we can do some trading.”

 “Got it covered hun, I’ll get a sign made,” Cliffson promised, while dusting the dirt from his knees.  “Maybe trade for some pre 1965 coins.”

 The raised brick flower bed stretching across the front of the garden was in full bloom and the couple stood together enjoying the sight of their bees exploring each blossom.  Cliffson suggested they walk over to the hives and watch for a bit.

 In the apiary the air was full of bees making their way in and out of the hives.  “When I had the hives apart last week they looked pretty good.  Each has good numbers, except for this hive here.”  Cliffson pointed to a hive on the end.  “But I think it’ll come around.”

 “Bringing in a lot of pollen, aren’t they?”  Jean enjoyed the bees nearly as much as Cliffson.

 “Certainly are.  Making a good nectar haul too.”  Cliffson smiled.  “Honey in the making.”

 Jean took Cliffson’s hand.  “Let’s go back inside.  Maybe Dustin will call soon.”

 Cliffson was in the garage removing his boots when the phone rang.

 “Dad, we barely made it out of town.  It’s crazy up here, but we made it and are on Highway 2 headed over Stevens Pass.”

 “Stevens Pass?” Cliffson wondered.

 “Yes, the only way we could get away and avoid the freeway traffic was to come north along Highway 99 until we thought it was safe to get on I-5.” Dustin replied.

 “Good thinking son.  Will you have enough gas?”

 “No, that’s the problem. We’ll have to find some somewhere.  My roommate Chris is with me and I’m taking him to his parents place near Ellensburg.   Chris thinks his dad might know a farmer who has fuel.”

 “All right, Dust, please be careful and you might check in with your brother when you can.  He is driving home from Boise right now.”

 “Sweet.  I’ll check in with him soon.”

 “Keep us posted.”  Cliffson hated to let him go.

 “I will.  Bye”

 The wait was going to be unbearable, but there was little to be done.  Jean suggested she could use his help with the laundry.  Oh boy, what fun,  he thought.    Instead…don’t I need to pick up dog poop, clean the chicken coop, make some soup, see Monk for the latest scoop, jump through a hoop, form a new group, sit on the stoop, make some goop…


 Dustin’s stomach was growling. “Chris I’m hungry, how ‘bout you?”

 “Yeah bro, haven’t had much today.  I sure could go for a bacon burger, double chocolate shake and some fries.”

 “You’re killing me man. How far to the next town?” Dustin asked.

“Looks like about seven miles to a place called Gold Bar.  Burgers are probably expensive there huh?”

 “Very funny.  Anything beyond that, or is Gold Bar our last chance to strike a claim for a meal?”

 Chris rolled his eyes at the joke and took a closer look at the map.

 “Well, there’s another spot called Index, but we’re getting pretty far into the mountains by then.  We’d better hope to hit a rich vein of bacon at Gold Bar.”

 “Stop it,” Dustin said, and they both laughed.

 Soon their little car was rolling into the tiny town of Gold Bar: population, 2,014.  The town was established as a prospector’s camp in 1889 and later became a base camp for construction of the Great Northern Railway.  Turning off of Highway 2, they saw the first of many aged and faded wooden signs attesting to the town’s history.

 A couple blocks into town Dustin spotted an old greasy spoon diner tucked in next to a boarded up gas station.  The rundown relic from the past had somehow managed to stay in business long after fast food became the rage.  The parking lot was empty except for an old, lime green, Volkswagen van.

 “Hey Dustin, get a load of this, see that bumper sticker?”  Chris said.

 “Ass, Gas or Grass, no one rides for free.” Dustin read aloud.  “My Dad’s told me about those.  It’s from the ‘70s.”

 “Trippin’ dude.  Now let’s go eat.”

 Chris led the way up a couple decaying cement steps stained with the remnants of a reminder they’d once blushed bright red, pulled open a creaky screen door, and headed for a booth with a red and white checkered table cloth on the left side of the room.  Chipped and worn tiles paved a floor that was probably once cream colored.  The air was heavy with the smell of fried food and salted with a double measure of cigarette smoke.  A couple of round tables in the middle of the room were home to napkin dispensers and salt and pepper shakers.  Booth seating along dingy windows on both sides of the room completed the ensemble.

 The kitchen was in back where a balding, pot bellied cook in a dingy wife-beater undershirt and an apron that looked as if you could have rung gravy from it, peered out from behind beady eyes.  He appeared nervous and ran his hands through the few greasy strands of dark hair that fell from the back of his head.   Gruffly he called for his waitress.

