Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online



Dawnwalker

Book 1 of the Dawnwalker Cycle


a novel by
Wes Boyd
2002, 2008




Chapter 31:
January 1996

"I can't believe these roads," Pete muttered as he stared through the windshield, trying to figure out where the road went in the blowing snow. Karin knew that he hadn't actually seen pavement in fifty miles or more. There wasn't much beside ruts to tell where the road actually was. "I'd stop if I could find a place to stop," he continued. "But, God, there isn't anything out here but a frozen wasteland."

"I don't think it's much farther now," Karin offered soothingly. She'd thought several times of offering to relieve Pete at the wheel, but not having to drive snow-filled roads all winter was one of the reasons she'd left Spearfish Lake in the first place, twenty-five years ago. Despite growing up there, she'd never been comfortable driving in these kinds of conditions. Although it sometimes got bad driving to and from work down in Glen Ellyn, you could almost always see where you were going.

This was only the fourth time they'd been to Marquette. The first time had been four years and a few months before, when they'd made a similar campus visit with Crystal. But, that had been in October, on a bright clear day, with the leaves in colorful patterns all around them. The other two visits, one each in Crystal's freshman and sophomore years, had come outside the depths of winter, but they'd managed nice days then, as well.

"I hope not," Pete replied. "I've got a headache so bad that it feels like someone's beating on my head with an axe. Are you even sure we're on the right road?"

"Pretty sure," Karin said, a little concerned about it herself. Pete wasn't good at reading maps -- she wondered about that sometimes, since he could find his way around a blueprint with unerring accuracy, and it really was the same thing, wasn't it? It meant that on their trips, when they actually went somewhere, she did most of the navigation. "We did make the right turn down there in Iron Mountain, I think. This is the way Crystal says she always comes."

"I always thought that Crystal was crazy for wanting to come to this godforsaken Siberia of a wasteland, and Nanci, you must be, too."

Nanci didn't say anything. Karin glanced over her shoulder, noticing she was still wrapped up in her copy of Seventeen, with the Walkman blaring away in her ears. She might not even have noticed it was snowing. Maybe she was the smart one, for not paying attention.

This was the third campus visit they'd made with her. Two of the schools had been fairly close to the Chicago area, and they could make their visit out there and back in a day, but considering the distance, they'd decided to make a two-night trip of this one. It would allow them plenty of time for Nanci to check out the campus, and still be able to spend some time with Crystal.

How fast four years had gone! It seemed like only yesterday they'd made this trip with Crystal. Between school and her summer job, they rarely saw her for more than a few days at a time. Unless she got a job in the Chicago area -- which Karin figured was pretty unlikely -- they might see less of her in the future. She was gone so much that she seemed like a stranger, anymore. How much of a stranger she was now had become clear when she and Myleigh had come out of their room for Christmas dinner, made up and dressed to the nines. She'd hardly recognized Crystal in a dress and makeup, looking like a real woman, not like her kid sister in jeans and sweatshirt.

Karin laughed at the memory. Nanci had come out of her room, a little sour at being pulled away from the telephone, while the rest of the family was just sitting down around the table. When she saw Crystal and Myleigh, her jaw had dropped so far you could have driven a semi through it. She'd raced back into her room and pulled on her last year's prom dress, with bra straps prominently displayed, but she looked like a little girl playing dress-up compared to her sophisticated sister and her even more elegant friend. Even Pete and Jon had been impressed with how nice the two girls had looked.

All of a sudden a dark shape loomed out of the snow ahead. Pete slammed on the brakes, and turned to avoid whatever it was, not a good idea with this much snow on the road. The car spun once . . . twice . . . as it was going around again, whatever that dark shape was flashed in front of them . . . a third time . . . and finally came to a stop, somehow still in the road and facing down the highway. "Sonofabitch," Pete breathed. "What the hell was that? A deer?"

"Too big for a deer," Karin said, her heart pounding in her chest. "Must have been a moose."

"A moose?" Pete shook his head. "They have moose around here?"

"Crystal said a girl up the hall from them totaled her car on one last fall," Karin recalled, still trying to get herself under control. "She spent a couple weeks in the hospital, and was just covered with stitches."

