A bright, rainbow-hued light erupted in the truck’s cab, blinding Eka.
“Whattt tthhee …” Her voice bounced along with the truck as she swerved briefly onto the grassy shoulder of the rural road.
Her phone flashed rainbow again just as she pulled back onto her lane, blinding her a second time. She threw up her arm, shielding her eyes and flipping down the visor. A box of Tic-Tacs bounced off her forehead followed by maps and bills, all tipping over the visor’s edge and cartwheeling off her face.
Eka pulled off the road then parked the truck and vardo camper on the grass between the narrow lane and the ditch. Rubbing her forehead, she tentatively reached for her phone on the passenger’s seat. It buzzed to life. She startled, her head banging against the window at this third burst of color.
She rubbed her head and stared down at the phone.
“Are you trying to kill me?”
The phone lay quietly, the screen lit only by icons. She took a deep breath. With her eyes closed she grabbed the phone and tensed for fireworks. Nothing. She opened one eyelid then the other as the phone lay still in her palm, innocent and quiet.
She narrowed her eyes at the phone. “Don’t think I trust you.” Then she looked out the window and sagged.
But I’m lost.
She tossed the paper map of Florida off her lap and onto the empty water and soda bottles on the floor then swiped open a mapping app. Text notices lined the top of the screen and she frowned at the sender’s name.
“Time for a new number,” she muttered to the dashboard as she pulled back onto the road. “I mean, how many times is he going to text?”
Her truck creaked.
“What?” She eyed the dashboard.
“Look, I had to sneak out. I mean he was getting clingy.”
“No, a bedroom window is not an unusual exit. Besides he took things way too seriously.”
She shrugged. “I thought he’d find it funny. It’s not like I meant for his tires to fall in the molasses when we hid them.” Her right hand came off the stick shift and gestured toward the dashboard. “Besides, we got his car off the tracks with almost no damage. Some people just can’t take a joke.”
She shook her head. “Like you know anything about humor. Or dating.”
A memory resurfaced of a midnight swim, clothes left on the shore, and skin pressed against skin. She smiled. “He was fun though.”
She entered her destination into the map app then blinked at the estimated time to arrival.
“Eight hours of driving? That can’t be right.”
She grabbed the paper map off the floor and checked it against the app. They both said the same thing; she’d missed her exit by forty-five miles. Tracing and retracing the route never changed the result.
“Fine. Ninety miles of gas and time gone.”
She shifted down and started to maneuver into a U-turn when a flash of familiar rainbow color danced across the rearview mirror. She spun around in her seat just as a palm tree fell across the road behind her. And blocked her way back to her missed exit. She blinked at the tree spanning the road then slowly sat forward.
“Great.” Outside, blue skies stretched as far as she could see, cloud free. She glanced at her phone. Had that lightning been the same color as the weird flash from her phone? She looked out at the clear sky. “Was that lightning?”
Eka inhaled deeply then blew out the air and turned to finding an alternate route on the fold-out map. “Okay,” she leaned out the window and looked back at the palm blocking her. “Guess I’m going forward.”
After a few miles of uneventful driving, her shoulders relaxed and she flipped on the radio. ‘That’s Life’ blared in the cab and she sang along, swaying to the beat as her hand hung out the window, undulating with the wind. The song ended and lightning, this time the standard bright white variety, flashed across the sky and framed dark clouds rolling toward her.
“A storm? Are you kidding me?”
She eyed the paper map, which showed miles of roads before she could reroute and get back on track. “I’m never gonna make that gig tomorrow.” She slumped into the bucket seat.
Bills from the visor, now strewn across the cab, almost shouted their demands at her. Thunder grumbled closer and a few raindrops hit her windshield. Her hands squeezed the steering wheel and she glanced between the clouds and the bills.
“Ugh. Fine, I’ll stop until it passes.”
“I could use a nap and shower anyway. And if I have to I’ll convince Ron that, late or not, his aerial show can’t live without me, rigger extraordinaire.”
“Exactly. I’ll just turn on the charm. Always worked before.” She winked at the dashboard then glanced back at the phone. “If I’m getting to a proper camping spot, I’ll need your help. But if you so much as flash a rainbow emoji, I swear I’ll throw you out the window.” She brought the phone close to her face. “One piece at a time.”
The mapping app continued to move the little car on the original route she’d typed in, no strange flashes lighting up the truck’s cab. Satisfied, she searched for an RV park nearby and hoped there was time to hook up the camper before the storm caught up. “Focus, Eka. Do not get distract—” A worn wooden sign flashed by, hanging at an angle. The words Hapton’s Place were painted on it in fading blue.
