The town where Echart lived was tiny, and ridiculously out of the way. Just finding it was a challenge. After the turn off from the highway, I had to rely on the map he’d emailed to me. Inniswale literally was not on any map I could find, and even Google Earth apparently had never heard of it. In this day, and age, I found it hard to understand how that could happen, unless it was intentional.
The further I got from the highway, the more narrow and winding the road became, making my journey considerably longer than I anticipated. In this day of cars and airplanes whizzing around at hyperspeed, it’s hard to grasp the scale of places. But here it seemed, distance had begun to reassert itself, and I had the sensation of going back in time. Back to a time when the only relevant things that existed were me and the expanse of rolling hills and sagebrush around me, because whatever else existed couldn’t come save me if I needed it.
I was on my own in this strange knobby place, and if I couldn’t make it out here it would swallow me up without even really noticing I’d ever been there at all. So as the gas meter on my car began to run a bit low, I was rather relieved to start seeing signs of civilization. Including, eventually, a gas station.
It was a nowhere place, on the way to nowhere else, and so didn’t bother making the amenities accessible to anyone except the locals who already knew where everything was. I had to poke around a bit to find the gas station, and eventually came across it near what looked a like a hiking trailhead. In this case the convenience store seemed poorly named, and I decided against going in.
It looked like the kind of place you would find pine needles on the floor, and strange insects buzzing around the windows. Anyway, more coffee would only add to my nerves.
At least it seemed there was a cell tower around somewhere, as my phone finally showed a few bars. So I was able to call Chris and confirm that I hadn’t managed to accidentally drive off the face of the earth yet.
“Traffic wasn’t bad at all. I’m just filling up, I think I should get there in about two hours or so,” I said.
“Okay, call me when you get there. I’ve got to go before the twins start a reenactment of the Lord of the Flies.” Chris’s voice came to me muffled and staticky through the lousy connection.
I laughed. “Alright, talk to you soon.”
I turned to walk back to my car and saw that a small elderly lady in a paisley cardigan had snuck up behind me. I nearly jumped out of my skin but managed a “hello” that didn’t quite sound like I’d swallowed my tongue.
“Are you lost, dear?” she said.
“No, just passing through.”
Her brow furrowed. “Oh? Where you headed?”
I gave her the name of the town and her eyebrows nearly reached her receding hairline.
“Oh. I see.” She turned and began to shuffle away.
“This is the right way to go for Innswale, right?”
She glanced at me over her shoulder. “Yes, if Innswale is where you’re trying to get to.” She turned away, and mumbled the next words to herself. “Whether that’s the right way to go is another matter entirely.”
I decided I would go in to the convenience store and get a coffee. It would be my third that day, but I felt a little more fortification was necessary.