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Authors: Patrick E. Craig

The Road Home (7 page)

BOOK: The Road Home
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Another car passed going west, followed by a string of cars. He could see the waves of the lake lapping against the bare dirt shore. A dead stump sticking up out of the water came into view. Then the clouds over the lake opened up a bit, and the dim new moon faintly lit the bleak landscape, touching the waters of the lake with a ghastly illumination. The starkness of his surroundings and the events of the
past few days crowded in on him, and fear gripped him. He saw Shub's eyes, dead, like this horrible place, and he almost ran off the road. His breath was coming in gasps, so he pulled over to the side of the road.

Get it together, Johnny! Do something! Get a grip on yourself
.

Suddenly a thought came to him—a thought he'd never had before. He could pray, couldn't he? If there was a God, now was the time to get His help.

“God, if You're real, I need Your help. I don't know what to do or where to go. I've never asked for Your help before, but if You can hear me, I need it now.”

Johnny sat silently behind the wheel. His breathing quieted, and the pounding of his heart slowed. A big truck roared by, and the wind shook his van.

C
HAPTER
F
IVE

Close Call

J
OHNNY KEPT DRIVING
. The second day he made good time. The third day, his tiredness and some bad weather slowed his progress, but on he drove.

By the time he approached Cleveland, he was exhausted and wanted to stop, but during the past two days a fear had grown in him that if he stopped, the drug dealers would find him and kill him. An obsessive thought took over his mind.
If I can make it to Levittown, I'll be okay. I just need to get back to my own room and my own bed
.

Johnny knew it was foolish thinking, but he couldn't help himself. The highway stretched before him, and the monotony and fear wore on him. He was totally beat and knew he would never make it to New York by that night. The sky had been overcast all day, and the gray clouds and drizzle matched his mood. The landscape in this part of the country was unsightly and grim. He drove through factory towns with their ugly strip malls and rundown row houses. The air smelled of sulfur and coal smoke. He imagined that this was what hell must be like.

Since his one unsuccessful attempt at prayer, he hadn't tried again. Instead, his thoughts had become dark and morbid, filled with Shub's dead face, gun-wielding crooks, and visions of his own death.

As dusk approached, he passed the turnoff to Akron, and he could feel that his fingers had locked on the wheel of the car. He knew he had to stop, so he started looking for a motel. He saw an exit with a Best Western sign below the turnoff arrow. He pulled off the interstate, turned at the first light, and followed the frontage road until he came to the motel. Interstate 80 was right across the street. Only a dirty, trash-strewn median strip and a chain-link fence separated the motel from the continual stream of roaring traffic.

He pulled in and drove up to the office. His knees ached, his back was stiff, and he had to unclench his hands several times before they loosened up. He had an odd thought that he might never play the guitar again.

Johnny pushed his way through the swinging glass door and walked up to the counter. The clerk was sitting in a chair in front of a messy desk reading a newspaper. A half-smoked cigarette smoldered in an ashtray next to him. The clerk continued reading for a few more minutes. Just when Johnny was about to say something, he put the paper down, got up, and shuffled to the counter. He was a greasy old man with sparse, stringy gray hair, and his unpleasant smile revealed the spaces where two teeth were missing.

“What can I do you for?”

“I need a room,” Johnny said.

The clerk went to a board hanging on the wall and got down a key with a big green tag. “Twenty-five in advance,” the old man said as he glanced out at Johnny's van. “Which way you headed?”

Johnny paid the money without comment, and the old man shut up and handed over the key. Johnny walked back outside and got in the van. Cash always seemed to answer an inquisitive clerk's questions. He drove the van around to the back of the building and found his room. The parking space in front of it was empty, so he pulled in.

Johnny got out of the car and started toward the room, but then
he remembered that he hadn't asked the clerk about nearby restaurants. He locked the van and started back around the building. As he turned the corner, he looked down the row of doors toward the office. A brown sedan was parked in front of the office door, and a man sat behind the wheel apparently waiting for someone. Johnny's heart leaped into his throat. He jumped back behind the corner of the building and snuck another glance. Inside the office, a tall man was questioning the clerk. Was it the same tall man he had seen in Pacifica? From this angle, Johnny couldn't tell.

The clerk was shaking his head, obviously answering a question from the tall man. Then the man reached in his pocket and pulled out a green roll, peeled off a bill, and handed it to the clerk. Johnny saw the clerk take the bill and then point in his direction. He jerked back behind the corner but not before he saw that the tall man
was
the man from the motel in Pacifica. They had found him!

They must have gotten information from his roommates and then come after him. It would have been easy to catch up to him. With two guys, they could have driven straight through, checking motels on the way. They obviously figured out he was headed to Long Island. And the way his van was painted, it wouldn't have been too hard to track. Heading home was the worst thing he could have done. He should have gone north to Portland or Seattle. Too late now.

In a panic, Johnny ran back to his van, jumped in, and started it up. He looked around. The parking lot in back of the motel opened out onto a side street. He drove out slowly, crossed the lanes, and headed into an alley on the other side. He maneuvered down the alley, looking for a way of escape.

