Eddie's eyes flickered open, his face plastered to the leather seat with sticky sweat. The staccato hum of the car's engine lulled him back towards sleep.
Car. He was in a car now, the hot turbulent wind whipping his tangled hair above him as he dozed. How long had he been here? And where was he going?
He pushed himself up, still aching. The empty desert flew by, their motion barely discernable without some landmark to fix on.
"He's alive," a voice said. "Thought I might be driving with a corpse there for a while."
Eddie turned to the driver. He struggled to remember the young man's name. "Bryce," he said.
"That's me." Bryce grinned.
"You have any food, Bryce?"
The grin faded. "Sorry to say I don't. There was a half eaten twinkie in the glove box. It took a day before I was desperate enough to eat it."
Eddie's sluggish mind knew there were questions he needed to ask, but he wasn't able to figure out what they were.
"So, you from around here?" Bryce asked.
"Is that a yes or a no?"
"I don't remember where I'm from."
"What do you remember?"
Eddie's brow furrowed.. "I remember the time the pink fungus plague turned squirrels into flesh-eating monsters. It spread to other rodents, but a high school science teacher in Kansas developed an effective fungicide and..." He trailed off.
Bryce stared at him for a few seconds. Then he barked a single hard laugh. "Huh! Are you delirious or just touched in the head?"
"I don't remember that either."
"Well, do you remember how you got to this desert?"
"No. I only ended up here. How long ago? I don't remember."
"Was it around noon two days ago?"
"Well, yeah. I found myself just standing there."
"Me too. Except I was laying down. One minute I was falling asleep on my sister's couch. The next, I was laying in the dirt under a trillion watt sun."
"But at least you remember where you were before?"
"Yeah. At first I thought this place was a dream. Now I'm wondering if my sister's couch was the dream."
They were quiet for a few minutes.
"Where'd you get the car?"
Bryce shrugged. "It's something I found along my way."
"I found a helicopter. It didn't work though."
"Huh! Yeah, I saw that a few minutes before I found you."
"Can I have a soda?"
"Have all you want. It's in the cooler in back."
Eddie knelt over his seat. An orange plastic cooler filled one of the narrow back seats. Eddie pried up the lid. Inside, the cooler was full to the top with rows of green and yellow Mountain Sunrise cans. He slid one out. It was exquisitely cold, a couple degrees above freezing. He pushed the lid closed, then frowned. Something was odd about the cooler. He pulled it open again Nothing looked unusual.
He shut it, sat down and pondered the can.
"How do they stay so cold?" he asked.
Bryce grinned. "You noticed that, huh? It's a plain old normal plastic cooler, but it's kept the drinks cold for days. But you're not asking the most important question."
"The most important question?" Eddie frowned.
"Think about it."
"How... how is it full?"
"There you go, son," Bryce laughed, pointing at him. "Why is that cooler full when you know I've been drinking all I can over the past day and a half? That's my only source of calories, and I've had a ton."
"So, what's the answer."
Bryce shrugged. "Don't know. It's just full. I'm afraid to count them. It's like some kind of magic, and I don't want to jinx it."
Eddie turned in his seat again and opened the cooler. It was full. There wasn't even room for the can he'd taken.
"And by now," Bryce added, "You might be wondering something else."
Eddie screwed up in his face in contemplation. He asked, "Is there another half eaten twinkie in the glove box?"
"I thought of that. No, there's not."
Eddie pondered, his eyes on the dashboard. "The car's gas. How long have you been driving?"
Bryce pointed at him. "There you go. The gas. I got this car late the first night, drove all the next day and all today as well, not stopping except for sleep and pee breaks. And the fuel gage hasn't moved from three quarters of a tank."
"And infinite sodas. It's like when you enter a cheat code on a video game."
"Are we in a video game?"
"If this is virtual reality, it's the kind that can give you a sunburn and make your lips crack."
"Then where are we?"
"I don't know."
"Where are we going?"
"East, near as I can figure."
They were both quiet for the next few hours. Eddie stared at the horizon. Bryce drove with a drowsy expression. Eddie would have been nervous, but there wasn't anything for them to run into if he fell asleep. He checked the speedometer. Ninety miles per hour. If Bryce had driven as long as he said, he'd have been going for at least twenty hours. Eddie himself had been in the car for at least eight. So, for Bryce, there had been roughly eighteen hundred miles with no landmarks. What desert could possibly be this big?
Eddie spotted the stereo, a black display with a series of unmarked knobs and buttons. He pressed the rightmost button.
"I haven't figured that thing out yet," Bryce said. "Which is a shame. It would be nice to have a little music to--"
Eddie pressed the two end buttons together. The digital display lit up with a beep.
"Oh great," Bryce said. "The thing's programmed in Chinese."
"That's not Chinese. It's Yoran."
"What the hell is Yoran? Is that some kind of Arabic?"
"It's... I don't know, but it says Select Station ."
Bryce leaned forward and jabbed a button. The speakers blasted a ranting voice at high volume. Eddie adjusted the volume knob.
"... is not the end times. The end times are past. This isn't even the after-times. This is the in-between--the final breath before all is laid waste. Repent now. Repent! Repent or despair, for all shall crumble before the will of He who comes next, the Godsbane, the Unrighteous Judge. Our only hope is that the Goddess will preserve us. We must pray for heaven, for Earth is no more..."
"Cheerful," Eddie said, a little sickened by the fervor in that voice.
"You understand that?" Bryce said. "What language is he speaking?"
"I don't know."
"Sounds like an alien preacher."
Bryce stabbed another button. The voice cut off, replaced by a mariachi band. "Ug," he groaned, hitting the next button.
Over the next hour, they took turns fiddling with the stereo, wading through a wide assortment of music styles and unintelligible noise. There were no other radio preachers, but Eddie found one station that chilled them. The voice of a girl, terrified and exhausted.
" Is anyone out there? Please! I'm here alone. I don't know where everyone went. My uncle was the only person left, and he went out into the woods to figure out what happened to the rest of the town. He hasn't been back since yesterday. I'm afraid to go after him because of the dark shapes in the sky. Anyone there? Please, if you're there, help us."
The signal went dead, leaving her pleas echoing in Eddie's ears over the radio static. Bryce looked as disturbed as Eddie felt.
When they found a classic rock station, they stopped, not daring to switch the channel again.
They stopped for a pee break in the early evening. The sky once again approached its brilliant purple, the hue that had stirred such profound memories in Eddie his first night in the desert. Why did purple matter to him?
Violet eyes, wide and beautiful. The sight of them setting a fire in his chest. Those eyes...
As he tried to piece together the memory, his wandering eyes fell to a dust cloud rising in the distant desert, back from the west where they'd come. Eddie zipped his fly. "Uh, Bryce. It looks like there's someone else out here."
Bryce approached from the other side of the car. He took two steps towards the oncoming vision. "Ah, shit!" He turned and ran back for the car.
"Get in the car?"
Eddie ran to his door. "What is it?"
"It's the one I took the car from. He's coming after me."