January 8, 2012
Madeline was awake for several minutes before she opened her eyes.
She could hear Serena’s heavy sleeping breaths and her own felt wide and deep from the cold. Morning light was just cresting the Mahogany Mountains, due east from where Serena stopped her old truck the night before and they snuggled together for a short, cold night.
Madeline was worried about the morning ahead. Before falling asleep, Serena had said they would be lucky to find gas before running out.
She opened her eyes. A narrow band of bright orange and pink overtop of a steely blue gave warmth to the harsh country ahead.
Madeline coughed and Serena snorted and stirred awake. Groaning, she straightened up and grabbed the steering wheel. She stared ahead blinking for 30 seconds before turning to Madeline. “Good morning sweetie.”
She started the truck and looked with grave trepidation at the gas gauge — sitting directly over empty line.
Their only hope was finding gas at Burns Junction, about 20 miles southeast. Serena had to burn precious gas doubling back southward, after arriving at an eerily empty John Day. The going was perilous, as the roads were covered with thick snow at higher elevation and Serena feared they would become stuck in a valley — make it down but not up. Luckily, life in Wyoming had her well prepared and the set of chains she had in the back turned out to be all that was needed. For now. They had to get to Jackson and that elevation was going to cause an entirely different challenge. For the first time since the disappearance, and many miles driven, Serena began to realize that she needed a more substantial vehicle. Her reasoning up to now, for keeping the old Nissan, was it was good on gas. Old habits.
Burns Junction was covered in snow, making it seem all the more otherworldly as Madeline and Serena realized most of the buildings had been burned. The stark white-black contrasts were all the more comely in the building dawn light.
Once a key junction town for southeastern Oregon, there would have been plenty of gasoline options had the fire not snuffed them. Serena felt a twinge of panic and longed for a much-needed conference with Kenneth.
Madeline felt Serena’s anxiety and she twiddled her fingers in the passenger seat as Serena toed at a blackened gas pump.
Turning to go back into the truck, Serena spotted a RV parked neatly beside a blackened trailerhome with a snow-filled, caved-in roof. She loped across the highway and clambered over a small fence to get near the RV. Madeline watched her disappear around the side. Her fingers twiddled away.
A moment later Serena reappeared, waving at Madeline, who slipped out of the truck and trotted over to join her mentor.
“Go fetch our hose,” she asked, referring to the seven feet of garden hose she kept in the back of the Nissan for the very purpose of siphoning fuel. Madeline raced back to the truck and returned clutching a faded green hunk of hose.
Serena worked the hose in the RV’s gas tank and jiggled it for a few seconds, before sucking on its end. With a ‘whuff’ she whipped the hose end to the pail and a thin trickle dribbled into it.
“C’mon!” Madeline urged. She’d seen this before. A bit of gas and then none — because engines were left running, if the momentum ceasing impact didn’t stall them. They had become adept at seeking out standard transmission vehicles, as they traveled south.
Serena’s preferred method of gassing up was siphoning vehicles, instead of having to light up a gas station to possibly get some gas and giving away your position. Even just to keep the crows from appearing, starving and more dangerous every day.
The trickle became a dribble and then a drip.
“Just add a cup,” Serena said. “One cup of fuel. Hmm. What will that give us? Not much.”
Serena tried siphoning again but the tank was dry. It was either parked empty, left running or sucked dry by someone earlier.
“Well, drop it into old Betsy,” she said to Madeline. “Be careful.”
Madeline walked back to the truck and set about adding the tiny slobber of fuel.
As she twisted the gas cap on, her eyes drifted over to Serena who was just starting to walk back. Then her gaze traveled past and settled on the large air conditioning unit atop the RV.
“What about the generator?” She shouted, pointing at the RV. Madeline repeated her question running up to Serena, who turned and nodded when she saw the air conditioning unit.
Madeline’s observation turned into salvation.
Inside a back end storage box sat a nice, fat Honda generator and a fourth-fifth filled five gallon can of gas.
