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Miles to go, p.15
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       Miles to Go, p.15

           Richard Paul Evans
 
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  I put three of the stones in the center of the pit, and when the flames were a foot high, I balanced my pan on the stones. A minute later I poured in the carton of Egg Beaters. I cut thin slices of pecorino and salami and dropped them across the bubbling egg.

  Kailamai emerged from the tent about five minutes later. “Hey,” she said. I turned around. I had only seen her in the dark, so I was now seeing her clearly for the first time. She was about five foot three, thin, with a wide face. She was prettier than I had realized, in a classical way, with high cheekbones and a gentle, sloping nose like one of the women in a Botticelli painting. Her hair was dark and tousled. She also had piercings I hadn’t noticed, three in each ear and one in her nose.

  “Whatever you’re making smells good,” she said.

  “A different rendition of what you ate last night. Omelets with pecorino and salami.”

  “Sounds good,” she said. She straddled the picnic table’s bench, close enough to the fire to feel its heat.

  “Hungry?” I asked.

  “I was born hungry.”

  “Grab that mess kit,” I said.

  “The what?”

  “The mess kit. It’s that silver thing on top of my pack.”

  She lifted the kit. “This?”

  “Yeah. Just bring it over.”

  “Why do you call it a mess kit?”

  “I don’t know. It’s an army thing.”

  “I thought you said you weren’t in the army.”

  “I wasn’t,” I said. I took the kit apart and spooned an omelet into one of the halves. “Here you go.”

  She took the food, then sat down at the table, her back to the fire. “Thanks. I’ll say grace.”

  I took the pan from the fire. “All right.”

  “Heavenly Father, thank you for this food, and bless Alan for sharing it with me. Bless this food to our bodies’ health and us to Thy service, Amen.”

  “Amen,” I said. I flopped the remaining omelet into my metal bowl, then sat down next to her. “You pray a lot,” I said.

  “Before meals. When I get up. When I go to bed. Whenever I’m afraid. Whenever I feel grateful.” She smiled at me. “Pretty much all the time.” She took a bite of omelet. “It’s good to have a hot breakfast.”

  “I wish I had some coffee to go with it,” I said. I took a large bite of omelet. “What are your plans today? More hitchhiking?”

  “I guess.” She looked down for a moment, picking at her food. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to walk with you for a while.”

  I wasn’t sure if this was a good idea or not. “I walk more than twenty miles a day. Think you can keep up?”

  “I’ll try.”

  I took a bite and slowly chewed while I considered her request.

  “If you don’t want me to walk with you, I understand,” she said.

  “It’s okay,” I decided. “I wouldn’t mind some company.”

  She smiled. “Good. Me too.”

  After she’d finished eating, she stood holding her plate. “I’m going to see if I can find some water to wash our dishes.” She came back a few minutes later with a clean, dripping pan. “I found a water spigot.”

  “Do you think it’s potable?” I asked.

  “What’s potable?”

  “Is it safe to drink?”

  “I don’t know. It didn’t say it wasn’t.”

  “Then it probably is. We better fill up.” I took a long drink from my canteen and then got two plastic bottles. “Where is it?”

  “It’s over there,” she said, pointing. “Behind the statue.”

  I filled my receptacles then came back and poured out one of the bottles on the fire, the ash and rock releasing a white cloud of smoke and steam. I went and filled it again and stowed it in my pack.

  We rolled up our sleeping bags and Kailamai helped me break down the tent. I put on my hat and sunglasses. When all was packed, I asked, “Ready?”

  She slid her own pack over her shoulders. “I’m ready.”

  We climbed the hill to the road and up to the fork. As we passed the Forest Service sign, I asked, “Have you ever seen the Mullan Tree?”

  “Never heard of it. Is it worth seeing?”

  I looked up the road where the sign pointed, then just kept walking. “Apparently not,” I said.

  We crossed the interstate, then walked down the on-ramp to I-90. The road was still descending, and I pulled down the rim of my Akubra hat as the sun was in my eyes.

  “I like your hat,” Kailamai said.

  “It’s an Akubra,” I said. “I got it in Australia.”

  “You’ve been to Australia?”

  “About five years ago. I had a client from Melbourne.”

  “That’s cool. I’ve always wanted to go there.”

  “I hear Boston’s nice,” I said. “You have an aunt there?”

  “I just made that up,” she said. “It was just the first place that came to mind.”

  “Where are you really going?”

  “I don’t know. I thought that if I walked long enough I’d find something.”

  “Where’s your home?”

  “I don’t have one. Technically, I’m a runaway. At least on the state’s records. But only for another month.”

  “What do you mean by that?”

  “I’m a foster kid. I’ve been in the system for most of my life. My last foster home didn’t really work out, so I ran away.”

  “Why didn’t you just go back to the state?”

  “There’s no point. I’m eighteen in a month, so the state’s no longer responsible for me. It’s called aging out. I’m on my own.”

  “Are you ready to be on your own?”

  “I guess I’ll find out. The odds aren’t good. My caseworker told me that two years after aging out, there’s a sixty percent chance I’ll be pregnant, in jail, homeless, or dead. But I’m not going to let that happen. I want to make something of my life. I want to go to college.”

