The Empty Road continuation.
The Empty Road
I enter through the door as the bell hanging inside rings, signaling my arrival. Books, of all shapes and sizes line either side of the store. In the middle of the store is a large wooden counter. Waiting there for me is a man wearing a plain white button down dress shirt, black pants and an apron. He glances up, and waves to me.
“Hello Tom!” He sings.
“Hey Jensen.” I say.
“Do you have any plans for the summer?”
“I am going to write a book!”
“No one in this town has written a book in a long time.”
“What are you going to write about?”
“I'm not sure yet.”
“You ought to go and talk to the folks over at Aqua-Electric, there should be some interesting things goings on.”
“Very funny, yes my bestseller is going to be a history of hydro-power.”
“Just an idea.”
“What about the empty road?”
Jensen looks up at me over his spectacles with eyebrows raised.
“Don't talk to me about the empty road. You have a death wish if you plan to go there.”
He looks at me indignantly. My gaze shifts so I don't have to look at him.
“There has to be a reason why people don't return.”
“Typical, a writer is trying to find the reason why something is the way it is.”
“Jensen, what is so bad about the empty road?”
“Best not to go and find out.”
“And why not?”
“Well for one thing, it's dangerous.”
“How would you know? You never leave this town.”
“I'm smart enough to know that I shouldn't.”
I didn't want to listen to anymore from Jensen, so I left.
Later on, I retreat to my small apartment on a side street near the downtown area. I climb the stairs to my apartment and find a note tucked in the door jamb. This is unusual because it's not in an envelope like a letter normally should come. I retrieve my keys from my coat pocket and unlock the door to my quiet apartment. There are a few pieces of furniture placed around the room. I choose to sit in the overstuffed chair near the window, my best thinking chair. I lean over and turn on the floor lamp. The note is written on a scrap of torn paper and whoever has written it is in a hurry. The note reads:
You don't know me, but I've heard you are an adventurous man. And I need your help.
Come to the edge of town where the forest opens to the empty road, tomorrow morning.
I'll be waiting for you there.
There is no signature.
Jensen wouldn't approve, but I have to go. I swiftly pack a bag, get into my pajamas, and right into bed, dozing off as I anticipate the sunrise.
In the morning I get out of bed, and walk into the kitchen, make some toast, throw on some clothes, pack a few more last minute things, and make my way out the door. The quickest way to the road is not that far from my apartment, using the trail that most use to ride bicycles for recreation. After a short while, around mid morning, I come to the forest where it splits to form the empty road. As I arrive I find a young woman with brown hair and brown eyes waiting for me. I stop beside her, anxiously I decide to speak.
“Excuse me are you looking for an adventurer?”
“Yes, we better get going or we'll be late.” She says flatly as she crosses her arms.
Without further delay, I agree.
“Okay then let's go.”
We walk quietly for a long time and then the woman stops to sit on a flat rock. She pulls two sandwiches from the bag she is carrying and offers one to me.
“Are you hungry?” She asks.
I nod as she hands me a sandwich.
“What is your name?” I ask.
“It's Emma, I live on the other end of this empty road.”
“My friend says there isn't anything on the other end of this road.”
“I know, most people say that.”
“So there is something on the other end of this empty road?”
We finish our sandwiches and begin our journey again. As time goes on, I begin to realize how far away from my little apartment I am. It is a distance that I appreciate. In all the years I have been living in this small town, I never could have imagined this new experience. As the many possibilities come to mind as to what could be waiting at the other end of the road, I start to wonder. Could there be an unknown civilization that lives off of some untapped resource? Is it another city? Is it just an empty wasteland where nothing survives? Of course that is a possibility after the rumors I've been told by Jensen who warned me not to go and get myself into danger. After a supposed complete devastation of the world as we know it, everyone who had survived, came to our little town, the only town with working electricity thanks to the use of hydro-power. That too is the only generator not affected. We have a school, a library, computers, a coffee house, a couple of restaurants, and other usual things a town should have. If there were any other survivors this would be revolutionary. Maybe, this empty road doesn't end. I stand frozen as something snaps me out of my train of thought, a crash to my right, not that far off in the woods.
“We have to find a place to sleep for the night, and quick.” Emma says as she grabs my hand and darts off into the forest on the left side of the road. Here, it is dark, and smells of dirt and damp wood. The only thing keeping me upright is the momentum of Emma's feet racing deeper into the woods. We stop so suddenly that I nearly shove Emma to the ground.
“Sorry.” I say, standing up.
“Here we will be safe.” She points to a group of bushes that sort of open into a little den.
With enough room for the both of us to sleep, Emma pulls a blanket from her bag and another couple of sandwiches, a canteen of water, and we spend the night. I couldn't sleep at first. All the sounds of the wild outdoors are nothing like the quiet side street of my apartment. A cricket chirped somewhere close to my ear, and a light breeze made the leaves on the trees rustle. Something crawled across my foot and I had to fight to keep still so I didn't disturb Emma. Eventually, I fall asleep.
