Day 6 - Pilgrim to Charlotte

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The next day they set out early. The land they walked looked the same as the day before. The mood was low, praying for some sign to let them know they were headed in the right direction.

Matt was trying to remember everything he had seen when they had driven up. He remembered they had passed a cottage few yards away from the road in a clearing. Where exactly the clearing was, he couldn't remember.

"Any of you noticed the cottage, a little house just a few hours, before the accident, or was it just me?"

"I think I did," Jack said, thinking really hard. "Was it in a clearing but near the woods? If so, then we are probably near it by now."

"We walked around for four hours at least yesterday, what if we have already passed it?" Clare asked, panicked.

"We can't possibly be anywhere close to that cottage if I know which one you all are talking about. It was windy and cold, we were on foot carrying heavy bags, not to mention exhausted and freezing," Brandon argued. "Our rate of travel was obviously slower than the bus and the hundreds of stops we made..." Although he too was considering the possibility of having already walked past the area.

But that didn't convince his friends. "We're probably near it by now," Jack said, straightening the bag on his back. "Let's see if we can find the cottage in an hour or two, and if not, we continue on this path because I haven't seen any chunk of wood so far, and it would be stupid to go back when we're sure we haven't seen anything of the sort on our way."

* * *

Henry felt nothing could go wrong that day as he stepped out of the Peterson residence, caught the lift down to the parking lot and pulled out into the relatively clear morning in his old Volvo. He had easily persuaded Daniel Peterson to give him a day's leave. Christmas shopping, he'd explained it. Henry pulled into the domestic airport, parked in a long-stay section and walked into Departures.

He'd made a single booking to Charlotte and two returns over the Internet. As he walked into the building, baggage-less, he was a bit nervous, hoping he hadn't made any blunders with the booking. Where was the old-fashioned ticket system these days? He sighed and lined up, carefully holding the printout of his booking confirmation.

To his surprise, he was boarding the flight before long, and even faster it seemed the flight was landing at the Hasting-Charlotte airstrip. Henry grabbed his jacket, got off the plane, and headed to the tiny terminal. Inside, it took a moment to find the car rental booth. A plump woman sipping a vile smelling brew sat impassively watching the few passengers scurrying around.

Henry approached her with a warm smile, and after filling out the necessary paperwork, was handed a key.

"It's the only roadworthy one left," the woman droned, almost choking on her brew. She snorted and coughed, not bothering to cover her mouth. "The tyres are fitted with anti-skid chains for the current road conditions."

Henry nodded and pocketed the keys. As he turned towards the exit, the lady drummed her fingers on the counter to get his attention. "Road limits are reinforced at present."

Henry stared at her, bewildered.

"It's the red ute," she said finally. Although her gaze was far removed from Henry, he was sure she had meant him. He ignored her, donning his jacket, and walked out into the chill to find his vehicle.

He easily spotted the battered, faded Ute parked at the furthest corner of the parking lot. He could see that under the top coat, the original paint was peeling off, giving the car a crackle-like surface. Grumbling under his breath, Henry opened the door. No automatic system here. As he settled into the uncomfortably hard, icy seat he noticed that it was a manual. He cursed under his breath, inserted the key and brought the wheezing engine to life.

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