He woke to the light reflecting off of the snow and a blanket over him that he hadn’t remembered grabbing. The kid was nowhere to be seen. Dumb move, he thought to himself. He shouldn’t have trusted Mark so easily. But, like most things he was playing this journey by ear. And the kid seemed to be genuine.
Quickly grabbing some junk food from his stash, he intended to slip out unnoticed and make his way towards the highway. As his eyes adjusted to the bright light, he saw the kid already waiting for him next to a beat-up old truck. Mark tossed him the keys and jumped into the passenger seat.
Julien was torn. He knew what the boy intended and he didn’t like it one bit. But he also needed the vehicle and couldn’t exactly steal it from him.
Maybe he could just take him a little way down the road and figure it out from there. Mark didn’t have any family and he was technically an adult, though barely. He was going to have to rely on the kindness of strangers on this trip far more than he was comfortable with. But air travel was severely restricted. So was ground travel for that matter, if you intended to pass through any big cities.
He decided to take the truck, and the boy. Mayra’s fate was unknown to him and he didn’t have any time to waste. Without speaking he hopped in and fired up the engine. They were on their way.
“Alright, kid,” Julien started as they drove, “I appreciate all your help but there’s going to be a couple of rules.”
Mark looked at him a little sheepishly. Gone was the tough guy act he initially put on outside the rest stop. The more he was around him the more the kid looked kind of scared. But also excited to be doing something different. He wondered how long he had been alone but decided not to bring that up at the moment.
“I don’t know how long we’ll be travelling together, but while we are, you are going to be my map man,” he fished out a large atlas and handed it to Mark, “and you’re going to keep an eye out for anything we don’t want to run across. Got it?”
Mark nodded his approval and tried to hold back a smile.
Julien was trying to be a little tough with him but found himself smirking. The boy was alright.
“Thanks for the blanked last night.”
They made a right hand turn off of the highway and headed west.
“Aren’t you going south?” the boy said.
“We don’t want to hit any cities with bigger populations,” Julien told him. “Missoula will definitely have check points and National Guard. We’re going to go west for a while through some smaller towns.”
He opened up the atlas.
“While I’m driving, you can find the next big city and look for ways south that avoid it.”
“Got it,” the kid said.
The snow was melting. Clouds had rolled in, but thankfully brought some rain to help clear any ice and make travel less dangerous.
Driving was relatively uneventful but he dreaded running into any police. They seemed to be everywhere in Montana, though the cut backs made that less probable.
The plan was to make a stop in St. Regis to refuel and restock their supplies. A couple of towns had already rolled by and they were predictably dead. They only saw one person outside. Not police, not Lawless. Homeless maybe. There were a lot more of those these days.
“How long have you been on your…” Julien stopped talking and stared ahead. He slowly brought the truck to a stop. Ahead a crude outpost had been erected on the highway leading into the St. Regis. Lawless had taken over.