This was a story idea I had, about the aftermath of a Yellowstone eruption. What would happen during the preceding days and weeks, as two rather unusual characters struggled to cope with a potentially world ending -- maybe only United States ending -- event? What if they were close to the eruption site when it happened -- when Yellowstone let go? Then they got away? Where would they go? How would they get there? Could they survive?
As you will read in the story, I leave the final interpretation up to the reader.
As always, these short story "ideas" of mine are a bit rough around the edges -- as I edit and re-edit them. And, as always, I appreciate your reads and your thoughts.
Additionally, I am writing a prequel version to this story and will release it to Amazon ebooks in the near future, under the pen name of Slade West. I will re-write this introduction when that happens.
Thanks for your reads.
And now, on with the show...
On Wednesday, September 19, 2018, the super-volcano beneath Yellowstone National Park, in the United States, estimated to have been larger than all of Mexico, began to erupt and...
Ash and oil are hard to wash off. Blood is easier. This was Mac's observation.
He splashed the water onto his face from the stopped-up sink and blinked back the icy sting of it.
“Awh, God Da...!”
“Don't say it! You know I hate it!" Pam yelled. She was trying to tune in a TV station.
“I put out my joint, Mac replied.” The bud steamed and the red of it faded, like his mood.
“This is a no smoking room,” she said.
“Do you think anyone cares anymore?” he asked. "I mean, what difference does it make now? We are dead anyway -- at the end of the God..." He let it go.
She let out a short whimper and tossed the TV remote onto the bed. "Still no stations."
Pam looked around the room. “Probably the last time we’ll ever stay in a motel. One with electricity anyway.”
Mac’s shirt was caked with sludge. Ash and mud from the parking lot. Streaks of grime and soot made his hair look like a soggy mop, dipped in glue, then freeze dried. It would have been comical if not for the dried blood on the back of his neck. Acid rain was something new.
He used a washcloth on his neck. “Dammit!” he yelled. He was thinking about a toke and how it would smooth this whole thing out, but the joint was out now and wet.
The smell of cheap motel soap and the running water was somehow comforting to Pam. Something normal in a world turned hellish. A world where volcanic eruptions were now commonplace and heated water, a thing of the past.
Unless you were west of Kansas, where all the water was boiling away. Lakes of it. Or even as far as Oregon, which had almost been wiped clean after the tsunamis -- after the 9.9 magnitude earthquake hit in conjunction with the Yellowstone eruptions..
“How many eruptions have there been?” she asked.
He was balancing his wet joint on the edge of the toilet. “Hope it drys,” he said. The bloody washcloth in his hand was dripping on the carpet.
“What?” he asked.
“You are worried about your wet dope and not how you are dripping blood all over the carpet? Not to mention that the freaking world is ending! That Wyoming is a molten inland sea?! That you have a bullet in your left leg," she finished.
He paused, looked at his damp joint then back at her.
“Jesus, Pam. Who the hell cares now?” He tossed the washcloth onto the TV stand. ‘I’m just trying to survive here…keep us going.” He limped toward the other bed.
"We should take you to a hospital. You are gonna bleed to death."
"Sure," Mac said. I'll just dial 911 or drive to the Emergency Room. Oh wait, everything is closed or covered in fifty feet of ash west of here."
"How about this town?" she asked.
"This isn't a town, Pam. It's a highway motel run by some old coot who probably doesn't even listen to the news. He probably thinks this is all just some freak storm. Just wait till the ash keeps piling on. Then he'll get it. They all get it eventually."
“Shut up!” She turned her back. Folded her arms. The moments stretched away into some short eternity. Her mind drifted to the cabin again. The cabin on the top of the mountain in Georgia and the color of the fall trees. The fresh forest breezes. Those soft colorful leaves wandering over the hard rocks in back of the house, harried by the evening gusts, just before the snows, as Mac was grilling the steaks on the porch and drinking wine and smoking his...the dream faded.
Mac kept up his cleaning routine. He would have taken a shower, but it didn’t work and besides, the water was freezing.
He finally broke the silence. “You gonna cry again?”
She was whimpering now. He felt bad about it.
“We should leave,” he said. “We’ve been here too long and the cold is getting worse. Gotta move more south.”
He was worried, she knew. About his leg. About Yellowstone's volcanoes. About his dad in Colorado. Time was running out and he was coping with his dope like he always did. But it seemed to help him focus and keep his panic at bay. And he was a good man, even with his crutch. And she was losing it. She could feel the rising panic of it.
