Haven Page 13


I waved back for a second, feeling a little sick about leaving all these kids behind - kids who couldn’t fight well enough to protect themselves if they were viciously attacked. Fohi’s excitement about demolitions and traps didn’t feel quite so crazy to me right now.


Peter and I faced one another in the entrance. It felt especially wrong to leave him without my protection. I broke out in a cold sweat imagining a group of canners coming here and hurting him while I was gone. All the guns in the armory wouldn’t protect them against a sneak attack.


“You be careful out there,” he said, tears in his eyes. “I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to you. You’re my soul-sister.”


“I know. You’re my soul-brother. I’ll be okay, I promise. But if something does happen to me, I want you to know that I’ll be up there,” I pointed to the sky, “haunting you and making sure you’re okay.”


He smiled through his tears. “You know I don’t like ghosts.”


“You’ll like my ghost. I’ll sing songs to you and stuff.”


“Gah, please don’t,” he said, wiping tears from his cheeks with the back of his hand. “Seriously. You’re totally tone deaf. It’ll scare me and make me pee.”


I ignored his insult, since I knew for a fact that I had a good voice. I pulled him into a hug. “Be good while I’m gone. I’ll do everything I can to bring your man back to you.”


Peter snorted over my shoulder. “Whatever. Let me go so I can give you my list.”


I released him from my embrace. “What list?” I’d seen the mountain of them he’d already made. I had no idea what I’d need a list for on this journey, though. Maybe he was going to give me step-by-step instructions on how to rescue kids from a swamp without getting caught. That would be a handy list to have.


“This list,” he said, handing me a folded up piece of paper.


I opened it. There were at least fifty items on it. I started reading out loud. “Looms, solar bread oven …” I skipped down several items and continued. “… cows, horses, goats …” I looked back up at him, mostly stunned.


“Don’t give me that look.”


“What look? The you-must-be-effing-kidding-me look?”


“Yes. That one.”


I turned partway around to show him my backpack, jerking my thumb at it over my shoulder. “Dude, you see that? It’s called a backpack. There’s not a single thing on this list that will fit in there.”


“I know that. I don’t expect you to do that. The loom alone probably weighs fifty pounds.”


“Well, what exactly do you expect me to do then? Find a semi?”


“Sure, that would work.” He grinned at me.


“Boy, you done lost your mind.” I tapped him lightly on the cheek. “But you’re cute. You get points for that.” I tried to give him the list back, but he refused to take it.


“Just do what you can,” he said, grabbing onto the fence. “And don’t get shot or worse.”


Neither of us said the word that he was thinking: eaten.


“I’ll do everything I can not to, I promise.”


“Good. I’ll see you in what …? A week?”


“Or less. Keep your eyes peeled for canners. Shoot anyone who gives you any crap.”


“Yes, ma’am!” He gave me a salute. He tried to smile after, but his lips trembled. “Just … be safe.”


I stepped outside the fence, wheeling my bike. I put the kickstand down so I could help him push the gate on its tracks until it was completely closed.


He turned the key, and the heavy clanking of the lock mechanism felt like the sealing of my fate. I was no longer on the inside of Haven looking out; I was on the outside of my safe-haven looking out towards a very scary near-future.


I climbed up on the big-butt-seat bike and pedaled rapidly to catch up to my friends. They’d already made it fifty yards away, none of them as maudlin as me with their goodbyes. As far as they were concerned we were on a quick mission that would be somewhat easily accomplished.


I wished I could be as confident as they were.


***


“I assume we’re taking the highway,” said Rob.


“Yeah. Unless you guys have a better idea,” I responded.


The rhythmic clicks of our bike pedals and gears made it easy for my mind to wander. I’d been trying to picture a way to get all that junk on Peter’s list back to Haven and had been coming up empty.


“Nah. Highway’s good. I don’t know the backroads anyway, and my GPS is on the blink.” Rob tapped a plastic headlight on the front of his bike, grinning.


“Remember GPS?” asked Winky. She sighed in forgotten pleasure. “Life used to be so easy. I never appreciated stuff like that when I had it.”


I expected Bodo to chime in, but he remained silent. He hadn’t said a word since we’d spoken in the garden spot, except to answer questions asked directly of him by Rob and Winky. It was worse than awkward; it was painful. It was like his spark had died out, and I’d never fully appreciated how nice that spark was until it wasn’t there anymore. Now he seemed like just a sullen guy with an accent and a good body - a stranger.


“So what’s the plan?” asked Paci. “I know you can’t know everything we’re going to have to deal with, but I’d like to have rough idea of what we’re doing.”


“Well, Peter gave me a wish list of things he’d like us to bring back, along with all the people who want to come, but I’m not sure if any of it is possible.”


“What’s on it?” Rob asked.


I laughed, kind of bitterly. “Looms, horses, goats, ovens…”


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“Sounds reasonable,” said Paci


I looked at him to see if he was kidding, but his expression was totally serious.


