About Redemption Rock: Parts One Two and Three
Salvation Rock: A Short Story
Parts One Two and Three
Caleb Crest swore under his breath when he saw the lights flashing in his rearview mirror. After pulling over, he rolled the window down and put his hands on the wheel.
He moved his head to the left to catch a view of the side mirror. The cop was approaching with a casual gait, like they were the only two people in the world and time was a foreign concept. Caleb moved back to the center of his seat and took in some of the dry high desert air, trying to relax.
“Afternoon son,” the officer said. “Pretty hot one out here.”
“Yes sir,” Caleb said, keeping his hands on the wheel. He noticed that the cop’s hand was casually around his pistol holster. “Sorry if I was speeding.”
“Not speeding. I was just wondering what you might be doing way out here. You the road less traveled type?”
It seemed a weird question, but maybe not. He was in the middle of nowhere. Tumbleweeds and granite mountains flanked the two-lane road on both sides far off in the distance. “No, sir. I think I took a wrong turn. My phone GPS went dead a few miles back. Figured this would link up with another road eventually.”
The officer put a weathered hand out and fiddled his fingers. “License and insurance.”
Caleb had them ready to go. As he handed over his info he thought to ask what the problem was. Another look at the big gun on the cop’s hip made him think otherwise. They were the only two souls in a very isolated place. Better to let the one with the weapon ask the questions.
“Those GPS’s. You never know. Nothing beats a good old-fashioned map.”
“Hard to argue with your logic.”
“Caleb Crest. Age twenty-seven, from Texas.” As he read off the info the officer leaned against the door, placing two sunburnt forearms on the bottom of the window frame. Caleb noticed his name. Jukes. Sheriff Jukes. “So you’re a wandering type?”
“You’re not from here, for one. Two, you got a bunch of gear in the back. And folks headin’ someplace specific usually turn around after a minute or two and get back on the main road. Out here, anyhow.”
“Guess you got me, Sheriff.” He did. Caleb wasn’t going anywhere in particular. Just going.
“Basic police work. Elementary, as it were.”
Sure, Caleb thought. Regular Sherlock Holmes. Substitute the deerstalker for the cowboy hat, pipe for the spit tobacco, tea for the coff—
“Follow me up ahead, soldier,” Jukes said, handing back the papers. There’s a little town up the way, but you’ll miss the turn if you’re not looking.”
“Is that necessary?”
“Well,” he continued, grabbing his belt, somehow friendly and condescending at the same time. “How much gas you got?”
“Little less than half a tank.”
“Yeah see that ain’t gonna work. Go back, you run out. Go till the major road, you run out. Unless this old boy gets over thirty miles to the gallon?”
No way. Caleb’s 1987 SR5 4Runner was in near mint condition, but it wasn’t running that clean. He smiled at Jukes for a quick second and gave an obligatory smile. No big deal. Just going. “Lead on, Sheriff.”
Jukes was just as casual making his way back to the police cruiser. “Don’t get down in the mouth, soldier,” he said, voice fading in the warm wind. “It’s a special day in town. You’ll love the place.”
Jukes was right. Caleb never would’ve spotted the turn into town. It was nothing more than a rocky farm road, marked by no signage but plenty of cacti and high weeds. He muttered out loud, checking the fuel gauge and the watch on his tanned left wrist.
For two or three miles they drove on slow and steady over bumpy terrain, Caleb staying in the wake of Jukes’ dust at a fixed distance. He didn’t want to rile the lawman in any way, but it wasn’t out of fear. The younger man had nothing to hide, nothing for an overweening sheriff to use against him. He sat back and relaxed in his seat, shifting back and forth between second and third gears.
He was almost in a state of reverie when he realized the ground beneath his truck had given way to concrete. They were descending a freshly-paved road on a fairly steep grade. The sparse landscape was quickly replaced by fecundity and color; fully-leaved trees and flowers lined the curbs on either side. Caleb’s head was on a swivel as the grade began to gradually flatten. He looked up and caught glimpse of a sign arching over the road that read, Town of Redemption Rock.
Sheriff Jukes came to a stop just past the sign and waved Caleb to bring the SUV up alongside his cruiser. As Caleb reached over to roll down the passenger window, he heard Jukes yelling “follow me!” through the glass.
They drove on through what seemed like the main drag of town. It presented perfectly. The medians were immaculately manicured, the buildings maintained with a punctiliousness Caleb had never seen. Only, there were no people. Or cars. The thought of a 50s era movie set flooded his brain as he parked the 4Runner at an angle next to Jukes’ cruiser. Stepping out he saw that it was the town’s municipal building.
“Shouldn’t we be going to the gas station?” Caleb asked. “And where is everyone?”
The sheriff opened the door and waved him in with the loose manner of an old friend. Being next to the man and on his feet, Caleb could see that Jukes was pudgier and shorter than he appeared on the road.
The interior of the building was like everything else in the town. Spotless. The desks and chairs were positioned at right angles. Caleb felt like walking in anything but a straight line would be blasphemy.
“Hi there,” said an excited female voice. It was enough to startle Caleb. She came out from behind a partition and extended a stiff and eager arm in his direction. “I’m Asriel. Mayor John’s daughter.” She was a pretty girl, but he’d hardly been given the time to notice.
“Caleb Crest. We heard it on the radio. Me and my dad. We were just finishing up before going over when the sheriff called it in.”
“Called it in?” He asked, unlocking hands with the girl to face Jukes. “Called me in for what?”
The shorter man sank his hands into his hips and bellied up to Caleb. “Don’t give me any grief, soldier. Not ever. But especially not today.”
