After the Apocalypse
Chapter 20: Where There's Smoke

by Mark Bollman--> and Steve Donohue

Dave and Tim continued to search to the south, but when they reached Oxford, they found the roads utterly impassable and no further signs of survivors.

"I think we've passed Lori," said Dave, choosing his words with extreme care. The shotgun on Tim's lap was still not far from his mind-and, he thought, his head. "Odds are pretty good that she got further north before the explosions. Maybe she even made it to camp by now."

Tim wasn't at all convinced, but he couldn't argue with what they were seeing. "Yeah. Let's head back."

Dave turned the car around and prepared to return to D-A. Enlightened by their earlier experience on the roads, they drove down no blocked streets and made much better time on their roundabout route back. Tim was, of course, still distressed over his family's unresolved status, but took time to chart their course by drawing a makeshift map.

"Someone may have to drive down here again," Dave had said. "It's important that we bring back a good report on what the roads are like."

As they made their way northward on M-24, Tim suggested that they not drive through Metamora again.

"We know that the town's been flattened," he said. "Let's get some more information; see what's happening on the other roads heading toward camp."

Dave agreed, but as they approached the turnoff where they'd connected to Dryden Road, Tim spotted something unusual in the distance, a thin trail of smoke against the rapidly darkening sky.

"Dave, stop the car," he said. "What do you think of that?"

Dave pulled over. "Why did I bother?" he asked. "It's not like there'll be any other traffic." He then looked where Tim was pointing. "Hmmm. Could that be a forest fire? That's the last thing we need-a big fire coming our way."

"I don't think there's enough smoke to be a forest fire," said Tim. "If it is, it's still pretty small. With all the snow, it'll probably burn out before it gets to us."

They watched the smoke for a moment, and then a thought struck Tim. "What if there's people back there? Maybe we should go see what's down there."

The magnitude of Tim's suggestion took only a split second to register with Dave. He quickly started the car and continued pushing north. The first road toward the smoke was the entry to Camp Metamora, a Girl Scout camp situated not far from D-A.

"Hey, maybe the Girl Scouts have a Winter Camp of their own," joked Tim.

Dave pulled into the camp road and stopped the car just past the Camp Metamora sign.

"What's going on?" asked Tim.

"Shhhh," said Dave as he shut off the engine. "I want to try an experiment. Keep an eye on that smoke." He pressed the horn button and let it sound for several seconds.

Unsure what the point of it all was, Tim stared at the plume of smoke while the horn blared and after it stopped. Within a minute, the smoke suddenly grew much thicker.

"That's it!" cried Dave. "That's a smoke signal-there's people in trouble down there! We have to get to them!"

He restarted the engine and they began tracing their way along the camp roads toward the fire's apparent direction. While the snow slowed their progress in several places, it was a relief that there were few fallen trees blocking their path.

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