Friday, March 13, 2009

Chapter Eleven

Dinner that night was the best they had had so far. Trista cut the fish into tiny fillets and fried them in a little flour and oil. She made bread with oil, and it was much softer than the bread she had cooked for them before. With salt and pepper, they enjoyed the fresh fish. Dion ate one fillet and Gaelin and Trista split the other three.
After dinner and clean-up, the sun was falling behind the trees and Trista laid Dion in the bed. Gaelin built the fire as set wood on the side, and moved the table over so that he and Trista could both pull their stools near the fire. Trista finally came and sat down with her nearly completed broom handle. She scraped with a piece of broken crockery while Gaelin spoke.
“After I left, it took me a day and a half to walk to the nearest town, which is called Granite. It is a small town, pretty much just a farming community. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of tourism there, or anything like that. I did most of the travel in the night, since the day was too hot. When I got onto a two-lane highway coming down out of these hills and going toward the town, I was expecting to hitch a ride down to the town. But when a car came along, I hid from it in a near panic. I don’t know why. I did this every time. I tried to rationalize it, but I couldn’t. I’m scared of people now.”
“Are you sure you weren’t just scared of the cars themselves?”
“Yeah. When I got down to the town I was still scared of people just on streets. I walked around the perimeter of the town, and I always had to keep myself from running for cover when anyone would appear.”
“How did you get the pack, and the food and other stuff then? You could have stolen these items, but not if you were too scared to even enter a store.”
“I found one sort of human that I’m not as afraid of, well, besides you.” He gave her a wide grin. “He was a rancher that I met at the feed store. I stopped to pet his horse in the horse trailer…”
He told her about the horse, Blue, and the encounters with Bartimaeus Smith and Julius Drake. “…So I did go and find Drake’s house that evening. I…well, I got dinner, but it was some of the dog’s food that they put out on the porch that night. I hope Drake never finds out, he and his wife are very kind. They would have given me three squares a day and a bed in their house if I had let them. I slept in the hayloft while I was there.”
“The next morning I washed myself with the hose and showed up for breakfast. Now, please understand, I’m still afraid of Drake and his wife, but it isn’t as bad. I think it might be because they are accustomed to working with animals.”
Trista interrupted, “Animals? Are you calling yourself…?”
“Well, it is the closest thing I can compare it to. I feel like a feral animal when I look at a person. They look foreign, their movements threaten me. I’m half expecting them to chase or hurt me. Drake and Penny, his wife, are slightly less scary. And you Trista, I’m not afraid of you at all.” He reached eagerly and took her hand. Trista squeezed his hand, but wouldn’t look at him. She stared into the fire. Gaelin watched the wheels turning in her head, as she came to the same conclusions he had had to come to in the past few days. At least he had had time to work through it on his own. Gaelin continued with his narrative, though he was sure that Trista wasn’t listening as closely.
He told her about how he had spent the day working, mostly alone, once Drake had taught him what needed to be done. It was mostly simple tasks, cleaning and organizing around the farmyard. After lunch, which Gaelin had asked to eat on the porch, Drake turned him over to Penny. So he had helped her weed and water their extensive vegetable garden the entire afternoon. That evening, Drake and Gaelin negotiated the day’s payment. Gaelin had happily accepted twenty dollars for his labor. On one level, he knew that this was far below what he would have earned for the same time in a minimum wage job. On another, he knew that Drake didn’t have a whole lot to spare for a pair of green hands like his.
He had asked Drake if he could trade the twenty dollars for the supplies he now had. The pack was supplied by Drake himself; it was an old military-issue pack from when the big man had been in the Coast Guard. He gave Gaelin the dry foodstuffs, packed by his wife. He went to the town and bought the oil, net, nails, and other things.
Drake recognized that Gaelin would leave the next day to go back to wherever he had come from. He told Gaelin that he would give him a ride as far as he wanted. Gaelin thought about this for a minute, and asked if he could ride in the back of the truck, instead of the cab. Drake responded by saying that he still had the horse trailer hitched up, and that Gaelin could ride with Blue in the horse trailer. At least it would be safer than just the flatbed of the truck.
