Monday, February 22, 2010

Land of Shadows: Chapter VI - On the Road Again

Jewels was losing the fight. He'd been running a fever for days now. A throbbing pressure was building up behind his eyes and he was having trouble seeing clearly. He was weak and trembling but the parasite was driving him relentlessly. Jewels knew he was going to burn out soon, but his defenses were crumbling. It would just be a matter of days if not hours before the parasite had him ... completely. The lines were finally starting to blur between host and parasite.

The newborn wraiths were huddled in a corner piled up like firewood. The lobby of the Maritime Ford repair shop was glass fronted with no head, so it was as cold inside as it was outside. The five young wraiths were sluggish from the cold but that was fine, just made them easier to control. At one day old they already weighed forty pounds each. He had managed to save all but one of them. When he sensed the time was drawing near he had snared a large dog. It was just enough to satisfy the needs of their first feeding frenzy. Since then they had been eating everything in sight.

The dealership service bay had gone green before the disappearance. Solar panels on the roof provided most of the power in the garage. Many of the panels on the roof had been damaged but there still enough working to operate the hydrogen fuel cell maintenance systems. There was even a fuel cell vehicle hooked up to the system all he had to do was flip a switch. And now he had the knowledge to do so.

* * *

Dotty sent them off with a picnic basket full of good home cooked cuisine. But before they left James had done her a favor to make up for upsetting her while playing with her cell phone. Using some parts he had in his pack from an old laptop computer and a USB hub he downloaded the video and other pictures onto a makeshift digital video player. Everything was saved onto a memory card. She could now view the pictures and videos on a larger screen and not worry about the phone losing power and erasing the stored images. Plus it could now be transferred to any device with an SD memory card. Dotty had studied electronics enough to install some aftermarket accessories on the Hummer but she confessed that she was not confident enough to risk opening the phone up. She stood over James' shoulder the whole while, fussing like a mother hen despite Dee's efforts to distract her. He had tried to do it in secret but Dotty was more of an early riser than he had anticipated. It was only Dee's presence that had kept her from grabbing her shotgun and chasing James out of the lighthouse. But when he set the finished product down on the table and turned it on, she clapped her hands and squealed like a schoolgirl as the video played out on the seven inch screen.

Dotty watched the red truck as it drove down the breakwater. She wondered if she would ever see the three of them again. She hoped so, she had forgotten what it was like to have guests. Perhaps it would be best if she did head north. But not till spring. She had already laid in her supplies for the winter and did not want to have to start over again and risk falling short in the coldest part of the winter. She watched until they were out sight before closing the door and sliding the bar into place. If it had been warmer she would have considered going up to the tower, but a gust of wind howled across the lake and convinced her that the best place to spend the morning was huddled in front of the woodstove under a blanket with a book and a cup of hot cocoa.
* * *

At the edge of town Dee stopped and handed out a pair of military issue walkie talkies to the twins and sent them out in opposite directions to see if they could find any signs of Mr. Fisher's passage. She would head out Calumet and wait for them at the at the WI 42 intersection.

The thing would naturally want to head south, but the direct southern route would take it too close to the lake shore, the more assimilated the parasite and Jewels became, the more its natural aversion to water would drive it inland. She was betting that it would start heading west.

She stationed herself at a crumbling farmhouse on the southwest corner of the intersection. The Volvo was parked on the south side of the house. She had a good view of the road between the house and a tree but would be concealed from anyone passing from the north and east until they were past. She poured herself a cup of coffee from the thermos Dotty had given them this morning. She cut the motor and settled herself in under a blanket in the driver's seat. She would have much rather left the engine running for the heat, but could not afford to waste the fuel. She turned the volume up on the 2 way radio.

Despite her best efforts she found herself drifting off. Cool damp weather like this just about always triggered a hibernation reflex in her. She chugged another cup of coffee got out of the Volvo to walk around for a bit hoping that would wake her up. She stood on the porch of the big colonial farmhouse, careful of the rotting floorboards and scanned the highway for anything moving but saw nothing.

She soon found herself peering into the windows of the large house. Inside the house looked exactly as the homeowners had left it. Save for a thick layer of dust. Miraculously all the windows were still intact. She allowed herself a moment to imagine the family that lived here, busily working through their day, getting dressed having breakfast going about their morning chores and then suddenly, poof, they were gone. She could see a pile of clothes inside the door, an insulated coffee mug set on an end table near the front door. A feral cat was napping on a coat near the door. A yawn and a stretch and the cat glared at her. At least that meant there were no wraiths nesting in the basement. Cats would no more take up residence in a wraith's nest than squirrel would sleep in dog's house. The cat displayed no fear of her and she saw no reason to disturb it.

