In honor of returning to one of my favorite places in the world, I want to introduce readers to my main source of Pacific Northwest inspiration, Jeremy Jeziorski. In addition to being an amazing photographer, Jeremy is one of my oldest friend and has been hit hard by the pandemic. It’s hard to photograph large social gatherings when there aren’t any. However, his prints are available online for purchase. I’ll be adding them to story-links for this chapter.
Now, here’s your story.
The Blind Bronco had never looked better to Chelsea as the cold, relentless wind blew her and Bentley through the door of the trailer. The bar stood immaculately clean, as always, and Florence smiled at her.
The teen-aged beauty queen gestured to a stool. “Welcome back. I thought we’d seen the last of you.”
Chelsea shrugged as she took the proffered seat. “Nope, just helping a friend get to the next stop. I worked a job there to pay for dinner and a souvenir.”
Chelsea beamed as she pulled her new hatchet, lighter and thinner than the one Amber had given her. “Rick gave me a few lessons while we hunted a gnome.”
“Very nice.” Florence tossed Bentley a treat. “And I’m glad your back. I would have been mad if you went without saying goodbye.” She leaned over the bar to scratch the huge mutt’s ears.
Contentment spread, warm and soothing, as Chelsea leaned on the bar. “Any word on a job?”
Florence giggled while she told Chelsea about the creepers that had been spotted yesterday, as well as a camper she rented to hunters that had opened just down the road. Once she found a few partners, Chelsea headed out. They killed the furry vampires quickly. Chelsea was back in the Bronco just after midnight for the bounty and the keys to the camper.
The next day, she came for another monster to kill. And the next. And the next.
The only time she didn’t start her day at the Bronco was when the snow stopped all travel. Not that she actually minded the weather. The cold and the snow only added to the drama of the South Dakota landscape that she loved.
But as the short, gray days dragged, she saw less and less of the beauty around her. She took fewer jobs, too. One day, she woke up groggy and without an appetite. She snapped at Bentley when he bumped into her. Frustration left her pacing the camper.
When Bentley whined to go out, she took him to the field behind the dirt parking lot. She stared at the endless, cloudless sky, feeling as empty.
“C’mon, Bentley. Let’s go for a ride.” She headed for the Bronco out of habit but blew past the trailer. The setting sun stained the sky like glass. She followed it; suddenly glad she’d never really unpacked her car after dropping Rick off. The camper held some shirts and underwear, but all her weapons and gear were the in the car.
The darkness came with the state line. She debated stopping, but her headlights stayed on the asphalt for another few hours.
Only when Bentley whined for dinner did she pull over. She set up camp as Bentley stretched his legs in the parking lot. The two of them had lived in the car before. This felt almost like home.
Once she texted a quick goodbye to Florence, she called Bentley over and they settled into the back seat, on the special air mattress designed for the car. The big mutt, his blankets, and her sleeping bag made a warm nest. “So, Bentley, where are we headed?”
He whined and gave a small yip.
“Well, we’re obviously not going back east.”
Bentley’s tail thumped against the air mattress.
“Maybe, south? Find Keegan?”
He sniffed her hair. She took that as a no.
“We could head west. More west.”
Bentley let a happy yip.
“More west, huh? Well, it’s been so long since I’ve seen the ocean… I guess I should.”
He licked her ear.
“We’re gonna avoid haunts and other hunters. Stopping will lead to hunting and we’ll get enough of that when we finally hit the coast. I have some money saved up. Enough to get to the coast without touching my trust fund, anyway.”
Her stomach woke her in the morning. While she kept food for Bentley in the car, she had nothing for herself. She missed twenty-five cent coffee as much as tourist traps, but the nearest diner had fresh pancakes and handmade jewelry.
The copper bracelets and matching earrings winked in the brittle sunlight as she drove on. Something bright and fun in a world of cows. The mountains loomed in the distance, though. Right until they didn’t.
A nasty snowstorm bogged them down in a tiny town for two days. Which gave Chelsea time to get chains on her tires. Once the storm passed, they slipped and slid their way down the continental divide.
More endless fields awaited them, though these had nothing on the prairie. This rimless sky was an illusion quickly shattered by more mountains. There, the lakes and snowcapped peaks tempted her. But the ocean called.
However, it wasn’t the ocean that captured her on the other side of the mountains. It was the emerald green of the trees. After the endless gray and white of a winter on the prairie, after the cold and snow of the mountains, she had wandered into a fantasy forest. Alive even in this late winter, and full of towering trees and rivers that ended in dramatic waterfalls. Her camera found a new obsession.
Occasionally a wind that tasted of salt blew. And though they spent a few days zigzagging through the forest, exploring the warmth and the wet, that wind drew her ever further west. To her delight, the trees went with them.
Bentley pranced and successful begged food at the many parks and rest stops. He made friends with the campers in RVs that were just everywhere, and with the homeless that popped everywhere else.
And then one day, she kept heading west. Past legends and rumors, and even easy hunts. She turned away from the beach towns and tourist traps. Soon enough she’d get to explore them.
She nearly missed the town she’d heard about from the campers. Glancing down the empty streets, she didn’t spy a single stoplight. The RV park was unsurprisingly full. The beach wasn’t.
The thick fog muted an ocean already at low tide. Beyond the dry sand lay only puddles and a smudge of gray.
She threw Bentley’s ball as they headed for the water. Gray on gray on gray. There may have been other people near them, but Chelsea couldn’t see or hear them. All the world was just her and Bentley, and the crashing of the unseen ocean.
The sea sifted out of the fog in small shakes. And then it spread out before her. Icy salt wind hit her face, blowing off her Stetson. Bentley barked as he chased it down.
Red hair whipping in her face, she opened her arms. The fringe on her duster tugged and twisted, pulling lightly. Bentley whined. She took her hat from him. “This is the wrong hat for out here.” She took a deep breath. The salt and the wind felt good. In her lungs. “I’m keeping the coat though. It’s waterproofed.”
Bentley scratched at his ear.
“Trust me, it’s a thing. Mama taught me how to care of clothes.”
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