The Road Ahead by K.S. Harrod

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The Road Ahead by K.S. Harrod
Illustration by Sue Babcock

Martin’s hands gripped the steering wheel tighter, his cracked knuckles turning a chalky white. Taylor and Trinity were fighting over who had the most room in the back seat, and Lynn had been napping off and on for the last thirty minutes.

“You guys keep it down,” Martin said. He could feel the stress settling into his jaws. Not a fan of road trips under normal circumstances, he hadn’t been prepared for how difficult this trip was shaping up to be.

“Fuck,” said Taylor under her breath, slumping further into her phone.

“Watch the language,” Martin said. His wispy hair was spiking in the middle. It had been a long day. At least the traffic was light.

“How much longer?” Trinity whined.

Martin jostled Lynn awake. She gasped loudly, something she did almost every time she woke up these days.

“How much longer?” he asked.

“Oh, how long have I been asleep?” The back of Lynn’s hand dragged across her open mouth.

“This is stupid,” said Taylor. “Can’t we just be there already?”

“Calm it, Tay.” Martin locked eyes with her in the rearview mirror.

He had gone along with Lynn’s plan for this trip, even so far as staying at a rental house. It sounded crazy at first, a trip like this at a time like this, but Martin finally relented. He owed it to Lynn after what happened with Timmy. He would always owe her.

Lynn pulled out a map and looked at her phone.

“We should be there in about ten minutes,” she said.

“At least the heater’s working,” Martin offered. “A lot better than Sir Bomba that we took to Colorado.”

“I need to go potty,” said Trinity. She opened the car door slightly, as if they weren’t barreling down the highway at a high rate of speed.

What are you doing?” Lynn shouted, panic and fear rising in her throat.

“Mom!” Taylor shouted, yanking out both of her earbuds.

“She can’t just open the door like that!” Lynn glared at her older daughter.

“What is it?” Trinity asked, her mouth yellow from the goldfish.

Mister Dickens started barking from his cage in the back. Lynn covered her eyes. Martin slowly lifted one hand from the steering wheel and rested it on top of his head.

“Hey, I think I found a shortcut,” he said finally, pointing through the front windshield.

“Don’t take any shortcuts!” Lynn said. “We don’t want to get lost.”

Taylor sat up in her seat. “Um, I think I can see it.”

“Me, too! Looks just like the pictures!” Martin turned to Lynn with raised eyebrows. “I think my shortcut worked.”

Lynn checked her phone again and sighed.

“I guess so,” she said.

“Never rented a whole house for a vacation before. This is exciting.” Martin turned off the car. For such a long trip, they hadn’t used much gas.

Martin groaned as he stepped out and put weight on his feet. He grabbed his hips and leaned back until he felt the satisfying crack at the base of his spine. They had made the trip nonstop in just under four hours.

“It’s like coming home,” said Taylor sarcastically.

“Listen,” Martin said, slamming his car door hard enough for the entire vehicle to rock back and forth. “Your mother planned this vacation, and now that we’re here, let’s try and make the best of it, okay?”

“I bet they don’t have a Switch,” said Taylor, arms locked in front of her chest. “Just like we don’t have one.”

“Stop it!” said Lynn. “Stop! You don’t have to appreciate what I do, but we’re a family and we are going to enjoy this vacation!”

“But we never left the driveway, Mama,” said Trinity. “We never went anywhere.”

Lynn bent down, hastily wiping one eye. “Because we can’t go anywhere, sweetie. We can’t afford to get sick.” Lynn leaned a little, putting one hand on the driveway.

“We can’t. Oh my god, Timmy!”

Her body heaved in the cold air.

“I’m sorry, Mama,” said Taylor softly, placing a hand on her mother’s shoulder blade. “This is a great vacation spot. I can’t wait to see what’s inside.”

“Circle up,” said Martin. The Caldwell family embraced on the doorstep of their home before going back inside.

“Hey, this is really nice,” Martin said, giving Lynn a side hug as he unlocked the front door. “Even better than those pictures.”

Mister Dickens barked again.

“You girls have a look around. I’ll start unpacking.”

BIO: K.S. Harrod is a writer, a gardener, a mender of fences, and an educator who loves to cook. K.S. lives in the Southwest with lots of plants, some old typewriters, and a long list of exotic pets. People often mistake K.S. for a certain celebrity, which is not always a bad thing.