Date: Year 14, day 2.
Location: Near Grand Junction, Colorado.
Miles traveled so far: 250.
Miles left to go: 2080.
I woke up, shivering, and poked my head out of the sleeping bag. The sky was light, but the sun wasn’t up yet. The outside of my sleeping bag was damp from condensation. I couldn’t believe it could be this cold in the summer! Tan was making hot chocolate and Conner was trying to toast some of Kell’s bread over the fire. I poked the small lump in the sleeping bag next to me.
Pippen stuck her head out and blinked blearily in the light. Her orange hair was matted and tangled, and she had a marshmallow stuck in it.
“I hate camping out,” she grumbled.
I used the toilet in the bathroom in the park, even though the water wasn’t working. Thousands of years from now, as the descendants of the clan spread out in the world, this city would have people in it again, and they would fix up the water system. I’d let them flush.
After breakfast we packed up and refueled Arnold. Pippen wanted a turn driving, but even with the driver’s seat all the way forward, Pippen’s feet wouldn’t reach the pedals. I guess the army didn’t have a lot of short soldiers. So I drove and Pippen sat up front with me. She was in a better mood now that she’d had breakfast and cut the marshmallow out of her hair. As we drove back onto the highway she unlatched the window, slid it down, and held her hand out, flying it through the air. This kept her entertained for five minutes, then she dove her hand back inside for a crash landing in the map box at her feet.
“Hey, Tuck gave us something useful!” Pippen pulled out our geography class textbook, States of the Union, and turned a few pages. “Colorado,” she read out loud. “Colorado has a population of approximately five million people.”
“Current population, four,” she corrected.
The western part of the state is mountainous, while eastern Colorado is part of the Great Plains. The Rocky Mountains rise to over fourteen thousand feet in the middle of Colorado. During the westward expansion of the United States, the Rocky Mountains formed a difficult barrier for pioneers heading west in covered wagons.
“Why didn’t the pioneers take Humvees?” asked Pippin.
“The pioneers were thousands of years before the Humvee got invented,” I said. I’d slept through most of Jon’s history classes, but that was probably close.
The capitol city is Denver. Major industries include wheat farming, ski tourism, and cattle ranching.
Pippen looked up from the book. “Cattle? Past people raised cats on ranches?”
“No,” Tan explained. “‘Cattle’ is cows. You know, herd of cows?”
“Of course I’ve heard of cows!” Pippen said, laughing.
“Tan!” I said sternly. “Stop feeding Pippen easy lines or we’ll never get rid of her!”
“Do you think we’ll actually see some cows?” I asked.
“No, cows were too stupid to live,” said Conner. “Jon told me that during the Neverending Winter they all stood around mooing for someone to come feed them. They didn’t know how to dig down through the snow or eat tree bark like deer do. Eventually the cows just fell over in the snow and died. And any that survived the first year got eaten by the dog packs.”
We entered a narrow canyon. A river ran along the bottom, and the walls of the canyon rose steeply on both sides. There was no room for a standard four-lane freeway here, and railroad tracks took up the right side of the canyon, so some past engineers had come up with an ingenious solution. Two separate roads ran up the left side of the canyon. In some places the roads were held up by graceful concrete pillars, and in other spots, they were attached to the steep canyon wall. When the canyon was really narrow, the top road actually hung out over the bottom road. It was a beautiful job of squeezing a full four-lane freeway into an impossible place, and I was jealous of the engineers who’d gotten to build it.
We got maybe five miles up the canyon before we found our first problem. A semi truck was tipped over in the middle of the road, blocking both lanes. I slowed to a stop in front of the semi, and we got out to look at the roadblock. Both our lower road and the upper road were elevated above the canyon floor here. The cab of the semi was smashed into the cliff on the left, and the end of the trailer was wedged up against the guard rail on the right side. There was no way to get past.
“Can we pull that out of the way?” asked Conner.
