The blue convertible raced through the night, a pair of distant headlights twinkling behind.
"I can't tell," Eddie said, kneeling on his seat, watching the pursuing lights. "I think they're gaining on us."
Bryce held the pedal to the floor. The speedometer needle held firm at 105. "Can't this thing go any faster?"
"Can we lose some weight? Is there anything in the trunk?"
"I never checked. And I don't want to stop to check now."
Eddie dropped back into his seat. "Yeah."
Bryce gripped the wheel, his eyes wide.
"So," Eddie said, trying to sound casual. "You stole this car."
Bryce frowned. "It's my car."
"But you stole it."
"Are you complaining?"
"No. I'd be dead if you hadn't."
They were quiet for a minute, Bryce hunched over the wheel, his face screwed up in concern. "I didn't exactly plan to steal it. It just worked out that way."
"So, who's following us?" asked Eddie. "You look scared."
At first, Bryce didn't answer. Finally he said, "I didn't learn his name, and I only saw him in the dark, but..." He bit his lip. "He's like a devil or a troll or something."
"Does that sound stupid?"
"Well, not entirely. I mean, who hasn't heard of the black troll uprising of 1692. There's the famous troll voyage to Atlantis, Attila the Hun's defeat by the Carnian troll legions. And if a troll gets at your plumbing..."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"I... I don't know. It's what comes to mind when I think of trolls."
"Well, this one is real. An honest to God troll."
Eddie turned back again. The pursuing headlights were gone. "Uh..."
"What is it?"
"What?" Bryce checked his rearview mirror. He glanced back over his shoulder.
"Did we lose them?" Eddie asked.
Bryce sat staring ahead, his knuckles turning pale as he gripped the steering wheel. He appeared to be chewing on an idea. After a moment, he reached forward and turned off the headlights, leaving them both in utter darkness.
"Are you crazy?" Eddie cried.
"It's not like we'll hit anything."
"You never know."
"But I'm pretty sure we won't. They're still back there. They turned their headlights off, most likely so we won't know where they are. I should have thought of that first. As long as their headlights are off, they won't be able to see our tire tracks." The car lurched to the left, setting them on a new course.
"I don't like this."
"We don't have a choice."
"What happens if they catch us?"
"We'll be eaten."
That shut Eddie up. Eddie's eyes adjusted to the darkness. The stars blazed above, brighter than ever, the moon having not yet risen. The diamond of planetoids stood on the horizon. By the light, Eddie could make out Bryce's silhouette, posture erect and tense.
A half hour passed without incident. Eddie would occasionally glance back. There was no sign of pursuit.
"Grab me a drink," Bryce said.
"Sure." Eddie fetched a Mountain Sunrise and popped it open. Bryce took it.
"So, how'd you get this car."
"I'm no thief," Bryce said.
"I know. I know. I'm only curious about what happened."
"Well, I found myself laying in the desert, like I told you."
"There was nothing in sight, except for something far out on the horizon--some dark spot. I had no idea where I was or what had happened, but the thing to do seemed obvious. Go check out whatever it was out there.
"It took hours. It was late afternoon before I was close enough to see it was a high stone wall. Couldn't see much past it, except for a lot of dead tree tops poking up from behind it. It didn't look inviting, but I had nowhere else to go. I got there just before sundown. I walked around it. It was about as big as a city block, and the dead trees inside made it look like an old gothic cemetery, out here in the middle of nowhere.
"I found the gates on the far side. They were old and rusty, with the word Doomhallow across them in rusty letters."
"Doomhallow?" Eddie asked.
Bryce shrugged. "That's what it said. I pushed at the gate, but it wouldn't budge. On the other side, there was a driveway leading back through the trees to an old mansion, falling apart. The scent of mold and rot stung my nose. Most of the trees were dead, but there was a half-alive apple tree not far from the gate. There were apples on the ground, some of them half rotten, but some of them looked decent. After walking all day with nothing to eat or drink, those ground apples looked like apple pie.
"I started climbing the gate. That's when the ugliest dog I'd ever seen started snarling and barking like something from hell. I jumped back down. It was getting dark now, but the dog... it was like something from a nightmare. Not exactly a dog at all. It had scales, and its muzzle was long, like an alligator or something. It snapped and clawed at me through the bars. I stared at it, wondering for the dozenth time if I was dreaming the whole thing."
"When did you steal the car?" said Eddie.
"I'm getting to that. I stood there, wishing there was a rock or something to throw at the dog monster. That's when this little white chick came to the gate with a shotgun."
"Yeah, I mean white. I mean the color, not the race. Her skin was white and I swear it was almost translucent. But she was also dirty with half her teeth missing and her hair was this big black tangle. She came to the gate and said, 'You come here to die, mister?'
"I said, 'No. I only want to know where I am.'
"'What's it say on the gate?'
"'It says Doomhallow.'
"'Well, that's the place you ain't gettin' into. Git goin' or I'll shoot you and feed you to Gristle here.' Her dog-thing barked the whole time. I couldn think with all the noise.
"I pointed at the apples. 'Can I at least have one of those apples? I'm dying here.'
"'Cain't,' she said. 'This property here belongs to the boss. Everything on it belongs to the boss. Not you.'
"'Well can I talk to the boss?'
"She grinned, and I couldn't count more than five teeth in her mouth. 'Boss'll eat you too. Probably drop you alive in his lye bath first to soften you up an' hear you scream. Might do it just enough to keep you alive while your skin turns to mush. Then he'll eat'cha in not but three bites.'
"'He can't be that bad,' I said.
"'If I shot you now, I'd be doin' you a favor. Boss'll see you suffer for days if'n you git on his property.'
"I stared to protest, and that's when she pointed the shotgun at me. 'Count of three and then I fill you full of buckshot.'
"She shot into the air over my head. I took off running. I hated it, but she had the gun and the dog and all I had was a decent pair of running shoes. That's right, I ran."
"So when do we get to the part where you steal the car?" Eddie asked.
"Shut up and let me get to it," Bryce said.
Something thumped under the car. Eddie let out a stifled shout.
"What was that?" Bryce asked.
"We ran over something. Turn on the lights."
"I do that and they'll see us."
Eddie glanced over his shoulder. "Or they gave up."
They were both quiet. "No," Bryce finally said. "I'll risk a little more darkness."
Eddie gave it a moment before he said, "So when did you steal the car?"