Waiting for the Dead:The Last Town #3(9)

By: Stephen Knight



But now, the Ghibli’s check engine light was on, and it wouldn’t go out. And truth be told, the engine was starting to become sluggish, laggardly. The Italian sports sedan was having trouble accelerating, even in traffic that moved no more than twenty-five miles per hour up Route 395. Ridgecrest was three hours behind them, and that was where they’d picked up a lot of the traffic, and Sinclair had been chafing ever since rolling past the blue-collar desert town. The Maserati had been surrounded by pickup trucks, big rigs, minivans, and the usual assortment of vehicles normally favored by the lower middle class, and most of those red-necked bozos couldn’t drive to save their lives. Sinclair weaved in and out of traffic where he could, but it was rare for him to get past a top speed of thirty-five miles per hour.

And then, the Ghibli’s check engine light came on.

Italian piece of shit, Sinclair raged impotently. If only we had an Aston! Or even a Range Rover!

Ahead, a town loomed, emerging from the scrub and desert that surrounded the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Sinclair glanced at a road sign as soon as it came in view.

SINGLE TREE SAYS HOWDY!

“Oh, dear God,” he said aloud. “Howdy? Surely California is more civilized than that, or have we somehow crossed into Neanderthal Texas?”

Meredith made a satisfied hmph noise in the back of her throat, but offered nothing more.

A glance at the GPS showed that, indeed, the town of Single Tree, California, lay ahead somewhere in the darkness. All Sinclair saw out the windows at the moment was a trailer park. People sat on the side of the road in lawn chairs, watching the traffic snake past. He clucked his tongue. Such plebeian activity, as if the fools had never seen traffic before. He noticed several people held signs. Water, $1.00. Tamales $2.50. Fresh fruit, vegetables. He also saw several motorists had pulled out of the line of traffic to take advantage of these offerings, and Sinclair clucked his tongue again and shook his head. The world was full of idiots, always willing the buy someone’s rusty tap water for a dollar.

The Ghibli continued to lag its way northward. Sinclair thought he could hear something under the hood now, like a cylinder misfiring. He clenched his teeth and fidgeted slightly in the seat. He glanced over at Meredith, and in the light of the GPS display, he thought he could see her smiling wanly. Enjoying his discomfort, perhaps.

Stupid tart, Sinclair fumed to himself.

At last, the town of Single Tree appeared. The lights were still on, so that was something. And curiously, Sinclair thought he saw construction equipment out in the desert. Floodlights illuminated a large swath of the barren region as several backhoes went at it, attacking the desert floor with a vengeance. It was an odd time to be doing such work, seeing as it was almost three o’clock in the morning.

Probably those god-awful frackers, Sinclair thought. Truly, greed knows no limit.

The first gas station they came upon was full of cars and trucks, and traffic was backed up to the town limits. Sinclair pulled around most of it, stomping on the accelerator, trying to coax the overpriced piece of luxury Italian shit into something resembling forty miles per hour. The Ghibli began to shudder as its engine knocked. The car chugged past a Comfort Inn hotel, its parking lot full, then ambled its way past a lumber store—its parking lot was full as well, albeit with hulking trucks that bore all manner of construction equipment. Farther up was a small airport, its entrance gate closed and apparently locked. On the other side of the street—now called South Main Street, he saw—there was a Chevron gas station, also clogged with vehicles. Sinclair considered trying to make his way into the parking lot anyway, but there was no chance of him being able to turn against the oncoming traffic. Also, he didn’t want to stop, for fear the Ghibli wouldn’t start moving again.

The car meandered past two more full hotels, several ramshackle homes, and what appeared to be a large parking lot full of more construction equipment. A Carl’s Jr. hamburger restaurant, currently closed. A Subway sandwich shop, also closed. A used car dealership, the sight of which got Sinclair’s hopes up, until he saw several hopped-up pickup trucks and lowriders out front. As much as he was growing to despise the Maserati, he knew nothing would come from allowing a gang of backcountry monkeys to prod and poke at it. The car shook and shuddered a bit more, actually starting to drop in and out of gear.

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