On his front bumper, Arnold has a powerful winch with a hundred feet of steel cable and a hook on the end. I got out the wired winch control, switched it to “out,” and Conner pulled on the cable as it unrolled. When there was enough cable, Conner snapped the hook through a metal ring on the front of the semi. Then I switched the control to “in,” and the winch growled and wound in the slack. The cable got tight, and the truck moved. The wrong truck. In little hops, the winch dragged Arnold closer to the semi. I turned off the winch. This wasn’t going to work.
“We could go back down and switch to the upper road,” suggested Pippen.
“That would waste a lot of time,” I said. “All we need to do is disconnect the trailer from the cab and push the trailer off to the side a bit.”
“How are you going to do that?” asked Tan. “It looks like the trailer hitch is all twisted. We may not be able to get the trailer loose.”
“Leave that to me!” I said, crawling into the back of the Humvee.
I rummaged around until I finally found a Bob the Builder backpack.
“What’s in there?” asked Pippen. “Construction equipment?”
“It’s more like un-construction equipment,” I said.
I unzipped the bag and handed Pippen a rectangular block covered with black plastic. She peeled the plastic back and poked at the white putty inside. “Oh, look. Play-Doh. This will solve everything.”
“Callie,” asked Tan, in a reverent voice, “is that…plastic explosive?”
“Yes, it’s C4.”
“Waaaait a minute!” protested Pippen, pushing the block back at me. “We’ve been carrying explosives? With Conner driving?”
“It’s perfectly safe,” I insisted. “It would take an explosion to set this stuff off.” I pulled a handful of blasting caps out of the backpack. “Or, one of these!”
I packed the white putty into the mangled trailer hitch, inserted a blasting cap into the explosive, and connected the blasting cap to a big spool of wire.
“This is so spiff!” Tan said. “We have a satchel charge! It’s just like in video games!”
“It’s not really a satchel charge,” I said. “I got the C4 and the blasting caps from a mining company on the far side of the lake, but the backpack came from a store at the mall and I made the detonator myself from a camera flash and…okay fine, it’s a satchel charge.”
I walked down the road, unrolling wire as I went, while Conner drove the Humvee slowly alongside. We backed 500 feet away from the semi. I’d have taken us back further, but that was all the wire I had. We crawled under the Humvee. I connected the ends of the wire to the posts on the detonator.
“Everybody ready?” I asked.
I switched the power on, and the continuity light glowed green. In the shadow under the truck, Tan’s eyes reflected the green glow. “Callie,” he said, “it was my birthday a few days ago–”
“It was everybody’s birthday a few days ago.”
“–and I can’t help but notice you didn’t get me anything yet, and I thought, maybe you needed a suggestion…”
I sighed and handed over the detonator. “Happy birthday, Tan.”
Tan snatched the detonator and held it close, muttering something that sounded suspiciously like “My precious!”
“Callie,” asked Pippen, “do you know what you’re doing? Have you ever used explosives before?”
“Well, I read an explosives manual. With the amount of C4 I’ve used, the explosion should be just enough to break the trailer loose from the cab and shove it aside so we can get by.”
Tan was getting impatient. “Can I push the button now?”
“You have to give us a countdown first,” I said. “First, you yell ‘Fire in the hole!’ three times. Then you count backward from ten. Oh, and it’s traditional to count ‘five’ silently so nobody mistakes the word ‘five’ for–”
“Fire!” said Tan, and he pressed the button.
There was a brilliant flash, and I actually felt the road ripple underneath me. Then the blast wave hit us. It felt like someone had kicked me in the chest. The Humvee above us rocked alarmingly and bits of shrapnel whizzed past. I looked to see if the trailer had been shoved aside as planned, but a mushroom cloud the width of the road billowed into the sky. Then it started to rain concrete. Bits of metal and cement bounced off the pavement outside. I glanced to the left and saw that Tan had a huge, silly grin on his face. Pippen had her fingers in her ears and her eyes squeezed shut. Conner was hollering something, but I couldn’t hear anything except for roaring in my ears.
We crawled out from under the Humvee to see if the roadblock had been removed. The smoke cleared slowly. The trailer was gone.
So was the road.
