[Black text on white]
by Jenn Dolari
"This is it, huh?" Jana looked left, then looked right, then stared blankly up the yard.
"Yes, ma'am," replied Sylvia authoritively from her box in Jana's pack.
Jana stared at the sight before her for a second more. "We've been chased by a half-dragon emperor, we've fought an entire ogre tribe, and I've had a shotgun pointed at my face." Again, she stared at the sight before her. "And this is it?"
"And about time, too."
The one story grey bricked suburbanite home, with two car garage and beautifully hewed woodworked front door with center oval window pane sat, rather normally, between two other similarly built houses.
"If it weren't so quiet," Jana said, "this could have been my house."
Sylvia listened for a moment. It really was quiet. No road noise, no soaring airplanes, just the occasional shriek of a kid playing tag, and the birds hiding in the tall pines. "This town was my home for a good number of years in the old world. It's quiet, but otherwise hasn't changed a bit."
"Were you here in 1997?"
"'96." Why would Jana be interested in a date four years before she was born, Sylvia thought. "Why 1997, hun?"
"That's what the date says here on this newspaper. April 28th, 1997."
Sylvia swung her senses over to Jana, and saw the young woman holding a newspaper. "Township to spray Toftrees for gypsy moths. Building code under fire. New petitions against tax," she read off to Sylvia. "It's so...normal."
"Not quite," Sylvia responded. "It hasn't been 1997 for a long time. Still, it's nice to be home."
Jana wrapped the newspaper back in its rubber band and walked up the concrete driveway towards the front door and lightly rapped against the door with the paper. Looking in through the oval window, it seemed the house was empty. "There's no one here."
"Something is here, I can sense its wish stone."
"I'm around back!" came the shout from the backyard. "The gate isn't locked, let yourself in!"
The backyard was a typical suburbanite backyard, with its concrete patio, green Bermuda grass and wooden privacy fencing. It was immaculately kept, with a koi pond in the back, grass trimmed to exact height, a small stack of logs in the corner, and a warm sizzle from the barbecue grill. A small victory garden full of tomato plants sat off to the side.
"Have yourself a seat!" came another yell, this time from just inside the house. "The burger's'll be ready in a minute!" Jana looked around cautiously, and not sensing any threat, gently put her pack down and sat at one of the four chairs surrounding the glass iron wrought table. "Stella won't be in till later tonight, so there's plenty to go around!"
Out of the open double doors came an older man, not old enough to be retired, but old enough to look his age, loaded down with fixings. He looked up from the freshly chopped pickle slices at Jana with a twinkle in his eye that reminded her of her father. "Hope you're hungry, I had to cook all this before it started to turn." He looked around the backyard. "I thought I heard two of you."
Jana didn't know what to say. This was so...normal. Normal enough, though, for her to know that a talking skull was probably not something the man was used to. "No, sir. It's just me. My name is Jana. Jana Anderson."
"What a proper name and proper manners, Jana Anderson" the man remarked flipping his burgers and hotdogs. "We don't usually get both of those from out of towners."
"Out of towners?"
The man slathered on a thick layer of mayonnaise from a small mason jar on a grilled hamburger bun. "Dressed like you are, you're probably not from around here." Jana, suddenly realizing the suburbs of Pennsylvania were probably no place to be wearing leather animal skins, began to curl up in self consciousness. "Maybe Huntingdon, but not from here." He grinned to himself amused at getting a dig at the rival high school town that most likely no longer existed.
"Still, you've got a good name, and you seem to be human, unlike some of the out of towners we get. You're probably just one of the poor souls caught out there when we scratched the world."
He placed a thick burger on a plate in front of her. "The name is Marty Yoder. Welcome to the last vestige of the modern world, State College."
Jana hadn't eaten so much in either of her remembered lives. Burgers, hot dogs, french fries and apple juice. The barbecue lasted from noon till twilight, with neighbors coming over throughout the day to sample Marty's food as they talked and joked.
She kept mostly quiet, though. This was a grown-ups party, and, even though she was grown-up now, she didn't really know what to say or do. She usually ended up staring at her apple juice a lot when more than four people showed up at any one time.
