"Coal Valley. I was on my way home when the trouble started."

"Hardly anyone lives there any more."

"Yeah. We're one of the last three families. It's almost like a ghost town."

Thoroughly soaked and cold to the bone, he was eager to get back to the rental car and switch the heater to its highest setting. But when he met her dark eyes again, he felt more strongly than ever that she was the reason that he had been given another chance to take the road to Coal Valley, as he should have done twenty years ago. Rather than run with her to the shelter of the Chevy, he hesitated, afraid that whatever he did—even taking her home—might be the wrong thing to do, and that in choosing a course of action, he would be throwing away this last, miraculous chance at redemption.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

Joey had been staring at her, half mesmerized, contemplating the possible consequences of his actions. His empty gaze must have disconcerted her every bit as much as the concept of consequences disconcerted him.

Speaking without thinking, surprised to hear these particular words issuing from himself, he said, "Show me your hands."

"My hands?"

"Show me your hands."

The wind sang epithalamion in the trees above, and the night was a chapel in which they stood alone.

With a look of puzzlement, she held out her delicate hands for his inspection.

"Palms up," he said.

She did as he asked, and her posture made her resemble more than ever the Mother of Heaven entreating all to come unto her, into the bosom of everlasting peace.

The girl's hands cupped the darkness, and he couldn't read her palms.

Trembling, he raised the flashlight.

At first her hands were unblemished. Then a faint bruise slowly appeared in the center of each rain-pooled palm.

He closed his eyes and held his breath. When he looked again, the bruises had darkened.

"You're scaring me," she said.

"We should be scared."

"You never seemed strange."

"Look at your hands," he said.

She lowered her eyes.

"What do you see?" he asked.

"See? Just my hands."

The storm wind crying in the trees was the voice of a million victims, and the night was filled with their pathetic pleas for mercy.

He would have been shaking uncontrollably if he had not been paralyzed by fear. "You don't see the bruises?"

"What bruises?"

Her gaze rose from her hands, and her eyes met his again.

"You don't see?" he asked.


"You don't feel?"

In fact, the bruises were not merely bruises any more but had ripened into wounds from which blood began to ooze.

"I'm not seeing what is," Joey told her, overcome by dread. "I'm seeing what will be."

"You're scaring me," she said again.

She wasn't the dead blonde in the bloodstained plastic shroud. Under her hood, her face was framed by raven-black hair.

"But you might end up like her," he said more to himself than to the girl.

"Like who?"

"I don't know her name. But she wasn't just an hallucination. I see that now. Not a drunk's delirium. More than that. She was something ... else. I don't know."

The grievous stigmata in the girl's hands became more terrible by the second, though she continued to be unaware of them and seemed to feel no pain.

Suddenly Joey understood that the increasing grisliness of his paranormal vision meant that this girl was in growing danger. The fate for which she had been destined—the fate that he had postponed by taking Coal Valley Road and stopping to assist her—was grimly reasserting itself. Delaying by the side of the road was apparently the wrong thing to do.

"Maybe he's coming back," Joey said.

She closed her hands, as if shamed by the intensity with which he stared at them. "Who?"

"I don't know," he said, and he looked into the distance along Coal Valley Road, into the impenetrable gloom that swallowed the two rain-swept lanes of blacktop.

"You mean that other car?" she asked.

"Yeah. Did you get a glimpse of whoever was in it?"

"No. A man. But I didn't see him clearly. A shadow, a shape. Why does it matter?"

"I'm not sure." He took her by the arm. "Come on. Let's get out of here."

As they hurried toward the Chevy, she said, "You sure aren't anything like I thought you'd be."

That struck him as a peculiar statement. Before he could ask her what she meant, however, they reached the Chevy—and he stumbled to a halt, stunned by what stood before him, her words forgotten.

"Joey?" she said.

The Chevy was gone. In its place was a Ford. A 1965 Mustang. His 1965 Mustang. The wreck that, as a teenager, he had lovingly restored with his dad's help. Midnight blue with white-wall tires.

