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Read Part Four Here:


     Here is what caused the naturally graceful Natalie to lose her normally firm footing and strike her head against the sidewalk.  

     Ross had not disposed of that pretty pink pen as well as he thought. In his haste to get out of the neighborhood, his aim into the bush had been a little off the mark. The stylus hit the thick foliage of the plant, then bounced back onto the sidewalk, where it tripped Natalie as she fled into the night. Being propelled backwards caused an equal and opposite reaction in the stylus, which rolled off the sidewalk and down into a storm drain, never to be seen by human eyes again.  

     There Natalie lay for quite awhile, before anybody found her. Steve was a stubborn man, and certainly wasn’t going to run out and check if she was okay. He wasn’t the type to admit he was wrong, then run after them groveling. When people defied him, he had no problem cutting them off. For all he cared, they could survive eating their own shit.  

     And so, with Natalie splayed out on the sidewalk, Steve sat in the living room before the TV, cracking Bud Lite after Bud Lite, pretending to be such an island unto himself that his wife could run away with another man and he could still sit and calmly watch the screen. But he wasn’t so calm, and he wasn’t really watching. Such was his ire that he didn’t even notice episode after episode of The Office rolling by, without him giving it so much as a chuckle.  

     Instead of laughing at the zany antics of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company crew, Steve focused inwardly on very dark thoughts. This mother fucker Ross had broken up his marriage, and couldn’t get away with it. Not that Steve liked being married, but his job required him to be. If he was going to bag that final promotion to District Manager, he needed his wife. The billionaire boys club brain trust of his firm did not look kindly on unmarried men. Though they all played around and ignored their wives as a point of pride, they still knew how to use them when the situation required. And despite her increasing sagginess, Natalie was like carrying a bag of candy to a kiddie birthday party. Everybody wanted to reach in and take a handful. The old girl knew how to work a room. All the drooling old farts would line up to flirt with her, while Steve bellied up t the bar to bullshit with the boys.  

     Mother fucking Ross had robbed him of his most valuable asset. Steve was going to have to hurt him. No doubt he could – if Ross was showering Natalie with presents, that probably meant he was one of those spineless, sensitive wussies who didn’t know how to fight. Steve would thrash him around, give him a message he wouldn’t forget. And though he didn’t know who Ross was now, he would find out. He sometimes went fishing with Brad, one of Natalie’s post office coworkers, and had Brad’s number in his phone. He knew Brad had a crush on Natalie too – but Brad was an ugly troll, so Steve was merely amused by him and his obsession. To eliminate a rival, Steve suspected Brad would tell him anything.  

     As Steve sat sipping Bud Light, he was stirred from his silent plotting by the family dog Daisy. Her noise surprised him, because that old bitch was normally one waste of a dog. So fat and lazy had she become, that ratty old beast rarely got up from her laundry room bed. The lethargic, shaggy mongrel didn’t like to be scratched behind the ears, and rarely barked. When Steve’s old pickup was stolen from the driveway, not a single yap issued from her furry mouth. The dog didn’t like Steve – the only living being she showed any affection for was Natalie. The best thing that could be said for Daisy was that she only shed in the laundry room, because she hardly ever left it. But now she was by the front door, scratching at it and whining.  

     “Why don’t you die already?” Steve shouted at the dog. “Go back to your bed!” Daisy wouldn’t budge. She continued to claw on the door.  

     At length, the whining and clawing got so bad that Steve had to get out of his chair to put an end to it. The fucking dog was scratching the hell out of the door, and now he was going to have to paint it. He couldn’t have the house looking bad when the boys came over. They would assume Natalie was a bad housekeeper, spoiling the idyllic family image he worked so hard to cultivate. Even if that useless mongrel nipped at him, he was going to drag its fat, furry ass back to the laundry room by the collar.  

     “What the hell’s wrong with you?” Steve yelled at Daisy. “Since when did you decide to start working for a living?”  

     When Daisy saw Steve approach, she raised her fat snout to the sidelite window and barked louder. “What the hell are you barking at? Since when do you bark? Probably just a squirrel, you lazy fuck, but why do you care all of a sudden? A horde of rabid squirrels could attack us and you would just hide in the laundry room. Here, I’ll show you.”  

