October 2023. The hotly contested Presidential election stole the news headlines. Steve Borrows, a senator from the fringe state of Arkansas ran against President Bankenridge’s Foundation Party and their Presidential candidate.
The junior senator made headlines with his brash, often repeated condemnation of the state of American politics and the subservient role the serving President took in acquiescing to the climate movement while the nation suffered as a whole.
“Never before has a sitting President purposely led his people down such a black hole of despondency while ignoring public outcries and catering to a fringe ideology,” the Senator relentlessly reminded the American public. His utter disdain toward his opponent and a daring platform to revive the stumbling super power quickly resonated throughout the land.
With unemployment rates at unheard of numbers forcing millions of families to eke out pathetic existences, large industries shuttered and the countries GDP dropping steadily into double negative numbers the votes for the Arkansas Senator climbed.
Forced to battle without the immense funding of a backer like the POTE Foundation, Senator Borrows pleaded with the American people to help in a fight to return America the nation it once was, a great and powerful country and a leader for the rest of the world.
At the beginning of his campaign, the man from Arkansas faced an overwhelming mountain of resistance. Lacking the funding and experience of his opponent Borrows appealed to the average working men and women, a firm voice in a time of turmoil and depression for the United States. With words that resounded from coast to coast, the Senator used wit and empathy for the struggling population to drive his campaign.
The Presidential hopeful pledged promises of a unified country. Fueling dreams of what the average American household had taken for granted only a short 8 or 10 years earlier. A prosperous country where the working class once again were gainfully employed, living in heated homes, food for their tables and neighborhoods where the children played and laughed.
The Foundation’s candidate surged on the vote of the countries labor unions and the burgeoning environmental movement. Union leaders afraid to displease the President's bosses and lose the prospect of job security for their members stood by the Foundation. The environmental movement pleased with the current ruling party and the replacement of fossil fuels happily campaigned for the candidate.
In the months running up to the election, Steve Borrows forged an agreement with the holdout, the Protected States of America. The deal signed to reunite the wounded nation stitching America’s 51 states back together. Buoyed by the support of the protected states and the voting public opposed to the current government's energy schemes, the race for the Whitehouse had become too close to call.
While the Presidential race fueled animosity across the country, the ex-Russian soldier and Carol Ryan fought a path from the eastern seaboard toward the mountains of Colorado. The travelers zigzagged through depression filled states. Several times the pair was forced to doubled back on their route as they encountered blocked highways. The nation's network of roadways suffered from the oil shortage; some blanketed from ditch to ditch with vehicles abandoned by their owners when the gas tanks ran empty.
The second morning of the trip west the bullet buried in Zhernakov’s side infected. The Russian slipped in and out of consciousness while a fever gripped his body. Concerned for the man’s health, Carol Ryan pulled off Interstate 81 east of the town of Bristol, Tennessee.
The highway sign read 30 miles to the City of Bristol. Carol glanced down once more at the flashing light on the car's instrument panel. A red blinking light indicated the tank was near empty. Making a decision to fill the tank against the possibility of running short of fuel she steered the car into the cluster of businesses that lined the road.
Dusk settled over the area as she rolled the car off the paved Interstate and drove the car onto a graveled road leading to a gas station. The parking area ahead littered with dusty, forgotten vehicles. Across a narrow alley from the pumps sat a roadside diner. The lights in the eatery cast shadows into the falling darkness.
A mud-caked pickup truck parked out front. A little farther down the road, a rundown single story motel welcomed visitors with a flickering vacant sign.
Carol edged the car toward the lighted gas station. The lights in the building lifted her hopes that the station still carried a supply of gas. Several times today she had driven past gas stations that were boarded shut with covered and empty tanks. As she drew nearer the pumps, her hopes began to fall. The pumps dials sat in shadow.
Stopping the car alongside the pump island, she checked on her children, both fast asleep. In the front seat, the Canadian snored quietly, his face drenched from the fever.
Carol eased out of the driver’s seat gently closing the car door. Stretching the weariness out of her body, she looped around the car toward the dark pumps. A quivering light lit the inside of the glass cover.
With a faltering hope, she removed the gas nozzle and waited for the pump dial to activate. Nothing. Craning her neck, she peered toward the lit station office. No signs of movement. Reluctant to leave the car she replaced the nozzle and crossed the graveled ground. The station door was locked. Indecisively she glanced back at the car then crossed over to the roadside diner hoping to find the station owner.