Towards sunset, the party wound down to just Marty, Jana, and the fresh-from-the-farm Stella. The barbecue embers were slowly dying out, and the stars we beginning to pop into view.
"And while the Amish were loading up this week's groceries," Stella continued, "they told me they were working on planting orange trees. Oranges! In this climate!"
"Well, if anyone can manage it, it's them." Marty chuckled, "Who would have thought they'd be the ones to be thriving here."
"Who are the Amish?" Jana asked, wondering if she needed to brush up on another ogre tribe.
"You really aren't from around here are you?" Marty replied. "They're a religious group that does a lot of farming outside the city. They're a couple of small groups around here, mostly keep to themselves. They like to shun a lot of things, though. Vanity, people, electricity." With that, a loud snap came from within the house and lights popped on from inside.
"Speak of the devil," said Stella. "The electricity is on. Is it that late already?"
Marty checked his watch. "Sure enough." He patted Jana on the shoulder. "Let's head inside and let the A/C do its job."
The inside of the house wasn't as big as most of the houses Jana was used to in her life in the suburbs. Just one bedroom and a small living room with one wall's trophy case filled to the brim with racing trophies. The other hung two checkered flags around pictures of Marty and a bunch of celebrities.
"Have a seat, Jana." Said Stella, plopping down on a well cushioned chair. Stella seemed to be a close friend of Marty's, Jana surmised. Maybe even his girlfriend, but obviously not his wife, which made the small house just big enough for Marty.
"Hey, you were right! If I just leave the door closed, the fridge stays cold!" Marty shouted from the back of the kitchen. "Anyone need anymore juice?"
Jana shook her head. "Just some for me, Marty!" shouted Stella. They obviously were comfortable with each other if they shouted all the time, Jana thought. Stella turned her attention back to the oddly dressed girl sitting on the sofa. "Just between you and me, I hope the microbreweries start up again. Juice just doesn't have the kick I'd like these days." Stella looked over the barbarian girl, remembering some of the other similarly dressed stragglers that had come into town. "Is it true, everything you were saying? There's not much else outside the city?"
Jana nodded. "This is the first place I've seen that's an actual city, with streets, electricity, real houses, cars..."
"Ain't no cars," Marty said as he came in, handing a glass of apple juice to Stella. "Well, there are plenty of cars. Just no gas. And electricity only at night. In fact I have the only-"
"Marty, please" Stella chided. She needed to hear this. "Go on."
"There are people out there. Lots of people. Even some towns. But all the ones I've seen...they're just...all changed. The whole world is just all changed." Jana looked at herself seeing the garb of a huntress contrasting with the upholstered couch she sat on. "Even me."
There was an awkward silence for a minute or two. Stella could tell there was something on the girl's mind wanted to say, but noticed that Marty seemed lost in thought as well. She fumbled with the TV remote control and turned it on. All static, except for channel 10, which showed a screen full of colorbars.
"Well, that makes me even more grateful that we have electricity in the evenings again. I sure wish the television stations would decide on what time to show the news and what time to show the test patterns, though."
"What happened to the power? And the Television?" Jana asked trying to distract herself.
"It all stopped when the world changed. April 28th." Marty said staring at his glass. "State College was still here, Bellefonte was still here, but, like you said, everywhere else. Gone. You don't realize how interconnected society is 'til it's gone."
"But we're making do," Stella piped in, "We've had some power for the last few months, the television station is at least broadcasting news again. They said city council sent a group of people to Harrisburg, to see if the nuclear plant there was functioning. You've been out there. Do you think they made it?"
Jana lowered her head, she didn't have an answer, and she didn't think any realistic answer would be welcome.
"April 28th...all gone." Marty muttered to himself. He shook his head, like he was trying to forget something very important. The twinkle in his eye returned as he suddenly slapped his knee and popped up off the sofa.
"Well, You're obviously new in town, and I'll bet you don't have a place to stay tonight, Jana. That sofa there folds out into a bed and there's a shower in the hallway bathroom. I'm sure Stella can scare up some bedclothes for you and maybe something a little more appropriate for life in the city. After you get acquainted with the borough, we'll get you a job, and a place of your own."
