Keysville was another ragged settlement on the road to nowhere, a place where a few wooden homes hugged the highway. But for Freddie, it was a significant milestone. It had taken more than two days to get here. Once they had escaped from Hampton Roads, Freddie had navigated his way down a route of bewildering country roads. When most teenagers experimented with girls and drugs, Freddie had built up an impressive mental map of the small roads of Virginia.
He had been amazed at the number of people who had followed official advice and remained on the Interstates that became increasingly impassable. At Richmond, the James River had risen and swallowed up part of the highway, dragging dozens of cars into its foaming jaws. Drivers had relayed news of the tragedy down the metal chain. Even then some people had remained on the Interstate. Freddie had hit the dirt roads and cross-crossed his way across Virginia to Keysville where his brother Roger lived.
Once they had left the Interstate he was able to slip more gas into his car from the can in the back, without the risk of being robbed. The interstates had disintegrated into dangerous and desperate places at night where gun shots were a common sound.
The passengers in the back remained an unnerving presence, and Freddie caught his parents’ anxious glances. Over and again when Carson wiped his firearm with his spit and threatened to murder vigilantes on the road, he reassessed the decision to pick them up. Still the sobs of the infant muffled his anxiety and made him feel better.
When the SUV finally turned into the mud choked drive of Roger’s house, Freddie allowed himself to smile and imagine a future beyond the relentless drive west.
Roger’s threw open the roughly hewn door, allowing a glimpse into the festering interior. Those memories of previous visits when his mother would find an excuse to pull out after finding a gigantic spider in the bath or a toilet seat caked in grime and other unpleasant substances, were erased. Now Roger’s place was the promised land and they rushed in to hurl themselves on the embrace of the dusty sofas.
Freddie slept for hours on end. When he woke it was the hours of the morning. The fields around held a velvet blackness that made him think of the old world that he had left behind and even the tall trees had retreated. He stumbled out to the washroom, with the hesitancy of a stranger who is unaware of where the light switches are or hidden steps. Something brushed against him. Freddie resisted the urge to scream out. He felt an arm close on his and soft breath on his neck.
“It’s me Freddie,” he hissed.
He felt an arm tighten on him. It was the girl, Diana.
“Yes. I know.”
“So what are you doing?”
Her low voice was in his head and her breath made the small hairs on his neck rise.
“Be careful,” she whispered. “Watch out for him.”