Episode 4 - Turnpike

Page 15

Tim's Face

Eddie dropped to the dirt and stared down at the face of his friend. Why did Barlow look like Tim? His face was older, but the features were unmistakable. Why was he dead now? What happened when their hands touched? Eddie had received a shock when he checked Tim's pulse back in Holcomb. But Tim had already been dead that time. Hadn't he? Had Eddie killed him?

"Ed, we need to move," Bryce said, standing behind him.

"What the hell is going on," Eddie muttered.

"I don't know, but it's almost night out, and some of the gurgs think there's more dragons and riders coming."

Eddie turned to face him. "The gurgs speak?"

"Hard to understand, but yeah."

"What did I do to him, Bryce? How can Tim be here? What does any of this mean?"

Bryce ran a hand over his scalp. "I don't know, man. This world is seriously screwed up."

"And I'm screwed up too, like everything else. Nothing makes sense."

"Hey, I made my car's horn honk with my mind. There's enough weirdness to go around."

"You're not scared of me anymore?"

Bryce

Bryce looked thoughtful. After a moment's hesitation, he put out a hand to help Eddie up.

Eddie stared down at his hand. "You sure?"

"Might as well get this out of the way now."

Eddie gripped his hand, and Bryce pulled him to his feet.

"We should bury Barlow and his wife," Eddie said.

"The gurgs will take care of that. Syd and Phyllis are getting things sorted here."

"She's okay?"

"We ordered the gurgs to put her back together. They're pretty much back to the way they were before old ugly ordered them around."

"Speaking of old ugly..."

"Back in the trunk. He's weak, but he woke up enough to curse at us all. He won't be winning any beauty contests for the rest of his life."

Two minutes later, they were back in the car, Eddie in the passenger seat, Kai sitting in his lap, leaning against his chest. In front of them, Phyllis drove the jeep with Syd beside her. A gurg sat behind them in the seat that Pip had once filled.

Eddie paid no attention to their route, into dark tunnels, up and down through the nightmare lands. They saw nothing like the horror that Eddie had seen in the tunnel of faces.

Eddie didn't speak. He thought about all that had happened since the so-called mishmash event. Some thought he was a thief, some thought he was a god, some thought he was the devil. Anyone with psychic abilities either saw him as a blank space or else something so horrible they lost control and collapsed into fits of hysteria.

It was impossible to gage the passage of time in the tunnels. Hours passed, and they found themselves back in the turnpike tunnel once again. Phyllis and Syd stopped to leave their gurg guide behind. Eddie didn't care if he ever saw a gurg again. Their expressionless faces when they had turned on Barlow and everyone else had been bad.

It had been worse when they bowed down to worship Eddie. Much worse.

They drove along the turnpike for a half hour, then stopped at a rest area. The bathrooms were clean, as if a maintenance crew had serviced the area only minutes before.

"The next off-ramp is a couple miles further on," Phyllis explained. "We can go up and get a feel for what's out there."

"We're going outside," Syd said with wonder. "I never thought it would happen in my lifetime."

"We should be careful though," Bryce said. "With the way things have changed all over, we don't know what's on the surface. It may be as poison out there as you've always believed it to be."

The sign for the off-ramp was painted over, and a dusty old tarp hung over the exit. Eddie saw why they'd gone so far before without seeing a way out. They'd been hidden well. Syd pulled the curtain aside, allowing the two vehicles to pass through. The off-ramp had no lights, and chunks of concrete debris covered much of it. There in the mess, two gurgs worked, moving the chunks of concrete to wheelbarrows to haul them away. Why did they do it, Eddie wondered. Did someone tell them to?

Finally they reached the mouth of the tunnel. It was evening now, and rain clouds obscured the sky.

"What's that falling?" Syd called as Bryce pulled up next to the jeep. "It looks like drops of water."

"That's rain, my friend," Bryce answered.

"Rain," Syd repeated, reverent awe in his voice. "I've read about it. Acid rain?"

"If it was, all those shrubs out there would be dead."

Syd climbed out of his vehicle and stared out at the broad expanse before him. The others climbed out and stood beside him at the tunnel's mouth. The road disappeared over a ridge a few dozen yards ahead. "Shrubs," he repeated. He cast his eyes around. "Shouldn't it be brighter?"

Exit

"It's evening, and it's cloudy."

"Cloudy," Syd repeated.

They stood that way for more than a minute. "Guess we'll find out if the top goes up on the car," Bryce finally said. He returned to the car and pushed a button on the dashboard. There was a hydraulic whir and a metal framework unfolded above, drawing the canvas top to the front windshield. When it was done, Bryce latched the top into place. The car felt different enclosed. Phyllis pulled a dusty canvas tarp out of a bin in the back of their dune buggy and clipped it to the roll bars.

Bryce was the first to drive out into the rain. Phyllis eased out into the wide open after a moment's hesitation. Light shone up from beyond the ridge, causing the clouds to glow. They drove to the edge and got their first look at the valley beyond. Bryce stopped the car.

"Whoa," Eddie said.

"Hooah," Bryce said.

Kai took a look at the city below them and buried her face in Eddie's chest.

They climbed out, heedless of the rain, Phyllis and Syd following soon after.

A wide city lay stretched out across the valley, its streetlights twinkling in an orderly grid, tracing innumerable roads. Above it all stood a huge wrought iron tower of latticed beams, standing up like a narrow pyramid, a rotating beacon light at its top, casting a searchlight beam around the landscape beyond the city.

"Graden?" Syd asked.

"Probably," Bryce said.

"It's big," Kai said, a tremor in her voice.

"Yeah, it is," Eddie said.

"Well, that's where we're going," Bryce said, turning back to the car. "We might as well get to it."

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page published 1/19/2017