"If that's what you want," Stella grinned. "What do you say?"
"You've been out there," Marty said, almost pleading. "You could let us know what we'll be facing when we get back up and running. We could really use you."
Jana laid on the bed, bundled under the sheets listening to the chirps of insects and the calls of nightbirds from the open windows. Sitting next to her, was her mentor's skull, out of the box, placed gently on a pillow. She had no real idea if it made much if a difference, but she hoped Sylvia enjoyed being out of her box every so often.
"It's a tempting offer, I'm sure," Sylvia whispered. "But I still think we're on the right track collecting these wish stones."
Jana's mind was racing. There might not be a lot of sleep tonight, she thought. "Getting Jin's fixed him, but it didn't change him back. They didn't change Allisandra. Maybe they won't change anyone back." Jana stared at the ceiling fan wishing the power was back on. It was a cool night, but muggy.
"It's a win-win situation, Jana. If we collect his wish stone, there's a very good chance this town and everyone in it will still be here. It'll still be here if we don't. And if we manage to change everything back, the town ages again, but in the end, it's still here. Either way, you can come back."
"If we don't die first," Jana sighed.
"Baby steps, hun, baby steps. This'll all be over in no time." Sylvia didn't have the heart to tell her of the nearly forty gems left to collect. "Get some sleep, and we'll worry about Marty's wish in the morning."
Jana lightly placed the skull back in her box, put the box back in her pack, curled up in her sheet and slept.
The sound of a motor snapped Jana awake. Fearing the worst, she bolted to the front door window, to see who was stealing her motorbike, only to see it sitting next to the mail box where she last left it.
"Morning, sleepyhead." Stella peered in from the kitchen over the morning newspaper. "Do you always wake up like that?"
Jana gave herself a second to get her heart back down near her lungs. "No, I just thought I heard my bike."
"Oh, that was just Marty. He's heading back to the Amish farm to get today's groceries for the town. There's some eggs here if you'd like them." Stella put down the newspaper, revealing new headlines, but the same date - April 28th, 1997. "I left some clothes for you on the chair. I figured you might want something a little less...well...worn."
"I thought I heard a motor. He has a bike, too?"
"He's got a car. A real working car. The only one in town."
Jana's ears perked up. "Can I get those eggs to go?"
Jana drove her way down the empty highway towards the Amish colony in Parvin. The directions Stella gave her were as crystal clear to her as Marty's wish. "It's the car! It has to be! It's the only one in town. And if there's no gas, how can it still be running?"
"Then why is the town still here and why it's still April 28th?" Sylvia asked.
"Do we really need to know? If we can get him to give up the car, we'll have his stone!"
Sylvia really wished she could shake her head sometimes. The girl had smarts, no denying that. But she still had an eight year old's impatience. Maybe it was the eighteen year old huntress' impatience. Either way, something she'd need to work on. "Think it through, Jana. If we convince him to give up his car and it's not his wish, it's going to be even harder to get him to give up whatever his wish is."
They heard her before they ever saw her drive up to the barn. The motorbike's engine was loud, and with little noise to stop it, carried for miles down the valley. Marty dropped the crate of potatoes into the trailer and turned to the farmer. "If that's who I think it is, Amos, we might get one more crate of potatoes into town." Amos said nothing, merely nodding his head in acknowledgement.
The house was a rather nice two story house that had housed two Amish families for a few generations. They'd mostly kept to themselves, selling their produce at farmer's markets every month, but once the world changed, the English had turned to them for support. In turn, the families turned to their church.
The once a month farmer's market was now supplying the town with weekly produce, for free. Not much per person, but enough for the town to survive cut off from the rest of the world. All they asked was that the townspeople begin to fend for themselves, and if those English were anything like Marty, the town would be back in shape in no time.
Marty and Amos stopped loading the trailer for a moment to see the young woman drive up in her motorbike. Wearing Stella's more modern deep blue t-shirt and jeans, Jana was a far cry from the savage that drove into town the day before. The only evidence of that girl left were the braids in her hair.
"Amos, meet Jana, an out of towner," Marty said. "We're hoping she'll stick around, let us know what's out there." Amos smiled at the woman, putting his hand to his hat as he nodded again at her. Marty dumped the crate of potatoes on her hands. "But for now, she can help us get just a little more into town!"