"I saw it," Nanci said. Somehow, the spin must have gotten her to look up from her magazine, and she'd even taken off her headphones. "I thought it was a horse, but it didn't look right."

"Are we going the right direction?" Pete asked.

"I think so," Karin said. "We were heading into the wind before." He got the car moving again, not without some wheel spin in the deep snow.

"Are we about there yet?" Nanci asked.

"No," Pete grunted. "We could be on this damn road for the rest of our lives, and I mean it. Any idea of how far it is till we turn?"

"Can't be a lot farther," she said hopefully. She had no idea. "There was a sign back there, but I couldn't read it for the snow."

After a few minutes that seemed like an eternity as they crawled along, there were red lights blinking out of the snow-filled air ahead of them. "My God, I never thought I'd be so happy to see a stop light in my life," Pete breathed.

"This must be where we turn right on 41," Karin said. She glanced to the left, and saw headlights coming at them. In an instant, a huge truck towing a pair of trailers loaded with pulp logs flashed by in front of them, throwing a huge wave of salt-filled slush up onto the windshield. The wipers took a while to get it clear, and some washer fluid was needed to finally clear off the salt.

"One damn thing after another," Pete mumbled. "This trip is jinxed." He looked out the slush-covered side window, hoped nothing else was coming, and made the right turn.

They were heading crosswind now, and the screaming wind was blowing the snow sideways across in front of them, leaving finger drifts crossing the road, which hadn't been plowed too well in the first place. "About twenty-five more miles to the motel," Karin said, with some idea of where she was, now.

"Nanci, if you'd worked on your grades more," Pete said grumpily, "We could be heading for someplace like Georgia Tech, where at least it's warm."

"You know I'm not that good with the math, Dad."

Karin wondered about that. If there was anything that Nanci was good at, besides cheerleading, socializing, dating, flirting, and yapping on the phone for hours on end, she hadn't shown any sign of it. Well, that wasn't really fair. Crystal hadn't shown them much in school, either; her skills had been outside of it, in things like the karate and the swimming and the other Y activities, but she was doing much better than they'd expected in college. She'd been on the Dean's List last semester, not for the first time, and the times she'd missed it she hadn't missed by much. The teacher education program at Northern seemed to have been a good place for her, and that, as much as anything, was why they were headed up here today, and why Nanci was thinking about going into the field -- well, that, and maybe coaching cheerleading someday, too.

Well, Nanci and Crystal weren't exactly Jon, either, she thought. Jon had at least had a pretty good idea of where he was going and what he wanted to do even when he entered high school, and he'd pretty well kept to it. Despite the trouble he seemed to be having learning to live away from home -- and he seemed to be through the worst of it -- he was pulling good grades, and had a good future ahead of him, maybe at Hadley-Monroe, maybe elsewhere. Karin wasn't sure she could say the same thing about her daughters. Crystal had shown signs of pulling herself together in the years she'd been in college, although Karin and Pete were still concerned about it. Crystal was sharp and competent as a raft guide, Karin knew from the trip on the Ocoee last summer, but how did that translate to the real world?

At least the road was four-lane here, although the snow plowing wasn't any better than it had been, but the finger drifts mostly piled up in the oncoming lane. They were able to make a little better time, if they ignored the people in the huge four-wheel pickups blasting by them like it was a summer afternoon, throwing slush and spray all over and keeping a constant need for the windshield wipers.

The road dropped steadily out of the highlands around Ishpeming and Negaunee as it neared Marquette, but the snow grew even thicker as they neared Lake Superior. "Almost there, I think," Karin said. "Crystal said our motel was on the right, about half a mile past Wal-Mart."

"My God!" Pete said sarcastically. "Wal-Mart! This is civilization after all!"

"I wonder if there are any malls around here?" Nanci asked intently.

"We'll have to ask Crystal," Karin said. "She doesn't hang out in malls like some daughters of mine I know, but if there is one, I'd think she'd at least know about it."

"Only if there's a ski shop in it," Pete grumbled. Well, Karin thought, he has every reason to be grouchy today; I don't blame him a bit.

A few minutes later, they passed the Wal-Mart, and the motel sign loomed out of the storm. Even the sight of it was a relief; Karin felt some of the tension drain out of her. They were safe now, for the moment, anyway. Maybe the storm would be over by the time they had to head back.

