On the Borderline

Milo’s bus ride had finally blown out its metaphorical tires and ground, sparking, down to the halting rims, somewhere out in the Texas Panhandle.

By a stroke of luck he'd only been mugged once the whole time, and that had actually been at a bus station back in the northern 'States. The punks had sharked a paltry few bucks out of his pants while he'd struggled to enter a wine-induced doze, sprawled across three hard plastic chairs beside a soda machine. At least early on, while he'd still had any excuse at all for presence of mind, he'd secreted most of the wad he'd stolen from Grace under his insoles.

It had been a bad trip. A really bad trip. He had been dogged the entire way by phantasmagorical visions of butterfly-snakes, dragon-chickens, duck-dogs, and less identifiable things. He would have rejected them out of hand as symptoms of either bad acid or delerium tremens, if he'd actually been juicing or dropping tabs when the waking nightmares had started, soon after the explosion in Chicago. He figured it was stress.

A few days after they'd started, he'd lost nearly all semblance of compos mentis. The chatters, gibbers and moans of his very own overpopulated hallucinatory zoo made sleep impossible. He'd started trying to induce catnaps with hits of cheap red, and found that it helped. Only a little, yet it helped.

He quickly progressed to a point where he kept getting too drunk to sit up, but it seemed to stave off the sounds and noises, temporarily. Predictably, though, he'd also been repeatedly, and without ceremony, hoofed off the bus to the shoulder, stinking of rancid wine and smoke-stale upholstery. He'd kept hitching rides with half-tons full of migrant workers to the next town, the next bus depot, and determinedly using his unlimited pass to climb back on board the next bus. But each of the last four drivers each had only taken him a few sparse miles before ejecting him again.

Milo figured four was the charm; maybe it was time to walk awhile. He really did stink. He reasoned he'd be nimbler on foot -- maybe he could air out his clothes and his mind, and dodge his hallucinatory bestiary. He stayed on his southward vector, limping doggedly, meanderingly, through rural Texas toward the Mexican border, sidestepping Amarillo, Dallas, Waco, Austin, San Antonio, working his way west across to El Paso, where he'd heard the river was shallow.

He didn't realize that he'd heard this from one of his hallucinations. Neither did he realize that the whole group of insane-looking little creatures kept chasing him away from major highways, and, apparently by chance, also any contact with a ceaselessly patrolling armada of black, unmarked Fords, full of large clean-cut men. The men were unfashionably attired in cheap, blue double-breasted suits that concealed shoulder holsters, snub-nosed .38s, federal IDs, and fistsful of 'WANTED' flyers decked with a mug shot that looked a lot like Milo Pavlov.

The shallow dregs of Grace’s cookie jar money served as a grubstake, but Milo had stretched it like saltwater taffy, panhandling across the Panhandle to put ‘walking around money’ in his pocket whenever he hit another small town and could screw up the courage. It took some -- he hadn't actually been beaten up, but only because the snoose-sucking cowboys that had threatened him thought he was too pathetic to waste the energy on. When they saw how screwed he was, a couple cowpokes had even given him a buck or two, and drawled apologies for considering him for a shitkicking.