Chapter Twenty-Seven

Ralph just kept on walking, and I just kept following him until we were at the western edge of the city, somewhere I'd never been before, heading for the west gate.

"HEY!" I yelled to him, trying to keep up, "Hey! Ralph! What are you doing?"

He wasn't listening then, he was talking up some old guy in a uniform at the gate who looked like Captain Kangaroo. Amazingly enough, the guy flipped a big cartoony lever and the gate came creaking open.

Ralph trotted out, and I was right there with him. The gate slammed behind us with an unearthly thud. We stood there together in the growing darkness, facing the wide open prairie that stretched out before us.

Moist cool air fanned up at us from the grass beneath our feet, and a low fog hung up around our ankles.

"What are you doing?" I asked again, "What are you gonna do - you just gonna run away?"

But he didn't answer me right away. He pulled a bottle out of his coat and took a big long pull on it. Then he looked at me blurrily and said, "You go back. I gottado somethin an you can't help me. You're still a reasonably good human being. So ged the fuck outahere"

Then he started whistling, a low warble, followed by a tweet, followed by a keening sweep, followed by something else - a Tarzan yell of whistles.

And then I saw them - rolling across the plain, now in a V formation, now doing precision doughnuts, horns dopplering across to us in the humid air like they were next to us, and silent - engines still, running on some other motive force, maybe sheer enthusiasm, like dogs barking after a master long remembered but seldom seen. The tires scratched across the sandy ground, and Ralph threw himself into the first humvee, tossed himself through the open window into the driver side, and grabbed the wheel.

I was beyond thought by then (yes, once again), knew only that I had to follow, that something tied me to this guy, no matter whose side he was on, and to whatever the hell we had to do together, even if he didn't see it that way... I hesitate to say "destiny," but what the fuck - it was my destiny to jump into the second humvee before it could peel off again into the growing darkness.

And the six hummers swung quickly around the city, within minutes were plowing through the fray, through the growing fog, thudding wetly into veiled, hulking shapes (I prayed they were the bad guys) until off at what looked like the edge of the conflagration, to my amazement, I spotted Ledelei, trapped between one of the green ogres and a black, three-headed snake thing.

I took hold of the steering wheel, and with some effort, brought the hummer around to head straight for the ogre's backside at about eighty MPH. Just as Ledelei sliced through the first of the snake's heads, I opened the car door, slamming it full-on into the ogre. Glass from the window flew everywhere, and the ogre went down, stunned and bloodied, but not quite dead. I threw the hummer into reverse -  it complained, but responded.

Ledelei looked at me popeyed for a second, stunned, then grabbed me and gave me a big wet kiss on the mouth. My foot was on the brake, holding the humvee back. It was struggling, eager to join its mates, who were far ahead to the northeast.

I knew where they were headed now.

Ledelei let go of me, and tumbled over me into the back seat.

I took my foot off the brake and the hummer peeled out.


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