The stay home orders were loosely defined. Technically one shouldn’t leave one’s home except for emergencies and necessities. She considered her sanity a necessity. And she figured she’d kill her kids if they didn’t get out and burn some energy. That made the leaving a necessity and an emergency.

She packed a lunch, mostly snacks because no one had the kind of food required to make entire meals anymore. She remembered growing up with actual meals, meals prepared mostly by restaurants and occasionally by her mother, there’d be salad and a plate with three kinds of foods and a dessert. There was nothing like that now, ever.

Now her kids ate what she grew up calling “plate of small things,” which is basically a little bit of lots of different things until your plate has enough on it to call it a meal. Foraged fruit here, foraged mushrooms there (and these were extremely rare because she was so afraid of picking something poisonous accidentally), bits from a found can here…tragic meals really.

At any rate, she packed a lunch of snacks, grabbed canteens, and told the kids to get moving: it was time for an adventure. They all piled into the car and she triple checked the fuel levels. Three quarters of a tank. It would be enough to get them there and back but it would be there last trip anywhere; she’d try to make it count.

The kids sat up front with her, there was no backseat, and she buckled them in. She made sure she had some tools, just in case, and that all the dials on the car were turned off before starting the motor. The old car started up like it had been driven daily when in actuality it had been sitting for at least three months, maybe longer. She tried to remember her last trip to town and couldn’t be sure.

They cruised down through the empty streets, and finally onto the highway. They headed east towards the mountains. This time of year would be good for picking the last of the berries, finding the first falling acorns, and hopefully finding a few mushrooms. If they were extremely lucky they’d find some apples, even if they were still small and sour.

The kids were quiet as she drove. A blessing, and one of the reasons she would miss being able to drive with them. As the road steepened and curved their little heads began bobbing and soon they were asleep. She let out a sigh of relief. She loved them desperately and also needed a few minutes to herself to think.

She would have to come up with a better plan. They couldn’t keep hiding out in that house. No one around was both a blessing and a curse. Just the other day she’d had to tell the kids they were playing a silent game of hide-and-seek when really it was a potentially fatal one with a group of men who sounded like the guys she went to boot camp with. She didn’t want to run into guys like that without a Sergeant around.

Maybe the mountains? She knew them pretty well. There were lots of places where she and the kids could live. She’d be able to find food and water and the only real predators would be mountain lions and other people. With winter on the way that didn’t sound like such a great idea. There’s no way they’d be able to keep warm with clothes and quilts. They’d have to have fire. Too risky.

She gripped the steering wheel too tightly and felt the ache in her fingers and wrists. She relaxed her grip and stroked the wheel up and down for a moment. Think. Think, think, think, think, think. Right on the other side of the mountains was a desert. The desert would be perfect for the winter. In fact, it would be a little hot now still, but not too terribly bad. Better than where they were now, assuming she could find water.

There was lots of water in the desert. You just had to know what to look for. And she knew. Boy did she ever know. The danger would be in all the obvious places. The oases were out. Anyone could look across a desert see a mountain of green and know there was water. No. She’d have to go to the places that were less obvious.

A hot springs.

Hot springs would be perfect. Not usually a lot of greenery but definitely water. And while the water wouldn’t taste good, it would be full of all kinds of calcium and bicarbonate and would be really good for their mineral deprived bodies. She thought about the desert they were heading towards. There was a huge hot springs on the south side, but everyone would know about that. She needed something subtle. Something difficult to get to maybe.

And then she remembered the story her great grandma used to tell her. The story she’d always insisted was true but sounded so far fetched no one ever believed her. The story of their great great grandfather who had lived out in the desert for twenty years. She tried to remember the whole story, but could only get pieces, fragments more ephemeral than the oasis they bespoke.

“What was the rhyme?” she asked herself, humming a little trying to find the tempo.

“More east than south,
You’ll find the mouth,
Beware the bite…”

“Damn.” She couldn’t remember. Wasn’t even sure about the “beware the bite” part, that sounded right but out of place.

“‘More east than south,’ at any rate,” she mumbled as she continued up through the mountains.

Fall was beautiful in the mountains, even this early in the season. She drove higher before finding berry bushes that appeared to have been untouched. She pulled over carefully, looking all around and leaving the engine running for moment after putting the car in park.

Continuing to look around but seeing no one, she decided to turn the engine off and wake the kids. With the engine off there was no need to wake anyone, the kids woke themselves and began clambering to get their belts off and their buckets out of the back. Berry picking was a special treat and they were eager. Before she could issue any warnings or rules they’d shot out the passenger door and headed to the bushes.

Giving one last look around she left the keys in the ignition, grabbed her bucket from the back, and headed towards the bushes, too. The easy berries were all picked clean. There were no shoe or footprints around, so it was all wildlife that had gotten to the berries. Still, there were quite a few in the highest spots and the deepest spots of the bushes.

Amid cries of “ouch” and “ack” the three filled their buckets as best they could.

~~~That’s one hour~~~

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