Revelation

“No… what the—Mom and Dad are in the city!” Jess looked at us, his eyes wide and sincere. “That’s what Teri said, and then she started bawling. I mean…I almost bawled myself! Mom and Dad were over there, and…we couldn’t get to them, could we?”

Dale leaned forward in his straight-backed chair, hands clasped and elbows on knees. “So, what did you do?”

Jess grimaced. “We had our bikes, so we booked like hell for the culvert that drains into the river.”

“Across the river from the city?” I asked, just to be clear.

“Yeah. It was dry then,” Jess said. “No rain, no run-off. It’s big. We rode right in, because…well…it’s all concrete, and under the ground, and who knew when they might decide to start bombing on that side of the river! We were scared, man.”

Teri sat next to her brother, nodding in agreement. “We were too scared to go home,” she added. “Bombs were dropping on the city, and we could feel the impact, even though it was far off.”

Dale looked at Vance, then at me. Then he turned to Zack, who looked back at him with some measure of defiance. Leave it to Zack and his gang to bring strangers around, I thought. I wasn’t angry, but it was…disturbing.

“How did you end up here?” Vance asked. None of us had made it around to the other side of the city, where the river ran. The damage was immense. Driving around was too risky.

Jess narrowed his eyes in consternation. “No offence, sir, but we weren’t incapacitated. We rode our bikes, we walked–it’s taken us years to make our way, okay?”

Alone?” Incredulous.

I asked the real question: “Who dropped the bombs?”

Jess frowned. “The planes were ours.”

 

Author’s note: Inspired by a prompt on Writers Unite!

 

The First Riverview Avenue Bench

It was really nothing more than a footpath, wide enough for two people to walk side by side in most spots, and in the few wider areas, possibly a third person could squeeze in without straddling the edge.

As far as Meredith was concerned, the path had always been there. Her parents had walked that path, Meredith leading the way in her stroller at first, then on her tricycle. When she outgrew those, she walked, too, always ahead of her mother and dad, always on the lookout for friends and neighbors doing the same.

Meredith was about to go into second grade the first time she heard someone discussing the possibility of paving Riverview Avenue.

No one living had any recollection of the path being named; even Great-Grandpa Billy Dodge said it was already so-called when he was a little boy, and he didn’t know who was responsible for that. Billy Dodge was 96 the summer Meredith was 7, and she had a hard time picturing her dad’s grandfather as a little boy, but surely he had been one. No one was born old.

The great paving debate of 1967 was brief, hot, and quickly squashed by the locals.

Of course, it had been proposed by a transplanted resident who simply couldn’t comprehend the history of Riverview Avenue, and taken up by other transplants who didn’t like to get mud on their shoes when they walked after a rainstorm or during spring run-off.

Great-Grandpa Billy Dodge ended that city council meeting by suggesting that anyone afraid of banging mud off their shoes ought to go back to wherever they came from, and all the locals cheered.

Meredith thought the whole idea had been a silly one. There were tons of trees along the path, and they helped keep things relatively dry. The Parks and Recreations people spread pine needles and leaves after heavy rains or run-offs. It wasn’t all that muddy in the first place; certainly no one had ever lost a shoe.  That happened to her all the time taking the shortcut to school through the empty lot where the new library would eventually go up, and no one ever brought up paving there.

Riverview Avenue had been a footpath along the scenic riverside since the town had been established back in the early days of the 19th century. Over two hundred years’ worth of walking feet had worn the path down into the well-defined rut that the locals filled with fresh soil periodically so it wouldn’t end up being feet-deep and impassible. Sprinklings of pine needles and mulched leaves and twigs gave it a springy surface. No one came home from a walk with aching feet.

Pavement? No way!

“Dat path? ‘Twas a deer trail, I reckon,” Great-Grandpa told Meredith. “My pappy tole me it was dere when he was just a sprat, an’ dat was long ago.”

“Was it Riverview Avenue then, Grampy?” Meredith asked.

“Yup, always was, I reckon. Started as a joke, Pap said. Folks’d agree ta meet on the avenue, have a walk, share a picnic. Couples fell in love dere. Like your own mama and daddy.”

Meredith loved the stories of couples falling in love while walking the avenue. She especially loved her parents’ story, since they were the first couple to put a bench beside the path in the place where they shared their first kiss.

Dad had gone to work for Parks and Recreation while he was still in High School, and he’d gone on with them until his retirement in 1999. When he married Mom in 1958, part of his job was building park benches for the county parks and the various bus stops around the towns in the county.

He devised a little plan that summer. Newly wedded and happy as a lark, he used some of his own money to purchase materials and assemble a park bench. Getting permission to place it on the path was easier than he’d expected; his supervisor was deeply romantic and loved the idea. Dad built the bench and painted it, and placed it when the time came.

On their first wedding anniversary, Dad took Mom for a walk along Riverview Avenue. They slowed their pace as they approached the place where they had shared their first kiss. It was also the place where Dad had proposed.

“Why, Alan!” Mom exclaimed. “There’s a bench here!”

“Well, let’s have a look,” Dad said.

A plaque on the bright red bench read: “First Kiss–May 3, 1955. Proposal–May 3, 1957. Wedding–May 3, 1958. What a Lucky Day!”

Of course, Mom had cried some happy tears that May 3rd of 1959. No one had ever gotten their own park bench as an anniversary gift before!

Meredith was born May 3, 1960.

No one ever believed that was a coincidence. It was their lucky day, after all.

~*~

On May 3, 1978, Meredith and her parents took a walk on Riverview Avenue, and stopped to sit on the Anniversary bench. It was still bright red; Dad painted it every spring, and it had recently gotten its annual touch up.

They spoke of memories and plans for the future. Meredith would soon graduate, and be off to college in the fall. “I have celebrated every birthday on this bench,” Meredith said. “I hope next year, I will be able to be here.”

When next year came, her parents were there, but Meredith was not. Spring break hadn’t had the consideration to fall during that week. But when she checked her mail that morning, she found a birthday card from her parents. Inside were a generous check and a photograph of the Anniversary bench.

On May 3, 1980, Meredith was home for the weekend. It had been planned in advance; school was going well, and she didn’t have a Friday afternoon class, so she’d flown in the night before.

What hadn’t been part of the plan was Dad’s sudden gallbladder attack and surgery the night before. Mom and Dad were spending their 22nd Anniversary in the hospital, and Meredith had been sent home to take their walk on Riverview Avenue without them. “Take a picture of our bench!” Dad instructed. “I didn’t take one this year, because I knew you would be here.”

It’s my birthday, Meredith thought as she neared the curve on the avenue, the one where she’d be able to see the bench on the path ahead as soon as she cleared it. I’m alone on my birthday. My parents are sitting in a hospital on their anniversary. It doesn’t feel like a very lucky day today.

Ahead of her now: the bench. Someone was sitting there. A man.

