(11) Fast Cars

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Okay, I have to admit that riding in a car like this is an experience I would repeat a lot sooner than a roller coaster. Ditzy navigates the empty streets of Chesnet with occasional revs that echo like thunderclaps and make me feel powerful even though I'm only in the passenger seat. If there are any survivors left here that we haven't found yet, they'll hear us now.

Calico J keeps a close eye on the rear-view mirrors. Ever since he lost the vote to go find our families, he's been the most adamant about finding survivors instead, even after the first one went a little crazy and tried to blame us for Red Thursday. We avoided a few more crackpots with better screening protocols. You don't think about it until something like Red Thursday happens, but the kinds of people who can go weeks without hearing or saying their names aren't generally the kinds of people you want to socialize with in a post-apocalyptic survival situation.

That didn't stop Calico J from checking up on some of them later and only telling me about it after he got back. I've left him to it. It keeps him busy, and they've all turned out weirder or Sleeping on second pass anyway. The first person we found who we actually wanted to stick with was Ditzy, and she found us. The second was Patrick, but those were seriously off-track circumstances.

The road begins to rise. There's only one road over the Baycord river on this side of Chesnet, and I glance in the rearview to see Patrick look away from the window and down into his lap as we hit the bridge. It soars upward. The view from here is spectacular: no building in Chesnet rises above the four-story university on the far north side of town, and most don't rise above three. The bridge is more than that. Under a brilliant fall sun, the town stretches out beneath us like a photograph. Abandoned cars wink along the edges of perfectly quiet, leaf-strewn streets. Roofs bathe in the sunlight, and bright splashes of colour mark the trees along richer avenues. Fall is beautiful here.

The university campus is especially spectacular. The sight of it gives me chills, but from a distance, it's still a pool of yellow, orange and red that sits fuzzily on the other side of town and brings back memories of the forests I spent my last summer in before I moved across the country for school. I like forests. They're quiet but alive, always packed with interesting and beautiful things. They're the opposite of a classroom where a teacher just sits at the front and talks until my head swims from trying to follow. Half my high school teachers didn't even write on the board while they talked. It's so much easier when they do.

There's a shuffle in the back seat. I glance back again to see Calico J put an arm around Patrick, who leans in and hides his face in J's shoulder. We're at the height of the bridge now. I can see Chesnet's second bridge some ways downriver, close to the water on its bed of concrete piles, looking a lot like a concrete centipede. Ditzy has said that bridge goes under every spring when ice floes clog the river, a situation that probably led to the construction of this one. We've avoided both over the last three weeks, for Patrick's sake.

That's a day I won't forget anytime soon. It was just the other three of us at the time, and we were down by the river when someone screamed. We all ran to the bank just in time to see something hit the water. There was a figure on the bridge overhead... a figure who I swear to this day locked eyes with me as we all skidded up at the edge of the water. I remember it smiling. Then Calico J shouted that the splash had been a person.

The Baycord river is over six hundred feet wide where that lower bridge spans it. The splash was halfway out. Both my companions froze, and I still remember their faces, panicked and desperate, looking at me. I knew Calico J couldn't swim. I didn't know about Ditzy. I didn't know if someone had just pushed a Sleeper off the bridge, or a living, conscious human being. They hadn't surfaced yet. Until they did, already fifty feet downstream and obviously drowning. I didn't think twice.

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