"Got to go potty," Shell reminded her,
shifting uncomfortably in his seat.
Anya checked the rearview mirror. Nothing but a blank
freeway receding into infinity. "Okay."
She hit her blinker. The rest stop exit appeared like a
gift, and she pulled off, headlights slicing the purple dusk in front of
the blue Taurus. "But we'll have to be quick, okay, sweetie?"
"Okay," Shell agreed placidly. His round
blond face was spectral in the green glow from the dashboard.
Anya's head hurt, both from a nagging headache and from
the goose egg under her hair. She'd hit the doorjamb hard, stunned for a
moment while the thing screeched, before Shell could drag her away.
Don't think about that. Concentrate on what you have in
front of you. She hit the brakes. "Good," she murmured, and
coasted to a stop.
Shell was almost out of the car before she could cut
the engine, and Anya sighed. Her eyes were hot and grainy, her entire body
aching with exhaustion, and she had only her car and a pile of clothes to
her name. Oh, and the coffeemaker.
The slight thunderous smell of smoke and fury in the
car didn't help her headache one bit.
The rest stop was set at the top of a green hill and
water rilled in a creek behind it. A concrete path zigzagged up the hill,
and the entire place was deserted. It was a good thing. Both she and Shell
were exhausted and grimy, dressed in odds and ends.
How am I going to feed and clothe us both this time?
She got out of the car and stretched, watching as Shell lumbered up the
hill, his huge shoulders hunched under his favorite Green Bay Packers
sweatshirt. He ducked into the men's bathroom, and Anya wearily started up
the hill herself, her zoris flapping against the concrete. Wet grass
slipped under her feet until she reached the next strip of concrete.
Shell saved me. If it hadn't been for the roof caving
in, we wouldn't have gotten away. Anya shivered. The sky was overcast,
chill November night falling like a soft cloud. She smelled smoke and
wrinkled her nose—it was the scent of her life burning down. Again.
How many times am I going to have to do this? This is
the fourth time we've had something attack us, the third time we've been
driven out of a city.
She washed her face in the metal sink. There were no
paper towels. That was all right. The chill would help keep her awake.
Anya didn't dare look into the slice of scratched metal serving as a
mirror, either. She came out into the gathering dusk to find Shell waiting
for her, his sleepy blue eyes wide and fearful.
"Anya." His voice trembled. "I was
Me too. But I can't show it or you'll be even more
upset. "I know, buddy. Let's go, okay?"
"Okay. Where are we sleeping, Anya? I'm
For a single moment she let herself feel the
bitterness. How on earth should I know? I just had my house burned down
and my life destroyed by a big, tall fiery shadow nobody else can see. How
am I supposed to make this better?
Guilt rose sharp and bitter inside her throat. She
straightened her shoulders, taking an accustomed weight of guilt and
responsibility. "I know you're tired, buddy. I'm sleepy too. We'll
stop in the next city and find a place to sleep, and I'll have to get a
job. You'll have to be a very good boy, Shell. All right?"
"Okay, Anya." He tromped back down the hill,
almost glowing with happiness. If she said it was going to be all right,
it was going to be all right. After all, Anya was his protector, and she
had always found them food and shelter before.
I'm going to have to use the Persuasion again. If I
don't, we'll starve. Anya picked her way carefully down the hill. I
wish I didn't have to. Why is this happening to me?
She knew why. Anya could do things other people
couldn't; sense things other people couldn't. She was, in the truest sense
of the word, psychic. And she had a sneaking suspicion that was why the
huge hairy and shadowy things were after her. Not to mention the fanged
things, or the clawed things, or the winged things…
I must be insane. I hope I'm insane. I'm wishing I’m
insane. Isn't that crazy?
She heaved a sigh as she reached the bottom of the
hill. Shell had already folded himself into the car. Her zoris flapped as
she crossed to the driver's side, opened the door, and got in, rubbing at
her grainy eyes.
"We gonna go, Anya?" Shell asked.
"Sure. Just give me a minute, buddy. Okay?" Just
give me a minute to pull myself together and quit wishing I was batshit
"Okay." He waited. "I sure hope they
don't follow us."
"I hope so too, Shell. I don't know how many more
times I can do this."
"It'll be okay, Anya."
He promptly fell asleep before she pulled back out onto
the freeway. The next big town—Santiago City—was fourteen miles away.
It was as good a place as any. After all, it wasn't
like they had anywhere else to go.