“Is it fixed?” She squinted, trying read his expression.
“Yes. It was just a drive belt. There was a spare under the seat. It’s running as good as it can, I guess.”
He toweled his beard, now three days growth. His eyes betrayed his concern, darting between the gun on the sink’s edge and Pam, now on the bed, wrapped in extra blankets.
“Will it run long enough?” she asked.
“Long enough for what?”
“To get us to safety.” She was biting her lower lip now.
He held her stare. “I’m honest.”
“What does that mean?”
“There is no freaking safety Pam. It’s just driving. Trying to stay as far from all the damned eruptions as we can. Trying to find some place warmer. A place where we don’t breathe glass.”
He turned, picked up the gun from the sink and shoved it in his belt. Looked at his damp dope again. “This sucks. If I take it outside it’s gonna freeze solid. Icy grass.” He wondered how that would taste.
She shook her head. He was in his own little world. A bloody towel tourniquet cinched on his leg and he was bitching about his dope. He was always somewhere else. Some pleasant reality away from here. Maybe that’s why he was always happy or maybe it was the dope, she mused. Great, I’m in love with a doper at the end of human civilization.
“Do we have to leave, Mac?”
"You wanna go back?"
She thought about the last thing she saw back home. People pulling big trailers during the day, by hand. Two to a trailer. The trailers were loaded with goods. Food and supplies. They were strung out for miles on the highway. Hundreds of cart-animal humans, since the horses were all dead and eaten. Mac had driven by at speed to the sound of gunshots.
"No, I don't want to go back," she finally said. "I can't -- we can't."
Mac felt sorry for her. "We need to go now. Less people to see us driving a running truck.”
He was right. So few cars even worked. The older ones seemed fine and people were killing for them. News reports had shown mobs fighting on freeways, police stations on fire and the National Guard abandoning the cities.
“Maybe we can hang out here for a few days. Call our parents. See if this thing -- Yellowstone -- calms down.” She was hopeful.
Mac sat on the chair across from her. Adjusted the gun at his back. “Listen.” He leaned forward. “This is not going to stop. Not soon anyway. That’s why I came to your job to get you.”
She remembered. It was three days ago. He’d parked outside the Post Office and knocked on the back door. Her supervisor almost called the cops.
“John almost called the police on you.”
“You and him on are a first named basis again?”
“Not now Mac.”
The relationship was supposed to be over, but maybe it wasn’t Mac thought. And yet, she chose to leave with him.
"The cops would have never showed, Pam. Too busy packing their junk and heading out of town."
“You didn’t let me pack much and my cat…”
“There was no time to look for him. People were frigging' shooting each other! He pointed at his leg. "This happened at the hardware store, Pam!"
“And the cell phones don’t work…” She sobbed again. “This is all so...so bad,” she said. “So final. I still can’t believe it.”
“Listen!” He stood. “We don’t have time for this. I’m leaving. I’m getting in that truck and heading south. As far as I can get and as fast as that thing will go.” His face was red.
“You know where I’m going,” he said then.
She rolled from the bed, legs still sore from yesterday. Her jeans were hanging over the chair where she had left them. She pulled them on, letting her mind replay the surreal scenes from only yesterday. It seemed like years ago.
Frozen lakes. Iced over rivers. Ash covered towns. Mac fighting to keep the truck on the road, tires slipping on the black sludge. Gun shots. People screaming from stalled cars. A women standing in the ash, up to her knees, holding a gray baby.
Pam lifted her backpack from the floor. “I need to pee.”
He backed out of the bathroom. Let her do her business.
“It’s freezing in here!” she said.
Mac looked at his joint again. It was stiffening. Small greenish crystals were forming on the paper. And why did it matter anyway? Like Pam said. It was just his way of coping. It had always been his way. Maybe it was time to go cold turkey. On second thought, screw that.
Mac found the motel’s hair dryer. Started to blow dry his hair and his joint, but the power started to flicker. “Fricking useless,” he said under his breath.
Mac pictured the two story stone cabin again. The steep mountain and the secluded valley nearby. Georgia he thought again. Could they survive there? He wondered, as another rumble shook the motel. Then the power went out for the last time.
When she finished she found him in the darkness, standing by the partially opened curtains. He was watching the dark parking lot filled with cars smothered in ash piles. The street lights were out. Even the motel’s office was dark, but some of the motel’s emergency lights were casting a flickering silvery glow over the ash laden trees.
She waited. “I fell asleep, I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” he said. "Let’s do it before some jerk steals our truck. Some crackhead.”