 “Betty, customers.”

 The back door slammed, Betty strolled in and pulled the last drag from her cigarette.  She wore white shoes, the kind you often see nurses wearing and looked to be about sixty years old, but her face wore a look that said she’d spent a hundred years on her feet.

 At their table her course smoker’s voice rose up through the gravel bed in her throat and asked, “What can I get you boys today?”

 “Get the cream pie,” boomed a voice from the other side of the room.

Seated in a booth along the opposite wall were two middle aged men and a young woman.

 “Keep your shirt on bubba, I’ll be right there,” the waitress said.

 The deep voice laughed for its own enjoyment, “Just having a little fun missy.”

 Chris and Dustin each ordered a burger and fries with a chocolate shake.  The waitress delivered the order to the cook and went to wait on the other booth.

 Chris leaned across the table and in a hushed voice asked, “You see the size of that guy?”

 Dustin chanced a look.  “He’s huge.  He takes up nearly the entire side of the booth.”

 “Dustin, don’t look now but you see that girl sitting with them?” Chris asked.

“No.”

“What do you mean? She’s sitting right there.”  Chris said

“You said not to look.”

“Come on Dustin, she’s trying to tell me something.”

“Oh Chris, you always think the girls are trying to tell you something, but what you think they’re saying is never what they mean.”

 “Shut up, Dustin.”

 “So I don’t see anything, she’s just sitting there Chris.”

 “Course she is now, the waitress left.  She was only doing it while the waitress had the attention of those two guys’.”

 “Well why don’t you go over and ask her to dance?  Here’s a quarter for the juke box.”

 “Stuff it Dustin, I’m serious.”

 The waitress brought their meals just as the woman and two men got up from the booth to leave.  The first guy was huge. Oily black hair hung in a pony tail down the back of a black leather jacket worn over a white t-shirt.  Old jeans and black leather boots completed the image of a biker.  With a voice of thunder rumbling down from the mountains he looked at Dustin and threatened, “What’re you lookin’ at college boy?”

 Dustin looked down at his food. “Nothing, sir.”

 “You best be keeping your eyes to yourself then,” growled the man-bear.

 The man put his hand on the young woman’s shoulder and ducked his head through the door on their way outside.  Following closely on their heels, the little man’s bravado goaded him to pull back his jacket to display the pistol he was carrying before the screen door slammed behind him.

 A momentary hush fell over the restaurant and even the building seemed to sigh in relief.

 When the waitress came over to asked if they needed anything else, Chris was very quiet.  “A glass of water please?” he gulped.

 “Sure thing.  What direction you boys headed?” she asked.

 “Same way they’re going, I think,” Dustin replied.

 “You boys be careful.  There’s trouble in that group,” the waitress said. “I’m afraid for that young woman.”

 “See Dustin, I told you she was trying to tell me something.  Did you see the sawed off shotgun the big guy was carrying inside his jacket?

 “No”, Dustin said,  “I was looking at the long gash across the guy’s cheek.”

 The waitress returned with water for Chris and handed Dustin a thermos of coffee.

 “Here’s some coffee for the road.   You fellas be careful.  There’s trouble a foot.”  Betty reached inside her faded blue apron for a pad with their bill and laid it on the table. Dustin couldn’t help but notice how her fingertips were stained tobacco yellow from the mountains of cigarette butts they’d caressed.

 While the young men finished their meal, the conversation turned to the trip ahead.  In the mountains there would be few side roads on which to circumvent roadblocks and they didn’t have enough gas for long detours.   Dustin slurped the last of his shake and the conversation fell quiet, each of them withdrawing into their own thoughts.

 “I wish we had a gun,” Dustin finally said.

 “You go on ahead big fella and I’ll follow ya,” Chris said in his best John Wayne voice.

 “I’m serious, Chris, we may need to defend ourselves.”

 They left money for their meals on the table plus a little extra for a tip and the coffee.  Betty pulled a pack of unfiltered Raleigh cigarettes from her shirt pocket and followed them outside.

 Dustin paused at the side of the car for a moment, breathing in the fresh mountain air and thinking ahead to the drive over the mountains.  He was listening to a blue jay chattering away in a pine tree at the edge of the parking lot when the rush of traffic on the highway imposed upon his thoughts.

