The road was quiet when they left the car. Ben did a cursory check of the vehicle’s interior, finding nothing much of interest; a few coins, a pack of gum, scattered trash in the center console storage.
Claire checked the mass of cars ahead of them, giving as many as she could a quick glance; many were too dirty to see through easily, but those she paid more attention to. She didn’t spot any trapped bodies, but did notice how tightly the cars were packed in, and how many had open doors.
“I guess back then when these were abandoned they got trapped, tried to leave the cars behind and make it on foot,” she said quietly.
“Let’s hope we have better luck.”
Their options were limited. They could hike back the way they’d come and hope for the best, but that would lead them back to the Core eventually. Probably not the best way to go. They could try to get off the highway, but that didn’t seem likely until they got closer to ground level. It was a long drop onto a hard surface covered with who knew what.
They took the only reasonable option open to them. They started picking their path through the sea of cars, imagining all the while the chaos of years gone past as people sat in locked traffic, frantic with panic, finally leaving vehicles and homes behind to escape on foot, at risk from people both living and dead. For a while, it was said, the living had been the bigger threat.
Ben realized with a sinking feeling that in this part of the world at least, that was certainly now true for them.
Their slow progress had lasted long enough that it was well and truly dark. “I’m so glad there’s a moon tonight,” Claire commented. Without it they’d have been truly sunk. With the effective end of civilization had come the end of light pollution. The number of stars visible in the night sky was breathtaking, but did nothing to light the way when the moon was new, or covered by clouds.
They stuck to the edge of the highway, keeping hands on the raised side for guidance and keeping an eye on the closest cars. The moon lit their way, but not terribly well; it was a crescent, only a few nights away from leaving them in the dark. They couldn’t see into the more distant cars well enough to check what was inside.
They’d been picking their way carefully through for at least an hour by Ben’s best count when Claire spotted one. “Psst! There,” she said, pointing. She seemed to have better night vision than he did; he couldn’t see what she meant.
“There!” Her voice was barely more than a whisper, but even that seemed suddenly loud. He sighted along her arm and moved forward a bit; several cars ahead, maybe the top of a head slumped to the side of a headrest. He couldn’t see well enough to be sure.