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As One in the World

No coverage, not even one bar. The battery was dying anyway. It was still daytime. And overcast, with the sky a dull grey. There was no way to tell the time with such limited light, much less direction. A two-lane blacktop road snaked up into the horizon and disappeared into some trees to the west. It also meandered toward lumpy hills, then vanished to the east. A two-stroke chainsaw sounded in the distance. He looked over the roof of the car. She stood at the edge of the road, stretching with her back to him, looking far more at peace with being stranded than he felt. Two ways to go, with a dead battery, no bars, and nobody left to blame.

Pain snaked up his ankle and brought his attention out of the past. Javec pulled his foot back from the rock he’d stubbed his toe against. As he shook away the residual pain, Javec looked around. He no longer heard a chainsaw, no longer saw a vehicle, and no longer needed a cellphone. Gas had gone long ago. He didn’t have the knowledge or ability to pump more. Or even to refine it, should he find himself in a place that had crude oil. There was no electricity to charge a phone with and no one to call. To say he’d grown used to this would be a lie. How did one grow habituated to being alone? Not alone by choice, or alone by necessity, or even alone by militant or alien forces. Alone by fate, you might say, and a fate that clearly despised him.

Fortune did not always favor the bold because, if it did, he wouldn’t be so alone. He’d boldly made promises he’d been unable to keep. He’d boldly reassured everyone that “all will right itself” when the first sign of trouble reared its cruel head. He’d boldly clung to his own obstinate optimism when the mortality rates rose, the resources depleted, and the remaining dredges of normalcy in life slipped away. No, he was proof that sometimes being bold meant being stupid. That fortune was a force that favored whomever she damn well pleased. His boldness had been his hubris. Now he grew accustomed to a life of uninterrupted solitude.

The months (or was it years?) of solitary existence since “the last days” had not been kind to him. Shaggy and unkempt, his hair fell about his bearded and weathered face like a noisome cloud. Shielding him from the elements and plastering against his face as snakey tendrils shining brightly with oil and sweat. His clothes were a mismatch hodge-podge of things he’d gleaned from humanity’s leftovers. No longer did he need to have designer clothing tailored to his form; he was lucky now if he didn’t have holes in what he found. Javec did always keep his nails clipped because it hurt like hell when they broke off. And he was especially vigilant as once an infection set in from the muck that had gotten crusted underneath, near the nailbed, and he’d nearly had to amputate his own finger.
At one time, Javec had been handsome. His body svelte and attractive, his charisma effervescent and alluring. His charm had kept his bed warm with the bodies of beautiful women, though his heart only ever had room for his own accomplishments. It had suffered from atrophy then as much as other areas of his body suffered from it now. What muscles remained attached to his frame now were there by necessity. All softness of a privileged life blasted away by the hell he created and in which he now sought survival.

He couldn’t remember now when he hadn’t hallucinated the sound of his name being called. Or thought he’d glimpsed a fellow bipedal mass moving amongst the brambles that’d grown around evidence that once there’d been many where there was now one. Javec craved the touch of another, as a desert wanderer might crave water. His searching was as much for companionship as it was for sustenance. He hadn’t even the comfort of the cry of a bird. Or the rustle of a lizard in the underbrush. All was silent, save for when winds tore over the abandoned landscape and thrashed together his only companions: the trees.

Today was the same as any other. His pack upon his back, walking stick in hand, Javec trudged forward into the unknown. He always walked towards the hazy horizon barely glimpsed through the trees. Through the light from a dulled sun, he moved. His shoulders held the stiffness of the night. His knees as well. But as the morning progressed, Javec felt his joints release their angst against his hard life.

He could stop his aimless wanderings and seek to build a shelter, but what was the point? Too quickly, he ran out of resources when he stayed in one area for longer than a fortnight. The only available food sources now were whatever was still edible among the processed foods of yesteryear or the nuts, berries, roots, and other such items that humans had never attempted to control or cultivate. Animal or crop: anything that his inventions had influenced were now obliterated, and many of their distant cousins too; yet, the Earth was slowly healing from his trespasses. While it provided enough to allow him to tread upon his eventual grave, it was never in surplus.