As she got nearer, she thought the man looked familiar to her; but she was sure she didn’t know him. Should she stop? Keep walking?

Why should she? It wasn’t his bench. Who was this guy, and why was he sitting on her parents’ bench?

That was silly. Anyone could sit anywhere. Yes, there was a plaque, but it didn’t actually have their name on it. None of the other benches along the avenue had names; it had happened gradually, over time, that other people had placed benches with important dates all along the river front path. Some marked wedding anniversaries. Some marked birthdates. Some celebrated a graduation date, and some even marked memorials of long lives lived.

It was traditional these days to walk the avenue and read the plaques and try to guess the names behind the dates and celebrations.

The man looked up at Meredith as she paused. “Hi,” he said. He frowned thoughtfully. “Meredith?”

“Yes.” Meredith frowned, too. “Do I know you?”

He grinned. “Roger Burke,” he said, extending his hand for a shake. “I think I was a Senior the year you started high school. I liked hearing you sing in the musicals.”

Meredith blushed. She remembered the days of hoping to run off and sing on Broadway when she grew up. Now she was working on her teaching degree. Dreams die hard, sometimes.

“I like this bench,” Roger went on. “I think it has the best location of any on the avenue.”

“It was the first,” Meredith commented.

“Do you know whose it is?” Roger asked. “I was hoping I would run into the Anniversary couple today. I haven’t managed to be here on the right day, ever, since I started being curious about the benches.”

Meredith made up her mind, and sat down.

On that day, her 20th birthday, she shared the story of the first Riverview Avenue bench.

It turned out to be a lucky day, after all.

A year later, Roger proposed to her there. Her parents, healthy and happy, were there with them, celebrating 23 years together. They cheered.

A year after that, Meredith and Roger gathered on Riverview Avenue with all their family and friends, took their vows and celebrated with the biggest picnic supper the path had ever hosted.

Late in the day, it started to rain. Shoes got muddy. No one cared.

A little rain can’t compete with a lucky day.

~*~

May 3, 2022

Mom and Dad lead the way on the walk this morning, each seated in a wheelchair, pushed along by Meredith and Roger.

The bench, now a ripe old sixty-three years old, was waiting for them, freshly painted bright red. Riverview Avenue had recently been built up with fresh soil, and the ground under the bench had been renewed as well. It would never do to let it sink into the earth.

Meredith and Roger, both only children, had let the admonition to be fruitful and multiply go to their head. Their five children, along with their spouses and a dozen grandchildren, followed along, swinging picnic baskets and toting blankets and coolers with soft drinks.

Mom and Dad were helped out of their chairs and seated on the bench. Picnic goodies were spread all around, just off the path, and when everyone was supplied with a soft drink, aluminum cans were raised in a celebratory toast. “Happy Anniversary!”

Dad smiled and raised his soda can. “Here’s to the luckiest!” he cried. “That would be us.”

“Yes,” Meredith agreed. “That would be us.” She raised her own can and sent a silent cheer to Great-Grandpa Billy Dodge, who had passed at the age of 102. He had shared the story of the benches with her, and she had no doubt he was with them still, in his own way.

Happy tears were shed, but were soon interrupted when little Mikey cried, “Okay, okay. Let’s eat.”

After some good natured laughter, that’s exactly what they did.

What a lucky day, indeed.

 

Author’s Note: This story was inspired by a photograph on Writers Unite! and their Write The Story monthly prompt. Do yourself a favor and check them out, here: Write The Story, Writers Unite!

 

 

 

 

 

Hidden Places Part 5

I was amazed to be in this little place. Location: Middle of Nowhere. Little houses all in a row, seven on this street, the same on the next. Then a “Main Street” road, with a convenience store/gas station, and a miniature school building, and one more road, more a cul-de-sac with three slightly bigger houses.

The place was just a square. The front was warehouse and the lot surrounding it. Behind that, a cross road that passed by the three little streets and cul-de-sac. Then another crossroad in front of and empty lot, the church lot, and another empty lot. From the road, one had to climb several steps to get to the church, and I suppose once upon a time it had been cultivated with a nice lawn and bushes and flowers, but now it was crabgrass and weeds.

After exploring a bit at the warehouse, we had returned to the one house I had decided I wanted to see more of.

I saw the stack of papers on the table through the window when Sid and I made our first round through this little township, so it was really the first place I wanted to explore. But I knew those kids would want to see if there were things of use in the warehouse or the trucks, and there’s no sense arguing with teenagers. Especially when there are six of them and only one little old me.

I have to admit, it was worth it. I’m delighted to have a new toothbrush and real toothpaste. Yeah, baby!

Penny’s grandpa and his pals put a lot of thought into the camps we survivors live in, and they stockpiled a lot of things. But it doesn’t last forever. A find like this is a thrill.

I was an adult when this all went down, but a young one. Younger than Penny’s dad, Vance, much younger than Gramps. Military pronounced me 4-F because I’m a compact guy. I might have fought it — probably would have — but time ran out. And, too bad for them, because I would have been great, damn it.

Anyway, I was the old guy in this little expedition. I think the kids have always gravitated toward me because I am younger than the other adults in our camp. Plus, I’m super cool. Sid and Ash could have been taken in by one of the couples in camp, but they chose me to be Dad. I’m good with that, although I would have been about twelve when Sid was born, I guess.

The point I’m trying to make is, they look up to me, and that means I have a responsibility to make safe and sane decisions as far as they are concerned. I take that seriously.

I’m going to admit, right here and now, that when the quirky quartet came to me last evening going on about caves and culverts and a town with a warehouse, this wasn’t what I was expecting. I believed there was something to see, of course, but these are kids, and they are imaginative and prone to exaggeration.

Boy, was I wrong!

I was already making a list in my head, things I would want to bring with me next time we came. Lock picks and a new padlock for the warehouse door; a sledge or two to drag things back to camp; maybe Gramps and Vance. Maybe.

But for now, I had six kids staring at me, waiting. I sat down at the table and beckoned to Penny to sit across from me. There were only two chairs in the house, and a square table with a stack of papers sitting under an old coffee mug. Printed on the mug were the words, “Stay Calm and Drink Coffee.”

I grinned. Monica had a shirt, once upon a time, that said “Stay Calm and Kiss Morty.” I still have my own, which reads, “Stay Calm and Kiss Monica.” I have it folded and wrapped in plastic in the bottom of my steamer trunk. She had them made for us during the “Stay Calm and…” craze.

I could feel the grin sort of slide off my face, and my eyes stung. Thinking about Monica still hurts. The not knowing part of it, the unsolvable mystery of it — that’s what hurts the most. I know she got on the plane; she was coming home to me. I was there at the airport to pick her up, but the plane never arrived.

I talked to her just before the plane took off. She promised to call when the plane landed, and then put her cell on airplane mode.

I went to the airport and waited for her call, so I’d know where to meet her.

Nothing.

