H is for Hell
Interstate 64 used to be just like any other highway. Stop and go and often frustrating, but generally flowing. Now it was hell. Ten hours before Greta was due to hit Hampton Roads, the highway was choked up with bumper-to-tail traffic and the low fug of spent fuel blanketed the air and irritated the nostrils. The emergency reversal had gone into effect. It was eight lanes of grinding metal oozing west, a multitude of humming lemmings with no idea where they were going, just away from the eye of the storm.
In the Dodge van, Freddie and his fretting parents sweated into the late afternoon. They had turned off the air conditioning to save gas, but the thickness of the air was almost unbearable. It had taken four hours to reach Williamsburg. Whenever the traffic nudged forward, it would come to a stop minutes later as another car broke down or ran out of gas and had to be pushed to the margins of the road, leaving its unfortunate occupants to their fate as the storm barreled toward them.
Unlike many of those on the road, Freddie had an idea of where he was going. His brother lived in western Virginia, and his eventual destination was his vacation cottage in West Virginia. eHeh He was starting to doubt if he would ever make it. For a while, he thought he would have to stay in Hampton Roads, but his bosses had told him his maps would not be a lot of good for a few days and only emergency personnel were to remain. He had been happy to get his parents out of their subdivision, but now he was starting to wonder whether it would have made more sense to sit tight, even though the maps warned otherwise.
They passed close to another stranded family. A brick red pick-up was beside the road, steam rising from the hood. A father with livid face, red enough to match his car, clutched a small child. The woman was swarthy and dark and tears drenched her cheeks. Freddie looked again and realized he knew them.
“It’s them,” he said to himself as much as anyone else.
His father and then gave him a withering look as the car moved right. “You are not going to?”
“I wouldn’t live with myself if we left that kid by the roadside.”
He wound down the window and made a gesture to the woman. “Need a ride?”
She rushed over to him. It had been just two weeks since he had last seen Diana but she seemed to have aged a matter of years, and her defiant swagger had gone.
“You would?” Then she stopped and he saw a glimmer of recognition. “I know you.”
“We met a few weeks ago.”
Diana yelled over to the man and the child. “Carson. These people can take us.”
He moved toward them slowly and stopped. Freddie saw the man take in his features and his parents in the roomy van.
“Hell no. Not him.”
“It’s entirely your choice,” said Freddie and inched the van forward in preparation to inch forward the few years the traffic would allow him. He heard a commotion. The woman was yelling at him and pulling the child.
“We’re going with them. If you want to wait for the storm that’s your choice,” she told her husband. “Hey wait mister.”
Diana got into the back seat with the child. The sliding door squealed open for the second time and then stopped as it made contact with a boot. Carson got into the back seat and stared sullenly ahead of him at the gridlock. Freddie thought it was not the best time to speak.