There was a large open door in the side of a building about halfway down, and he pulled into it. It was the lower floor of a large parking garage. He turned around inside, pulled up behind the wall, and stopped the van. Then he got out and carefully looked out the entrance
toward the motel. From where he was he could see the door of his room. The brown sedan pulled up in front of his room, and two men got out. The tall man walked up from the direction of the office. Johnny saw them move to both sides of the door and pull their guns. Then the tall man pulled out a key, opened the door, and rushed inside.

The men were inside for just a moment and then came out quickly. The tall man went to the driver's side and pointed toward the freeway. The car sped off in the direction of the freeway entrance. Johnny broke into a sweat. He obviously had to go another direction.

Johnny drove slowly out of the parking garage and turned onto the street in the opposite direction from where the brown sedan had gone. He turned out onto the frontage road and headed down the street, looking for a freeway entrance.

In a couple of blocks he saw the sign, turned onto the freeway, and headed west. He watched the signs, looking for an exit north or south. In about a mile he saw a green sign that said
INTERSTATE
77
SOUTH
,
AKRON
, 1
MILE
. The gloomy clouds had grown thicker, and a heavy drizzle was falling. He found the Akron exit and took it, heading south.

Within a few miles the wind picked up, and the sky opened. Torrential rain began to pour down. The lights of the cars coming toward him were blurs through the rain-covered windshield as the wipers labored to clear the water away. The van jerked as the wind struck it, and Johnny had to fight to stay on the road. He knew the men wouldn't have to go too far to figure out that he hadn't headed east. He had to get off the main road. As he drove through the rain, his heart was pounding, and his hands gripped the wheel until the knuckles turned white. In spite of the cold, he could feel sweat pouring off him.

“Help me, Jesus!” The words were torn from his constricted throat. “Help me, help me!”

Just then he saw a sign ahead.
OH
-21
S
,
MASSILLON
.

He jerked the wheel and took the exit at about forty-five, the worn
tires of the van shrieking and protesting. In about ten minutes he saw another sign.
OH
-585
S
,
WOOSTER
.

Again he took the exit and headed toward Wooster. He was on a two-lane country road with crossroads coming in from the left and right. He turned off onto one that headed into a forested area. He kept going, looking through the rain for something, anything, a place of safety.

Up ahead he saw a break in the trees. A dirt road led into the woods, and he turned onto it. A hundred yards ahead of him were some buildings, but he couldn't see them clearly in the darkness. He drove slowly toward them and then pulled into a clearing.

In front of him were several ramshackle structures, including an old barn, some sheds, and a house that was falling down. He passed a faded sign that read
FOR SALE
,
ACREAGE
. The rain was blowing sideways now, and Johnny saw a few shingles tear off the house and disappear into the dark. An old windmill, just visible in the glow of the headlights, spun madly in the gusting wind.

Just ahead of him, the wide barn door was open and hanging on one hinge. The whole place was rundown, desolate, and clearly abandoned. He drove carefully through the open barn door and into the wide main floor area. He climbed out of the van and went back to the door. He could tell it had been hanging open for a long time, and weeds had grown up around it. He stepped out into the pouring rain and tried to pull it loose. It took some doing, but he finally worked it free and swung it closed. He stood in the dark, soaking wet. His heart was still pounding, and he was shaking from the cold.

Outside, the wind howled, and the rain beat down on the barn roof. He got his knapsack out of the van, rummaged around in it, and found his flashlight. It was an old Boy Scout flashlight he'd had for years, and a sudden memory came to him of happier times in the woods, sitting around campfires and laughing with other Scouts.

He turned it on and shined the beam around. He could see that the place was empty except for a few old saw blades and some strange utensils still hanging on the walls. As he shined the light up into the loft he heard the rustle of wings. He jumped.

Above him, a small flock of pigeons rose up in the beam of light from the rafters where they had been sitting and circled around the inside of the roof before settling back down on their roost. Rain was pouring in at the far end of the barn through a hole in the roof.

Johnny got out some dry clothes from his knapsack. Once he was changed, he looked around again. Some firewood was stacked in a bin on one side of the main room, and more dry wood and old boards were lying around. He gathered some up and piled them by the van. He searched through his knapsack until he found some matches and then built a small fire and pulled a couple of logs up next to it. He laid his wet clothes over the logs to dry and then looked in the car for some food. There were a couple of candy bars left and some chips and a warm can of Fresca that he had picked up at a gas station stop. He pulled a stump up by the fire and sat down. He sat by the flickering flames, munching on the chips and contemplating his close call.

Maybe if I meditate on my mantra I'll peace out
.

Johnny sat down on the floor and assumed the position—legs folded and ankles crossed, hands resting on his knees with the thumb and first finger together and the last three fingers out straight. Then he began chanting the word he had learned from the guru who had lived next door in the Haight.

“Shrang, shrang, shrang…”

He chanted the word for a few minutes, but he couldn't settle into the relaxed state he normally found when he meditated. Instead, the barn seemed to grow darker, and a shiver went down his spine. Quickly he stopped.

Whoa! What was that?

Johnny looked around. He felt almost as if someone had come into the barn.

Then, without knowing why, he remembered that just before he found this hiding place, he had called out to Jesus.

That's interesting. I haven't said Jesus' name for years, not since Sunday school
.

BOOK: The Road Home
4.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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