They loaded the generator in the back of the truck and pushed the gas gauge back to a quarter tank and slowly, surely began to make their way toward Jordan Valley, on the Idaho border.
The 70-mile trip took three hours, as the old Nissan spun and slid its way alongside the Jordan River. Serena suffered knowing the spinning was sucking more fuel away than would be good for them and they were once again on empty as they stopped outside Jordan Valley and scanned it with binoculars.
Serena muttered, “We are going to need lots of gas to get through what is ahead.”
Madeline took the bait. “What’s ahead?”
“People and probably lots of them,” Serena said. There is a highway I can take over Columbia Plateau, south of Boise, so that is good. But there aren’t many places to get gas — so we need lots of gas. I really hope Jordan Valley hasn’t been turned over by the fork.”
They crept into the small town and felt relief when its few buildings remained untouched.
Serena pulled into a rural property and halted the Nissan beside a ramshackle old residence.
Parked in front of the house was a trailer with a snowmobile parked on it. Serena spotted that and assumed gas would be available. She was right.
Gas and much more.
As Madeline poured the triumphant findings from the five-gallon can of gas they found in a nearby shed, Serena came upon a better find — a lovingly preserved and maintained Power Wagon, circa 1955. Better yet, it was stuffed full of gas.
Inside the house, they found a bevy of canned goods, as well as some hard liquor, which Serena packed into the Power Wagon, for fuel, just in case. Serena hadn’t consumed liquor in several hundred years.
With their fresh bounty secured, Serena told Madeline to follow her in the Nissan and they began forging their way further east into Idaho, eventually arriving at a highway outside Grand View, 23 miles west of Mountain Home. In a small town called Hammett, Serena stopped and instructed Madeline to park the Nissan.
Driving behind Serena, Madeline hadn’t noticed that the road had been well traveled.
Madeline climbed into the spartan but tidy cab of the Power Wagon and Serena immediately began to dictate the plan.
“We’re definitely not alone any more,” she said. “I think I am going to have to get on the interstate up ahead. If I can get us across or down to Gooding, we can get back on the backroads. So let’s prep, kiddo. Are you loaded?”
Madeline nodded sullenly.
Two miles ahead, Interstate 84 offered itself to them without resistence. About 60 miles back, the Boise Militia was forming for a supply run to their outpost at Twin Falls and another search and burn patrol toward Pocatello and Idaho Falls.
The interstate was clear of snow and ice and aside from clusters of wrecked vehicles at King Hill, Serena steered the Power Wagon onto Highway 26 at Gooding. A quick siphoning of a standard Ford truck topped their vehicle with gas and they pushed northeast to Arco, where they turned onto Highway 20.
Serena stopped on a long straightaway, rimmed by empty fields, about 20 miles from Idaho City.
Idaho, since the disappearance, had become a hornets’ nest of lost, hateful white supremists, vile scum of the earth from such barred homes as Idaho Maximum Security Institution and South Idaho Correctional Institution, and sundry twisted brothers and sisters.
A ragtag militia was centred out of Idaho Falls/Pocatello (IFP) and there was another one in Boise. They ran the interstate and roadways leading to the three outposts and killed anything they saw, often each other. After weeks of clashes, the two sides were drawing to their inevitable great battle. Boise had pushed east to Twin Falls, where a front had formed, with the Boise fort on the south side of the Snake River and the IFP were stationed on the north side. The bridge spanning the river, leaving Twin Falls, was now a splintered no-man’s land. It would become the focal point of the final battle, one week ahead in time, that would see the southern Idaho militias become united.
Once united, they would expand their territory north to Lewiston, south to the Nevada border and east into Wyoming.
The nearest growing forces to them were the ‘tribes’ from Billings and the Great Falls/Helena and Missoula groups. Though small in number, these loosely united bands were frighteningly well armed and organized.
Serena didn’t know all that as she pondered her approach to Idaho Falls. She was certain it would be inundated with evil and studied her map book, trying to find a route that would give them the best and safest option to circumvent the city.
