"Born to Run," he insisted, "is twenty years old."


"Twenty years old."

Celeste huddled against the passenger door, pulling as far away from him as she could.

Springsteen rocked.

Joey's mind spun.

Answers occurred to him. He dared not consider them, for fear that they would be wrong and that his sudden rush of hope would prove unfounded.

They were traveling through a narrow passage carved from the mountain. Walls of rock crowded the blacktop and rose forty feet into the night, reducing their options to the road ahead and the road behind.

Barrages of cold rain snapped with bullet-hard ferocity against the Mustang.

The windshield wipers throbbed—lubdub, lubdub—as though the car were a great heart pumping time and fate instead of blood.

At last he dared to look at the rearview mirror.

In the dim light from the instrument panel, he could see little, but what little he could see was enough to fill him with wonder, with awe, with wild exhilaration, with fear and with delight simultaneously, with respect for just how very strange the night and the highway had become. In the mirror, his eyes were clear, and the whites of them were luminescent white: They were no longer bleary and bloodshot from twenty years of heavy drinking. Above his eyes, his brow was smooth and unlined, untouched by two decades of worry and bitterness and self-loathing.

He jammed his foot on the brake pedal, the tires shrieked, and the Mustang fishtailed.

Celeste squealed and put out her hands to brace herself against the dashboard. If they had been going fast, she wound have been thrown out of her seat.

The car skidded across the double yellow line into the other lane, coward the far rock wall, but then slid into a hundred-eighty-degree turn, back into the lane where they'd begun, and came to a stop on the roadway, facing the wrong direction.

Joey grabbed the rearview mirror, tilted it up to reveal a hairline that had not receded, tilted it down past his eyes, left, right.

"What are you doing?" she demanded.

Though his hand was shaking uncontrollably, he found the switch for the dome light.

"Joey, we could be hit head-on!" she said frantically, though there were no headlights approaching.

He leaned closer to the small mirror, turned it this way and that, craned his neck, trying to capture every possible aspect of his face in that narrow rectangle.

"Joey, damn it, we can't just sit here!"

"Oh, my God, my God."

"Are you crazy?"

"Am I crazy?" he asked his youthful reflection.

"Get us off the road!"

"What year is it?"

"Drop the stupid act, you moron."

"What year is it?"

"It isn't funny."

"What year is it?" he demanded.

She started to open her door.

"No," Joey said, "wait, wait, all right, you're right, got to get off the road, just wait."

He swung the Mustang around, back in the direction they had been heading before he'd slammed on the brakes, and he pulled to a stop on the side of the road.

Turning to her, pleading with her, he said, "Celeste, don't be angry with me, don't be afraid, be patient, just tell me what year it is. Please. Please. I need to hear you say it, then I'll know it's real. Tell me what year it is, and then I'll explain everything—as much as I can explain it."

Celeste's schoolgirl crush on him was still strong enough to overcome her fear and anger. Her expression softened.

"What year?" he repeated.

"It's 1975," she said.

On the radio, "She's the One" rocked to its glorious end.

Springsteen was followed by a commercial for the current big hit in the movie theaters: Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon.

The past summer it had been Jaws. Steven Spielberg was just starting to become a household name.

The previous spring, Vietnam had fallen.

Nixon had left office the year before.

Amiable Gerald Ford was in the White House, caretaker president of a troubled country. Twice in September, attempts had been made on his life. Lynnette Fromme had taken a shot at him in Sacramento. Sara Jane Moore had gone after him in San Francisco.

Elizabeth Seton had become the first American to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church.

The Cincinnati Reds had won the World Series in seven games.

Jimmy Hoffa had disappeared.

Muhammad Ali was world heavyweight champion.

Doctorow's novel Ragtime. Judith Rossner's Looking for Mr. Goodbar.

Disco. Donna Summers. The Bee Gees.

Now, although still soaked, he realized that he wasn't wearing the suit in which he had attended the funeral and which he had been wearing when he'd fled Henry Kadinska's law office. He was in boots and blue jeans. Hunter's-plaid flannel shirt. Blue-denim jacket with sheepskin lining.

