Meg drifted back into awareness at the feeling of motion. She stirred at a dry chuckle, and came fully aware at the giggle of a little girl. She raised her head and saw the Indian in the corner dinette seat, reading a paperback. Or, rather, looking, as she saw it was a collection of MAD magazine's wordless Spy Vs. Spy comics. He chuckled again as he turned another page. She turned her head and saw a girl of perhaps five years old, perched in the the lap of a woman with vividly deep red hair, who in turn had turned herself sideways in the longer seat of the dinette.
“Hi, I'm Dianna, and this little thing is Janie,” the redhead said. The girl giggled. “I hear your name is Meg.”
“Yeah,” Meg said. She started to sit up, but then sank back. “I think Dr.- Carlos mentioned you- you and Ted?” Dianna nodded, and Meg knew immediately that Ted was not in the picture. She changed the subject: “Where are we going?”
“For now, back to the main road,” Dianna answered. “Dr. Wrzniewski sent some of us back to meet the rest of our group.”
“Rest... how many of you are there?”
“I can't say, myself,” Dianna said. “About a hundred. People come and go all the time... Oh, don't misunderstand. We've lost people, but mostly, they just go. Carlos and George take people with us if they really need help, like you, but they never make anyone stay. Some do, some don't, it's about half and half. Mostly, the ones that go head for someplace... or people... they wanted to get to all along.”
“So where are you headed for?” Meg said.
The girl chimed in, “Where are we going, Mommy?”
“Nowhere in particular, I suppose,” Dianna said with a slightly wistful smile. “As far as we know, there really aren't any places left to go. We just stay on the move; we stop to pick up food and gas as we go along, and go places if we have a lead on something big...”
“And get away from them,” Meg added.
“Yeah,” Dianna said sadly. “Them.”
“You know... I heard something,” Meg said. Dianna looked a little more serious, and Meg guessed, correctly, that she already knew the story. “I heard that the government was setting up safe places. First it was shelters in the cities, run by the police. Then the army came in and started moving people out to places in the country side, deserts and mountains, like... reservations.” She glanced at the Indian, but saw no reaction. “That's what I heard. Well, my boyfriend told me he heard it.”
Dianna drew an arm a little tighter around her daughter. “No, they tried that, but it never worked out,” she said. “We don't waste time looking for anything like that.” The Bus followed behind them, and as they made a turn Meg saw Moby Ralph behind it. By the time they reached the turn-off from the main road, they passed three more vehicles, a 27-foot Travco that could only be Flipper, a World War 2-vintage Jeep, and a towering silver-skinned vehicle that was not so much a motorhome as a self-propelled trailer. “Monstro, I presume?” Meg said.
“Yup,” Dianna said. “One and only.”
“What is it, anyway?” Meg said, craning her neck. “It looks like somebody just went, like, Frankenstein and put an old Airstream trailer on a big truck.”
“It was a Spartan, actually,” Dianna said. “The trailer, I mean. You can recognize them by that front window, like a wrap-around windshield that sticks forward, especially on the early models. That one's 1947; we checked the nameplate. There was a big boom in streamlined aluminum trailers right after the war, and Spartans were at the high end. A lot of them got used a little, and sold off or just abandoned. Then, somewhere along the line, someone thought of turning them into what we'd call motorhomes.”
“Why di'n't they just take the trailer, Mommy?” Janie said.
“Well, Janie,” Dianna said mischievously, “sometimes even big boys do really silly things... .”
Meg sat up as a pickup truck went by. Its boxy but streamlined cab, painted red and white with a siren on top, gave her a sense of deja vu. “That's Little Red, our A100 pickup, and here's Red and Big Red Jr, our A-series vans,” Dianna said. Two vans, clearly variants of the same model as the pickup and also clearly former fire department vehicles, followed behind, and Meg recognized it as one her family had owned when she was in grade school. One was longer than the other, and lacked windows. “Red's an eight-door passenger van, and Big Red has an expanded hundred-and-eight inch wheel base; they called it the A108. They all have the 318 engine upgrade, the same they used in the B-series and even some of the L-series trucks. Speaking of, here's our big boys...”
Two more fire department vehicles, a flatbed carrying a GMC Vandura and an even bigger tank truck. They bore about as much mutual resemblance to the pickup and van as the “Before” and “After” guys in a marginally convincing mail- order miracle fitness ad. “Those are Red Wagon and Gunga Dodge, two of our L-series trucks. Gunga Dodge is an L700 two-thousand gallon water carrier. It's the biggest vehicle we have, about 25 tons full.. if we can keep it full. The Wagon is an L600, and we think started as a ladder truck. It was stripped down to the cab when we got it, and a mechanic bought it and turned it into a flatbed car carrier. That's a funny story...
