Shack #17 (TS)
by julad

The tires spun uselessly in the snow. Jim shifted gears and tried again. 
Even worse.  It was getting dark, and he had a hundred miles to go. 
A thousand miles.  His shoulders ached, and his eyes kept slipping
out of focus.

He choked back a sigh, even though there was nobody here to see it. 
A million miles to go, and every direction away from Cascade would just
take him back again.  He couldn't get off the road; he couldn't stop
driving.  Away, away, every cell in his body screamed, not
knowing that the world was round, that he was fated, in the end, to stand
in some doorway and look at him again, perhaps short hair now, perhaps
some gray in it; look at him and see the thing he'd never stopped running
from until he'd run back to it once more.

He pulled leather gloves over his wool ones, braced himself, and opened
the truck door.  The wind was ice, razor-edged, laden with cold wet
grit which stung his eyes.  The rubber around the rear door was frozen
together, and he had to haul with frozen muscles, gritting his teeth against
the cold-hot-cold pain, until it opened.  The snow chains rattled
loudly as he hauled them out, momentum leaving them sprawled, like splattered
bloodstains in the dying light, on fresh British Columbia snow.  There
was a scarf tucked carelessly in the corner of the tray, a promising warm
red peeking out from behind canvas bags; Jim lunged for it gratefully as
snow began to melt into his neck.  He unwound it and then froze, catching
a faint scent of chamomile, catnip--a zone-flashback-zone of his hands
relaxing as Blair tugged it from them, whining, and then the familiar irritation-adoration-lust
as he discarded it again a minute later.  That smile, that smile,
that 'I know what you're thinking' smile, and Blair had handed it back
to him, and Jim had thrown it in there and then clapped Blair's shoulder
and said, "let's go".

On a road so far north that the sun spent hours in a tenacious dusk,
Jim hurled the scarf into a snowdrift and clenched his relaxed hands and
set to work hauling chains for the tires.  He'd do this, and then
he'd drive.  Away, away, away from here, away from there, away from
every scent and sight and sound that had led to... where it went, and every
trigger which brought the memories of what he'd done, dark and raw and
gut-wrenchingly good, cascading back.  Drive, and then stop somewhere,
and sleep, and get up and keep driving, until the only direction left to
him was down.

And then, Jim supposed, he'd go back.  He'd swallow his pride. 
He'd face his fears.  He'd embrace his future.

The chains were on; his cheeks were numb, eyes held stiffly open by
frozen tears.  He couldn't feel his hands.  He climbed into the
driver's seat and slammed the door shut after him.  The empty passenger
seat seemed to stare at him reproachfully, like it expected better of him
than this.  Jim ignored it, put the truck into gear, and drove on.

(530 words)

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