"I'm twenty years old," Joey whispered as reverentially as he once would have spoken to God in the hush of a church.

Celeste reached out and touched his face. Her hand was warm against his cold cheek, and it trembled not with fear but with the pleasure of touching him, a difference that he was able to sense only because he was young again and acutely sensitive to the currents of a young girl's heart.

"Definitely not forty," she said.

On the car radio, Linda Ronstadt launched into the title song from her current hit album: "Heart Like a Wheel."

"Twenty years old," he repeated, and his vision blurred with gratitude to whatever power had brought him to this place, this time, this miraculous passage.

He wasn't merely being given a second chance. This was a shot at

whole new beginning.

"All I've got to do is the right thing," he said. "But how will I know what it is?"

Rain beat, beat, beat on the car with all the fury of judgment drums.

Moving her hand from his cheek, smoothing his rain-soaked hair back from his forehead, Celeste said, "Your turn."


"I told you what year it is. Now you're supposed to explain everything."

"Where do I start? How do I ... make you believe?"

"I'll believe," she softly assured him.

"One thing I know for sure: Whatever I've been brought back here to do, whatever I'm supposed to change, you're at the center of it. You're the heart of it. You're the reason that I have hope for a new life, and any better future I might have hinges on you."

As he'd spoken, her comforting hand had withdrawn from him. Now she held it over her heart.

For a moment the girl seemed unable to breathe, but then she sighed and said, "You get stranger by the minute ... but I'm starting to like it."

"Let me see your hand."

She took her right hand from her heart and turned it palm up.

The dome light was still on, but even that didn't provide enough light for him to read the meaning of the stigmata.

"Give me the flashlight," he said.

Celeste handed it to him.

He switched on the beam and studied both her palms. The wounds had been fading when last he'd looked. Now they were deep again and oozing blood.

Reading the reawakened fear in his face, she said, "What do you see, Joey?"

"Nail holes."

"There's nothing."


"There's nothing in my hands."

"You can't see, but you've got to believe."

Hesitantly, he touched her palm. When he raised his finger, the tip of it glistened with her blood.

"I can see it. I can feel it," he said. "It's so frighteningly real to me."

When he looked at her, she was staring wide-eyed at his crimson fingertip. Her mouth was an oval of surprise. "You ... you must've cut yourself."

"You can see it?"

"On your finger," she confirmed, a tremor in her voice.

"In your hand?"

She shook her head. "There's nothing on my hands."

He touched another finger to her palm. It came away wet with her blood.

"I see it," she said tremulously. "Two fingers."

Transubstantiation. The precognitive vision of blood in her hand had been transformed by his touch—and by some miracle—into the real blood of her body.

She touched the fingers of her left hand to the palm of her right, but they found no blood.

On the radio, Jim Croce—not yet dead in a plane crash—was singing "Time in a Bottle."

"Maybe you can't see your own fate by looking at yourself," Joey said. "Who of us can? But somehow ... through me ... through my touch, you're being ... I don't know ... being given a sign."

He gently pressed a third finger to her palm, and it too came away slick with blood.

"A sign," she said, not fully grasping what was happening.

"So you'll believe me," he said. "A sign to make you believe. Because if you don't believe me, then I might not be able to help you. And if I can't help you, I can't help myself."

"Your touch," she whispered, taking his left hand in both of hers. "Your touch." She met his eyes. "Joey ... what's going to happen to me ... what would have happened if you hadn't come along?"

"Raped," he said with total conviction, although he didn't understand how he knew. "Raped. Beaten. Tortured. Killed."

"The man in the other car," she said, gazing out at the dark highway, and the tremor in her voice became a shudder that shook her whole body.

"I think so," Joey said. "I think ... he's done it before. The blonde wrapped in plastic."

"I'm scared."

"We have a chance."

"You still haven't explained. You haven't told me. What about the

Chevy you thought you were driving ... your being forty years old?"

She released his hand, leaving it covered with her blood.

He wiped the blood on his jeans. With his right hand he focused the flashlight on her palms. "The wounds are getting worse. Fate, your

destiny, whatever you want to call it—it's reasserting itself."

