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Back To Bethlehem

Chapter 1

Custom artwork by Jessica Stanley depicting a hitchhiker.

If only I'd stayed on the bus, I thought to myself as I stepped around fresh roadkill on the side of the highway. About an hour ago I'd gotten off the big silver dog at a rest stop and almost made it to the snack bar before this lanky long-haired guy in a black trench coat slithered up and asked me if I wanted to buy some hash. Nepalese black finger hash to be more precise. And now for the added bonus. Wait for it … opium streaks. Ride 'em cowboy. We zipped around the corner and had a chat and a smoke. I ended up handing him the last hundred dollars in my wallet. A trade in bartered goods, if you will. My mood lifted a little after he left. He creeped me out 'cause he seemed to glide about noiselessly and besides; who wears a black trench coat on a day as blazing as this. Nice thing about black though, it hides the blood stains.

But still, this hash would be a nice treat once I got home. Maybe smoke up the gang and definitely have a pipeful or two with Lolly, a local girl I'd been dating up until I had to leave for the summer job with my uncle. I'd been working every summer since I turned sixteen. I remember sitting at the family kitchen table the day after the school year ended. Dad asked me what my plans were for the summer. I told him I'd probably spend it hanging out with my pals. He casually mentioned that while I was attending school I lived rent free. However, July is just around the corner and rent is two hundred dollars per month. Best go find a job, son. The next day I had a job with the Department Of Highways, slashing brush on the sides of the highways for twelve dollars an hour. Once I saw my first paycheque I was hooked. After that I always had my own money.

Lolly. Lolly was a magnet for at least half of the guys in her school. That's where I first met her. My band and I were playing an afternoon showcase in her high-school gym. After we'd finished she came up, hugged me and thanked me for playing her favourite song. We'd had a few gigs under our belts, roller rinks and such. I'd autographed a few t-shirts, napkins and two empty wine bottles but never got a hug before. And a hard hug at that. We got along well so she gave me her number. We'd been pretty much inseparable since, except for the summer. That old song about saying good-bye for the summer with that sad harmonica …

Oh, fuck. As I round the corner I see an empty parking lot. A suitcase that contains a pair of faded Levi jeans (which I would run into a burning building to save) with eighteen hundred dollars tucked sweetly into the back pocket. And oh. A fifty-seven white Fender Stratocaster in a hard shell case. I discovered it in a local pawnshop two days before. I had just finished closing my bank account. I bought it for five hundred dollars. Harry, he of Harry's Pawn, wanted seven hundred. He changed his mind when I showed him the five brand spanking new hundred dollar bills. Oh, and told him I was prepared to walk. So five hundred it was. And now that white guitar and suitcase are on their way home. Without me. Okay. I try to look on the bright side of things. There's nothing to slow me down. So I run to the highway 'cause I just know my stuff won't stick around for very long if I don't beat the bus back to Vancouver. A hitch-hiker's hero indeed.

I've been walking and hitch-hiking with no luck and I scold myself with each step. Now I'm worried about the hash. Too valuable to toss but a real heat score when your hair's almost down to your ass. Cops around here aren't cool. We're in rookie country. One of the province's largest training facilities is just down the road apiece. You can bet your ass there's law and order around these parts. By the book.

A two-tone blue station wagon with Montana plates drove by earlier. One of two vehicles that had passed this way. Looking back, it's funny that I don't remember the other vehicle at all. Three guys in their mid-twenties wearing dangerous looking straw cowboy hats scowled as they sped past me. Oops, make that four people. A head popped up and the sweaty grime face of a wild-eyed blonde girl appeared in the station wagon's rear window as it vanished over the hill. I thought nothing of it at the time. It gets hot here. It's hot now. It would be a mistake to take off my jean jacket with only bare skin underneath. This two o'clock sun has me an hour behind schedule and it's already starting to wear me down.

I'm at the bottom of my seventh hill. I had started counting awhile ago. All of a sudden a big black car comes flying over the rise behind me. I swear I never heard it coming. I'm almost too surprised to move but manage to scramble out of the way just in time to see serious chrome and tail fins flash past me. I'm falling into broken asphalt so I cover my face with my arms. Agony and pain comes quicker than I thought and the light is incredibly white. I roll a few more feet down an embankment and finally come to rest against the trunk of a large, mostly unforgiving tree. The sensation is a different one now. So is the colour. I'm falling into blackness. I've just lost all feeling in my right leg and the rest of my body is starting to follow suit. "There isn't time, there's too many miles left …" are the last words I remember muttering to myself as my world spins to a stop and nothingness claims me.

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