So in the early morning Gaelin had ridden with Drake up the highway to the end of the gravel road that Gaelin had come from. He was glad then that he had marked it. He used a broom from inside the trailer to tap on the truck until Drake slowed and stopped. They parted ways, and Gaelin spent the rest of the day walking up the gravel road and back along the trail to the cabin, and he had finally arrived in mid-afternoon.
“And here I am now.” The fire burned low, and the light of the quarter moon slipped in through the window. “I think now we know how we are going to be kept here. They made us afraid like animals.”
Trista nodded, “You were unusually brave just to speak to them, much less work with them for a day. I don’t think other people got that far.”
Gaelin shuddered, and his eyes looked haunted in the dim light. “I’m so glad that I’m not afraid of you Trista.”
“Come on, let’s get to bed.” She rose and set her smoothed broom handle against the side of the cabin. She entered the room. Gaelin paused to put one more branch on the fire and bank the other coals. He heard noises like furniture moving in the bedroom. When he entered, he found that Trista had pulled the trundle bed out and was laying Dion in it, covering him with Gaelin’s blanket.
She unbraided her hair casually. Gaelin wanted to touch it; it still had small, shiny highlights. She turned to him and whispered, “We should share the bed now. But not…”
“It’s ok, I understand.” Gaelin sat on the edge of the bed and took her hand. But as they lay down, she drew his arm around her shoulders. He sighed and hugged her, feeling all his troubles melt from his arms down out his body.
Thanks for taking me back. You guys are all I have now.

Chapter Ten

Another day had passed, and Gaelin had not returned. Trista was beginning to wonder what had happened to him. And whenever she was able to ignore his absence for a while, Dion soon reminded her, one way or another. When she had to watch him and take care of him all day, she was reminded at least once an hour that her awol companion could have really been making himself useful at that time. In all, he had been gone four full days.
On the afternoon of the fifth day, Trista and Dion were coming back from playing near the river when they found Gaelin sitting at the side of the cabin, near a large pack. Dion dropped Trista’s hand and hurried to hug Gaelin, and Trista was surprised at the way Gaelin’s face had brightened when he saw the little boy.
“I missed you, Daddy! You’re gone for three days.” Dion sternly held up his hand with four fingers spread open.
“I missed you too Dion, you have no idea how much.” Gaelin actually did look a little close to tears. He glanced at Trista, then rose, lifted the pack, and brought it to her. He knelt in front of her and began opening it.
“I brought back some supplies, Trista. I would have come back two days ago, but it took me that long to get them.” The pack was tough, blue canvas with drawstrings, buckles, and a cover flap. It looked like it had been designed for outdoor work. The first thing Gaelin removed was the blanket he had taken with him. Then he showed her fresh, new flour in two gallon plastic bags, salt, pepper and sugar in a couple smaller bags, and a box of baking powder. Trista stared. Gaelin took out the knife he had taken and another. He had another box of matches, a quart bottle of vegetable oil, a small fishing net and a coil of twine. He showed her a box of nails, they already had a hammer. Finally, he brought out a couple bars of soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, then he stood with the last two things from the bag. He handed her a hand mirror and a dollar store hairbrush.
Trista felt a lump form in her throat. She stepped over the empty bag and threw her arms around Gaelin. He hugged her back, tightly.
“Thank-you, Gaelin.”
“It’s good to be back, you have no idea how much.” He released her. “I discovered something when I went out there.” His face tightened. “Listen, they did something to me.”
“Who? Did you get hurt out there?”
“No, the druids, my uncle…” He raised one hand and set it on her shoulder. Come on, let’s put the loot away and I’ll see if I can catch any fish in stream for dinner. I’ll tell you the whole story tonight after dinner.”
“You’re going to keep me in the dark?” Trista frowned and batted his hand off her shoulder in mock anger. Gaelin bent to retrieve the net.
“Do you want meat for dinner tonight or not, woman? Come on Dion, let’s see if there are any fish in that stream.”