Javec’s gaze hardened. He stopped at the edge of the towering sentinels he considered condemnatory companions. The breeze hissing through their branches was a constant reminder of his failures. There before him, in a small glade, was a grey, dilapidated, and seemingly devoid of life building. He rapped his walking stick against a nearby rock. Once. Twice. Three times. And waited. Nothing. He had expected nothing, but it was a habit. The latent hope, the obsessive craving he tried to keep buried, of finding another, any other in this world. It would surface unbidden any time he came across something that reminded him of life before his sins had destroyed them all.

Another habit he had yet to break, and that had formed in the first weeks of his forced seclusion, was his caution. At the same time, he hoped to reunite with others, he also feared the meeting. What if they turned out to be all wrong? Or what if he was the one all wrong? He’d been the wrong one before, and that was why he was alone. What if the only way he could survive was to be alone? It was with these doubts and fears that he approached the remaining semblance of humanity. Hope battled doubt, and curiosity throbbed above them both.

He crossed an undulating, veil-like watercourse. It was still moist from rain and rendered the ground thick with black mud. He used his walking stick to test before he stepped. He did not relish the slurch and slurp and threat of losing yet another boot. Finally, the building was within reach. With more than a little hesitation shivering through his spine, Javec stepped onto the paved area just outside the entrance and pushed open the barely hinged door.

His silhouette lorded over the leftovers of unknown lives. He moved inside, walking stick always first to test the integrity of the floor. Ostentatiously cheery figurines sat dustily atop windowsills. The walls may have once been a bright yellow, but they were now a strange greenish brown from the mold. The table in the center of the room sagged upon rotting legs. Some of its contents spilled to the floor from its cockeyed angle.

He didn’t need to explore the rest of the building to know that the other rooms looked similar. He’d seen such things before: chairs overturned as if left in haste; books opened to the last adventure read; musical instruments decaying with sheet music strewn around; closets left open with outfits still lying on the bed; mementos gathered to be packed away and then left behind; useless technology littering the now vacant rooms. All evidence against him in the court of the universe. He now walked among the ghosts of those who had every right to accuse him of their murder.

Curiosity and necessity won out over his distaste, and Javec explored the rest of the building, looking for anything that could be of use in his aimless journey. The stairs leading to the second floor were impassable, and that left only a few rooms aside from the kitchen to explore. In the first few months, he'd taken the time to look at the pictures left behind, trying to imagine what sort of people the prior occupants had been. But now he stalwartly ignored any crusted pictures still hanging on the walls, or the albums sitting unopened on half-broken tables. He had no more interest in being haunted by their innocently smiling faces. They already plagued him in his sleep, which seek out the torture of their images while awake?

When Javec made it to the backdoor, he delayed. An item sitting propped against doorpost caught his eye. Bending, Javec retrieved the item: a small, brown teddy bear.  Something about the way he picked up the lost toy triggered a hidden device. Without warning, his ears filled with human voices. His shock loosened his hold and the bear, unknowing of its influence over Javec, fell back to the ground. A trio of voices—two male and one female—garbled with decay, sounded from a prerecording inside its stuffings. The voices were of a mother sending love and hugs. A grandfather encouraging the recipient to smile no matter what. And an uncle reminding the recipient to look on the bright side. They tumbled over one another until the bear lay silent again, blankly staring up at Javec from the ground.

Looking past the fallen bear, Javec tracked age-old footprints in the thick peat of the glade just outside the backdoor. There were four pairs: three adult-sized and one child. He picked up the bear and trembled with an indescribable feeling before setting off in the same direction as the footprints. There was a fresh sense of urgency in his gait. No longer did he set his stick on the ground and lean into it for each step like the ancient beggars of legend. Now he stood straight, his stick barely touching the ground, as he hurried after the ghosts.