“Please. All the crackheads are dead from overdoses by now. It’s just the potheads you should be worried about.”
“Great, I’ll call you the ‘End-of-the-World Comic.’ You can do Vegas. Oh sorry, Vegas is a smoking cinder now. Maybe Atlantic City. Oh crap again...dead from the acid rain.”
He patted his pocket, where his joint was drying.
“I see you saved your baby.” She meant his last joint.
"Oh you know I did."
He switched to serious mode. “A few guys just walked by. They scoped-out our truck. They went into one of the other rooms.”
He closed the curtain. “Are you ready?”
She knew the routine. Go directly to the truck. Get in. Stare straight ahead. Don’t make eye contact with anyone. Let Mac wipe the ash from the windshield. Hold his gun. Keep an eye out -- for nobody.
Then drive. Drive and watch for the army. Take short cuts that turned into long cuts and watch for the cops. Avoid the gangs. Avoid the volcanoes. Wear breathing masks. Find gas and water and food and drive again.
He opened the motel room door. The parking lot was empty. A dull sky, smeared with gray sleet, greeted them. Just a hint of the new day at the edges of the mountains and that muffled sound. That dead, world’s end quietness.
"Ouch!" Pam squealed.
"It's so cold out here it burns my skin."
She hesitated. Was all of this worth it? The air seemed thicker today as well. Wouldn’t it be easier to just die at home? Wrap up in some blankets an just nod off?
“Now,” he said. He held her arm and guided her to the truck through icy slush. She could hear him grunting in pain with each step.
He opened the rusted passenger’s door, then helped her up. She wrapped herself with her blanket and let out a quick breath. A small ice cloud hovered before her eyes. She noticed it was pink, but she didn’t tell Mac. He would freak out, probably look for a hospital that wasn’t open.
She watched him wipe away the thick wet ash from the windshield then the slush from the hood of the truck, then the grill. He was kicking the tires when she saw people poking their heads from their motel doors. Curious maybe. She knocked on the windshield and Mac got the message.
“It’s colder than yesterday,” she said as he hopped in. Flakes of snow and ash covered his hair again. “We are being watched.”
He could see the fear in her eyes. A nod, then he started the truck. It took longer that usual, but it finally caught. Damn, they made these old trucks good, he thought.
“We need gas.” The needle was showing just over a half of a tank.
“We need food,” she answered, then sniffled. “I’m hungry and you said we’d stop for food. That was yesterday.”
“Fix your mask,” he said. “Pinch that strip on your nose before you destroy your lungs.”
“Please. Coughing up blood hurts worse.” She thought of the pink mist she breathed out moments before.
She pinched, just as one of motel doors opened. A hand waved to them, beckoned for them to what? Wait?
“Screw that,” Mac said. “We need to get going and we can’t trust anybody.”
He drove slowly toward the office around the building, the old truck smoking from its exhaust. Mac hoped it wasn’t blue smoke. The engine was struggling now, almost choking. Just a few more hours Betsy, he thought. He patted the dashboard.
He stopped at the office window, but it was dark inside. The sign on the door indicated “cash only.”
Mac got out, staggered for a second, then knocked on the office door. There was no answer and the door was locked, but he could swear that someone was sitting just behind the counter in the darkness, watching. He waited a moment, shifted onto his good leg, his boots sinking into the ash sludge on the sidewalk. Still nothing. The silhouette moved once, but made no effort to answer the door. Mac saw a glint of metal and that was enough.
He dropped the keys in the overnight slot and decided to leave his credit card in the slot as well. Then he saw that one of the motel’s occupants was making his way toward them on foot.
“Aren’t they open?” Pam asked when Mac returned.
He shook his head.
“How do we pay?”
“I left him one of my credit cards,” Mac said, pressing the accelerator and pulling onto the highway.
“But he’ll have your name.”
“Does it matter now? Besides, I think he had a gun.”
She didn’t say anything.
“Someone was walking up on us,” he said.
“You didn’t see him?”
“Back at the office. When I was trying to pay up. He came outta that room. The same guy who scoped out the truck earlier. The one who was waving at us, I think.”
“Maybe he needed a ride. Maybe we should…”
She frowned, looked out into the morning gloom of ashy sleet. Pouted. “Another beautiful day.”
They pulled onto the interstate and got up to speed. The highway was empty and they only saw one other vehicle, an RV, parked in a rest area, but no people. Just an open door.
“How is it that this old truck runs and the newer cars don’t?” she finally asked.
“I think the military did something,” he said. “Electronics.”
