The battered ’66 Mustang hugged the road as it came out of the long looping curve and the driver floored it onto the straightaway. Ford glanced into his rearview mirror. The giant black wall behind him continued to advance, blotting out the landscape. “Must be moving sixty-miles-per hour or more,” he figured. The speedometer hoverer at 110. He knew he could outrun it, but he’d been stupid to take the chance by foraging so far from base.
In the back seat were the few treasures he’d salvaged from an abandoned shelter: three cases of canned water, a pouch of tuna, dehydrated vegetables, fruit, and bacon, and a ten-pound bag of rice. The five-gallon gas can beside the portable generator was empty. He’d need to park the Mustang until he could barter his services for another tank from Cliff. Working for the scavenger always had a price.
The straight ribbon of road ahead shimmered in the heat of the Sunday afternoon. Ford knew what was coming. Everyone with a hand crank weather radio or a cell phone that the static electricity hadn’t shorted out, knew a giant duster—The Big One—was steamrolling its way across the prairie. A mass of airborne earth, two thousand feet high, roiled and churned the electrified landscape. Barbed wire fences sparked and cellphone towers flashed blue flames as the cloud approached.
“Ten minutes tops, I’ll be home.” Ford would be safe, or at least as safe as someone could be with the temperature plummeting, the winds howling, and a juggernaut bearing down.
He gripped the steering wheel, focusing on the road ahead as the air darkened and the visibility dimmed. Then, on the roadside in the distance, he saw a stick-figure gradually taking the shape of a woman. Against all sense for his own survival he slowed, braking as little as possible on the shifting dusty roadway, struggling to keep control.
Ford deliberately overshot the mark, getting a glimpse of the young woman in a summer dress and heels, sunglasses, a bag, no water, nothing to cover her face. He stopped, despite the fact that his gut told him not to. Ford put the car in reverse and pulled up even to the startled woman. He flung open the passenger door. “Get in!” he barked.
“I beg your pardon?” she shouted, angry and confused. “Who are you?”
“Get in the car now or die in the dust, your choice. I’m getting the fuck out of here.” The Mustang was already starting to roll forward.
She looked at the black wall bearing down on them and leapt into the vehicle as he accelerated. She struggled to right herself as the ancient muscle car fishtailed on the dusty surface. The driver had marginally gained control by the time she buckled in. She turned back to look out the rear window.
Margo had seen the darkening sky, felt the temperature drop thirty degrees as she stood there, but she’d been powerless to move. There was no place to run, no place to hide. And if Cliff, the man who was once her protector, came back, how would he even find her…?
Cliff wouldn’t return. She knew that. She’d been dropped by the roadside to die, and that’s what she had been determined to do until this beaten down Mustang stopped, offering her one more chance at life. She glanced at the driver.
Ford focused on the road—ten more miles until the bunker—plenty of time later to take in the particulars of the woman.
He’d acted on impulse. The lone figure on the side of the road had awakened enough of his remaining humanity to slow the car. But he wasn’t stupid. He knew that if the stranger had been male instead of female, elderly or infirm instead of shapely, he would have kept driving. That’s what Ford’s world had come to. He was inches away from losing his soul, but what other choice did he have?
|Paul Lewellan has published short fiction in over one-hundred literary magazines. He lives and gardens in Davenport, Iowa, sheltering in place with his wife Pamela, his Shi Tzu Mannie, and their ginger tabby Sunny. He keeps a safe social distance from everyone else. He’s recently had work published in Passengers Journal, The Athena Review, October Hill, Kalopsia Literary Journal, and White Wall Review.|