“Back when Carlos was starting at his school, he talked his department into buying a 108 new for his department's field trips, but about ten years later, they sold it to help pay for two new fifteen-passenger GMC Vanduras. Several vehicles got sold, and the faculty bought up most of them, like that Type 2 Bus at the station. Professor Harrington turned that one into a camper, and George bought a Dodge twelve-passenger that ended up back in the field trip roster. But the 108 was snapped up before anyone even knew about the sale. Carlos was furious, and he was seriously obsessed with getting another 108. Then a few years later, he got a lead on one that was being sold off at a municipal fire department auction. He went with Ted... this was a few years ago... and found the van in a lot with the other vehicles. Ted told me, after, that it was no reserve, but Carlos put down everything they had in the first bid. And then it turned out it was the only bid!” She smiled, but pressed a hand to her eye.
Meg asked, not quite sputtering, “Did- he...?”
“No,” Dianna said. “He- It was before any of this. A few months after the auction, actually.” She gently nuzzled Janie, and Meg said no more.
“Ah, and there's the Yellow Submarine.” Another L700 passed, a semi with the yellow and black colors and orange lights of municipal maintenance vehicle and a similarly-painted tank trailer in tow. “Carlos got the truck and trailer at a municipal auction, same as the fire department vehicles. It was probably used to deliver fuel to road construction crews and remote construction sites. The big trailer's 5000 gallons with two compartments, split about 60-40. We fill the big one with diesel, and the other with regular gas... or, again, we would if we could keep it full. And this is Yellow Cab, from the same lot.”
They pulled to a halt alongside a Jeep FC crew cab tow truck, painted with a jaunty checkered pattern. She knew enough about trucks to know that the A-frame tow rig was improvised and fairly light, but it had obviously been strong enough to go the distance with Greg's Audi hitched behind it “Hey, that's mine,” she said. She pulled out the keys.
“I'm sure Professor Wrzniewski will give it back,” Dianna said.
Meg stood up and looked out the door. In addition to the tow truck, there was another yellow FC fitted out as a light tank truck and towing a second tank on a trailer, a Jeep Gladiator with an unusually large slide-in truck camper and a 3-door Rabbit hitched to a fiberglass trailer. Meg took a closer look at the trailer, whose rounded shape and orange color called Cinderella's pumpkin carriage to mind. It was small, with a body only about ten feet long, and presumably light-weight, but still looked a bit big for such a small car to be towing.
She took an even more careful look at the camper on the truck. Part of the roof was moving. As she watched, the cab-over front of the roof, already much taller than the usual upper bunk, expanded into an upper room that opened onto the rest of the roof like a balcony. A man emerged, waved in the direction of the Goliath, and then unfolded a chair.
Meg was surprised when someone called back from the cab, “That's Daniel. He's my husband. I'm Becky.” She looked belatedly at the driver. It took a moment to convince herself that the woman at the wheel was old enough to be driving the car.
“Wait,” Meg said aloud, running through Carlos's story. “Becky... the grad student?”
“That would be me,” the woman said. “I'm into my doctoral work now, or I was.”
“That would make you...” Meg frowned. “Older than I am.”
“I don't know,” Becky said. “How old are you?” Janie giggled.
“Well, might as well go meet people and see what shape my car's in,” Meg said. She stepped down, and Janie scampered after her. She looked over her shoulder, expecting the young mother to be following right behind her child. Instead, Dianna was slowly stretching one leg and then the other, before stretching out her arms and raising herself in a slow and steady motion. When she was on her feet, she reached over her shoulder and snatched up a cane. Meg tried not to stare as the woman who had already impressed her as a dynamic and vibrant beauty came hobbling out. She stopped trying when she saw the pervasive scars beneath the other woman's tank top.
“It was a single car accident” Dianna said, gripping Meg's shoulder for support as she made the descent to the ground. “I was driving, with Ted, and Janie... and her big brother and baby sister. I don't know what happened. Nobody does. They know Ted got Janie out. They think he had a chance to get Jack, too. Instead... They said they found him with his arms around me. They said that's why the the burns are on my back. Mostly.” Then she hobbled a little faster after her daughter.
David N. Brown Mesa Arizona