The blacktop glistened after the rain, a dark snake unfurling through the redwood forest.
Cat eyes shone as if tiny creatures populated the yellow lines.
The ripe smell of rich earth competed with the distinct aroma of wet tar, and drips of fresh water plinked through the foliage. Nearby a spotted owl delivered its distinguishing call.
Although it was early yet in the afternoon, the gloom above gave the appearance of approaching night.
Set back slightly from the switchback road a small cottage nearly smothered in ivy huddled beneath the giants populating northern California, wisps of smoke curling from a stone chimney. Azaleas and rhododendron vied with prolific sword ferns for space in a small garden.
On the stoop an ancient bench watched the days pass by, whether wet or dry. A red squirrel perched on the gate post, unmoving until a woman came out the front door, and then he hurtled up the nearest bole.
Grinning, Alayna gave a whistle and left an offering of nuts and fruit in the stone platter upon the low wall. Already, as she turned away, the squirrel shimmied downward. Soon, she knew, his furry family would join him.
Nothing of note happened in the small town of Legget, besides tourists arriving to take photos of their cars driving through the Chandelier Tree, or of themselves standing within the carved arch in the massive trunk.
They stopped for a bite, maybe some gas, and then most moved onto the nearest camping grounds. At certain times of the year it was busy, but at others nothing much occurred.
Jack and Shaun argued with Ben outside the local diner. The place was closed and a For Sale sign sat in the window.
“We need cash, bud, or we’ll never get to San Francisco,” Jack snapped out, irritated that he needed to repeat himself. “This one-horse town has zilch for us, the tourist season is over man. I say we grab a few dollars from the gas station and head south.”
His scrawny body quivered with intent.
“Yeah, hanging around here will only get us stuck and bored,” Shaun said. “There’s nothing to eat here.”
They were quite the opposites, Jack and Shaun, for Shaun was fat. He was stupid too.
“Shut up,” Jack snarled at him. “What do you know?” He turned his attention back to the third member of their trio. “Ben, come on. Shaun and me, we’ll grab the dough, just keep the engine running man, like always. Man, it’s not hard.”
Ben stared at him. “And how far will a few dollars get us? I’m telling you, it’s a waste of effort.”
“You’re just a fucking wuss. We’ll find other places along the way, get more. For fuck’s sake man, do you want to stay in this empty shithole?”
Ben lifted green eyes to the forest surrounding them on all sides. A slight breeze promised rain later as it ruffled his fair hair. Yes, he could stay. He hankered after some peace and quiet. Jack, however, would pull a knife on him if he dared suggest it. The weasel had a mean streak, and no conscience. He liked that knife too damn much.
“I’ll wait outside,” Ben eventually said.
Jack slapped him on the back and Shaun laughed. “Get the wheels. We’re going in.” Jack grabbed Shaun’s wobbling arm and they strode across the road.
Their inane giggling disturbed the quietness in the air.
Idiots. Folk would remember them.
Frowning, Ben climbed into the driver’s seat and turned the ignition key. The old blue Chevy spluttered twice and then caught. Eyeing the progress of the other two, hating himself for giving in yet again, he timed his swing and landed in a squeal of brakes before the glass doors as they vanished into the shop.
He didn’t watch. He didn’t want to see another unsuspecting kid manning the register frightened out of his wits by the insane Jack and the stupidity of that oaf Shaun.
It was time to leave those two behind, but not in this quiet place. They would do too much harm here. He’d either leave them somewhere more populated or simply walk away when Jack wasn’t looking.
The rear doors slammed as the two hurtled into the car.
“Get fucking driving!” Jack screeched.
The Chevy sped away, heading north.