Crandall Against The Grain 3B: There Are Easier Ways to Travel

[Note: When we last left Ace Crandall, a truck driver had rescued him from the thugs who had been carrying Crandall around in the trunk of their car all day. But not long after, the shooting restarted. Here’s the end of Chapter 3. If you want to read the the whole story from the start, click here.]

Crandall had ducked his body down; now he had his feet on the dash and his hands over his face. When he removed them, he saw a dangling wire (the mirror heater power supply, maybe?) whipping in the wind created by the semi’s speed and the redness of Shinott’s angry face in the dashboard light.

“TARNATION I GUARANTEE YOU ONE DANG THING AH AIN’ GON’ LOSE A LOAD UH SIXTEEN HUNNERD DOZEN EGGS TUH NO GOTTANG KIDS ON A JOYRAHD WITHUH TWELVE- GUAGE!” Shinnot shifted lanes quickly, then tapped the breaks twice to throw off a little velocity in the hopes that the suspected teenagers would involuntarily come up alongside in their vandal glee. Instead, there was a metallic bump that sounded distinctly as if it came from the top rear of the trailer. It shook the whole rig, and Shinott had to hold on tight to keep the truck on line. There was a huge, flapping roar behind them.

Crandall, meanwhile, had not yet straightened up. But he saw a pair of bright lights slide into the mirror on the passenger side, then rise upward. He got a sick feeling.

And suddenly the flapping roar accelerated and enveloped the truck, and in a moment hanging in front of and above them over the interstate was the spidery mass of a helicopter, a very fast and nimble and nasty helicopter. Crandall could just make out a crew of two, but could see no details behind their helmets: just blue-black face masks. Robots, for all he knew. There was not much time to think about it, because on either side of the copter, tube-like structures were whirring, moving, positioning missiles…

“SWEET. JESUS. McCREE!” Shinnot yelled, and yanked the truck back over to the left lane at the same moment he pushed hard on the gas. The helicopter, fearing a collision, jerked up — and Crandall winced as a missile launched with a blinding phosphorous glow from the copter’s left tube. It missed the swerving truck by next to nothing and exploded on the road several hundred yards behind. Jesus, Crandall thought. Was there more traffic?

Shinott, busy righting the truck, looked over at Crandall while the helicopter disappeared above the truck. It was surely repositioning. Shinott swerved back and forth, lane to lane.

“This yer friends from back there? The trunk boys?” Shinott said. “Looks like they didn’t lose THEIR danged cell phones.”

“Mr. Shinott, I guarantee you, I know nothing about any of….”. huh-WHIIISHAH! Another missile, now from behind, this one left of the truck as Shinott pulled wildly right.

“Well, Ah’d ’preciate any suggestions you might have ‘bout gittin’ us outta this….”. And then Shinott went glassy-eyed, caught his breath twice, and his chin slumped onto his chest. His hands dropped off the wheel. Crandall, wide-eyed, unfroze and grabbed the wheel from the side.

“Mr. Shinott! MR. SHINOTT! What…are you…oh my God. DO YOU HAVE A HEART CONDITION, MR. SHINOTT?” Crandall yelled in his ear. He heard no breath, did not see the man’s chest rise.

“Medicine, medicine; he’s got to have heart pills.” Crandall held onto the wheel and tried to keep the truck on the road from the middle of the bench seat while kicking open a compartment on the dash. He could see no pill bottles. He looked back at Shinott. Stone. Nothing. And out of the corner of his eye, descending into a menacing hover 50 yards in front of the cab….

Crandall saw the tubes on either side of the copter lock into place. He looked up through the windshield. His only hope. Oregon Power & Light.

He gunned the truck’s engine, leaning hard against Shinott’s body, and shoved the steering wheel hard left. The truck blitzed over the shoulder, cab flying over a drainage ditch and trailer behind bumping before the whole rig landed and started churning up sheep-pasture dirt. Crandall headed straight for the five-story erector set ahead of him. The copter worked to stay in his way. Crandall could almost see the finger of the pilot’s hand squeeze the stick….

And at that moment, maybe 30 yards from the high-tension line tower, Crandall pushed the wheel as hard left as he could. Oh God. Not hard enough, he thought. He rapidly made a blanket peace with everyone and everything. But he refused to close his eyes. They would be closed soon enough, he thought.

But amazingly, the cab made it. Just. As it slid past the tower in a clattering, screaming rooster tail of soil and smoke, the cab scraped the leftmost steel strut of the tower, which plucked of the passenger side mirror with a quick “tck” sound. The trailer, swinging around in a violent jackknife, slammed into the tower full on with a deep, crashing boom and….

And then, as Crandall had hoped and prayed….

The cab had separated from the trailer and was still bouncing along in the field when the sky flashed orange and there was another boom, much louder, and the bang-skittick-tck-clank of a spray of metal debris over the moonlit field.

The cab stopped bouncing at a depression in the field, a stream perhaps…and when the right front wheel came to rest in the dip, the cab paused for a second. Crandall was as still as he could be. But even so, the entire cab slowly tilted right and fell on its side in the mud, with Crandall pinned against the door and the lifeless body of Vanderbilt P. Shinott on top of him. — Adam Barr

Copyright 2012 Adam Barr

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