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BLACKTOP by RUZKIN

Twelve miles outside Detroit she pulled me off into the scrub and pressed me up against a dead tree.

"Now."

"Anyone could see us."

"Now," she said again, and descended upon me, hungry.

We'd been hiking two weeks, inching our way north from Fort Wayne. A man in a rattling old truck picked us up on the side of Highway 24 and took us as far as Toledo. The remaining 70 miles was ours to bear. Hot days getting hotter. The constant tickle of sweat between my shoulder blades.

Sometimes we held hands as we walked, her little palm slippery in mine. Sometimes she sang. Mostly it was quiet, the only sound the buzzing of fat flies tickling at your ears and nostrils.

You could hear the cars hours away. More than enough time to get off the road, crouch low behind a bush, pull out the binoculars. Try and pick friend from enemy.

I asked her once why she didn't trust Michigan plates. She said anyone from out of state was heading somewhere better. Nobody who stayed was up to any good.

It made as much sense as anything else.

The frogs were bigger than I remembered. Redder, too. Big splotches of colour up their backs like bloodstains.

"Can we eat them?"

She shook her head. "Kill you."

"Don't have anything else."

She smiled, the same dimple-cheeked smile that made me stop and stare when we first passed each other on the 36 out of Indianapolis. "We'll find something."

The next day, over the crest of a hill, staring down at the edge of Detroit. Pine trees blasted white and skeletal. Thousands of dead-eye windows. "Are you ready?"

"Not at all."

Down the highway, tarmac so hot it eats into the rubber of my shoes. Every day it takes longer for night to fall. She squeezes my hand.

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