 Betty waved good-bye from the front steps, cigarette in hand.  Tossing another pebble onto the gravel bed, Dustin mused.  He also wondered what would become of the waitress and the cook.  They were away from trouble for the moment, but for how long?  He hoped they would be all right.

 Those who could escape the firestorm in the city were headed east and Dustin waited at the intersection of Highway Two for his chance to join the traffic.  People were fleeing the city like hounds on a fox hunt—but these hounds didn’t know where they were going.


 Cliffson finished hanging out a pair of jeans to dry and was glad the chore was done.  It was a good time for a beer and he went into the garage to tap a couple glasses of Hermead.  It wouldn’t be cold, but he didn’t care.   He could already taste his homemade nectar.  Jean was in the garden and he walked out to join her.

 Handing her the glass of beer he said, “Radish for your thoughts.”

 She smiled and rested her head on his shoulder for moment.  “Just thinking of how we might expand the garden.”

 “Ha, I’m sure that’s all you’re thinking about.”

 “Not a good time to be sarcastic,” she said.  “I’m trying not to worry.”

 Changing the subject Cliffson said, “Your garlic is sure looking good.   Tomatoes are doing all right too!”

 “Things are coming along pretty well.  We should dig out those old carrots we carried through the winter and give them to the chickens.”  She knelt down to pull back the straw and extracted a carrot.  “Have you had one lately?”

 “Nah.  I imagine they’re getting a little rubbery by now.  They were sure nice to have this winter though.  It’s funny.  People don’t believe it when you tell them you can have fresh carrots all winter simply by covering them with straw.”

 “They’ve really been good and now the chickens will enjoy them too.  Have you noticed the peach tree lately?  It’s just full of fruit and we’re really going to need it.  Maybe we could sell some this year.”

 “Ummm, that brings something else to mind.”  Cliffson removed his hat and scratched his head.  “We could have a problem with people stealing from our garden this year.  Dang, I hate to even think about that.”

 Jean was working up a patch of ground for a second lettuce crop and looked up at him.  “We’ve got enough to deal with so I’m not gonna borrow trouble where it doesn’t exist.”  She stood and brushed off her hands.  “I’m thinking we could expand the garden out this way,” she gestured, “and grow a large crop of dried beans.”

 “That would work.”  Cliffson was admiring his potatoes.  “Have you noticed how well the spuds are doing?”

 “Liking all that chicken manure you worked in there, aren’t they?”

 “It’s the perfect way to recycle—run the manure through the potato plants and eat it as a spud.”  Cliffson grinned.  He knew she found it disgusting when he described it that way.

Jean changed the subject.  “I sure wish Zach would call.  I’d like to know where he is and if he’s doing all right.”

 “Depending on how quickly he got out of town, he should have crossed the state line and be in Oregon by now,”  Cliffson said.  Come on, let’s get the eggs and bring in a little firewood.”


 Zach found the freeway crowded and moving slowly but steadily.  The sharp edged tension was etched clearly in the faces of the drivers he met and the entire procession moved and felt like a funeral march through the lower echelons of hell.

 He eventually reached the Snake River Bridge and crossed into Oregon. There he took Highway 20 and headed east towards Vale.  Traffic thinned and the rural, sparsely populated country of eastern Oregon beckoned.

 For the first time since hitting the road, Zach allowed himself to relax a bit and kicked up his speed well past the 55 mph speed limit.  It felt so good to be out of the city.  He was free again and let the car unwind at whatever pace felt comfortable.   At twenty-four, he enjoyed living on his own and was reluctant to move back with his parents.  That was before the world got so crazy.  Now home looked safe and inviting, and he drove a little faster.


 Dustin followed the winding road into the conifer sheltered mountains.  Dense forest and overcast skies closed in on the little car as if it were traveling down the dark, oppressive maw of some monster.

Traffic was heavy but moving well enough and the two young men passed the time reviewing the events of the day and speculating on what might come next.

 “Dustin, let’s find a place to pee. Time to get rid of some coffee,” Chris said.

 “I hear you.  I wouldn’t mind a little break myself.  The sign back there said three miles to Nason Creek rest area.  Let’s stop there.”

 Soon the tick, tick, tick of the turn signal overtook the sound of tires on wet pavement and Dustin angled for the turnoff.  A light rain was falling and as the wipers cleared the windshield a lime green van appeared directly in front of them and pulled onto the highway.

 Chris jumped up in his seat.  “Dustin did you see that?”

