The Calling Page 37

Daniel helped him back to his feet.

“The knee is good,” I said. “But the knee is not completely healed. Be careful.”

“It’s a road,” Corey said, pointing.

“A dirt road,” Hayley muttered.

“So? We’ve been slogging through the forest for two days. What do you want? A six-lane highway?”

“That’d be nice.”

“Yeah, until you raced out, screaming for help, and got mowed down by a logging truck.” He walked into the middle and turned, waving his arms. “It’s a road!”

I patted his back. “It’s a lovely road. Now, which way do we go?”

Corey looked one way, the brown ribbon extending into emptiness. He looked the other way, saw the same thing and his shoulders slumped.


Yes, finding a road did not mean finding civilization. Not right away. But at least it was a two-lane road, which was better than stumbling over one of the many dirt tracks leading into the bush … and nowhere else.

And, like I said, on Vancouver Island, if you want people, your best bet is always to head south. So that’s what we did.

The road wasn’t as promising as we might have wanted. It was overgrown at the edges, and no hydro poles meant no nearby homes or cabins. But it smelled of diesel, and had tire tracks, so we knew it was still in use. At least no one was complaining anymore, and after a few minutes, the rain stopped.

We’d gone about five kilometers when we rounded a bend to see a tiny roadside store with a gas bar.

“Yes!” Corey said, pumping the air. “We are now, officially, rescued.”

“You think?” Hayley said. “I’m not seeing any vehicles.”

“Because it’s out in the middle of freaking nowhere. They’re probably lucky if they get three cars a day.”

“No, I mean transportation for the person running the place.”

Corey peered at the empty lot surrounding the small building. “Oh.”

The shack had one gas pump out front, and a diesel one around the side. The lack of a vehicle meant that unless there was a house nearby, no one was manning the place.

“But it should have a phone,” I said. “Or maps to show us where we are. Also, there must be cottages nearby if there’s a gas bar.”

“Ha!” Corey said, spinning and pointing at Hayley. “Ha!”

He took off at a lope. We followed.

Corey stopped a few feet from the door. “Open weekends after Labor Day,” he called. “What’s today?”

“Not the weekend,” I called back.

Corey walked to the barred window, then turned to us. “The window’s filthy. I can’t see anything.”

“How about we try the door?” Sam said.

She was walking toward it when Hayley grabbed her arm and pointed to a window sign warning that the place was armed with security alarms and cameras.

“Um, yeah,” Corey said. “Which will bring the local cops. If we’re lucky.”

“At this point, I’ll take any ride out of here,” I said. “Even handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser.”


THE FRONT DOOR WAS unlocked. A bell jangled as Daniel and Corey walked in, Hayley and Sam following. I took Kenjii under a tree and told her to stay. As well trained as she was, I knew she was very hungry, and the smell of food might prove too much temptation.

“Hello?” Corey was calling as I went inside.

They’d stopped just inside the doorway and were looking around. It was your typical roadside store, crammed with non-perishable foods and items a cottager might need badly enough to pay twice the normal price. The place smelled of must and mildew, and the layer of dust on the cans suggested they’d been there a while. The dirty floor had a path worn down the middle, meaning it wasn’t deserted—just not very busy.

Beside the door stood a cooler. It was unplugged and filled with pop cans and bottles. A handwritten sign advised those looking for milk to check aisle two, for the powdered and canned variety.

“No beer?” Corey said. “What kind of place is this?”

“The kind that knows better than to leave anything that’ll make it a target for kids like you,” I said.

Corey grabbed a Coke.

“Hey!” Hayley said.

“If they aren’t here to man the shop…”

Daniel reached into Corey’s back pocket. He plucked out his wallet, took out a still-damp twenty and put it on the counter. Corey grabbed for it, but Daniel gave a look that made Corey withdraw his hand.

“Fine,” Corey said. “Drinks and snacks on me, apparently. Chow down, guys.”

“I’m a little more interested in finding a phone,” I said. “And figuring out if that open front door means someone’s here.”

“Nah,” Corey said. “They were so eager to get out of this dump that they forgot to lock up Sunday night.”


I walked behind the counter. Tucked beside the cash register was a folded newspaper. Beside it rested a paper cup of coffee. I touched the cup.

“Cold?” Daniel said.

“Not hot.”

He reached over, pulled off the lid, and stuck his finger in the coffee.

“Warmer than room temperature,” he said. He flipped over the paper to check the date. “Today’s.”

“I don’t see a bathroom,” Corey said. “Maybe he’s outside, taking a leak.”

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