I jumped up from the backseat when the number of cars on the road finally registered in my dream riddled brain. “Where are we? How long has it been like this?”
“We were tooling along fine and then about an hour ago all these seem to come out of nowhere. It was really bad as we passed under what Bennie thinks was I40. We’re just outside some little squirt town called Carthage.”
Sighing, I told Lucia, “Switch places with me and hand me a can of pop please.”
Lucia was more than happy to switch. I turned to Bennie and asked, “Why aren’t you driving?”
“When there was enough light to see I took a look at the faces of the other drivers. It’s better that I should drive shotgun … in case.”
“That bad?” I asked as I clicked my seatbelt across me.
“You tell me,” was his tense reply.
I looked around. People had some pretty intense looks on their faces. Some were scared. Some looked almost catatonic; some really crazed and out of it. More than a few were angry. No matter what the expression almost everyone looked upset and too far gone not to show it … too far gone not to just need one little match to strike an inferno.
Belongings were piled high in and on many of the vehicles in a haphazard way that said it was done quickly … too quickly for good sense. I took a guess. “Nashville is evacuating.”
Bennie nodded. “Radio signal died not too long after you conked out but before it did Nashville got added to the list of places attacked.
“Did they say how?”
Bennie was staring hard at something behind us and I looked in the rear view mirror. It made me sick to my stomach. “Is that a one off or has that been happening much?”
“Couple of times that I’ve seen,” he answered. “Might have happened more in the dark and we missed it.” We both watched as some people got yanked out of their car and beaten on while their belongings were ransacked and tossed in a bus that had gotten behind them. “Anyway we can get out of this stuff? Them guys on motorcycles have ridden by us more ‘n once the last ten minutes and seem to be juicing up for something. I think they’re the spotters for the guys in the bus.”
Thinking and looking for a moment I said, “Hang on.” I jerked us out into the median in front of the motorcycles’ path causing at least one of them to have to hit the concrete and then cut across all of the lanes, forcing my way through a small gap in the opposite lanes. I skipped traffic that way several times and then crossed the Cumberland River at Carthage Bridge. The town was packed and the roads narrow but I eventually wove my way to the Dixon Springs Highway. There was still traffic but it got lighter after the highway split off from TN80. We’d long ago left the road sharks behind but I’d managed to tick off a few more people along the way. Bennie was pale and gripped the plastic arm rest so tight he left gouges and Lucia looked in serious need of a Dramamine.
Traffic snarled at every little town, especially around gas stations and stores. Near Hartsville it was so bad I had to get off on really small side roads that added almost two hours to our driving time. Weaving through mountain roads was eating up our gas but it was more than apparent that it was the only way we were going to move forward. By early evening we made it to a place so small it barely had a sign; Rocky Mound, TN.
Looking at the gas gauge Bennie said, “Low fuel light just came on. We need to fill up. Will the rest of those cans get us where we’re going?”
“I … I don’t know. We should have had more than enough. But with the route we have had to take …” Taking a deep breath I said, “We’ll just have to make it last.” With more confidence than I actually felt I added “I’m going to pull off down this runaway truck area. Let’s fill up, stretch, and wash up. Lucia open that other container of baby wipes please.”
The night wasn’t completely silent. A few cars could be heard and there was this … this strange expectancy to the wind. I don’t think I was the only one that sensed it because Lucia and Bennie both rushed through what I expected them to make the most of.
“You want I should drive now?” Bennie asked.
“No. I know where we are. Get some rest if you can in case …” I let the rest of the sentence hang with a shrug.
He whispered, both of us trying not to set Lucia off. “It’s not gonna be some little walk if the gas don’t hold out.”
I nodded then whispered back, “We got roughly 75 miles left no matter whether it’s all highway or I cut across using back roads. The problem is the closer we get the fewer options we’ll have to cut off on. I’ll save us some by aiming towards Sugar Grove before crossing the state line but we’ll have to be careful getting passed Franklin … probably do it by way of Providence and Prices Mill. Last bit of real trouble might be Adairville which is why I want to do it all tonight if possible rather than wait to see what tomorrow brings.”
And we did actually manage to do just that though the sun was up an hour by the time I locked the gate behind us and drove the rest of the way up to what we called the cabin.
“They’re not here,” Lucia said, disappointed like she had somehow expected them to be.
“They had further to go than we did. It took us nearly 48 hours to get here from Atlanta; it will take them longer to get here from NY. And I imagine traffic is worse coming from their direction too.” Looking around the empty, overgrown yard I tried not to think about the fact they could still be stuck in the city.
I pulled the truck around back and parked it under the pole barn that was next to an old tractor shed that doubled as our garage and storage building. Dad had refurbished it at the same time they worked on the house. Inside the shed was an old tractor and attachments he bought at a local auction as well as a bunch of stuff my parents stored there because they didn’t have the room for it any place else. I was thinking as soon as I checked the house over we could unload and then put the truck in with the tractor where no one could see it just in case anyone did stumble across the property.
All three of us were walking up to the back porch when I heard a couple of pops and liquid fire poured down my left arm before it went numb. I was down. Bennie was down holding his forearm and then Lucia went down when Bennie knocked her legs from under her. She squawked but then stopped when her brain caught up with what was happening.
We scrambled back the way we came and took cover by the truck. “Did you see anyone?” I asked through gritted teeth, refusing to give into my stomach churning.
“Shots seem to come from that pile of wood over there,” Bennie panted while Lucia wrapped part of her t-shirt around his wound.