Chapter 4: Evasion
“Are you sure you don’t want me to come along?”
“I’m sure, Mom.”
The yellow school bus was loading in the parking lot. Some students were already on board. Coach Rathborne was over by the gym.
“Mom. Drop me off here.”
Mara Brooke pulled to the curb. “I could take you closer.”
“No. This is fine. I have to get a book from my locker before I join the group.”
“Okay. Do you have your lunch money?”
Mara frowned at the bus. “Now be careful, Honey. Stay clear of the shot-put field. I don’t want you hurt again.”
“I’ll be okay.” Deena pulled her jacket out of the car. It was already a warm day, but her Mom would worry all day long if she didn’t take it.
“I’ll wait until....”
“No, Mom. I can take care of myself. Go on home. I’ll call you when the bus gets back.”
“If it’s after dark....”
Deena waited patiently on the curb until Mom drove off. Her biggest worry was that she would see Coach Rathborne and go over to chat.
She breathed a sigh of relief. I have to stay out of sight, too. The coach wouldn’t wait for her, or give her a second thought when she didn’t show. Simply explaining that her mother had changed her mind would be believable enough if she asked about it Monday.
Luther was surprised to see everyone waiting for him when he drove into the school parking lot, cautiously drifting over the speed bumps. He eased the Chevy up to the curb.
Bryony skipped down the steps and made a dash for the shotgun position. Terrian Trent and Deena took their time and climbed into the back seat. Deena folded her jacket and held it on her lap.
They drove off at an easy pace. Luther never exceeded the posted speed and was especially cautious inside the city limits. Local cops were more territorial than state police—more sensitive to infractions.
Bryony ran her fingers over the dash. “This is a great car. Where did you get it?”
Luther nodded. “I like it. Everything is original equipment. I like the way it drives. A big V-8. I just wish it got better gas mileage. It costs a fortune to keep it moving.”
Terrian asked, “Do we need to chip in for gas?”
“Naw. I was going there anyway. Costs the same for one person as four.”
Deena listened to Bryony chatting on and on. Luther did little but nod. He didn’t have much to say, unless she talked about his car.
Not that he isn’t interested in her. She saw his eyes. Bryony in her crisp yellow tailored shirt and white pants was a vision both guys liked to look at.
Deena shifted her folded jacket. I’m dressed like my mother. She couldn’t have worn anything nicer than her faded blue sweats, not to a track meet.
Terrian looked a little bored.
Oh, I should be talking to him. Isn’t that how it was supposed to work?
She took a breath. “I don’t understand track meets.”
“Oh?” Terrian looked at her for the first time. “I like them.”
He looked puzzled.
She hurried on. “I mean, you are big. Muscular. Shouldn’t you be out there throwing things?”
He nodded, looking pleased. “Yes. Last year I did shot-put and hammer throw.” He rattled off some numbers. They meant nothing to her.
“But honestly, I’m only interested in football. Track is a way to stay in shape in the off-season.”
“You were good at it.” She actually meant it as a question, but he agreed with her and began telling about the blocks he had thrown, or something. Deena knew as little about football as she did about track.
But all she had to do was say ‘Yes’ and ‘Um’ every so often and Terrian would keep the conversation running single-handedly. She was surprised how well it went.
Luther tuned Bryony out. He just enjoyed the driving. The trees started just a few miles south of Crescent City. Once Highway 101 crossed over the Klamath River Bridge, he started looking for his turn off. He hadn’t paid much attention on the bus, but he knew roughly where the place was.
“Ah, there it is,” he mumbled. The Newton-Drury Scenic Parkway turned off to the right.
From the back seat, Deena spoke, “It’s that way.” He glanced back. She was pointing. It agreed with his memories too.
He relaxed as the Chevy eased through the twisty two-lane blacktop road, sometimes flanked on either side by giant pillars of living wood so close that there wasn’t a shoulder to speak of. It was dark, although the day was sunny. The green canopy above took every ray of sun for its own use.
“That way.” In the back seat, Deena was pointing off into the trees.