Gaelin snapped the twigs off a long, dead branch and began attaching the net to it with the twine. He took a long length and wrapped it around the stick, stringing it through the net every few inches. He found the narrowest part of the stream along the stretch below the pond and set the branch across it. The net didn’t cover the width of the stream; it was only about five feet wide, stretched out. He anchored the branch ends with stones, and the corners of the net on the bottom with strings under rocks. The net billowed a little in the current.
Gaelin contemplated his work for a minute, then adjusted the net so that it billowed out further, the better to actually trap fish. It wasn’t perfect, but he already had ideas to improve the trap. Finally, he jumped into the stream a little above the pond and began wading downstream toward the net. He waded across the pond, stirring the water, then switched to swimming and diving. He criss-crossed the pond a few times, always moving a little toward the net. Finally, he swam towards the net, reached down and grabbed the two strings and pulled them from under the rocks. He pulled them up, and tossed the bottom edge of the net over the stick. He felt more than saw something wriggling in the trap. Quickly, he reached and gathered up the sides of the net and lifted the whole thing out of the water. Two fish squirmed frantically in the folds. Gaelin whooped, tossed the net up onto the bank a few feet from the water and hopped out of the stream after it.
Dion was already trying to touch the flapping fish, but would jerk away when they moved. Gaelin unwrapped the net carefully, stringing the fish one by one on another length of string, inspecting them as he did. Both were sunfish, about four inches long. Not a lot of meat on these, but a start is a start.
“Ok Dion, do you want to show these to Mommy?” He took the three-year old’s hand and walked with him back up the stream, up the hill, and to the cabin. Trista came to the door when she heard Dion coming. Gaelin could see that she had brushed her hair and braided it. It gleamed in the sun like the glossy pelt of an animal.
“Well, you caught some after all, nice! Sunnies?”
“Yeah, not surprising since I chased them out of the pond.”
“That explains…” She glanced at his dripping clothes. “I wonder if there are other fish in that stream.”
“I’ll try to set the net for a long-term trap tomorrow in another place. Maybe there will be others. Aren’t streams like these supposed to have trout?”
Trista nodded. “Can you clean these?”
Gaelin squirmed a little, “No, sorry.”
“That’s ok, I can. I’ll teach you how sometime. Good job catching them, Gaelin.”
She’s being awfully nice right now. “Ok, you want me to do anything right now?”
“Just watch Dion for a while, get dry. I’ll clean these…” she selected a knife from the table and headed off with the fish. Gaelin couldn’t help watching her in admiration again. She paused, and looked over her shoulder. Gaelin didn’t dodge the glance. She called back, “Oh yeah, gather firewood for tonight will you?”

Chapter Nine

Gaelin woke in the first blush of dawn. There was a slight mist among the trees, and his blanket was dampened with dew. He shivered as he went back to the road and started back down it toward the town, which was hidden for the moment in the fog below him. He tried not to worry about what he would do once he got there, how he would avoid notice but still find some way to get food and supplies. He had a couple dollars still in his pocket, but that wouldn’t get him very far, even if he just managed to work up the nerve to walk into a store.
Could I get a job somehow? Maybe, maybe if you can talk to someone without bolting. Maybe if they are willing to hire a homeless vagrant like me. For all they know, I’m on the run from something. Well, they’d be right, but I didn’t do anything wrong did I? Actually, an image of Trista and Dion came into his mind. Yes, he had done something wrong there. I shouldn’t have left them like that. I was right about leaving, but I should have asked them to come with me.
But he remembered the real motivation for his leaving so quickly. He hadn’t been handling his isolation with Trista very well. He was intimidated by her on some level. He wondered what he owed her, what she expected from him. Surely, she didn’t even like him at all. He felt bad about walking out on them like that, but then, Trista was totally crazy. She would live out there like a good little abandoned girl until winter caught her and Dion, because she believed in this stuff. She was the selfish one, staying there because it made her feel righteous, while Dion lost more because of it. I have to get him and take him out of there, at least. He shouldn’t grow up in ignorance in the backwoods, even if he survives there. Trista could stay if she wanted to.