Jana looked down at the potatoes, and suddenly began craving French fries. Putting aside her taste buds for a second, she refocused on Marty. "Can we talk somewhere?" She eyed Amos apologetically, "Alone?"
"If you'll excuse us, Amos. We'll be out of your hair in just a bit." Marty put his hand on Jana's shoulder, nudging her towards the front of the potato trailer. "Now, what can I do for you, ma'am?"
Jana looked down at the potatoes, trying to determine the best way she could tell Marty what she was here for. "Marty, I...do you remember the restaurant? Back in Texas?"
Marty stopped cold, the twinkle in his eye disappeared. "Yes. Yes, I remember that place. Last thing I remember before coming here."
"What happened? Do you remember what happened after you were at the restaurant?"
Marty's eyes looked off into the distant horizon, focused on nothing but his memories. "I had just sat down...looking over the menu." He chuckled to himself, "I was complaining about how hot it was outside. Then...something happened. Someone looked right into my heart." He thumped his chest lightly with his fist. "I could feel it, like someone was looking right through me. It saw something I wanted desperately again."
"Next thing I know I'm in my car flying down Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania, slamming on the brakes so I wouldn't crash into the curbside barrier. Just outside of town."
Jana put the potatoes down on the hood of Marty's car, causing Marty to snap out his trance. "Careful there, Jana. Can't scratch the ads on the hood, you know. I owe those advertisers, even if they're not around anymore."
Jana examined the car for the first time since she saw it. It was a small car, with little stickers and advertisements covering its white chassis.
"My old 1995 Subaru Impreza WRC Road Rally Racer. Betcha can't say that five times fast, kiddo. My last racing car. Got me a good number of road rallies wins up and down the east coast." He patted the car lovingly on the hood. "I had to sell her in '99. After retirement, I just couldn't keep her going."
Jana picked up her box of potatoes, being careful not to scratch the advertisement underneath. "So you wished for that car?"
"Guess I did," Marty replied. "Put me back on April 28th, 1997, in my old racer, never ending tank of gas." He thumped the roof of the car like he was patting an old reliable horse. "Gave me back my old life. The day before I retired."
Jana looked back down at the potatoes, trying not to look Marty in the eye. "Would you give it up? Ever?"
Marty looked off to the horizon. "I got my life back. I got my car back. I'm home again. But I killed the rest of the world doing it." He turned to Jana, "You remember the restaurant, right? What were you before my wish turned you out into the woods? Before my wanting of a car scratched the world?" His eyes focused harder on the horizon, tightening up. "All these changes. My fault. For my damned car."
Marty cleared his throat, trying to keep his voice from breaking. "Still, I'm paying my penance. I have the only reliable transportation in the county, I'm using it to pay it all back. One man trucking company - well, two now that I taught Stella how to drive this thing. It's not a race, but it's a job. Yeah, I'd give up my car if it'd bring back everything. But I don't think it'd make a lick of good, really."
Jana put down the potatoes, waiting for the gem to pop out of Marty as he gave up his wish...and yet there was nothing. No flash of light, no gem falling to the ground. Just Marty fighting back guilt.
"Marty, it wasn't you. It was me." Jana couldn't get him to look at her. "I made the wish that gave everyone what they wanted most. I made the wish that 'scratched the world.' I know because I've already met other people who had wishes. It's not just you. And I hope...I hope that I can change it back one day. All I need you to do is give up your wish."
Marty sighed. "You want the car, girl? Do you know how many times a week I hear someone wanting my car? You've already got a bike, Jana, you don't need a car. Besides, I've gotta job to do." Marty opened his car door and got in, slamming it behind him. "I have a bill to pay to the whole planet. I'm not letting you take my wallet."
"I don't need the car! Just the wish!" Marty couldn't hear her over the loud rumble of the car. It was a big engine, from the sound of it. And as much as Marty would have loved to peel out, leaving the young woman in the dust, he drove off slowly, pulling the trailer of vegetables behind him.