Javec was upon a hidden stream and into it before he could cry out. Old shrubs had obscured his view of the water beneath the mossy banks. His focus on his new companion and its ghostly owner had dulled his senses to the telltale sounds of water flowing over rocks. Javec scrambled through the stream and up the opposite bank. He spared no backward glance at the condemning building.

As he journeyed that day, and into the days after, Javec saw evidence that there had been passersby before him. The old trail he now tracked had been made by this quartet of individuals. Broken branches with bits of cloth or string left on them; the charred remains of campfires with empty cans strewn about; and the reoccurring footprints. Javec felt hope surge through his veins. It was the first he’d felt in a what seemed a lifetime, and this hope led him to press the device within the teddy bear. He meant not to press it often, continually scared that they too, these welcomed voices of strangers, would disappear. But he was desperate for the contact, and he pressed it again and again. And again.

For a time, he could do nothing but breathe slowly while he stared at his dull reflection in coal-black eyes. He’d never had a family and had been raised more by technology than parents. He’d had a home, or at least a place to sleep and eat, but not home in the traditional sense. He had never had the warmth and affection that would lead a person to create such a toy for another. And as an adult, he had not attempted to manufacture such a home or family. Yet, he now had a nostalgia for something that had never existed; he mourned the loss of that which he’d never had. And he yearned more than ever to find ANOTHER.

This sentimental connection to a life he’d never led and didn’t deserve, was partly why, when he came upon another encampment and the four pairs of footprints became three, he wept. Javec mourned the loss as if it’d been his own family member to die. There was no telling where the grave might be if there even was one. He could sit around the long-dormant campfire ashes and ponder the fate of the lost one (illness, accident, desperate cannibalism) or he could keep on looking for the others. Pressing the device and hearing the voices he now claimed as his own kin, Javec decided upon optimism and pressed onward.

It was days into his trip when he got to the river. Javec hated crossing rivers. Hated the wet socks sloshing around in wet boots, the musty smell of wet clothes, and the chill that crept into his bones from the wet everything. He also lost things in river crossings. Once, at the worst crossing yet, he’d lost his whole pack. He had spent about two days looking downstream for it. Much too invested in his collection of survival gear and mementos of humanity to bear giving it up to fate. Fate had already been a bitch and taken away everything else, so she could do without his pack.

Swallowing any grumbling that would be a waste of precious energy, Javec lashed his supplies together, double-checking that all was secure. With his walking stick testing footholds in one hand, he held the teddy bear high above his head in the other. The murky river, swollen from spring rains and filled with runoff silt, did much in disguising solid footholds. The water was cold. Like icy needles piercing his skin through his clothing as it rushed past. The sudden bone-deep cold crept up his body until it reached his waist. Javec grimaced. He shoved his walking stick down into the flood in front of him, his movements strong and violent.

Finding nothing to rest the end of his stick on, Javec tipped forward and lost his balance. The initial submersion punched his breath away, and he came back up sputtering. He shook the water out of his hair and looked around. To his horror, he saw the teddy bear looking at him with its merciless black eyes. It was but a moment in front of him before it drifted away on the current. He cried out and threw himself after it. He’d be damned if he let fate have this bear from him too.

After much fighting against the current, earning new bruises and cuts from fallen logs and sharp rocks, Javec drew himself out of the river. He lay on his side on the cool rocks with an exhausted, though triumphant, spirit. Clutched with white-knuckled fingers was the teddy bear, the eyes now staring at him with what he felt to be gratitude. Javec coughed the river out from his lungs and pulled the bear closer to his chest. As he hugged it, he triggered the device. The voices were garbled now from water damage and some words were erased altogether, nevertheless, his adopted family spoke to him and he felt momentary peace.