With these new plans forming in his head, Gaelin traveled the rest of the way to the town. He was passed by cars several times. For the first part of the morning the road continued to move through hills and around curves, so he could hear a car and hide before it appeared. However, after a few hours, the road leveled and straightened, and the woods disappeared. The road was a two lane highway, and there was simply no way to avoid the cars. Gaelin forced him self just to stand off the side of the road, facing a little away, until the car passed by. He no longer had the idea of getting a ride to the town. He could get there just fine, thank-you. This worked for a while, until one person stopped and asked if he needed a ride.
Gaelin shook with nerves, like the worst stage fright he had ever had. The car, a battered, red coupe, slowed and stopped beside him, and the window rolled down. A middle-aged black man leaned across the seat and asked him if he needed a lift into town. Gaelin gulped, trying to moisten his mouth, and stuttered,
“H-How far is it?”
“Well, I don’t think it’s more than another six miles.” replied the other, “but that is a hefty hike on foot.”
“I’m o-ok s-sir. I… like walking.” Gaelin sweated in the cool morning, though his flesh felt clammy and cold.
The man peered at him. “Are you sure you’re ok, boy? You sound a little shaky.”
“Honest, I’m ok. Thanks for the offer.” Gaelin bobbed his head to the man to thank him and then turned and began walking off. He started when the engine of the coupe hummed behind him, but managed not to run for it. The man pulled alongside him and spoke over the rumble of the engine.
“Well, take care of yourself then, ok? Look me up when you get to Granite, I’m Bartimaeus Smith, and I own the feed store. God bless ya.”
The man finally drove off. Gaelin plunked down on the side of the road until his legs stopped wobbling and he could keep going. The encounter hadn’t been as bad as he had thought, but still ridiculously hard for such a simple thing as talking to a friendly stranger. This fear was irrational, totally irrational. What happened to me?
Two hours later, a weary Gaelin passed the first farmhouse. He eyed it nervously and kept going. At the second house, a garden hose hooked to the side of the house caught his eye. After a moment of indecision, he stole up to the house and got a drink from hose. The familiarly unpleasant taste wasn’t as pleasantly nostalgic as usual, and he actually felt that he preferred the muddy-weed flavor of the ditch water to the metal tang of the hose water.
Half an hour later, the sparse farmhouses thickened and Gaelin was confronted with an honest-to-goodness main street. The two-lane highway ran right through the middle of the little town. Traffic increased until Gaelin just couldn’t stay on the road, but followed along several yards from it, walking parallel along the edge of the fields and fences. When he came to a slightly faded red and white sign which said, “Welcome to the city of Granite,” he stopped and leaned against the sign while he surveyed the town. He did not want to go in, but the smell of food floating out from that town pulled him like a hook on his stomach. He walked a little closer to the town, then actually decided to circle around it. He couldn’t make himself walk down that street, but he needed to find some opportunity for food.
It was one of the smallest towns he had seen. The main street and another street running parallel to it were intersected by four different side streets that extended to either side with some houses, then stretched further out as the neighborhood gave way to farms. From the glimpses he caught, he saw mostly old stores, half of them closed with empty windows. A couple gas stations and a couple food stores were in there. He saw a bar and a café and a McDonalds. (He decided that the most tempting smells came from the McDonalds.)
He paused at one of the grocery stores when he saw a lady drop her bag of groceries. Gaelin lurked in the dark, morning shadow of the store. One part of him told him to go help her. Another part of him said, “Absolutely not.” When she picked up most of her groceries, muttering to herself, she inspected the apples that had dropped, tsked, and tossed them aside. Gaelin waited on his toes until she made it to her car and drove off before edging out to retrieve his first food since that bite of bread, over a day before. There were four apples, bruised, but good. He stuffed three of them securely in his blanket roll and ate the other as he hurried back behind the store.
It was nearing noon, and the town was silent and sleepy. A few flies buzzed and the occasional car passed, but otherwise, Gaelin found relative peace in the shade of the store, eating his scavenged meal and planning his next move. He was dog-tired but determined to finish circling the town. It wasn’t like he knew exactly what he hoped to find. All he had was a goal, and that was all he needed for the moment. He finished the apples, cores and all, then climbed to his feet and kept going.
