Dec. 11, 2011
A tall, thin man of about 40 stepped between Hex and his happy feet and my ribs.
“Enough,” he said. “This one belongs with us.”
I blacked out and came to a few hours later and was greeted by an apologetic Andy, who introduced himself and his ‘friends.’
“We just want to keep on the outside because having seen the inside, we know that it’s going to get worse and that is a long time from getting better,” he told me with a cryptic wink.
“We had to be careful with you… because as you must know by now, there are a great many unsavory characters afoot in our world now.”
While I became acquainted with Andy and his oddball crew, Kenneth was successfully landing his plane at Boise’s Gowen Field. It was a tricky landing because the tangled remains of an Airbus A320 were scattered across several runways. Either taking off or landing, this jetliner would have made a spectacular punctuation point for the disappearance in Idaho’s biggest city.
Across the street from the Corvallis Hilton, Ng remained frozen by fear. He saw the solitary man in the big truck get dragged into the hotel and knew that he would meet the same fate if this dark crew spotted him. A pair of crows had taken up a perch in a large black Hawthorne tree behind him and with a stiff creak in his joints, he finally moved toward the back door of the house he’d been hiding beside.
Though cold inside the house, he was out of the conditions, he assessed. Ng pulled all the sheets and blankets off a pair of beds and moved a couch toward a window that afforded a decent view of the front of the hotel, across a once lavish deck now strewn with the daily necessities of a group of college students; bikes, magazines, lawn chairs. Mere minutes after he snuggled into the blankets on the couch, Ng fell into a deep sleep.
Kenneth had been to the Boise airport before and swiftly refueled his plane, while Stacy and Carrie stood watch, firearms ready. Carrie joked that she felt like she was in “one of those stupid zombie movies that Rob loves so much.”
Kenneth circled over Boise a few times before landing and there were definite signs of human activity in the downtown core, which isn’t that far from the airport. Aside from the crashed jet and general discombobulation that resulted from a host of machines being left to their own powering down devices after the disappearance, the airport was take-off and landing-ready. Kenneth told the women to “remain sharp because someone has been using this airport. The fuel generator was live.”
By the time he finished fuelling, Kenneth decided they should bed down for a few hours in a nearby hangar and they extracted their weapons and just enough supplies for the night.
It was a cold and disturbing night for Carrie, who dreamed about seeing me in terrible danger and could do nothing to help.
A feeble crack of grey light fell across the tarmac as Kenneth led Stacy and Carrie back to the plane. Soon after, with the sun rising behind a thick wad of snow-filled clouds, the Musketeer rose into the sky above Boise. Kenneth yawned and sipped at hot instant coffee. He’d been awake all night, keeping watch – again. Down below, numerous members of the rapidly growing Idaho Militia, including its leader, retired Iraq War vet, Major Duncan Horst, observed the plane.
That simple observation gave Horst the heads-up to man the airfield. It was the first plane he had seen flying since the disappearance, aside from his. He watched the small plane disappear in the difficult sky and wondered who was flying it and where they or he or she were going.
Horst had been keeping himself sane and busy by organizing a defensive perimeter around Boise. Utilizing a wealth of weaponry from nearby military and police installations, Horst had about 100 men, and even a few women, at his disposal. A few of them he released from Ada County Jail but most had straggled into the city since Nov. 11, usually in groups of five or six.
A ferocious battle with a gang of cutthroats from Pocatello and other eastern Idaho towns bonded his small army and the defeat of the eastern Idahoans meant Horst’s control now stretched from Boise across the Snake River Plains to Pocatello and up to Idaho Falls.
What exactly he ruled over can be left to the individual to speculate, aside from a few hundred evil souls and formerly productive potato country.
I spent the night in glorious, opulent comfort.
Acting on Andy’s friendly advice, I enjoyed a long, hot bath. Hex, who reminded me a bit of the creepy guy who gets picked up hitchhiking by the wayward teens in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, seemed intent on befriending me and invited me to share his crack pipe with him.
When I declined, he took it in stride and smiled. “Okay, then,” and his lighter flared.
When I pulled out about an eighth of an ounce of weed and asked him if he’d like to smoke a joint, a large, flappy smile flipped up on his face and he shouted, “May! Check this out. This fella has some ganja! Spin her up, bra!”