It would require careful crossing of Interestate 15, which will most assuredly be heavily patrolled, Serena considered.
In the end, she tossed the limited map book aside and began weaving south toward Blackfoot and they slipped below the interstate, and past a nearby patrol, onto the Fort Hall Indian Reservation. Carefully, Serena crept them along backroads until they emerged onto Highway 26 at Swan Valley. She drove 90 miles instead of 30, but successfully crept around Idaho Falls.
It was dark and snowing heavily when they pulled into Jackson. They were so famished it hurt to breathe.
Madeline’s hunger shutdown Serena’s usually cautious approach and they rolled into a dark, snow-covered Jackson. The town would normally be rocking in its full winter ski season glory but it now sat in complete darkness. The town’s powerplant was kaput days after the disappearance, silent and damaged from a poor powering down of its systems, so the only thing that would provide power would be a gas generator or fire.
Serena felt Jackson posed no threat to them. It was Ridley’s home — or near as be damned. Her senses continued to aid Serena, as they did back in Bend, when her heart filled with terror — something she’d rarely experienced in her 2,100 years aboard Earth.
It was an ancient terror that sliced through her, a sense of foreboding driven to the nth degree by a feeling of complete powerlessness.
Several of the men storming the mall during the Battle of Bend experienced similar nerve spikes of unbelievable trepidation, as Andy lay in wait for them.
Serena stopped in front of the coffee shop she frequented when in town. It appeared closed, as it might during the height of off-season.
“Should be able to rustle something up in there,” she said to Madeline, who moved to follow in slow motion, groaning softly that she was hungry.
“I know sweetie. It’s been two days since we ate anything beyond a granola bar. These folks always had lots of good, healthy food and there will be something I can put together. The cold has one good thing going for it. Food freezes,” Serena said.
Hanging doorbells jingled as Serena pushed into the coffee shop. A stale breeze whisked past — air tired of its own smelly feet fleeing for the outdoors.
“Smells like an old coffee ‘to-go’ cup,” Madeline said groggily. “It’s cold.”
It took Serena half an hour to get a small fire roaring in a fireplace that had been used more for decoration than function. Once she did, she thawed several packages of deli meats — kinds she could not determine as nothing was written on the packages. She reasoned that it was mid-November when refridgeration would have conked out, and it had been cold enough since to keep things fresh or reasonably so.
Madeline scarfed down the honey ham, pepperoni, provolone, chedder cheese and pickled asparagus omelet that Serena expertly produced over the small fire. The old woman didn’t even notice her fall asleep, in a curled crouch, beside the fireplace, her plate tilting from her opened hand and her head tilting forward in a painful arch.
Serena scrambled for anything they could use for blankets and pillows and then shifted Madeline into a position more conducive to sleep and covered her.
Serena loved her like she was her own child. She was unable to experience childbirth and had always felt an odd, quirky jealousy toward mortals for that ability — the gift that so many failed to appreciate.
Wrapped in her parka and a variety of sweaters and coats from a lost and found box, Serena laid her head on a roll of placemats and her thoughts drifted back through the millennia as she tumbled into a sore, creaky sleep.
He had befriended a gnarled up one-eyed crow, which he called “Annie Hall.” Foraging expeditions had proved crazy because of the demons roaming the streets. He’d seen unspeakable things from the shadows of his cowardly loneliness and wanted nothing to do with those animals.
He went longer and longer between foraging expeditions and starvation was becoming an issue for the 76-year-old film icon. Finally, he felt he had no other choice and broke Annie Hall’s neck in a feeble flurry of black feathers flying and cawing.
As he plucked his pet, he sobbed heavier and louder than he ever had in his life and when he plunged a kitchen knife into the dead bird, he screamed and couldn’t stop screaming.
Out on the sidewalk, two meth-fried demons who had been battling one another for reasons they had long forgotten, halted their aggressions and like large cats hunting, they stiffened and cocked their ears.
Ian Cobb/e-KNOWTags: 11:11Ian Cobb
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