     Steve peeled aside the thin curtain on the sidelite, and saw Natalie’s Cherokee still parked out there. His first reaction was one of triumph. So she couldn’t bring herself to leave me after all, he thought. She’s out there crying in the phone to that bitch sister of hers. She’ll get it off her chest and come crawling back in a little while.  

“See that, you dumb dog? Your precious Mama is out there in her car. Go back to sleep, you useless fleabag. She’ll be back soon.”  

  Now that Daisy had Steve’s attention she went apeshit, clawing at the door like she would rip it to shreds. If he didn’t do something to calm this beast down, an entire Saturday would be wasted painting the door.  

  Shit, if I go out there it’s going to look like groveling, Steve told himself. Steve wasn’t a groveler. People kneeled to him, not the other way around. But the damn dog left him with no choice.  

     “Stay there you stupid brute,” Steve said to Daisy, and stepped out into the night.  

     Steve crept casually toward Natalie’s Cherokee, as if checking something in the yard that had nothing at all to do with her. As he approached the street, the moonlight revealed a breach in the glow it cast upon the sidewalk, a shadowy stain created by the form of Natalie, lying face up on the concrete.  

     “What the hell is she doing?” Steve said, but he kept his voice low, because Lord knows he didn’t need the neighbors looking out the windows.  

     He tiptoed toward the inert lump of his wife, like a bomb squad member tasked to defuse a particularly volatile explosive device. When he reached Natalie, he nudged her on the shoulder. “Natalie? Nat?”  

     Steve had not called his wife Nat in years. Nat had been his affectionate, playful name for her, back when he was still affectionate and playful, before he started moving up the ladder. My darling little buzzing Nat, he might say.  

     Steve didn’t feel affection right now, just the beginnings of fear. “Nat wake up!” He pushed harder at her body, but still she would not stir. He put a finger beneath her nostrils to check for breath, and wasn’t sure if he felt anything. That was when Steve lost his head.  

     Steve had killed his wife. Well, technically he hadn’t laid a finger on her, but there she was, dead on the sidewalk. Her bitch sister would claim he had pushed her. He had to get out of here quick, to create a plausible alibi for himself. He wasn’t home, he had been out on the road, working. People would believe that, right? Fuck, he was in a world of shit now.  

     Steve got into his pickup and began to drive randomly and recklessly. He left Natalie on the sidewalk, and left Daisy going crazy in the house. By dawn he was well up the road to the Independence Pass. Why he had chosen this route he could not satisfactorily explain to himself. Perhaps Steve fancied the cops would be laying roadblocks for him up and down the I-70 corridor. Perhaps it was just the idea of the name –  Independence.  In his own mind, he was now the most wanted man in America.   

     As Steve climbed the narrow, winding route that topped out at twelve thousand feet, a nebulous plan began to congeal in his head. He would show up at the Glenwood Springs store this morning for a surprise inspection, then claim he had slept in his truck all night. Who would doubt him? He did shit like that all the time, just to pocket more per diem.  

     There was still plenty of time to get to Glenwood Springs on the narrow road up the pass, but for some reason Steve was in a hurry. He was always in a hurry. To him driving was more than a means to an end, it was a blood sport. He had to show the other fuckers on the highway who the king of the road was. Natalie got on his case about this sometimes, but Steve could always shut her up with a few oblique comments that implied what a bunch of pussified losers her family was. He would make indirect cracks about her baby brother the hairdresser, implying that he must be gay, even though he had a family and a couple kids. Probably just a cover because he’s afraid to come out of the closet, Steve might say, if he was feeling particularly ornery, while limiting his comment to hairdressers in general – not her beloved baby brother, of course. Then he would ignore her and  keep weaving in and out of traffic, determined to get to the next light before the limp-wristed tree hugger in the Prius next to him could. More than once he had run some slow asshole off the road, into a ditch. He felt particularly satisfied about those incidents. They were feathers in the cap of his manhood.  

     Some slow asshole in a Honda Civic was creeping his way up the pass that morning, and Steve was in no mood to tolerate him. He leaned down on his horn several times to get the guy to move over, but the little wussbag in his sissy car was stubborn. It did not occur to Steve, or maybe it didn’t matter, that there was no place to get over to. There was barely any shoulder on this road, and a steep, treeless chasm gaped on the right side. Steve didn’t care, he had to make a point – drive faster or don’t drive at all. To rectify the situation, he tried creeping up on the wimpy jerkoff’s back bumper for a while, but this didn’t have the desired effect either. The sputtering putz just slowed down, probably just to piss him off.   