On the far side of Granite he came on a warehouse and grain tower. The hand-painted sign above the door said, “Bart’s Feed Store.” As Gaelin walked around it, he saw the old, red car parked at the back. There was also a white truck with a horse trailer. A sound from the trailer drew him to it. It contained a smallish mare, splotched brown and white. She lifted her head and Gaelin put his hand through the bars to touch it. He scratched behind its ears and felt the soft cheek. The paint sidled closer to his side, so he ran his hand down the neck, under the coarse, warm mane. A grin tugged at his cheeks. The horse lifted her head and rested on the bars beside him, so he carefully touched the velvet muzzle. He noticed that his new friend had one blue eye and one brown eye. It felt fantastic to not be afraid of a living thing.
Gaelin’s spell was broken when he heard the door of the store open. A man in a cowboy hat stood in the door with Bart. Each had a large grainsack tossed over his shoulders. Gaelin quickly took his hands out of the trailer and jumped to the ground. Gotta be cool, gotta act normal now. C’mon, just relax. He leaned against the trailer and waited for the men to come. The two approached on his side of the truck, Bart smiled and called to him.
“Well hello again, look who made it to town just fine after all! What’s your name, boy, and what can I do for you?”
“Um… Um, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have touched the horse without asking.”
“Well, that’s true enough.” The other man said. He stepped onto the rim of the trailer and reached in to stroke the horse. “But no harm done, Blue must’ve taken a shine to ya.” The man looked like an old rancher, with his hat and boots and large, square hands. Gaelin felt…better…about him. Perhaps it was the way Blue whickered happily when her master greeted her, but he didn’t feel as afraid of this one. The man turned his attention back to him.
“So you have met Bart already?”
Bart answered for him, “Yeah, but you wouldn’t believe where I last saw this kid, nearly six miles out of town, only this morning. He didn’t want a ride into town, but walked instead.”
The rancher scratched his head. “But, where did he come from then? There isn’t anything out there, not for fifty miles.” Gaelin swallowed, he had been afraid of this.
“Well, I’m just on a bit of ad-adventure.” Inspiration struck him. “My uncle has some land out there, and my family lets me camp out there. My name is R-Ross.”
The rancher smiled broadly “Well then, Ross, I be called Julius Drake.” Beside him, Bart snickered. Julius elbowed him. “Oh shut-up Bar-timaeus, your parents weren’t any better.” He held out his hand to Gaelin. “You can call me Drake.”
Gaelin slid further back along the trailer, away from the out-stretched hand. Bart and Drake stared at him. Drake lowered his hand. Bart finally spoke.
“Well, I thought he seemed a little shaky this morning. I guess he is a little timid.”
“S-Sorry” Gaelin managed to say. “It is nice to meet you, Drake.”
“That’s ok, boy. Now, what can we do for you? Do you need a bus ticket, or at least a hot meal?”
“I need some supplies to take back with me to the camp, but I don’t have much money.” He showed them the two crumpled bills from his pocket. “If I could work for you for a day or two, do you think you could give me what I need?” I need better tools, water-proof containers, flour, salt, and more clothing. I need a peace offering for Trista, and we need to survive until I can convince her to leave with me.
Drake slowly took his hat off, wiped his forehead, and replaced it while he thought. “Well, I think Penny and I could use an extra hand. If you can stay on your feet tomorrow after traveling God-knows how far on foot, then you certainly have some endurance.”
Gaelin nodded and Drake nodded back. “Ok, Ross. You see that street a block back, that’s Lincoln. Follow it east about four miles and you’ll find my place, a blue house. I don’t suppose you will come with me now?”
Gaelin shook his head.
“Well, if you turn up tonight you are welcome to some food. Just make sure you are there by breakfast tomorrow, an’ then we will put you to work.”
Drake slapped Bart on the shoulder and climbed into the cab of the truck. Gaelin backed up with Bart and watched until the truck disappeared down Lincoln Road. Gaelin nodded again to Bart, who replied,
“You are an odd one, Ross, but you’ll be ok. Let me know if you need more help. Do you even have a place to stay tonight?”
“Yeah, I do, thanks.” Gaelin turned and jogged away, toward the other side of the town. As soon as a slight hill hid him from Bart’s view, he broke into a sprint.