We stood at the edge of the road and looked down. Twenty feet below, concrete rubble lay in the riverbed. Across a fifty-foot gap, we could see the rest of the road, twisted bits of metal rebar hanging down.
“Now can we try the other road?” asked Pippen.
I still had ringing in my ears, but I could hear again. “I don’t understand!” I said. I only used ten pounds of C4! Maybe that was a bit much, but not enough to destroy a road!”
“Callie,” asked Tan, “what was in that truck?”
Bits of the cab littered the roadway. A tire still burned. I found most of the cab door and flipped it over. The paint was scorched, but I could still read the writing on the door.
Screaming Eagle Demolition Co.
Pippen burst out laughing. “Callie, you blew up a truckload of explosives!”
I felt sick. I had been in a hurry, and I hadn’t even bothered to check the cargo plaque on the trailer. I’d been trying to get us to Florida as quickly as possible so we could save Jon. And…well…maybe my decision had been influenced a tiny bit by the fact that I’d been dying to try out that backpack. Now I’d blown a hole in a beautiful piece of architecture and delayed the quest.
Tan pulled a doctor thing out of the small bag he was wearing, and checked everyone’s ears. “Well, no broken eardrums. But that had to be the loudest noise this canyon has heard in a long time.”
I checked Arnold. He had a smashed headlight, and a few chips in the windshield, but I thought it just gave him more character.
I drove back five miles to a rest stop, and switched to the upper road. This road was fifty feet higher than the lower road. On the left side the road touched the cliff. On the right side it hung over the lower road.
We had almost gotten back to where the lower road was gone when I heard a roar like someone dumping out the world’s largest box of Lego. I leaned forward and looked out the windshield at the slope above. It looked like the entire mountainside was boiling. I stomped on the brake and we skidded to a halt. A river of dirt and rock poured down the slope and across the road in front of us, tearing the metal guard rail aside like paper and continuing over the edge. A few small rocks banged off the hood of the Humvee. Gradually the landslide slowed, then stopped, leaving a mountain of mud and rock on the road in front of us.
Pippen recovered from the shock first, and shook her fist at the sky. “You’re gonna have to do a lot better than that, Nature!”
“Um, actually I think I did that,” I confessed. “There was probably rock up there that was loose from years of water freezing and thawing, and my explosion sent it down. Now both roads are blocked!”
“We’re not blocked,” said Conner. “We can drive over that.”
“Are you kidding?” I asked.
We’d all been driving cars and trucks since we graduated from golf carts in year twelve. Conner drove Arnold a lot when he went hunting, but he never called him “Arnold,” it was always “the Humvee” or “the army truck.” I usually trusted Conner’s judgement about off-road driving, but this obstacle was impossible. On the left side of the road, the slide was forty feet high. On the right side, it was lower, but it went all the way to the edge of the road. It was mostly broken rocks, with some boulders the size of basketballs. Even knowing what Arnold could do, I didn’t think we could cross a slope that steep without rolling.
“We can drive over that, no problem” insisted Conner. “We’ll be back on our way in two minutes.”
“And if you’re wrong,” added Tan, pointing to the edge of the road, “at least it will be a quick death. I plan on screaming like a girl the whole way down. Just so you know.”
I gulped. “I think I’d like to hear some other ideas.”
“Could we clear the slide with more explosives?” asked Tan hopefully.
“More?” I asked. “That was all I had. Anyway it would take a whole truckload of explosives to move that slide!”
“We used to have a truckload of explosives,” said Tan sadly, “but somebody blew it up.”
“There isn’t another way to drive through,” said Conner. The canyon is too narrow here, and the river takes up the whole bottom. Maybe we could drive up the train tracks on the other side.”
“We’d have to go all the way back down the canyon to get across the river,” I said. “And I’m not sure even Arnold is made for driving that far on railroad ties.”
Pippen brought the map out and spread it between the front seats.
“We could go back home and try another route to Florida. There’s another road here that goes east.”
Conner looked at the map. “Does the other road go through the mountains too?”
