(Chapter 16: Victory?)

Victory, Nevada was an out of the way town on the outskirts of Las Vegas. In it, the six refugees from death found their brief sanctuary for one night. It felt best to stray away from the major areas where there may be a police presence, as news spread of Rudy's death and the search for witnesses. Though it was declared an accident by police, there was mention of possible foul play. Mike couldn't help but laugh at the thought, foul play, well, in a way it is, a way it isn't.

They could have kept plodding along their paths, and the idea was discussed, but Rudy's death was a setback. Seeing such a strong and kind individual taken and reduced to a heap of tissue by mans own devices was more than even the hardest could stand for one day. So, as such they checked into the Victory Motel, not the cleanest of habitations that could be found and most certainly not the most law-abiding. Prostitutes (although legal in Nevada, their presence was still quite unnerving) walked around the halls and near the road, trying to appeal to the passing trucker perhaps, though with the lack of official traffic, they did little more than stand around. The six had split what little cash they had left to rent three rooms for the night, with Mike and Sarah, Clinton and Lori, and Nick and Katie sharing each of the rooms.

In room 40, Clinton lay in bed completely undressed, smoking a cigarette and listening as Lori showered. He was nervous, on edge more than ever. He knew he was next, the plan as it had been proven thus far made it all but a fact. Still, knowing he was next he could stand to an extent, it was the things that he had seen that scared him. Omens, premonitions, whatever they could be called, they frightened him. As he walked to the room earlier, one of the prostitutes outside, a frightening woman (if it really was a woman) who reeked of cheap liquor and bad cigarettes asked, "You next sonny?" before laughing an evil cackle.

Then there was the matter of what he had found in the trashcan of the room. Whoever had had the room before the group arrived was into strange practices, if the smell of incense and the presence of a star drawn on the floor in chalk wasn't indication enough. More than anything else it was a sign that housekeeping needed to come by more often, but in looking in the trashcan Clinton was spooked. Inside was what appeared to be a human skull (actually a candleholder made of ceramics) yet the sight of it in the trash receptacle still spooked him. Every time he looked down, it stared up at him with blank eyes and grinned a toothy smile. That smile he could not stand.

Then there was Lori. She had made herself a pain since the beginning of the excursion, and although Clinton really meant to save her life, she just ignored his efforts and seemed to withdraw into herself. She kept that way with good reason, as Clinton had to admit that they more or less did kidnap her and she did witness Rudy die a horribly painful death. Tapping ashes into an ashtray, he listened as the shower continued for what seemed like its sixth hour. The sex they had was almost mechanical, feeling as if neither was actually there. He began to internally question the relationship, then realizing it was because of the fact that he was the big, rich football player and the fact that she was a loose girl who liked other people to buy stuff for her. Normally those were qualities Clinton admired in women, but realizing that she was not good for situations where shit hit the fan, he saw what she really was. And he knew that this was a situation where the shit was hitting the fan. She claimed not to believe in the curse adamently, even though proof was building up that the pattern of death was indeed real.

For the first time in an hour, the water stopped. Clinton waited a moment, listened for sounds. Minutes later, Lori exited the bathroom, wrapped in a towel with tears screaming down her face. Getting up, he stubbed out his cigarette and went over to his girlfriend.

"I … don't … want to die!" she managed out between sobs.

Lifting her chin up, Clinton looked into her eyes. He kissed her tenderly, pulled off her towel and made her not worry about dying any time soon.

Two doors down in room 42, Sarah and Mike sit on adjacent beds, both utterly bored out of their mind. The TV only had three working channels, one showing some 24 hour televangelist, another showing a documentary on paper and the third showing the original Halloween (albeit heavily censored). Though Halloween had its appeal, with death already following them, the idea of seeing it stalk another group of made up characters seemed to have lost all its luster. Instead, they sat on their beds, tossing playing cards across the room into a trash can and keeping score. Sarah was winning by a long margin, letting Mike just to wonder what he had done wrong.

"I win, again," Sarah said doing a mock victory dance as she got off of the bed and started picking up the cards.

Mike couldn't help but laugh at her enthusiasm, especially with the times as they were, though looking at her was tough. As she jumped up and down he was painfully aware that she was wearing a tank top and also quite aware that it seemed too small for her frame. Finishing her dance, Sarah locked eyes again with Mike, causing him to once again avert his eyes.