I checked the flight boards, and went to the luggage pick-up assigned to her flight.

Nothing.

I wasn’t the only one waiting. People began questioning airline personnel. No one could figure it out. The plane took off on time. There had been no reported issues, and there was no evidence anywhere in the country of a flight crash or emergency landing.

Flight 4826 had disappeared.

There was an investigation, of course. She was just one of many on the plane, and there were hundreds of inquiries. I reported her missing. I made dozens of calls, to police, the airlines, her parents and friends.

Then we went to rescue the kids on the base, and immediately retreated to the camp, and within days the whole world went straight to hell.

Through it all, I kept my cell charged and ready, praying for a call from her. Dozens of different scenarios played out in my mind, all of them hopeful at first. Emergency landing in a remote area. Phone got broken. No cell service. Something where Monica was alive and safe and simply inconvenienced for a while.

I went through a period of wondering if she had just decided she didn’t want to be with me, but a whole airplane full of people were missing along with her, so that was blessedly brief. She was coming home to me; I know it.

Then I just waited for any calls. Airline. Police. Hijackers. Anybody.

But…nothing.

If anything came of the investigation, I never found out. And once the world ended…well…

Penny leaned toward me, eyebrows raised inquiringly. “Are you okay?”

The concern in her voice snapped me out of my remenicences. “Yeah,” I replied. “Just…got hit with a memory jolt.”

Penny looked at Mae, and they both nodded at me with understanding. “It happens,” Sid commented. “Sometimes it’s good. Mostly, it sucks.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. I took a deep breath. “Let’s take a look at this. See if there’s information or just old bills.” I laughed a little, unconvincingly.

I scanned the letter on the top of the stack. Interesting. I handed it to Penny, so she could read it aloud.

“To the residents of Bolt Man Camp,” Penny read, “We regret to inform you that your employer and benefactor, Marvin Bolt, has passed away.”

“This is a man camp?” Ash interrupted.

“Shh,” Sid admonished.

Penny gave them a stern look and continued. “Given present conditions in the country, Mr. Bolt’s heirs do not wish to take possession of the company, and will be offering the holdings to the highest bidder. Any bids by you, as individuals or as a group, will certainly be considered. Otherwise, please be prepared to pack up your belongings and vacate the property within the next six weeks. Sincerely, J. Wilkes-Belding, Esquire.”

“What’s ‘esquire’?” Danny asked.

“I assume it means he’s a lawyer,” Penny replied, looking askance at me.

“Yes,” I agreed. I’d been skimming the next few pages in the stacks, and handed Penny another interesting find.

Penny looked it over carefully. “It looks like a copy,” she said. “Diary, maybe?”

I shrugged.

Penny started reading: “Bolt’s kids got a better bid than what we could offer as a group, so it looks like the man camp will be moving out soon. I sent their lawyer a letter, explaining the bid and the situation here, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference to them that they’re displacing a dozen families with children. I am leaving this note, and copies of correspondence for whoever next occupies this house. You should know what you are in for.”

“This doesn’t sound good,” I remarked, still skimming as I listened. I had found the bid proposal and the rejection of it by the Bolt heirs.

“The bid we proposed,” Penny continued, “took into consideration the road and bridge repairs that need to be done before operations can resume here. Bolt had been notified several times, and we had gotten bids from contractors who could have completed the work by now, but he ignored our recommendations.”

Sid said, “That explains the bridge, I guess.”

Penny nodded. “Whoever got the place — they’d have to pay for those repairs. It makes sense they would include that consideration in what they were willing to bid.”

I agreed.

Penny went on reading, and we learned that the trucks at the warehouse were still here because the drivers refused to take them back over the bridge.

Families had packed up their belongings and taken things out in small loads; the first load across the bridge had been the women and children, in small groups, on foot. According to the letter, 41 men, women and children had made Bolt Man Camp their home for the past decade. Now, each family had received a final paycheck, severance and vacation pay and a thank you note. They left, homeless and unemployed.

“Bolt’s heirs were sure some pissy people,” Mae declared. She was scowling.

We all agreed with that.

“If you’re here,” Penny finished, “you probably won’t dare to drive back out. The derricks and refining station are in good, clean condition. We have always endeavored to keep everything well maintained. The bridge and road would have been the same, had we been able to do that sort of work. I’m sorry you’ll have to be responsible for it now. We wish you luck.” Penny looked up. “It’s signed, Roger Parks, Bolt Refineries.”

Ash sighed. “Well,” he said, “obviously no one moved in here after the man camp cleared out. The bridge is worse than ever.”

“Derricks and refinery station…” Penny looked thoughtful. “We’re not done here, are we, Mort?”

“Nope.” I looked at Sid. “That dirt road just behind the church?”

Sid bit his lip, thinking. “Maybe,” he conceded. “I’m leaning more toward the one by the little store…” He frowned. “The one that curves past the big house?”

That would be the nearer side of the cul-de-sac, I thought. We crossed it in the woods behind the houses, and I hadn’t taken much notice to where it might lead. “Either way, we’re heading into the woods again,” I said.

Dawn, always the quiet one, spoke up. “We need to ride in,” she offered. “Horses would be best, but…” She trailed off, clearly distressed.

We don’t have horses. There are a few at one of the other camps, but that presented other issues, and I wasn’t willing to get into that before talking with Gramps.

“Dirt bikes,” Danny suggested.

Dawn nodded eagerly at that. “We need to be able to move more quickly. We could probably sleep in this house, if it came to that, but we don’t know how far we need to go to find whatever it is we’re looking for. We can’t be out there in the dark…”

I felt my jaw drop a little. This was a big speech from our little Dawn.

Penny agreed with her sister. “What if we couldn’t get back here before sunset?” she asked. ” Dawn’s right. We have to wait.”

No one here is scared of the dark, let’s get that straight. But no one is stupid, either. There are bears and wolves, coyotes and big cats. We don’t want to be on the dinner menu.

“We’re heading back to camp,” I said. As I’d anticipated, this decision was met with frustrated groans. “Shut it!”

Penny slapped her hands on her thighs and stood up. She handed papers back to me. “You’re right,” she conceded. “If we stay out all night, Dad will have a conniption fit. Besides,” she added, “we can do a sleep-over here later–with bedrolls.”

“Yep.” Sid grinned. “Vance will probably be a bear about it, even if Morty is along, but as long as everyone knows in advance–well, that should be fine, right Da?”

“Right.” My mind was racing; how much should we tell Gramps and Vance before we actually knew what we were talking about?

I know, I should probably have decided to tell everything we knew so far. I guess I’m not so different from the kids–I wanted to know as much as possible before sharing the secret. I was thinking, it could all come to nothing. Or, it could turn out to be wonderful.

“Are we telling?” Penny asked.

Did I ever mention I think she might be psychic?

“Not yet,” I said, making up my mind in that instant. “I’ll figure something out.”