“Why would they do that?” She was glaring at him.
“To prevent people from clogging up the roads. To stop travelers I guess.” He was watching the road, thinking.
“Or the Russians did it.” She looked away. “EMP’d the hell out of us after Yellowstone erupted.”
“Why would the Russians do that?” He kept glancing at her, when she didn’t respond.
“Hit us while we are down?” he added.
“To keep Americans from fleeing to Europe. Can you imagine the chaos? The pressure on resources, say in England?”
“Europe is just as screwed,” he said. “The acid rain and volcanic winter is hitting them just as hard. There are worldwide eruptions now. You saw the news.”
She was crying. “But not in England. Europe only has a few. It’s us, we’re dead, not Europe.”
“I’m sorry.” He waited. “We’ll figure this out. We’ll find a way.”
“I just want find safety,” she responded.
He could see her tears in the reflection of the passenger's window.
“I know,” he said after some moments. “We’ll get there.”
“You know,” he answered.
They headed southeast and pulled in at a roadside diner a few hours later. The truck's fuel gauge was showing below "E."
The diner had its own gas station. A single car was parked in the lot. Another oldie, but goody, thought Mac.
“Leave it to the South,” he said. “Volcanoes don’t scare them. “Look.” He pointed at the the sign.
“Breakfast Bar.” The lights were on inside, which was amazing, and the pumps were working. Must be a generator Mac figured. He started to fill up the tank, leaning on his good leg.
“Should I go inside?” she asked. She was looking around.
“What’s the matter?”
“If they are running on generator power, why are they wasting fuel on lights in the daytime?”
He looked around. “It’s peaceful. Quiet.” These days, peaceful and quiet wasn’t always a good thing. “Could be a trap. Let me fill up first and we'll check it out.”
When he finished, Mac locked the truck and they went in. He used Pam a his human crutch since his leg was getting worse.
The diner was empty. The food warmers were all on, steam was rising from the water underneath, but there was no food in the trays. An empty buffet. Even the coffee machine was on, but the pot was full of hot water.
Mac grabbed the handle. “We could make tea.”
“Where’s the manager?” she asked.
They walked into the lobby. Nobody. The kitchen was also empty. All the food was gone. No cans. Even the refrigerators were empty, their doors open, and the motors were whining to keep up.
“They left in a hurry.” Mac was leaning against the counter. “They even took the condiments.” He showed her an empty sugar box.
The place was a mess. Utensils spilled on the floor. An overturned stove.
“They’re gone,” she said.
“Yeah, Mac said. “Why did they leave the lights on?”
“Where are you going?” Pam asked.
“To the register.”
“You gonna rob the place?”
“Again with the comedy," he said.
He limped down a short hall. At the end he saw a foot and painted toenails and stopped short.
He held his hand up. “Wait here.” He pulled his gun and slid forward, back to the wall.
“What is it?” she asked.
He pointed to the feet. She stood still. Nodded.
Mac moved slowly, listening. He rounded the corner and saw her there. A woman. Middle aged, brown hair, a neat hole in her forehead and nearly dried blood. She’d been shot dead and left sitting against the counter.
“Let’s go, now,” Mac said in a hushed voice. He hobbled quickly, grabbing her by the hand. “The truck,” he whispered.
“What? What’s going on?”
“She was shot -- killed.”
At the front window, Mac looked out at the gas pumps. The truck was still there, but so was a second car.
“What now?” Pam asked. She saw the station wagon then.
“Maybe they are just getting gas, like us,” he said.
“Here.” He handed her a plastic bag. “Fill this.”
“With what?” She scanned the lobby.
“Those.” He pointed at a rack of travel brochures.
They walked to their truck, as causally as they could. Mac had removed his blood soaked towel from his leg and was doing a good job of disguising his limp. He used Pam to block their view as they ambled toward their pick-up.
A man from the new car -- an old station wagon -- was filling his tank. He nodded then glanced at the bag Pam was holding.
The air temperature was dropping again and the sky was yet a darker shade of gray.
None of the people from the station wagon were wearing face masks, Pam noticed as she strolled out to the truck as casually as she could. Her her own face mask made her appear like a haggard survivalist, she knew, but the ignorance of these people was something, she thought. The air was full of microscopic glass.
“I’ll be damned! These are working,” the man from the station wagon said. He patted the fuel handle. His nose was bleeding and he was coughing. He wiped his nose then. You could see his mental tumblers clicking away. I am bleeding, he was thinking. Then he ignored it and glanced at Pam again.
