Tag Archives: Jeep Utility Van

CHAPTER 3 – Business Managers Are Indestructible

CHAPTER THREE – Business Managers Are Indestructible
from THE ROCKY ROAD TO THE END OF THE WORLD
Copyright © 2013 by Sandra Bell Kirchman

Not sure how long I dozed, but I awoke to the sound of angry voices.  Still woozy from sleep, I rubbed my eyes and looked around.  Mark was sitting in the driver’s seat, dark circles under his eyes.  Outside, in front of the Jeep, a young woman stood off to the side, while two men waved their fists and shouted at each other.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

Mark shook his head.  “Who knows?” he said.  “I deliberated for a while cuz I really didn’t want to take a chance on stopping.  I’ll probably regret it, but I decided make a quick side trip into this town to check the air in the driver’s side front tire and to fill up with gas while we were here.

“I slowed down to turn left into that gas station,” …I noticed an Esso on the left… “and these three idiots appeared from nowhere and started arguing.  They’re too close for me to turn left, and if I back up they follow me.”  He snorted with disgust.

“Did you get out and ask them what they are doing?” I said.

Mark didn’t say anything.  I gathered he hadn’t.

I undid my seat belt, tucked Tilly firmly under my arm and stepped out of the car.

“Alex, get back in here!” Mark roared.  “You can’t trust anyone.”

Ignoring him, I walked to the front of the vehicle.  “Excuse me, but would you mind moving so that we can drive into the gas station?  We have a tire that needs looking at.”

The two men paid no attention to me and continued their shouting match.

The girl came up behind me.  “They’re arguing about who gets the Jeep,” she said in disgust.

“Pardon me…they’re what?”  I suppose the honest confusion showed on my face.  The girl put a hand on my shoulder.

“I know it sounds pretty terrible, when you say it like that.  If it’s any consolation, I’ve been trying to talk ’em out of it.  Being the bozos they are, they’re not listening to anyone right now.”

I nodded and bit my lip as I turned back to the shouters.

“Over my dead body,” the youngish, short man yelled.

“That can be arranged,” the taller, older man shouted.

The young guy swung his fist, but the older man saw it coming and ducked.  This threw the young guy off-balance and the older guy kicked him when he was down, producing a roar of rage from the young guy.

“The owners locked the pumps and left, so you won’t be able to get gas.  If you hurry, you can probably back up and fill your tire with air,” the girl said.

“Thanks, we’ll do that,” I told her.

“You have such a cute dog,” she said.  “By the way, my name’s Patty.”

“Alex,” I said over my shoulder and hopped into the car.  Mark had seen the turn of events and backed up before I said anything.  I told him the conversation while he gunned the Jeep into the gas station driveway, stopping at the air pump.

While Mark worked with the tire, I took Tilly out on a small patch of lawn and let her do her thing.  The other two would use a pee pad, as we had trained them, but Tilly was set in her ways and only the great outdoors would do for her.  I scooped her up just as Patty came scrambling down the hill.

“Look, you seem like nice folk,” she said.  “Let me unlock the pump and turn the pump mechanism on for you to get gas.”

I didn’t ask any questions.  “Wonderful, Patty.  I’ll tell Mark.”  She hurried over to the far pump, fishing out a set of keys from her jeans pocket.

Just as we were filled and ready to go, a shot rang out from the direction of the crowd at the top of the hill.  It wasn’t a car backfiring, either.  I just knew it was one of the fighters.  I looked at Patty and she looked at me.  Without a word, I opened the back door and shoved her in beside Justin, then hastily took my seat in the front.

Mark had jumped in and gunned the car.  “What are you doing with her?” he growled.

“Never mind.  The guy who wants our Jeep apparently has a gun.  Let’s get out of here.”

We sped out of the gas station and onto the small ribbon of asphalt heading north.

“Where do you want dropped off, miss?” Mark called to the back of the Jeep.

There was a small pause, then, “Would you have room for me?  Mom and Dad left this morning, but I refused to go.  Jeff was still here, but…”  Patty’s voice trailed off.

“We sure as shooting don’t have room for Jeff,” Mark growled.  “Non-negotiable.”