Yeah, kids jumping up and down and clapping is pretty cool, especially when you’re the one they’re clapping for.

I gathered up all the papers and put them in my pack. After a brief considering pause, I took the coffee mug, too.

Monica would have liked it.

 

To be continued…

 

Author’s note: Morty takes over in narrating this time. Who might be next? Where are they going, and what will they find?

Your guess is as good as mine.

More of Penny and her gang’s beginnings can be found here: Starting in the Middle of The End

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lisa Criss Griffin: Choosing Freedom

I really enjoyed this. I could smell the forest, see the sunset. Lovely story. I’m sharing it here so you don’t miss out.

Writers Unite!

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Choosing Freedom

by Lisa Criss Griffin

The ever-present call of the beloved mountains of his childhood finally brought Jackson home. Home to the farm he grew up on, loved, and left for a greater opportunity. He had been reasonably successful in his white-collar job in the city. But it was all over now. His job was considered nonessential during the seemingly never-ending pandemic. He not only lost his source of income…

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Writing in Real Time

Over the course of April, I have written a few different things. One of those was meant to be just a short story, but it turned into more of a series in spite of my best efforts to make it stop.

It’s okay, though. What this has done is to give my readers a little taste of how novellas happen. Or full novels, for that matter. Sometimes an idea just continues to grow, and you’re left with the option of giving up or going on.

I chose to go on. I believe the next segment of story will complete the series, but that’s what I thought going into part 4, so I guess we will see what happens in the next couple of days.

My writing life has taken me over in the past few years. I found myself ill and unable to continue to work outside the home. I took an early retirement on disability, and suddenly –for the first time in years– I had the time I’d been missing to sit down and do what I love most: write.

Once I had done a few things, I was left with a few files, saved on my computer. My son is the one who pushed me into exploring the chance to self-publish my work, and that has led me to where I am today.

Where am I?

I am the seat-of-the pants type of writer. I get an idea and just sit down and start. Somewhere in the middle of things, it might dawn on me that I have no idea what I’m talking about. Where did a particular tribe make their home in 1860? Who were the men involved in the massacre in Lawrence, Kansas? Why would anyone choose to use human waste as fertilizer?

Unlike writers who “plot” their stories, I am a writer who stalls when a question comes up, does a ton of research on the fly, and adjusts things accordingly.

I’ve discovered that no matter what genre I write in, I run into things that do require some research. It’s all fiction, yes. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be credible. I want my stories to be something that a reader can look at and say, “Yeah. That could happen.”

I started this blog as a way to share some of my stories without having to go through the process of publishing on platforms like Amazon. Followers get to read free, so it’s a win-win. Readers like free. I get it. I’m a reader, too.

I recently published a book of short stories, many of which —but not all— had appeared previously on either this blog or others of my own blogs, and it’s not doing badly in terms of sales. But some readers got to read a few of those stories free first, and that’s what is happening now with “Hidden Places”. If I choose, at a later date, to put the parts together and publish the work as a novella–well, you all got to read them first.

A great thing about writing and posting in real time is that it is experimental in nature. Response on my posts may or may not lead me to do more. It may lead me to new genres–or not.

It won’t lead me to quit, though, so for heaven sakes, please read my stuff!

Thanks very much!

 

 

Hidden Places Part 4

I can’t tell you how frustrating it was, trying to keep track of Morty and Sid when they left us to check out the little town we’d found.

I’m no fool; I knew Morty could elude me. But I was hoping Sid would give them away. He’s never had to be as stealthy as this before; I was counting on him popping his head up once in awhile so I could catch sight of them.

Morty’s Zeiss binoculars are the absolute best I have ever used, but they didn’t help me a bit. Once they’d gotten out of my sight in the bushes and grass, I never saw them again until they were ready for me to do so.

Mae, Ash, Dawn and Danny all had their turns trying to catch them out, too, but it wasn’t long before we gave it up as a lost cause and just took turns checking the place out.

The warehouse building was nearest to us, and I was awfully curious about it. There were two big doors that I could see, and I suspected there might be doors at the back as well. It looked big enough to park several trucks the size of semis inside, and I hoped there would be something of value to us still inside.

I wasn’t going to hold my breath, though. The little town looked deserted to me. The houses reminded me of the base housing we lived in when we were little, although I didn’t see duplexes. I saw single-family houses, most of them on the small side. They had little yards, some with fencing, some without. Ash had estimated two dozen yesterday, but I didn’t count that many.

For me, the sign of an occupied home is curtains in the windows. I didn’t see any curtains; no blinds or shades, either. The yards were overgrown with grass and weeds. “I’ll be surprised if anyone is still down there,” I commented.

There was a little church on the far side, up on a hillside backed with trees. I couldn’t tell if there was parking anywhere up there, but I saw a small lot just off a road down below. Just to the left of that lot, there was a small school building. I was amazed to see that the windows facing me appeared to be intact. That made me uneasy; were intact windows good, or bad? I squinted hard through the lenses of the binoculars, hoping for some glimpse of what was inside, but the sun was glinting off the glass and it was impossible to see.

On the other side of the church, there was what appeared to be a combination gas station/convenience store. A sign, ruined by Mother Nature, read “H t hin  P st. Gas, Fo d, Dr n s”. It hung slightly askew. The windows there appeared to be whole, as well. They were also either filthy or had been soaped or otherwise covered; great binoculars or not, I couldn’t see inside.

Frustrated, I handed the binoculars to Mae. “What do you think that sign says?” I asked her, pointing down to the gas station.

Mae rolled her eyes and Dawn giggled. Some years back, Daddy had returned to camp with a board game called Wheel of Fortune, where you had to complete a phrase filling in the blank letters. I was wild about it, and made my sisters play with me all the time.

This wasn’t quite the same–I knew that some of the missing letters were already present in the words–but I figured Mae could make short work of the puzzle. She looked, and then let everyone else have a look, too.

“Do we have to buy letters?” Dawn asked, blinking up at me with doe-eyed innocence that let me know she was pulling my leg.

“Nah. Let me have it.”

“I think it’s ‘hitching post’,” she said.

“And?”

“Well, ‘gas’, obviously,” Ash pronounced smugly, and pretended to pat himself on the back.

“And ‘food’,” Danny added.

“And?”

“And ‘drinks’,” Mae finished.

“A plus,” I said. “You make me proud.”

Danny was searching, searching. “They’re good,” he said. “I can’t even see a weed wiggle, and there’s no breeze or anything.”

“No wonder he’s such a good bow-hunter,” Dawn added.

She meant Sid. I hadn’t thought of it, but she was right–he could sneak up on a deer so close he almost didn’t need to shoot–he could just stab, if he cared to.

They were gone a long time. Finally, I caught sight of them, coming out the front doors of the little church! They waved. We waved back. Sid made a come-along gesture and we went to the road and walked on into town.