Javec made camp some distance from the river. Tomorrow he would track his way back up the river, hoping to find the old trail again. He placed the teddy bear in the seat of honor closest to the fire once he had it lit and sat nearby. As day darkened into night and the firelight began its dance upon the bear’s sodden features, Javec allowed his mind to travel backward in time. He thought of another creature, of a sort, for whom he SHOULD have been willing to sacrifice.

He hadn’t meant to let her in so close to either his work or his heart. They'd begun the affair because his bed had demanded another warm and beautiful body while he’d been on his upward climb in the science and pharmaceutical worlds. Brilliant on her own, Enyd could have had any man, and yet she’d chosen him. Even when discoveries that countered his claims for success, and evidence piled up against him, showing that his so-called medical cures and agricultural sensations were more death sentences than miracles, Enyd had remained by him.

It had been her idea, their last road trip to the rural town she'd claimed to know well. A chance to get away from the political hubbub brewing around reports of his creations being but illusions. Enyd had promised the town would be the perfect place to blend in, but had never explained how she’d had such a knowledge of its features. It just so happened the town in question was a few miles off the craggy coast where one of his “miracles” had morphed into a nightmare. When he let her know that they would have to keep a low-profile, for already death threats had come his way, Enyd had argued that there wasn’t a better time than during the annual Arbor Day festival to make an appearance. It would help win back loyalty and trust if anyone did recognize him.

The stocks in his company depended on investment and with increasing loss of popularity from his consumers, Javec had recognized he’d face eventual economic ruination. It had only been after a lengthy meeting with his financial advisors, with the lab results sitting on the tables in front of them, that he’d agreed to Enyd’s suggestion. He’d needed to travel there anyway, to see for himself what was happening, hoping there was someone or something else to blame. It seemed Javec had only a few options on his own, and Enyd’s idea looked like a gateway to others.

They only walked about a half-mile away from his car when an old El Dorado came speeding up to stop beside them. The driver greeted him cordially but turned warmer treatment to Enyd. His eyes lighting up with what looked to be recognition. They were in luck; he was a mechanic and was about to head into town for the Arbor Day festival. Enyd asked the mechanic for a ride, and it was happily given. On the ride into town, the mechanic struck up a pleasant conversation. Enyd and the mechanic spoke as if they were old friends, though too shy to let Javec know. It made him feel that in another life they might have been neighbors, or perhaps even more. It was amiable enough still, listening to them trade stories of the ‘good old days.’ At least until the mechanic mentioned the mortality rates of the livestock. Increased infant birth defects. The lower crop harvest. Javec faked a sneeze, trying to change the subject. Enyd glanced at him and patted his hand. She then directed the mechanic’s attention elsewhere.

Javec shook his head and added another stick to the fire. Reaching over, he drew the bear close. Much like a mother monkey grooms her babe, Javec set about cleaning the teddy bear. He fell asleep next to the fire with the bear held against his chest. His dreams filled with the voices of the bear, intertwining with the voices of people he’d known and lost. When he woke the next morning, Enyd’s laughter was still dancing in his ears.

He did as he’d intended the night before and retraced his steps back up along the river. It took him a few hours of grid-like searching before he came again across the trail of three footprints. Only now, as had happened before, the three-pair dwindled into two, and Javec’s heart ached in unison with his battered body.

The days dragged on, as did Javec, ever traveling after the remaining duo of footprints. His hope lagged as with each passing day and repeated use of the device, the voices within the teddy bear garbled even more. Eventually, they would disappear altogether. He would then have his voice alone in all the world to listen to. And even then, he wondered if he still could speak. It’d been so long since he’d had a reason to speak. Aside from moaning, crying, and yelling in pain, Javec had not uttered a single comprehensible word since he’d last seen a living human. He now had the language of his supposed kin: all grunts and groans and growls.