“Well, yeah,” said Pippen. “I don’t think it’s possible to avoid going through the mountains if we want to go east.”
“So how do we know the other roads aren’t blocked worse than this one?” asked Conner.
“I say we go back to the nearest big city,” said Tan. We could restock our supplies. Food, fuel, C4…”
Everyone looked at me. “It’s your decision Callie,” said Conner. “You’re the leader.”
I wasn’t too excited about that. So far as leader, I’d managed to get us almost blown up and buried, and we weren’t even through our second state yet. Conner looked very sure of himself, and going forward sounded a lot better than going back.
“Let’s try the slide first,” I said. “We go very carefully, and if it doesn’t look like we can make it, we back down and try something else.”
Conner took the wheel and I climbed into the passenger seat. Conner shifted to low gear and pressed a button on the Central Tire Inflation System, lowering the pressure in all four tires so they would have a bigger footprint. We drove slowly to the bottom of the slide. When the soft tires bumped against the slope, Conner gunned the engine, and the front end climbed up onto the pile. So far so good. Conner eased us very slowly up the slide, climbing gently over bigger rocks. We were tilted so far to the right I was practically lying on the passenger-side door. Behind me, I heard bits of the cargo sliding around, and what sounded suspiciously like Pippen clicking on her seat belt. The slide was a lot wider than it had looked from the road. Conner picked his way carefully through the jumble of rocks, dirt, and occasional broken trees.
We had just gotten past the middle point when with a roar the entire center section of the slide broke loose and started moving downward, carrying us with it. A huge rock came bouncing down from above and slammed into the side of the truck, sending us skidding toward the edge. The time for being gentle was over. Conner hit the accelerator, and the tires dug in, throwing rocks behind us. By sheer force of Newton’s law of reaction, we inched forward. But the slide was dragging us closer and closer to the edge. I knew it was a bad idea, but I did it anyway: I looked out my window. Below us I could see the rocks pouring over the edge of the road and falling through the broken gap in the lower roadway. Desperately I started chanting. “Go, Arnold! Go, Arnold!” Pippen and Tan joined me. Just as the back tire started to slip over the edge, the front tires finally got some traction, and we clawed our way back up and shot across the rest of the slide, hitting the pavement so hard we bounced, throwing boxes in the back around.
“See, no problem!” said Conner, casually pressing the button to pump the tires back up.
If he hadn’t been driving, I would have strangled him.
A few hours later the road was climbing steeply up the mountains. I was driving again. Tall pine trees covered the slopes except for long strips of younger trees. Tan said maybe those had once been ski runs. Here and there we could see mountain peaks that still had snow on the tops.
The road led up to a rock wall. Here the freeway plunged into the side of the mountain in two enormous tunnels. We’d passed through several other tunnels on our way here, but there had always been a little light visible from the far end. Here I could see nothing but dark in the tunnel ahead of us. Either the tunnel curved, or it was really long, or there was something blocking the way. I slowed down.
“I don’t like the look of this cave,” said Tan.
“It’s a tunnel,” I said.
“No cars going through it now, so it’s a cave,” Tan insisted.
I turned on the one remaining headlight, but the tunnel still looked completely black. Oh well, nothing to do but try it. I drove inside.
As soon as my eyes adjusted to the dark, I could see a bit more detail. The tunnel was two lanes wide, with a row of light fixtures set into the walls, but the only light came from our single headlight. I made a mental note to bring spare headlights on our next quest.
I drove slowly, and the light from the opening faded out in back of us. I wove around several stopped cars.
“Look!” said Tan. “Bats!”
Sure enough, dark shapes flitted through the air in front of us.
“See, I told you it was a cave!” he said. “And it smells like death in here.”
Something up ahead caught our headlight. An animal skeleton. “Deer carcass,” Conner said professionally. “It might have wandered in here and died,” he added, but he didn’t sound as sure about the last part.
