21. Stick Figures

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As the van pulled uphill, the engine choked on its roar and gave a stuttering gasp. "Not now, no, no, not now." Billy pumped on the gas pedal. The tires slowed and brought us inching down into a stop. He slammed on the wheel, then sat back like he'd taken a hard one to the chin. "Why didn't you tell me, Ghost Girl?" he said. "Why didn't you tell me to check the goddamn tank?"

Ash stared at the back of his headrest. It might have been the most interesting headrest in the world, the way she stared at it.

"It's not her fault," said Nip.

Billy turned on him. "Then whose fault is it?"

"Yours?"

"Mine?"

Nip shrugged. "You were driving."

Billy ran his hands up the sides of his face, gripped his hair, and tugged on it so hard his scalp stretched.

"Careful," said Nip. "Or you'll end up bald."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"What it means."

Billy looked like he wanted to hop across the seat divider and ask Nip the question one more time, up close and personal. Instead he put on his hood, took the keys out of the ignition, and shoved open his door.

"Where are you going?" said Nip.

"To get gas. Where do you think?"

"Alone?"

Billy slammed the door, then opened Ash's and clicked off her seatbelt. "No, not alone. I'm not your errand boy. Okay, Ghost Girl. Up and at 'em." He guided her out, one hand under her arm, and looked across the seat at me. "That goes for you too, Legless. Get rolling."

I got rolling, but not until Nip had helped me down into Bitchmaster—and by helped, I mean he fumbled me like a football and dropped me into the seat. He pushed me around the van to Billy and Ash, whose body was slowly getting used to the idea of being upright again. We were parked in front of the coffee shop. It was as dark inside as their darkest roast.

"We're not too far from the supermarket." Billy motioned back down the Road. "They'll have spare gas jugs. You guys see that fuel truck decked out on the highway earlier? If it was leaving Honaw, it's a bust. But if it was on its way into town to fill up the gas station when it kicked over, jackpot. Don't know about you all, but I could really, really use one of those right now."

A dog yipped somewhere. A flag rustled limp against its pole. Otherwise it was silent as we moved downhill. Nip held onto Bitchmaster's handles, pulling back to keep momentum from stealing me off. Billy and Ash each walked alone. Around us the fog hung in rags, like a blanket left in the ocean until it was falling apart. Something about its incompleteness made it heavier than before, harder to swallow. There'd be a break from it for a breath or two, and the relief would make my lungs shudder, actually shudder. Then a swath of red would come along and my throat would close up like it was inhaling wet cotton balls.

I guess it was a good sign, me being able to feel this stuff, me being able to feel at all. Then again, my toes couldn't feel a thing and I'm pretty sure they were happier for it.

The supermarket teased us. It showed itself for an instant before retreating into a wide, looming shadow. Our movements echoed in the big emptiness of the parking lot. Halfway across, Ash slipped on the wet asphalt and went down hard. Nip ran to help her up, but she picked herself off the ground soundlessly and kept walking. A sliver of glass glittered among the cuts on her forearm. Seeing those cuts made the fingernail carvings on my chest and stomach tingle.

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