We had to make good time.
When I’m on a road trip — any road trip — that’s my first priority, but it was especially true this time around. We had to get there when we planned to get there — if not earlier — and any delays would ruin the whole thing. I thought people understood this; I thought they appreciated the importance of what we were trying to do.
I never should’ve agreed to bring them along.
It started with John; he was familiar. I’d ridden with him before, I figured I could trust him. It’d be good to have a known quantity on board. His friend Thomas and Thomas’s wife Mary were going to tag along, too. Great. That’s a good crew for a road trip. Not too crowded; we can move light and fast.
The day before the trip, Thomas tells me his friend Zeke is coming. Doesn’t ask - doesn’t ask! Just tells us. Before you know it, we’ve got three of Mary’s cousins, two guys Zeke knows from work, and a young clergyman that “Mary doesn’t know well, but seemed like such a nice guy, it would be a shame to say no, wouldn’t it?
I was furious, but I just wanted to get on the road. There was still a chance we could move fast. I thought it was clear to everyone that that was still our goal - if you’re riding along, you’re following the rules of the trip, and we’re going to get there on time. That was the deal.
We’re not two hours out of town when Merle - that’s one of Zeke’s coworkers - Merle says he needs to stop off along the way, get a new hat. Well, I figured, this is where we set things straight. The others are going to speak up, let Merle know, buddy, if you needed a new hat, you could’ve gotten it before we left, but we’re on a schedule here, pal! So consider my shock when the others agreed readily - “New hats! What a great idea, we should all look fresh when we get there!”. I didn’t even have a chance to say no, they all got on board so enthusiastically. That cost us half a day, getting off the road, finding a hat shop, waiting for everything to be finished.
We could still make up the time, though. One flight of fancy, okay. But now we’re forging ahead. We’re another hour out, when Eva - that’s one of the cousins, cousin Eva - realizes she left her purse at the hat shop. Two hours lost.
Then Cousin Hez decides the food we packed isn’t to his liking — we packed enough for the whole trip, and I’d have been content to let him starve, were it up to me — but we stop off for fresh supplies. I’d packed carefully, maximized use of space, and now they’re unpacking and repacking things without any sort of plan or system, and we’re still falling further and further being schedule.
It was when Cousin Ira said he wanted to stop off at the scenic overlook that I decided something needed to be done.
The others thought it was a freak gust of wind that sent Ira over the edge. We made great time for the next few days. The quiet sobbing from the back was a welcome change from the incessant yapping from before.
One morning, at daybreak, Merle was missing. “He must’ve run off,” they speculated, “but why would he leave his new hat?” We sent Daniel and Eva out to search for him; they never came back.
Our ebullient road trip party dwindled as we drew closer to our destination. Hez fell ill and had to be left at a hospital. Must’ve been something he ate. Should’ve eaten what I packed.
Paranoia gripped the remaining few, and it only got worse when, after a brief stop to relieve himself on the side of the road, Zeke fell under the wheel and was crushed.
“We have to stop here!”, Mary cried. “You can’t just want to continue on like this!” Thomas yelled. “How can you be so callous?”, John spat at me. I thought I knew him. I thought he knew me.
Zeke was quiet. He knew what was going on.
Zeke helped dig their graves. I put him on top.
The clergyman emerged, silent, into the chill, fateful night. I’d forgotten about him, tucked in the back with the rations. He hadn’t said barely a word the whole way West. He wasn’t the problem, and I wasn’t about to put a man of the cloth in the ground, unless he made me put him there.
He spoke, hesitant at first, but with clarity.
“I know why you’ve rushed. The others did not understand the importance of getting there on time, but the spoils you wish to claim require that you get there sooner. You will find others to ride with you in the future, I’m sure. They will not know the horrors you’ve committed, but you will.”
“You will make it where you’re going, unburdened by weight of their bodies. But you will forever carry the the screams of their souls.”
“What does a soul screaming sound like, Father?”
“You will know every time you hear it.”