The name had a familiar feel. Then a faint childhood memory flashed in her mind, hazy darkness and fear. Chills ran through her. Then a rapid succession of sensations pushed out the fear; a flash of rainbow light, a memory of trees, the smell of earth and heavy humidity, her grandmother hugging her, a sense of love and belonging, connection. Her heart constricted in longing.
She shook her head and loosed the memory’s hold on her. “Home is where the heart is, right?” She patted the dashboard. “My family is with me wherever I go.”
“Yes, Sema and Win are family too. Speaking of which…” The sensation of her grandmother’s hug, from her memory, flitted back. “Maybe Sema knows something about Hapton’s Place.”
She tapped her grandmother’s icon on the phone and listened to the ringing on the other end.
“Hello, little bird.”
“Hey Sema.” She smiled. “How’s Bali?”
“Oh, I left there weeks ago. Win and I are off to New Zealand. How’s your travels?”
“Great. Driving down the coast of Florida right now. Hopefully to a gig. Listen, I saw a sign that seemed familiar. You know a Hapton’s Place?”
“Oh.” Sema sucked in a breath. “Are you there?”
“You know it?”
“Um, yes. It’s a great place. Wonderful people.”
Eka squinted as a few more raindrops hit the windshield. “Did we go there? The name seems … familiar.”
The line went quiet and Eka frowned. “You okay?”
“What? Oh I’m fine. Just memories. Anyway, we went there, right after …” Sema coughed. “Um, right before you came to live with us. There’s a farm and a preserve. And the Hapton’s are wonderful people. You should stop by. Maybe you’ll remember more.”
Eka’s chest tightened and she grabbed the twisted vines of her childhood bracelet on her left wrist, turning it to the smooth surface of a lone shell. She rubbed the shell with her thumb, breathing deeply until her heart slowed, and pushed thoughts of her parents and Ke from her mind.
“Eka, I didn’t mean to bring them up.”
“No, no I’m fine. Just distracted by the weather. I’m stopping soon at an RV park. Probably should go.”
“I could call my friend Shirley Hapton.” Sema almost whispered. “I’m sure you could stay there.”
“Um the weather just turned. Gotta go!” Eka heard “Love you” as she switched off the phone. She gripped the phone tight.
Don’t go there. Focus on the road.
A few slow heartbeats later she sighed and threw the phone on the seat. Her truck purred down the quiet road and Eka turned up the radio more, joining in. A few miles farther the road angled up into a causeway, a large river flowing languidly below. Eka gazed across the expanse of the river. The water sparkled in the few rays of sunlight still breaking through the rain-laden clouds and smooth shapes of pelicans glided over the surface. Despite the strangling thoughts of a few moments ago, a laugh bubbled out of her as dolphins broke the surface of the water and undulated in and out of the waves. A single dolphin jumped straight up out of the water and spun before splashing back. The shimmer off the dolphin’s back reminded her of something. Another dolphin, a beach, her parents. More images flashed through her thoughts then Eka’s temples erupted in pain as a strange memory played in her mind.
Eka stood on the beach and pointed to movement in the ocean. She ran to the edge of the ocean and plunged into the waves, the sound of her parents’ voices fading behind her. Water flowed around her and wrapped her in a liquid blanket. Further beneath the surface the ocean opened up before her and she delighted at the unending playground. Darting through bluish-green water, Eka searched for the dolphins as heat built in her chest. The heat spread out to her fingertips as her body emitted a glowing violet shimmer and the water started to swirl around her. Her violet light mixed with the pale greenish-blue lights of the water and she was gently pulled forward. Just then something brushed her leg and she instinctively grabbed at it. The smooth surface of a dolphin’s fin dragged her up, up, up until they broke the surface. Her giggles tumbled together with his chatter and they cut through the waves, jumping high above the water. A tickle on the back of her neck caught her attention and the warmth of her mother flowed over her.
Eka, come home.
Her mother’s silent call went through her. She let go of the dolphin with a kiss then relaxed on the ocean’s surface as it glided her to the beach. She tumbled and giggled onto the sand, only stopping when she bumped into her mother’s feet.
“Ekanam Rahasia, what did you think you were doing?” Her mother frowned down at her.
Eka wiped sand from her eyes and smiled up. “I was playing.” She pointed to a disappearing fin.
Her mother helped her up and took her hand. “You haven’t started your training. You’re not ready to do these things alone.”
“But she is already in tune with water, dolphins, air. Amazing,” her father said, popping up from the sand Ke had buried him under.
“I’m amazing too.” Ke stomped his foot and glared at Eka.
“Of course you are.” Their mother swept him up in a hug and he wrapped his arms around her neck.
“Really?” Ke asked.
“Of course!” Their father laughed, shaking his body and sending sand spraying over them. He picked up Eka then stumbled into the others and they all fell to the blanket, giggling and hugging.
