Warning: R-rated content below.
Note: Chapters 1-4 are here. Chapter 5 is here. Chapter 6 is here. Chapters 9 & 10 are here.
A half-hour later, my temper cools. I begin paying attention to where we're going.
Marcella and Yesenia are still huddled together, sleeping in the dinette booth. The Beatles are playing "I Feel Fine" through the speakers. In the back, on the bed, is the face-down body of Alice.
As we approach the next exit, I tell Zoey to take it, which puts us on a two-lane road heading away from the highway. We drive for a couple more minutes, then I say to pull over.
The camper rumbles to a stop. I open the door and take a step out. I walk a few yards away from the camper. I stop. Ahead of me, about a half-mile away is a small, flat-topped hill. A mesa. The nearest of many.
I go back into the camper and lift Alice off the bed. With her in my arms, I hop a barbed-wire fence and begin running towards the mesa.
At a couple of points, I have to sling Alice over my shoulder to use a hand for climbing. But I make it to the mesa's top in just a few minutes.
I lay Alice's body down in the open, composing her limbs so she looks restful, her hands on top of each other on her chest, her legs straight, her ankles dug a little into the dirt to keep her feet pointed up.
I stand and realize I'm being watched.
At the other end of the mesa's top, crouching in the lower branches of a scrub oak, is a mountain lion.
It's in hunting posture, with shoulders hunched. Its head juts forward, turning side-to-side slightly, focused on me. I see glints of green moonlight in its eyes as it stares at me.
I begin walking towards it, wondering what lion's blood tastes like.
As I approach, the lion begins a low growl, almost a purr.
I get halfway to it when it drops from the tree. It freezes, still staring, but I keep coming.
After a moment, it scampers away, down the other side of the mesa.
I stop. Then I turn and walk back to Alice. I look at her for a moment.
Then I take a running jump off the edge of the mesa. In three pinwheeling bounds, I make it down, a cascade of rocks and dirt washing down behind me.
The stereo is off when I climb back into the passenger seat. Zoey is resting her forehead on the steering wheel.
I reach over and turn the key myself. The camper starts right up.
Zoey raises up and looks at me. I smile at her.
"Do you think she's in a better place?" Zoey asks.
"I really do," I tell her.
"We're here," Zoey says. I feel the camper stop, and I hear Yesenia go out the passenger door. I listen as she fumbles with some kind of latch.
It's after daybreak, so I'm lying in bed with the divider drawn. Marcella is in here with me. She's snoring heavily. I hear a gate slide open, and the camper jerks forward onto gravel. Then it rolls a little more and the heat in my eyes fades some. We're under some kind of roof.
I slide the divider back just as Yesenia comes in the door of the camper.
"Wait here," I say. I open one of the cubbies next to the bed and pull out one of Elmore's hats, a canvas drover hat with a wide brim.
"You look funny in a cowboy hat," Yesenia says.
"Find me some sunglasses," I tell her.
"Here," says Zoey, taking her shades off and handing them to Yesenia, who brings them to me.
Even the small bits of sunlight bleeding in around the edges of the window-curtains is enough to turn everything flat and fuzzy for me, sapping all color. I have to squint. I'm nearly blinded. But I can hear something. I smell something, too.
I step out of the camper slowly. We're in a high-ceilinged carport just off the garage. We're shaded but the glare from the open entrance is searing, even with Zoey's shades.
I walk slowly towards the fiery light. Then I peek around the corner with one eye, keeping the other closed. The house is on the other side of the two-door garage. But the far garage door is open.
I slip into the garage. The open half is empty, but the other half has an ancient pickup truck parked in it. I try the door that leads into the house. It's unlocked.
Now I'm in the kitchen. There are dishes in the sink and pizza boxes on the counter. The trash can is overflowing with beer bottles and soda cans.
I step through the kitchen into the living room.
The TV is on, but the sound is turned down. The shades on the patio door are drawn, but there's more than enough light for me to see four people, all asleep. A couple on the couch, a fat black guy in the recliner, and another guy -- shirtless and muscular -- on the loveseat.
I move past them into the hall.
Only one of the bedrooms is occupied. The master bedroom. The near side of the bed has a girl sleeping under a sheet, on her side with another pillow held on top of her head, using it to drown out the guy next to her. He's big, even more muscular than the guy on the loveseat, and he's on his stomach, naked and snoring.
I go further into the bedroom. I see a gun sitting on the nightstand on the guy's side.
I consider leaving. But the girl. The girl smells intoxicating. I kneel and breathe in.
She's pregnant. Her belly is swollen. She is sweetly, deliciously pregnant.
I strike. I get her neck just below the edge of the pillow. She tastes wonderful. She gives the slightest jerk as I drink, and then she moans.
The snoring stops. The guy is starting to stir. I lift up from the girl, reach over with my left hand, and snap the guy's neck.
Then I go back to feeding on the girl.
That first taste of someone is exquisite. Especially if they're pregnant.
I decide not to take her with me. The pregnancy would be complicated. If it even lasted. And what would I do if, by some miracle, she was able to give birth?
I drain her without even getting a look at her face.
Back in the living room, I start to slip away through the kitchen, but I stop.
I quickly snap the necks of the four sleepers. The fat guy's eyes open as he dies, the breath gurgling out of him, but the other three just deflate as I sever their spinal cords.
I stack all 6 bodies in the bed of the pickup truck and throw a tarp over them.
In the master bedroom, I go into the walk-in closet. It's been trashed. I kick clothes and shoes and boxes out of the way to get to the gun safe, which is hanging open, with nothing in it but a shotgun and a few boxes of ammo.
Despite the sunlight, I take the time to close the garage.
In the camper, I say, "We can't stay here."
Note: Chapters 1-4 are here. Chapter 5 is here. Chapter 6 is here. Chapter 9 & 10 are here.
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