NaNoWriMo Day 16

In a ditch, was where he came to himself. A narrow, deep cement-lined channel obscured and obscuring his view of anything but a cold blue sky as he lay on his back. Phil Warner was covered in ache and full of soreness, scrapes, blisters, and the cut on his arm to add variety. He was sweaty, bloody, dazed, thoroughly disoriented, and beginning to realize just how hungry he was.

He fished his cell phone out of his hip pocket with his left hand, wincing all the while he did it. The case was heavily battered and the screen had a hairline crack in it, but it was still usable at least to tell time. Hours had gone by, and it wouldn’t be too long until the sun went down.

Good, you’re awake.

“Ah, hell.” Phil stiffly and carefully pulled himself up into a sitting position and tried to figure out where he was.

Not too far from your office. It’s mostly open ground near the road, of course, and I don’t know the territory. I managed about a mile and a half, I think, of distance. Didn’t get seen doing it, which is the main thing. Found this place, and judged it’d do for us till you were rested some.

“Guess that means it wasn’t all a nightmare.” Phil closed his eyes again and tried to push the throbbing signals of his body away for a minute and think.

Nope. All real.

“Well, shit,” Phil said philosophically.

Things could be a damn sight worse. A goddamn sight worse. I dunno what that thing was that came for you, some creature of Haverly’s no doubt, but whatever it was it didn’t take to bullets.

“So you killed it?”

Said things could be worse, not that we were sitting pretty on a hill of fortune.

“Man, I don’t even know what that means. So this thing survived getting pumped full of enough bullets to kill Fiddy and that’s not a worst-case scenario. I mean, put yourself in my shows for a minute, this is some serious bullshit. It’s not just me being crazy here, I mean this is objectively fucked.”

Can’t argue. But you’re alive. Thing like that, devil right out of Hell or near enough to it, it comes to kill you and shows just how good it is at killing, and when the dust settles you’re alive and all in one piece. And you showed some nerve, which is good because that’s the only thing you’ve got, and you’ll need plenty of it.

“So what next? Wait, first off, where am I?”

I figured it to be an irrigation ditch or similar. Pretty near due northwest from where we started when that thing went down, and as I said about a mile and a half or so of distance. Not sure how near that is to how the crow would fly it, though. I was cutting back and forth a bit. Found this here, judged it to be pretty well out of the way enough to lay low in until nightfall. Saw signs of a vagrant camp or something a ways up that way, but not fresh, and we’ve got space enough from it I think.

“Great. I’m in a hobo ditch in the middle of nowhere. This is an awesome place to recuperate in.”

I made sure your arm was done bleeding, and nothing else seemed notable.

“Yeah, well, it still all hurts like a barrel of motherfuckers.” Phil took a quick inventory. Clothes, mostly torn, bloody, muddy, or pissed-in. Cell phone, clobbered. Gun, stolen from a mugger and currently empty. Cross, slightly misshapen by mishap and stained a little with own blood. Wallet, containing two dollars and a Wells Fargo Visa debit card attached to a checking account with $132.71 in it. Better than nothing.

“Ok, if we’re done playing cowboys and indians it’s time to figure out a plan.”

Head west.

“Yeah, that’s an objective, not a plan. Step one here is gonna have to be getting some aspirin and some pants that don’t smell like piss. I’m pretty sure there’s a Wal-Mart not too far from here, but it’s still gonna be a bitch of a walk. After that, I dunno. Head back to the apartment.”

Gonna be nothing for you there. Based on what came for you at work, these seem like the kind to burn your whole life to the ground.

“Yeah, well, we’ll see.”

Phil staggered upright, and began putting one foot in front of another.

He kept doing that for a while.

*

This is a pretty damned awful place.

“They don’t let bloody guys who’ve pissed themselves into nice places. Shut up.”

Phil didn’t care too much that he seemed to be muttering to himself in public. He was past any kind of self-consciousness. He was in an echoing fluorescent pit, and didn’t disagree with anything Branson had to say about it, but he had things to do here.