“See,” Ke stuck his tongue out at Eka, “I’m amazing.”
“I know.” Eka smiled at Ke and squeezed his hand.
The four of them lay on the blanket until the sun disappeared. The pinks and blues of sunset outlined the few clouds floating by and reflected off the water.
“Look how late it’s getting.” Their father sat up. “We’ve got to get you two home and in bed.” He tousled Ke’s hair. “Don’t want to be tired for the first day of training.”
Her mother ran a hand through Eka’s hair. “I can’t believe my babies are seven already.”
Her father grinned and pulled a bundle from his pocket. He untied the cloth revealing a small brown clump that crumbled to pieces. Eka squinted closer and touched the pile, the dirt moving around under her fingers. From his other pocket, he pulled out a seed and dropped it in the dirt then brought his hands together around both the dirt and seed. His body glowed a bright orange that flowed from his hands to the dirt. A moment later a sprout popped up from the pile in his hand and exploded in growth. Tiny branches pushed out of the sapling and leaves emerged on the branches along with buds that opened into bright red flowers. Eka and Ke watched with wide eyes as the plant slowed it’s growth to about the size of Eka’s arm.
“This a’ali’i plant marks a momentous family moment, the time you two started training. We’ll plant it at home to remember how amazing you both are.” He grinned and pulled them all, even the plant, into a giant hug.
Eka jerked back to the present when her truck hit a bumpy patch of road. She’d barely noticed the road, only vaguely aware of leaving the causeway. Dense stands of trees whizzed by on either side as water sparkled through the trees on her left.
“What the hell?” She shook her head trying to clear her mind. “I can’t be going crazy.”
“No, I’m not. Just because I remember communing with the ocean and dolphins. Or Dad growing a plant in his hand in seconds. Or my family …” Her shaking hand touched the picture taped to the dashboard, an image of her parents smiling, their arms wrapped around her and Ke. Eka slapped herself. “I’m just tired. Right, truck?”
The memory kept replaying and she could almost feel the warm, fluid blanket of the ocean and the smooth skin of the dolphin as it pulled her through the water. The uneven road brought her back to the present moment but the thought of her family, lost in an earthquake long ago, lingered as her chest tightened further. Her hand darted to her childhood bracelet and she twisted it until her fingers found the smoothness of the shell. The tension in her neck eased and Eka reached up to scratch a tickle on her cheek but instead smeared the tear across her face.
“No, no, no. Not going there. No looking back, only forward.” She rubbed her eyes. “Nothing there but pain, dead ends.” She patted the dashboard again. “In other words, Crazy Town. So, just you and me, right truck?”
“Right. You, me, the camper, open highways, and adventures ahead. That’s more than enough companions.”
A flash of colorful light erupted from within the cab and she looked down to find her phone’s screen pulsing with rainbow hues again. Eka’s brow creased and she shook the phone then banged it on the dashboard. The changing light faded and the map popped back up.
“What is going on with this thing?”
“Turn right in point-five miles.” She jumped at the app’s robotic voice.
“What do you think, truck? Trust it?”
“Okay, but it’s on you.”
Following the directions, she turned and eased her truck and camper onto a two-lane road. A few minutes along and signs of civilization appeared. Old buildings replaced dense woods along the river’s edge. A few men with cold beers sat outside a small, blue building with a sign that read Salty’s Bait and Beer. Tom’s Orchid and Bonsai Nursery sat on a large plot across the road from Salty’s, and an old sea-foam-green cottage sat in the back. Out on the front lawn a large group of people gathered up stuff from picnic benches ahead of the impending storm. Despite these signs of a community, Eka passed nothing that even remotely resembled an RV park or campground. After a few miles, the community ended as the sides of the road became densely wooded again.
Nothing? Not even a rest area?
She flipped on her headlights as the last street light receded in the darkening afternoon then creased her forehead as she read the map display. The route would take her into a large patch of undeveloped land, not toward an RV park. Apparently the map had been reset.
“Hapton’s Place in two miles.” The robot voice echoed through the cab.
“What?” Eka pulled over onto the grassy shoulder. “Hapton’s Place again?” The strange memories, her family by the ocean and her grandmother hugging her, returned along with the tightness in her chest.
“I’m not going to Hapton’s Place.” She growled at the phone.
She scanned the narrow road and the ditches to the sides, estimating her turning radius. She glared at the map display then grabbed the paper map and traced a route back to a main road through the town she’d just passed.
“Okay, that’s doable.” Thunder grumbled. “Hopefully.” She scanned right and left then pulled forward in a turn, using the entire road. “Just as long as no cars show up in the next twenty minutes.”