Chapter Eight

Gaelin reached the edge of the woods by mid-morning. He stood in the last forest shade, staring numbly at the dusty gravel. For some reason, he was utterly surprised to see it again. The sight of the road from the woods in broad daylight was like the punchline of a joke he hadn’t even known had been going on. And now it was finally over. He shifted the bundle from one arm to the other, then set out decisively down the road.
It was much easier to walk on the gravel then along the narrow and fickle path through the woods. As if to make up for this, the sun shone on him until between the rock, the trees and the open sky he felt like he was in an oven. Before the sun had risen much higher he sought cover under the trees to rest. He wished for a drink of water already. He wasn’t too sorry about leaving the bread. He would be just fine without a meal for a day or two. Hell, I could afford to lose a little weight. But what kind of idiot runs off on a long walk and doesn’t bring water? I don’t even know how far it is to that town.
As he considered the bright road from his position, he realized that walking in the sun wouldn’t help him get to the town if it made him that much more dehydrated. But fighting his way through the woods would also take more effort than he could afford. The obvious answer was to go to ground and wait until late afternoon, when the heat would subside and he could continue along the road. Satisfied, he began looking around for a place to sleep, but this proved more difficult that he thought, as any of you who have ever tried this might expect.
The forest’s soil was thin and filled with roots, even where there was thick leaf litter. Where there weren’t thick roots, there wasn’t a nearby tree, which means the sun filtered into the forest. Here, brambles, saplings, and other weeds competed for the light. Gaelin finally settled under a partly fallen tree. The forest lord had cracked, leaned and come to rest on a younger tree, which not only supported the old tree like a cane but also grown around its burden and continued up. The old tree was as dry as a bone, and beneath it laid a thick, carpet of dry leaves. Under there, Gaelin crushed down the leaves until they made a mat, adding more until it was shaped into a nest to cradle him.
But after his effort, and despite his actual satisfaction with his new hidey-hole, sleep now eluded him. Any small discomfort that he might have normally been able to forget and ignore nagged at him. He was thirsty. A little beam of sunlight made it through the forest canopy and blinked across his face. He rolled to his side, and a leaf escaped the blanket and settled its dry, itchy little self against Gaelin’s neck. He tossed it away, but more came until he sat up, tamped down the leaves around him, re-spread the blanket and tried to nap again. By leaving his eyes half-closed, they soon grew sleepy and closed of their own accord. He wasn’t sorry for leaving, yet.
Discomfort brought him out of his doze several times during the day until the sun began to sink. Each time he woke, snatches of dreams floated around him in the thick amber hues of his surroundings. He dreamed of playing baseball, of running and hiding, of worrying about something, and of cold nights and fires. Once he dreamed of Trista and Dion, but he would never remember that.
He was dreaming of that cold night when he woke, shivering slightly, and realized that the sun was falling beneath the trees, the shadows were deeper, and the ground felt cold instead of merely cool. He rolled out from under the tree and shook the leaves out of his blanket. He felt sleepy and stiff. It was almost like the times he would sleep most of the day at home and wake up feeling so drowsy. Almost. The mosquitoes and ticks were definitely an addition to this experience. But he knew that once he was awake for an hour or two, the feeling would pass and he wouldn’t need sleep for most of the rest of the night.
He found his way back to the road and set off again. Now the going was both easy and cooler. The sky darkened but he could see just fine to keep walking down the center of the gravel road. He folded his blanket in half and hung it over his shoulders for a little warmth, for the day’s heat was indeed leaving quickly. And next came the real travel. Now for hours he moved through the grey of the night.
Nights are rarely black you know. Caves are black. A tight-shut room may be black. And the heart of the devil is black. Not nights. Only under deep cloud cover, perhaps under thick trees, with no snow or sand, and with no town or city anywhere nearby may a night be black. That night that Gaelin walked through was as grey as any, maybe of a slightly paler shade than some. A crescent moon hung in the sky. Trista would have known it was a waxing crescent, still a few days until first quarter. Gaelin was blissfully unaware, but was only pleased with the light. He felt like batman, or a cat.
