Orofino isn’t what you would call a big place. Heck, even before the population of the area started shrinking as people had to return to the big cities to look for work it never got much above three thousand. And when we drove through in late September it was like a ghost town, not a single soul to be found … not a living one anyway.
Something had happened in Orofino, not sure what but it was bad. It looked like the virus had swept through and there hadn’t been adequate medical help to keep enough people well to help everyone else. Uncle James’ place was no exception. However the virus wasn’t what had gotten him. He left a short, rambling letter saying that he’d run out of his heart medication and that if anyone came along, found him dead, they were welcome to take what they found if they would just bury him out back with his wife, kids, and grandkids.
Uncle James went in his sleep. He was a big man and hadn’t been dead long so getting him out of the house and burying him was terribly unpleasant. I drug the mattress and all of the bedding off into the woods rather than risk burning it and drawing attention. Paulie was real shook up for a couple of days and then something seemed to change.
“We’re all we have Dovie.”
“There’s family back in Bear Springs.”
“We don’t know that for sure.”
“Not for sure but something tells me that’s where we need to go.”
“Is it like God telling you?” he asked, strangely hopeful.
I shrugged. “I don’t know Paulie. Maybe. Just the idea of getting to Bear Springs seems … seems necessary. Like we won’t ever stop moving until we get there.”
“Then I guess we better go. There’s nothing here but a bunch of dead people.”
And the animals eating on them though I didn’t tell that to Paulie or the other kids. I put them to bed that night, had the last good cry I’ve given myself the luxury of having, wanting my Dad and Mom so bad it felt like someone was peeling my skin off. But the next morning something in me had changed just like it had for Paulie. I was all him and the other kids had. On the road no one had offered to take us in, no one had asked why a kid was driving a bunch of other kids in an old beater that was barely street legal. No one had offered to help and I think the people handing out food only did it because they were getting paid to.
I knew I had to stop waiting around for someone to rescue us. I had to stop expecting people to care. Some might but more than likely everyone was too wound up in their own miseries to notice ours. I think that is when I shed the last of my girlhood. I wasn’t a grown up but I wasn’t a kid either; I was something else and I decided that had to be enough.
September in Orofino meant that it was already dropping into the 40s at night and didn’t get much above 60 degrees during the day. I left the kids at Uncle James’ place and I used a bike I found to pedal around to houses and look for food and warmer clothing. Found a lot of dead people, not too much food. Most of the places looked like they’d already been ransacked. When I realized that someone had already collected all the guns and valuables out of the houses I got a lot more careful. And as soon as I had as much food and siphoned as much fuel as we could carry we lit out of there as fast as I could get us out. I felt as if eyes had started to follow me around town; they felt like animal eyes but that didn’t necessarily mean they didn’t belong to a human.
I took highway twelve to Missoula and that is where the National Guard forced us back onto I90. We were herded down that almost all the way to Caspar, Wyoming where we were ushered onto I25. Gas was holding out and sometimes the National Guard would even refuel people with a few gallons just to keep them from slowing down whatever it was they were doing by herding people the way they were.
We stayed on I25 almost all the way south to Denver, Colorado but were forced to detour around and then got shunted to I80 where we finally started heading east. Once into Kansas everyone seemed to disappear off the road as there was nothing around for miles. Most everyone that had started that direction seemed to turn back towards Denver but west was definitely not the way I wanted to go; I’d just come from there and there was nothing for us.
Kansas is also where we came the closest to running out of fuel … and where I ran into the two creeps when I pulled off into this little spit of a town to hunt for fuel. I found trouble instead of what I went looking for. It scared the kids so bad they nearly had hysterics any time we saw people after that for almost a week; not that we saw that many. The death of those guys meant I laid claim to all they had … mostly junk food, booze, drugs and ammo for the Glock they had taken away from me for a short time. I left the drugs and booze in the gas station where I found them. I took all the fuel they had and wished for more. The junk food went in with everything else we called our groceries. The dead men I left for the animals to feast on; I wasn’t wasting my strength to bury them that’s for sure.
The next stop down the road is where we found Baby. I know we should give the little fellow a name but I guess we are all afraid to get attached just in case. Besides it’s not like we’ve got a car full of infants; when we say Baby this or Baby that we all know who we are talking about.
That’s almost three weeks back and here we are now in yet another rest area in another state. Thing is, looking at the maps I realized I went too far south trying to detour around Tulsa and avoid Oklahoma City. To get back on track I’m going to have to turn north before I can head east again. Highway 59 will take us all the way up to some place called Siloam Springs … almost sounds like home. From there we’ll turn east again and I hope 412 will take us most of the way to Piggott, Arkansas. Silly name if you ask me. The only reason I know the town even exists is because that’s where my folks got married. Don’t ask me why because the only reason they would ever give me was that it was on the way between where they were and where they were headed. Not much of an answer but then again it sounded exactly like something my dad would say.