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"Got to go potty," Shell reminded her, shifting uncomfortably in his seat.
Anya checked the rearview mirror. Nothing but a blank freeway receding into infinity. "Okay."
She hit her blinker. The rest stop exit appeared like a gift, and she pulled off, headlights slicing the purple dusk in front of the blue Taurus. "But we'll have to be quick, okay, sweetie?"
"Okay," Shell agreed placidly. His round blond face was spectral in the green glow from the dashboard.
Anya's head hurt, both from a nagging headache and from the goose egg under her hair. She'd hit the doorjamb hard, stunned for a moment while the thing screeched, before Shell could drag her away.
Don't think about that. Concentrate on what you have in front of you. She hit the brakes. "Good," she murmured, and coasted to a stop.
Shell was almost out of the car before she could cut the engine, and Anya sighed. Her eyes were hot and grainy, her entire body aching with exhaustion, and she had only her car and a pile of clothes to her name. Oh, and the coffeemaker.
The slight thunderous smell of smoke and fury in the car didn't help her headache one bit.
The rest stop was set at the top of a green hill and water rilled in a creek behind it. A concrete path zigzagged up the hill, and the entire place was deserted. It was a good thing. Both she and Shell were exhausted and grimy, dressed in odds and ends.
How am I going to feed and clothe us both this time? She got out of the car and stretched, watching as Shell lumbered up the hill, his huge shoulders hunched under his favorite Green Bay Packers sweatshirt. He ducked into the men's bathroom, and Anyawearily started up the hill herself, her zoris flapping. Wet grass slipped under her feet until she reached the next strip of concrete.
Shell saved me. If it hadn't been for the roof caving in, we wouldn't have gotten away. Anya shivered. The sky was overcast, chill November night falling like a soft cloud. She smelled smoke and wrinkled her nose--it was the scent of her life burning down. Again.
How many times am I going to have to do this? This is the fourth time we've had something attack us, the third time we've been driven out of a city.
She washed her face in the metal sink. There were no paper towels. That was all right. The chill would help keep her awake. Anya didn't dare look into the slice of scratched metal serving as a mirror, either. She came out into the gathering dusk to find Shell waiting for her, his sleepy blue eyes wide and fearful.
"Anya." His voice trembled. "I was afraid."
Me too. But I can't show it or you'll be even more upset. "I know, buddy. Let's go, okay?"
"Okay. Where are we sleeping, Anya? I'm sleepy."
For a single moment she let herself feel the bitterness. How on earth should I know? I just had my house burned down and my life destroyed by a big, tall fiery shadow nobody else can see. How am I supposed to make this better?
Guilt rose sharp and bitter inside her throat. She straightened her shoulders, taking an accustomed weight of guilt and responsibility. "I know you're tired, buddy. I'm sleepy too. We'll stop in the next city and find a place to sleep, and I'll have to get a job. You'll have to be a very good boy, Shell. All right?"
"Okay, Anya." He tromped back down the hill, almost glowing with happiness. If she said it was going to be all right, it was going to be all right. After all, Anya was his protector, and she had always found them food and shelter before.
I'm going to have to use the Persuasion again. If I don't, we'll starve. Anya picked her way carefully down the hill. I wish I didn't have to. Why is this happening to me?
She knew why. Anya could do things other people couldn't; sense things other people couldn't. She was, in the truest sense of the word, psychic. And she had a sneaking suspicion that was why the huge hairy and shadowy things were after her. Not to mention the fanged things, or the clawed things, or the winged things...
I must be insane. I hope I'm insane. I'm wishing I'm insane. Isn't that crazy?
She heaved a sigh as she reached the bottom of the hill. Shell had already folded himself into the car. Her zoris flapped as she crossed to the driver's side, opened the door, and got in, rubbing at her grainy eyes.
"We gonna go, Anya?" Shell asked.
"Sure. Just give me a minute, buddy. Okay?" Just give me a minute to pull myself together and quit wishing I was batshit nuts.
"Okay." He waited. "I sure hope they don't follow us."
"I hope so too, Shell. I don't know how many more times I can do this."
"It'll be okay, Anya."
He promptly fell asleep before she pulled back out onto the freeway. The next big town--Santiago City--was fourteen miles away.
It was as good a place as any. After all, it wasn't like they had anywhere else to go.