A bell on the door sounded as she stepped inside. The restaurant stretched out in front of her. At the counter, two good old boys in ball caps, dirty clothes, and unruly beards turned to watch her approach. In a window table adjacent to the front counter an old couple was bent over eating. The old man raised his eyes from his supper and after a quick glance at her rested his eyes on the boys at the counter.
Swallowing her nervousness she took another step inside the diner. “Does one of you run the station next door? She asked. “I have an emergency and my car is out of gas.”
A worn waitress entered the room from a side door at the dinging of the bell. “The station is closed, sweetie,” the waitress said apologetically. “I don’t know why Ike leaves the damn lights on in the front.”
One of the men at the counter set his fork down and running his fingers through his greasy hair leered at Carol. “I got some gas I can sell you.” He said. “If you got money to pay.”
The waitress turned her attention to the man then switched them back to Carol’s face. Her eyes saddened, and her mouth twitched like she wanted to add something but reconsidered after a sideways glance from the men at the counter.
Carol waited by the doorway. The situation made her nervous, but with an empty gas tank, she was short of options. She swept from the waitress to the old couple before her gaze returned to the men at the counter.
“I’ve got money,” she answered. The man at the counter wiped his hands on his jeans and slid off the stool, his partner following.
“Right out front.” The man said. Carol glimpsed back toward the waitress and then let her eyes travel to the couple by the window. She noticed the old man’s eyes narrowed as he watched the two good old boys.
“Henry Clemson,” the closest of the men extended a dirty hand in her direction. An overpowering stench of sweat permeated from the man as he guided Carol out of the restaurant.
“Carol Ryan,” Carol introduced herself. “My husband is waiting in the car.” She quickly added wishing that her Canadian passenger were by her side.
Carol stepped off the front step and felt a shove as she moved toward the truck parked out front. “This way.” The man calling himself Henry growled.
Carol tried to turn to face the pair but was met with force as she was guided into the darkened alley separating the gas bar and the diner. Ignoring her protests, the good old boys herded her deeper into the walled tunnel using their presence to block her retreat. Near the end of the building, the two men shoved her behind a pile of stacked pallets and boxes.
“We don’t want your money for the gas,” the man called Henry sneered down at her.
“Leave me alone,” Carol shouted at the pair. “You don’t want my husband to come looking for me.” She bluffed.
“Oh. Your husband can come and watch.” The second man spoke while reaching for her. Carol stepped away from the men. Her back touched a wall. A brief flash of panic shot through her then was quickly replaced with anger. Her children were yards away sleeping in the car and damned if she was going to be a victim.
She pushed the man’s hands away, and when Henry drew closer, she drove the two-inch heel of her boot down on his foot. As he flinched, she raked her fingernails across his bearded face while twisting out of his grasp and attempted to leave the alley.
A large hand slammed into the back of her head knocking her down onto the graveled lane. “I’ll teach her a lesson,” the second man said to his pal. Carol raised her hands to protect her head against another blow. Quivering in the dust she waited, her mind racing for a way out.
“Comrade. Try picking on someone your size.” She heard a familiar voice join the fray. The smack as flesh met flesh and the man standing over her grunted then staggered backward. Carol moved forward, away from the commotion before standing up and risking a look back. The Canadian stood facing the men from the diner. Even in the dim light, his face had a pale sheen.
Zhernakov launched at the two from the diner, his fists punishing the men, his arms blocking punches and kicks. For a fast, furious couple of minutes, he held the pair off. Then in the dark alley, his strength waned, the infection and fever sapping his strength. The men from the diner began landing punishing blows to his body. Zhernakov faltered under the torrent of punishment. A rock rolled under foot sending him sprawling to the ground.
In unison, the pair from the diner closed in. Their advance halted by a loud metallic click from the mouth of the alley. In the near dark, a flash of light glinted off the business end of a double-barreled shotgun as it floated toward the melee.
“Jim. You and Henry climb in your truck and don’t ever let me catch site of the two of around here again.” The old man from the diner spoke from behind the twin barrels. The two good old boys scowled at the intruder, shot a quick glance at Carol then scurried from the alley. The old man's gun following the two until they retreated out of site.
“Even in this shitty light, your friend doesn’t look very well.” The old man commented as Carol rushed to Zhernakov’s side. “I own the motel next door. Let me give you a hand, and we can move him to a room there.”
A new Canadian Author with too many ideas in his head. Surprising even himself with where his stories go.