I tried to drive around the skeleton, but the scattered bones crunched as I drove over them. The tunnel went on and on. According to the odometer, we’d driven over a mile into the mountain. Finally I could see a small light in the distance that looked like more than just a reflection of our headlight. As I got nearer, it grew larger. At last we were almost out! There was a small group of cars smashed into each other in the right lane. I drove carefully around them. Suddenly a huge dark shape rose in front of us, blocking off the light. Above the sound of the engine, I could hear something big snuffling.
“It’s a monster!” whispered Tan. “Drive around it real slow and don’t startle it.”
“I can’t drive around it, it’s in the way!” I hissed back.
“Well, honk at it then,” said Pippen. “It can’t hurt us inside the Humvee.”
Before I could stop her, Pippen crawled forward and smacked the horn button. The Humvee has a wimpy little horn, but in the enclosed space it sounded loud and threatening. I saw a quick glimpse of teeth and claws in the headlight as the monster roared and charged us. Arnold rocked as the beast slammed into the front bumper. It reached over the hood toward me, ripping off a windshield wiper with its yellow claws.
“Callie, get us out of here!” yelled Conner.
I agreed completely. I hit the accelerator and we roared forward, taking the monster with us on the front of the truck. As soon as we cleared the cars, I stomped on the brake, and the beast rolled off and onto the ground. I spun the wheel and tried to get into the other lane before it recovered, but the thing righted itself quickly. It roared in anger and smashed through my side window, covering me with broken glass. A hairy paw bigger than my head came through the broken window and groped around. I ducked and stomped on the accelerator and we shot past the monster, toward the bright light of the exit. We flew into the sunlight and I didn’t stop until we were at least a mile down the road.
When there was no sign of pursuit, I slowed to a stop. I was covered in glass, but it was safety glass, designed to shatter into pebbles instead of jagged shards. I opened the door and climbed out, shaking the glass off my clothes.
There were claw marks on the hood. Conner spread his fingers out, trying to match the width of the five grooves in the composite hood. “That was a bear, I think, but it must have been huge!”
Pippen looked at my broken side window. “Huh. I thought Humvees had bulletproof glass.”
“Some do, Arnold doesn’t!” I snapped.
“I don’t think the monster liked you very much, Callie,” said Tan.
“Well, I’m not too fond of it either,” I said. “On the way home, let’s use the other tunnel.”
I was feeling a bit shaky, so I let Tan drive while I sat in the back with Conner and got out my notebook. The pages fluttered from the wind blowing in the broken window, but I held them down with one hand while I wrote with the other.
“Conner, I could use your help with this chapter.”
He leaned over to look at what I’d written.
Modern Survival Manual
Chapter 2: Animals That Want To Kill You, And How to Keep Them From Doing It
“That’s good. Let’s start with bears,” Conner said.
Bears will normally avoid humans. But if you get one mad, and you’re not inside a vehicle, you’re in trouble. You can’t run away from a bear. They can run 30 miles per hour and you can only do 15. If you have a gun you can try to shoot the bear, but you’ll only have time for one shot, and you’ll likely be dead before the bear even notices it’s been hit.
Here’s your best chance for survival:
1. Stand your ground.
2. When the bear is 15 feet away, spray your pepper spray right in the bear’s face. Bears have a very sensitive nose and will turn and run away.
3. Make sure you have your pepper spray.
Cougars live in the foothills, and eat deer. You aren’t their normal food, but they are just big cats and sometimes they get curious and want to check you out. Make sure they understand you are way too much trouble to eat. Act big. Make lots of noise. Pick up a stick and wave it around. Try not to smell like a deer.
There are two kinds of dogs: medium dogs, and big dogs. There used to be small dogs too, they only lasted a week after Zero Day. Jon called them “snack sized.” Medium dogs live off mice and rats, and are not dangerous. Big dogs can be very dangerous when they hunt in packs, and they’re not impressed with the “acting big” trick.
The worst thing you can do is run. This will just trigger the dogs’ chase instinct. Talk loudly, and throw rocks to show them you aren’t afraid. But while you’re throwing, look around for the nearest tall object in case you need to climb it.