Pete pulled the car under the awning in front of the motel entrance; Karin and Nanci got out and hurried through the blowing snow and cold wind to get inside, while Pete went to the trunk and got out the two bags they'd brought with them, then went to park the car. He was back a few minutes later, blasted with snow. "God, it's miserable out there," as he headed to the front desk. "I thought I was gonna die! I just want to lie down for a few minutes and cut this headache a bit."

"Can I help you, yaah?" the front desk clerk said in a hard-to-understand Scandinavian accent. He was obviously a college student.

"Yeah, we've got a room reserved," Pete said. "Chladek."

The clerk turned to a computer and clicked a few keys. "Sorry, sir," he said after a moment. "I don' show any reservation, eh?"

"Look under C, not S," Pete said -- he was used to people not being able to spell the name, and he'd been around that block plenty of times. "That's c-h-l-a-d-e-k. Would you like a confirmation number?"

The clerk clicked a few more keys. "Naw, here 'tis, yaah? Sladek, party of tree. Double on da second floor, for two nights, eh?" He clicked a few more keys. "Dat'll be $182.75."

"It was only supposed to be around a hundred and thirty when I talked to you people on the phone a few days ago," Pete said. "We've got a discount from the university."

"Yaah," the desk clerk said. "But we godda hockey game tomarra night, and da discount don' count when dere's a hockey game when you're stayin'."

"Doesn't say that on the coupon," Pete said, anger rising. After the day he'd had so far, he wasn't about to put up with any bullshit. "And that wasn't the price that was quoted on the phone."

"Look, dey say dat's what I godda charge, yaah? I can't make no exceptions."

"Call your manager," Pete said. Karin could see the anger rising. "We'll see about this."

"He's not here, eh?"

"Then call him at home. He does have a phone in his igloo, doesn't he? This discount coupon doesn't say anything about exceptions."

"Pete, let it go," Karin said. "It's less than fifty dollars."

"It's not the fifty bucks," Pete said angrily. "It's the goddamn principle of the thing. The coupon says they offer a discount, and they'd better damn well honor it."

Between Pete's anger and the desk clerk's intransigence, it took a good twenty minutes to get the room reservation ironed out, and Karin felt they were lucky at that; a couple times Pete seemed ready to head back out in the storm, no matter how hard it might be to find another motel room, everything considered.

"God, this headache is killing me," Pete said as soon as they got into the room. "I just want to lie down and have a little peace and quiet."

"It's OK, now, Pete," Karin soothed.

He headed for the nearest bed and flopped down on his back. "Oh, shit," he said. "This is going to be lovely."

"What now?" Karin asked.

"Look at the way this bed sags. It's lumpy as hell. What is this place, anyway? The Marquette No-Tell Motel? My back is going to kill me if I have to sleep on this thing."

"We'd have a hard time getting some other place," Karin said.

"Oh, neat, they have cable!" Nanci bubbled. She grabbed the hand controller, consulted a chart on the top of the TV, and started punching buttons. In a moment, MTV was on and blaring out some rap about "bitches and hos."

"Turn that damn thing off!" Pete shouted. "Not down, off! Now!"

"But Daddy," Nanci pouted, "I like this song."

"NOW!"

"Nanci, your father needs a few minutes of peace and quiet," Karin said firmly.

"It's been so boring all the way up here!" she complained. "I need something to relax."

"You've relaxed all the way up here, while your father drove," Karin said reasonably. "Turn it off for now."

"Aw, Mom," she pouted, but clicked the red button on the hand controller.

"It won't be very long," Karin said, trying to sound reasonable. "We need to get unpacked, and then we need to call Crystal and let her know we're here."

"Keep it down, please?" Pete said, almost whimpering.

"Would you like some aspirin, dear?"

"Yeah, I guess," he said. "Although the only thing that could help with this headache is suicide."

She dug in her purse, and pulled out a small bottle. "Nanci, go find a glass and get your father some water."

"I don't see any glasses, Mom," she said after a moment of desultory looking around the room.

"Did you look in the bathroom? Maybe they put them in there."

"Yeah, I did," she replied without much enthusiasm.

