6 min read

Clove & Moose 6: The Cruel Cars

Clove and Moose is a serial fiction story. While there is an overarching plot, each episode can be enjoyed on its own without reading what came before. However, if you want to get caught up, click one of the buttons below.

Previously, on Clove & Moose: After the mysterious Cataclysm dried up the earth and its magic, Clove left home to search for pools of corrupted magic left behind in the Cataclysm’s wake. Along with her cat Moose, she’s on a mission to find the corrupted magic, reverse its effects, and leave the world a better place.

Clove didn’t realize she had entered the city until she was well within city limits. Scattered houses gave way to suburbs which gave way to busy streets lined with shops and skyscrapers. 

Not packed with people, though, not the way they had been the last time she was here. The place wasn’t deserted, but many shops were dark and empty. With communications networks still down after the Cataclysm, it looked like many of the shop owners couldn’t make a go of it. Or perhaps they’d simply used the opportunity to move on to somewhere new.

The change was clearest in the roads. Traffic was gone. The streets were still filled with cars, but they were parked haphazardly across lanes and in the middle of intersections. It looked like everyone kept driving until they couldn’t any more. People left there cars wherever they ran down after the gas shipments stopped coming.

The true mark of the devastation was in the public parks. The leaves on the trees had dropped early, but it looked like most of them would survive to come back next year. The flowers had wilted like the crops in the gardens and farms she’d seen in the countryside. Here, though, no one was tending to them, trying to revive them. The grass was more brown than green, and even Moose had no interest in playing here, preferring to roll on the warm asphalt of the vacant streets.

As she passed another row of darkened storefronts, Clove was surprised to hear the rumble of motors in the distance. Was there a part of the town where cars were still working? Were buses still running, somehow? She turned her feet toward the sound to see what was happening, scooping Moose into her arms as the sound of traffic grew louder.

She rounded a corner and her eyes were instantly drawn to motion up ahead. A rotary with cars driving around it. No cars were entering or exiting the circle; the same vehicles kept driving around and around. 

Moose squirmed, taking advantage of her moment of distraction to kick out of her arms and spring to the ground, making a run for it. 

“No!” she yelled, lunging for the rope attached to his harness. “Moose, buddy, stop!”

She grabbed the end of the rope just before it slipped away, pulling Moose to a quick stop mere inches from the edge of the busy roundabout. She kept a firm grip on the rope, reeling it in as she drew closer until she could pick him up once more. He tried to wriggle away, but she held him firmly.

“You almost gave me a heart attack, fella. You’ve got to stay with me. You could have gotten hurt.” 

The cars zipped by, the wind ruffling Clove’s hair. They were well above the speed limit for city street. Only when Clove raised a hand to try to flag down a driver did she realize that the driver’s seat was empty. They all were.

Peering beyond the cars to the centre of the circle, Clove was not surprised to see a familiar orange glow.

“How am I going to get over there?”

She stared disconsolately at the copper corruption, weighing whether she should risk dodging her way through the cars to stop the magic. If she didn’t, it would spread until all the cars in the city were speeding around and it wasn’t safe for anyone. It would take time, but that was the eventual outcome. She was lucky she’d caught this while all the cars were confined to a circular track. 

It didn’t make it any easier to fling herself into the path of oncoming traffic.

“Help! Help!” 

Clove looked for the source of the scream, which grew louder and then died away. She scanned the windows of the cars, searching for anyone within.

“Help!” The shouting started again, and this time Clove caught a glimpse of an arm waving from the rear window of a black SUV as it whizzed by on the middle lane of traffic. 

No drivers, but at least one passenger. Now she really didn’t have a choice about trying to stop this.

She backtracked half a block to the nearest lamppost and tied Moose’s rope securely, triple-checking the knot to be sure there would be no more escape attempts. Then she returned to the roundabout, watching the cars closely for a pattern. 

They seemed to be travelling at a consistent speed, and the gaps between cars were bigger in some places than others. When she’d located the widest gap in the outer circle, she took a deep breath and waited for that pair of cars to come around again.

“Just like playing Frogger,” she told herself. The stakes were a little higher here, sure, but she’d always been good at that game as a kid.

As soon as the lead car passed by, she sprinted across the first lane of traffic and stood as still as she could in the narrow gap between lanes. She tried not to think about the cars zooming by mere inches away or wonder whether they might try to attack her like the corrupted trees once had.

“Help!” The car with the passenger went by again, and she was close enough now she could have given a high five. She caught a glimpse of a young woman’s pale face before the SUV was gone again.

Clove took another breath, dodged across the second lane of traffic, then repeated the process at the final lane to get to the centre of the circle. There was just enough space to kneel down at the edge of the orange pool, safe from both the cars behind her and the magic in front of her. She held out her crystal and spoke the words of the spell, waiting until warmth ran through the crystal, signifying the spell had worked.

Behind her, the motors cut out and there was a brief moment of silence before the crashing began. The cars continued on their trajectories until their momentum ran out, sometimes quite quickly when they collided with another car. Clove locked her gaze on the black SUV, which managed to avoid any serious collision, and came gently to rest against the fender of a red sedan. 

After a few more minutes, all the cars had stopped, and Clove ran to the SUV. One of the rear doors opened and the young woman stepped out. She stood shakily long enough to look around before she swooned. 

She caught herself against the car door and slowly lowered herself to the ground. Clove arrived a moment later. “Hey, are you alright?”

“I’ve been in that car for three days,” the woman moaned. “I am nauseous and exhausted.”

Clove grimaced; she could only imagine how the woman must be feeling. “How did you get trapped in there?” 

“It wasn’t moving when I went in. I just meant to crash for the night, but I woke up when the car started itself and this little rally race got going. What was that?”

“Magic,” Clove said, and explained about the corrupted magic left behind by the Cataclysm.

“And you can stop it?” The woman asked. “That’s dope.”

Clove laughed. “It certainly comes in handy. Can you walk? I’ve got some water and food I can share, but maybe we should get out of the street.”

“I think I can stand now. The ground doesn’t look like it’s spinning anymore, at least. I’m Marissa, by the way.”

“Clove.” She gave Marissa a hand up. “And that little guy over there is Moose.”

“Oh my gosh he’s adorable!” Marissa crooned. Moose was at the end of his rope, straining toward them. “Where are you two headed?”

“We’re going west,” Clove said. “Trying to clean up as many of these as we can.”

“Hey, me too. Going west, I mean, not the other part. Maybe we could stick together for a bit?”

Clove considered this. Marissa clearly sensed her hesitation. “At least until we cross the city. If you want to split ways after that, I understand.”

“Only if it’s okay with Moose.”

Moose was already rubbing his head against Marissa’s arm as she tried to take a sip from Clove’s water bottle. “Looks like I’m in,” she laughed.

“Alright,” Clove agreed. “To the edge of the city.”

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Katie Conrad is a speculative fiction writer living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. You can find her on twitterinstagram, and tumblr.