“How did they get all the way over there without us seeing them?” Mae grumbled, and I shrugged. “I need to hang out with Morty more often.”

“Me, too,” Ash agreed.

I figured I’d just stick with Sid. He obviously knew what he was doing.

We met at the warehouse. I thought they were further away, but the town actually isn’t that big. Although, I have to admit the warehouse was a lot bigger than I thought it would be.

Size and distance relativity is one of the things that fascinate me sometimes. Like, when we go into the old city, you know some of the buildings are really tall, even when you see them from a great distance. But that height doesn’t really register until you’re in the street, looking up, up and trying to see the tops.

I didn’t feel little looking down at the warehouse, but I felt small now.

Morty held up his hand to stop me even before I could start talking. “I know you’re all chomping at the bit to go inside,” he said. “But I didn’t come as prepared as I thought. Right now, I need you, Danny.” He pointed at the tallest member of our group.

“Me?” Danny looked surprised, but I wasn’t. By now I had wandered over to the side of the building, and there were high windows all down the length of it. Too high for Morty or even Sid, but Danny was nearly six feet tall already and still had plenty of years ahead before he was full-grown.

Even so, he had to stand on his toes to look inside. He gave a low whistle. “What?” the rest of us demanded, simultaneously.

“There are a lot of boxes in there,” he told us. “Most are wrapped in heavy plastic, too.”

“Whoa.” Morty looked thoughtful. “Is the place full?”

“Nah.” Danny shook his head. “Not even close; it’s really big, Mort. But there’s still a lot of stuff.”

I was dying to know what was in there, but I knew Morty well enough to know that he wasn’t going to break the locks when he had tools at home to open the doors without doing any damage.

Sid, in the meantime, was checking out the trucks. “Look, Mort,” he called. “They’re not locked!” He pushed up on the bottom of the retractable door, and it slid up about three feet before groaning in protest. “Ugh. Rusty!”

Ashton and I were trying to peer into the dark cave of the trailer, and a few spiders scattered out, sending me back-peddling until I tripped and fell on my butt. Amiably, Ash offered me a hand up, and I thank him, both of us working hard not to laugh at my skittishness.

Sid missed the whole thing, luckily for me. He was working to push the door a little further up. Ash called to Mae for a flashlight, and the rest of the gang came around the building to join us. Morty was clearly deep in thought; he hadn’t responded to Sid’s first call, and he had that mulling look on his face.

Mae shone the light into the trailer. Toward the back, there were a few boxes, wrapped in heavy plastic and strapped together with thick cords. Through the plastic, it was impossible to read anything printed on the boxes.

I turned to Morty. He grinned at my pleading face, and said, “Yeah. This you can check out.”

He hadn’t finished talking before I made it to the boxes. I used my trusty Swiss Army knife to cut the cord and remove the plastic, taking care to preserve the materials as much as possible. Waste not, want not. So many things can be reused.

“Oh. Oh my God!” I gasped. Could it be? Oh, please, I thought. I opened the box–toothpaste! And the way it had been stored, it was likely not hard as a rock, the way most tubes we’ve found in abandoned stores.

Sid jumped up and opened a smaller box, his eyes dancing with hope. Toothbrushes! Good ones, by the look.

We were young, really just kids, and it was hard not to jump up and down and dance a little. So we did. Morty joined us. (He’s not that old, either.)

We emptied the two boxes, stuffing the treasures in our backpacks. Two dozen of each–we felt rich!

“Let’s not break open anything else just now,” Morty advised. We shut things up as tight as we could and joined him on the parking lot floor.

The sun was westering now, and we all knew we’d have to head back soon. “Come on,” Morty said. “There’s a house I think we need to get into now, before we say anything to anyone about this place.”

I looked at Sid, but his face offered me no clue, so I had no choice but to follow along and wonder.

Remember what I said about size and distance? I guess it’s not always true, because the houses were as small as I’d thought they’d be. This part of the town still remined me of base housing, too. Little houses in a row, all the same, at least on this short road. Four houses on one side, three on the other, and a lot with the remains of playground equipment that looked ancient.

Morty led us to the house next to that lot, and I looked sadly at an old merry-go-round that was leaning so badly that one side was partially buried in the sand. An old metal slide had fallen over, and the swing set had one length of chain dangling, a black strip of leather still attached and dragging on the ground.

I felt tears prickle the backs of my eyes and blinked rapidly to keep them from escaping and betraying the profound misery the sight brought to my heart.

We played in a place like that once, in another world. Mamma pushed us on swings while we cried out to her, “Higher! Higher!” We laughed and sang in the sun.

God, those memories hurt.

Mamma, so long gone, seemed very close to me now. I started slightly when Mae took my hand, and when I turned to her, she met my eyes with tears in her own. We nodded at each other, tightened our lips and followed the others up to the door of the house.

Morty deliberated on whether to kick the door in or try to jimmy the lock. “I don’t want to leave anything open,” he mused.

Ash reach past him and tried the door knob. It was unlocked.

Morty snorted, embarrassed.

We went inside.

There was nothing in the front room at all. “Why this house?” I asked, as we followed Morty through a doorway and into the kitchen.

There, someone had left a small, square table and two ladder-backed chairs. On the table, a stack of paper had been left with a coffee cup sitting in the middle of it.

“Saw this through the window,” Morty explained. “I’m hoping it…says something.”

“Information,” I whispered.

Morty turned to look me in the eye and nodded. “Information.”

Of all things in this new world, information was the hardest to find.

 

To be continued…

Author’s note:  Penny and her gang may make a discovery soon. Once there were people here. Where did they go?

If you want to know where Penny and her sisters and companions started out, you can find out here:

Starting in the Middle of The End

Hidden Places Part 3

Morty motioned us off the road when we reached the spot where it curved sharply to the right and then started dropping into the valley below. We moved into the trees while making our way down closer to the warehouse we had seen the day before.

“Did you go in there?” Morty demanded.

“What?” Penny hissed. “And have to listen to you rant about how reckless we are?”

I swallowed the chuckle that threatened to break free from my throat. Penny was right; you haven’t suffered in this life until you have to sit through one of Mort’s “lectures”. He makes theatrical performances of them; finger waving, palm slaps on table tops, mournful shaking of his shaggy head. It’s excruciating.

“I don’t rant,” Morty protested. This elicited giggles and guffaws, but we were quiet about it. Morty looked offended. “Well, I don’t,” he grumbled.

“We went straight home to tell you,” Mae said. “Penny said we had to.”

“To be fair,” Penny added, “I knew Sid wouldn’t have let me.”

“Too right,” I agreed.

Penny got us into this, as she often does. When we came across that giant hole in the hill, she was sure it was some sort of run-off culvert, and figured out how to trace its path, leading us out to a worn out old bridge and then the road we’d followed.

She can’t stand not giving in to her curiosity. Sometimes that scares me.

