"How's it feel to be dead?!" His face was wrinkled, but not with age. This man had known fearsome weather in his time, either gales of the unchained oceans or sandstorms of a scorching desert. His eyes were accented with crows feet that had not been formed by smiling or laughter as so many other people's were. No, this man didn't have the look of a man that smiled more than he had to, which was not at all. "Not what you thought it'd be, is it?"
"No," Tad replied. "I guess not. Am I dead? Really dead?"
"As a doornail, my pappy used to say. Where you from? Sounds like the States. Back east, most likely."
"Fresno? That anywhere near Texas?"
Tad sat up, rubbed his eyes. The strange man with the wind etched face moved back a few paces to accommodate. "It's in California. Where are you from?"
"Me? Oh, just a little of ever'where I s'pose. Didn't used to get around much, but since I been dead, hell, I been just 'bout ever'where."
"Where were you from before you... ah... "
"Died. Dry Gulch, Arizona terr'tory. You know it? No? Not surprised. Little shithole of a town. If there weren't a killin' a week in the 'Gulch the place wouldn't even be on the maps. The cemetery is bigger than the whole damned town. Ain't come across anybody else from there yet, but I 'spect to sooner or later. Here, ever'thing's just a matter of time."
"Where is here?"
The stranger rocked back on his heels, assumed an expression that showed how hard he was thinking, and scratched his beard distractedly. "Ain't a 'here', I don't s'pose."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean to say this ain't a place, least ways not like you're used to thinking of places as being. It's more of a... well, a... " Suddenly giving up trying to explain, the older man leaned abruptly forward with a dismissive gesture, and held out his hand for Tad to take it. "Ah, hell, it don't matter one rat's whisker where you are. You're here, an' that's enough. C'mon, I got somebody you oughtta meet. C'mon, get up, boy. I died too old to be draggin' you around ever'where."
"I'm coming. I'm coming. Where are we going?" Tad wondered if he should trust the old man, but then remembered he was already dead. What else could happen to him?
"I told ya, there's somebody you should meet." Now they were walking, the old man gripping Tad by the shoulder, propelling him forward so as not to be denied. "It's down the road a piece. S'pose we oughtta get interduced. I'm John Holiday. Folks call me Doc."
"I'm Tad. Tad Aslowe. You're a doctor?"
"Kind of. I book learned dentistry. Didn't like it much, though. That's how I wound up in the terr'tory. Come out west for my health."
"Okay, pal. I believe you. Is there some place around here to get a drink?" Tad rubbed at his bleary eyes and smacked his leather lined mouth.
"Need a hair of the dog, huh? Sorry to say I can't help you, much as I'd like to. I could go with a jolt of whiskey myself."
For the first time Thaddeus Aslowe noticed his surroundings. High, distant mountains loomed purple on the horizon before them, and a seemingly endless expanse of low, scrubby hills stretched behind them. A single set of footprints trailed back that way and led up to the spot where Tad had been lying on the ground. Lying on the ground? Strange. Where was his 'Beamer'? Where was Nancy?
"Where are we?"
"Nowhere. Ever'where. We're here, ain't nobody knows much more than that."
"Last thing I remember... " Tad paused, put his thumb to his lips to gnaw at the cuticle.
"Yeah? You can tell me. I heard all kinda stories since I been here, stuff I don't even understand half the time. Thing's musta changed in the States a sight since I been away. What was it that got you? Jealous husband? A war? Suicide?"
"No, nothing like that. There was an accident. I remember this truck coming straight at us... Nancy was screaming... her hair was all over the place... she had so much hair, such beautiful hair... " Tad wondered if he should cry. Wasn't that the appropriate response to death? But who had died? Himself? Nancy? The BMW had definitely been slaughtered, but beyond that who could tell? "I was way drunk. Way too drunk. Nancy told me not to drive, but I didn't listen. Do you think she's alright? I mean, do you think she's... ah... ?"
"Yeah. Do you think she's dead, too?"
"Who knows? I don't. She could be anywhere, anytime. This place just kinda stretches off into the distance forever."
"Is this hell?"
"I sure hope not. Could be, though. Things are powerful boring in these parts, but there ain't no brimstone an' sulfur an' all that. An' I ain't met the devil yet. S'pose I should be grateful for that."