“That’s not a problem.”  Patty’s voice was trembling.  “He won’t be coming.”

I felt so sorry for the girl.  “You sure, sweetie?  I bet we could make room if we tried.”

“No, ma’am.  One of those two was the shooter and the other was the victim.  They’ve both turned into monsters that I don’t know anymore.  My folks were right.”

I turned to catch a tear rolling down her cheek and felt the surge of her sorrow.  How terrible was it to know that your lover was either a potential murderer or possibly a murder victim…and not know which one it was, to boot?

I looked back at the gas station.  A sizable crowd had gathered up on the road, people were shouting, and I noticed two or three guns being brandished.  O Canada!  When had we turned into a rabble?  We were lucky to get out of there.

Just as I cleared my throat to start talking, to help Patty adjust to the terrible shock she must be feeling, a moan that sounded like a ghost speaking through a tunnel emanated from Justin   Patty jumped and edged away from him.  The two dogs in the carriers in the back started barking, and Justin groaned again.  He reached up to touch the back of his head, winced, and let his arm drop.

“What happened?  Where am I?  Who is this?” he demanded.

“Easy, Justin, ” Mark said, checking him out in the rear view mirror.  “Two rednecks tried to steal my truck and thought you were a threat.  One guy beaned you with a rock.  We couldn’t leave you there so we brought you with us.”

“Sorry about that, Justin, but we can’t take you back.  We can let you off if you want.”  I turned to Mark.  “How far north of Spiritvale do you think we are, Mark?”

He paused for a moment, then said, “Probably a couple of hundred miles.”

“A couple of hundred…”  Justin turned pale.  “I left Monster in the house.  I have to go back.  There’s no real reason to be running north.  Australia could be just having an electric blackout for some reason.  There’s no new news.  I…”  He brushed his hand over his face.

“Let’s see if there’s more news,” Mark said and switched the radio on.

The announcer didn’t sound happy.

The last word out of New Zealand was less than an hour ago.  All New Zealand broadcasting has ceased.  No communications of any kind are being sent from or received by that country.  This is the second country in two hours to be involuntarily removed from global communication systems.  There has been no response from Australia since this morning, nor has Papua New Guinea responded to any transmissions.

 The jet pilots sent by the Indonesian Air Force to reconnoiter the area have reported that the countries are still there, visible from the air at 20,000 feet, but that no activity is seen on radar or by the naked eye.  The planes can only approach within two miles before encountering some kind of blockade that prevents forward progress.

Scientists around the globe are are working non-stop to try to decipher the readings that the planes captured with their in-flight cameras and plotting instruments.  So far, nothing that could explain these phenomena has been discovered.  Station CJSK will continue to update this general broadcast as news comes in.

You could only hear the humming of the engine and the sound of the tires crunching through the gravel.  Only an occasional ping sounded as the gravel bounced off the side of the Jeep.  Finally, Justin spoke.

“That’s for real, then?”

“I’m afraid so, Justin,” Mark replied.  He looked as shaken as I’d ever seen him.  He pulled over to the shoulder and turned to look at Justin   “So, what’s it to be?  Drive on or get out here?”

“I-I don’t know.  I might not even get back to Spiritvale.  I bet there are more grotty characters roaming around like those two back in town.”

Patty narrowed her eyes as she spoke up for the first time.  “You weren’t even conscious in Breckenridge.  How did you know about that?”

“No, Patty,” I answered here, as Justin frowned and looked at Patty.  “Justin is talking about two looters back in Spiritvale, where we come from.”  I patted her on the shoulder.  “Justin is our neighbour.  Justin, meet Patty, daughter of the Esso station owners in Breckenridge.  Patty, meet Justin, a worker at the potash mine south of Spiritvale.”

“Business manager,” Justin corrected and held out his hand to Patty.  “Pleased to meet you.”

They murmured pleasantries as if everything were all right in a sane world, then fell silent.  Nobody seemed to know what to say next.

CHAPTER 2 – The Rocky Road to the End of the World

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.

(Chapter 2 as promised.  If you want to see the most recent draft of Chapter 1, go here.)