I remained mindful of the fact that this lot of freaks were likely an evil pack of hyenas, but after coming upon the remains of extreme savagery in Newport, it felt good to be a part of some numbers. The dark, friendly man who was clearly their leader gave me a sense of comfort – a feeling of security that I hadn’t felt since before the disappearance.
With such assurances trying to take root in my mind, I fell into a 10-hour sleep that night — unhindered by night terrors, fleeting, crushing thoughts that this entire thing had been a dream and I was home in bed with Carrie or the wet Pacific cold.
After I awoke and joined May and Calder for a wake and bake session, Andy walked into the room to tell us that he had found another useful truck.
He admitted to me the night before that he had an ulterior motive for “capturing me,” as he coined it.
“I need your truck. Got to go to Yellowstone and it’s pretty damned snowy and cold up there right about now. If you want to go for a tour to Yellowstone, I’d be happy to ride along with you in that big black bastard. If not, you are free to stay here and do as you wish.”
I felt like hugging him. After a moment, I said, “I’m in. I’d like to see Yellowstone in the winter. And I really don’t know where I am going right now.”
Andy slapped me on the shoulder and barked, “Great. Come check this out you guys.”
The others emerged from a couple of rooms and we followed Andy down to the hotel lobby and out the doors. It was still cool and rainy in Corvallis.
Parked behind ‘my’ truck was a 2001 extended cab Ford F-250. Its box featured an ATV deck and Andy patted it as we gathered around.
“Crest, you and Calder get the bikes — four on this and two in his — mounted up. We leave tomorrow morning.” He then walked crisply away, like a superior officer after delivering orders, and I didn’t see him for the rest of the day, which I spent idling about the hotel, gorging on fresh pizza and drinking beer.
Across the way — Ng became disturbed by the activity and began to fear who else might be around him, waiting to tap him on the shoulder and then shoot him dead. He’d never been so small in his life.
Ng was barely able to leave his spot on the couch to pee. And once he did, he realized he was famished.
That drove him from his shelter and took him away from the Hilton. Ng stumbled stiffly away from the house and a few minutes of walking brought him back to the university. Curiosity led him to the dormitory where he found the cold bodies of his former compatriots. He shouted at the crows and ravens blanketing their now-mangled bodies.
He looked blankly at Perry and no basic thought of sympathy entered his mind. Ng walked away and began to head east toward the downtown area. After wandering into a few shops, he managed to scrounge up a few things to eat and found some bottled water. Renewed from a meal, he set about finding something to drive. He found keys on the floor in a small grocer and after fobbing about a dozen vehicles, the lights on a light blue 2009 Prius flashed. Ng let out a short whoop and trotted to the car. Embedded on death row in 2010 when Toyota was being dragged through the shit pile for a slew of sticking accelerator incidents and not prone to keeping up on what was happening outside, Ng was oblivious to any possible problems that could arise from his choice of vehicle.
The windows instantly fogged and he had to wait a few minutes for the car to warm up before he could drive. After the windshield was about two-thirds clear, Ng slipped it in drive and the car, which had been sitting quiet for a month, literally leapt at the chance to get moving. The Prius bounded forward and Ng slapped at the steering wheel vainly. He still hadn’t buckled up and his face greeted the airbag as it poofed out after the car slammed into the car about nine feet in front of it. The blow sucked the air from Ng and he slumped sideways, unconscious, his nose broken.
Carrie was shivering and green-gilled when Kenneth landed the Musketeer at Yellowstone Airport, three miles north of West Yellowstone. The plane’s tires skidded when they pushed down onto the five or six inches of snow covering the tarmac.
Yawning, Kenneth had to gun the plane’s powerful Lycoming single engine to push it through the snow up to the dark terminal, which had a Bell 206 Long-Ranger helicopter dangling precariously from its north wall.
Stacy shook her head at the thought of the chopper rising, then falling for the last time — abandoned by its pilot.
“Sorry lass, she doesn’t give much heat back there,” Kenneth apologized to Carrie as she emerged slowly, stiffly and carefully out of the back of the plane and slid awkwardly to the tarmac. A cold wind slashed across her face and light snow danced over the crust of snow that covered the airfield.
“Now what?” Stacy asked, pulling her collar up under her chin.
Looking at the carnage on the terminal, Kenneth said, “I dunna think we’ll be staying there. We’ll get a truck and find a place to stay for the night. This place is full of hotels.”
Stacy said through clicking teeth, “If we can stay here.”
Kenneth said he doubted there’d be anyone around, as the elevation — a sign at the terminal noted ‘6,644 feet’ — made it too inhospitable of a place for people to flock to at this time of year.
