Here’s a “Word of the Day” exercise, using the word “Lodestar.”
For a refresher, “lodestar” means:
1. Something that serves as a guide or on which the attention is fixed
2. A star that shows the way
3. Polaris (a.k.a. the North Star)
Obviously, what that word needs is a zombie apocalypse.
“Mama, I thought you said we were there.”
I pat Bitty’s shoulder while scanning the horizon. The sun is setting behind naked trees. The sky is glowing orange and red. My fingers clench around the shotgun pump.
Nothing on the road but our wagon. Nothing in the trees. No moans on the wind. We still got a chance.
Jonathan, my eldest, pipes up. “This is Lodestar, ain’t it?” O.B. gets excited.
“Daddy’s getting that all sorted, Ji. You boys hush now. Watch your sis.”
Bitty fell out of the wagon yesterday and split her lip. Nothing serious, but her crying attracted attention. Dad only had seventeen shells left, plus a few boxes of nine-mil. Can’t be wasting it ’til we know for sure.
Knockers whinnies and stamps his feet, eager to be on the move. His ears twitch at a sound nearby.
I hear the voices now and then. The men on the wall don’t sound friendly. Dad isn’t happy neither.
“Supplies, at least,” he says. “That’s all we’re asking. Give us a chance to buy or trade.”
Can’t hear the response, but I hear the laughter, and it’s enough.
I pat Bitty again, I think to comfort me more than her. She sucks her thumb and looks around.
It isn’t even the husks I’m worried about. Can’t trust people anymore neither. You meet someone out in the open, you best keep eyes on target and hand on steel, because you know they’re looking for a clear shot at your back.
I see the bodies again. I try not to, but they keep floating to the top of my mind every time I stop watching the land. Found what looked like a family of six today. We told Bitty and O.B. to close their eyes… told them it was the husks. We told Ji too, but he’s too sharp to believe that.
I’m sure he saw the tracks. Boot prints. Probably saw the bullet wounds and clean-cut flesh. Husks got claws and teeth and that’s it.
Ji’s smart, no way around it. At least he had the good sense not to talk about it in front of the other two.
Everyone’s got needs, I know. I just wish folk could be folk again, with welcoming smiles and warmth in their eyes. Lord said “the love of many will grow cold.” But I don’t think no one expected it to be this bad.
I try not to think about the sweet smell of barbecue that comes wafting our way on the breeze. This town might eat well tonight.
Well… not ‘well’ maybe, but they’ll eat their fill for a change.
The silence catches me off guard. I panic for a moment until I hear Dad plead with the gate-men. He’s carrying, and they know it. They won’t pick a fight with him.
Ain’t seen any husks in four days, at least. Even then it was only a handful on the horizon. Nothing creeps me out more than the slow pace as we roll by in silence, eyes glued, watching them for a reaction. That time, they just lumbered around out there, near a farmhouse. Think I heard a few pigs squeal.
Guess even husks can’t resist bacon.
“What’s so funny, Ma?”
I hear Dad getting angry at the men. “Sorry, Ji. Right now, not a damn thing.”
I already know what’s next. I hear him stomping our way, cursing under his breath.
He hops up onto the driver’s seat and takes the reins from Ji. “Idiots. ‘You got nothing we need.’ Pish! How about extra hands to work the land? Extra weapons to hold the wall at night?”
Ji’s shoulders sag. “This ain’t Lodestar, is it, Dad?”
Dad sighs. Sounds like Jesus giving up the ghost. My heart breaks, and I hear him sniff.
No, no tears. Can’t have that in front of the kids.
“I’m sorry, hon,” I blurt out. “I thought I might’ve read the map wrong.”
He doesn’t move, but I hear him take a deep breath.
“This ain’t Lodestar, boys,” I explain. “We’re almost there, but it’s still a few days north. I thought we made better distance than we did these past few, and I got messed up.”
Ji squints at me, but O.B. lights up.
“Think they’ll have rabbits there,” he asks, “like back home? I wanna get a big fluffy grey one, name him Mister Carrots!”
Bitty laughs, and I manage a smile.
“I bet they just might, O.B. Let’s get moving and we’ll know soon.”
The wind picks up. The sky is all deep violet and maroon. We’re further north than we ever expected to be. Well into Canada by now, or what used to be Canada back when names and borders meant something.
“Tell me ’bout Lowstar!” Bitty squeaks.
Dad inhales deep, ready to put the burden back on his shoulders. Then he turns, red-eyed but grinning.
“It’s going to be the best, Bitty.”
He speaks in a hushed tone. We need to give the kids hope. We need to avoid attracting husks too.
“It’s where everyone’s headed… all the good folk. They got walls a foot thick and taller than trees, to keep the husks out. They got fresh water, ’cause there’s a stream running right through the town. They even have some greenhouses to grow fruit.”
“You remember strawberries, Bits? I bet they got big red strawberries. Maybe even a raspberry patch like back home.”
They keep talking kind of quiet, and I reminisce. Home. Seems like ages ago that we pulled out of Alabama. Summer seemed a good time to travel, and all the talk said Lodestar was in the West Virginia hills. Then we got there, and they said it was on the shore of Lake Erie. Then we got there, and got a new map.
Not that we needed a map, really.
The sky above is almost all black.
Bitty whispers, “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight…”
And there it is. The North Star, pointing the way to hope.
Dad is putting on a strong face, and Elizabeth is happy, so the boys are content even in the midst of all this. They huddle in blankets and watch in awe as the sky fills with stars.
I wish I felt the same sense of wonder, but I can’t shake one thought:
We’re running out of “north” soon.