I had it. So many times I had it and it slipped away at the last second, dodging up onto the sidewalk or putting on a quick burst of speed. I had it by the supermarket, I had it crossing the highway, I had it by the burned crisp of the McDonald's. Rivers poured red down the Road, yesterday's storm following gravity along the asphalt and through the gutters. At the gas station I came so close I almost kissed its hind end, but the drumbeater slipped out of my grip and the bear pulled ahead. The vocals howled. I howled with them. The woods closed around us once again. I leaned over the wheel, panting, moaning, my heart the bass, the bass my heart. BOOM, BOOM, BOOM. The van fishtailed around every curve and the bear stayed always just out of reach.

It went like that until the song ended.

The sky was violet to the east and starlit to the west. To the south there was no sky at all, only fog, and below the looming redness yawned the mouth of the Beast. It was wider than imagination, and deeper than despair. I glimpsed it first from the woods and the sight of it through the trees, their bones caught between its colossal jaws, stole my breath. For a few seconds, I forgot all about the chase. I drifted in silence. The bear disappeared around the upcoming bend. I would not see it again on the Road.

Not this road, at least.

I emerged from the woods and, stretching across the horizon, was a cliff. Directly in front of me, the lip of the cliff was bumpy and black.

The lip was not a lip.

It was a tongue.

The van bounced up onto it, and I felt the tires sink like they were riding in thick mud. At the edge, I pulled the emergency brake. Falling away into the fog below lay the longest and steepest and softest ramp in the world. Perhaps in any world. The tongue was no more than thirty feet wide, skinny in proportion to the mouth. And yes, it was backwards, as backwards as it was unbelievable, as unbelievable and unthinkable as the face buried beneath Honaw. To either side of the tongue stood mountains, rows and rows of mountains, jagged and white and so slippery not even the fog stuck to them. They jutted sideways from dark red flesh, their peaks curled like hooks, their ranks fading to pale shadows in the distance.

The bear was a hundred yards down the tongue. A football field's length.

I watched it run.

I thought of the blanket that had been thrown over my body. How long had it taken my friends to hide me from the bear? A second? Two? How much had those seconds cost them? I reached over and picked up the milk jug. Nip had filled the tank at the mine just like Ash asked, and he had carried what was left of the gas to the front seat with him. I took off the cap. A sweet dark smell perfumed around my face. The smell was soaked in my pants, too, and in the back of the van. Carl reached and reached for me. He had eaten more than his fill, had filled his body up most of the way, but not all.

Not quite.

I took the package of PETN from my pocket and stuffed it into his wide-open mouth. His fingernails peeled my arm open as easily as gift wrap. I didn't feel a thing. All I felt was my head pounding and my legs aching and my heart doing both at once.

"You know what the trick is?" I said. "To giving a hit?"

I splashed gasoline on his face. On the backseat. I took a burning swig and emptied the rest of the jug between my knees, onto the floor. Then I jammed the drumbeater against the gas pedal and locked it there, the stick wedged against my seat. Smoke wisped from the van's battered hood. Breath stirred deep within the mouth.

"You can't be scared. No." I squeezed the emergency brake, tension knotting my forearm, hardening my stomach. "No."

The engine howled like something caged. Like a beast.

I released it.

Ash's van rocketed over the edge, and the world flipped on its axis. Momentum shoved me up and back. I fought it. I leaned forward, I leaned down, my butt lifted off the seat, my hands tight on the wheel. Fog blew against the windshield. Far below I made out the brown, running form of the bear. It looked no bigger than a mite.

"You have to feel the hit before the hit."

The tires chewed up tongue and spit out raw, wet velocity. Red sky filled the rearview mirror.

"You have to feel it in your bones, that impact."

Bone glistened all around me. I saw whole buildings splintered against mountainous teeth. I saw crumbled sidewalks and basketball hoops and dead grass, dead trees, mud on their roots. I saw rooms turned inside out, desks with chairs still attached to them. I saw a library of soggy books. I saw cars smashed into bloody pieces. I saw children and teachers clinging to gums like plaque, their bodies too broken to move but moving anyway. I saw pain. Everywhere, undying, pain.

I screamed.

"And you have to want it!"

The needle maxed out on the speedometer. The van went faster. Down into the swirling fog, down into the gathering breath, down into the black hole of the Beast's throat. The headlights burned red. The wheel rattled in my grip. I reached into my pocket and pulled out Billy's lighter.

"Need it!"

The spark became a flame. I let the flame go and it became many flames, leaping up my legs from the floor. As the sky closed off around me, a bright orange glow filled the van and revealed the bear. It had grown. Its jaws stretched thirty feet wide. I held up my hand in surprise and against the darkness of the bear's mouth, I noticed something missing from my middle finger. Then all was swallowed in blazing white fire.

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