You’ll often find rattlesnakes lying in the road on a cold morning, trying to get warm. They would rather not bite you. They rattle to give you a warning when you’ve gotten too close. Snakes can’t hear, but they can smell with their tongues, and they see motion very well. They can strike a distance of one half their body length, so draw an imaginary circle around them of half the body length, and then stay out of that circle!
Black widows have a marble-shaped black body with a bright red hourglass on their belly. The are very poisonous.
When you are out finding, try to think like a spider. “If I were a black widow, where would I want to live? Somewhere dark, but still open, so bugs can fly in.”
Always shake out boots in stores before you try them on.
The road wound down the steep eastern side of the mountains now. Suddenly the view opened up, and we could see the Great Plains spread out below us.
“Zow!” said Pippen.
I’d never seen a horizon like that. It was just a straight line from left to right! Up ahead, we could see a big city. It seemed to spread out any direction it felt like, with no mountains or lake to squish it in.
“That must be Denver,” I said.
Tan pulled off the freeway, and drove into the center of Denver. Pippen slid the window down and hung her head out, looking up. The tallest building back in Clan Valley was ten stories. There were buildings here that must have been over fifty! Traffic in town was a bit thicker than on the freeway and we wove around through the stopped cars.
“I need repair parts,” I told Tan. “Arnold’s been wounded, and I need to fix him up. Look for signs that say ‘National Guard’ or ‘Armory.’”
“I’m sort of busy looking for mutants,” said Tan.
I bonked him with my notebook.
“Okay, okay! Looking for army bases!”
We still hadn’t found a military base after fifteen minutes of driving. I settled for the next best thing, a car parts store. Tan parked on the sidewalk near the front.
Pippen nudged Conner. “Tire wars!”
He laughed and raced her into the store. Tan and I had almost gotten to the door when I stopped still. Something I’d seen out of the corner of my eye had finally registered with my brain. “Is that…is that a ZR-1?”
“Callie? Callie, where are you going?” called Tan.
I barely heard him. I was being pulled into the parking lot by an irresistible force. I crouched and brushed the dust off the logo on the curved fender. Yes, it was a Corvette ZR-1! I’d seen pictures in car magazines, but I’d never seen a real one before. It had a wide, powerful back end and a long graceful hood. Once this had been the fastest production car in the world. Now she slept in this parking lot, tires flat, ruby-red paint covered with dust.
“Hello, baby,” I whispered. “I wish I could take you home with me. There’s a huge desert near my home that you’d love. It’s all flat, and covered in a layer of salt as hard as concrete. I’ve read you can open the throttle all the way and roar along for miles and miles without even turning!”
“Zow!” said Tan, bringing me back to earth.
I stood up. Tan was looking at the Corvette with eyes shining. “Callie, can we switch cars?”
“No cargo space,” I said regretfully. “Enough room for two adults. Maybe three kids.”
“Please? We could duct-tape Pippen to the roof. Think how much faster we could get to Florida!”
I sighed. “It won’t work. She’s got a gasoline engine.”
“I know you only re-animate diesel cars and trucks for the clan,” Tan said, walking around the Corvette, “but I never understood why.”
“I can explain that,” I said. “Both diesel engines and gasoline engines work by mixing fuel and air together, and then igniting the mixture inside a cylinder. The explosion pushes a piston down, which is connected to a crank, and that makes the engine turn.”
“Like pushing down on the pedal on a bicycle,” said Tan.
“Exactly!” I said, pleased with my simplified explanation. “The big difference between diesel and gas engines is that gasoline engines use a carburetor to mix the fuel and air together outside the cylinder. Then the mixture is sucked into the cylinder and ignited by a spark plug. This works really well for small, lightweight engines. But a diesel engine compresses the air in the cylinder first, so much that it gets red hot, and then it injects the fuel directly into the cylinder where it explodes. No need for a spark plug. That works well for big heavy engines, and diesel fuel can be stored for a long time. Gasoline doesn’t store well at all. In order for the carburetor to mix the fuel and air, gasoline was made so it evaporated really easily. In most gasoline cars, the tanks are all empty now. There’s still gasoline at gas stations, but the really volatile parts have evaporated out, and what’s left won’t start a car.”