She was pouring herself another cup of coffee when she saw it whiz past. It was a quiet day, a breeze was whistling through the trees, but even that small sound was enough that she would never have heard the little fuel cell powered microvan. She bolted to the Volvo but put her foot through a rotten board and tripping, cussing even as she fell. The dogs were now howling at the front passenger window fearing that she was being attacked. She managed to extricate herself from the hole in the porch, barely glancing at her scraped shins and torn pants leg, she just wanted to get to the truck before, a) Jewels got away, and b) the dogs broke through the window trying to get to her.

The dogs calmed down as soon as she was in the truck. The propane fueled Chevy V8 failed to roar to life on the first try or the second, but on the third try the engine caught. She automatically thought she would have to take it in to Jewels for a tuneup, and that just made her all the angrier at the monster that had taken him.

She jammed the Volvo in gear and floored it till she was on pavement. The little microvan was designed for efficiency rather than high performance, still it was rapidly pulling ahead of the Volvo. Even on smooth pavement the fastest she had been able to push it was 51 mph and at that there had been a disturbing thrumming sound coming from the axles. The microvan was able to easily dodge the worst of the potholes without losing much speed while she had to bounce through them. She radioed the twins but got no response, either they had gone out of range since last time they had checked in or were unable to hear her over the racket the little two strokes their bikes had. She watched with growing frustration as the microvan increased its lead. There was a sudden flapping sound coming from under the doghouse and the steering wheel suddenly became a heavy dead weight. She bounced through several potholes before she was forced to admit that the chase was over. She let the Volvo slow to a stop as the radiator boiled over and the Volvo lost power.

She cut the motor and listened to the water boil out of the reservoir. All the idiot lights on the dash were lit up. She slowly got out of the Volvo, closed the door and tried to count to 10. She made it 6 before she started kicking the Volvo and cussing. The dogs just stared at her through the windows as is she had lost her mind.
* * *

James cut the motor and coasted into the driveway of the farmhouse Dee had told them about. But she was not there! He leaned the Honda against a tree near the front porch and walked about the overgrown yard. He spotted Dee's thermos on the front porch. The lid was off and the cup was sitting on a window sill, still full of coffee. That, a broken board and a torn scrap of denim indicated that she had left in a hurry. A pair of deep wheel ruts in the squishy ground pointed to the northwest. It was obvious what had happened. He pulled out his walkie talkie and called out to Allison to get her but over here so they could catch up to Dee. The Volvo could go anywhere, but it would not set any land speed records getting there. It should be easy enough to find her.

It only took a few minutes for Allison to get there but he was already waiting for her on the highway and they took off westbound on Calumet together. Dee had left a good pair of muddy tracks for them to follow. A little over four miles down the road James signalled to Allison to look ahead and sure enough, just up little ways was a fire engine red brick on wheels. They pulled up alongside the Volvo and found it empty. Locked doors and a puddle of fluorescent green liquid under the front end told them all they needed to know.

As luck would have it, there was a small junkyard a short ways back the way they had just come. As expected they found Dee and both dogs searching the scrapyard and its buildings for parts to get the Volvo running again. After hearing what had happened James offered to continue after him, but tempted as Dee might have been to catch him she refused. In despair she informed them of her decision to end the pursuit. They were both angry but Dee told them they had already spent too much time on this.

"Besides, I have a bad feeling that we are heading right into wraith territory. I haven't seen anything larger than a rat since I broke down, Bo and Duke are antsy and ... and I ... I think J- ... Mr. Fisher is making a beeline for a nest of them." She gathered up the parts she had looted and headed for the big roll up door.

"So, are you heading back tonight?" Allison asked

"We are heading back as soon as I can get the Volvo up and running, but only if we can get it done before nightfall. I don't think it would be a good idea to go out after dark."

It took most of the afternoon to get the serpentine belt and tensioner replaced and fabricate a new upper radiator hose from some straight hose, clamps and a couple of plastic elbow joints. Then they had to refill the radiator and check it for leaks. A battery charger in the back provided the extra amps they needed to get started again. By that time the sun was starting to go down. They pulled the Volvo into the garage to wait for morning.

The garage was a large quonset hut with corrugated steel roof sloping down to form the walls. It was large enough to house major construction equipment and it was mostly full of derelict trucks, buses and parts. There were some holes rusted in the top of the building on the west end. Big enough to provide ventilation for the small fire they built in steel drum that had been used thus before. The light from the fire cast eerie, dancing shadows on the interior walls of the garage that did little to settle Dee's nerves. She really doubted that she would get any sleep that night. Despite her anxiety she did sleep, and awoke to find herself alone, only Bo and Duke were left keeping her company.

The twins were nowhere in sight.

© 2010 R. Keith McBride

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