After a restless night, Javec arose before the sun and wandered away from his camp. As had become his custom, the teddy bear was tied to his chest like a father might have tied his child. He ambled in the light’s direction, longing to see the sunrise in a way he hadn’t felt for some time. He’d lost near all pleasure in small things (sunrises, sunsets, etc). But his desire to share the sunrise with the bear moved him through the brambles. He pushed aside the last of the branches barring him from the early dregs of sunlight, and stopped. The trees standing guard at his back, Javec now stood in a rock-strewn clearing just shy of a steep escarpment.

Javec moved closer to the edge and took in his surroundings. First, all was dark. Mere shadows layered one upon another. Then everything took on a purplish-blue hue before morphing into softly defined pink lines. It was as everything was bathed in an orange glow, the sun jutting its form onto the horizon, that Javec’s stomach lurched. He felt the breath knocked out of him. He knew this place.

There, in that line of smaller trees, would have been telephone poles leading over the top of the hill. On his left, further past his vision, would be the coastline. On his right would roll hills that tumbled one into another before disappearing into the plains. Somewhere in the mass of trees below him would be a two-lane blacktop road snaking its way over the yonder hill, and it would come to the town he remembered. The town Enyd had taken him to. This was where he’d begun his fall. Or at least where he’d realized that the bottomless sensation he’d been living with in his gut was not because of his flight upward, but due to his downward spiral.

Javec reached for the bear and pulled it up to his tear-moistened face. He pressed the device. Nothing happened. He held the bear at eye level and pressed repeatedly. Nothing happened. Javec’s knees weakened, and he sank upon them. Desperately, he pressed as if doing chest compressions on the cotton-stuffed toy of a stranger. Javec’s ears met with nothing but the wind carrying his own cries back to him in a hollow echo.

He needn’t worry, Enyd assured him, as the mechanic dropped them off at a shop with an old payphone. The mechanic had told them that the cell towers were under repair after weather damage. Though electricity was growing unreliable, the mechanic said he had just the thing to charge the car battery, and the shopkeeper would be happy to charge up their phone using his generator. Everything would work out, as it should, Enyd declared with an easy smile and a casual hair toss. Javec kissed her cheek and allowed Enyd her enthusiastic optimism as they entered the shop.

She ingratiated herself to the shopkeeper while he maintained his distance. After meeting with his advisors and the perusal of the lab results that morning, Javec found himself less inclined towards small talk. What if the evidence was correct? What if his cures were causing this destruction? Could they avoid what they called ‘the inevitable’? He picked up the nearest magazine. An unflattering picture of his face splayed across the cover, with questioning bylines littering the margins. Even if he wanted to, he couldn’t find anyone else to blame. Yet, Javec still wondered if he could ever escape himself and this cursed legacy he’d created.

Javec’s heart felt a husk of what it had been as he staggered back into camp. He ate his breakfast but tasted nothing, a small favor considering the slop that’d become his standard fare. He went about the motions of breaking camp and packing away his life once more. He didn’t know if he had the stomach to keep on this path. Not now that he knew the general direction the footprints headed. But when he tried to envision himself abandoning this quest, and letting his newfound vigor for life to die out like the voices had died out in the bear, Javec shivered. He had to continue.

And continue he did. Down through the forest alongside the cliff and on through it until he got to the blacktop road. It was here that the pair of footprints grew more difficult to track. For a time it looked as if either the adult or the child would wander off the road into the muck alongside, only to hop back on again. As if they’d been playing a game of hopscotch. Javec believed he could almost hear their voices, this unknown adult and child. The adult fighting to keep some normalcy and hope together for the child. The child trying to reassure the adult that a harsh reality was an okay thing to swallow so long as they had each other.

The closer he got to the town, the more the teddy bear grew in weight. By the time Javec came to the outskirts of the now vacant town, the bear felt like an albatross around his neck. He was the mariner of the tale, he’d destroyed something good for his own benefit and everyone else had reaped the consequences of his actions. Not only that, but all the world had suffered because of his greed and arrogance.