Sylvia had caught the whole exchange, and knew both Jana and Marty were not in a good place after that. Jana was upset because she'd upset Marty, someone who opened up his home to her. Sylvia had remained quiet all this time. She knew better than to speak up to Marty who may not be ready to see her in her current form. If ever.
She knew the girl would need a quick pick-me-up, and so her first words in too long were directions to a park she knew. Sometimes, the best way to cheer up a child is to let them be a child, and Sunset Park gave Jana a chance to have a playground all to herself.
Sylvia watched from the inside of her box as the eighteen year old woman give way to the eight year old child, playing on the swing sets and slides. Her own long lost children from the old world were gone, and Jana was all she had now. It was nice to see a child playing again.
It also allowed her some time to think for herself, instead of trying to herd Jana from one place to another and think. If the car wasn't the wish, then what was? And how were they going to get him to give up that wish, now that he knew that Jana was up to something? Too many questions, not enough answers. At least time was on their side for once.
She figured a little more time watching Jana play was time they could afford.
"Don't do this Marty. You know better than to do this." Marty sat in his Rally Car, and his Rally Car sat in the garage. Stella pled with him as he strapped his helmet on.
"She can't have the car. It's all I've got left to fix things."
"Marty, she's just one girl. It's not like she can take it." She pulled his chin to her, making him face her for the first time since he got in the car. "Remember when those two teenagers tried to steal it? The whole town nearly skinned them alive when we told them!"
Marty saw the bike pull up. "Out of the way, Stella."
Jana parked her bike back by the mailbox and trudged up the sidewalk to the house. She was about to knock on the door when it opened up on its own. Stella was waiting there, looking like she had been crying, holding a crash helmet with advertisements in her arms.
"I don't know what you did to him," she sobbed. "I don't know what you said to him. But for god's sake, don't make him do anything foolish." She held the helmet out to Jana, then turned away into the house the moment she took it. Immediately the rumble of the road rally car kicked in, and the car rolled out of the garage.
"I'm paying for my mistake with this car, kiddo." Marty strapped on his own crash helmet. "You want it? You come and get it!" He slapped down his visor, tearing out of the driveway and into the street. She heard the squeal of tires heading out of the subdivision, into the distance.
"Jana, get after him!" Sylvia shouted form her box. Jana threw on the helmet Stella had given him, and took off down the road as well.
He wasn't hard to follow, being the only engine other than hers running, but Marty did his best to shake her. A few swerves and some drifting and he was flying down Big Hollow Road, hoping that the road became mostly undrivable as it was in 1997. Sure enough, a few miles down, the road was just a rough dirt path - perfect for his road rally tried and tested car, bumpy as hell for the little girl on a bike.
But Jana hadn't been driving through the wilderness of North America without learning a few things. She deftly made all the curves and switchbacks, splashing through the creek that had long overrun the road without any care for the mud she splattered on nearly half the bike.
The road was beginning to pick up again. There would be pavement coming up in front of him soon, and Jana coming up from behind. He hit the accelerator, hoping to get Jana to speed up as well. Upon hitting the asphalt, Marty slammed on the brakes, quietly begging the Jana wouldn't smash into the car's rear end.
Jana saw the red brake lights kick in, and she swerved to miss him, nearly toppling herself over. Flying past the car she managed to keep from hitting the road more by luck, than skill, slowing to a complete stop after seeing Marty go for a three point turn. The bike wasn't nearly as hard to spin around as the car, and once Marty was going back into the closed off portion of the road, Jana was even closer than before. A few bumps on the washed out road near the creek saw Jana nearly spill off the bike again, but before long the road smoothed back out, paving up.
Marty hit two hard rights and a left ploughing up Bald Eagle mountain, and turning down another winding road with a sheer cliff to their right. Switchbacks and hard curves slowly wound their way back down the mountain into the valley town of Bellefonte. All the while, Jana nipped at his heels.
Entering into Bellefonte, Marty narrowly avoided hitting two children playing in what were usually abandoned streets. Marty looked in consternation at his rear view mirrors. She was good. This wasn't going to be a matter of outskilling her into giving up, and he wasn't going to hurt the girl anymore than he had to.