The girl Asriel wormed her way between the two men, facing Jukes and using what little weight she had to push Caleb back. “You didn’t tell him?” she asked the lawman. “You said you told him. That you knew him.”
A door slammed in the back of the building and another man, handsome and middle-aged, came charging toward them with firm steps. He stopped at a wooden thigh-high gate that separated the two halves of the building. He seemed to collect himself before talking. “Excuse me, Mr. Crest. I’m Mayor Patrick John.” The mayor was red-faced but attempting to hold it together—that was Caleb’s impression, anyhow. “I see you met Asriel. Would you mind staying here for a second while I talk to the sheriff?”
“I’d rather just go, to be frank.”
“Really,” the mayor said, clasping his hands together. “It’ll just take a second.”
“Alright,” Caleb said, taking a seat at Asriel’s desk. They had no real right to ask, but he had no real reason to cause a stir. A little longer.
The two town officials starting going at it as soon as the door to the mayor’s office closed. Asriel started asking him questions, taking a seat across her desk from him. She inquired after his background and the usual banalities, but he was too distracted. “What the hell has them so riled up?”
“Could be anything with that pair. They’ve never gotten along.” She smiled a perfect smile, everything lined up perfectly and well-proportioned. Just like the town. She wore a skin-tight flannel button-down and had her dark brown hair pulled up. Caleb could now see that she was more woman than girl, but still young. He guessed twenty-two.
“You about twenty-two?” he asked, just for the hell of it.
“How’d you know?” she asked playfully.
“Just lucky. Hey,” he said, shifting tones and leaning in. “Where’s everybody at? It’s kind of freaking me out.”
The yelling in the back continued. “It’s the biggest day of the year,” turning somewhat cagey. “We thought you knew.”
She abandoned her forward posture and looked away. “Just wait for my dad. He’ll explain. The rock, what you have to do, everything. He’ll explain.”
In a breath the girl had changed from bubbly to troubled. The suspicious vibe that Caleb had since getting pulled over was know riding up his backside, sending him into fight-or-flight. He stood up. “Whatever’s going on, it has nothing to do with me. I’m leaving.”
Before he could make his first step away, the girl had what looked like a .357 cocked to the hair trigger and pointed in his direction. “You can’t leave.”
“Why not,” he said, voice almost cracking.
“The rock. If you leave, we’ll all die.”
“You people are insane.” Caleb looked at her and the gun. It was too big in her hands. He’d faced bad men with dark intentions in more dangerous situations before. He wasn’t going to be held hostage by a little girl. “Goodbye.”
Without hesitation, she shot the ground in front of his feet. Jukes and the mayor came rushing out. The smell of metal and gunpowder was everywhere. “What’s the matter with you?” Caleb yelled, ears ringing.
“If you leave. We’ll all die.”
“I don’t understand,” he said, eyes as wide as they could go.
“Stay,” she said, standing up a whole new person, gun steadily trained at his chest. “It’s a special day in town. You’ll love the place.”
3. “You know, there’s never been a murder.”
“What?” Caleb asked.
“Not in the recorded history of this town. Not even a robbery.”
“Who the hell are you?” Caleb was in a small room with a low ceiling, staring at a teenage girl. Maybe fourteen. His eyes were still foggy.
She was leaning against the wall opposite him. “You were sleeping. I just came in.” The air was warm and smelled like fresh lacquer. It reminded him of a jail cell from an old western, without the bars. There was the hum of a decent sized crowd on the other side of the door, but he couldn’t make out what they were discussing. It didn’t sound like anything too pressing. He thought he made out the sound of a few laughs.
“Family meeting?” Caleb asked, nodding toward the door. His arms were tied behind his back and onto a thick oak chair. It was bolted to the ground. He was strong, but there was little to no give in the restraints.
It had been three hours in town. He’d been led there under false pretenses and led into that room at end of a gun.
“They’re talking about you. Late arrivals are always a weird thing. We’re in Redemption Rock Town Hall.”
“That right?” Caleb asked. “They forgot to give me the dime tour when they led me in here.”
“I’ll tell my father you were sleeping. That’s a good sign. A sign of courage.”
“Maybe I was just tired. Who are you, kid?”
“Priya. You met my sister and dad.”
She could only mean the mayor and his lovely daughter, the one that almost took his foot off with pistol fire. “Yeah, your sister. A real piece of work. I’m starting to sound like a broken record—what is this place? Praya—was it?”
“Priya. Sounds like see ya.” The girl smiled. She had a pleasant face but was still growing into herself. Her clothes hung off at awkward angles. “Don’t be mad at Asriel. She was just testing you. It’s important. You’ll see.”
He was about to ask what she meant when the door burst open. Two large middle-aged men moved quickly to untie the ropes and pull him from the chair. He thought about fighting but didn’t know what he was dealing with in the main room. Blind violence didn’t seem the best resort; not yet, anyway.
To his left he saw what he assumed to be the entire population of Redemption Rock—around four hundred men, women and children. To his right was a slightly elevated stage. Five smiling people were seated in a row, all smiling high-beam smiles. They varied in ages and genders, from a girl younger than Caleb to a man who looked to be nearing fifty. None of them were in restraints. Apparently he was the only one to be suffering under that privilege.
As they yanked him onto the stage, he started to struggle with his feet. There were cheers and calls to get the show moving as they set him into a chair marked Caleb Crest with red crayon on a white piece of paper. He looked to the man, the oldest one on the stage. “Hey buddy. Seriously. What the shit, man?”