Ash hunkered down and took off his backpack. “We already told you we didn’t go in.” His voice was petulant; he doesn’t like answering the same questions twice.

Mae sat down next to him, removing her pack as well. Dawn and Danny followed suit. None of us expected to be going in just yet, but Penny and I remained standing, anyway.

Morty dropped his own pack. He pulled  his pistol from its holster and gave it a quick assessment. Loaded. Safety off. He re-holstered it, then pulled his crossbow from its holster on his back and loaded that.

“Do you think there’s anyone down there, Da?” I asked.

Morty shrugged. “Best to be prepared.”

I nodded. So did the others.

“Can I–?” Penny began.

“Nope.” Morty cut her off abruptly, and she sighed out her exasperation. He handed her a pair of Zeiss binoculars–the great ones. “See if you can keep track of me,” he challenged her.

Penny took them eagerly, grinning. “Cool beans!”

Morty slapped me on the shoulder. “Come on, kid,” he said. “Learn stuff.”

I felt my jaw drop even as I saw Penny’s do the same. “Really?” I asked. I glanced at Penny again; she looked pissed, her cheeks flushed red.

“You’re the old guy. Next time, Penny,” he added amiably, and she snorted derisively. “You got to walk on the bridge and poke around in the dragon’s lair,” he reminded her, and she pursed her lips, but nodded her agreement.

I was sure I’d get an earful later, though. She likes to go first, my girl.

Morty and I headed over the slope far to the right of our companions, and started making our way down at an angle. We started out slumped over, and then dropped to hands and knees, after carefully shouldering our loaded bows. When we reached the bottom of the hill, we were actually to the right and slightly behind the warehouse building, surrounded by tall grass. I peered through blades of various green and yellow hues.

Without raising his hand or his head, Morty indicated that I should look uphill and see if I could locate our group. They had hidden themselves well, but I could see Penny through some camouflaging brush. She was training the binoculars over the terrain, and it was obvious that she had no idea where we were.

We grinned at each other.

I lifted my left hip ever-so-slightly and swept away the stone that was digging into me there.

The tires on the trucks had almost completely rotted away; they were basically standing on rusting rims. We scooted our way to get a better look at the back ends of the big rigs. “Good,” Morty whispered. “The doors are shut tight. Anything inside should be okay, unless the roofs have rotted, too.”

The building’s doors were also closed; large padlocks hung in the frames. They were clearly locked, but from this distance it wasn’t clear how old they might be.

“Are we going to check it out?” I asked.

“Nope.” Morty cast a questioning eye at me. “Know why?”

“We have to make sure the town is empty,” I replied. “Otherwise, someone might catch us.”

“Correct-o-mundo.”

The warehouse–from this vantage point, that was clearly what it was–stood in the center of a concrete-padded lot, which was surrounded by gravel before giving way to the high growth of grasses and weeds we were in. There was no way to just walk up to it without being seen. It wasn’t a particularly big lot, but even that much exposure was an uncomfortable thought without knowing we were alone.

We slithered on. I say “slithered” with complete sincerity. Morty can crawl on his belly like nobody’s business. Me, on the other hand–

“Hold up!” I rolled over on my back, pulled down the hem of my bunched up shirt and tucked it securely into my pants. Then I tightened my belt for good measure.

Morty, shirt untucked and not even ruffled, gave an amused chuckle. “Don’t have to drag yourself, son,” he said. “Knees and elbows.”

I snorted.

Downhill a bit from the warehouse, now, we inched our way toward a small house. There was no fence enclosing the postage-stamp-sized backyard, and the grass had grown up to embarrassing lengths. Surely no one lived there, but–

“Keep an eye out for dogs,” Morty cautioned.

“What?” I hadn’t been too concerned before he said that, but I was concerned now; my eyes darted frantically from side to side, searching for some brute that would barrel down on me and eat my face.

We made it to the side of the house without incident. I scooched my way into a seated position, back against the wall, and used my little telescope to search for Penny. She was really well hidden, but I finally spotted her. She wasn’t looking in our direction at all. I grinned. “Penny’s going nuts,” I told Morty.

He was inching his way up the side of the house until he could look in through the window. He chuckled. “You kids are way out of your bubble,” he remarked. “Care to explain that?”

No, I did not care to explain that. I was suddenly uncomfortable, even though I knew the question would come sooner or later. I just expected him to ask when we were all together.

Dawn and Danny were innocent; they came with us today, but I suspect that’s because Dawn really wanted to get a look at things she might–no, she would–be asked to draw maps of. Danny goes where she goes.

It had been Ashton and Mae and Penny and I who had gone out of bounds, first enough to find the culvert, then even more to find this town or village or whatever it was. We knew we were out of bounds, but we were all feeling pissy because Penny’s dad and granddad had suddenly made a rule about not going off in pairs to hunt.

Morty was looking down at me expectantly.

“Anything inside?” I asked hopefully, trying to distract him into changing the subject.

“Bare as a newborn’s bum,” Morty replied. “So?”

“You know,” I groused, “if the pairs had been me and Ash, or Penny and Mae, they’d never make such a stupid–”

Morty started to laugh. “Slow to the game, are they?”

“Who?”

We both knew who.

“So, this all started as a ‘We’ll show them’ moment?” Morty tried not to laugh again, and snorted through his nose, which sent me to the ground, giggling into the crook of my arm, and trying to be quiet. “Sh! Sh!”

We made short work of the search after that, trying hard not to look at each other in case it set off another spate of guffaws.

The houses and buildings were empty. A few had furnishings, but most had been cleared out. The little school might be a treasure trove, though. I saw desks in the rooms I looked into.

The last building we went to was the church. “Let’s see if we can get in the back,” Morty suggested. “Once we know it’s all clear, we’ll go out the front and wave at Penny. She hasn’t found us once. It must be making her crazy.” He chuckled.

The back door wasn’t even locked. We went inside the compact building, and found ourselves in a small room that the final pastor must have used as an office. There was a desk, bare; bookshelves, also bare; an old machine with Xerox boldly emblazoned across the front. Morty grinned at this. “I wonder if it works,” he mused. He pulled open the door on the front, and his smile broadened. “Paper!”

“It’s a copier, right?” When he nodded, I added, “There was one in the library in the city, but it wasn’t any good.”

“I don’t know that there’s any use for it–”

“Are you kidding me? Dawn’s maps, school lessons. If we can get power to it…” I stopped, frowning. “We can’t even get it out of here, can we?”

“Things for future consideration,” Morty remarked.

As we walked through the tiny church, it was clear that anything else of value had been taken away–there were no books in the pews, no adornments on the altar. If there had been any statues or a crucifix, someone had taken those things away. It gave me an eerie feeling, walking through an empty space that should be full of people on their feet and singing to their god. “Uh, ” I whispered, “I feel like we need to get outta here.”

“I wonder if it was deconsecrated before they left,” Morty mused, completely ignoring my plea.