Her turn didn’t clear the opposite ditch so she put the truck in reverse. And at that moment a flash of colorful light ran across the sky, striking the base of a palm tree to her left. The tree wobbled and, in slow motion, toppled across the road, blocking her return route. Her mouth dropped open and she stared at the palm.
“Did I piss off a unicorn?” She looked around for the source of the strange, colorful lightning. “Maybe a leprechaun?”
After a moment of quiet, Eka pushed open the door and got out of the truck. She slowly crossed over to the felled palm. She lightly tapped it and jerked her hand back. Nothing happened. “Normal tree.” For now.
There seemed to be two options. Continue on or move the tree. “Okay, I can move this. No problem.” She arched her back and touched her toes then grabbed a palm frond and strained, trying to pull the truck-sized tree off the road.
“I. Am. Not. Stopping. At. Hapton’s. Place.” She grunted at the immobile hunk of tree. The frond slipped, slapping her face and she tumbled back.
“Oh, you want to make this personal?” She glared at the tree then strode back to the truck. “I can make a turn at the end of the road. Ha!” she yelled.
Eka jumped in the truck and slammed into gear. Singing “My Way”, her voice drowned the radio as adrenaline pushed her faster down the road. “I’ll be at an RV park before the rain starts.” She looked at the blackened sky. “What’s it waiting for?” No rain yet. “Maybe luck is finally smiling at me.”
She grinned at the strange weather when another multicolored flash ripped through the sky. It lit up the landscape, a tight curve appearing ahead as a loud crack exploded beyond the turn. Her face dropped.
She held the wheel tight as the truck and camper rushed into the turn and slid around the curve, barely gripping the asphalt. When the road straightened and her truck was still on the road she exhaled and glanced back.
The vardo’s still attached and in one piece!
When she turned back the source of the crashing sound lay in front of her. A massive oak branch blocked the road ahead. She gripped the steering wheel and swerved left to avoid it. A back tire slammed into the limb and the truck pulled toward the branch. The steering wheel ripped from her hands and spun right as the back of the truck skidded toward the branch. The truck veered right and she pulled with everything she had to the left. The right back tire hit the branch and lifted briefly, jolting the cab like a shaking roller coaster. Her phone flew off the passenger seat and out the window.
“Damn, damn, and double damn!”
Eka eased up on the brakes and hung on to the steering wheel, managing to pull off to the side of the branch and stop without jackknifing the trailer. When the world stopped moving she slowly let out her breath and looked out the window. And sucked in another lungful of air as she stared at a canal that dropped off inches from her front bumper. After she finally exhaled, Eka slid out of the cab and walked around to the back of the truck, the thumping in her chest drowning out the sounds around her, even her footsteps.
Her camper, still hooked to the truck, sat at an odd angle. She fell against the vardo and slid to the ground. What was she going to do? She reached up, gently running her fingers across the intricate wood carvings attached to the outside of the wooden camper. The memory of the scents of oil and rust tickled her mind into remembering the day she discovered it in a junkyard in Oregon, determined to bring it back to life. She ran her hands over the decorative white shells and dolphins she and her grandfather had carved. They had carefully attached each one to the exterior over a sea-foam green coat of paint.
“And he thought I wouldn’t stick around to finish,” she whispered. “But now look at you.”
Patting the camper’s jacked-up wheel, she assessed the damage. “What to do, what to do?” Another deep breath then she stood up and kissed the camper. “Nothing to do but get help. Now, where is that phone?” She patted her pockets.
“Oh, yeah.” She sighed as the imagery of her phone flying out the window and disappearing into the dark flitted through her mind. “But it has to be here somewhere.” She scanned the ground, crawled under the truck, waded through brush and tall grass. But despite an epic search, the phone remained elusive. After a third pass underneath the truck, she lay on the ground with her legs sticking out from under the pickup bed. Her head lay to the side and she stared at the ground. Gravel pressed into her cheek as her mind seemed blank. At that moment, a few drops of rain hit her legs and the wind picked up.
“Eka, get a hold of yourself.” She crawled from under the truck and brushed off the dirt and pebbles then eyed the sky. “Okay Universe, now what?”
As if on cue, colorful light flashed above a house sitting back from the road. Around her the sky dimmed further and the rain fell like little pellets against her skin. The wind picked up, rushing over her face and blowing her hair straight back.
“Weeellll.” She slowly scanned her surroundings. Her broken truck and camper, the giant branch that blocked her way, her missing psychotic phone. Then there was the stalkery rainbow lightning. “Maybe I’ll take a quick break.” She backed away from the destruction on the road and power-walked toward the house. “Yeah, can’t hurt to stop for a minute.” Another flash crossed the sky. “Or longer.” She broke into a run, heading straight for the house.