Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Land of Shadows: Chapter XXV - Boom

Dee and Allison sat in the shade of the Flying J truck stop they had pulled into hoping to get propane for the Hummer's big empty bottles.  They kept casting nervous glances towards the pumps where Olly was working on under the big military vehicle.  It had been a week since Dotty had saved them all at the cost of her own life.  In that time they had made it most of the way down across Oklahoma without really talking about it.  But Dee had accidentally activated Dotty's security system while they were filling the propane bottles.  Olly was disarming the system now.  Dotty had never given them the ten digit code to disarm the system and her thumb was not conveniently available right now.  Olly seemed confident that he could disarm the system.  But something was bothering her about the whole situation.

"We killed her didn't we?"  Ally had asked suddenly as Dee was contemplating whether of not any of the snack foods inside would still be edible.  They had been shipped out of the factory months before the twins had even been born.  But some of them had no natural ingredients at all or were packed so full of preservatives that they would still be fresh when the final trump was blown.  She had just decided to chance the Pringles when Ally's question derailed her train of thought.  She looked into her younger sister's face and saw the anguish and guilt there and knew that like a splinter under her fingernail, it would have to be dug out now before it could fester. 

"Get this straight, those fucking monsters killed her, not us, not Olly, not you!" 
"But if we hadn't ... she would still be back in Manitowoc in her lighthouse.  She would still be alive!" 

"You can 'what if' till your blue in the face and it won't change a thing.  Dotty chose to come with us.  It was her decision.  She knew what she was doing.  She saved our lives.  She would not want us to waste that gift by wallowing in guilt."  She felt like she was handling this badly.  If only their mother were here.  She would know better what to say.

They lapsed into silence.  Dee glanced over to the Hummer again.  It was shaded by a large awning sheltering the propane pumps.  Beyond the Hummer were the big silver propane cylinders.  It suddenly clicked in her brain why she was so nervous.  She was about to call out to Olly to push the truck away from the propane tanks when she saw him emerge from under the truck.  He turned towards Dee and started running. 

Ally was still going on about being responsible for Dotty's death when Dee kicked her off the pop cases she was sitting on.  Ally started to protest but caught the expression on Dee's face.


Ally wasted no time and rolled to her feet and ran. 

Fifty yards and Ally started to slow down and look back. 

"Keep going!" both Dee and Olly yelled at her.

A hundred yards and Dee glanced back over her shoulder.  The look of terror on Olly's face spurred her on.  Two hundred yards and Dee wanted to duck behind a lone boxcar sitting on some rusty tracks leading nowhere.  But Olly shook his head.  Anyone else and she would have thought they were being overly cautious.  But that was not Olly's nature.  The twins had both been taught the fine art of blowing shit up by that nine fingered master, Billy Parsons.  So they kept running.  She was wondering how much time they had when Ally suddenly seemed to disappear into the dry barren landscape ahead of her.  She felt a moment of panic just before she too "found" the dry stream bed Ally had stumbled into.  Ally was already scrambling towards a big round pipe that passed under the road to the west.  Olly followed them in and sat down on the galvanized metal of the pipe. 

"Cover your ears and breath real shallow." he ordered them.  Dee was about to ask how long when Olly held up his hand fingers spread.  After about a second he put one finger down.  When he took his hand down and covered his ears Dee put her head down and exhaled, forcing as much air out of her lungs as she could.  None of the really heard the explosion.  It was more like being hit by a four ton water balloon filled with hot water.  Had their lungs been full the sudden pressure of the shockwave would have caused numerous ruptures in their lungs.  The first explosion was followed by two larger ones and several smaller ones.  In silence broken only by the ringing in their ears the three of them stumbled up onto the crumbling blacktop.  Olly was bleeding from both ears but did not seem to notice. 

They stood on the road looking to the north where the Flying J had been.  It was a flattened and smouldering ruin now.  There was not even enough left to really burn.  Debris was still raining down .  The old boxcar was now about twenty yards south of where they were standing now.  Dee looked at Olly and he just shrugged with an odd half grin on his face.

The three of the took stock and it looked rather grim.  Dee was the only one with more than a knife with her shotgun.  And she only had three shells for it in her pocket. 

They would soon be crossing into Texas on foot and unarmed.

*     *     *

The girl tugged at Elias' shirt and shoved the binoculars into his hands.  A thick plume of black smoke and dust on the horizon to the southeast.  The explosion they had heard earlier this morning had spooked Penny and only a firm hand and the fact that she was carrying a two riders, their gear and supplies kept her from bolting.  It must have been something big.  The initial explosion sounded like a car bomb.  He had heard a few of those back in the marines during basic training.  Whatever it was had set off something else. 

He pulled the reins to the left to head Penny in that general direction.  It was not terribly far out of the way and he felt that it was worth investigating. 

*     *     *

Elias was not the only one watching the smoke and wondering what it meant. 

Jonas heard and felt the rumbling and looked up to see the pillar of smoke to the south.  He didn't know if it was the man that had stolen his rebellious bitch of a daughter, but it was surely a sign.  He did not think he had much time left.  His left hand was a swollen red mess with ugly red lines just beginning to reach up to his wrist from the putrid stump of his left pinky.  The abdominal pains from the little terror gestating in his belly were stronger and more frequent.  And he was frequently blacking out because his blood sugar was fluctuating wildly.  But he intended to die with his hands around her throat and let the abomination he was carrying in his gut finish the job.  He climbed back on his battered ATV and followed the smoke. 

© 2011 R. Keith McBride

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