Chapter 17: Hope
Once we resumed traveling, we traveled for long stretches without stopping. If we could avoid even a brief break, we would. We only stopped for full meals and to sleep. I estimated that if we maintained such a pace, that we could reach Minneapolis in a matter of weeks. The trip could prove even shorter if we managed to find a town along the way that had not yet been touched by the madness of the mountains and we could barter or beg for a vehicle to use.
Unfortunately each town which rose to meet us as we traveled provided less and less hope that the chaos had been an isolated event. Some towns were completely abandoned, with absolutely no signs of life. Some even looked as if they had been left derelict for decades or longer. I chalked those up to more temporal strangeness that I would have to eventually decipher. Other towns were populated only be strange, inhuman creatures. One particularly horrifying place had been full of strange man shaped beasts covered in tentacles and slime, reminding me of a madman’s rendition of an octopus.
None of these strange towns seemed fit to even hesitate in. The empty towns had either rotten food or no food at all, and every gas tank of the rare vehicle had been stripped of its fuel. The stranger towns may have had the transport or supplies we needed, but there was always something which prevented confirmation. Most we didn’t even dare risk approaching the denizens. Even in those which seemed harmless communication proved impossible due to inhuman mouths, lack of ears or even no mouths at all. It was early in the second week of our journey, somewhere off Highway 183 in Central Nebraska, did we find any sign of hope.
The town itself seemed innocuous enough, appearing to be just a stone’s throw from the highway. Fortunately, the flatness of the plains made it visible from a great distance as we walked along the roadside. Rick, who’s spirits had continued to improve in the last few days. Even his health had been improving. He claimed there was no pain or stiffness in his arm and my examinations confirmed he was in good overall health. I was surprised that his healing time seemed to be almost half as long as it should be for a crudely treated injury. When I mentioned it, he simply replied, “You must have the ‘healing hands,’ doc.”
My continued musings were interrupted by this self-same arm abruptly appearing in my field of vision. Rick pointed to the distant town. “There’s a town down there. Do we bother trying to stop in this one?” I had vetoed the last three along the highway for various reasons, as I identified potential horrors and problem inducing locales before entering them. Some towns could be avoided entirely, much like the one we saw up ahead, while others involved brisk walks through empty main streets to rejoin the highway. We had decided to avoid those we could that held no promise for us. This one seemed different.
We had long gotten used to dead lights and abandoned appliances. When the infrastructure in the area had collapsed during the chaos, there seemed to be none capable of restoring power. At least, if there were, there was no point in doing so for these small towns. Even in Denver, for obvious reasons, there had been no electricity. We had all begun to assume that any place we found would have no electrical power.
This town was different. Across the grassy plain, we could make out a blinking red light even at our still great distance. That alone was enough to give us pause. We all looked at each other as our pace slowed to a crawl.
“I’m not sure…” I staring at the light, tapping my chin in curiosity.
“Why the hell not?” Bobbi stared directly at me, almost daring me to argue with her. “It’s probably the best place we’ve seen. No sign of beasties. Probably not abandoned or empty. Hell, it’s even the first place we’ve found that looks like people might be trying to live normally.”
“She’s right, Sue.” Rick shrugged. “It’s the first halfway normal place we’ve seen in weeks. Maybe we’ve even finally reached the edge of whatever disaster caused the craziness. If we could be so lucky.” He glanced back towards the town and shrugged. “If anyone might have a car or something, my guess would be them.”
I hesitated, but I couldn’t see any real reason to argue. “We can’t be sure of anything, but it couldn’t hurt to have a look. If things look dangerous, we can always leave before things get too sticky.” Or so I hoped.