“What does that mean?”

“Churches are sacred ground. Blessed. Consecrated.”

I could feel my eyebrows raise with every word, and I nodded like I got it, but I didn’t.

Morty shook his head at me in a mocking way, and I resisted a sudden urge to knock his cap off his head. “Okay, when a church is built, the priest or pastor or whoever blesses the building and ground, making it sacred, safe from evil.”

“Oh, really?” I know I sounded derisive, but–come on! The whole town was empty. Practically the whole world was empty, come to that. Blessings? What a crock.

Morty rolled his eyes. “Anyway, when churches are closed, sometimes the place is deconsecrated.”

“Why?”

“So it’ll be just another place.”

“What’s the point?” I demanded. “Even if it is still blessed, will that protect us somehow? And if it’s not, will evil jump in and get us?”

Morty sighed deeply. “Guess I didn’t do a very good job with your religious upbringing.”

I tightened my lips, exasperated. “Look,” I said. “Don’t take it too hard. If I ever did believe, I stopped the day Gran didn’t come back from the commissary.”

Morty decided to drop it–he might still harbor some faith in some unknown king in the sky, but he raised us from the time we went into the shelter, and he knows what we went through before he found us. We have faith in Morty, and in each other, not in an invisible being who ignored our plight when we needed help most. “Let’s go wave at Penny and the gang,” he said. “It’ll bug the crap outta them that they couldn’t keep track of us.”

“Think she’ll admit it?”

“Nah.” Morty gave me a strange look then–maybe still influenced by being in a church. “You really need to re-think all the sex nonsense,” he said. He held up a hand to stop my protestations. “Don’t even. I’m not so old, myself. I get it. But, there are always consequences, son.”

“We want to get married,” I retorted, rather defensively. “We feel like we already are, but… well…” I kept my chin up. I would not be made to feel ashamed.

Morty studied me for several seconds before saying, “Another thing for future consideration.”

Better than nothing.

I felt a great weight drop from my shoulders when we pushed the front doors open and stepped out on the landing. Standing on the second step, we waved up at the hill, and watched as our companions rose up out of the grass and bushes. I was looking through my scope, and could see the astonishment on their faces.

Priceless!

 

To be continued….

Author’s note:  This time we get to hear from Sid, as he and Morty leave Penny waiting…and waiting. That’s got to be hard for her.

If you haven’t already, meet Penny and her sisters here, where it all began in the middle:

Starting in the Middle of The End

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hidden Places Part 2

I’ve read a lot of books over the years, and in so many of them, little girls are asked who their hero is. They always answer, “Daddy.”

Not me.

I want to say Daddy is my hero. I want it to be true. At least, I used to want it to be true. And no offense to Daddy, but he just wasn’t around when I needed him. It wasn’t really his fault; he was a military man, and he went where he was sent. I suppose that makes him heroic, but it didn’t make him my hero.

I do have a hero, and his name is Morty. (It’s really Mortimer, but let’s spare him that humiliation, shall we?) He’s a little guy, just over five feet tall, and was therefore refused entry into the military. Their loss. This man is a true warrior, stealthy and quick, smart and instinctive.

He came to our base on the 4th of July to see why no one had shown up in the city. He saw me through the window of our little duplex–nearly frightening me to death in the process–and he told everyone I was alive.

Yes, there were others involved. Yes, Daddy showed up in time to be part of the rescue. But no one would have ever found us at all, if not for Morty. No one else could have made his way through the base without getting caught that night. Morty can run like the wind, and he’s great at making himself nearly invisible when he needs to.

It wasn’t any wonder that I chose to tell Morty about the culvert we’d found. It led us to discovering  a little village of some sort, and I knew he’d be able to get down into the area without being discovered, if it turned out there were people there somewhere.

We had returned from our little adventure after bagging a doe, a half-dozen rabbits and about three pounds of wild blueberries. After dropping the game off with Aaron, the butcher, and the berries with Celeste, we’d gone in search of Morty.

“Well, well,” he said, once we’d told him about our discovery. “I thought we’d mapped out all the small towns around here. How far did you dingbats wander, anyway?”

None of us had a real answer to that, except that it was pretty far off our usual path.

We were below ground, in the area that Morty had fashioned into a little apartment for himself and Sid and Ash. He wasn’t much of a joiner, he said, and preferred not to eat in the main dining area with everyone else at breakfast. So, over time he claimed some extra space–not much, maybe a 10 foot by 10 foot area–and set up a table with 8 chairs, where we’d often gather for a snack and conversation.

Sometimes, this was the gathering place for planning adventures.

Dawn and Danny had joined us, which wasn’t unusual for a meal and conversation, but if you think Morty isn’t much of a joiner, that’s because you haven’t met Dawn. My baby sister does not go out much at all. If not for Danny’s great love of the sun, I don’t think she’d go to the surface. It was odd to have her in on an adventure planning session, and even odder that she’d declared her desire to join us.

Danny nearly fell off his chair, and Mae gaped at her, astonished. “Are you sure, Dawn?” she asked.

“I want to go,” Dawn repeated. “Put your eyes back in your heads.”

We all made a conscious effort not to stare.

Morty cleared his throat and got up. He went to the file cabinet he’d set in a corner, and pulled out some hand-drawn maps. They were quite elaborately done, and the artist responsible was Dawn. Morty had made little sketches for her, and described the areas to her, and she had done an admirable job of making them based on that.

He spread a couple of them out on the long table top, and we all looked them over. Sid pointed to the area we’d been in before getting off track and moving further north. “This is where we started marking our way,” he said. “We left the marks. So…” He finger-walked his way to the edge of that map and made a falling whistle noise.

“Highly amusing,” Morty sighed, shaking his head.

“New maps,” Dawn said. “I want to see the place this time.”

“Okay, okay,” I agreed. “You can go, if you really want to. But, Dawn–it’s far. And it’s not always shady, so you’re going to have to wear your long sleeves and floppy hat.”

“I will.”

Dawn spends most of her time underground, so she is pale as a ghost, as you might imagine.

“It’s too late to go anywhere now,” Morty decided. “It’ll be dark soon.” He slapped his hand lightly on the table top. “We meet here at breakfast. Mum’s the word.”

***

By the time we reached the moss-covered tunnel that Mae had dubbed “Dragon’s Lair”, Dawn was looking a little worse for wear. She wasn’t used to long walks in the woods. Her cheeks wore rosy splotches on skin that was usually white as milk, and she was out of breath. Her huge hat kept sliding down her forehead, blocking her vision, and although it was keeping her from getting sunburnt, it was giving her a good workout, trying to get it to stay in place. The redness of her skin came from exertion, at least, and would fade once she was rested.

Morty called for a break, and Danny helped Dawn to a seat on a mossy log. She leaned to peer into the entrance, which was roughly truck-sized. “What is it?” she asked. “A cave?”