  “Do you know what you want to study?”

  “I want to be a judge someday.”

  I nodded. “That’s a great goal. Everyone would have to call you ‘Your Honor.’”

  A broad smile crossed her lips. “That would be awesome. Maybe I could be like Judge Judy and have my own TV show. Judge Judy doesn’t take anyone’s junk.”

  “No,” I said. “She doesn’t.”

  I liked this girl.

  CHAPTER

  Thirty-nine

  This is the joke Kailamai told me today.

  A wife asked her husband,

  “How was the golfing today?” “It was awful,” he replied. “On the eleventh hole Harry had a heart attack and died.” “Oh no!” she exclaimed. “That is awful!” “You’re telling me,” the husband replied. “For the next seven holes it was hit the ball, drag Harry. Hit the ball, drag Harry.”

  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  We had walked about two and a half miles when we came to the Old Mission State Park. The Old Mission of the Sacred Heart was built by Jesuit priests in 1853 and is the oldest building standing in Idaho. Even by today’s standards it’s an impressive structure, and it’s hard to believe these men built this massive edifice in such a secluded place without the benefit of a lumberyard or heavy machinery. What they lacked in technology they made up for in devotion.

  The park was open to visitors and Kailamai and I spent an hour wandering around the visitors’ center. That morning I discovered two things about Kailamai. First, that she was funny.

  “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb?” she asked.

  “No idea,” I said.

  “Just one. But the lightbulb has to want to change.”

  I grinned. “That’s pretty funny.”

  She continued. “These guys rob a bank wearing gorilla masks. As they’re getting away, a customer pulls off one of the men’s masks to see what he looks like. The bank robber says, ‘Now that you’ve seen me, you have to die,’ and he shoots the man
dead. The robber looks around the room. Everyone is looking away or covering their eyes. ‘Did anyone else see my face?’ he asks. An Irishman in the corner slowly raised his hand. ‘You saw my face?’ the bank robber asked. ‘No, but I think my wife might have got a wee peek.’”

  I laughed pretty hard.

  The second thing I discovered about Kailamai is that she could outeat me. I made salami sandwiches again and gave her an apple and a couple energy bars. She devoured it all. We walked all day and reached the Kellogg city limits as the sun began to set. Kailamai was exhausted and I slowed my pace considerably so she could keep up. She never complained about the distance, but several times apologized for slowing me down and said if I needed to leave her I could. I didn’t want to. I liked her company. In some ways she reminded me of McKale when she was younger: bright, funny, and sardonic.

  Kellogg is a peculiar town, divided by the interstate between old and new—the new being a ski resort with one of the largest gondolas in the western hemisphere.

  According to town lore, Kellogg has the proud distinction of being founded by a jackass. Literally. The town is named after a prospector named Noah Kellogg. One morning in 1885, Kellogg’s donkey wandered off from his camp. Several hours later Kellogg found the animal standing next to a large outcropping of galena, a lead ore mineral that contains significant deposits of silver.

  The discovery led to the establishment of the Bunker Hill Mine and Smelter, which was operational for more than a hundred years, until closing in 1981. A sign outside the city read:

  This is the town founded by a jackass and inhabited by his descendants

  Kailamai assured me that this was true. “I know,” she said. “I used to live here.”

  We crossed the interstate to the old part of town and went inside the Silverhorn Motor Inn and the Silver Spoon Restaurant. The front lobby was small and cluttered with various sundries for sale or borrow: bottles of toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, and shaving cream, and an entire wall of ancient VHS videotapes.

  I asked for two rooms but Kailamai objected. “That’s too much money. Let’s just get one room with two beds.”

  “It doesn’t seem proper,” I said.

  “You were like two inches from me in the tent,” she replied.

  She had a point. I asked for one room.

  The woman handed me a key to room 255 and informed us that the hotel had VCRs in each room and the videos were all free to borrow. She also warned us to be careful on the roads, as one of the restaurant’s waitresses had been hit by a bear while driving the night before.

  “He just ran right into the side of her car. Poor girl was shaking like a leaf.”

  I sent Kailamai to the restaurant while I carried both of our packs to the room, then came down and joined her.

  “I don’t have much money,” Kailamai told me as she looked over the menu. She had already eaten a dinner roll and was buttering a second.

  “Don’t worry, it’s my treat.”

  She looked relieved. “Thanks.”

  “You’re welcome.”

  I ordered for us two “Nancy Melts”—a house specialty burger on grilled sourdough with bacon, grilled onions, Swiss cheese, and sautéed mushrooms, and for dessert we had huckleberry pie à la mode.

  That night as we lay in our beds, Kailamai asked, “How far do you think we walked today?”

  “About twenty-six miles,” I said.

  “I’ve never walked that far before.” She was quiet a moment. “How far are we walking tomorrow?”

  “About the same,” I said.

  “Okay,” she said. “Night.”

  “You did great today, Kailamai. I’m proud of you.”

  “Thanks.” She knelt by the side of her bed and said her prayers.

  CHAPTER

  Forty

  We reached Montana today. Along the way we met the most interesting of characters—Pete the miner. The heavens indeed hold many stars from which to set a course.