"Sorry," he said.

"Don't worry about it," she responded, "you're a guy, I'm a girl, it's only natural."

"Yeah," he said, finally getting up the courage that had failed him in years past, "but you've always been more than that. You were my friend for the longest time and the first girl I ever fell head over heels in love for. The problem was I never fell out of it, I'm still in love with you and will be until the day I die. We've hardly said anything to each other these last six years, with you being popular and drop dead gorgeous and all that stuff, while I've been the creepy guy who sits in the corner of the library reading science fiction novels."

"Hey, wait a second," she said with some conviction, "much as I enjoy the compliments I'm not going to stand for any of this self-deprecation crap. For years you've been the nicest and sweetest guy around if not a little creepy to most of the others, but the only reason everyone thought that is because you never stood up for yourself and jumped at the chance. You were always quiet, you let them walk over you. You've always been the shy guy and that's why things have gone to the others. If you want anything to happen, you have to make it happen."

"Like on the boat, we made that happen," Mike responded.

"We both did that," Sarah said, slightly irritated, "you are the savior of this group, but that was something the both of us did. If you're going to live through this thing you've got to take an initiative."

With years of pent up hopes behind him (and with the fact that death was looming around any dark corner, he felt he didn't have anything to lose) Mike Hooper got off of his bed and walked over to Sarah, kissing her firmly on the lips. The action took Sarah off guard, and as the two parted, the silence was deafening.

"Wow," Sarah said, "definitely did not see that one coming."

"Does that count as initiative?" Mike asked with a joking sort of smile.

"I guess so," Sarah said, still not knowing what she should do.

"I'm sorry, that's been building up for a long time," Mike said, quickly adding, "and it's my first, so I'm sorry if it doesn't match anything you've had befo-"

He was cut off as Sarah kissed him back.

"Stop worrying so much," she said, "you're a good kisser. And besides, there's a first time for everything."

Mike stepped backwards, sitting back down on his bed, slightly surprised.

"What?" Sarah asked, "Is something wrong?"

"Sorry, doing that was something I've hoped to do for the longest time yet never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd have the chance to do," Mike said.

'What, kiss me?" Sarah asked, flattered.

"Yeah," he said, "you go eighteen years with a look but don't touch policy around girls and you start to wonder when if ever anything is going to happen."

"So I take it you're a-"

"Oh yeah," Mike responded quickly, then falling back into the awkward silence.

Sarah looked deep into Mike's eyes, seeing more in them than she had ever seen before. So much pain, so much hurt, they'd both seen a lot in the last few days. Smiling, she kissed Mike on the lips once more, and as she parted, whispered into Mike's ear, "You've said it yourself, there's a first time for everything…"

As they parted, Sarah pushed Mike onto his back on the bed, crawling up beside him as she fully intended to share a bed and her being with Mike that night.

In room 41, Nick lay on his bed staring at the ceiling and the large (and somehow highly disturbing) array of stains that dotted the ceiling. Katie lay on the bed, rolled up in a ball and completely catatonic, occasionally getting up to take her asthma inhaler in her mouth, but other than that not responding to outside stimuli of any sorts. Listening to the sounds coming from the two rooms that sandwiched theirs, Nick couldn't help but laugh.

"I have the distinct feeling that there is sex going on between our compatriots," Nick said with certain bravura, looking over to Katie (ever the unappreciative audience), "wanna make it a hat trick?"

After she made no reaction whatsoever, Nick didn't lose a beat with his comic timing, "Didn't think so."

Rolling over, he walked over to the TV (notably missing a remote) and turned it on. Surfing the channels, mostly local access, some home shopping and one with a weird special on paper manufacturing, Nick finally settled on a good old horror classic. Stephen King's "Cujo", certainly fitting for the road as Nick was a definite King fan, and although it wasn't the masters best work, it'd do for the road. Sitting down on the floor (after hearing urban legends of dead bodies found in hotel mattresses, he tried to avoid them as much as possible) Nick relaxed for a time, watching the movie as a killer Saint Bernard terrorized the family locked in their car. It wasn't Shakespeare, but it'd have to do for the night…