His eyes surveyed the buildings from his vantage point on top of the hill. He didn’t see any outward signs of current inhabitation, but since this was where the footprints led, he would go further. Javec kept his eyes and ears open as he came to abandoned building after abandoned building. Normally, he would have taken the occasion to investigate each one of them. Always looking for supplies and sustenance. But today he did not. More intent upon finding, or the hope of finding, ANOTHER kept him too occupied to bother with such essential details.

Javec continued his wandering until he came to the town square. In the middle was the remnant of a town park. It was overgrown, with fountains cracked and crumbling beneath the brush. He turned in a circle, his eyes scanning what he could see of the town. He stared at the bare store windows until his eyes finally rested upon something of interest. He ambled over to the wall next to a shop door and studied a mural drawn in chalk there. It was a near-replica of the glade where he’d found the teddy bear. Drawn as fuzzy shapes were four figures: three adults and a small child. The teddy bear attached to his chest was also in the mural. Sitting alone at the forefront of the picture. As if the figures and house were blurry in the background because a “camera lens” was having trouble adjusting.

Seeing this as confirmation that two of the figures had made it to town, Javec felt renewed energy thrum inside him as he hurried into the shop. He repeated his search for over a dozen houses before the setting sun forced him to stop. He was so close, Javec imagined he could hear their voices echoing off the buildings in one street this way or that. Somehow, he kept himself from running ragged through the night in search of ghosts. He would face those in daylight. Javec camped next to the mural he'd found, curling up with his back against the wall, the drawn figures of the four humans easily seen in his peripherals when he turned his head to the side.

His frenzied search resumed at early light. Instead of finding his ghosts, Javec found more murals painted around town. Scenes of a quiet and foreign life. A life he wished he could live now. That he was desperate to live now. A life he’d denied himself when he’d pushed Enyd away. He’d been angry at her betrayal when she’d admitted to having first used her connection to him to find incriminating evidence. It had been her theory that he’d known all along that his cures and miracles were frauds. Only, she’d discovered that he’d been as fooled by his own arrogance as the rest of them, and that he hadn’t been the monster she’d at first thought. He’d thrown her out. Let her crawl back to wherever it was she’d come from. He’d done this even as he’d noticed the first signs of sickness creeping into her gaze. He’d closed his heart to sympathy and turned his back on her pleas for forgiveness.

Enyd had disappeared soon after that. Along with countless others in the time after. The damage was irreparable to the ecosystem, despite his promises to reverse the cycle with a new cure or a new agricultural sensation. Many wanted to hang him or to poison him with his own cures. But then he’d delivered the death-blow to all but himself. All his work had used his own DNA. His pretension that he was a perfect specimen led him to infect the world with his stupidity. Thus, he was immune to it all. An updated version of Typhoid Mary. Wreaking havoc not just on humanity but this time upon plant and animal life too. He’d unwittingly taken down modern life itself until all that was left was Javec and the trees and the unforgiving reality of what he’d done.

After some time, Javec found his way to the cemetery on the edge of town. It was bigger than when he’d last been here, but that was of no surprise to him. It now covered three hillsides to its previous one, when Enyd had first brought him here. From the looks of it, a fourth section had started when the last of the inhabitants had either all died out or moved on altogether and had been unable to continue the expansion of the city of the dead. Javec entered through the gate of this fourth hillside. His eyes scanned aimlessly a moment before he stiffened. There in the mud by the gate were small footprints and beside them were deep ruts, as if something had been dragged. Javec felt a chill grip his spirit as he followed the footprints further into the graveyard. He passed names and lives of people he’d never known but had killed nonetheless. These were the mementos of his past he would rather have never seen.

The footprints ended and Javec stopped. There was one headstone, but what looked to be three graves in front of it. One old, the official one matching the name on the headstone. One other larger one, shallowly dug and uneven, but obviously more recent, lying adjacent to the original grave. And a third one was half the size of the other two, distanced further away, incomplete, and uncovered.