“Dragon’s Lair,” Mae said.

“Culvert,” I said, at exactly the same time.

Morty nodded thoughtfully. “Some sort of drainage system, it looks like. But…” he moved closer, and with less caution than I would have liked.

“Mort,” Ash said, his voice lowered unconsciously. “Bears?”

“Nah.” He snagged the backpack off his back and dropped it at his feet to search inside. Pulling out a length of nylon rope, he announced, “I’m going in!”

“Morty, no!” Mae cried.

“I’ll go with you,” I offered.

“Penny–” Sid began, but backed off when I glared at him.

Morty pulled a second rope from his pack and passed it to me. We tied one end around our waists. I gave my other end to Sid, and Morty tossed his to Ash. Then we moved into the mouth of the tunnel.

Morty had a flashlight, and pointed the torch inside as we tip-toed closer. He tapped his feet as he walked, while I was taking pains to make no noise at all. I hissed at him, “What are you doing? Be quiet!”

“Sounds like concrete,” he replied. “I sort of expected metal pipe.”

I nodded, still disgruntled.

We didn’t get far before the floor sloped drastically, and we backed up quickly so we wouldn’t fall in. “Good Lord!” Morty cried. He shone the light down into the drop, and we leaned carefully forward to stare into a literal black hole.

Back in the sunshine, we blessed the light and announced to Mae that there were no dragons or bears in there.

“There could have been bats,” Danny suggested, and I jerked my head to gape at him. “Well, there could!” he added, defensively.

“So nice of you to bring that up after we went in,” I grunted. Bats! Dear God, no!

Dawn giggled, and reached into the backpack at her feet. “I brought us some lunch,” she said. “I ground some corn yesterday and made tortillas so we could have tacos! The venison is delicious.”

God bless my little Dawn! The tacos she’d made were indeed delicious, with venison, fresh lettuce and tomatoes from the garden and just a sprinkling of dried cilantro. We ate with gusto.

***

Bellies full, we hurriedly followed our markers to the bridge. Now that we were moving consistently downhill, Dawn was doing better. I could tell she was drinking in the sights, probably planning out the new map she’d be drawing. Her other maps are works of art, certainly, but they’ve been drawn to reflect the descriptions of others. I was excited to see what she’d do next, having seen everything first-hand.

The bridge was in terrible condition. It didn’t take a genius to figure that driving across the thing would collapse it. We had walked alongside yesterday until it led us to the dirt road that took us to the little settlement, even though I’d been sorely tempted to walk over it to the other side and look for any sign of a culvert that may or may not have been the end of the moss-covered tunnel.

I guess none of us were surprised that Morty would tempt fate–and rotten wood–to do that very thing. He knotted his rope tightly around his waist and tossed the other end to Danny. “You’re a big guy,” he said. “Think you can yank me back if it gives up the ghost?”

Danny grinned. He had outgrown us all by the time he was ten, so he was indeed a big guy. Added to his height, he was all muscle, and the best wood-chopper in camp, although he was still a couple of years shy of being a teen. “I won’t drop ya,” he promised.

Gingerly, Morty inched his way to the far side of the bridge. “Whoa!” he said. “Hoo-whee! I don’t think I would like to drive over this thing, even on it’s best day. That’s quite a drop!” He leaned over the railing, careful not to put his weight on it, but he was too short to do much more than incline his head to look straight down. “I can just see where that culvert comes out,” he told us. “It’s dry now, but there’s water down below. It must be quite a waterfall during spring runoff!”

“I want to see!” I cried.

“Penny!” Sid protested.

“Penny, wait,” Morty added. “The wood’s really spongy. I don’t think it will hold both of us.”

Well, as I may have mentioned, Morty is a small man. He calls himself “compact”, and it’s a fitting enough description; probably no more than 120 pounds, he’s still solid as a rock, strong as an ox and quicker than lightning.

I am not quite as tall as he, maybe five feet, but I’m pretty sure I weigh more. I’ve been cursed with curves, like Momma.

(For the record, Sid says my curse is his blessing. What a cad!)

I didn’t protest having to wait for Morty to return to our side of the bridge. I tied the rope around my waist and double checked the knots. Sid fidgeted, but didn’t argue with me. I saw Mae and Dawn exchanging exasperated glances and ignored them.

Respectful of the danger, I removed my boots before making my way to the far side of the bridge and looking over the edge. The wood was indeed spongy beneath my feet, and I tested each step carefully. Craning my neck to look over the side without touching anything, I could see that the mountainside dropped sharply about five feet out from the built up pilings under the bridge, and the mouth of the culvert was a good hundred feet below. It jutted out of the side of the cliff, looking for all the world like a pouting lower lip. I grinned. It felt good to see proof that my theory was correct.

At least another hundred feet down, there was a pool of water, deeply blue-black and certainly good sized if it looked so big from this height.

Tall fir trees, pinion pines and ash grew abundantly along with scrub brush and grasses. The view was both breathtaking and terrifying.

I hurried back to the other side of the bridge, shaken and awed. I looked Morty in the eye and said, “I don’t know how anyone ever had the nerve to drive over that!”

Sid tipped his head to the right. “The trucks over there are big ones,” he said. “Someone had the nerve.”

“Hmm.” Morty looked thoughtful. “I wonder how long they’ve been there? This bridge didn’t get to be in this bad shape in a decade. It was pretty well engineered.”

“Maybe there’s another way in,” Ash suggested.

Morty shrugged. “I guess we’ll see.”

Mae and Dawn were huddled together, Mae holding her compass and Dawn making notes in a small spiral notebook I’d scavenged for her. Coordinates and little sketches, no doubt. Dawn’s skill in art has never ceased to amaze me, and I could hardly wait to see what she’d come up with. Possibly, she’d do more than just maps.

We all had some water before resuming our walk along the side of the bridge and the adjoining dirt road. I could hardly wait for Morty to see the little place we’d discovered.

To be continued…

 

Author’s note: Penny, Mae and Dawn began this series in my novella Starting in the Middle of The End.

Since that time, they have kept showing up in my short stories. Part 3 of this one is coming soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inner Lights

Lynn Miclea has some insights into true happiness. Read and enjoy her latest!

dancing leaves

A short story based on the image shown
from a prompt from Writers Unite! – April 2020

04.20 - image

Inner Lights
A short story by Lynn Miclea

Jackie stared at her father. She hated him when he got like this.

He glared at her. “You’re stupid,” he shouted, his face contorted with rage. “What the hell are you gonna do with dancing? You can’t make a living with that. That is a terrible idea! You never do anything right — that’s why you’re such a failure. Look at what you want to do with your life! Do you ever listen to anything I tell you? You’re a horrible daughter, and you’ll never amount to anything. Look at yourself!” Spittle flew from his lips as he raged at her. “Why can’t you do something smart for once?”

Without saying a word, Jackie turned, ran up the stairs, and rushed to her room. She…

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