The End of the Line
Hobbies: Geography, Hiking, Fishing, Rock-Climbing
Roberta was an experienced camper and backpacker, no husband to tie her down and take up her time with family demands, and she was rounding out the end of her summer vacation with a more than week-long trip into the back country of the Sierra Nevada of California. She drove her Ford Explorer into the back country, parked at the trailhead, and hiked in about eight miles. Far from the nearest town. She enjoyed the solitude, the getting away from it all. No service on the cell phone, of course. Not that she wanted any. For this week, the rest of the world was going to have to solve its own problems. She was...away from it all.
She brought a backpack full of supplies...a bedroll, dehydrated food. A compass and map. Fishing gear. Binoculars. And a digital camera to take pictures. A couple changes of clothes. Summer clothing, of course. For much of the trip, she would end up going topless. Encountering others on this back-country trail was rare. That was the whole point of the endeavor, of course. One had to endure eight months of screaming classrooms of fifth-graders to truly appreciate this nine days of solitude and peace.
The hike went beautifully. Roberta only met three other people the whole time: a young couple from San Jose, and an older Hispanic man who apparently hadn't spoken any English. He had looked at her appreciatively, saying something in Spanish before moving on. And that was the last she had seen of either of them...though she knew the man was interested in her. The only mishap had been weather: two days of wicked thunderstorms toward the end. She had found shelter in an old mine shaft as the hillside had been all-but-strafed by bolt after bolt of lightning, and heavy downpours.
But on the eighth day, the weather improved to just some piles of cumulus, and the woman made her way back to the spot where her SUV was parked. Nothing had happened to it. She climbed in, and started up the engine. It rattled into life, and she drove down the dirt road. There were a couple radio stations that came in up here, some of the powerful Bay Area AM stations, plus a local FM from the town about three miles down the road.
Roberta was puzzled. She slid in a CD...it played normally. So the speakers weren't out, and the in-dash unit itself didn't appear to be damaged.
The dirt road turned into a paved road. So far, she had seen no other traffic. For the dirt road, this was a trifle odd, but not too strange. It wasn't a well-traveled route. But as she went three or four miles down the highway, and still no sign of anyone, Roberta began to feel uneasy. She fiddled with the radio. Still nothing. Another two miles. No traffic. She did pass two cars, pulled off the road, no one inside or near them.
Of course! The cell phone. The service usually resumed right about where the pavement did. She would call someone...another teacher she knew down in Modesto. Just to hear another voice. The flipped the phone open, turned it on. It played its little ditty as it started up.
A chill began to form in the pit of Roberta's stomach. This situation had gone from being odd, passed through "bizarre," and was now entering "scary." About a mile ahead was a grocery/gas combo place. She knew it was open because she had filled up the tank there on the way in. Hopefully they would have answers there. She tossed the phone up onto the dash, stepping on the gas a little bit. She told herself this was just a strange day, that she would round the curve and see four or five cars in the parking lot at Tom's Gas and Go, with the store clerk shooting the breeze with some retirees about where the bass were running up at the lake.
The SUV rounded the corner...and all at once Roberta stomped on the brakes. Barely a hundred yards down the road, an RV was flipped over, blocking both lanes of traffic in front of the store. She pulled on the wheel, managing to guide the SUV into the shoulder as it skidded to a halt just ten feet short of the cab of the Winnebago. She gave way to the shakes for a moment, the smell of burnt rubber thick in the afternoon air as she trembled at the thought of how close she had come to smacking into it. Only after her nerves settled fifteen to twenty seconds later did she come to wonder how the vehicle had gotten in that predicament.
She drove around, off the road, and took the bumpy ride into the Gas-n-Go parking lot. Stopped the engine. She noted she still had better than three-fourths of a tank. The Miller Lite and Dos Equis signs in the front window were dark. The front door was ajar. Turning back to the RV, she noticed it was sitting there. No ticking of a cooling engine, or sign of life. No scared passengers standing around, the driver on his phone with the Highway Patrol or an insurance adjuster.
It was then that she noticed the body. A man, looking to be in his 50s or 60s. Laying behind the SUV. Another car was crashed into the trees at the side of the road. It had been a collision, or a near-miss, between the Winnebago and the Chevy that was burned-out and crumpled against the tree. Roberta noticed a fire had started, but had gone out fairly quickly. If it hadn't been for the epic thunderstorms dropping a couple inches of rain, she supposed, it would probably be a raging forest fire by now.
Flies circling the corpse told her the man was beyond any help. If this were a movie, she supposed she would find a shovel somewhere to bury him, but she was far more concerned with how in the hell this pretty major wreck could sit on a principal highway for at least a full day and not have anyone tending to it. Turning toward the store, she walked up to it and pulled the door open...I'm looking for a writing partner or storyteller her to help me continue this tale, from the point Roberta enters the store. I will leave the situation of the world up to my writing partner, but as the intro indicates, whatever has happened is pretty bad. I'm open to many possibilities: plague, alien invasion, war, demoniac uprising. Only thing I'm not too terribly keen on is zombies. Because I am looking for Roberta to be engaged (probably against her will) in sexual encounters, and zombies aren't exactly the amorous type. I'm thinking more along the lines of biker gangs, aliens, maybe Chinese or Mexican soldiers, or demons. Something with two legs. I am also looking for plot here...for a story where the pieces fit together and there's a larger purpose.