He had thought they were closing in on him. Twice yesterday morning he had seen unmarked police cars cruise by with men listening through headphones. A good thing his captive was gagged.

But nothing for more than twenty-four hours now. If they had brought in dogs it would not take very long, with all the buried bones around. Dogs would like that. But they didn’t have them, he supposed. Not a rich county.

If it did come to that, he could move into another level of discourse. He could try to negotiate with them, essentially with a knife to her throat. Inviting a simple head shot from a police sniper.

Or he could cut her up and scatter pieces of her through the woods, hoping to distract them from his avenue of escape by repugnant overkill. Of course that might make it harder on him if they caught him—or maybe not. If you’re brutal enough, they call you insane, and treat you as if you were handicapped. Though it is they who are handicapped, by timidity.

He approached the trailer in a large circle, checking seven suspended threads that crossed every route to the place. He retrieved his shotgun from the bushes and entered the trailer silently without turning on the light. He listened in the darkness to her irregular breathing. Drank in her smell. Then he pulled down the bandana that gagged her.

“Can we talk?” she said to the darkness.

He eased the safety off, and the small click was loud.

“If you’re trying to scare me, you’ve succeeded.” Her tone of voice had told him that. He aimed the shotgun at her voice and touched the light switch.

“So that’s what you look like.” He had grabbed her from her tent in the darkness and tied her up in the trailer without light. “You… you’re even bigger than I thought.”

“Uglier,” he growled, the first word he had spoken in weeks.

“Are you the one they’re looking for?”

He shrugged and stepped closer to her. Her breath was mint-sweet. His made her flinch away. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t cook the last thing I ate. It had been on the road for a while.”

She coughed. “I’ll do… whatever you want. Really.” She took a breath and straightened up her well-toned body. “Anything.”

“You wouldn’t say that if you could see into my mind. Do you think there is nothing worse than death?”

She shook her head slowly.

He wiped his lips with the back of his hand. “What do you think you know about me? If I am the beast that has been on the news?” He smiled, showing too many teeth. “I am a beast, as they say. Not human.”

“So they say.” Her breath caught. “Of course we are all animals.”

“Not in the sense that I am one. I really am not human. I don’t even come from Earth.”

After a pause she said, “So what planet are you from?”—as if that were an ordinary question.

“I don’t know. It was a long time ago. I have memory issues.” He studied his long blunt nails as if the answer might be there. “Thousands of years of memory issues.” His eyes came up. “You think I’m crazy.”

Her voice shook a little. “On the news they say you are.” She tried to stare back at him but looked away.

“Now you’re going to tell me that someone is looking for you. If I let you go, they will be easy on me.”

“That could be true,” she said quietly, looking at the floor.

“Not quite lying. I like that.” He went to a window and peeked through the blinds. “Would you like to offer your body to me?”

“It’s yours, of course. But you don’t seem to want it.”

“What if I wanted you from behind? Rough.”

“That would… be all right. I’ve—”

“From the front?” He took a clasp knife from a deep pocket and shook it open with a snap. The blade was a dagger about eight inches long. “I mean the abdomen, as usual. Have you read about that?”

She shook her head in jerks, staring at the blade.

“Most newspapers haven’t printed that. The fact is, not being a man, I have no particular interest in vaginas.” He sat down on a barstool. “They look like a wound to me, even when they’re not bleeding. I prefer to make my own wounds.”

She started to say something, but just swallowed.

“I enjoy it that you’re scared, as you may know. You will live a little longer for that.”

“But not very long?”

“No.” He tested the blade with his thumb. “Would you like for me to be kind, and end it quickly?”

“I want to live.”

He smiled condescendingly. “I have a news flash for you: The universe doesn’t care. Neither do I. But even if you were to survive this… little meeting, you would die very soon. A half century? That’s nothing to me.”

“How… how old are you?”

“I remember Pompeii. And a flood before that. I may be immortal.”

“Or insane,” she whispered.

He nodded. “Or insane. Maybe both.” He picked up a sharpening stone, and drew the blade over it slowly. “Maybe I was sane, a couple of thousand years ago. And it wore off.”


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