Book Two in The Chronicles of CC, The Star Spangled Banner Series
Rt 19, Central Vermont
May 9th, 8:10 p.m.
Reasoning that the plane would have to return to its base for fuel and that the coming darkness would keep the pilot from resuming his search until morning, CC decided to pull the tractor-trailer away from the disintegrating stream bank and onto more solid ground.
This time he didn’t have to worry about a fast start, so he was not surprised when he got one. He felt the big engine vibrating through the throttle pedal as he pulled away from the bank. Putting the transmission into the lowest of its sixteen forward gears, he let the clutch out slowly. The big rig jerked forward, then began to crawl ahead.
When someone has driven a vehicle any appreciable distance, they seem to sense as much as see or hear any change in its behavior. CC felt the tractor slow, as though it was dragging an extra burden, and he looked in his side door mirror just in time to see the trailer begin to tip slightly toward the lake, the dirt and gravel sliding away as the bank began to collapse beneath the weight of the four wheels on the trailer’s left rear corner.
Slamming the accelerator down, he jerked the steering wheel to the right, trying to get the cab as close to the valley wall as possible. The trailer doggy-walked along with its rear wheels half turning, half sliding along the edge of the bank, churning up mud and water, its tilted rear axles just clearing the ground.
CC felt sure he was losing the rig, and wondered how he’d get clear if the trailer dragged the cab into the lake. The mouth of that giant culvert pipe that drained the lake looked almost big enough to swallow the entire rig. And if the truck plugged the end of the pipe, the lake would rise, overflow its banks, and pour out the mouth of the valley. But that was not his concern. By then he’d almost certainly have drowned.
The tractor itself, having inched clear of the narrow defile, was now on a smoother roadway. The slope of the bank was less steep, and the rear wheels were slowly trailing back up onto the primitive road. Suddenly the truck accelerated ahead, and he realized that the rear wheels had pulled clear of the embankment. The tractors’ big drive wheels were now pulling the trailer easily along, and he breathed a prayer of thanks.
After clearing the end of the lake, he continued driving slowly, staying clear of the stream’s edge, running the engine smoothly and quietly as he crept along in low gear.
Though it was almost completely dark now, CC could still make out the cliffs looming above him on either side of the valley. The residue of the ages — boulders, gravel, and soil — lay at the base of the cliffs in huge piles. The palisades soared above him, their faces fractured and eroded. Wide steep slopes of broken rock and scree appeared ready to slide down upon him if sufficient shock were to be applied.
He drove on a few hundred yards to where the valley was significantly wider, and the road curved away from the cliffs. Signs of landslides and avalanches were numerous, with dead trees reflecting the moonlight, like the bleached bones of ancient creatures that had been thrown helter-skelter down the slopes. Live trees were twisted in grotesque postures, even growing out from under boulders as they fought to survive.
As he pulled the wheel back and forth to avoid the larger rocks in his path, his headlights picked out the chaotic refuse dumped on the valley floor by forces God had set in motion eons before. It was very dark and he realized that he was too exhausted to go on. He’d had enough for one day. When the road passed under the shadows of some large trees, he braked to a stop, shut off the engine, and climbed down from the cab.