55 - All Roads Lead to One Place

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The road was preternaturally dark. It looked like the power had been cut throughout the neighborhood. Windows lay dark and curtained. Gas station signs stood as vacant letters. Street lights, snuffed out, stood as ghostly pillars, steel-gray giants that lined the road without providing illumination. Overhead, even the stars had been dampened by thick clouds rolling in. The only light was the occasional crackle of lightning high in the clouds, flickering between them, providing dim glances at their puffy gray sides and the shadowy outlines of things below.

From the truck, there was only the beam of the headlights, and even that seemed muted by the ever-thickening fog that closed around it. 

A dark shape moved within the shadows, its body tangled with the fog. Nat's eyes strayed toward it, and the truck drifted sideways, following her gaze. The tires hit the corrugated concrete at the edge of the street, and she jerked the wheel, swerving back onto the road. She forced her eyes to stay focused on the path ahead, watching the hound only from her periphery as she gunned the engine, jolting forward to catch up with its looming, distant bulk. 

It had grown enormous, and in the intermittent flashes of light overhead, she could make out the shape of its shadowy head, the fiery glow of its crimson eye on level with the passenger window. It ran, rolling with the fog, bringing a blanket of darkness at its side, and Nat kept her foot on the gas and steadily rolled forward, desperate to keep up.

The pain in Nat's shoulder kept her awake, or else she would have thought that she had driven into a dream. Her hands ached from their white-knuckle grip on the wheel. The road flashed ahead of her, the center lines fading together in an orange blur; the world outside whipped past at alarming speed. The truck's engine let out a whine of protest, the RPM needle creeping into the orange danger zone, but she kept her foot flat to the floor, urging it to ever greater speeds. 

I have to beat it there.

I have to get there before the dog does.

There's still a chance, if only I can get there first. 

The nose of the truck broke through the wall of fog, and for the briefest of moments, the night was clear. Hope flared in her chest light a candle lit in the darkness. 

The roads were blissfully empty, a quiet town with its streets rolled up and shades drawn against the late night. Nat was grateful for it as she pinned down the gas pedal, watching the speedometer of Kyle's pickup creep steadily upward, quivering as it approached its limits. The dog kept pace, impossibly, pulled ahead and began to vanish into the darkness. The fog swirled around his retreating form, his legs and tail fading into the night as if made entirely of shadow.

The candle of hope went cold, snuffed out by the smothering darkness. 

But she knew, at last, where he was headed. It was so obvious -- so painfully fitting, so tragically inevitable -- that she could hardly believe she hadn't known it immediately. 

The patch of desert near Matthew Cook's house. The place where she had once attempted to leave the hound behind, only to come home and find him there waiting once more.

There was the van pulled off to one side of the road, lopsided and parked halfway into the soft earth of the empty lot. The headlights were still on, angled uphill toward a windswept shelf of stone and brush. Ahead, Nat could make out two dark shapes, illuminated in the artificial spotlights of the van's headlamps: A tall figure, holding something bulky and square in her hand, and a smaller figure, struggling to break free of her grasp.

Behind them, circling ever closer, was a shadow with four legs and two eyes that shone like fire. 

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