We woke up the next morning and the day looked about as promising as any I’d had in a while. I was in such a stupid good mood I started breakfast and made potato cakes that I mixed squeeze cheese into as well as shredded beef jerky we’d pulled off the back shelf of a middle of nowhere convenience store. The front of the store had been trashed but Evans is nothing if not thorough when looking for potential valuables and he is the one that discovered the closet storage.
I was the only one in a good mood it seemed. I’d learned to give the men a wide berth because most of them took a while to turn human in the mornings; most were still dealing with caffeine withdrawals and that is the one thing we hadn’t found any of except for a couple of dried out packages of instant Nescafe in the glove compartment of an old Volvo that had been knocked sideways after clipping a concrete median barrier. Breakfast turned out to be the only decent thing that happened that day.
Where we should have turned north at McKinnon Road there were not one but three jackknifed semi tractor trailers blocking the road, and one of those was pulling a piggy back. The trailers of all had been emptied and all of the cars in the surrounding areas also looked like they’d been picked clean. It definitely wasn’t done by animals so that told us there were people in the area and we doubled our alert status which had already been high.
“Don’t look like we have any choice. Rocky, give me that map again,” Chuckri ordered. He and Thor then went over possible routes. It wasn’t rocket science, we were going to have to take SR530 which was going to add about 15 miles to the ones we already needed to travel until we could stop. But what choice did we have? The other problem was how to notify the caravan of the new route. In the end we opted to scratch or carve it into a bunch of surfaces. The more surfaces the more likely someone was to see it and less likely that someone would be able to obliterate all of it without giving themselves away.
I tried burning it into a couple of the cars’ surfaces using hand sanitizer but it didn’t work as planned; the sanitizer burned but once it was gone the surface below remain pretty well unharmed, a little etched but that’s it. Vaseline didn’t work either; it only works as a fire starter when mixed with dryer lint or a cotton ball and I had neither one handy which had me kicking myself for leaving that stuff behind in the pharmacy when I had the chance to grab it. I ended up doing it the old fashioned way by taking the tire iron and gouging the heck out of any surface that got in my way. That nearly included Evans after another series of his trademark lameness had my head pounding.
We’d wasted some time but not as much as it would have taken if we’d had a really big smash up to fool with so we hoofed it to US530 and walked into the high desert landscape that bounded the west side of Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. I suddenly understood why no one had wanted to go this way. It wasn’t just that it added a day to the caravan’s time but it was dry and desolate. There was some greenery around but nothing edible for humans. The road was a couple of miles from the reservoir on that side so we didn’t even have that to eliminate the emptiness of the landscape. After a while the rocks started looking alike and I was glad that there was a fairly decent road to follow or I would have gotten lost and I wasn’t ashamed to admit it.
That night we camped out in a windstorm which made a fire impossible. I mixed together some peanut butter, oatmeal, and raisins after most of the men had gone to sleep in a bad humor. I was on first watch. The wind bothered me because it whistled and moaned so much I was completely dependent on my eyes. Something was giving me the willies and then I noticed a couple of odd flickers of light to my right. I couldn’t tell how far away it was and decided to move for a better look when something flew at me from my left side.
“Crap!” was all I managed before I was in a fight for my life.
I don’t know who was growling and making more noise, me or the dog that had clamped onto my left wrist. Trying to wrench free I felt my wrist and hand go numb and then I was busy trying to keep the beast from taking out my throat. I managed to grab it by the fur and meat on either side of its throat and strong arm it away but it kept coming after me by raking its front nails in my scalp. I don’t know how but I got a leg up under its belly and then kicked it away and by the time it flipped to come back at me I had my bowie knife in my right hand and sank it deep into the beast’s throat like it had meant to sink its teeth into mine.
There was shooting going on around me but I couldn’t get up. I was starting to shake and feel numb. I looked down at the cuff of my shirt and it was ragged and bloody. But I was all still there despite the numbness. I cradled my wrist and tried to stand but Richards pushed me back down.
It was another couple of minutes before the shooting was over. I heard Chuckri curse in some language I didn’t understand – later found out it was Armenian, his grandparents had been Christian immigrants fleeing religious persecution and violence in their home country. Four of the men went in teams and made sure all the dogs were down for good while Richards started cleaning and examining my wrist. I don’t think he meant to hurt me but only Evans standing there waiting to make a comment kept me from jerking away several times.
When he was done and had me bandaged he forced me to take a couple of tablets from his pack. “I hope to God you aren’t allergic to anything Boy. This is the best I got when it comes to fighting the infection you’re bound to have.”
“No ... not allergic to nothin',” I told him, still shaky and sick to my stomach.
“Sit here, you’re shocky and I don’t want you crawling away until I say so.” The man might be quiet, might have even been a shrink, but he could put some steel in his words when he was inclined to.
After a few minutes Thor and Chuckri walked over while Richards was digging grit out of my scalp. I promise you that is even less fun than it sounds. I tried to look up so I could see Thor and Chuckri’s faces but it was like having tunnel vision and I got real close to needing to puke so I just closed my eyes and told myself to breathe through my nose until it was over.
I heard Thor rumble something and then Richards’ voice saying, “Boy needs stitches but the bandaging will have to do. Mostly just lost the top layer of skin where the teeth raked him but he’s bruised too; a couple of places are deeper but no true puncture wounds. Shock should wear off shortly but I want to keep an eye on him anyway, he’s not complaining enough. I’ve treated grown men with smaller wounds that acted like they were the victims of amputation sans narcotics compared to the way the kid is acting.”
Someone walked away but it turned out it wasn’t Thor because I jerked my eyes back open when he bent down and asked quietly, “Anything else hurt besides the wrist and your head?”
I had to blink a couple of times to get my eyes to focus. “What was in those pills?”
“A mild painkiller and Augmentin. You allergic?”
“Naw, just not appreciating the buzz I’ve got. I hate when people do things for my own good.”
He snorted and said, “When that wrist starts singing tomorrow you’ll appreciate it more. Wanna tell me what happened?”
I explained about the flickers and then jumped involuntarily when another shot rang out. I heard Alfonso called out, “Seventeen!”
Thom explained. “Dog pack. Looks like strays though some of them do look like they’ve already got coyote in ‘em. Can’t tell for sure in this dark. Biggest pack of ferals I’ve ever run into … or heard of for that matter. Probably attracted to the smell of Evans’ pretty feet.”
“You only keep that particular direction up if you want me to hurl. We’ve got to find that man some new boots … and socks … and some Lysol maybe to soak his feet in … and …”
A rumble of laughter told me Thor was no longer worried that my brains were any more scrambled than before. “You’ll do. Come on, let me help you up then you do what Richards tells you and get some sleep and let the drugs wear off. You look like you’ve got a good one tied on.”
“Yeah, well don’t expect me to take the hair of the dog that bit me in the morning. Even for you guys that would be cruel and unusual punishment.”