He’s dizzy now, and he wonders how the sun has stayed up for so long. He has the time but not the inclination to figure it out now, so he just keeps his mind on the barren landscape drowning him and continues to walk as best he can.
He starts to see scrub, brownish weeds growing in feeble clumps. Later there are actual bushes, then a tree, and it’s like he’s going backwards through one of those films that have gotten so popular for whatever reason, the ones where the apocalypse comes and changes lush green land into a dark wasteland, mingling the colors of blood and dirt. He plods his way to the tree and lets himself lean against it and close his eyes. The dark falls immediately, and the sky is black when he lowers himself carefully to the ground.
The pain in his arm and leg springs up fresh when he wakes the next morning, compounded now by the ache in his feet and back from walking too long, trying to compensate for his ruined limbs. He pulls with his good hand at the tree, ratcheting himself up in slow degrees until he’s fully upright. He cracks his neck and starts to walk again.
He must have hazed out again while his legs kept marching on, because the road appears without warning in front of him. Not much of a road, just a single lane, but it is blacktop and not dirt, and it is a sign.
He pushes his good hand into his belly to keep it from feeling so empty and picks up the pace. He jerks around when he hears a roar behind him.
It is a big truck with a big man behind the wheel, and he knows better than to stop walking because starting again will not be easy. The truck slows and rolls next to him and he braces himself to face black eyes, hating himself for thinking that if the eyes are yellow, then he knows he doesn’t have enough fight in him. The driver calls out to him. “Sir? Can I give you a lift?”
Kindness is so unexpected that it doesn’t register at first and he keeps walking grimly. “Sir?” the man says again, and he turns to face him. His eyes are brown, worried, completely human. “Can I take you somewhere?”
He still has no idea where he is. “Where you headed?” he asks, his voice like a knot.
“Left Omaha this morning, got to be in Lincoln by night,” the man says, leaning across the seat to open the passenger door.
Nebraska, then. His truck might still sitting behind that abandoned warehouse. “Lincoln sounds great to me,” he says, and heaves himself into the seat.
“Echo 2-1,” he answers Bill’s question, relaxing a little more, and looking out at the straight road that spills cleanly for miles ahead of them.
“Good men,” Bill says, and they stay silent for a moment, thinking of all those they knew. The commercial break on the radio ends, and something soft and sweet and bluegrassy comes through the truck’s speakers. “So what’s in Lincoln, John?”
“My truck, hopefully, if no one’s been out there. Tires were slashed.”
“Got a cell phone. You could call a tow truck, call ahead and have your truck fixed up by the time we get there.” It’s a good plan, makes sense, and he’s relieved when Bill calls 411 and asks for the name of a big garage; he doesn’t want to rip off a mom-and-pop garage with his bogus credit card. Bill recites the number so they both can memorize it and then hands him the phone. Business taken care of, he’s finally at ease, as much as he can be with his body broken and no idea about the whereabouts of the Demon. Bill looks over at him and turns the volume down. “I won’t be offended if you’d rather sleep than talk, John.”
“Take it where you can get it,” John says, feeling a smile spark on his dirty face as he repeats the mantra passed down from one Marine to the next.
“Amen, brother,” Bill says, and grins.