 “Yes, but I couldn’t tell if it had the bumper sticker.”

 “It has to be the same van Dustin, there aren’t that many old lime green vans around.”

 “I’m just glad it’s gone.  I don’t want to run into those guys again.”  Dustin said while maneuvering the car into a parking spot.  “Chris doesn’t this seem a little strange?  There’s all that traffic on the highway but the rest area is empty except for that guy over there sitting in his car.”

 “I don’t know Dust, I just need to pee,” Chris said.

 They got out of the car and crossed the damp pavement to the rest room.  Dustin pulled open the dented rusty door and stopped dead in his tracks.  “Ohh geeeez!”

 “What?”

 But Dustin had already turned around to leave before the hamburger he had for lunch could cross his palate a second time.  Then Chris saw the crimson pool of blood flowing towards the door and joined Dustin in ridding himself of lunch.

 After retching the remains of their burgers, the two men moved behind the moss covered building to pee and calm shattered nerves.

 “Chris you
ok?”  Dustin dry-heaved again.  “We need to go back and look inside again, there might be someone hurt who needs our help.”

 “No way Dustin, I can’t do it.”

 “Then come stand by the door, I don’t want to go in there alone.”

 “All right buddy, I can do that much for you.”

 They walked back to the front of the building and immediately encountered the blood running out from under the door.

 “Ugh.”  Dustin opened the door and stuck his head inside, careful not to step in the growing puddle.  “Anyone in there?  Anyone need help?”  A lifeless echo rattled through the brick building.

 Dustin began to retch again and ducked back outside.  “Chris it’s horrible.  The gunshot nearly cut the guy in half.  Had to… been… a… shotgun,” he said between heaves.  “I need some water.  Chris, go ask that guy in the car over there if he saw anything.”

 “All right Dusty, the water’s in the back seat.  I’ll be right back.”

 Dustin weaved across the parking lot on wobbly legs and steadied himself for a moment at the side of his car while struggling with another gag.  Even the light rain was not helping to clear his head.  Then he heard a long low wail.

 “Nooooooooooooh!  Dustin get us out of here now.  NOW, right now!”

 Chris ran out of one of his shoes racing back to the car and threw himself inside.  Dustin was already backing up when Chris slammed the door shut.  They roared through the parking lot and flew out onto the highway, nearly broad-siding another car.  Neither of them heard the blaring horns nor saw the one finger salutes.

 “Dustin he was just sitting there—he looked so normal.  I thought maybe he didn’t hear me so I bent down close to look in the window.  His eyes were staring straight ahead, right through the windshield, but they were kinda glassy looking.  When I looked closer I saw he’d been shot in the head and there were pink pieces of brain blown all over the passenger side window.”

 Dustin hardly heard him.  His mind was numb and kept flashing images of the man on the floor of the rest room with his guts spilling out.

 “Dustin, wakeup,” Chris demanded.

 Dustin shook his head in disbelief before shifting his gaze to Chris.  “I feel like I woke up in another world today Chris. This is impossible.  It can’t be real.  It just can’t be real.”

 Climbing high up into the mountains, threatening skies darkened under a building storm until the gale finally loosed its fury and shook the little car with waves of rain filled gusts.  The wipers were working overtime to sweep away the rain, but they couldn’t sweep their minds clear of the bloody images.  The two rode in silence, lost in the day’s events, the rhythm of wipers and the drum of tires on a wet road.  Dustin ignored his ringing phone.

 When they passed through the town of Leavenworth, the men barely noticed and Dustin nearly missed the junction with Highway 97 before turning south towards home.  When the rain subsided, he pulled the car to the side of the road for a break at the top of Blewett Pass.

 “Will things ever be the same?” Dustin said more to himself than anyone else.  He was leaning against the back of the car staring into space.  It was the first words either of them had spoken in quite some time.

 “I don’t know Dustin.  How can they be if the cities are gone?”

 “Don’t say that. You don’t know they’re gone,” Dustin asserted.

 “But this morning before we bailed out of town the radio was talking about city after city being looted and burned.  There’s no water, no…”

 Both men froze.  The lime green van roared by, crested the top of the pass and began its descent down the other side of the mountain.


 “I can’t get a hold of him either Mom,”  Zach said.  “He’s not answering his phone.”

 Jean paced about the room.  “I’m so worried, we should have heard from him by now.”

 “I’ll let you know if I hear anything Mom.”

 “How are you doing on gas?”

