Magic Time Ghostlands
By Wilson, Robert Charles
Eos ISBN: 0061050709
East of Storm Lake, Iowa
"All right, I admit it. Radio Goldman is stone-cold dead."
Herman Goldman stood like an iron spike driven into the rutted blacktop that had once been Route 169 heading north to Blue Earth -- technically still was, Cal Griffin reflected, although no car had driven it in the nearly half year since the Change. No car could have, since cars ran nowhere on the face of the earth as far as anyone knew, as any of them had heard.
Horses, though, were a hot commodity again; and Cal and his friends had been hard-pressed to retain Sooner, Koshka and their other steeds from the depredations of roving smash-and-grab gangs that had lain in wait at numerous rest stops and Kodak moments along the way. "Horse thief" was no longer a quaint term out of a Western -- it was a job description.
And we've got the scars to prove it.
You can't go through life without making enemies, his father had told him when Cal was barely four. That was just before Dad's first abandonment of the family, cutting out for the territories, the apogee and perigees of a roving life that had made enemies of his own family.
Now I'm the rootless one, Cal thought, and his collection of scars both physical and emotional, formed the road map of his travels.
"Maybe you need new batteries," Colleen said, jolting Cal from his reverie.
Goldieglowered at her, stuck out his tongue. There were no radios, of course, and batteries didn't do shit. They were both speaking metaphorically, baiting each other as they tended to do when most frustrated. When it grew too barbed, veering into real venom, Cal would step in as he always did, smoothing their rough edges, reminding them of what held them together, of what bound them on this road. He was their moderator, their governing influence, and he knew well why they thought of him as their leader, despite how reluctant he had once been to accept that role.
Goldie tilted his head quizzically, as if listening for a distant, staticky station, and Cal realized that "radio" wasn't just a metaphorical term, after all. Goldie had been their crystal set even before the Change, catching the twisted music and voices on the winds of the Source, coaxing and wheedling and beguiling them on the daunting path that had begun that sweltering day in Manhattan when Cal had saved Goldie from being pulverized by a truck on Fifth Avenue -- and Goldie had tried (unsuccessfully, of course) to warn him of the coming Storm.
Since Chicago, Goldie had led them by fits and starts through the blasted terrain of western Illinois and Wisconsin, past Rockford and Beloit, skirting the horror of Madison, where cholera and a newborn smallpox raged. In general, the most populous areas were hardest hit, and best avoided.
On the outskirts of Sauk City, by the banks of the Wisconsin, Goldie had found a cliff face with a faded petroglyph that he'd been able to coax into opening a portal that emptied onto the Effigy Mounds in Iowa. It had been murder getting the horses throughthey grew frenzied at the prickling feeling of being transported-but it had saved several hundred miles of rough traveling.
They had continued west, drawn by the elusive call of the Source. Until now.
Goldie shook his head. "Nada. K-Source is not on the air which certainly does not mean it's not still out there, doing it's nasty best."
"Great," Colleen enthused. "So we're stuck in this beauty spot."
The afternoon light had turned long, the shadow of a bleached FOOD GAS LODGING sign stretching out toward the horizon, browned prairie grasses tossing in the frigid wind. Route 169 opened ahead like a mottled black ribbon, and despite the signage, there was no food, no gas, no lodging anywhere in sight.
"Patience, Colleen," Doc advised from atop Koshka, looking every bit the brooding Russian horseman in his fleece-lined greatcoat. "I won't try to tell you it's a virtue, but it will save wear and tear on the stomach lining."
Goldie remounted his steed, took the reins from Cal, who was straddling Sooner. Goldie's horse had originally been called Jayhawk, but he'd taken to calling it Later. He'd wanted Colleen to rechristen her horse Further, but she had so far resisted the idea, merely commenting on an increase in Goldie's annoyance factor.
Not that it was inappropriate, actually. According to Goldie, this was the name Ken Kesey had painted on the psychedelic bus the Merry Pranksters had driven across America back in 1965. Cal dimly recalled reading the Tom Wolfe book on the subject, years ago. The irony was explicit. Kesey and friends had seen themselves as divine madmen embedded in a staid, magicless reality. And we're the opposite, Cal thought. Reality has gone mad; we cling to sanity. Such sanity as we make for ourselves.
Colleen pressed her heels to her gelding's flanks and the four of them moved ahead at a brisk trot. She turned to Cal. "How 'bout you, Cal? Anything off your map trick?"
Cal reached back and pulled a Triple-A map booklet from his saddlebag to open it across the pommel of his saddle. He had unearthed it in the looted ruins of a convenience store outside Osage. On their passage from Boone's Gap to Enid's Preserve and beyond, he had gained a fitful ability to read a map in a new and frequently useful way, to sense the changed terrain ahead, discern some of its tweaked geography.
But that skill had utterly deserted him since their showdown with Primal. And now, looking at the creased paper with its tangle of red and blue lines like arteries and veins of a body, he knew he had no special clue as to what lay before them. Only that Tina, if miraculously still alive, was somewhere due west of them, and that they had to keep moving ... Continues...
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