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Suspense Urban Fantasy African American

Mobius’ Freeway written by, M Price


Whenever someone insists on a name for me, I use Dennis, my brother's.

So yeah, call me that, if you want. I hear it and want to turn my head to look for the impossible. Used to, anyway. Now I simply compress the conscious moment as hard as I can into the fleeting nostalgia, then hold on to it for however many dwindling milliseconds still possible.

Tessa disapproves. But everyone left in this world is disturbed somehow.

Get by your way and leave me to mine.


We’re well into our second loop along this coast-to-coast patchwork of leftover interstates and connective roads. Took us around five years to complete the first trip. For thousands of miles, the sometimes varied, yet overall prevailing collective tag of Everlasting Freeway, bears down on our consciousness.

These words are typically painted in white or red - though sometimes black - and mixed with crushed glass to make them reflective. Everywhere, they stain dilapidated overpasses, rusty, unhinged truck-trailers and even the crumbly asphalt beneath us. Only when we dare to step off the path, to enter an abandoned building, shopping-center, or the more traditional wild, are we relieved of the standard visual torments of our collective plight.

It’s particularly dangerous to do so on this stretch we currently travel, where overall, the paths available to us are fewer and narrower. The near ethereal crucible of the Mobius strip, so to speak.


Our family entered this former office building to rest only a few hours ago. Now, with the building surrounded, we're all split up, searching for unguarded exits. The voices of cocky, trigger-happy militiamen ring out. We don't take their arrogance as opportunity to relax. Skilled and disciplined members among them, count on such folly.

I enter a cluttered, box filled room, then creep steadily over to the window at its back corner. A drab, thigh-high glass table scatters waves of shadow amidst the orange, evening sunlight, itself filtered through lace-curtain.

My gloved fingertips slide across its filth-spotted surface as I slow, reluctant to continue approach. I lean forward to look outside, then halt with a flinch. Red mold dust from beneath the table’s seemingly benign gray layer gouges away from beneath my glove. It swirls upward in a cloud, threatening my lungs in the now, and sanity in the future - as it did to Dennis. I jerk away, burying my face into arm and shoulder.


An explosion concusses the room. The window I'd intended to press my face against, shatters inward. If not for the toxic dust we've all grown to fear, I'd be damaged. Perhaps blinded. I fumble to remove the tainted glove - rush to get my mask on. So much for the respite.

Tessa's son Danny, 11, runs into the office to hug me.

"Uncle Daniel, are y--"

"How many times do I have to tell you? Just call me Dennis."

He whines, "But yesterday you said, don't call you by your real name."

"What?"

Tessa arrives, placing a hand on his gaunt, cheek. "Let it be, Danny. Granny found an exit, in the room where we saw the refrigerator. The bad guys are almost here, so go. We'll be right there."

His drippy nose sniffs. Tears fall. He quickly wipes them aside and spins away to obey. They spatter my hand.

"Stop confusing him!"

"I-- Wait."

"Enough! Dan died protecting you two. Alright? During the dust storm, you gave Danny your mask to follow through." she says, shaking me by my arms. "I don't fault you! OK? But now you're-- Do you know what this is like for a boy his age? Get it together Dennis!"


Enemy voices grow louder. We race to the exit.

Mom smiles sadly at me from the gap in the wall she and Danny stand within. I hug Mom, squeeze Tessa's hand and kiss the top of Danny's head through his uneven, bedhead of an afro. Then I walk around, grunt and press hard to slide the refrigerator and cover their exit.

"Dennis!"

Was that even one millisecond?

"Hurry!" I yell, tearing the stove from the wall.

The sound of gas and their scuffling scramble comfort me.

Minutes later, the enemy appears. I can barely keep myself conscious having breathed all this gas. The lighter grinds and clicks, but doesn't light, and I'm apprehended.

***

My head's killing me.

"How am I supposed to believe you aren't militia?"

"See this patch that says U.N.? See how you’re alive and unbound? That's how. We chased those clowns off." says Captain Ortega. "Now who are you? You have no I.D."

Hope? My family!

"Was I out long?"

"Half hour. Answer the question."

"Daniel-- err, Dennis Folsom." I say, taking in another inspection of the camp. "Please, my family, I have to find them quickly. They're still out there!"

"Good thing you didn't frag us all to pieces then, huh?" she says. "Which way?"

I'm loopy while we jog back inside the office break room, nearly fall over several times. Three of us push the refrigerator. It jolts and screeches a few feet, then tips over with a slamming clang. I don’t know how I moved it by myself.


I struggle to balance during our jog through the rounded walls of the tunnel. My outstretched, stiff arms point from front to back and my feet drag and kick gravel along with us. It rattles and scrapes with excessive noise within the confined space. We move into a wetter area.

I lose my footing and fall onto my hands and elbows.

"Jennings! Take point! This idiot's gonna get us killed."

"Yes ma'am!"

I roll from my belly to sit up against the curved surface. I'm Dennis. I can't lose track of that again.

This has got to be hell for Tessa. I don't remember inhaling the red dust, but I must have that day. Tessa all but said I did. I'm Dennis, not Daniel. I'm-- crazy?

Ortega helps me up. "Get your shit together, man. For your family!" she says, then stuffs a few bullet-clips into my pockets, forces a cold pistol into my hands and runs ahead.


The sound of gunfire echoes through the tunnel, from outside. I sprint, hunched over, arms parallel behind me to catch up, my waking agility having returned with the pump of excessive adrenaline.

I exit to see my family pinned down by the militia, in a ragged, lumpy, overgrown parking lot. The militia, in turn, is pinned down by Captain Ortega’s squad, behind a low concrete barrier.

Amidst the chaos, I chance the fifty-meter dash to my unarmed loved ones. Though I manage to keep balance and follow through, I'm nicked on the shoulder.

"Daddy!" screams Danny.

The firefight lasts more than an hour. I do my best to be helpful, but also preserve ammo. The peacekeeping troops fight valiantly, tearing the militia down to quite few. But in the end, under cover of darkness, we all retreat. We to the west, the U.N. peace-keeping force to the east and the militia to the south.


At the road, we load our meager supplies onto the solar-paneled, battery powered jeep, then flee into the ever darkening, moonless night. Mom drives, steadily, at about 5 miles an hour - albeit with constant twists through rubble, potholes and abandoned vehicles. The dim, night-vision-geared headlights don’t allow for faster travel, but they’re bright enough to make plain to us, many an Everlasting Freeway sign along the way.

Tessa tapes gauze to the bloody, shallow gouge on my shoulder. Danny, curled up beneath my good arm, sleeps.

"Sorry." I say. "At least for now, I’m fine. I'm me."

Tess nods. We share a brief kiss.

 "I love you." she says. "Keep trying. We need you at your strongest."

******

February 29, 2024 20:25

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