When he realized that the darkness was of his own making because his eyes were shut, Ian Malone struggled to pry them open.
The world was a blur.
Inch by inch, he became aware that the darkness that he now saw was the natural kind. It was the warm, cocooning darkness of night, not the hazy dark world of unconsciousness he had tumbled into what seemed like only a moment ago.
Not the netherworld either. Damn.
His surroundings came into focus in almost comic slow motion. Snippets gradually telegraphed themselves through his brain. His fingers were no longer wrapped around the steering wheel of his car. In fact, he wasn't in his car at all.
Somewhere in the distance was the everannoying sound of crickets looking for one another. Looking to mate. Looking for a family. Good luck with that, he thought sarcastically. Ian groaned as he tried to raise his head. He felt as if an anvil weighed it down, like what you saw in Saturday morning cartoons.
Did they still have Saturday morning cartoons? He'd stopped watching when he was ten. When he stopped being a kid.
His head was too heavy. He let it drop back down. It made contact with something damp. He was too out of it to care.
He became aware that someone was standing over him. Someone wide enough to block out what light was coming from the moon, breathing as if the smog was battling for possession of his windpipe—and winning. Whoever it was sounded a little like Darth Vader.
Or was that the grim reaper hovering over him, checking for signs of life? Finally there to collect his debt.
God, he hoped so. "I'm not dead yet, am I?" Ian's mouth felt like baked cotton as heformed the question. The traces of regret in his voice were punctuated with another groan.
The face glaring down at him was craggy and appeared worn. And annoyed. The man wore a uniform of some sort.
No, dark blue.
Of course, the police. It was a police uniform. Sooner or later, the police always came to the scene of an accident or a disaster, didn't they? Sometimes they came too late, he thought. Like the other time.
The anvil shifted from his head to his chest, pressing down. But nothing was there.
The policeman leaning over him frowned in disgust as he shook his head. "No, you're not dead yet. Better luck next time, buddy." "I'll hold you to that," Ian said, biting back another groan. He continued to lay there. His head felt as if it would split in two. For all he
The officer straightened up, one hand braced against his spine as he examined the wreckage. His car was a mangled scrap of machinery intimately locked in an eternal waltz with the bark of a coral tree.
The officer took off his hat and scratched his balding head.
"You'd think a man who could afford a fine machine like that would have more sense than to go driving around with Johnnie Walker as a companion."
But bottles of Johnnie Walker were far in Ian's past. That had been his grandfather's poison of choice, not his.
"It was vodka, not whiskey," Ian corrected hoarsely. "And definitely not enough to get me in this state." That had been the fault of his medication, he thought. Maybe he'd been a little careless, taking too much because of what day it was. These days, they had a medicine for everything. Everything but the guilt that came with each breath he took. Because he could take a breath. And they couldn't. Not for a very long time.
With effort, Ian pulled his elbows in semi-upright position on the lawn.
It wasn't easy. The world around him alternated between pitch black and a fragmented cacophony of colors that swirled around his aching head. He didn't know which he disliked more, the colors or the darkness. All he knew was that both made him incredibly dizzy.
Gingerly, he touched his fingers to his forehead and felt something thick and sticky. Dropping his hand back down to eye level, he looked at it and saw blood. Blood. Brenda, don't die. Please don't die! Don't leave me here. Please!
The terrified high-pitched voice—his voice—echoed in his brain, taunting him. Reminding him.
Through sheer willpower, Ian managed to block it out.
The way he always did.
Until the next time.
Ian raised his head and looked up at the officer. The man's dark blue shirt was straining against his girth. The third button from the top was about to pop, he noted vaguely.
Ever so slowly, the rest of his surroundings came into focus. And the chain of events that brought him here. Ian remembered the drive through the deserted campus back roads. He'd taken the route on purpose, lucid enough despite his grief and the inebriating mixture in his system, not to want to hurt anyone.
Except for himself.
A surge in his brain had him calling the sudden turn that sent him skidding. And the oncoming tree that had appeared out of nowhere.
He remembered nothing after that. Dampness penetrated his consciousness as well as his trousers. Dew. What time was it? Three a.m.? Later? He didn't know.
Ian scrubbed his hand over his face and winced as vivid pain swirled through him like a club covered in cacti spines. A
"You pull me out?" he asked the policeman.
"Not me. You were out when I got here. Maybe you crawled out."
A thin smile touched the policeman's lips. "Looks like some part of you still wants to go on living."
A dry, humorless laugh melded with the night noises around Ian. Nearby there was the sound of something rustling in the ground cover, as if a possum was scurrying away from the scene of the crime. That's right, run. Run for your life. I'd run with you if I could.
"News to me," Ian muttered. He never wished for life, not for himself. For the others. For them he'd prayed, until he'd realized that the prayers came too late. That they were dead even as he laid there next to them, pinned down and helpless.
Hands splayed on the ground on either side of him, Ian attempted to push himself up to protest, telling him to lay back down. "Why don't you just stay put?" It wasn't a suggestion coming from the officer, but an order. "I'm going to call this in and get another squad car on the scene."
Because his limbs were made out of recycled gelatin, Ian remained where he was.
"Reinforcements?" A cynical smile curved his mouth. He never thought of himself as dangerous, although Ryan had once described him that way. But then, his publicist was afraid of his own shadow. "Why? I promise not to resist arrest." He couldn't even if he wanted to, Ian thought.
"You sound pretty coherent for a drunk," Officer Holtz commented.
"Practice," Ian replied. In truth, there were more pills in him than alcohol, and maybe he was a little dangerous. Reckless even. Most nights—because nights were when it was the hardest—he could keep a lid on it, could go on. But tonight the pain had won and all he wanted to do was still it. Make it stop.
But it was still there. The physical pain would go away. This never did, no matter what face he showed to the world.
There was a street lamp not too far away and Ian could make out the officer more clearly now. His face was redder than it had been a moment ago.
"Think you're immortal?" the officer jeered.
"I'm really hoping not." His voice was so calm, Ian could see that he had rattled the man.
"Wipe that damn smile off your face," Officer Holtz ordered. "Calling this in is procedure."
Ian gave up attempting to stand. He needed to wait until his limbs could support him. Or maybe until his head stopped bleeding.
Very gingerly, Ian laid back on the damp grass, his head spinning madly like a top off its axis. Oblivion poked long, scratchy black fingers out of the darkness to grab hold of him.
Ian laughed shortly. "Wouldn't want to mess with procedure."
It was the last thing he said before the abyss swallowed him up.