"What's wrong?" she asked.

He had been driving the Mustang that night twenty years ago. It had sustained major body damage when he had spun out on the interstate and collided with a signpost.

There was no body damage now. The side window, which had shattered when his head hit it, was intact. The Mustang was as cherry as it had ever been.

The wind picked up, shrieking, so the night itself seemed mad. Silvery whips of rain lashed around them and snapped against the pavement.

"Where's the Chevy?" he asked shakily.


"The Chevy," he repeated, raising his voice above the storm.

"What Chevy?"

"The rental car. The one I was driving."

"But ... you were driving this," she said.

He looked at her in disbelief.

As before, he was aware of mysteries in her eyes, but he had no sense that she was trying to deceive him.

He let go of her arm and walked to the front of the Mustang, trailing one hand along the rear fender, the driver's door, the front fender. The metal was cold, smooth, slick with rain, as solid as the road on which he stood, as real as the heart that knocked in his chest.

Twenty years ago, after he'd hit the signpost, the Mustang had been badly scraped and dented, but it had been drivable. He had returned to college in it. He remembered how it had rattled and ticked all the way to Shippensburg—the sound of his young life falling apart.

He remembered all the blood.

Now, when he hesitantly opened the driver's door, the light came on inside. It was bright enough to reveal that the upholstery was free of bloodstains. The cut that he'd suffered in his forehead had bled heavily until he'd driven to a hospital and had it stitched, and by that time the bucket seat had been well spattered. But this upholstery was pristine.

The girl had gone around to the other side of the car. She slipped into the passenger seat and slammed the door.

With her inside, the night seemed as utterly empty of life as a pharaoh's crypt undiscovered beneath the sands of Egypt. All the world might have been dead, with only Joey Shannon left to hear the sound and know the fury of the storm.

He was reluctant to get behind the steering wheel. It was all too strange. He felt as though he had surrendered entirely to a drunkard's delirium—although he knew that he was stone sober.

Then he remembered the wounds that he'd foreseen in her delicate hands, the premonition that the danger to her was increasing with every second they remained at the roadside. He got in behind the wheel, closed the door, and gave her the flashlight.

"Heat," she said. "I'm freezing."

He was barely aware of being sodden and cold himself. For the moment, numb with wonder, he was sensitive only to the deepening mystery, to the shapes and textures and sounds and smells of the mystical Mustang.

The keys were in the ignition.

He started the engine. It had a singular pitch, as familiar to him as his own voice. The sweet, strong sound had such nostalgic power that it lifted his spirits at once. In spite of the flat-out weirdness of what was happening to him, in spite of the fear that had dogged him ever since he'd driven into Asherville the previous day, he was filled with a wild elation.

The years seemed to have fallen away from him. All the bad choices that he'd made were sloughed off. For the moment, at least, the future was as filled with promise as it had been when he was seventeen.

The girl fiddled with the heater controls, and hot air blasted from the vents.

He released the emergency brake and put the car in gear, but before he pulled onto the highway, he turned to her and said, "Show me your hands."

Clearly uneasy, regarding him with understandable wariness, she responded to his request.

The nail wounds remained in her palms, visible only to him, but he thought that they had closed somewhat. The flow of blood had diminished.

"We're doing the right thing now, getting out of here," he said, although he knew that he was making little—if any—sense to her.

He switched on the windshield wipers and drove onto the two-lane blacktop, heading toward the town of Coal Valley. The car handled like the fine-tuned masterpiece that he remembered, and his exhilaration intensified.

For a minute or two he was entirely possessed by the thrill of driving—just driving—that he had known as a teenager but never since. Deep in the thrall of the Mustang. A boy and his car. Lost to the romance of the road.

Then he remembered something that she had said when he had first seen the Mustang and had halted before it in shock. Joey? She had called him by his name. Joey? What's wrong? Yet he was certain that he had never introduced himself.