“This is a lovely place in the summer but ye best be hardy if you want to make it your home at this time of year. Perfect,” Kenneth said with a rare grin.
Carrie felt warmer just from seeing his smile. Stacy noticed her small smile and tugged at her jacket sleeve. “Come on girl, let’s find some wheels.”
They trudged through the snow to the terminal, paused to assess the damage from the helicopter, and disappeared into a door. Stacy walked toward a door that said ‘Airport personnel only’ and followed a corridor to a locker room, where she set about rooting for keys. Carrie watched, impressed.
“It’s like you’ve done this before,” she said. Stacy smiled and replied, “Maybe in another life time.”
After she jingled from five sets of keys in her possession, Stacy led Carrie out the front of the terminal and into a windswept parking lot.
“One really good thing about new vehicles is these fob gadgets,” she said, pressing one. A small car about 60 feet away let out a single, weak beep — like a small gosling being gobbled in a single bite by a muskie.
“No,” she said, handing the keys to Carrie. She pressed another fob and there was no sound or flashing lights. She handed those keys to Carrie. Stacy repeated the process two more times. Another small car’s lights flashed and a mini-van let out a grouchy honk, like a momma goose witnessing a muskie eating one of her young.
The fob on the fifth set of keys resulted in Stacy yipping, “That’s the one!” Lights blinked on a newer model Mercedes-Benz GL320.
“Nice,” Carrie purred.
Kenneth stepped out the door and noticed the ladies standing by the Mercedes.
“Bloody diesel,” he said, “She’ll be cranky starting.”
Stacy said it was the best she could do and Carrie reminded Kenneth: “Hello-ooo, Mercedes-Benz.”
Left sitting in the elements for a month, it took a couple of cranks of the key to get the swank SUV started and once it was running evenly, Kenneth wheeled it around and charged through the chainlink fence separating them from the airfield. Carrie let out a shocked peep as the SUV ‘ca-linged’ through the fence and rolled up to Kenneth’s plane, which he’d covered with a tarpaulin and blocked.
In a few minutes they had unloaded all their supplies and began crunching through the crusty snow toward town.
“No tire tracks. Bloody good thing,” Kenneth pointed out.
Carrie, seated in the front, rooted through the glovebox and extracted a passport belonging to one Adam Sherman Ralph of Jackson, Wyoming. Another document told them Adam was an airplane mechanic.
Stacy was musing over Adam’s photo, noting he seemed “a nice guy,” when they rolled into West Yellowstone, a quintessential tourist trap located on the edge of a national park.
Its few streets were lined with various hotels and motels, cafés, shiny bauble shops that offered trinkets, beer glasses and placemats stamped with Yellowstone National Park.
Close to the Imax Theater and Discovery Center was Yellowstone Lodge.
“I remember checking out the prices here, years ago,” Stacy said. “I also remember beating a hasty retreat when I was told how much they wanted a night,” she laughed.
Kenneth circled the hotel and asked the ladies to keep their eyes open for anything that would indicate signs of human activity. He drove away from the lodge and toured down a few side streets.
But West Yellowstone appeared completely abandoned. Its streets were covered with ankle-to-shin-deep snow and fresh white stuff was now falling. The only tracks in the snow had just been made.
Satisfied they were alone, Kenneth began to return to the lodge when they spotted a bed and breakfast, tucked off Crane Lane.
“Tha’s more like it,” he said and wheeled the MB into the drive and backed it to the front doors. Before they unloaded the SUV, Kenneth ensured they could power the spacious home up. It took some searching, but he found a back-up power supply — an old gas generator — in a side shed.
“This won’t do much,” he said, put out. “Ah well, we’ve got a fire place, at least.”
In no time, they had taken the chill out of the main room, once a fire was crackling. It took Kenneth about an hour, with equal doses of cursing and eureka-ing, to get the generator running.
“Tha’s na’much gas so we won’t be able to keep this place lit up much longer than tomorrow,” he said as he stomped back into the increasingly cosier B&B.
“We can get more gas tomorrow,” Carrie noted matter-of-factly.
“Aye,” Kenneth nodded and he groaned as he tugged the Sorel snow boots he found in a front door closet off his cranky feet. “Tha’ we can.”
Kenneth hadn’t slept in three nights.
Ian Cobb/e-KNOWTags: 11:11Ian Cobb
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