Elvin “EL” Landerson pulled his car off the asphalt road onto the gravel shoulder. He shut the engine, cut the lights, and stepped out of the car and into the darkness surrounding him.

The world was pitch black with only a glow from the moonless sky. EL was miles from any city, any house, any artificial light. And miles from any human.

EL looked up and took a deep breath. The sky, thick with stars and the band of milky white at the center of the galaxy, filled him with awe.

EL had never seen the Milky Way before; indeed, he had never seen so many stars.

It is good to be alive, he thought. It was laughter that gave my life back to me.

Yesterday, EL had stood on the high Blackstone Bridge that crossed the Silver River. It was known as Suicide Bridge because at least three times a year, someone deliberately leaped from it to end their life.

That had been EL’s serious intention.

Cindy Hunter, the love of his life, the woman he was supposed to marry, had left him for another man. No reason was given beyond that she had fallen out of love with him and in love with a stranger.

The vital force sustaining EL’s life had flowed out, leaving him just as Cindy had. There was nothing else to do but consign the shell that remained to the junk heap, or in this case, the river.

And then, after he had climbed over the railing, before he took his final leap, as he was staring down at the rushing water, it suddenly struck him that what he was about to do was absurd.

EL started laughing.

Kill oneself over a woman? To die because the object of that primal urge was gone? Surely there were other women, but there was only one life.

And so, today he rose before dawn, drove 600 miles into the desert, and spent the remaining daylight hours roaming around a ghost town filled with half-standing ramshackle buildings. The visit to the dead settlement, Miller’s Flat, was preceded by some brief but in-depth research. At its best, Miller’s Flat was a barely-scraping-by mining settlement that attracted would-be fortune hunters from all over the United States. There were interesting stories associated with the town. EL’s favorite was a legend that had clung to the area, as the article he read put it, like the fading perfume from a tired whore. A miner, who came from the northeast, where the legend went back much further among the native population, claimed he saw a wendigo, a hideous, growling, snarling creature with large teeth and claws and a horrible stench, a creature that feasted on human flesh. The miner drove it off by grabbing a burning brand from the fire and flinging it at the monster, making it flee. The story was believed by some, laughed at by others, but stuck around, adding to the lore associated with Miller’s Flat.

The visit to the ghost town was merely a lark on the way to his real destination; the desert at night, with its sky uncluttered by the ambient light of men.

EL had always wanted to see the Milky Way.

He leaned his upper body against the warm hood of the car and stared up at the sky, sighing contentedly. EL felt as if he could remain thus for the rest of the night.

The air, which had been still, began to pick up. Carried on the wind, he thought he heard the distant laughter of a woman.

EL sighed. At least the sound he was hearing in his own head wasn’t the growl of a wendigo.

No, it wasn’t a wendigo. It was Cindy laughing at him, Cindy laughing at his pain.

EL sighed again. The truth was even worse. Cindy no longer cared about him one way or the other.

The laughter, more musical than he had ever heard Cindy laugh, became louder. Unless he was hallucinating, it was not some idle fancy he was imagining. It was real.

Pushing off the hood, he straightened up and peered through the darkness in the direction from which the sound came.

A figure, barely visible, came into view. At that instant, the laughter stopped.

Illuminated by starlight, EL could see that it was, in fact, a woman.

She continued her inexorable march toward him.

EL anxiously scanned the horizon to see if there were any others. He saw nothing.

What could a woman walking alone in the middle of the night in the desert be doing? If she was in distress, why wasn’t she running toward him?

The hair on his arms rose. For a moment, he thought of jumping into his car and driving away.

Curiosity got the better of him.

EL waited for her to approach.

She carried her own glow with her, as if some mysterious internal light burned within, allowing EL to see her as clearly as if there had been a full moon, or a daylight shrouded by clouds.

She was no more than an arm’s length now. She was barefoot, her body covered by a shapeless gray dress that only exposed her arms. Her skin was Mediterranean brown, her lips were ruby red, natural, without lipstick, and they were opened in a smile revealing perfect white teeth. Her brown eyes were so dark they were almost black, and her black, wavy hair fell around her shoulders.

She reached out to him.

“Come to me,” she said, her voice like the tinkling of fairy bells. “Do not be afraid. I will take your pain away. I know what you tried to do on Suicide Bridge.”

I AM hallucinating, EL thought. He gulped anxiously, staring into those magnificent dark eyes that held such promise.

I will surrender to the dream, he thought, and did not resist as she drew him to her.

She kissed his neck. A thrill went through his whole body. Her hands went under his shirt and gently caressed his back. EL trembled.

Her small white teeth bit gently into his neck as her nails passed erotically over his back. A rapturous wave pulsed through him as her teeth and nails broke his skin. EL was filled with ecstasy.

Filled with love and desire and gratitude, he opened his eyes to gaze into hers.

EL shuddered so hard he felt as if his bones had turned to porridge.

A set of three red eyes stared back at him. The face that held those eyes was hideous, with leathery, reptile-like spikes and mucous dripping down the protrusions. A horrible stench filled his nostrils and the teeth and nails that had given such pleasure now caused agonizing pain.

EL tried to pull away. The creature dug its sharp teeth deep into the veins of his neck.

EL screamed.

There was not another human to hear it. If there had been, it would not have mattered. In three agonized breaths, EL’s struggle ceased.