THE SITUATION at the Tavern quickly deteriorates.

 

I don’t quite ever figure out what’s happening — Gibbering Pete and Rigid Steve and a few others are up by the door, all with their guns out, and it looks like Drifter Jim is hanging out just outside, whether in a friendly or a confrontational manner I can’t tell, and the guy with his back to me at the bar who I think but don’t know is Barry Dalton just stays there, sucking in thoughts so his head swells and then spitting them out, shrinking back down like a pufferfish, either oblivious to the commotion or directly causing it.

 

Large, Creeping Charlie gets up from the table so abruptly that he knocks it over, and I’m up and running with Big Pharmakos, through a back door past the bathrooms and the pay phones and jukebox. I try to look back as the door shuts behind us, to see what’s going on, but all I see is a fist flying in an arc and the door slamming.

 

Big Pharmakos is lumbering ahead of me, panting, and I’m keeping pace. I keep feeling my pockets to make sure I have everything, but I don’t remember what I’m supposed to have. I think I left my iPod and phone back in the room. I still have my twenty bucks, crisp and crinkly in my pocket, at least. I start thinking of the snack I might buy next chance I get.

 

We’re running through a hallway, flickering blue lights overhead and black tile underfoot. Something smells good, like we’re passing a kitchen on the other side of the wall, frying up some spicy chicken and vegetables. I keep expecting us to burst through another door and end up outside, but it hasn’t happened yet. I can’t imagine how such a long hallway could exist on this block, since, from the outside, the Tavern was a freestanding structure, so I give up trying to imagine it.

 

It’s a relief not to make that effort anymore. Now I can run faster. Eventually, we burst through a door and enter a new space. There was a pounding sound the whole time we were in the hallway, and that frying smell, but that’s all gone now. All is silent here, and I don’t smell anything but my Old Spice coming up my collar. Big Pharmakos takes out a lighter and flicks it on, holding it up so we can see a little. I can’t tell how big a room we’re in, but it’s definitely a room, not another hallway.

 

I see shapes wrapped in some smooth material, like plastic or shiny cloth, reclining on the floor and on ledges up by the rafters.

 

They look like moths, but big. Human-sized. “Here,” says Big Pharmakos, handing me a bundle of the shiny cloth. He’s already wrapped himself in his, so only his eyes are peeping out, like those of a mummy or a piñata.

 

A moment ago I’d felt like we’d just gotten here, I think, but now I feel like we’ve been in here a long time.

 

I’m all wrapped up, smelling old locker room smells inside the cloth, stretched tight across my nose. I lick sweat from the edge of my mouth, and taste those smells. I can’t tell what we’re resting on, but it feels stable. I’m starting to get dizzy. I almost think I’m about to panic.

 

The lump that must be Big Pharmakos leans over and whispers, “Don’t struggle. We’re safe here. We’re in the Safe House. Some people stay here for thousands of years, and they turn out okay. Just take it one year at a time. No one’s themselves around here, anyway.”

 

As he’s saying it, I feel time and self scampering away, back to more willing and able hosts.

 

At first I try to hold on, like to something that’s come at me through the air and that I can almost catch, but I fumble and drop it, and self and time fall down and away for good or at least a while.

 

Now it’s free-floating. My arms are pinned in tight against me, so I don’t have to worry about them getting snagged on passing entities. Dodge City feels like it took place centuries, millennia, ago. I look back on the human era on earth as the brief blight of some invasive species, like a fly infestation, that got smoked out in no time, all its structures eaten back up by vines and panthers and tornadoes and water and rot … I lose the rest of the words, watching them peter out away from me as I rock gently, as in a cradle, in the embrace of a very great distance. I blink, and a trail of dust scatters from me, through the mummy slits, away into the night.

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