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then we'll be back on the road

The response was immediate. The rocks and the earth that had surrounded him began to push down on Shadow, squeezed him so hard that the last ounce of air in his lungs was crushed out of him. The pressure became pain, pushing him on every side. He reached the zenith of pain and hung there, cresting, knowing that he could take no more, at that moment the spasm eased and Shadow could breathe again. The light above him had grown larger.

He was being pushed toward the surface.

As the next earth-spasm hit, Shadow tried to ride with it. This time he felt himself being pushed upward.

The pain, on that last awful contraction, was impossible to believe, as he felt himself being squeezed, crushed, and pushed through an unyielding rock gap, his bones shattering, his flesh becoming something shapeless. As his mouth and ruined head cleared the hole he began to scream, in fear and pain.

He wondered, as he screamed, whether, back in the waking world, he was also screaming-if he was screaming in his sleep back on the darkened bus.

And as that final spasm ended Shadow was on the ground, his fingers clutching the red earth.

He pulled himself into a sitting position, wiped the earth from his face with his hand and looked up at the sky. It was twilight, a long, purple twilight, and the stars were coming out, one by one, stars so much brighter and more vivid than any stars he had ever seen or imagined.

"Soon," said the crackling voice of the flame, coming from behind him, "they will fall. Soon they will fall and the star people will meet the earth people. There will be heroes among them, and men who will slay monsters and bring knowledge, but none of them will be gods. This is a poor place for gods."

A blast of air, shocking in its coldness, touched his face. It was like being doused in ice water. He could hear the driver's voice saying that they were in Pinewood, "anyone who needs a cigarette or wants to stretch their legs, we'll be stopping here for ten minutes,."

Shadow stumbled off the bus. They were parked outside another rural gas station, almost identical to the one they had left. The driver was helping a couple of teenage girls onto the bus, putting their suitcases away in the luggage compartment.

"Hey," the driver said, when she saw Shadow. "You're getting off at Lakeside, right?"

Shadow agreed, sleepily, that he was.

"Heck, that's a good town," said the bus driver. "I think sometimes that if I were just going to pack it all in, I'd move to Lakeside. Prettiest town I've ever seen. You've lived there long?"


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