He had to get out of towns and get some breathing room He'd have to lose her. She couldn't have much gas left in that bike, he thought. He could simply outrun her. He drifted towards the city courthouse, flying up the steep hill it sat on, aiming for the freeway.
Jana did her best to keep him in sight, losing him occasionally, but using the sound of his engine to catch back up with him. If only he'd stop and listen, she thought. She turned onto the freeway after him.
"Where are we, do you think?" Jana said wearily.
"I don't know...we've been on the road a long time." Sylvia responded. "I don't think I can keep the bike going much longer, we'll need to stop."
The freeway had long since disappeared, crumbling into paths and clearings the farther they got from the two towns. The morning had long since turned into evening, stars were appearing in the sky overhead, and Marty was still flying at speeds upward of eighty miles an hour.
"We can't stop, Sylvia. He doesn't run out of gas. If we stop, he'll get away."
"If we don't stop soon, hun, I'm not going to be able to power this bike anymore. We'll be out of gas. And so will you." Jana heard her stomach growl at that. She hadn't eaten anything since that morning. "He'll have to go home eventually."
"He doesn't have any food with him, or a world class huntress to get it for him."
Jana slowed down, the motorbikes headlight was bright, but not well suited to the large clearing that Marty had taken them down. She brought the bike to a stop and got off. She was despondent over having to lose Marty, but her stomach was insistent that she was also very hungry.
It didn't take long for her to catch something small for dinner. A quick hunt found her a small rodent, and after she'd started a campfire using just a few sticks and dry twigs, cooked it to perfection.
With night setting in, she pulled out a small sleeping sack from her pack, leaving the fire burning to protect her from other animals that may have been eyeing her for breakfast. Jana lay on her back looking up at the stars. She couldn't believe that so many hours of doing nothing but driving could be so exhausting.
And somewhere in all this, in the back of her mind, she registered the sound of a motor being turned off.
Marty hadn't seen hide nor hair of the girl for a while now. He hadn't thought she would chase him down for however long he'd been driving. The clock had said eight hours, but it felt more like two. And to be honest, he hadn't had that much fun in a long time. The thrill of seeing a car in your rear view mirror and keeping it there was enough to keep him moving.
Still, she was gone now, and maybe for good. His stomach growled. He hadn't thought about that and there wasn't much for eating around wherever he was now. He reached around behind his seat, finding a potato sitting alone in a crevice. It must have fallen back there on one of his recent trips as it looked fresh.
He got out of his car and looked around him. A wide clearing in the woods stared back at him. No sign of anyone save the sound of insects and the brightly starred night sky. He closed his eyes and drank in the nature. He'd been born out in the country, and while he'd gotten used to city life, the sounds of nature still gave him some inner piece.
He dug through the glove compartment in the racer, finding an old matchbook with a few matches left from when he used to smoke. Gathering up some falling twigs and leaves, he made a small fire for himself, baking the potato as best he could. It wasn't much, but it was dinner.
After watching the night sky for a bit, and counting two falling stars, a rustling in the woods reminded him that he should probably sleep someone where a bit more protected. He got in his car, locked up, set the seatback down, and got a few hours of sleep.
The morning brought with it the chirps of morning songbirds, and a light drizzle to rinse the dust of the windshield. Marty got out, stretched his legs, and cooled off in the mist. Doing a once over in the car, he didn't see any dings or scratches, the tires were immaculate and it seemed even the dust and mud were running away from the chassis in little rivulets of water.
Scouring behind the seat Marty managed to find another small potato. While his stomach was grumbling, he knew better than to chow down on a potato. He'd have to find his way back home. With the wild ride, he figured he'd traveled mostly west. Might take a couple of days to find his way back.
"We should talk to him, before he leaves," Sylvia whispered from inside her box.
"Quiet." Jana gently pulled back a branch watching him with eagle eyes. "Voices carry in this weather, and you'll frighten him off." She reached down for her dagger.
"You're not going to-"
"Quiet!" she whispered as loud as she could without being noticed. She took her dagger out, spearing it into a tree. "I want him to notice I'm not armed, but I don't need you scaring him off before I have that chance!"
Sylvia was about to say something when Jana took off the pack with her in it and laid it silently on the ground. Whatever the girl was going to do, it would be without her for the moment.