You are dying, you idiot, Pam thought.
Mac shook his head. Get in.
Pam jumped into the truck, keeping an eye on the new people. They seemed cagey, on edge and definitely sick.
The man’s wife, if she was his wife, was holding a shotgun. She stood close to him. Again, no face mask and little bits of dried blood, now freshening, were on her upper lip. She licked it away.
Two others were sitting in the backseat, wrapped in thick sweaters. They were deep in conversation -- maybe an argument. Both looked sick, with balled up bloodied rags over their mouths. When they saw Mac, they went stiff.
“Where you heading?” It was the driver of the station wagon. He was finishing up with the fuel. “Nice old truck. Does it run well?”
Mac looked at him. Considered. Knew he was stalling.
“Away,” he answered. And, “she’s burning oil.”
“They open?” The woman was talking now. Her shotgun held almost too casually. She used it to point at the diner.
Pam was closest. She was watching the women carefully and squeezing Mac’s hand.
“They are open,” Pam said. “Clerk’s inside.”
Mac was revving the truck’s engine. Clouds of blue smoke billowed from the rattling exhaust.
“Not much business,” the shotgun lady said. She was looking in the direction of the single parked car.
“They just drove up in that car.” Pam lied. “They are at the buffet, I think.” She was still coaxing the shotgun lady.
The woman with the shotgun was shaking now. “Buffet? They are serving breakfast? Really?”
Pam nodded. “Try the Western Omelet.” She lied.
Mac had his gun on his lap, out of sight.
“They have food and water?” The driver was asking now, part of his body was obscured by the woman. More stalling?
“Of course,” Pam lied again. “They are doing okay here.”
“Yep,” Mac replied. “They are still stocked, but be careful. The man and his kids from that car, she pointed at the parked vehicle, are armed.” He lied. There was only the dead woman inside.
The group seemed to visibly relax. Ash began to fall again.
The shot gun woman coughed and her nose was bleeding worse now. “Why are you both wearing masks?”
Mac looked at Pam. Then froze.
“Germs,” Pam said finally. I they didn't know they were dying, all the better.
The woman giggled. “That’s the least of our problems. You know they nuked Russia, right? We got irradiated clouds coming."
With that, the woman with the shotgun faced the diner and lowered her weapon. She seemed to be the leader. The others followed suit and relaxed.
Mac was watching the driver of the station wagon. He had been standing beside the woman. A gun had materialized in his hand. He was holding it down to his side, looking from the diner to Mac and tapping the handgun against his thigh.
Mac nodded, still keeping his gun just out of sight. He pointed at the diner with his other hand. “Good fixins,” he said.
The man started to back away, smiling. “Breakfast is on me Sam!” he said to the shotgun lady.
The shotgun woman was now walking toward the diner. Trying to appear as casual as she could, with a shotgun at her side. She was wiping he nose with the back of her had and glancing back at them.
Pam looked over at Mac. The woman was figuring it out.
“They take cash?” The man interrupted from the backseat of the station wagon. He had rolled his window down now.
Pam looked down at him. He was hiding something, smiling too broadly.
“Only bullets,” she said. Mac raised his gun, pointed.
The man frowned. “Maybe we’ll just see about that.”
“Good luck,” Mac said as he pulled away, waiting for it. But no shots came. Instead they could she the woman with the shotgun, still facing the diner. Slowly walking inside. “Hello?!” she yelled.
The two others ducked out of the station wagon and started to rush toward the front door of the diner. They took positions on either side of the front door.
Mac and Pam took the first curve at speed, tires protesting and losing sight of the group at the diner. They breathed a sigh of relief then.
“Close call,” Mac said.
“What are they gonna do when they realize that the diner is empty and there's a dead woman?” Pam asked.
“That we have food and water.” He brooded about that for a minute.
Mac pulled over, less than a tenth of a mile away, just past a small rocky ridge line full of tall pines.
“What are you doing?”
He reached behind the seat and pulled out his rifle.
“I’m just going to shoot out their tires.”
“No,” she said.
“We can’t let them follow.” He paused. Placed his hand on her cheek. “I don’t like to kill people, but I can’t let them follow us.”
“I know.” She was thinking. “Can’t we outrun them? Take a side road?”
“In this thing? Besides, we are close. They will track us down.”
“Can we hide?”
“No time, baby. We gotta stay on track.”
“Then...just do it.”
He could see the change in her. “You want me to kill them?”
She didn’t immediately answer. “Can you shoot out the gasoline pumps?”