The sunrise wakes me. Emma is nowhere to be seen. I sit up, brush the sleep from my eyes, and realize that I am alone. I take out my cell phone which is still getting service. It isn't like those cell phones of the past. This one is much simpler. It has a dial pad and a small rectangular screen that says either 'Service', 'Call', or 'Emergency' when you use it. It's an upgraded 'walkie-talkie'. I start to dial Jensen's number when a hand snaps the phone from my grasp. It's Emma and she lowers her eyebrows at me.
“You can't use this.” she says as she shuts it off and shoves it in her pocket.
“They will find us if you do.”
Confused, I stand up and look around.
“Who is going to find us?”
Emma shakes her head. “Never mind, we have to go.”
So we begin our walk down the empty road again. This time Emma seems more alert and wary of any noise.
I break the silence and ask her a question.
“Who is looking for us?”
Emma glances over at me.
“You'll find out soon enough, for now let's just say we don't want them to find us, okay?”
Silently we continue our journey.
I can hear birds chirping and a scurry in the bushes every now and then. I have not seen any other human besides myself and Emma. I begin to think who could be so dangerous that we don't want them to find us? I start to wonder if Emma is fugitive of some kind, although she doesn't look like a runaway. She has dark brown hair, and brown eyes, healthy looking, and clean. The clothes she is wearing, a pair of tights, a brown skirt, and a tank-top with a vest that has lots of pockets aren't torn or dirty either. On her feet are simple flat brown shoes. She is carrying a bag over her shoulder. I'm not sure what to make of her since she hasn't told me much about herself.
“So Emma, do you have a family?” I ask.
“I have a family, but they are gone now.” She added.
I, myself, don't have family, just Jensen, who is sort of a father figure for me.
“I don't have a family either, I have pictures back at my apartment, but none are still around.” Her tawny eyes look at me sympathetically.
“Tell me why you brought me here.”
“I needed your help, remember.”
“I know but what help can a writer be to you?”
“I've been watching you from a distance for a long time. You seem to have a spirit for adventure. You are brave and reliable. All are qualities I need for this trip.”
A smirk forms on my face.
“So not because I'm a writer?”
“No.” She smiles back.
Up ahead I can see the faint glow of a campfire. As we inch closer I can smell wood burning. I look over at Emma who seems to be lost in thought. Now I can hear voices, laughing and talking. I stop. Emma looks back at me.
“What?” She asks.
“Don't you hear that?”
“Yea, this is where we'll camp for the night.”
I follow her into the woods where a group of four people are sitting on stumps or rocks around a fire. A young woman who looks to be about the age of Emma, two men, and a young girl.
They looked as well kept as Emma. Food, and other supplies lay amongst them. I noticed the faint shape of tents off to the one side.
“Hey, Em's back!”
Shouts the young girl.
She has hair like Emma's but her eyes are a pale green. The young girl skipped over to Emma.
“Hey shouldn't you be sleeping? We've got a big day tomorrow.”
She brushed her hand on the girls hair, smoothing it out. I looked at Emma. Then one of the young men walked over to us.
“Hi, I'm Theo, who are you?” Theo stretched a tan hand out in greeting. I shook his hand and glanced back at Emma who was now sitting around the campfire with the other two. Theo clears his throat and I turn back to face him.
“Oh, I'm Tom.”
“Did she tell you about us?”
“Well, we are all that is left of what we used to call home.”
“So what are you all doing here?”
“We can't go back to what's left of our home so we try to stay out of sight, live where we can, and just keep moving.”
“Oh, so you're like drifters?”
Theo laughs. “Something like that.”
Theo went to join the others around the campfire. I waved Emma over to me so we could talk, still unsure of these strangers.
“Who are they?” I ask.
“They are all that's left of my home.”
“Oh, well Theo told me you all are like drifters without a home. Maybe we can take everyone back to the town where I'm from and get you guys jobs and homes and stuff?”
“It's not that simple.”
“And why not?”
“We are running, and if we're found, there's no way we'll survive.”
I sit down, rested my chin on my fist and stared into the fire.
“I don't know why you got me into this. It doesn't make any sense.”
“Look Tom, we should talk about it in the morning. Right now we should eat, relax and get some rest.”
“Where do I sleep?”
Emma pointed to an empty, green tent. Without saying goodnight I crawled inside to find a mat, a small pillow, and an old blanket. On the floor next to me lay a flashlight so I used it to find my notepad and pen. I can't sleep so to keep myself busy I start a journal entry of what had transpired today. Soon I get tired and fall asleep.
