Next week we publish a short story collection called The Highway Kind, an anthology edited by Patrick Millikin with a unique premise: the world’s bestselling and critically acclaimed writers share thrilling crime stories about cars, driving, and the road. We’ve got new stories by Michael Connelly, George Pelecanos, Diana Gabaldon, and C.J. Box, who contributed the story “Power Wagon” excerpted below.
A single headlight strobed through a copse of ten-foot willows on the other side of the overgrown horse pasture. Marissa unconsciously laced her fingers over her pregnant belly and said, “Brandon, there’s somebody out there.”
“What?” Brandon said. He was at the head of an old kitchen table that had once fed a half dozen ranch hands breakfast and dinner. A thick ledger book was open in front of him and Brandon had moved a lamp from the family room next to the table so he could read.
“I said, somebody is out there. A car or something. I saw a headlight.”
Brandon placed his index finger on an entry in the ledger book so he wouldn’t lose his place. He looked up.
“Don’t get freaked out. It’s probably a hunter or somebody who’s lost.”
“What if they come to the house?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I guess we help them out.”
“Maybe I should shut off the lights,” she said.
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” he said. “They probably won’t even come here. They’re probably just passing through.”
“But to where?” she asked.
She had a point, he conceded. The old two-track beyond the willows was a private road, part of the ranch, and it led to a series of four vast mountain meadows and the foothills of the Wyoming range. Then it trailed off in the sagebrush.
“I saw it again,” she said.
He could tell she was scared even though there really wasn’t any reason to be, he thought. But saying “Calm down” or “Don’t worry” wouldn’t help the situation, he knew. If she was scared, she was scared. She wasn’t used to being so isolated—she’d grown up in Chicago and Seattle—and he couldn’t blame her.
Brandon found a pencil on the table and starred the entry he was on to mark where he’d stopped and pushed back his chair. The feet of it scraped the old linoleum with a discordant note.
He joined her at the window and put his hand on her shoulder. When he looked out, though, all he could see was utter darkness. He’d forgotten how dark it could be outside when the only ambient light was from stars and the moon. Unfortunately, storm clouds masked both.
“Maybe he’s gone,” she said, “whoever it was.”
A log snapped in the fireplace and in the silent house it sounded like a gunshot. Brandon felt Marissa jump at the sound.
“You’re tense,” he said.
“Of course I am,” she responded. There was anger in her voice. “We’re out here in the middle of nowhere without phone or Internet and somebody’s out there driving around. Trespassing. They probably don’t even know we’re here, so what are they doing?”
He leaned forward until his nose was a few inches from the glass. He could see snowflakes on the other side. There was enough of a breeze that it was snowing horizontally. The uncut grass in the yard was spotted white, and the horse meadow had turned from dull yellow to gray in the starlight.
Then a willow was illuminated and a lone headlight curled around it. The light lit up the horizontal snow as it ghosted through the brush and the bare cottonwood trees. Snowflakes looked like errant sparks in the beam. The light snow appeared as low-hanging smoke against the stand of willows.
“He’s coming this way,” she said. She pressed into him.
“I’ll take care of it,” Brandon said. “I’ll see what he wants and send him packing.”
She looked up at him with scared eyes and rubbed her belly. He knew she did that when she was nervous. The baby was their first and she was unsure and overprotective about the pregnancy.
During the day, while he’d pored over the records inside, she’d wandered through the house, the corrals, and the outbuildings and had come back and declared the place “officially creepy, like a mausoleum.” The only bright spot in her day, she said, was discovering a nest of day-old naked baby mice that she’d brought back to the house in a rusty metal box. She said she wanted to save them if she could figure out how.
Brandon knew baby mice in the house was a bad idea, but he welcomed the distraction. Marissa was feeling maternal, even about mice.
“Don’t forget,” he said, “I grew up in this house.”
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