“You watch too many movies. That might not work.” He tapped his pocket.
“Really? You are worried about your joint at a time like this?”
“Just try it. Shoot at the gasoline pumps. If it works, people might avoid the area and those thugs won’t be able to hurt anyone else.” She was becoming more ruthless. A change he did not like.
“They are just surviving like us.”
“Not like us,” Pam answered. “Not like us at all.”
Mac climbed the ridge, grunting in pain all the way. He hadn't replaced his towel tourniquet and he was bleeding profusely now. They had hidden the truck behind a small rise.
At the top they could see them. The group with the station wagon was still at the diner. They were breaking into the parked car now and searching around the back. It was obvious that they were angry.
One was gesturing up the road, toward them. No food or water. They just knew the goods were on his truck, but Mac’s truck was empty, save a few bits of candy and bottled water.
“Can you do it?” Pam asked. She was beside him, shivering in the icy wind. Ash smudges on her cheeks gave her a native look.
“You look like my squaw.”
“What, Pale Face?" And his face really was pale she noticed.
A light damp ash was falling. As they landed on Mac’s skin, they tingled. He dusted them away. “God how I love acid sleet,” he said.
She helped him spot the gasoline pumps.
His first shot echoed loudly, catching them off guard, but it ricocheted. They took cover.
“They don’t see us yet,” Mac said. But he wasn’t so sure.
The next shot missed the gasoline pumps, but pierced their station wagon’s radiator, sending out a jet of steam.
“Good,” Pam said. “Let’s go.” The ground began to shift under them.
“These quakes are getting closer together.”
One of the men near the diner ran across the parking lot then. He was firing his handgun at them. The rocks around Mac sounded like they we being hammered. Bits of stone chewed at his arm.
“They know where we are now.” Pam could see them taking quick peeks at the ridge. “One of them is coming. We don’t have much time.”
Mac shot at the gasoline pumps two more times. Each time, he changed positions. But he failed to ignite the the pumps. There were no explosions, just the steam now slowing to an ebb, from the station wagon’s radiator.
“I think I disabled their car.”
“I can’t see that guy any more. The one that shot at us. It won’t take him long if he climbs up. We should go.” Pam started to scoot backward in the gray slush covered stones.
Mac was aiming again. He fired. The windshield of the second car blew out and its new occupant jumped to the ground. Mac fired again. He wanted to disable both cars.
“We need to go!” Pam was screaming now, pointing. A second guy was now running up the road. “Hurry! They are coming two ways now.”
Mac uttered a curse and followed Pam to the truck at a dead run. She tumbled once, but recovered. How he was able to run, Pam couldn't fathom, but his pant leg was red and frozen.
He tossed the rifle on Pam’s lap and started the truck as she scrambled in and struggled with her seat-belt. “Ouch! That thing is hot.” She lifted the barrel of his rifle with her blanket.
“I hear him,” she said. “One of them is coming up the road, shooting.” Her eyes were tracing the road backward, but the trees blocked her view. Bullets smacked into the stony ridge behind them, then struck the truck.
The truck’s engine roared to life as Mac floored it, fishtailing along the narrow dirt lane below the ridge. Pam clung to the seat, bags of travel magazines shifting at her feet. The dirt lane changed to gravel and small stones were swept aside at each tight curve.
Just as they hit the main road, nearly sliding too far, they saw the man who had been running from the store. It was the driver. He rounded the bend and came to a kneeling position in the middle of the road.
Mac ducked instinctively just as the man fired. The bullet pierced the cab’s rear window, but not the windshield.
“Awe nuts,” Mac yelled as they sped away, tires finally biting on the ash slippery road. They were climbing higher and winding around the back of the mountain where the sleet became thicker. He heard another shot and after that, just the hypnotic whine of the truck's tires.
“We’re almost there, baby,” Mac said as he pushed the old truck up a gravel road to the two story cabin where they had spent that magical week alone, last Thanksgiving.
He carried her to the back porch and helped her sit on the wooden chair and look at the Great Smoky Mountains as the earth rumbled beneath them yet again.
“I can’t see anything, Mac and I’m sorry.”
“They are there honey, they’re just a little ashy. The Great Smoky Mountains. We are on top of the world.” He was holding her. Caressing her chin.
“This is where you are, isn’t it?” Her voice trailed away.
“Yes. Where we are,” he replied. “Where we’ve always been.”
He sat stiffly onto the deck beside her.
The sky grew darker and the wind began to howl.
The mountains filled with color and there was no more pain.
© 2017 jgshorebird