Gaelin ended up doing a lot of thinking that night. He remembered nights when he couldn’t sleep, when he mind was so full that he couldn’t even settle to playing video games until he dozed off. This was more like he knew he wasn’t going to sleep, and soon thoughts rushed in to fill the space in his mind. He journeyed through the dark, caught up in his musings. Under normal circumstances, he paced when he thought, and in this case it translated to a brisk, steady walk, his head bent.
The road turned beneath him, the heavens turned around him until his sore feet ached with every step. The evening noises of insects and frogs subsided until the only sound was the rustling breeze in the tree tops. It seemed the longest night of his life or as if he had never done anything but walk down a gravel road, when the scene changed.
He nearly tripped on a sudden, slight rise in the surface of the road; the edge of a paved road. Again, Gaelin stopped and stared, as he had at the edge of the woods before. You’d think I had never seen roads before for how surprised I am each time. I just hope I don’t break down and kiss the first sidewalk I see. Dang…now which way? Gaelin realized that he didn’t know which way they had come from. He had still been asleep when they had turned off the road, only a few days before. Now that he looked, there was nothing to distinguish either way from the other. His natural impulse was to turn left and head down-hill, but there was no telling if that was the direction to the nearest town or not. Finally, he decided to find and reach the nearest highpoint and see if he could spot anything. Taking his knife, he cut strips of bark off a couple saplings on either side of the gravel road to mark his starting point. In the process, he discovered ditches on the sides of the road, and the little water in them. After only a second of hesitation, he bent and sipped a little.
Of course it is the best water you ever tasted, stupid. You only haven’t had any water all day and been walking all of that same day. Now think about how it really tastes. He tasted again. It did taste alright. A little muddy, but otherwise ok. Well, it will do for now, I just probably shouldn’t make a habit of drinking straight out of road ditches.
This done, he turned right onto the paved road and started uphill. It took him about five minutes to reach the summit, and a welcome sight greeted him. Below him and far away, lay a town. He wasn’t sure how far it was. The sight alone gave him some hope. The distance was daunting, but now he knew where his goal lay. Let that show them that I can walk out of this if I want to. It isn’t much further now.
Weary but satisfied, Gaelin pushed his protesting muscles back into action. His stomach growled and gurgled because of the water. It was hungry, now that it had something in it. Gaelin sighed. After all this, and his trip was half over, if that. He was just beginning to hope that someone might possibly come along and give him a lift.
At this point two things happened. One was that the idea of being picked up by someone made him acutely nervous. The other was that in that moment of odd realization, a car topped the hill behind him. The headlights of the car approached him, and Gaelin felt fear wash over him. Before the fast approaching glow reached him, he vaulted across the ditch and ducked into the woods, rolling behind the second tree and watched, shaking with adrenaline, as the car passed. As it did so, relief and new shock hit him, jumbled together.
This…is new. Why did you do that you moron? That might have been your ticket back into civilization! Good thing I wasn’t seen. I bet I look like something the cat dragged in, and I’m in the middle of nowhere, on foot, with no pack, food, or anything, and no reason to be out here. I just don’t want to be questioned, or seen, or anything! What are you talking about? Don’t you want to be found so your life can go back to normal? No, I don’t want my family to find me, they are the ones who got me and Trista and poor Dion in this mess. I don’t want them to see me. Don’t let them find me. You need finding, stupid, what has gotten into you? That wasn’t your family in that car. Yeah, but still…
This went on for a while until Gaelin’s heart slowed and his breathing steadied. He went back to the road. He shivered a little when he stepped onto it. He felt exposed, like a mouse in the shadow of a hawk, but he began walking toward the town again. Maybe an hour later, he heard the sound of a car behind him again. Again he tried to wait, and again an unreasoning fear sent him diving for cover. It was closer that time, he even fancied that the car slowed a little at the place where he had left the road, an idea that made him scramble further back, his heart pounding like a drum against his throat.
Confused and tired, Gaelin discovered that where he was lying in the loam was comfortable enough to lull him. He wrapped his blanket around him and let himself fall; too tired to do any more. Obviously, the long hours of darkness and labor were beginning to addle him. Things would be better in the morning. Surely things would be better in the morning.