Jamais vu

Milo's severely hung over right eye could just barely penetrate a shimmering haze still rising from Lenore's exposed nether parts.

She lay flat on her back, legs splayed akimbo, the left thrown over his rib cage and under his right arm. Uncovered as she was, she looked like nothing so much as a corpse shot by some random Life magazine photographer for an essay on the horrors of war.

In a life that lately had been punctuated by one increasingly awkward awakening after another, getting up had never been more mortifying. Not only could Milo smell a gamey stranger in the van with them, but a dozen or so wizened but well-tanned brats were taking turns cupping their hands hard against the van's windshield, their dark, searching eyes trying to see inside.

He unlocked his joints painfully and managed to creak incrementally to his knees. As he did so, he realized that everyone else in the van was awake too. They just weren't moving.

Lenore's arm began an achingly slow, almost sinuously reptilian weave across the van's floor. Milo watched as if hypnotized by a snake, as her long spatulate fingers groped their way into a pile of unidentifiable trash. They emerged clutching a crumpled handful of thin cloth, managing as they did so to convey deep distaste by attitude alone. Lenore's hand silently proffered the wad to Milo.

Accepting it from her, he stared at the limp, discolored material and frowned vacantly for long moments. Then his eyes and brain managed to connect a difficult conference call via badly-damaged undersea cables, and negotiated a preliminary agreement that they might be his briefs.

He managed to pull them on without toppling completely, although as his first leg went in he lost balance for a moment and slammed his head into the wall. The van echoed with dull aluminum thunder, and automatic, but muted, laughter erupted from the skinny urchins peering in.

Turning his head as little as possible to keep the headache from blinding him, Milo blearily eyed heaps of human remains and sundry detritus. A lizard-level survival instinct warned him not to risk negotiating the obstacle course toward a tempting slit of daylight at the front door, where several small heads had wormed through for a better look.

His lizard brain suggested that he needed a quiet spot to relieve himself, if possible away from the growing crowd of children. He fumbled and swung wide the van's rear doors, pausing so framed as at least twenty scrawny kids regarded him silently.

Milo, suddenly self-conscious under their serious little-old-man gazes, realized that he had pulled his briefs on backwards. He swayed unsteadily for long seconds, unsure what to do next. Or, for that matter, how to do it.

The light hurt his eyes. The landscape that backdropped his strange young audience was completely unfamiliar. Powder-dry earth puffed dustily between scattered low bushes, dead yellow clumps of sunbleached grass, large spiked cacti resembling morning stars. The hard azure sky promised a cloudless, endless, oppressively hot afternoon.

Milo regarded yet another strange place he couldn't remember arriving at. Incapable of surprise anymore, he stepped with exaggerated care toward the ground, and lurched, still half-bombed, toward a bush that he ardently hoped would be private enough to pee into.

As he tentatively navigated through the gaggle of quietly muttering children, a wisp of a girl with a hawk-like nose, in a worn ankle-length house dress, spoke. Her tone was polite, and her high voice rose clearly above the other children's indistinct rhubarbing.

"Goden morje, Harr Pavlov."

Under that flat, hot, alien sun, Milo felt suddenly sober and chilled to the bone. He would have frozen on the spot, but he really hadda pee really bad...