Jana walked on quiet feet, feeling the ground beneath her to minimize the sound she'd make as she shifted her weight onto it. She wanted to be in front of him before he knew it. Before he'd have a chance to run. Like any prey, silence was the key.
Marty looked around at the beauty before him. It was fall out here, for the first time in a long time, it was no longer April 28th. The trees were spectacular shades of red and orange, purple hues mixed with yellows. His took a deep breath of the crisp clean fall air. He'd missed this. Marty took out a small handkerchief from his pocket and gently wiped the condensation from the windshield.
"Marty?" Marty flipped around, startled. Jana stood there, arms out from her sides, slowly walking towards him from the other side of the car. "Marty. We just need to talk. Just for a second."
Marty slowly shifted, putting more of the car between him and Jana, inching for the door. "You can't have the car. It's all I have left to make things right."
"I know. I don't want the car, Marty. I thought maybe at first, the car was your wish. Now I don't know. But it's not the car. Can we talk? Just for a few minutes?"
Marty wasn't sure, but felt the girl wasn't lying. And if she didn't need the car, what was she after? Maybe a few minutes would be okay. But they've have to be a few minutes closer to the steering wheel.
"I just need you to tell me, what it was you felt when you got your wish. What was it you wanted?" Jana attempted to walk around the car's hood slowly, pacing the trapped animal as he slowly backed away from her. She just needed to get him away from the driver's side door.
"I told you, girl, something just reached into my heart and put me in my old car." He began to feel a surge of adrenaline begin to pump into his blood.
"On April 28th, 1997."
He concentrated on directing the adrenalined energy, focusing like he did passing cars on tight curves. "Day before I retired"
Sylvia listened intently from her box, watching the two carefully. Jana was being particularly lucid and attentive. She could see Jana's concentration wasn't just on trying to isolate Marty away from the car, but on his questions. Jana's hunting instincts were keeping the child in her at bay, something Sylvia decided she would have to keep in mind for later.
"What did you want on that last day? More than anything."
Suddenly Marty's eyes brightened, and a smile came to his face. "I remember, I remember now!" he said pushing forward. Startled Jana took a few steps back. "I'd been so caught up in fixing what I broke, that I forgot what I'd really most wanted!"
Sylvia watched as Jana's concentration broke, and she began walking backwards, noticeably non-carefully.
Marty leapt to the driver's door to his car and in a flash, had the door opened and the ignition started. Jana jumped out of the way as Marty peeled out on the dirt path, screaming with elated joy as he passed her. "I WANTED ONE LAST RACE!" The car drove down the path, revved the engine a few times, and howled with joy. "COME AND GET ME!"
The first chase had been a dead straight tear through the country side, Marty hoping to wear the girl out on a long trip to escape her. But this, this was for fun. Marty played with Jana, keeping her just far away in his rearview mirror to keep her chasing him, while never exactly going dead straight. He ploughed through the remains of some kind of tract housing subdivision, driving around the grid as Jana attempted to catch up by crisscrossing vacant overgrown lots. He looked into his rearview mirror again and smiled. That wasn't a very happy little girl back there.
Jana's clothes were already torn and tattered by stray branches and twigs, and the constant snagging on bushes and trees weren't helping. Between the little rips and tears, the mist forming in the overcast sky and Marty's playing with her by making donuts in the long forgotten lawns, she was beginning to get irked. Restoring the world wasn't a game!
Marty feigned engine trouble, watching the girl catch up as he jabbed at the gas. Just as she caught up, he peeled out, aiming for a bridge that he assumed would take him out of the subdivision. In the rearview, Jana gritted her teeth and sped up to catch up. He grinned to himself - he hadn't had this much fun in years. He sunk his eyes back onto the road just in time to see that the bridge had long since collapsed, and he was headed right for the edge. He jammed on the brakes, making a hard left and screeching to a halt just inches from the end.
