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datatime: 2022-12-04 07:11:29 Author:AUVsfGRx

The wind was still shoving mightily at his back, but after what seemed like eight hours of walking yesterday and at least five today, he was about to topple to the ground. He carried the exhausted child in his arms, as he had for the past two hours, and walked stiff-legged, the soles of his feet oozing with blisters and blood in shoes that were coming apart at the seams. He thought he must look like a zombie, or like the Frankenstein monster carrying the fainted heroine in his arms.

"I'm sorry," Josh repeated. He saw the woman's gnarled finger on the trigger. "I don't have any money," he said. "I'd pay you for the door if I did."

They had spent last night in the windbreak of an overturned pick-up truck; bound-up bales of hay had been scattered around, and Josh had lugged them over to build a makeshift shelter that would contain their body heat. Still, they'd been out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by wasteland and dead fields, and both of them had dreaded first light because they knew they had to start walking again.

The woman was silent. Josh could see the outline of her head, but not her face; her head angled toward Swan. "A little girl," she said softly. "Oh, my Lord... a little girl..."

They had spent last night in the windbreak of an overturned pick-up truck; bound-up bales of hay had been scattered around, and Josh had lugged them over to build a makeshift shelter that would contain their body heat. Still, they'd been out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by wasteland and dead fields, and both of them had dreaded first light because they knew they had to start walking again.

"Why'd you think the door was locked, then? This is private property"

"Uh... I'm sorry, ma'am. I didn't think anybody was here."

"You broke my screen door," a woman's voice said in the gloom. The pistol did not waver.

"I doubt it," the man countered. "Not from a scratch like that. It'll freeze up pretty soon, but you'll have a blood smell on your clothes. Like I say, they'll come out of the mountains with knives and forks between their teeth. But you do what you want to do; I'm hitting the trail." He shrugged into his pack, wrapped the cord around his shoulder and picked up his rifle. "Take care," he said, and he started gliding across the snowy highway toward the woods.

Something moved at the corner of his vision. He looked to the side, and something small-a jackrabbit? he wondered-darted out of sight behind the ruins of the caf.

"You broke my screen door," a woman's voice said in the gloom. The pistol did not waver.

"I'm sorry," Josh repeated. He saw the woman's gnarled finger on the trigger. "I don't have any money," he said. "I'd pay you for the door if I did."

"I'm sorry," Josh repeated. He saw the woman's gnarled finger on the trigger. "I don't have any money," he said. "I'd pay you for the door if I did."

"We ought to go with him," Artie said to Sister. "I might bleed to death"

Sullivan, Josh thought. Whatever Sullivan had once been, it was dead now.

"If you don't mind, we'll just go on our way."

Sullivan, Josh thought. Whatever Sullivan had once been, it was dead now.

"What's the nearest town?" Sister asked.

The dark town-just a scatter of wind-ravaged buildings and a few widely spaced houses on dusty lots-beckoned him onward. He saw no cars, no hint of light or life. There was a Texaco station with one pump and a garage whose roof had collapsed. A sign flapping back and forth on its hinges advertised TUCKER'S HARDWARE AND FEEDS, but the store's front window was shattered and the place looked bare as Mother Hubbard's cupboard. A small caf had also collapsed, except for the sign that read GOOD EATS Every step an exercise in agony, Josh walked past the crumbled buildings. He saw that dozens of paperback books lay in the dust around him, their pages flipping wildly in the restless hand of the wind, and to the left were the remains of a little clapboard structure with a hand-painted SULLIVAN PUBLIC LIBRARY sign.

"I'm sorry," Josh repeated. He saw the woman's gnarled finger on the trigger. "I don't have any money," he said. "I'd pay you for the door if I did."

But he was already moving again, heading into the edge of the dense forest.

"No... we've got some corn, and green beans, and boiled potatoes."

Josh had just put his hand on the knob when the door flew open and the barrel of a pistol looked him in the eyes.

"What's the nearest town?" Sister asked.

The woman was silent. Josh could see the outline of her head, but not her face; her head angled toward Swan. "A little girl," she said softly. "Oh, my Lord... a little girl..."

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