Javec read the names on the headstone. There was the chiseled name of the original "owner," but now drawn with paint by a child’s hand were four newer names. Undoubtedly two of the four had been the ones lost on the journey to this town, with the other two being the new graves before him. Javec fell forward and dug his fingers into the dirt of the newer grave. His heart clenched as he read again the familiar name drawn in pink paint: Enyd Isolde Madsen.

Tossing off his backpack and setting aside his walking stick, Javec sat at the foot of the graves. The box of paints still sat open next to the headstone. At the head of the newer grave was a wreath made from twigs and dried leaves. Javec’s shaking hands reached for the teddy bear. Eyes brimming with tears, he triggered the device. Voices rang out loud and clear this time, and this time Javec allowed himself to recognize the woman’s voice. The familiar name painted on the gravestone. He stretched his body along the length of the grave and laid his arm out, his desperate imagination filling in the details of her frame that now lay beneath the earth.

Daydreams, nightmares, and hours later, Javec stood and staggered the few steps further to the third, uncovered grave. Averting his eyes, he could not bring himself to look into it, and his body heaved with a sob as he left the teddy bear in its rightful place, in the crook of what had once been a child’s arm. He would never know if the child had been his.

His hand pressed over what felt to be a wound in his chest. It was where he supposed his heart had been. Swaying in the breeze, Javec scanned his surroundings until he caught sight of a familiar object on the road some ways away from the graveyard gate. It was an old El Dorado. Both the driver-side and passenger-side doors were open, as if the car had been parked there as a getaway option, or was left as the result of a failed one. With tunneling vision, Javec made his way to the car. His pack and walking stick abandoned by the graves.

He crawled into the passenger-side seat of the ruined vehicle and stared at the road. Clumps of grass and a few trees had thrust their lives through the blacktop. These patches of reclamation dotted the blacktop as far as his failing eyes could see. He laid his palms flat upon his thighs and breathed in through his nose and out through his mouth. Javec counted his breaths as he counted his heartbeats. They were both slowing.

It was right that it ended here. What did they call it: dramatic irony? He’d gone through his hero’s journey, more the villain than the hero. Now he was returned to the known world a changed man, ready to teach his lessons to the next generation. Only, because of his hubris, there no longer was a next generation for him to teach. The next generation lay in an uncovered grave on the hill behind him. Javec’s fingers and toes were losing feeling, and a numbing cold was growing in his gut. It would not be long now. He closed his eyes at the imagined sound of a crow…

Enyd coughed and drew his attention from across the store. Javec observed with resignation as she swiped the back of her hand under her nose. Suddenly, the shopkeeper grabbed hold of her hand. He gave her the charged phone and spoke emphatically about something. Enyd smiled and nodded, throwing Javec coy looks as she listened to the shopkeeper. Instead of finding the exchange charming, his eyes remained upon where their hands were touching. The lab results, and his advisor’s warnings, churned together in his head. They created a soup of unease, and Javec now stood in the front row as what they called ‘the inevitable’ played out.

The mechanic clapped a hand on his shoulder and pulled Javec out of his thoughts. The battery was ready. The mechanic added that he’d passed the cell tower maintenance workers, and they’d told him everything should be back up and running now. And would they like another ride to their car to be on their way? He told the mechanic yes without putting much thought into the decision and signaled to Enyd. She finished her adieus with the shopkeeper and came to his side. She slipped her hand into his just as they emerged from the shop into the Arbor Day crowd.

They made their way through the throng, past the central park and the oddly placed graveyard, back to the El Dorado. And as they approached it, a crow passed low over their heads. It landed on the hood and turned its black eyes towards them. They slowed and regarded the crow. Another crow flew overhead and landed beside it. The first crow squawked, the second shook out its feathers, and then both flew away. As the crows disappeared, Javec and Enyd exchanged glances, the mechanic whistled and then they got in the El Dorado. Only one way to go this time, with five bars and a full battery.

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