  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant—pancakes and bacon with scrambled eggs. We left the hotel and then stopped next door at a convenience store for bottled water, trail mix, and beef jerky. We didn’t worry about dinner. There were towns close enough that we’d be eating at a restaurant that night.

  We crossed the interstate bridge and continued our walk. After a few miles Kailamai said, “This might seem like a dumb question, but do you know how to get to Key West?”

  I hid my smile. “Basically. I’ve got maps.”

  “Shouldn’t we be walking more south?”

  “After Butte, Montana, I’m planning to walk southeast through Yellowstone.”

  “We’re walking through Yellowstone?”

  I was curious that she’d included herself on my journey. “I was planning on it.”

  “I’ve heard that there are a lot of buffalo there. I’ve always wanted to see a buffalo in real life.”

  “That would be cool,” I said.

  Maybe an hour later she asked, “Do you believe in UFOs and aliens, that kind of stuff?”

  “No. But I know where there’s a crop circle,” I said. “Wilbur, Washington. I walked past it.”

  “I think I’ve figured out where aliens come from.”

  “Where?” I asked, genuinely wanting to hear her theory.

  “From Earth.”

  “Explain,” I said.

  “My theory is that aliens aren’t in flying saucers, they’re in time machines.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Think about it. If time travel is possible …”

  “A big if,” I said.

  “Yeah, but people used to say that about flying. Now everyone is doing it. So let’s say that there are things we don’t understand yet about time, which is logical, or at least possible, right?”

  “I’ll give you that.”

  “So if it is possible to move through time, that means that there are people already here, observing us.”

  “Why would they want to do that?”

  “Same reason we study history. Besides, wouldn’t you want to see the past if you could? Watch Lincoln give the Gettysburg Address, or listen to the Sermon on the Mount?”

  “But then we’d see them around us. The physicist Stephen Hawking said, ‘The absence of tourists from the future is an argument against the existence of time travel.’”

  “Haven’t you ever read a book about time travel?” Kailamai said. “People from the future can’t show themselves or be involved in our circumstances or they could mess things up and change history.”

  “History is messed up.”

  “Yeah, but if they did, they might disappear. You know, like in all the science fiction movies.”

  “So you think aliens are us?”

  “It makes sense, doesn’t it? The way people describe aliens, with two eyes, our body shape, smaller bodies. As technology takes over, it makes sense that our brains would evolve bigger and our bodies grow smaller.”

  “You’re a very interesting young woman,” I said.

  “Thanks,” she said.

  Near the Kellogg city limit, Kailamai pointed to a car dealership north of the freeway. “That’s Dave Smith Motors. It’s one of the biggest car dealerships in the world.”

  I thought it odd to find such a large dealership so far from a metropolitan area.

  “I used to go to school there, right by the used car lot. Dave Smith tore down my elementary school to build his dealership. We were the Sunshine Unicorns.”

  “The Sunshine Unicorns?”

  “I know, pretty lame, huh? Probably a good thing he tore it down.”

  Four and a half miles down the road we saw signs for something called the Sunshine Miners Memorial, which struck me as a peculiarly cheerful name for a disaster site. We didn’t stop.

  In the afternoon we passed through Silverton and the foothills of the Bitterroot Mountains, where we exited the highway at the town of Wall
ace, which called itself the “Silver Capital of the World.” We ate lunch at the Brooks Hotel Restaurant and Lounge.

  The restaurant claimed to have a “famous” salad bar, which was, in fact, the most ordinary salad I’d ever encountered. I guess they meant famous, as in, lettuce is famous.

  Actually, their claim of fame was unusual. While practically everything in Washington was advertised as “world famous,” I noticed that since I’d been in Idaho I hadn’t seen a single world-famous shake or burger. Instead, everything in Idaho was “historic.” Trees, roads, churches, rocks, mines, just about anything you could attach a sign to.

  After lunch we went to the Harvest Grocery Store to stock up on water, fruit, and Gatorade. We were climbing the highway on-ramp when we saw a man standing at the side of the road with his thumb out. He was an older man with a bushy gray beard that fell to the middle of his neck. He wore a train conductor hat, bright yellow-lens sunglasses, and overalls that were striped like the old seersucker suits.

  He waved to us. “How y’all?”

  “Good afternoon,” I said.

  “Hey,” Kailamai said, looking a little anxious.

  “How’s the fishing?” I asked.

  “Fishing?”

  “The hitchhiking,” I said.

  “Oh,” he said with a squint. “Ain’t a whole lot of cars coming out of Wallace this time of day. Mind if I walk with you a piece?”

  “Not at all.”

  He ran to the edge of the road and lifted a small canvas pack from the ground, then ran back to catch up with us, much more nimbly than I expected from a man of his years.

  “Name’s Pete,” he said.

  “I’m Alan. This is Kailamai.”

  He tilted his hat. “Ma’am.”

  “Hey,” she said.

  “Where y’all be headed?”

  “East,” I said. “Way east.”

  Though he walked with us, his thumb was still extended at his side. “I’m not headed too far. I go to Mullan every week to see my friends.”

 
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