 “I just went through Brothers.  Even with the car loaded up, it’s looking like I’ll have enough to get home, Zach said.

 “All right.  I love you and see you soon.”

 “Love you too Mom. Bye.”


 “Dustin, let’s wait a while.  I don’t want to follow them down the mountain.”

 “I’m good with that.”  Dustin walked over to a wild current bush to pee.  “How far is it to your folks place from here?”

“Probably twenty, twenty-five miles.  We’ll be there well before dark,” Chris said.

 Dustin returned to the car.  “Sweet. Now if I could just find something in here to eat.”

 “Anything in the trunk?”

 Dustin pulled keys from his pocket and opened the trunk.  “You know I never thought I’d feel like eating again after what I saw today, but I got a real pit in my stomach.  Hey, will you look at this.”  Dustin tossed a can of bacon cheese whip to Chris.  “Suppose it’s any good?”

 “That stuff never goes bad.” Chris tossed it back.  “But I can’t stand that crap, looks like latex paint.  Knock yourself out buddy.”

 Chris’s stomach remained unsettled and he turned away at the sound of the nozzle releasing cheese into Dustin’s mouth.  Dustin grinned and patted his tummy.  “Ummmm, good.  Wish I had some crackers.”

 Chris got back into the car.  “Time to go, I’m anxious to get home.”

 Dustin started the car and eased out onto the highway.  Chris turned the radio on and dialed in the station in Ellensburg.

 “This is the emergency alert system.  We are advising people in rural areas to lock their doors and windows and stay inside.  The exodus from major cities west of the Cascades has led to a wave of crime in outlying areas.  Chinese authorities have already moved to shut down all east bound traffic and stop the violence.”

 Chris watched Dustin rubbing his chin. “I can see your wheels turning Dustin, what are you thinking?”

 “It makes no sense.”

 “What doesn’t’ make sense?”

 Dustin tipped the can up to empty the last of the cheese whip into his mouth before continuing.  “The Chinese turn off the power and allow the cities to burn when the riots break out.  So why are they all of a sudden concerned about the rural folks?  It doesn’t add up.”

 Chris shrugged his shoulders.  “I don’t get it either Dust, but guess what?”

“What?”

“We were lucky.”

 Dustin looked puzzled and put the screwed up look on his face that always made Chris laugh.

 “We made it over the mountains before they closed off the passes,” Chris said.

 “Holy crap.  We could have been stuck over there in that horde of freaked out people.  Chills me to the bone.”  Dustin gripped the wheel a little tighter and said a quiet prayer.  “Stink.  I forgot to call my parents.  They’ll be worried.”

 The oppressive feel of the forest began to lift as the little car hummed along the blacktop, out of the mountains and into the rolling hills of a vast, open countryside, where sagebrush, scattered Ponderosa Pine, bitterbrush and bunchgrass replaced the woodlands.

 Chris was watching the mile markers on the shoulder of the road.  “All right, we’re getting close, just about a mile to the turn off.  We’ll be home soon and you should call your parents.”

 Dustin slumped back in his seat.  “Man, all of a sudden I feel beat.”

 “Me too,” Chris said.  “Turn off is right around the corner.”

 After rounding the corner Dustin saw a white house, nestled against low hills and turned up the long gravel drive.  There was a small red barn behind the house and bounding out from behind it was a huge black dog.  The Newfoundland was excited to see Chris and gave Dustin nearly as warm a welcome too.  It reminded Dustin of a dog he had as a kid.

 Chris’ parents were not far behind the dog.  After hugs and introductions, Dustin excused himself when Chris began telling them about what happened at the rest stop.

 The crickets were tuning up for a night’s performance when Dustin sat down in a lawn chair in the middle of the backyard and dialed home. A sullen, red sun cast the last of its rays through a blood red sky creating a chilling reminder of the day’s trials.  Dustin turned away and looked to the east where a dusky sky was forming on the horizon.

 “Hello.”

 “Sorry I didn’t call sooner Mom, but there were some issues.”  Dustin began to relate the day’s events.  “Yes, I’m ok now but still kinda shaken up.  I’m not sure if it’s all really hit me yet.  Glad to hear that Zach is home safe.”

 “I’ll be leaving early tomorrow morning and will call you once I’m on the road.”

 “Yes, Chris’s dad said he knows where I can get some gas.  I’ll fill up in the morning and come home through Yakima on 97.” 

“Love you guys too, and I promise to call you when I leave.”

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