she expected at any moment to hear a car behind her.
but she did not hear anything.
if i don’t look, there won’t be one, she thought.
if i look back, there will be a car for sure.
or maybe somebody running after me on foot - she hadn’t thought of that!
maybe somebody would shoot at her - she had not thought of that either.
still running, she looked back over her shoulder.
the blacktop road was long and straight and there was nobody on it.
she took a deep breath, then picked up speed again.
the road was - naturally - a lot longer than it had seemed driving down it.
the road was lined with trees, but they were not so thick that they would hide much of anything - like a building - behind them.
she kept running - she ran regularly, and was in good shape.
she thought she could see the dirt road up ahead.
suddenly the air was filled with a loud roaring.
the planes! or one off them.
stephanie looked up and back at the sky.
sure enough, there was one of the planes rising up almost at a 180 degree angle.
quickly it was gone, leaving just the blue sky overhead.
was laurene on it? or had the ambassador and gustav followed through on “not much point on taking them now” and let laurene go?
stephanie hesitated. she decided there was no point is going back to the clearing.
if they had let laurene go, she might be walking back down the road now.
stephanie decided to go back down to the highway and wait to see if laurene showed up.
she started walking. she could now clearly see the beginning of the dirt road that led back down to the highway.
it was very quiet. somehow the silence made her feel that laurene was not coming down the road, and nobody else was either.
she reached the dirt road. the trees were thicker, and she heard a few birds snd some small animals in the bush on the side of the road.
then she heard the highway. it sounded busy.
she reached the highway. she found a large flat rock about ten yards from the dirt road, and sat down on it to wait for laurene. the road, she now realized, would be barely noticeable from the highway.
there was a steady stream of cars and trucks on the opposite side of the road, heading north, toward the airport.
an airport from which no planes seemed to be either taking off or leaving. the little plane that had left the clearing - with or without laurene on it - had broken a total stillness.
there were no vehicles going south - on the side of the highway stephanie was sitting on.
stephanie waited. she plucked a few blades of grass. she felt almost peaceful.
up until now she had regarded the coming war and collapse of civilization as unworthy of her attention and a bore.
laurene did not appear. stephanie started to feel sure she was not going to show up. should she try to get to the other side of the highway, where all the cars were? high dividers separated the two sides, and the cars going by filled the opposite lanes and were moving fairly swiftly.
before she could decide what to do, a car approached her. a nondescript blue car, of some indeterminate model - stephanie was not really up on the different makes of cars - and it passed by before before she could react in time to stand up and wave at it.
but then the car stopped. it pulled over halfway on to the dirt, and then backed up swiftly toward stephanie.
stephanie moved down toward it. as she did it crossed her mind that the occupants might be connected to the ambassador and gustav. but if they were, would they have overshot the dirt road?
there seemed to be two people in the blue car. a middle-aged woman looked out inquisitively at stephanie as she approached.
stephanie had never seen anyone like the woman in real life. she was tall, thin, with a long face and with her hair in a bun on top of her head. and dressed in brown and gray. she looked like a schoolteacher or governess in an old movie - like jane eyre or little women or something like that.
stephanie could make out a younger woman in the driver’s seat.
“would you like a ride?” the bun-haired woman ask.
“um - i am not sure,” stephanie replied.
“you are not sure?” the woman asked, with a smile that was friendly enough.
“i’m waiting for my sister - maybe,” stephanie said.
“maybe?” the woman glanced over at the driver.
“i - it’s a long story,” stephanie told her, a little flustered.
the driver’s side door opened. the driver got out and came around toward stephanie.
she was younger than stephanie had first thought - not much older than stephanie herself, probably about the same age as laurene. she had a small phone in her hand, which she glanced at as she approached stephanie.
“so,” the young woman addressed stephanie, “what is this long story?”
“i - “ stephanie began. “i am - i am the princess stephanie de lampeduse - “
at this both women looked at each other. stephanie thought she saw a hint of amusement in the younger woman’s face.
“oh, i know,” stephanie said, flushing a little. “it’s ridiculous - everybody being a princess these days -“
“not so much as all that,” said the younger woman, glancing at her phone again.
“are you - the prince of lampeduse’s daughter?” the older woman asked.
“yes, i am,” stephanie replied. “now can i ask you a question?”
“of course,” the older woman told her.
“who are you?”
“just a couple of ladies out for a drive,” the younger one answered with a smile. “why don’t you go on with your story?”