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MILES WAS OUTSIDE, on the edge of a highway he didn’t recognize. The sun beat down, an orange orb low in the horizon. He squinted in the blinding light. He walked along the shoulder, kicking up dust on the lonely road, peering into the distance.
His head was pounding.
He heard the car’s engine before he saw it, a grey van approaching in the hazy low distance. With the glare of the low sunset the van was almost invisible, the metallic sheen of the vehicle off the metallic sheen of the road after a hard rain.
Then he was inside the van, sitting in the passenger seat, and there was a Man to his left, and he heard voices behind him – children’s voices – and there was a feeling of dread, of sickly anticipation.
He was aware of a woman’s voice, speaking to him from what seemed like a great deal away. “These are my boys,” she said.
He was sitting at the end of the bar in Doc Brown’s Pub and Eatery, and the brunette woman next to him, drinking a cup of coffee. She was happy, content, eagerly awaiting something. Then suddenly she was uncomfortable, alone, looking desperately around the bar for her husband. Doc was asking her a question; he stared down at her, a stern look on his face. Miles was taking money from his pocket, laying a few dollars down. Relief, gratitude washed over him. She smiled and he felt her smile and it eased his fears and the voice was quiet, but something was wrong something was wrong something was wrong.
He was standing on the desert highway watching the van, watching the approach of the Long Bed Semi-Ton, and everything began to slow.
She reached at and touched his arm.
“Well, aren’t you just the sweetest–” she began.
The voice screamed out, but it was too late. Before he could pull his arm away she had touched him, touched the bare part of his forearm between his wrist and his sleeve. He shrieked and jumped back; a white light flashed before his eyes like he’d been struck, and then there was blood, so much so much so much blood. The woman sat next to him at the bar, face curious and fearful, but her saw her also facedown in the road, bleeding from a gash across her face, her neck twisted too far. The blood soaked through her long dark hair, soaked and matted it, and her eyes were glazed over, staring into nothing.
But the woman was still there, still across from him in the bar and he pulled away from her, but the voice screamed out and the whiskey slowed his mind and he called to her but she didn’t understand. He knew he had to tell her had to warn her please just listen – the voice was screaming at him to run, get away but he didn’t listen, he couldn’t listen. He had to warn her; there was so much blood. He reached out grab hold please grab hold please hold on; he called to her and through a great distance he saw the word: Paradise.
“I think he’s having a seizure,” said the woman’s voice, but Miles did not know to whom she spoke. “We’ve got to hold his arms–”
He screamed and tried to back away – the woman closed in and tried to grab him – he stumbled and fell. His mind was racing, the voice was screaming – he felt himself screaming – but his arms flailed as though no longer connected to his body; great surges of pain and fear pounded him, struck through him like a hammer. He felt her pain: he felt the impact of the truck spin him around; he heard the scream of twisted metal; he felt the glass cut his face; he heard the terrified screams of Gabriel and Michael behind him; then the impact of something solid against the side of his head. Then he felt a great warmth wash over him followed by silence, vast and terrible silence.
And in the distance the word: Paradise.
But she was still there, in front of him but someone was holding him back, great arms were wrapped around him and he lunged out – her face was pale, and slowly turning blue as her lifeblood spilled out onto the road – but someone was there, a Man – a Man whom Miles did not see in his head, a Man whom Miles did not see die – and the Man struck Miles and Miles fell and there was a flash of pain and a soft wet collapse and Miles felt nothing else.
And Miles was alone in the desert. He walked along the gravel road, a near-empty bottle in his hand. Miles swayed and wavered and nearly fell, and Miles stumbled to his front porch and collapsed into the broken porch swing and the last of the alcohol finally swept the away the few remaining pieces. Miles slipped into unconsciousness, into bleak, dark, dreamless sleep.