CHAPTER TWO – No Time to Look Back
from THE ROCKY ROAD TO THE END OF THE WORLD
Copyright © 2013 by Sandra Bell Kirchman
It didn’t feel right leaving our neighbour outside and, despite Mark’s admonishment, I started edging toward the door. Mark came into the garage, just as I reached for the door handle.
“Stop, Alex!” he said. “Look at what’s happening. Don’t let whatsis name in!”
“Justin,” I said absently, as I peered around the neighbour’s head framed in the door window. Two unfamiliar men stood in the street, hands on their hips, glaring about them. Then they both started for our driveway and the Ford truck parked on it. Justin, bless him, started after the men as one bashed in the car window on the driver’s side.
“Hey, you two, get away from that truck!” he shouted.
The one on the driver’s side spun around and advanced towards our neighbour. Justin apparently hadn’t expected this and turned to hammer on our door.
“Let him in, Mark!” I whispered frantically. “That guy is going to hurt him.”
“Dirty commie pigs,” he muttered, then “we can’t let him in, Alex, because…” He stopped short as something came whizzing through the air and hit Justin on the back of the head with considerable force. He fell forward as if struck by lightning, and a splash of blood drizzled down the glass. He balanced there for a second, then slid all the way to the ground. The man kept advancing, seemingly unaware that onlookers occupied the garage.
Crouching, Mark opened the door and grabbed Justin by his shoulder. With one powerful heave, he dragged the limp body inside and slammed the door, mere seconds before the stranger hit it with the flat of his hand. I could hear him swearing. Mark dropped Justin’s shoulder, whirled, and grabbed his gun from the pile of gear waiting to be loaded into the Jeep. In the background, the dog’s yipping grew louder and more frantic.
Chambering a round into his gun, my husband stood up in plain view and pointed the gun at the stranger. The man stopped, one hand upraised, presumably to smash the glass, then held up both his hands. He back away slowly as Mark advanced towards the door. Suddenly, the man turned tail and scrambled down the driveway, falling once and rolling down the slope to the road. The other man ran after him. The two thugs had left us with an unconscious man and a truck with the driver’s window smashed in.
Mark stood there glaring, until the two men were out of sight. “Damn looters!” he grumbled. Then he turned and sighed. “We’ll have to get the truck in the garage. Once that’s done, I can spike the garage door so they can’t get it open to get the truck out. I didn’t want to do that.”
“Why not?” I asked, still crouched over Justin’s body.
“In case we have to come back to get the truck. Can you do something with him?”
The first aid kit was packed away somewhere in the Jeep, so I dashed into the house and found a bottle of rubbing alcohol, some nail scissors and a bandage. Pouring the alcohol over the still-bleeding wound on the back of his head, I was glad he was still out. Justin moaned softly as I cut the hair away from the injury but didn’t regain consciousness. Cleaning the wound as best I could, I quickly applied a pad of gauze dressing over the injury and wrapped a bandage around his head.
“Will he be okay?” Mark asked.
“I’m not sure,” I said. “It was a fierce blow. He probably has a concussion.”
“We’ll have to take him with us,” Mark added. “Can’t leave him here unable to defend himself.”
I nodded and helped Mark switch the vehicles, leaving the Jeep outside with the motor running. Mark had pushed Justin into one of the back seats, displacing one of the dog carriers. I got into the front seat and took Tilly Tot onto my lap, after extracting her from her carrier. I placed the kit bag in the front under my feet and was able to put her harness and leash on easily. I heard Mark pounding away at something and wondered what he was doing. He told me, as he got into the vehicle, that he had boarded up all four doors, and that might hold off the less determined scavengers.
He fastened his seat belt, adjusted the mirror and pulled out smoothly onto the road.
“Where are we going?” I asked. To my dismay, my voice quavered. I had made the mistake of thinking of all we were leaving.
He looked over at me and his face softened. He put his hand over mine briefly, then returned his attention to his driving.
“We’ll make it okay, Alex,” he said. “I’ve been too busy trying to get us out of here, but I have had this moment planned for at least a year. I’ll take care of you.”