Right now, he was washing himself a little in the men’s room up front of the store, getting the blood and such off his face and hands as best he could. He also rinsed out the cut on his arm as best he could, and made a note to get some peroxide or something.

The men who entered the restroom while he was at it gave him a pretty wide berth. Not surprising. He’d have stepped pretty damn wide around himself had he seen someone so obviously fucked up a week before. He looked and smelled like a homeless drunk.

He rolled with that persona as he did his shopping. Cheap jeans, T-shirt, jacket, fresh underwear and socks, and then the most serious pain pills he could find over the counter in the pharmacy, as well as disinfectant and bandages. He ignored the dubious expression on the face of the tired-looking young cashier, and went back into the mens’ room, this time to change. He needed a shower pretty bad, but clean clothes were a big help. He then wrapped up his arm and exceeded the recommended dosage on his pills.

When he came out of the bathroom, old clothes left behind in the trash, he felt moderately better, and after he had one of everything on the dollar menu of the McDonalds at the front of the store, he felt downright human.

This ain’t beef.

“Told you to shut up. We’re in public, looking crazy isn’t going to do me any favors here.”

I dunno what they put in this, or whether it used to be part of a cow or not, but I’m tasting it same as you are, and it ain’t anything like beef.

“Maybe not, but it’s here, it’s a dollar, and it’s hitting the spot. Explain to me why I’m supposed to go west.”

That’s where I’m buried. And I’ve given this a lot of thought, now, there’s some things you’re going to need there.

“Like what?”

From what I’ve heard, strongest magic there is is bone magic. Ancestor’s bones, maybe that’s something you could make use of. But there’s also my gun.

“Your gun.”

I shoved it in the old wizard’s belly and pulled the trigger. It took its toll on him then. It got his blood all over it. Blood’s almost as strong as bone. I reckon if there’s any weapon you can find that will settle this whole business, it’s the one.

“It’s a hundred-fifty-year-old pistol that’s been buried in the desert next to a corpse for most of that time. I’m not an expert, but I don’t figure that’ll do us much good.”

Old can be mended. Rusty can be cleaned. You need this gun.

“If you say so. So the plan is I go out into the desert, dig up your bones, get this old-ass gun, shine it up, and then use it to shoot this ghost?” Phil heard the old woman behind him suddenly stop slurping at her straw, so he turned around and gave her a “what the fuck are you looking at” look to teach her not to eavesdrop. She looked pretty horrified.

That’ll do for starters.

“Then first I need to figure out how to get home. Maybe I should be talking to the police.”

No. Law can’t help. Only get in your way.

“Says the outlaw. Well, my car’s about three four miles away on the other side of a busy road with 60-mile-per-hour traffic. Any thoughts there?”

Sounds like you’re the idea man in this outfit now.

“Fuck it, I’m calling a cab.”

Don’t forget where we stashed the gun. We’ll want that.

“Ok, ok. I’ll just try not to look too much like a crazy skulking bum retreiving a stolen gun from behind a Dumpster.”

Just do as best you can.

“Well, my phone’s low on battery, and it ain’t getting any darker. Guess it’ll be now.”

He retrieved the gun from where it had been stowed out round back of the Wal-Mart, in the lee of the big gray block of a building, where nobody went or even looked at unless they were taking a smoke break after parking a truck to be unloaded. He got it tucked away in the back of his pants and covered by the cheap jacket he’d bought, pretty well concealed. Then he went back to the front and called for a cab.

He tried to ignore Harry Branson’s desire for a cigarette while he waited. God, he was tired.

He was on the brink of dozing off for the whole duration of the cab ride. When he reached his apartment he was getting low on funds, and his eyes were no longer staying open. The cold shape of the gun at his back didn’t let him sleep, though.

Besides, any time he closed his eyes, he was starting to see things from earlier in the day, and that wasn’t doing him any favors.

He was at his door before remembering that his keys had been dropped on the asphalt when the cars started burning, and seemingly never retrieved.

Luckily, the door was unlocked.

Flip side to that was after he walked through it, he saw what was left of Amir, and knew he wasn’t likely to do much sleeping. Maybe never again.

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