Jana, flying full throttle for him, saw only the car sitting there, catching the view of the missing bridge section too late. She jammed on the breaks, skidding the bike to a stop and attempting to overcome her inertia. Instead the bike fell on it's side hitting hard against the bridge railing. Sylvia, sitting in the pack on Jana's back, pulled up a shield to attempt to keep Jana from skidding painfully on the pavement, but instead the bubble slid her down under the bike and right to the edge and over crumbling roadway. Janna grabbed the end of the bridge, but with the weight of her pack, she immediately lost her grip.
At that exact moment, and hand came out, grabbing her forearm and nearly yanking it out of her shoulder socket. "Gotcha!" Marty smiled.
Other than a sore arm and shoulder, Jana was mostly unhurt. Vengeance wouldn't be too happy that the bike had a few paint scratches, but had no real other damage. After picking her up and dusting her off, Marty and Jana sat around a campfire on the bridge roadway. "I'm sorry about that scare, Jana." He speared a stick into his potato, roasting it over the campfire. "I was just having so much fun, I didn't see where I was goin'." Jana just stared into the fire, barely hearing him. She hadn't said a word since Marty had pulled her up. She could only replay the vision of herself dangling off the end of the bridge. "Once I remembered what I'd wished for, I just kinda got carried away." Jana nodded, again, staring into the fire as it tried to cleanse her mind of her near death. "But I got it. Guess, you can't have another race after getting a your 'One Last Race.'"
A bright flash that came out of Marty, and an obsidian orb with red specks that came out of his chest and dropped into his lap. He picked it up and looked at it coolly, rubbing his chest where it'd popped out. "This is what you wanted all along, wasn't it? Such a little thing to go through all the trouble of chasing me down."
Jana just stared at the fire.
"You okay, Jana?"
"I'm okay." It was the kind of automatic reflex of a response you get with the kind of thousand yard stare she had aimed at the fire.
Marty shifted closer to her, putting an arm on her shoulder. "You're not okay. Talk to me, sweetie."
The stare broke, but was replaced with the hurt look of a child wanting to know it would all be better. "I almost died there, Marty. If you hadn't caught me, I think I would have died."
"You chased me down like a pro yesterday. You could have died a few times yesterday, but you didn't. What made today different."
Jana rubbed her aching arm. "I don't know if that was me. There's someone else in my head. Another me. The one that was always here. She's angry and never thinks about anything." She looked back into the fire. "But when I fell, that wasn't her. That was me. And I was scared."
Marty didn't know what to say to that, but her voice sounded so scared and hurt and alone that he put his arm around her, and held her gently. They both watched the fire burn to embers as she cried.
Jana returned after a few hours with a pouch full of berries she'd collected in the woods, and a small fox roasting over a fire. Marty had watched the young woman track, kill and skin it, then go on about her business collecting berries like it was second nature to her. And maybe it was in this topsy turvy world outside of State College. Jana walked up to him and offered him the bag of berries. "The fox will be ready in a bit. You'll should take these, too. That'll be enough food to get you back into town."
"Jana...that 'other you.' Did she get that fox and the berries?"
"I know things because of her. Sometimes she takes over, sometimes she just tells me things."
"Was it her idea to give me these things."?
Jana nodded slowly.
"Then I don't think she's as unthinking as you think she is."
Jana smiled. Sometimes the hunter in her worked with her, sometimes it took over. She wasn't so sure exactly how that worked, and most of the times, even when it was happening, so she was glad to know that the huntress could be more than just angry.
"Heads up!" Marty tossed his gem lightly to Jana, who caught it squarely in her hands. "That gem was totally worth it. You gave an old man one last run around the track, which was just what I needed."
"You heading back into town?" Jana said, examining the gem.
"Yeah, I think I can find my way back. Due east and aim for the lights." He put his hand on her shoulder, "If you ever find your way back to State College, Jana. The door is always open. You gave me my greatest wish, it's the least I can do."
She grinned at him. "Finally, someplace I can go where no one is angry at me!"
Marty made it home to town a day later. The car only just made it, running out of gas just outside his subdivision. He walked to the door, picking up the newspaper and opening it to the horoscopes for April 29th, 1997. "Gonna be a good day," he said confidently.
Stella met him at the door with a concerned look on he face, he just smiled, then returned her look with the kind of kiss you only saw in old movies from the Thirties. April 29th was going to be a good day, indeed.