Coming September 2018
The White Witch
The Long Haul
The road was in fairly good condition, only a small amount of weeds growing in the cracks and broken crevices so we were making good time when we got to the midway point a little over a half hour later. The piping that I had seen crossing the road earlier, ran alongside it now, two 6” diameter pipes coated in black creosote, the original insulation occasionally still cling fruitlessly to it, supported on concrete blocks about 4 feet off to the side of the road and a foot off the ground.
This area was heavy with off-shoot, railway loading docks, tracks jutting off the main line some 300 yards south of us, running north easterly before dead ending at a series of warehousing complete with loading docks built alongside the tracks to facilitate the loading and unloading of the rail cargo cars.
We’d just passed the entrance gates to one of those numerous facilities, the gate itself broken off the hinges and tossed haphazardly off to the side to become over grown in grass and weeds, about 600 yards from what I considered our turn off and I had briefly considered using it to shorten the trek but then immediately abandoned after I realized it doubled back thereby lengthening the walk rather than shortening it But still, I was beginning to think we were gonna get to the turn with no problems when Alina fell.
I hadn’t been paying attention to her so much as I was paying attention to the woods that ran alongside of our roadway watching for threats so when I heard the sound of her hitting the pavement and exhaling suddenly I snapped my head around and found her lying there, 15’ behind me on the roadway and my heart skipped a beat.
When I got to her I checked her pulse and found it weak but still beating but her pupils were dilated and she was totally unresponsive as I gently slapped her cheeks trying to revive her.
Looking up the road I saw nothing in the direction we were headed and looking back I saw the same nothing so I reached below her neck and raised her up adjusting my right arm under her shoulders and then my left under her knees and slowly picked her up, her head, arms and legs hanging limply over my arms and I groaned vocally at the monstrous pain that shot through my ankle. After I caught my breath and the pain died down a little, I began limping on down the road thankful that she weighed only 115 or so.
“We really need to get you a bath sweetheart.” I said knowing she didn’t hear a word of the reference to the stench she was emitting.
The sky was getting dark with storm clouds an hour later when we reached a large pile of debris sitting off the side of another road that split off the one we were on and ran south and easterly into the woods and after stopping to look at it I pondered for a couple minutes over whether it was the right road or not.
It looked like the approximate distance I’d seen from the observation tower and it was a road complete with some abandoned power poles and service wire run alongside it but I wasn’t sure.
And then the rain started.
“Great!” I muttered. “Just when I thought it couldn’t get much worse, it rains.
But on the bright side.” I continued to mutter. “It’s pretty close to a shower and were you actually here to partake of this, you’d probably appreciate it as much as I know I do at the moment.”
The pile of debris I was staring at looked to be the remains of a couple old cars, most of it’s soft materials gone or rotting, rust and mold so dense over the surface that the make was indistinguishable, that had been pushed off the side of the split back road and had since then, collected numerous other items in similar disposition such as bed frames, cabinets, furniture and tires.
I knew the road I was looking for went off to my right, south toward the station but I had no idea if this was it. Was it the road leading south and ending directly across from the station though? That was the question and in the end, after standing quietly in the pouring rain holding Alina I decided action was better than inaction so, I started forward.
The rutted roadway leading back into the woods ran alongside a small power line strung up on concrete poles, sagging drastically so as to be a concern were it not for the fact that there was no power running through the line. Hadn’t been for nearly 30 years now.
The rain was light at first. Warm and easy to deal with as I trudged along holding Alina but after a couple minutes it increased in volume and it wasn’t long till both Alina and I were drenched in the curtain of water that made visibility beyond 30 feet impossible.
I’d moved off the roadway to the grass between the road and the forest to avoid the deepening puddles forming in the ruts of the roadway. The terrain was a little rough with grass and some small saplings but not that bad as the road and puddles and as I trudged along, nearly exhausted I began to recite rimes and limericks to take my mind off my burden.
Four hundred yards. I thought as I turned the corner, stumbling slightly and snapping awake. Then I started to sing softly…
Four hundred yards of roadway to go.
Four hundred yards to go.
Knock one down, turn it around.
Three ninety nine yards of roadway to go.
I had no clue how I managed to make it through the woods and I really didn’t remember much about the actual 400 yards since most of it I trudged exhaustedly looking at my feet plodding through the sopping grass and mud that grew deeper as I went but I suddenly emerged from the woods in a curtain of rain, looking at a rusting sheet of metal wall about 12 feet high and stretching both left and right as far as the rain would allow me to see which actually wasn’t far.
This is new. I thought tiredly. I don’t remember a wall along the tracks. How the frack do I deal with this now?
Then, as I stood there holding Alina in my arms both of us sopping wet, trying to decide on a path along this wall to the station, I thought about the mindless trek I’d just made through the woods paying no heed to anything but my progress and realized how foolish I’d been by not paying attention to the things that might have been around us and how extremely fortunate that we weren’t jumped since I wouldn’t have known it till they or it was latched onto me.
After a couple minutes of looking dumbly right and left, and finding the view limited in both directions by the heavy rain, I finally opted for right hoping it would be the shortest distance from the station and set off looking for a break in the wall that we could pass through.