“Can’t you run a gasoline engine with a different fuel?”
“I’ve done a few experiments running engines on propane,” I said, “but you have to install a special carburetor. It’s easier just to stick with diesel engines.”
“I guess so,” Tan said, disappointed.
I crouched again and patted the ZR-1 on her nose. “Someday, baby, someone like me will come along and wake you from your enchanted sleep and you’ll be queen of the road again. Until then, dream of open roads and winding turns.”
Tan and I walked back toward the store.
“It sure is a beautiful car though,” he said.
“Yes, she is,” I sighed, then I caught sight of Arnold. I ducked my head so I didn’t have to look him directly in the headlights.
“Nobody has problems starting cars in any of the after-the-end-of-the-world movies I’ve seen,” complained Tan as he opened the door to the parts store. “They have it a lot better than us.”
“Yeah,” I said, “but they always have to fight off zombies.”
When you sit inside a Humvee (and I mean a real military Humvee, not one of those cushy civilian jobs), the first thing you notice is how dead simple everything is. The switches are big enough to operate with gloves on, and so clearly labeled anyone could understand them, even soldiers. There’s no attempt to cover anything up with panels or carpet. The air conditioning ducts are exposed. The windshield-wiper motor just hangs out above the windshield. Everything is held together with simple screws and bolts. All of this means Arnold is really easy to fix.
Of course, the parts store didn’t have parts for military vehicles. But all of Arnold’s windows are flat glass, so I found a sheet of acrylic and cut it to the right shape and replaced the driver’s side window. The headlight was a bit more trouble, but I found a 24-volt truck headlight that was close enough. It just needed a bit of wire splicing and some clear caulk to hold it in place. The first wiper blade I tried fit perfectly. There was some bare metal showing on Arnold’s side from where the rock had smashed into us, so I spray-painted over it. It wasn’t quite the right color, but at least it would protect the steel from rusting, and rust is a machine’s worst enemy.
While I worked, Pippen and Conner and Tan built tire forts in the parking lot and took turns rolling the tires at each other. By the time I got Arnold back into fighting shape, it was getting dark.
“Where are we sleeping tonight?” asked Pippen.
“I thought we’d camp in,” I said.
“I love camping in!” said Pippen.
We drove to a furniture store and carried our camping stuff inside. Each of us found a mattress that we liked, and spread our sleeping bags out. Pippen insisted the only way to find the perfect mattress was to jump on them, and she tested every mattress in the store.
Conner found a wooden bookshelf that was so artistically curved that it wouldn’t actually hold books. With a few kicks, Conner transformed it into something useful: firewood. Tan broke a few windows for ventilation while Conner started a fire in the middle of the tiled floor. We pulled recliners up to the fire and ate peanut butter sandwiches.
After dinner we put out the fire and made our way by flashlight to our beds. I turned off my lantern, and as the darkness closed around me, doubts about the decisions I’d made started creeping in. It was one thing to risk my own life trying to fix the world, but did I have the right to drag other people into it?
“Tan,” I asked the dark, “is Jon really going to be okay until we get back?”
“Sure. Physically he’s in perfect health right now. He just can’t wake up. Are you worried about him?”
“Yeah. This is taking us longer than I thought. We’ve been gone two days, and we haven’t gotten very far. I know you said Jon would be fine for months, but I wonder if you should have stayed with him. You’re the doctor, after all, and Jon’s sick.”
I heard Tan chuckle.
“Callie, before I put on my first medical scrubs, I stood before my peers and took a solemn oath – well, okay, I stood in front of the bathroom mirror – and promised that I would aid the sick and injured to the best of my ability. Today Jon spent the day lying in bed while a machine did all the breathing for him, Vega fed him through a tube, and the entire clan watched over him. Meanwhile, the four of us barely survived an explosion, a landslide, and a bear attack. Which group do you think is more likely to need a doctor?”
I found that logic oddly comforting.