The silent timer ticked away, days, hours, minutes, seconds, until a devastating test is carried out. The crack in the desert floor hid everything, the secret Government complex, the truth about the oddly disfigured and dismembered animals found which dotted an invisible border around the complexâ€¦
Jack Stillson had a run of bad luck. He lost his wife, daughter, to a bottle he couldnâ€™t let go of and a career driving 18-wheelerâ€™s cross-country. His family hadnâ€™t seen him in over a year, and didnâ€™t notice as he stood on the rainy street looking in the window. Through the smoke from the cigarette in his palm, he saw the new home, with the new furniture, new pictures, and most importantly new man holding his young daughter as she was his own. Something clicked in his head at that moment, and he began to realize exactly what heâ€™d been missing all along.
Itâ€™d been more than a month since he had a drink, and his old habit of walking into Kelleyâ€™s Pub was a surefire way to halt any possible record. The bartender recognized his old friend and waved him over with a sparkle in his eye. â€œWhatâ€™ll it be, Jack, the usual?â€
â€œNot this time Pat, Iâ€™ll have a Coke.â€ The bartender stood and looked at him, astonished. â€œYes you heard me right, thatâ€™ll be just a Coke, no ice.â€ Jack never understood why places put so much ice in the cup whenever he ordered a drink, after all, the beverage is already cold. He sat there drinking his Coke and it dawned on him that he had absolutely no desire to spike it with some Rum, or even move on to something a little harder than the fizzy sugar drink.
After drinking nearly an entire six-pack of Cola, a feeling washed over Jack, almost like the excitement of his first hard-drink while his parents were off learning to square dance. He opened up his pack of Reds and went to light up a smokeâ€¦.only to tuck the cancer-stick back in the box and toss it on the bar. Jack felt good, he didnâ€™t know where it came from but was not about to question the rush of energy he had. He ran through the rain, across the glistening streets, until he came to his old front-door. The heart beating in his chest seemed to be louder than his knock at the door. Lights clicked on inside, some distant grumbling was heard as Jennifer came to the door and opened it. Upon site of Jack, she sighed and began to close the door againâ€¦
â€œJenny, no! Wait!â€
â€œYou know you canâ€™t be coming around here like this Jack.â€ Jenny had opened the door enough to see her ex husband, soaking wet in blue jeans, plaid shirt, and worn baseball cap, standing there with an ear to ear grin.
â€œAll I want to know is if I can take Ashlea out tomorrow while I am in town, that is allâ€
â€œShe has school tomorrow, Jack, itâ€™s a school night, remember? Wait, how could you, do you even know what day it is anymore? All you think about is your next bottle and what exit the nearest bar is atâ€¦â€ Jack lowered his head for a moment, but then cut off his old flameâ€¦
â€œThen Iâ€™ll see her first thing tomorrow to wait for the school bus.â€ With that he turned around and walked away as the door slammed from behind.
The rain had since subsided, the small alarm clock in his Peterbuilt waking him from a recurrent dreamâ€¦ A bright light in the desertâ€¦ the road falling out from under his rig on a mountain roadâ€¦ The slide towards the lightâ€¦and then he wakes up.
â€˜Iâ€™ve got to get to Ashlea,â€™ he thought to himself. Freshening up a bit with a bottle of cologne and some spray-on deodorant, he headed off towards his daughter.
â€œDaddy!â€ His daughter ran up to him and hugged him around the waist with all her might. â€œAre you back? Are you really back?â€
â€œIâ€™m back for now Honey, I was hoping youâ€™d let me wait with you for the school bus.â€
They sat on the bench and talked for a few minutes until the
school bus rolled up, and a rather large Monitor stepped out. â€œWatch out for her Daddy, sheâ€™s Maggie and
sheâ€™s very mean to everybody.â€
â€Mean is she? Not to my little girl.â€
Jack began to walk Ashlea around the front of the waiting bus when he was cut off halfway across the grille by Maggie. â€œYou know we try to teach our kids not to talk to strangers, but every once and awhile one of you weirdoâ€™s will show up at their stop and try to take advantage of them!â€
â€œIâ€™m her father, and since you are not her Mother, I really have no reason to waste my time with you.â€ Jack made his way around Maggie, a very portly woman in her forties who despite the laws of modern physics managed to fit herself into a skin-tight white shirt and a sky-blue pair of spandex pants. Nobody managed to tell her off like that in the past 10 years, which is why the driver shook his hand as Maggie watched from in front of this bus.
Standing on the first step, Jack gave his little girl a hug,
and wished her a good day at school. The
driver chimed in, â€œYou really frosted Maggie, nobodyâ€™s managed to get her that
fired up in years.â€ The driver offered
his hand, â€œthe nameâ€™s Sam, and I do believe youâ€™ve made the remainder of my
morning uncomfortableâ€¦ Need a lift
â€My rig is parked 2 blocks over, but I can walkâ€¦â€
â€œSo can Maggie!â€
The door closed, the bus began to pull away, and Maggieâ€™s shrill voice was drowned out by the sound of the busâ€™s diesel engine pulling it up the hill.
Jack waved his daughter goodbye and saw a couple of guys he
knew waiting by the truck. They had gone
on to work with a major trucking company while Jack had stayed
independent. â€œJack, whatâ€™re you up to.â€
â€Just heading back out of town Lloyd.â€
â€I sure hope so, you know nobody uses you indyâ€™s anymore.â€
â€And nothing ever gets there on time.â€
As Jack started to pull himself into the truck, he felt a slight tug on his shirt but ignored it. Lloydâ€™s nameless cohort slipped an open flask of whiskey into his side pocket. The truck fired up and pulled away. Lloyd looked to his friend and said â€œThe second our State Trooper finds that flask on him, we wonâ€™t have to worry about seeing his alkie ass around town again.