"Maybe they forgot them when they were setting up the room," Karin told her. "Why don't you go down and ask the desk clerk?"

"OK, Mom," she said, with more enthusiasm. "He seemed kind of cute." She headed for the door.

"They want ninety goddamn dollars a night for a motel room and they can't even leave a single lousy paper cup," Pete said angrily. "What a bunch of assholes. Jesus, we could have stayed in a decent motel for that money instead of this shithole."

"We didn't know. Just try to relax," Karin said. "I'm sure she'll be back in a minute."

It took a few quiet minutes for Karin to get the bags unpacked, and clothes hung up. As quietly as she could, she dialed the familiar number for Crystal and Myleigh's room. "Oh, hello, Mrs. Chladek," Myleigh said when she heard her voice. "We expected you hours ago, and we were getting a little worried."

"The snow was sort of thick," Karin told her. "We couldn't make very good time."

"Oh, I didn't realize it was snowing that badly," she replied. "It just seemed like a normal light snow. I'll let you talk to Crystal."

The phone went quiet for a moment, and then Crystal came on the line. "Hi, Mom," she said. "What kept you?"

"The roads were pretty bad, but we made it," Karin breathed a sigh of relief. Now that the horror story was over with she actually felt a little weak at the knees. Maybe the roads would be better when they headed back south.

"Didn't seem that bad when Randy and I came over from the PEIF a little while ago," Crystal said. "Oh, blowing a little, but you expect that. You still want to do dinner?"

"Yes," she replied. "We haven't eaten since breakfast, and I think we're all a little hungry. But we'd really rather not drive any farther than we have to."

"No problem," Crystal said. "Hunter's is right next door to you. I don't know if they dig out a path over there from the motel, but the food is pretty good and they have one of the better bars in town. They shouldn't be real busy."

"Good," Karin said, stifling a sigh of relief. "I think both Pete and I could use a drink."

"It'll take us a few minutes to get around and get over there," Crystal replied casually. "What do you say we meet there in half an hour or so?"

"Sounds good," Karin agreed. "See you then." She hung up the phone, turned to Pete, and said quietly, "We're going to meet Crystal next door in half an hour. She says they have a pretty good bar."

"Good, that's what I need," Pete said, still wincing at the pain of his headache. "A nice quiet bar and a couple drinks. What's keeping Nanci with that glass?"

"I don't know," Karin said. "Maybe they had to find some in a stockroom some place."

"It's been fifteen minutes," Pete grumped. "Is their stockroom in Chicago?"

"Maybe I'd better go see." She took the key and headed down the stairs, suspecting what had happened to her daughter.

Her suspicions were right. Nanci was standing at the front desk, flirting with the desk clerk. There was a tray with an ice bucket and glasses sitting on the counter.

"Nanci," Karin said harshly, "Weren't you supposed to be doing something?"

Her daughter looked up at her, a little embarrassed. "Sorry, Mom, I forgot. I was just talking with Heikki."

"And you forgot about what you were supposed to be doing," Karin said icily. "Hadn't you better do it?"

"Well, now that you're here, you can take these back up to Dad while I stay here with Heikki," she said, seeing a possible opening.

"No, you have other things to do," Karin said. "We've got to go out for dinner."

"Hey, maybe later, Heikki," Nanci grinned at him as she turned to follow her mother back up the stairs to their room. "I gotta go." As soon as they were on the upper floor, she commented, "I hated to do that, Mom. He's real cute, and I love the way he talks. It sounds so funny."

Karin stopped and turned to look at her. "Remember one thing," she told her daughter sharply. "We're not up here so you can flirt with every boy you meet. We have serious business to discuss about your future, and you'd better remember that."

"Aw, Mom, I was just having a little fun," she replied. "I had to do something after that boring car trip, and you won't even let me watch TV."

"Having fun is not what we're here to do," Karin said firmly. "If you think it is, maybe we'd better head back home and not bother with the college visit."

"Oh, all right, Mom," she sighed.

Karin unlocked the door to the motel room and went inside. "It took them long enough to find a tray with glasses," she said to Pete. "I'll get you some water, and then we'd better get going."

"All right," he said, sitting up on the bed. "Jeez, I wish I'd had another half hour, but maybe some food and a drink will make me feel better."



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