Tuesday, May 15, 2012
The Doomsday Symphony: Chapter 16
In the previous installment of The Doomsday Symphony, Cameron was awakened from his back-seat reverie when they ran into an accident that had closed down the road not far from the Crevecoeur farmhouse. After the police tried explaining their proposed detour to Kerr, Cameron realized this was not a good place to get lost, out beyond the middle of nowhere...
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Before I realized it, the road had quickly begun to deteriorate, as if it hadn't been driven on or maintained for years. It was also one bend after another, winding around sharply from side to side. Pretty sure the policeman said this was a fairly straight shot, I wondered if I’d ended up on some ski resort’s slalom trail?
Of course, the problem with roads like this was how easy it was to let the mind wander. We couldn't have been driving that long and I didn't remember any turns that I might have missed.
Cameron woke up and looked around. "Are we lost yet?"
"Smart-aleck... I’d imagine, judging from the condition this road's in, that would be a given."
"Too bad you don't have GPS..."
"Too bad I didn't write the directions down, either."
Then we both laughed. There was no point being angry but there was no point in being lost, either.
Considering the general terrain, what Sebastian called the foothills of the Poconos, the land was either hills or valleys, little in between. Driving up and down these hills was like cutting across the grain, not unproblematic. Most roads, consequently, were built following the geographical contours, making this detour more than just going an extra block and making a turn.
So I figured straight roads were valley floors or ridge tops, the winding ones crawling up and down the sides of hills. This one, long, narrow and fairly level, must be following the course of some valley.
That changed, all of a sudden. I'd no sooner thought that, of course, than a sudden bend started making a sharp ascent, steeper than any hills we'd had so far, driving down from Lonesome Ridge Road. I dreaded the idea of meeting any traffic on this road and, typical city dweller, thought about driving it during a snow storm. There was no place to pull off and too many curves to make it safe to do a u-turn. Cameron wondered if some guy with a shot-gun might come out to chase us off his land.
The only thing we could do, then, was to keep on climbing. Maybe there was a farm lane we could turn around in and head back. It was past midnight, now: any stores up here, even a gas station, wasn't likely to be open. Nor would anyone be especially open to strangers knocking on their doors at this hour.
By this time, Zoe woke up as if she'd been in a sound sleep. She figured we’d been driving for over an hour when it couldn’t be more than fifteen minutes since we’d left Officer Tennant. I brought her up to speed on being lost, mentioning how there wasn’t anyone around to ask directions even if I wanted to.
Checking the map, despite her grogginess she managed to locate the squiggly line that represented Route 309 except there was nothing else between 902 and Tamaqua resembling anything like the road we happened to be on.
The commotion woke Xaq up who announced he would soon need to go to the bathroom, news which only added to the general sense of urgency. I could see it now, the local Hill Top Tribune's headline – "Flatlanders stop to pee, abducted by bears." Fortunately the road began leveling out and we soon reached the top of a ridge.
Not only was there some open space, there was even an intersection. Behind a ramshackle rail fence covered in thick vines was a field, overgrown with scrub and tall grasses, eerie-looking in the silvery moonlight's glow. Pulling off onto this remnant of a road to honor “nature’s call,” we could then turn around to head back down the hill.
Cameron noticed an old road-side sign nearly obliterated by virginia creeper. Getting out of the car, he pulled back the weeds.
"Uh... you might want to come look at this."
The sign read, "Welcome to New Coalton."
The four of us stood there, speechless, remembering Mary Rowberson’s incomplete message from Sebastian Crevecoeur. Was it because she’d had a bad connection or did it have anything to do with her being hard of hearing? Since “New Coalton,” the only part she understood, made no sense to the rest of us, no one took the old medium seriously. It certainly wasn’t enough to make me set out looking for the place, given everything we'd heard about it from the others. Yet we ended up here. Do I start calling out “Okay, Sebastian, we’re here”?
Both Zoe and Cameron took their cell-phones out to get pictures of the sign but there wasn't enough light to get a clear shot of it. Trying to send a text back to the farmhouse, telling them we were in New Coalton, Zoe discovered there was no service available in the area.
"Cool," Xaq said, "a genuine dead zone!"
Cameron made some comment his phone, one of those companies boasting wider access, wasn't working either and I amended my Hill Top Tribune headline to read "Flatlanders Stop to Pee, Abducted by Ghosts of Dead Miners." This was not turning out to be a pleasant evening: the quicker we got in the car and left, the happier I'd be.
The open area, more than just a farmer's field being taken over by scrub brush and weeds, might have been fun to wander around in, exploring, but not right now, after midnight even with the full moon.
Xaq, meanwhile, was reminded of the original reason we’d gotten out of the car in the first place and wandered off in search of a reasonable tree not too close to us but not too far away, either. A little privacy was a good thing but how much would anyone notice even with the moonlight?
"Look out for poison ivy, Xaq," his mother called out after him, not wanting to appear she was paying attention to him but letting him know that, like it or not, she was.
"Yeah, and snakes and bears, Mom. Thanks."
Settling on an old rotten stump in the middle of the field, a small weedy bush beside it, he unzipped his fly after looking over his shoulder to make sure none of us were watching him. Feeling the relief of a pent-up bladder, he looked back and noticed something definitely odd: the air in front of him was shimmering.
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To be continued…
- Dick Strawser
The novel, "The Doomsday Symphony," a music appreciation thriller written between 2010 and 2011, is the sole supposedly intellectual property of its author, Richard Alan Strawser.