1932 was a bad year.
'29 had been bad, but '32 had been worse. '32 found Angel working as a butcher on the night shift in a Chicago slaughterhouse.
It had been a good job - the pay was lousy, but the fringe benefit, the one the manager of the plant didn't know about made it worthwhile: all the still warm blood Angel could drink when nobody was looking - smuggling more out at shift's end in his lunchbox for private consumption during the day. Cow, pig, sheep, horse, whatever he slaughtered that night went into the Mason jars he'd "borrowed" from his landlady's fruit cellar. Sometimes it was a mixed bag, a cocktail really, but without the little paper umbrellas. Angel never got used to animal blood with it's weird pungencies and tangs, but it kept him alive to the point where he was beginning to develop a bulge behind his suspenders. Even that wasn't so bad; it helped him blend in more with the background. The brogue he had worked so hard to minimize in his years with Darla had come back with a vengeance, but among the Irish immigrants he worked with, it went unnoticed.
Angelus who was always simmering just under the surface of Angel's mind enjoyed the work, urging him to hit the luckless animals on the head ever harder with the sledge hammer that came with the job than necessary - which gained him reprimands from the foreman: bone chips made the brains harder to process. Too bad, Angelus had whispered in Angel's ear, Americans generally weren't bulk cannibals or they'd really have some fun!
All went sour one night when two rival vampire gangs had descended upon his plant, both determined to be the only ones to use the place as a feeding trough. Angel had been caught up in the middle during his midnight lunch break.
In the end, the wrong people saw him demon faced and red mouthed bending over the ripped out throat of his shift manager.
The cops had been called.
He fled, stopping only long enough to retrieve his carefully hoarded savings from underneath a loose floorboard in his barren room, before leaving Chicago on a late train headed East.
He went over the state line.
Now it was a Federal crime, so the FBI was called in.
They nearly got him in Flint, MI.
The losing pack of vampires was also in hot pursuit - they blamed him for staking their leader and costing them a rich feeding ground.
They wanted his head on a pole, and nearly had things their way in Fishkill, NY.
Trains were out. Angel gave up the last of his savings, bought a motorcycle, and headed southwest, camping under bridges and in abandoned houses and factories during the day, and driving randomly west, hoping to shake them.
On the third week of his erratic flight, Angel reached Route 66, the Mother Road.
Even at night, the traffic west was so heavy with Oakies and other desperates fleeing to the Promised Land of California that Angel blended in; just one more weather beaten ragged hopeful on a dented bike among clapped out Model T's with mattresses strapped to their roofs and too, too many small children hanging out the windows.
That's where he saw the faces.
Lean, hungry, hard faces.
Even the women and children carried it like a stigmata.
It reminded the last vestiges of Liam of the peasants he'd left behind in Galway, but with a difference.
These were faces that if they knew what Angel really was when he joined them at their firesides in the auto camps at night on the outskirts of nameless towns, they would have casually strung him up or worse. These were faces of armed, wary peasants, not cowed ones ripe for the picking. Angel had slunk cautiously around them, Angelus instinctively marking potential meals, both knowing that if he tried, all it would take would be only one child, one sickly old woman and the whole group would come down upon him like the hammer he once used to dispatch livestock in his previous life in Chicago.
No matter how many of them Angel would be forced to kill in self defense, they wouldn't be satisfied until he was just so much more dust blowing down the roadside.
For once Angelus was obedient, keeping his mutterings and sulkings to himself while Angel ate with them, depending on their mingled scents to confuse his from his pursuers; boiled cornmeal flavored with fatback, the occasional batch of pone or biscuit with molasses, stolen chickens, crackers, sardines, rattrap cheese, boiled roadside greens, all washed down with harsh home brew that they called "White Lightning" and what Liam called "Poteen".
The white lightning helped take the edge off of his real cravings; Angel found himself swapping poached rabbits, deer, and the occasional stolen yearling calf or piglet (nicely butchered and of course drained) for the privilege of sitting at their firesides. As vile as their hardscrabble meals tasted to his predator's tongue, the company of strangers was preferable to the solitary company of a century or more's worth of bad memories.
Once the meal was finished, the jug passed, he would head back out and ride until dawn, finding another campfire circle to join and another respite from the voices in his head.
After a horrible breakfast in return for the meat he brought, Angel would pitch his tent while everyone else was preparing for the long day's drive ever westward.
By noon, his tent and bike would be left standing forlornly in the middle of the auto camp or some farmer's field, with only blackened fire rings and the occasional empty bottle for company because the rest of the herd had moved on. At twilight a new group would come in with the roars and sputters of badly maintained engines and set up camp around him. After sundown Angel would leave his sheltering tent, swapping once again, meat for company.
The Appalachian coal miners, the millworkers and their families called him "Irish" and "Blackie" - by then his beard had grown in as dark and thick as the hair on his head and around his balls and because his brogue amused them. The meat made him welcome, just so long as he knew his place and left their wives and daughters alone.
They in turn astounded him with a general ability to recite entire books of the Bible from memory, even the children - something his Catholic upbringing hadn't prepared him for. You were only supposed to know what the Priest told you, nothing more, nothing less.
These people didn't care about priests.
They played music that had for bones the songs of his childhood, making him homesick ...almost.
So did their stories.
Angel as Liam recognized some of the dances, the men standing tall and solemn faced as their legs and feet in heavy boots with cracked and broken soles flashed and stamped around the night time fires made of broken packing crates and scavenged wood. He was able to join in sometimes, while someone played a fiddle, almost forgetting what he really was for a minute or two of blessed freedom.
This odd, dirty paradise lasted only a few weeks before the vampires caught up with him.
Angel had fled straight north into Kansas that night, leading them away from the long drawn out stream of migrants on the Mother Road. The bike had been wrecked somewhere around Pumpkin Center, KS.
Cornered in a dilapidated farmhouse, Angel finally turned around, fought back, and eventually won.
He hitchhiked randomly.
The FBI must have abandoned their chase, or perhaps the vampires had eaten them - he'd recognized one of the Feds among the screeching horde as he'd staked what was left of the man somewhere out in the middle of an endless wheat field.
One evening, Angel woke up in Billings, MT, in a threadbare boarding house room with a Mason jar of congealing cow's blood in one hand and a pile of dogeared paperbacks beside the bed: Le Miserables, Gulliver's Travels, The Great Gatsby.
It was December 1942.
Angel boarded the first train heading west.
It was ten years too late, but he made it.
What was left of the sun was still staining the horizon over Sunset Blvd. L.A., the end of Route 66.
The Oakies, the hillbillies, the unemployed coal miners and millworkers, all those sadmadbad desperate hopefuls were ten years gone, having beaten him to the end of the Mother Road.
The lean hungry faces that he had shared campfires and white lightning with were now wearing uniforms, going even further west to fight a war.
Once again, leaving Angel behind.
Authors Note: The Dust Bowl, The Great Depression and the history of Route 66 are entwined to the point where one cannot exist without the other. This story was inspired by an exhibition of WPA photographer Dorthea Lange's work. Lange was commissioned by the U.S. Governent to go and document the crushing effects of the Great Depression - and her haunting images of the people, places and faces along Route 66 at this important time in U.S. history are well worth looking for.