“Unfortunately, there’s no road that way.” Luther joked. Bryony and Terrian chuckled. Deena wasn’t paying attention. She held her pointer finger out the window, like a live compass needle, shifting her angle as they moved past.
“Right here,” she said.
Luther frowned. There was no way to pull off here, even if Deena was right about the location. And she could be. It was in roughly the right part of the road.
And then, the trailhead parking area—just a wide section of shoulder—appeared over the next rise. He pulled off and turned off the engine.
“This is the place the bus picked us up.”
Deena was out the door.
“Hey, I’ve got water bottles in the ice chest in the trunk. We should get those.”
But Deena hadn’t heard him. She was already heading up through the trees. Bryony looked concerned. Luther went to the trunk.
“We’ll catch up to her. Don’t worry.”
Organizers were swamped with new reports as sensors all over the host’s body were reporting signals, strong signals, that indicated close proximity to the other hosts.
Their strategy had worked. Repair the host and point it in the right direction. This host could travel great distances, and it had done so.
But now wasn’t the time to let up. While they were much closer to the other hosts, pulsers were still scarce. The host had to be positioned very close before two-way communication could be established.
Deena tripped over a tree root and went down on one knee. “Ouch.”
It was a rude wakeup. As the car had entered the park area, the grand array of redwood giants had seemed like a fairyland, even more so than on the school field trip. Terrian’s replay of his favorite football games faded away from her consciousness.
Vaguely, she remembered jumping out of the car, anxious to reach it. Whatever ‘it’ was.
Like the trip her mother took her to Disneyland ages ago, the trail through the trees seemed a gateway to Wonderland. Overhead, the towering spires felt like old and wise giants. If she could just get to the right place, perhaps they could speak to her.
Deena rubbed her knee. She was just being foolish.
Behind her, through the trees, she could hear Bryony’s giggle. I need to learn how to do that. Guys just loved her giggle.
Quickly, she got to her feet. She couldn’t let them see she’d fallen. She couldn’t bear to be rescued again.
“There she is!”
Deena just waited for them to catch up. She was winded. Maybe some people need to be in the lead all the time, but she’d never been one of those. Whatever was calling her onward could just wait a minute.
Bryony ran up and tapped her on the shoulder. “Tag, you’re it.” She giggled and ran on.
Terrian trudged on, nodding to her, but intent on catching up to Bryony.
Luther stopped and handed her a cold plastic water bottle. “This is yours.”
She broke the seal and gulped the water greedily. “Thanks.”
He smiled. “Do you still know the direction?”
“Sure.” Instinctively, she pointed. It was off to the right of the trail, but she had no intention of cutting through the tangle of bushes, mossy logs and boggy streamlets. The trail would get them close enough.
He nodded. “Come on, let’s try to keep up.”
They walked together until the trail ended at a T-junction. Without hesitation, Deena headed to the right.
“I hope they went this way.” Luther looked back.
A voice in the distance quickly confirmed Deena’s choice.
Luther increased his pace and over the next ridge, he saw the fallen log.
Bryony and Terrian were standing in the gap, where a chunk of the log had been cut out. The trail was rutted and scarred by the machinery that had been brought in to do the cutting and hauling.
The park rangers had cut out a six foot section of the log and had rolled it out of the trail's path. Sawdust covered the ground over the whole area. It was several inches deep in places. Side branches had been trimmed away from the trail, so there was no obstruction.
He reached up and traced the growth rings on the cut face. The resinous scent of the redwood was strong.
Terrian said, “It must have been cut yesterday. Look at all these tracks. I’m really going to have to get my uncle to come out here.”
Bryony asked, “Where’s Deena?”
Luther didn’t look up. “She was right behind me. She’ll be here in a minute.”
With the palm of his hand, he started measuring the distance from the bark to the center of the rings. He could get a rough estimate of the age of the tree. It would take a long time to count each and every ring.
“This is one hundred years ago.” He duplicated the span. “This is two hundred years.”
Terrian interrupted his count. “Where is Deena? I don’t see her anywhere.”
Luther looked back. She hadn’t been that far behind.
Bryony called out, “Deena!”
There was no answer.