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The Highway Incident

There was nothing particularly noteworthy about the way the day dawned across the forest. For the timid little lemur, about to make his run to the other side of the two wheel ruts (which the locals called a road) the breaking dawn of this day was essentially no different than any other day he’d ever known. Yet through the astonishing quirks of chance, disparate lives will often converge resulting in a complex set of unknowable consequences… each consequence representing a change to our comfortable routines. And so it was, with blissful ignorance, our little lemur left the safety of the trees, unaware he was about to spark a debate on philosophical ethics. For not more than five-minutes up the road, mounted atop a steam driven carriage, two tourists assaulted the morning’s peace most rudely.

“Why don’t you just admit you are lost?” Emerson Lighthouse goaded

“Please enlighten me as to just what indications I have given that would suggest I don’t know where we are?” Petharic‘s patronizing tone was a well-honed skill.

“There’s just something about this that doesn’t seem right.”

“Listen, we were instructed to continue riding straight until we reach to the first major intersection. We then turn right. We’ve passed no major intersections therefore we continue going straight.” He punctuated the last three words by synchronizing them with three consecutive hand chops.

“There was that road about a mile back.”

“On the left.” Petharic’s every breath reeked of exasperation. “And, as I said back then, ‘T-intersections don’t count.’”

“I think you should pull over at the next sign of civilization and let me get out and ask someone.”

“I’m not pulling over just to satisfy your anxiety.”

Emerson remained quiet for almost a minute before breaking the silence: “How is it possible that you can drive stick,” his voice rising above the clamour of the steam engine, “and still manage to point that offensive weapon so steadily at my head?”

“You don’t need to start worrying about my driving skills.” Petharic defended with a touch more testiness than was required.

“It’s a little odd, don’t you think? I mean usually the bad guy forces the good guy to drive so he can concentrate on being a menace with a gun.”

“I never realized before just how incessantly you chatter. You haven’t shut-up since we left… and besides, I am not the bad guy here.”

Emerson remained silent for at least a half minute before suggesting: “Why don’t you let me drive, you sound a bit stressed out and I wouldn’t want that thing going off because of nerves.”

“Listen, I drive. You keep your eyes on the road and look for signs of trouble.”

“You’re the only trouble I’ve seen.”

“What did I tell you about your chatter?”

“I just want to go back to New Babbage now.”

“The sooner you help me find the airship port the sooner we can board a flight back to New Babbage.”

Emerson started to tap his fingers against the side of his leg several times in apparent nervousness before calling out, “Would you mind pulling over, I have to relieve myself.”

“What?” Petharic sounded incredulous at so obvious a ploy.

“Are you going to make me repeat myself? I need to pee.”

“Hold it.”

“I can’t, I really have to go.”

“Are you serious, we’ve been driving for less than an hour.”

“What can I say other than… pull over so I can pee!”

“You know, there’s probably a better place to stop just around this next bend, perhaps an inn or something. Try to hold it.” Just then a small ring-tailed lemur ran into the road.

“Look out!” Emerson grabbed for the wheel causing the carriage to veer sharply to the side thus narrowly missing the stunned creature. “You nearly hit that animal.”

“So!” Petharic shouted, hitting the braking mechanism. “Never turn the wheel like that again. If we hit the animal we hit the animal. That will be one less dumb lemur to reproduce… better for all the smart ones.” Petharic had been reading a lot lately.

“But if you can reasonably miss the animal with limited risk to yourself then isn’t that the compassionate and thus the morally responsible option. You surprise me Mr. Morally-Uptight-Bounty Hunter/Judge or whatever.” Emerson countered Petharic’s sanctimony with the hypocrite defense.

Petharic responded by employing a tone of academic erudition. “I believe it was John Stuart Mill who said: logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Petharic paused relishing his own sagacity. “In this case, we are the many, and the lemur is the few.”

“Or the one.” Emerson said barely above a whisper. He then added with a tone of exaggerated disbelief: “Are you sure John Stuart Mill said that?”

“It may be a paraphrased version.” replied Petharic. “But forget that now, this is your chance.”

“Chance?” Emerson was suddenly overcome with a wave of suspicious paranoia. He’d never, in actuality, had to relieve himself. It was all just an attempt to get Petharic to pull over. Emerson was, in fact, working through a rather promising plan. The steam carriage (which he’d bought through a neighbourly acquaintance in New Babbage) came rigged with explosives. On the right underside of the passenger seat was a little dial which, when turned, started a clock mechanism. Exactly one minute after being activated the carriage and everyone in it would be blown to pieces. If he could turn that dial, then get far enough away from the carriage (while Petharic remained in the driver’s seat of course) his problems would be only moments away from being solved. Unfortunately this potential outcome depicts a best case scenario, not necessarily a most likely to succeed scenario. And here is the root of Emerson’s anxiety. What if Petharic has somehow figured it all out?

“We’re stopped,” Petharic squinted his eyes quizzically as he broke Emerson’s reverie. “Your chance to find relief.” he waved towards the trees along the side of the road.

This seems promising, Emerson thought, for from his vantage, it didn’t appear as though Petharic knew anything about the dial-detonator. Emerson breathed relief… just baseless paranoia. “Okay,” he said, swinging his leg over the side of the carriage all the while reaching for the dial. “I’ll be right back.” But the dial wasn’t there! In its place a hole marred the leather seat cover.

“Looking for this.” In his nongun hand Petharic held up the dial, still connected by wires to the car (and, one would assume the explosives).” He shook his head in mock sadness. “Amateur.”

Emerson lost it. He lunged at Petharic in a desperate bid to wrench that detonator switch from his grasp. He managed to get his fingers under the edges of the box casing before Petharic deflected the attack by delivering a nasty elbow blow to the ribs. He then followed this with a rather questionable kick to the kneecap. Emerson, despite the pain, was determined to hang on… and would have done so had he been stronger. Petharic inevitably managed to wrench his hand free and push Emerson to the floor of the carriage. He raised his arm and took deliberated aim. Emerson found himself staring straight down the barrel of the Colt. Somehow Emerson knew he wouldn’t be shot.

With a heart jolting suddenness, a single shot rang out, shattering what little early morning peace remained. The little lemur, having endured enough excitement ran off deep into the woods. Emerson and Petharic both jumped at the unexpected report. The round had been fired in the air by the leader of the 12 member, heavily armed cavalry now circling the two combatants and their rather remarkable steam powered carriage.

(To be continued)



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