“Yeah, we’re going to need that stuff if we’re going to have a life in Haven,” agreed Winky.


“Uhhhh, yeah. Whatever.” Apparently my friends were living in an alternate dimension where we still had UPS delivery service and vehicles of our own to move things.


“I am very strong, but I don’t know dat I can carry an oven on my beck,” said Bodo, still facing forward.


“Obviously, none of us can do that,” said Paci. “We’re not suggesting that at all.”


“We need to get some trucks or something,” said Rob. “Convoy everything. People included.”


“Is that even possible?” I asked, warming to the idea of a much faster trip than we were capable of making on bikes.


“Why not?” asked Winky. “Don’t you drive?”


“Of course I drive. But where are we going to get these trucks?”


“We have trucks,” said Rob mysteriously. “You leave that up to me and Paci.”


“But I need you guys to help fight if necessary,” I said.


“No one’s going to get any trucks until all the fighting is done,” said Paci. “Don’t worry. We’ve got your back.”


Bodo pedaled faster, pulling ahead of us.


“What’s his problem?” asked Rob quietly. He dropped back to ride next to me. “You piss him off about something?”


“You could say that.” I wasn’t about to give any more details. It was humiliating enough having Bodo know them, and I hated being in the middle of boy-girl drama.


“He’ll get over it,” said Winky. “I don’t think you can keep Bodo down for long.”


I didn’t want to argue with her, but he’d done a pretty good job of staying depressed so far. I wasn’t so sure he’d bounce back as fast as she was suggesting. The kiss with Paci along with the loss of his hawk, Nina, had maybe been too much for him to deal with. I was afraid it would be a while before he was his normal self. Maybe he’d never be the old carefree, silly Bodo with me again. The very idea made me super sad. This world could get very dark and depressing. Goofiness was a much needed release, both for the one goofing off and the ones being entertained by it. And Bodo was a very entertaining guy when he wanted to be.


I let the subject drop, and we all went silent. I was worried any canners that might be waking up in the nearby towns might be headed to the highway, and I didn’t want them hearing us before we heard them.


As we drew past another entrance ramp, I noticed something off about the cars along the highway. The way they were arranged was different or something. It made me uneasy.


“What the hell happened here?” asked Rob, gesturing to a vehicle parked in front of us.


We pulled up closer to it and stopped, all of us frowning as we tried to figure out what the hell had happened to it.


“It looks like it’s been in one of those smash-em-up derbies,” I said.


“It’s been slammed on all four sides,” said Paci, getting off his bike and walking around it. He looked up and down the highway. “There’s nothing out here that looks like it did this.”


“What do you mean?” asked Winky, looking around in confusion.


“I mean, something smashed this car into a crumpled up box, but that something, whatever it is, isn’t here. It would be all smashed too, right? Like another car in the derby?” He turned to face north. “And look.” He pointed towards our future path. “There’s a clear strip right down the center of the highway.”


Sure enough, he was right. The highway had a single cleared lane right down the center, and all kinds of smashed-up cars were angled off to the sides of it, as if they’d been pushed there by a giant beast mowing through.


“It’s still leaking oil,” said Paci, on his knees, staring under the car. “This happened recently.”


“Something came down the middle of this highway like a friggin’ snowplow and moved everything out of the way,” said Rob, his voice going soft.


I wasn’t sure what my friends thought, but I was suddenly very uneasy about this turn of events. I’d never seen anything like this before, and this was my third time on post-apocalyptic I-95.


“What does dis mean?” asked Bodo.


“Only thing that could have done that would be a big truck or maybe a tank,” said Paci.


My blood ran cold, and my words came out sounding strangled. “A tank?”


“Nah, it’s not a damn tank,” scoffed Rob. “A tank would run right over the top of a car, not push it to the side. You’re looking at a big old truck. One-ton or bigger. Maybe an all-terrain modified baby or even a semi.”


“Whatever it is, it’s going to be a monster,” said Paci.


“And not bike-friendly,” added Winky.


We all looked at each other in silence. I finally couldn’t take it anymore; I had to say something. “So what does this mean? Should we get off the highway?”


“No,” said Paci, shaking his head. “It will take us too long to reach Kahayatle, and I don’t want this monster getting too close to our land before we do.”


“I agree. I vote no, we stay on the highway,” said Rob.


“Me also,” agreed Bodo, getting back up on his bike seat.


“I vote we pedal our buns off until we get to Kahayatle,” suggested Winky. “Maybe we can beat this thing, whatever is, before it gets to our house. Or before the owners of it wake up to plow some more cars down.”


I didn’t need to hear anything else. “Let’s ride,” I said, putting renewed energy into my pedaling. Within minutes I was sweating and huffing, but I kept going, fearing that our Miccosukee and Creek friends were in danger from some unknown monster-truck owner.


Chapter Four


WE WERE ALMOST TO THE turnoff for Kahayatle when the unmistakeable sound of a diesel engine reached our ears.

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