Turns out, the decision about whether to return to Dodge or stay out here on the road has been made for me. Just when I was on the verge of deciding, an interpolated nightmare sequence wormed its way in. These things happen, and not in an especially science-fictional way, what with the Night Crusher loose and me just hanging out here on the road, looking like I need something to do.

 

*****

 

So I’m out near St. Louis with three friends and we’ve rented a convertible. It’s probably the first time I’ve ever spent this long in a convertible before, and easily the first time I’ve driven one, not that we’re driving right now, here in the scene where it opens. We’ve all got some time off and, I guess, some money, and so here we are, parked in some mall parking lot in a suburb of St. Louis.

 

We’ve spent the night out here, under the sky in our convertible, when, around dawn, a cop shows up. He cruises into the parking lot — a quick scan reveals there to be no other cars around — and, as he’s approaching us, one of my friends cranks shut the lid of the convertible.

 

He keeps approaching as we manically scoop piles of pills and powders and gels and serums and tinctures, dark broths and bulbous solids in solution, under the seats and into the glove compartment, trying to clean the place as best we can before he gets here. I don’t know what all this stuff we have in here is, or where it came from, but here it is … that much I couldn’t gainsay.

 

The cop knocks on the roof, knowing it’s retractable, but my friend in the driver’s seat rolls down the window instead, and they start talking. My friend lies like he’s had long, good years of practice, and the cop seems to buy it. Everything seems to be going well, the rest of us keeping ruler-straight faces as our friend lies on and on, exhaustively listing all the contraband we don’t have, and what we weren’t up to last night, and don’t know the first thing about now.

 

The cop seems to have bought it, but then, when he turns toward his cruiser and says he’ll be right back, and that we’d better sit tight, all four of us feel the moment we’re in about to be ravaged, reduced to floating dander and feather-stalks in the gas-smelling parking lot air.

 

So we tear free from our seatbelts and hurl ourselves out of the car and into a run, madly across the empty white parking lines and away from the mall, away from St. Louis and all of its suburbs, deep into the woods, headlong, crashing down on our ankles and knees so hard that every impact might be the one that ends in a crack, loud as a splitting tree.

 

Without looking behind us, we know that the Night Crusher is on our tail, gaining speed as we lose it, running ourselves out. The air behind us whistles and whines and a mist of stirred up fallen leaves surrounds us as we go, losing ground no matter how much we take.

 

Finally, deep in the woods, maybe no longer in Missouri, we see the Night Crusher approaching, his cool walk somehow still faster than our is-this-what-it-all-comes-down-to? run.

 

Just as he comes within smelling distance, another entity breaks onto the scene. It’s a brown UPS truck, rumbling along a dirt road at the top of the hill that we’re at the bottom of. I wave my hands and jump up and down like a marooned man who’s spotted his first reconnaissance plane in five years.

 

The truck skids to a halt and we all scrabble up the hill and climb in the back, the Night Crusher chomping just behind us as we slam and bolt the door.

 

We slump against the wall and try to catch our breath as an old woman comes back from the driver’s seat and says hi to me, as if we’d arranged months ago for her to pick me up from the airport, and now she’s done just that. “Well,” she says, “How ya been?”

 

I force a smile, trying to remember her, finding that I can’t, or, anyway, don’t. Must be someone my parents knew when I was very little, someone who came around before I could differentiate.

 

She shrugs, unaware of or unperturbed by the Night Crusher’s persistent pounding on the truck, and gets back in the driver’s seat and drives on.

 

We drive all through the night, none of us speaking, that pounding going on and on. The Night Crusher must have  climbed onto the outcropping above the back wheels, or else he’s following along at that cool walking pace, effortlessly keeping up with the speeding truck.

 

In the morning, we get out at her home in Kentucky. It’s a modest but attractive home, a few rooms and a front and back patio, the smell of things cooking and having been cooked. Her husband, a very old man named Henry, greets us, and asks how the trip was. We look over his shoulder at the Night Crusher standing just outside the window, watching us and the back of Henry’s head.

 

Lunch is served, then dinner, then dessert. We sit up talking a long time, imagining these to be our final moments, drinking tea, eating cherry-shaped chocolates from a big foil-laced box of cherry-imprints, a bottle of liqueur in the center of the table, its label embellished with the amber-like globules of ancient spilled drops.

 

She shows us to our room, night-lit by the Night Crusher’s eyes, which glow as they follow us from window to window, and then we get in the beds she’s made for us, jittering with terror and assorted withdrawal symptoms.

 

We lie there all night, waiting for the moment when he reaches a hand under any one of the windows, slides it open, lets himself in.

 

But it doesn’t happen. We wake up to birds chirping and sun, the smell of coffee and bacon.

 

After breakfast, we roam the house and discover a number of saws stashed in innocuous-looking places like the basket that holds the firewood and the laundry hamper where we drop our used clothes (after putting on the soft, powdery suits she’s laid out for us).

 

I bring one of these saws into the kitchen and ask, showing it to Henry, if it’s meant to be used against the Night Crusher.

 

“Against whom?” he asks, leaning in to hear better.

 

I point out the window.

 

“Ah,” he says, and makes a gesture like I should hand him the saw, so I do.

 

He jauntily balances it across his shoulders, puts his shoes and cap on, and goes out onto the patio to confront the Night Crusher.

 

The Night Crusher kills him immediately.

 

The rest of the afternoon is spent with all of us sitting at the card table under the window, looking at the dead body and the Night Crusher standing above it, quiet and boring as a still life.

 

Like so it gets dim again.

 

Around dark, we start hearing windows opening and closing; our hearts start floundering again. We go from window to window, dragging saws, and see that it’s the neighbors, opening them from the outside.

 

“Just thought you should know!” they shout, “The Night Crusher could get in here any damn time he pleases!”

 

When he’s finished killing them all and dragging their bodies to the pile inaugurated by Henry this morning, he goes back to standing there, staring at us inside the house.

 

“Do you boys need anything else before bed?” she shouts from another room.

 

The liqueur and cherries have been out and then put back away, mostly finished. “No ma’am!” we shout, lying down in our beds in clean pajamas, where we wait wide-eyed for yet another bright and bird-chirpy morning to come.

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