The next morning I wake up stiff from the coolness of the night. I carefully crawl from my tent, I stand up carefully because I'm afraid I will fall over. Now that the campsite is filled with daylight I can see it better. The other tents are the same as mine, green, with some patches where repairs had been made. The campfire is now ashes in a black circular patch in the middle of the make-shift seating, and there are bags, clothes and all sorts of containers scattered around on the ground. I hear a yawn coming from one of the tents and hear the zzzzziiiipppp of a tent flap opening up. The young girl who I hadn't been introduced to emerged. The young girl was thin like Emma, although she wore a plain t-shirt and jeans, and no shoes. Unlike Emma, she has Jet black hair which has a blue tint in certain lighting, her eyes are a dark emerald green. I found myself just staring at her. I cleared my throat and looked away.
“Oh hello, I don't believe I introduced myself last night. I'm Ainsley.”
The jet-black haired woman said.
“I'm Tom, nice to meet you.”
“Tom. So you are the one Emma chose to bring with us?” Ainsley asked.
“Well, I guess so. I'm still not sure why I'm here.”
“When you do find out, I hope you will be ready. Anyway, I better get cleaned up. See you later.”
She headed off into the woods. I found a spot to sit down and waited for the others to wake up. A snap coming from behind me brought me to my feet. I spun around to find the little girl grinning at me.
“Oh, you're awake.” She giggled.
“Where is everyone?” I asked.
“Oh they went to gather food and stuff for today.” The girl said as she skipped away.
I still have yet to ask her name. Being the only one at the camp, I found myself alone again. I had to weigh what had been put in front of me. They are running? From what? They couldn't actually be running, could they? There are many questions to ask Emma when she returns with the others. With no watch there isn't any way to tell what time it is, so I directed my attention back to writing in my notepad. I jotted down a few thoughts describing my surroundings when I heard a sound that tore me from my writing. My head jerked in the direction it had come from. There stood a man in clothes that blended into the woods. He stood a couple of yards from me. I didn't speak because my throat had become tight as my body tensed. From what I could make out, the man had dark gray hair with some scruff around his mouth and on his chin. On his hip was some kind of equipment that attached to the object in his hand by a spiraling cord. When he started to speak, I flinched involuntarily.
“Hi there. Are you lost?” He asked.
“Who are you?” I returned.
“I'm sorry, my name is Owen Stevenson.”
“No I'm not lost. I am a writer, I came here for inspiration.”
“Oh I see, sorry for disturbing you.”
“That's okay, I am getting ready to head back home soon anyway.”
“Okay, I have one quick question for you though, Have you seen anyone else while you've been out here?”
“No one except you, sir.” I lied.
With that he nodded, turned around and left. Just as he disappeared into the woods, Emma and the others returned. Emma carrying the little girl on her hip. She stopped to put the girl down and came to sit next to me.
“I hope so, I had a visitor. Is it safe to talk here?”
“Let's go talk in my tent.”
I followed Emma to her dull green tent. After we had arranged ourselves comfortably, I continued.
“He came out of nowhere, and asked if I was lost.”
“What did you tell him?” Emma sounded stern.
“I told him that I wasn't lost and that I was out looking for inspiration for my writing.”
“I asked his name, he told me his name was Owen Stevenson.”
Emma sat up almost bumping her head on the center of the tent's ceiling. She sat back and put her palms to either side of her head and took in a deep breath.
“Emma, what's wrong?” I begged.
“The others aren't going to like this.”
“Owen, your visitor, He is the leader of the people looking for us.”
“The ones you're running from?”
Emma nodded. This probably wasn't the best time to tell her this but I had to tell her the question he asked me.
“There's one more thing. He asked me a question before leaving. Emma, he asked if I had seen anyone else while I had been out here.”
Emma crawled from the tent and stood up, wiping her palms on her skirt. She motioned for the others to join her by the coals of last nights fire. The two men, Theo and the one who I haven't been introduced to yet, then Ainsley was last to join our group around the fire pit.
“Okay everyone, we have hit a snag.” Emma began
“What kind of snag?” Asked the unnamed man.
“He came here, Cy.”
“We need to get far away from here.”
“We'll need to go and see Orion.”
“Wait, who is Orion?” I interject.
“Owen's brother.” Said Ainsley.
“Okay, so what's the quickest way to him?” Asked Theo.
“That would be along Ryse River. We'll have to cross it but at this time of year it should be low enough to do it safely.” Explained Emma.
“Someone is going to have to be with Everly at all times because she'll be the easiest one for him to come after.” Ainsley commented.
“Tom that will be your job for this trip.” Emma declared.
“Ok.” I agree.
“Yay!” Everly, the little girl, chimed.
“So let's get what we can packed up and start heading down near the river.” Emma ordered.
The night came and we crept our way through the underbrush, weaving through tree limbs, making our way to the bank of Ryse River. Everly held my hand as we came to a clearing. There the now moonlit river glinted, and gleamed. I could hear the gurgling of the water. Emma made her way to the spot where she thought would be the lowest and safest crossing point. Theo went first, and successfully crossed.
“Come on guys, it's safe!” He called back to us.
Next Ainsley, carefully stepping on the rocks that made a small path across the water. Cy stayed until last, keeping an eye out as everyone else crossed. I carried Everly when I crossed so it would be easier for her.
To Be Continued...