Chapter Five

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CHAPTER FIVE

"Can't believe you make this walk every day," Rose said, her gaze lingering on the cracked asphalt road running along the dirt path the horses used.

"I don't really walk, Rose," Clara retorted. Once the wagon had passed outside Linden Grove's gates she'd pulled the brim of her hat down over her eyes, crossed her arms, settled back in the crease of two barrels, and tried to nap. The chatting had her keep one eye open. "I tend to hitch rides with people going and coming along the road, just like I'm doing today with you guys."

"Do you trust most people who let you ride along?"

Clara shrugged. "Got no other option."

"That's a no?"

Clara shifted herself so she could pull out the knife she kept in a sheaf at her back, attached to her belt, hidden under her jacket. "This is a no." She deftly put the weapon away. I don't need Clay thinking I'm going to stab his baby sister. He might just think something stupid like that too.

Silence.

A couple minutes passed before Rose spoke again, pulling Clara back from a light drossiness. "Do you trust me, Clara?"

Tipping up her hat, Clara regarded Rose. The other girl had a slight smile across her lips, her round, pleasant face framed by her straight strawberry blonde hair. Yet, Clara read in Rose's eyes that her earlier comment had wounded the latter. If only slightly.

"I trust you, Rose." Clara sighed, then raised her arms and stretched. She could tell there would be no nap this ride. "If I needed someone, anybody to have my back, Rose Mathers, I would call on you first. Honestly and truly."

That brightened Rose. The rancher's daughter could bring so much joy to people with a simple smile or gesture of compassion. Being empathetic also meant Rose was sensitive to the ugly side of the world. Storms can easily darken the brightest of cloudless days.

Overhead the sun had not reached its zenith. The fiery ball was near nine and half. If Clara had guessed correctly, the wagon would reach Rivend before noon. Not too bad of a ride, if she had to say so. The delays this morning would probably push Clara to put in an overnighter at the workshop, she still had several machines to tinker with and fix for customers due to drop by the shop today or tomorrow.

Thinking of machines—the old left behinds of the old world—had the young conduit's eyes drifting.

A countless amount of the relics flooded the old paved roads, waiting for her touch. Most were automobiles. Long ago people had pushed the metal husks off to the side, an effort to clear the roads the Lighted used to travel on. Horses can't travel comfortably on the old paved roadways, though, not for long anyway. The concrete doesn't affect a horse if it's shoed but the hard surface was murder on a beast's legs over extended periods of distance. After Blackout Thursday travelers wanted to save their horses from this wear. As an alternative, travelers quickly began to wear away new dirt roads parallel to the old paths made for the automobiles; often the best paths were those already paved, you just had travel next to those ways.

These days the automobiles sat idle and Sleeping. With the help of time, erosion and the persistence of nature had cracked the old roads open. Naturally the cities were worse. Nature seemed to have a special vendetta against the cities.

Clara paid attention to the automobiles. There were many and each had its own story. Someone had been driving each one. To where? Why? Were the drivers leaving the cities to visit family for a holiday? Or perhaps the drivers were commuters with jobs in another city, just like Clara? Some maybe were out for a leisurely drive, for the enjoyment of the motion, the speed?

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