by Immortalwildcat and Martin Maenza
“Like I told the lady, yeah, that looks like the gal that stopped in here with Red last fall. Still, it’s been most of a year, ya know?” The tall, blonde, weary-looking waitress snapped the gum in her mouth as she reached for the plates on the table.
“What about this Red person? Any idea where he’s from?” Hal Jordan leaned forward in the booth. “Does he come by here regularly?”
“I usually see him here once a month or so. He’s usually driving for Fox Lumber, but I think he was in his own truck on that trip. Wasn’t his usual time for the run, either. They stopped in here for lunch. She seemed kind of spacey, like maybe she’d been in an accident or something.”
“That makes sense, Hal. If what we found out earlier is correct, they must have been here just after she met with Sta — er, with that other woman.” Kari Limbo looked up at the waitress. “Have you seen him since then?”
“Sure, he comes through, like I said, every month. Last time was about a week ago.” The waitress looked around, noting that other customers were waiting for her.
“Thank you very much. You’ve been very helpful.”
“Sure, if you say so.” The waitress gathered up the rest of their plates and walked toward the kitchen.
Ten minutes later, Kari and Hal exited the diner. As they got into Hal’s forest-green Firebird, he looked over at Kari. Her face bore the expression of someone carrying a great burden. “How are you holding up? I don’t know much about psychic phenomenon, but it seems like carrying Carol’s memories has to be a strain.”
Kari turned to face Hal as he started the car. “It is difficult. I’m not sure how long I can do this. Carol has a very forceful personality, and I feel like it’s going to take over at any time.”
“Well, I guess that just makes it easier for me to justify doing this.” Hal raised his hand in front of his face and focused on an image in his mind’s eye — an image of the car taking flight and soaring over the California countryside, an image that normally would become reality as Hal Jordan’s legendary willpower channeled through the power ring on his hand.
“Hal, what is it?” asked Kari.
“Nothing. I just lost track of the time.” Hal glanced at the clock on the dashboard. It read 3:15 PM. “Sure, it was mid-afternoon when I last charged the ring.” Hal reached back over the seat and under a blanket. He pulled an emerald-colored object up to the front, shaped like a stylized bullseye lantern. Balancing it on top of the stick shift, leaning against the dashboard, he touched the ring to his power battery.
“In brightest day, in darkest light, no evil shall–” He stopped in mid-sentence. “There’s something wrong here. The power battery has gone dead!”
“Hal, are you sure it’s dead? Try it again!” Kari Limbo stared intensely at the green power battery that sat between herself and Hal Jordan in the car.
Once more, Hal touched ring to lantern, and recited the oath by which he normally charged the ring. “In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight. Let those who worship evil’s might, beware my power, Green Lantern’s light!”
“I’ve seen you charge your battery before, and I could always see a glow, a surge of power between them. Now, there’s nothing.”
“I can’t feel anything, either.” Hal grasped the handle of the lantern-shaped battery. He closed his eyes and tried to will a green flame into existence before him. Nothing appeared. “Usually, if I focus, I can use the battery itself like the ring, but I don’t feel a single erg of power there. I’d better make a call before we leave.”
Hal got out of the car and walked over to a phone booth by the diner. Stepping in, he dialed a phone number known only to a select few people. The voice that answered was reassuringly familiar. “John, I’m glad it’s you! This is Hal.”
“Hal! Thank God! I tried calling you at home, and at Ferris. Salaak said you left word yesterday that you would be gone for a couple of days.”
“Yeah, Kari got a lead on Carol’s disappearance, but that’s not what I’m calling about. It’s–“
“Your power ring, right?” John Stewart’s deep voice finished the sentence for him. “We’ve had a couple of them fail here, and word has reached us from some of the Lanterns in other space sectors as well.”
“Great Guardians! It sounds like something’s up with the main power battery on Oa! Have you contacted the Honor Guard yet?” asked Hal, referring to the Green Lanterns who had taken up a position of honor and duty on the planets Malthus and Oa.
“We’re trying, Hal, but with only half our rings functioning, and more failing every hour, it’s hard keeping up a steady communication link.” This was a third voice, that of Katma Tui. She leaned in close to John Stewart as they spoke, sharing the telephone handset.
“Contact the JLA. They may be able to raise one of them.” A new thought struck Hal, one that sent a chill through him. “John, what about Driq?“
“His was one of the first rings to lose power.” John’s voice was heavy with grief. “We’ve… we’ve preserved the remains in hope that we might restore him once we can recharge his battery and ring, but–“
“When he lost power, that was probably the end of him.” Hal allowed himself a few moments to mourn the Green Lantern whose will was so great that it had transcended even death. He would mourn properly at a later time. “John, I’m in the same boat as the others who have lost power. Pursue it from the Oan end, and I’ll get back in touch when I can.”
“What do you mean, Hal? You’re not coming in?”
“No, I have to stay on Carol’s trail. Too many times, I chose duty and the Corps over her. Not this time.”
In the Green Lantern Citadel, John Stewart and Katma Tui looked each other in the eye. They both understood, for if it were either of them in trouble, the other would place that before the Corps as well.