It was only a few steps before the rain curtain cleared and I realized that the wall wasn’t actually a wall but the roofs of a line of abandoned passenger rail car roofs, rusted and rotting away in front of me, pushed to topple off the northern most rail, end to end making passage between them at best, difficult and at worst, downright impossible but I was already moving so I figured I’d keep going till I found the break I needed.
I had walked about 20 yards when I finally found a break between the mammoth, rusting cars that I could get us through and I navigated my way clumsily between the two cars and saw the first of two, abandoned train engines, side by side sitting quietly before me. The engines were still coupled to their car behind and long forgotten, on the next two series of tracks I had to cross and knowing I couldn’t get over the couplings, I altered my path again to the right to take me 50 more feet west till I found the noses of the mammoth engines and could get around them.
As I crossed in front of the engines and got my first look at the storage buildings directly in front of me I realized I was 100 yards west of the station which I still couldn’t see in the rain so started out again west and south for the refuge and safety that the station would offer.
The rain had settled back a couple notches as I doggedly trudged and stumbled occasionally and I was maybe 40 yards out when I saw the first sign of the station foggily appear in the rain ahead of me and I adjusted my direction slightly to put me at the front door. Another 10 yards and I saw the people on the station platform through the rain deluge, standing under the stations massive over hang discussing something animatedly.
There were 4 men, one with a long rifle facing in my direction holding the rifle in his left hand and using his right to wave energetically in the air, another bigger guy facing him and two other medium set guys armed with what looked like AR-15's, backs to me as well standing just outside the station doors.
When I’d first seen the men I had stopped walking and now I just stood there.
Just 30 more yards away. I thought and as I was about to start out again it occurred to me that I had no idea if they were friend or foe. Further, it occurred to me that I was incapable of turning and running holding Alina and finally that if they started shooting at me and if they happened to me, they’d hit Alina and I froze there in indecision.
She wasn’t all that heavy but with the backpack, the vest and the weapons, and now the rain I wasn’t sure how far I could get with her especially through this detritus of metal and plastic trash that now littered the rail yard.
After what seemed like an eternity of indecision I decided to go with the current run of luck and I started going again and without thinking about anything else except putting one foot in front of the other, headed again in the direction of the station and the medical facility.
I managed another 10 yards with her in my arms and I began to stumble and that’s when I saw the guy facing me, suddenly notice me, stop his part of the argument midsentence and raise the long rifle he was holding to sight me. Right afterwards, the heavier man of the group with a full black beard and the other two guys turned abruptly to look in my direction as well having been alerted by the guy with the rifle standing next to them. Then the heavy, bearded guy and the other two guys shared a short conversation, split off from the rifle guy and headed in my direction leaving rifle guy to stand oversight.
At that point my strength gave out and I sank slowly to my knees still holding Alina in my arms, then down to my rump where I sat exhausted, thirty yards from the station, holding her carefully as the group made their way slowly and cautiously toward me through the rain and mud.
There were 5 of them now in the party, the fifth having come out of the station late, passing the sharp shooter who was still on the station patio watching me with what looked like a Dragunov sniper rifle, and joined the other 4 who were now fanning out as they moved toward me.
All appeared to be middle aged and battle hardened, two of the three headed for me armed with Colt AR14’s, the one catching up, had a Winchester shotgun and was wearing a back pack similar to mine and the fifth, the big dude with the neatly trimmed, thick black beard appeared to be unarmed save the automatic pistol that I noted was still strapped to his leg, holstered apparently unconcerned about my starting a fight.
Why would he be? I thought. With four other armed guys and a sniper on lookout.
As I watched, too exhausted to do much about who they were, if they were friend or foe, I decided to err to the side of caution so I slowly shifted my position from the ground to put my left side toward them and the sniper on the patio, while simultaneously shifting Alina’s weight to my right, then raised my right knee and with my now free, right hand, pulled the .45 from my holster holding it tight to my leg out of sight of the nearing group.
They approached me warily and stopped 12’ away, fanned out slightly, all but Black Beard had their weapons raised and aimed at me.
“Greetings Stalker.” Black beard called.
“What brings you here?”
“I would think it would be somewhat obvious?” I replied with a little sarcasm.
“Yes.” Black beard answered as he stood there a minute debating this in his own mind.
Then, having made his decision, he started forward again, followed closely by his companions still a little edgy and as he advanced said.
“We don’t know you Stalker but I can see you’re exhausted.”
“Your friend Alive?” He asked tentatively.
”Far as I can tell from here.” I replied carefully. “But she needs medical attention soon or she won’t be.”
“No worries, Stalker. We have a field medic here with us and a doc in the town. Best in the area.” He said with a smile on his face.
“Bruiser. Relieve our guest of his burden and take her up to the station house. Hands. Go with him and make sure she’s stable to transport to town.”
“Ace. You and Beaner help yon Stalker to his feet and take him as well to the station. Let’s all get out of this accursed rain.”
The one called Bruiser, hesitated a second, looking briefly at Black Beard then walked carefully up to me to take Alina but when he started to bend over I raised the .45 and stuck the end of the barrel in the underside of his chin.
“I don’t know you either, friend.” I said. Still holding the gun under Bruisers chin. “And be clear that this woman and her safety are important to me.”
Black beard had stopped in his tracks when he saw the gun come out and stood motionless then a large smile lit up his face and he said.
“Relax Stalker. You’re among friends. At least for the moment. We mean neither you nor your friend any harm.”