Camping in Death Valley, Paxson Woelber

Chapter One – Transit

The city stood erect and imposing. Crowds walled within its maze moved in streams of color and shadow, with an urban pulse coursing through each running, rattling member.

Evie was one of them.

Rushing through her morning routine she ascended from her garden apartment, ready for the energy of the day to push her forward. The city told her where to go, what to do, and who to do it with. Evie wasn’t quite the mover and shaker of a bustling city, but she had her own network of connections, people she relied on and who relied on her for day-to-day decisions and operations.

She ran across East Street, jacket open, scarf and hair braided by the wind, blown forward by a rush of rusty bus exhaustion, calculating how much time she had to grab a latte and catch the train to get across town. She joined jittery lines feigning movement with urgent calls, news updates and text messages, hurriedly cupping coffees and jumping back into the push.

Pressed against other commuters in the already full cabin, Evie watched as the doors opened with a pneumatic cry to embrace and expel riders en route, offering a faint smile toward each new passenger, met by drawn faces not as ready to meet the day.

Evie’s smile hid her anxiety. She wasn’t looking forward to presenting her report at the early morning meeting, now just minutes away, as she trailed under the city to her job at Sorenson and Thompson, mind lost in last minute details with reminders not to forget this and to remember that.

Suddenly, the train braked hard, throwing Evie awake to now.

It groaned against its hurling momentum, the pain of strained metal howling to a screeching halt, biting smoke fuming oily aromas with an exhausted, diminishing hiss.

Evie’s heart raced, while her stalled mind watched bodies fling in slow motion toward the front and then back of the car like pendulums anchored to seats or poles to which they desperately clung. Frozen under a flickering light, Evie scoped the damage, while those around her did the same, staring through eyes glazed with the surreal, scurrying to grab belongings shifted out of place, pressing clothes back into shape with stressed hands.

One alarmed voice asked questions to no one in particular.

“Oh my God! What is happening? Will someone please help me?” the nervous woman said on the verge of tears, bringing comfort from a nearby passenger who pulled a jacket and purse from the floor and placed them in her open arms.

“I can’t believe this,” said a businessman. “I can’t be late for work again!”

Evie reached for her cell, then heard someone offer the frustrated report, “There’s no blasted signal.”

With one final blink, the flickering light went dark.

Staring up toward the blackened bulb Evie felt familiar panic rise.

Campsite #6: She wanted to get away. She didn’t know how far she would go.


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Camping in Death Valley by Paxson Woelber. Used with permission.