It was John who answered first. “You do what you have to, man. We’ll get things figured out on this end.”
Katma followed up with a phrase murmured in her own language, followed by a translation in English. “Follow your heart, my friend, and may good fortune meet you on the path.”
The afternoon sun was dropping in the western sky as a couple on horseback rode through the foothills. The horses were beautifully groomed; the brown-haired man took good care of the animals. Red Crawford pulled back on the reins to get his mount to stop. “Whoa, Cambridge.” The other horse started to move past on the dirt path. Red leaned out and grabbed for that one’s muzzle as well. “You too, Chestnut.”
The woman with wavy black hair smiled. “Why are we stopping here?” Carrie Ford asked as she looked about the open area.
“Misty Hollow’s such a peaceful place,” Red explained. “Nice for watching the sunset and such. Though it wasn’t always this pretty.”
“Yes,” Red said. “It had been clearcut by the lumber mills many years back, but the locals rallied against the industries. They managed to win out and convinced the company to move on. That allowed it to grow back for the last ten to twenty years. It’s nice and quiet here now. Very few people come out this way much.”
Carrie raised an eye toward the man. “So, you wanted to get me out to a nice secluded spot, eh? Just what do you have in mind, Mr. Crawford?”
Red was surprised by the tone as she said that. It was strong and commanding. Carrie sounded almost intimidating, and that threw him slightly. “I… uh…” he stammered, trying to form a response.
Carrie saw she had him shaken and gave him a more stern look. “Well?” She could barely keep a straight face as she watched him squirm.
“I-I thought maybe we’d have a picnic supper is all.” He hopped down from the saddle and opened one of the pouches that hung on the sides. “See, blanket and food.” Red started to pull out the items.
Carrie laughed as she climbed down from her mount. “I was just teasing,” she told him. “I hope you didn’t take me seriously.” She gave him a peck on the cheek. “A picnic sounds like a wonderful idea.”
Red relaxed. “I’m glad. Let me get these two tied securely, and then we can dig in. You like fried chicken, right?”
“You made fried chicken?” Carrie asked as she took the blanket and opened it up.
“Well, no,” Red admitted. “I sort of got it from Marty’s. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Not at all,” Carrie said. Working at the small diner all these months, she knew quite well the cooking of her employer. And Marty Falk made one mean fried chicken. It’s second only to Daddy’s, Carrie thought.
Suddenly, she caught herself. Daddy? It was another stray memory from her past, a past that had been very much a mystery to her for the better part of eight months. Somehow the food had triggered this thought deep in the recesses of her mind. She tried to hold onto it, strengthen it, but it was gone as quickly as it came. “Damn,” she muttered to herself.
For Carrie Ford, who last year was in fact Carol Ferris of Coast City, this missing past continued to be a frustration.
Luckily for the woman, she had a present to focus on. Red Crawford had been a source of support and comfort since last fall. He’d found her literally walking on the side of the road in a bewildering daze. His kind gesture in the form of a ride turned into so much more. He found her a place to stay and work in Fox Hollow, Oregon. He helped her adjust to a new life without pressuring her about her past. She appreciated that.
Over time, Red fell in love with her. And it was hard for her not to fall in love with him. He made her feel alive and gave her purpose. Although she’d only known him for so many months, she was hard pressed to think of what her life would be without him.
After their meal, the two sat by a small fire as the twilight descended upon the area. Red reached into his pocket and then turned to the woman. “Carrie, honey,” he said softly. “I’ve got something to ask you. I’ve been trying to work up my nerve all afternoon to do so, and if I don’t do it now I don’t know if I can.”
“What is it?” she asked.
Red got down on one knee before her and held out a small, velvet-covered box. “Carrie Ford, will you do me the honor of being my wife?” He opened the box, revealing a diamond engagement ring.
Her eyes grew wide with surprise. For a moment, she was speechless. She watched the fire light sparkling off the facets of the stone. The ring, with the glow, reminded her of something.
“Carrie?” he asked.
She snapped back in focus. “Oh, Red, it’s beautiful,” she said. “It’s just…”
Red started to frown slightly. “Oh, who was I kidding?” he said in a depressed tone. “When I lost my first wife and our unborn child fifteen years ago in Alabama, I thought my life was over, that I’d never be happy again. I moved out here to start over, to start fresh. But something was missing.” He raised his head up again. “I thought I’d found that missing something that day I met you. Like an angel had been sent down from the heavens and plopped down at that mountain road for me to come across.” He started to rise to his feet. “I’m sorry if I embarrassed you with this. I’m such a fool.”
Carrie grabbed his hand and pulled him back down. “Red, wait! You’re not a fool!” She took her other hand and gently caressed his cheek. “You’re a sweet, kind, and wonderful man. Any woman would consider herself lucky to be your wife.”
Red swallowed and averted his eyes. He felt a tear forming and didn’t want the woman he loved to see them.
“Yes,” Carrie said. “Yes, I’ll marry you.” She threw her arms about him and gave him a great big kiss.