"He's coming back?"

"I don't know. Maybe. Somehow ... when we keep moving, you're safer. The wounds close up and start to fade. As long as we're moving, change can happen, there's hope."

He switched off the flashlight and gave it to her. He popped the hand brake and drove back onto Coal Valley Road.

"Maybe we shouldn't go the way he went," she said. "Maybe we should go back to the county route, to Asherville or somewhere else, anywhere else, away from him."

"I think that would be the end of us. If we run ... if we take the wrong highway like I did before ... then there's not going to be any mercy in Heaven."

"Maybe we should get help."

"Who's going to believe this?"

"Maybe they'll see ... my hands. The blood on your fingers when you touch me."

"I don't think so. It's you and me. Only you and me against everything."

"Everything," she said wonderingly.

"Against this man, against the fate you would have met if I hadn't taken the turn onto Coal Valley Road—the fate you did meet on that other night when I took the county route instead. You and me against time and the future and the whole great weight of it all coming down like an avalanche."

"What can we do?"

"I don't know. Find him? Face him? We just have to play it as it lays ... do what seems right, minute by minute, hour by hour."

"How long do we have to ... to do the right thing, whatever it is, to do the thing that'll make the change permanent?"

"I don't know. Maybe until dawn. The thing that happened on that night happened in darkness. Maybe the only thing I have to set right is what happened to you, and if we keep you alive, if we just make it through to sunrise, maybe then everything's changed forever."

The tires cut through puddles on the rural lane, and plumes of white water rose like angels' wings on both sides of the car.

"What's this 'other night' you keep talking about?" she asked.

She gripped the extinguished flashlight in both hands in her lap, as though afraid that something monstrous might fly at the Mustang from out of the darkness, a creature that could be repelled and banished by a withering beam of light.

As they drove through the deep mountain night toward the nearly abandoned town of Coal Valley, Joey Shannon said, "This morning when I got out of bed, I was forty years old, a drunk with a rotting liver and no future anyone would want. And this afternoon I stood at my father's graveside, knowing I'd broken his heart, broken my mom's heart too ...."

Celeste listened raptly, able to believe, because she had been given a sign that proved to her that the world had dimensions beyond those she could see and touch.


OUT OF THE RADIO CAME "ONE OF THESE NIGHTS" BY THE EAGLES, "Pick Up the Pieces" by the Average White Band, Ronstadt singing "When Will I Be Loved," Springsteen pounding out "Rosalita," "Black Water" by the Doobie Brothers—and all of them were new songs, the big hits of the day, although Joey had been listening to them on other radios in far places for twenty years.

By the time he had recounted his recent experiences to the point at which he had seen her disabled Valiant, they had reached the top of the long slope above Coal Valley. He coasted to a stop in gravel at the side of the road, beside a lush stand of mountain laurels, though he knew that they couldn't linger for long without risking a reassertion of the pattern of fate that would result in her murder and in his return to living damnation.

Coal Valley was more a village than it was a town. Even before the insatiable mine fire had eaten a maze of tunnels under the place, Coal Valley had been home to fewer than five hundred people. Simple frame houses with tar-shingle roofs. Yards full of peonies and lush huckleberry bushes in the summer, hidden under deep blankets of snow in the winter. Dogwood trees that blazed white and pink and purple in the spring. A small branch of County First National Bank. A one-truck volunteer fire station. Polanski's Tavern, where mixed drinks were rarely requested and most orders were for beer or for beer with shooters of whiskey on the side, where huge jars of pickled eggs and hot sausages in spicy broth stood on the bar. A general store, one service station, a small elementary school.

The village wasn't big enough to have streetlights, but before the government had finally begun condemning properties and offering compensation to the dispossessed, Coal Valley had produced a respectable warm glow in its snug berth among the surrounding night-clad hills. Now all the small businesses were shuttered and dark. The beacon of faith in the church belfry had been extinguished. Lights shone at only three houses, and those would be switched off forever when the final residents departed before Thanksgiving.