Chapter Three

 

“What is going on around here?” the man yelled at the empty town.  “Look,” he said to the woman, “I’m starved.  I’ve gotta get something to eat.”

“Sure, sure. And what do you plan to eat?  Sagebrush?” she demanded.  “We’ve been all over this town and there isn’t so much as one rusty can of beans around here.”  The woman clenched her teeth, then blinked back a tear and turned her face away from the man.

Surprised by the intensity of her outburst, the man began gently, “Look.  I’ve been thinking.  We picked up forty-three thousand pounds of canned food back in Oakland, remember?  The kind that goes into vending machines, right?  With pull-off tops, ready to eat.  We don’t even need a can opener.”  He reached for his clipboard.  “Look at the Bill of Lading.  We got fifty cases of Chili with Beans, fifty cases of Spaghetti and Meatballs, seventy Beef Stews.  We got Lasagna, even Vienna Sausages.”

“We can’t take that food.  It doesn’t belong to us and you know it’s a federal crime to pilfer interstate shipments.  We break that seal and they’ll bust us for sure.”

“Seal’s already gone.  Broke it when I put all that stuff back there.  Didn’t think about the food then.  Guess I was too excited about makin’ some extra cash.”

“Yeah, about that, what’s up with you stealing that junk anyway?  Don’t belong to you.”

“Take a look around.  Who’s gonna miss it?  Have you seen a single car or anything since we left Fallon?”

“Not that that matters.  Stealing’s stealing.  Well… let’s eat.”

The man unlocked the trailer and swung a heavy door open.  “What do you want?”

“I don’t care,” the woman replied.  “Whatever you can get at first.”

The man clambered into the trailer and up a stack of palletized cases.  Reaching the top, he ripped the shrink-wrap away and pulled out a box. “Looks like Beef Stew for lunch.  Here, grab holda this box before I fall on my can here.  There.  You got it?”  The woman took the case as the man braced himself against the wall of the trailer and eased himself down.  He was drenched in sweat.  “Must be a hundred and forty degrees in there.  Well, the stew will be warm.  Let’s eat.  Too bad we don’t have any silverware.”

The woman didn't laugh.  “I don’t suppose you have any beverages in there, do you?”

“Sorry.  But you said there was running water, right?  It might not be drinkable though, but once we eat some of this stew we can fill the cans up with water and boil it over a fire.  I bet we could live here for years.”

“Don’t say that,” she said sharply.  “This is NOT my idea of living.  The sooner we get out of here the better.”

After they had satisfied their hunger, the man spoke up.  “You know, what we gotta do is find a phone.  I didn’t see one when we looked around this morning.  Did you?”

“No, just that torn-up old phone booth on the other side of the station.  No phone in it though.  What about the CB?”

“Nah, tried it earlier.  Nothing but static.  Same goes for the AM/FM.  Funny thing; I had it on yesterday.  Thing started action up a few hours before we got to Sage.  Same thing, nothing but static.  Almost like we drove into a lot of electrical interference in this area.  

“What do you think would happen if we turned around and went back the way we came?  You know, back towards Fallon?  I don’t know where we are, nothing fits with the map.  There’s no Sage, and Highway Fifty don’t run more than forty miles in a straight line anywhere in the state.  I was going to ask you before, but do you remember going through Austin?”

“Yeah," the man answered. "Couple hours before we hit Sage.  You got the map?”

The woman got the map from the cab and spread it out on the truck’s fender.  “Look,” she pointed out, “If you were tired, you might have gone on straight here were the 371 and this unmarked road join the Fifty just this side of Austin.  See how Fifty turns and heads east?  But this other road goes straight.”

“Yeah, straight into that mountain range.  Look, it’s only straight for the first twenty miles or so, then look at all those curves.  Besides, this map says that’s a gravel road.  This one’s pretty beat up and cracked, but it’s paved.  No, I don’t think we’re on that road.  I don’t see a road on the map that runs straight for as long as this one does.  Or seems to.  I wonder if we’re even still in Nevada?  Maybe—“

“No, that sign over on that gas station says ‘Sage, Nevada.’"

The man fell silent.

“Let’s try heading back towards Austin, then.  We don’t have much to lose.”

Once again, the truck pulled out of town.

The pattern was not broken; three and one-half hours later, they found themselves entering Sage – from the east.
 

Chapter Four