     Because there was no traffic coming toward him from the opposite lane, Steve had several opportunities to pass the Civic safely, if that had been the point. But that wasn’t the point. Steve wanted to win this battle, he wanted to make the stubborn son of a bitch bend to his will. Passing would be like admitting defeat. But after a while he decided he had no time for this, so he decided he would pass this idiot, then cut back into the right lane with only a thin sliver of room between his back bumper and the front of the Civic. The pussy in that little car would probably shit his pants, and Steve would drive the lesson home that he was not someone to be messed with.  

     Steve backed up a little, wanting to make as loud a statement as possible, then gunned the motor of his big ass Dodge Ram, a towering T-Rex alongside the pitiful Compsognathus of the Civic. Not once did Steve’s rage-fueled head yield to caution, to heed the fact that the calendar had barely flipped the page into June, when the road through the pass could still be icy in the morning. In his opinion, you didn’t get anywhere in life being cautious, like some timid little granny. He was nobody’s granny, so he accelerated ahead with a loud roar, all the better to scare the Civic driver shitless.   

     As Steve laid rubber, he did not notice the patch of black ice lying in wait in the shadow of a road cut, prepared to ambush him. The bad thing about black ice was that it was invisible, so he didn’t see it slide beneath his big wheels. To the black ice, the huge tires of the Ram or the small ones of the Civic could both be easily toppled, but it saw Steve as the better target of its cold mischief. The driver of the pickup was driving like an idiot, showing disrespect to the ice, whereas the Civic was exercising due caution, giving the black ice its due. So the ice pounced on the big ass truck, which spun out, lost control, then tumbled down into the chasm. And that was the end of Steve, or so it seemed.  

     That same morning at work, Ross Truman was waiting in line at the time clock with a couple dozen coworkers. He leaned wearily against the wall, having had a pretty rough night. Renée had scolded him good when he got home, being a little suspicious about his late-night foray. Years ago, a spat like this would have ended with some kiss and make up sex that would have rocked Ross right to sleep, but those days were long gone. Instead, Ross had tossed and turned quite a bit, and now was feeling a little cranky.  

     As Ross wallowed in his brain fog, a coworker named Janine turned toward him. Janine was usually one of those bitches who thought of themselves as royalty, and only spoke to you when it was their pleasure to do so. Normally, Ross tried to avoid conversation with her altogether, but today Janine had deigned to address the peasantry. She turned to face his surly, slouching form, leaning against the wall.  

     “Where’s Natalie this morning?” she asked him. “She’s always here early. It’s not her day off.” Being a professional busybody, Janine had everyone’s day off memorized. She had seen Natalie’s route listed as down on the white board, and knew full well she had banged in. But she also had a secret crush on Ross – these Colorado men were such unsophisticated baboons, and was jealous of the attention he gave Natalie. She was anxious for some wicked news about her rival. 

     Three or four other people waiting in the time clock line also looked at Ross. They didn’t trust this California boy. What had this hippie tree-hugger done to their friend? “I don’t know,” he answered with a shrug. Why was she asking him? A pang of worry bit into his belly.  

     Hundreds of years later, long after humanity had destroyed itself, a team of alien archaeologists descended upon Earth to study its ruined civilizations. They began digging in various spots, unearthing artifacts here and there.  

     At one point in the expedition, after excavating all day and finding nothing, an underling student archaeologist uncovered an object that was particularly well preserved. He brushed off the dirt, and showed the smooth, faded-pink cylinder to his professor. His three eyes bugged out and his antennae wiggled anxiously, thinking he had found the big score. In his massive, praying mantis-like head, the underling was already outlining his PHD thesis. 

  “What is this?” he asked the distinguished lead archaeologist, a veteran of digs in planets across the galaxy. “Does it have religious or cultural significance? Is it some sort of amulet, or totem, do you suppose?”  

  The grouchy lead archaeologist’s antennae remained flat on his head, body language known among this alien species as bored. “No, that’s just garbage,” he growled. He was worn out from digging in this spot for weeks, with little to show for it. “It has no significance. It meant nothing, to nobody.” 

      The alien archaeologists moved on to the next site.  

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