It was at times like this that I remembered why I had married Mark Campbell. He was a giant of a man physically, but he was also a giant of a person. He just had to stop letting things bother him so much on the inside. Yeah, nice job with that, I reflected dryly.
He remained silent for so long that I thought he had forgotten my question. Then, as he swung onto Range Road 654 a mile outside of town, heading north, he said abruptly, “I’m staying off the highways and more populated country roads. I know this area pretty well from hunting, and I think I know exactly where to go. We’ll hang onto the Jeep for as long as we can, but we’ll probably have to cut across country after a bit.
“We’re heading for that hunting lodge at Lake Timiskat I went to the last three years. It’s roughly twelve hundred miles northeast of here, a thousand of that by car if we can keep driving for that long. I’m not sure what’s available after that. We always flew into the area. We might have to hike the last two hundred miles.” He frowned and glanced at me. “I hope you can keep up, babe. It’s going to be tough going.”
I forced a laugh. “Don’t worry about me, Yankee soldier. You just try to keep up to this tough old bird.”
“Not so tough, and not so old.” He smiled and took another turn heading west, then angling north again. I turned around to check Justin’s breathing, making sure he was stable. He was. The two younger dogs had settled down and were sleeping. LingLing loved to sleep in the car, and spent hours dreaming and twitching and giving little yelps. Oreo just scrunched down, squeezed his eyes shut and eventually fell asleep. Tilly Tot, our aging rescue Shih Tzu, was the best trained. That told you something about me and discipline. I was no good at it, and the two younger dogs showed it. Tilly loved being a lap dog and snuggled against me. Soon she was snoring.
We hadn’t had any trouble getting out of town, but Mark mentioned that people hadn’t mobilized yet. We left barely over two hours after the announcement had been made about Australia. Mark had the radio on again, and I listened as the updated material advised that all of Australia was in a media blackout, probably caused by the Wave. Scientists were baffled because the Wave had stopped. No other countries were being attacked, if attack was what it was, and it seemed like business as usual.
I glanced at Mark, and he smiled sourly at me. “Don’t let the hype fool you, babe,” he said. “Just be thankful for the extra time. We’ll be able to get further than I figured. They’ll start up again, though, as sure as politicians are pocket-lining bastards.”
Funny thing about Mark…he never swears but he uses some colourful speech sometimes. It’s refreshing to not hear the “f” word all the time. He has a strange sense of what’s right and what’s honorable.
I checked Justin again. Tilly groaned in protest as I disturbed her by turning around. The colour in the man’s face was okay, not as pale as it had been before, but I was beginning to get worried. Staying in an unconscious state that long couldn’t be a good thing. Just as I straightened to face the front, I heard a sound that reduced my worry considerably. It was an honest-to-goodness snore.
“I didn’t know someone could go from being unconscious to being in an ordinary sleep, at least not without drugs,” I said.
Mark nodded. “I guess they can.”
I was heartened. Driving a thousand miles worrying about someone I barely knew wasn’t my idea of how to spend the last days of the end of the world. Justin was a good enough neighbour, especially for a bachelor. Oh sure, he had the odd rowdy party, which let us know he was normal. But it was only once in a while and he always made sure that any fallout from the party was picked up the next day.
He worked at the potash mine, doing what I wasn’t sure. Mineworkers made good pay, though, which meant that Justin could afford a nice car and a lovely house, even if it was on the other side of the highway from town…what they used to call “the wrong side of the tracks.” However, they took the tracks out sometime in the ‘70s, so it was now just “the other side of the highway.”
I looked out the window and watched the fields flashing by. The wheat crops were ripening nicely and harvesting would start any day now. Bright yellow canola fields, interspersed with the cornflower blue of flax made the whole thing a patchwork of colour. Normally, if this were an ordinary drive out of town, it would be a happy and colourful jaunt. I ignored my own mandate of not thinking about the past…of the things I had left behind: my home of five years, all my belongings—jewellery, clothes, books, photo albums, CDs, DVDs, players. I had even left my Kindle behind because how long would the battery last and where were we going to find battery recharger plug-ins?
Despite the beautiful day, I felt empty…and apprehensive.