Prompt: newcomer; apocalypse maiden
Lana waved goodbye to the driver. The car’s tires kicked up a little cloud of dust as it pulled off the dirt shoulder and onto the road again. The day was hot and Lana’s legs and back felt damp where they had been stuck to the vinyl car seat. She had half a bottle of water, though, and some food in her pack. She shielded her eyes from the sun’s glare and looked toward her destination.
The driver had seemed surprised when she announced he could let her out at the side of the road. He had agreed to take her into town, another fifteen minutes on, but she had to stop. Once she spotted the postage stamp of a town, Lana knew she had to stop there. She loved small towns, with their weird little shops and funny locals. Plus, she could usually find someone’s couch or porch to crash on. If not, they still tended to tolerate sleeping outdoors more than the cops in the cities and suburbs. This one looked like the sort of place where you could sleep on the floor and get a hot meal in the morning, which suited her tired body just fine.
Lana ambled into the town which seemed deserted. Carson’s Landing Garage had a Back Soon sign in the window. Carson’s Landing Diner said “gone fishing.” Carson’s Landing General Goods and Pharmacy just had all the lights out. Lana laughed to herself. “Well, at least I know where I am.” The only welcoming party for her was a cat on someone’s front porch and it just closed its eyes and went back to sleep.
Lana finally found, in the town center, a windowless meeting house with a couple of cars parked out front. A young guy paced around in front of the building. He kicked at rocks and scuffed his shoes, clearly bored to tears. He had on dress clothes. Lana wondered if there was some kind of religious event on that day. She hoped it wasn’t a funeral. People weren’t too keen on meeting new friends after one of those.
“Howdy,” she called to him as she walked over. “Hope I’m not interrupting anything.”
He jerked his head up and looked at Lana like she was the most unlikely thing he could see. “Where’d you come from?”
Lana jerked a thumb over her shoulder. “Back thataway. Just passing through.” She stopped in front of him, on a scraggly patch of grass. “What’s in there?” she asked him and peered around him at the meeting hall.
“But you’re a newcomer,” the fellow said. He looked back toward the meeting hall, back to Lana, and back again.
“Well, sure,” Lana said. “I’m new everywhere. I’m hitching across the country, zigzag like.” She thrust out her hand. “I’m Lana.”
The fellow looked at her hand like it was a two-week-old dead trout. “We’ve never had a newcomer in Carson’s Landing before.”
Lana grinned and cocked her head. “You must’ve done at some point.”
Deadpan, the guy said, “No, we haven’t. You better come inside to meet the elders.” He sort of edged around Lana, like he was planning to herd her inside.
“Sure,” Lana said as he urged her toward the hall door. “If I won’t be intruding.” Mentally, she shrugged and chalked it up to small-town eccentricity.
The door opened on a room set up like a chapel; rows of wooden pews faced a lectern and stage at the far end. Three dozen heads swiveled around to look at her. The woman at the lectern said, “Cory, what is this?” in a stern tone that suggested he better have a good story.
“She walked into town,” Corey said. Lana thought the consternation that followed bordered on excessive. Her instincts, honed from a long time on the road, told her she just might have found some real nuts.
The woman at the lectern, however, looked like she’d just been given a new pony. “Then you have come at last.” She waved Lana forward, up to the stage.
“Er,” Lana suggested.
The woman went to a wooden chest, closed with an ancient-looking silver lock. A key on a chain around her neck unlocked it. “We’ve waited so long,” the woman said. She lifted something out of the chest. She peeled back a fated square of patchwork to reveal an unearthly lump of clear crystal and tarnished metal. “Take it.”
Lana accepted the object is one would accept a newborn lion–with trepidation and very gentle hands. It sat there like an evil antique. Nothing happened. Lana said, “And, ah, what do I do now, exactly?”
The woman exchanged heated looks with Cory and the rest of the assembled people. “But don’t you want to activate it?”
Lana tilted the object side to side to examine it. “You mean it’s got an on-off switch?”
“You’re not the one Carson sent, are you?”
“Who?” Lana asked. Then something hit the back of her head. As she fell forward into darkness, she felt the strange object being plucked from her limp hands.