Mike butt-pushed himself off the car’s fender, shuffled unsteadily a few feet from the car; reached the edge of the woods, stopped, shuffled, and urinated, the stream falling peacefully on the pine-needled ground. Rick had never seen Mike wasted like this, and being wasted himself, could think of nothing to say.
Mike zipped his fly. “Rick . . . buddy. Wanna you to to me, a . . a favor, right?”
Mike turned, began staggering back to the car, his eyes focused on the ground in front of him. “You ever find any-a muh stories — you know, someone mentions they got one — hell, ask ’round, if you think about it — but I wanna you –” and he looked up, made eye contact with Rick — “burn ’em. Every one. They ain’t no good no more.” He looked back into the car, at the red-headed girl lying on the back seat. “Christ, can’t even get me laid now.” He looked back at Rick. “Think you can do that?”
“Thanks, buddy,” he said, smiling comically and extending his hand. Rick looked at the hand a moment, saw it sway back and forth as if controlled by nervous puppeteer. Then Rick took his hand, raised to shake it — and felt Mike fall to his knees, his body spasm with tears.
Rick had let go of his hand. He stood in front of his kneeling friend, who was crying uncontrollably, his hands banging the sides of his head. A long moment later the sounds of his crying softened, his body seemed to relax, and Rick felt certain his friend was about to collapse, pass out.
But then Mike looked up at him, his face grim and determined. “All I ever needed . . . was one good story. Something that would really impress people. Hell, if I could do it, just one friggin’ time. That stuff I wrote as a kid–hell, all that ever did was bullshit people. A good story, it really screws a person over, you know? And I can’t do that.” His face pinched in frustration. “God – DAMMIT, I can’t.”
Rick reached down, touched Mike on the shoulder. He was about to tell him that he was going to be OK, when Mike stood up suddenly.
“Goddammit!” Mike nearly knocked Rick over as he stagger-rushed to the car with the sleeping girl, which a moment later spun wildly in the dirt driveway in front of Rick’s trailer, Rick watching in stunned silence as the vehicle careened onto the paved county road, heading in the direction of Pete’s Elbow.