"Some music?" she asked with a nervous tremor in her voice, as though his silent, rapturous involvement with the unrolling road was more disturbing to her than anything he'd previously said or done.

He glanced at her as she leaned forward to switch on the radio. She had pushed back the hood of her raincoat. Her hair was thick and silky and darker than the night.

Something else she'd said, which had struck him as peculiar, now came back to him: You sure aren't anything like I thought you'd be. And before that: You never seemed strange.

The girl twisted the tuning knob on the radio until she found a station playing Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road."

"What's your name?" he asked.

"Celeste. Celeste Baker."

"How did you know my name?"

The question made her self-conscious, and she was able to meet his eyes only briefly. Even in the dim backwash of light from the instrument panel, he could see that she was blushing.

"You never noticed me, I know."

He frowned. "Noticed you?"

"You were two years ahead of me at County High."

Joey shifted his attention from the dangerously slick roadway longer than he should have, mystified by what she'd said. "What're you talking about?"

Staring at the lighted face of the radio, she said, "I was a sophomore when you were a senior. I had a terrible crush on you. I was in despair when you graduated and went off to college."

He was barely able to look away from her.

Sweeping around a curve, the road passed an abandoned mine head and a broken-down tipple that loomed out of the darkness like the half-shattered skeleton of a prehistoric beast. Generations had toiled in its shadow to bring forth coal, but they were now gone to bones or to city work. As he followed the curve, Joey braked gently, slowing from fifty to forty, so badly rattled by what the girl had said that he no longer trusted himself to drive safely at the higher speed.

"We never spoke," she said. "I never could get up the nerve. I just ... you know ... admired you from afar. God. Sounds so stupid." She glanced at him from under her brow to see if, in fact, he was amused at her expense.

"You're not making any sense," he said.


"How old are you? Sixteen?"

"Seventeen, almost eighteen. My dad's Carl Baker, and being the principal's daughter makes everything worse. I'm a social outcast to begin with, so I have a hard time striking up a conversation with a boy who's even ... well, who's even half as good-looking as you."

He felt as if he were in a chamber of fun-house mirrors where everything, including conversation, was distorted until nothing quite made sense. "What's the joke here?"


He slowed to thirty miles an hour, then slowed further still, until he was not quite keeping pace with the racing water that nearly overflowed the wide drainage ditch along the right shoulder of the highway. The surging torrents cast back leaping silvery reflections of the headlights.

"Celeste, damn it, I'm forty years old. How could I be just two years ahead of you in high school"

Her expression was somewhere between astonishment and alarm, but then it swiftly gave way to anger. "Why're you being like this? Are you trying to spook me?"

"No, no. I just—"

"Trying to give the principal's kid a real scare, make a fool of her?"

"No, listen—"

"You've been away to college all this time, and you're still that immature? Maybe I should be glad I never had the guts to talk to you before."

Tears shimmered in her eyes.

Nonplussed, he returned his attention to the highway ahead—just as the Springsteen song ended.

The deejay said, "That's 'Thunder Road,' from Born to Run, the new album by Bruce Springsteen."

"New album?" Joey said.

The deejay said, "Is that hot or not? Man, that guy is gonna be huge."

"It's not a new album," Joey said.

Celeste was blotting her eyes with a Kleenex.

"Let's spin one more by the Boss," said the deejay. "Here's 'She's the One,' off the same album."

Pure, passionate, exhilarating rock-'n'-roll exploded from the radio. "She's the One" was as fresh, as powerful, as joyful as it had been when Joey had first heard it twenty years ago.

He said, "What's this guy talking about? It's not new. Born to Run is twenty years old."

"Stop it," she said in a voice colored half by anger and half by hurt. "Just stop it, okay?"

"It was all over the radio back then. He knocked the whole world on its ass. The real stuff. Born to Run."

"Give it up," she said fiercely. "You're not scaring me any more. You're not going to make the principal's nerdy kid cry."

She had fought back her tears. Her jaw was clenched, and her lips were tightly compressed.