I saw dust tumbling across the top of the forest and heard the asthmatic wheezing of an engine in need of repair. I emerged from the woods to see a rusted-out shell of a bus heading toward me. It was crawling along a narrow stretch of dirt road that seemed to move randomly about the woodland, as though it was looking for something. The man behind the grime-splattered windshield smiled at me and brought his groaning vehicle to a halt. The door to the bus opened and the man called out to me.
“Excuse me, pal, but I was wondering if you knew where I could find a decent garage? My jalopy is on its last legs, wouldn’t you know. This is a new route to me and I’m not quite up on the lay of the land.”
The man’s eyes studied me, and I could feel an intense calculus burning between his ears, fast and lethal. He tried too hard not to stare at my father, who was sealed away in rags and protruding from my back.
I held my response until my stare entered his blood and coursed through his body. My voice came out low and full of gravel, as it had been ages since I’d cause to use it. I placed my gaze within him, severing his concentration. “I can fix your vehicle if you would be willing to bring me closer to my destination. I’m heading north.”
He tried to match my stare, but my eyes only devoured him whole. He winced and pretended to shield his eyes from the sun. After he regained himself, he accepted my offer.
“Well, that sounds just about perfect to me. While you’re working on the engine I can stretch my legs a bit. I’ve been wandering these back roads forever. I could use a walk and a cigarette.”
The man committed to his ruse, which was perfectly fine. Should he attempt my murder, the innards of the dying bus were as fine a gallery as any I’d known. The area I was traveling was a notorious feeding ground for bandits and killers. The law was thin where the shadows of the Great Darkness were thick. The darkness was delightful enough, but the murderer was a pleasant if predictable distraction.
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