Conrad was drifting off to sleep when the first five blobs of lead punched through his trailer. Another three bullets ripped through the gas tank on the left side of his rig. He wasn't sure where the sound was coming from, so he jammed on the airbrakes. Only one bullet passed through his cab, but one was all he needed. The bullet came in from the upper right corner of the windshield, right where the glass met steel, and popped straight through Conrad's forehead. Eventually he was able to bring the sixteen wheeler to a stop. Conrad left it idling while he threw open the door and hopped down to check the pigs. Sports cars and hatchbacks and semis blurred past him an armlength away. He ran back along the side and peered through the slats into the trailer. The waves of pigshit stink came to him, but he was beyond the point of noticing it. All twenty-three of his bustling and snorting units of cargo seemed intact. He would find out later that one of them had been hit, but the bullet had only broken off a chunk of the pig's hoof. Blowing a giant sigh of relief, Conrad stepped back from the side of the trailer. He noticed a smear of blood along one of the dull metal slats of the trailer's wall. He yelled, "Christ!" To spray pig blood that high up the wall, about as high as his head, he thought it must have ricocheted off somewhere, maybe the bottom of the trailer, before running through the pig. Conrad leaned against the slats again to look for an injured pig, cupping his hands around his eyes to see in better. He didn't worry much when he felt the blood on his hands. But when he felt the hole in his head, a little high and forward of his left temple, Conrad began to wonder. He stepped back from the rig again, and looked at the blood on the trailer as he gingerly fingered the new hole in his head. When he saw the smear on the metal slat again, it immediately occurred to him that his own bleeding head had caused it. "Damn," he said quietly. He used his index and middle fingers to explore the ragged exit-wound on the left side of his head. Conrad frowned and jogged back to the cab. He yanked the door open so he could see himself in the side mirror. Sure enough, a little hole up on the right side of his forehead, a bigger hole of the left side and back more. Quite a bit of blood was trickling out of the right hole. Conrad had gotten chicken pox when he was five and still had a few scars, three of them across the back of his head. Whenever he got a crewcut, the scars showed emphatically because the hair didn't grow over them. This damn thing would leave another scar just into his hairline. "Can you believe this shit?" Conrad pulled himself into the truck and swore again when he noticed a dark spot on the upholstery. He could feel something give way in his forehead, and suddenly everything looked much brighter than before. The silver trim along the hood of his cab shone white, and all the cars cruising past looked yellow or red. They weren't moving too fast, so Conrad was able to pull into traffic soon. Within nine miles, he saw signs for a rest area ahead. He guided his truck along the ramp, and left it in the handicapped spot closest to the brown, A-frame building. OVERDRIVE Conrad pushed open the easy-swing glass door and stepped into the Visitor Information Center lobby. There was a line of tourists stretching along two walls of the room. The lady in front of Conrad wore a sheer black kimono, and had a Chihuahua draped over her shoulder. In the middle of the line was a young father and his precocious son. The young father had a huge video camera on his shoulder like a second head, slowly turning to film every detail of the lobby. The precocious boy spotted Conrad and said, "Daddy, look! That man is bleeding!" Daddy spun to aim the camera where his son was pointing. "Oh, yes. He's been shot, Billy. Look at the big hole in that side of his head: can you see how the blood is coming out in little spurts? That's called a 'pulse.'" The dapper-looking youth behind the counter cleared his throat in an attempt to stifle the talking. As he was looking up at the delinquents, he noticed something even more disturbing. "Excuse me, you two at the back of the line? Please clean up after yourselves if you're going to make a mess like that." Conrad was still the last in line, looking around to see what kind of "mess" he was making. At his feet, small puddles of blood were spreading across the beige tile. He pulled a bandana from his back jeans pocket and mopped up the worst of the blood. It was soaked and dripping a little, but he held it under his chin to catch any further spillage. The woman in front of him turned to him and smiled. She had one thick, black eyebrow, glistening with facial grease so it matched the shine of her kimono. "Could I borrow your handkerchief, sir?" The Chihuahua on her shoulder had left a slippery streak of drool down the front of her kimono, and a puddle of drool spread away from her bare feet to a drain in the center of the floor. "Uh, sure," Conrad mumbled. "I don't know that it'll be much help to you, though." He set the dripping bandana across her outstretched hand, then flicked the blood off his fingers. She knelt and began to scrub at the drool-covered tiles in slow, circular motions. A half hour later, Conrad finally lost his patience after the old man at the counter spent the whole time trying to get directions to Wright River. The Visitor Information attendant had taken twenty minutes to confirm which was the right Wright River, since there were four Wright Rivers in the county. He spent another ten trying to make the senior citizen realize that he could get there by taking the next turn on the right when he left. Right? Conrad stepped out of line and walked to the front, causing all the other visitors to gasp and begin muttering behind him. "Hey," he said, bleeding over the counter, "Can you just tell me where the nearest hospital is?" The youth behind the counter shifted his shoulders forward menacingly within the burgundy suit coat. His face was going brick red and bits of his teeth were gritting off. The old man with the map open said, "Sure! You take the next exit so you can loop around and get to the other direction, then it's about thirteen miles. You wanna get in the left lane before then, head off at the Shulberg exit, not the Schulburg exit which comes later, and follow the signs over to St. Christopher's. Can't be more than twenty minutes north on Shulberg." "Oh, don't go there," the Visitor Information attendant said, "My grandmother stayed there for the last six months before she died, and she never stopped bitching about it. The food was all gooey baby food and the TV didn't get more than two cable channels and the whole place stunk like rubbing alcohol!" Conrad pressed his palm against the hole on the right side of his forehead to minimize the mess. The left hole was too big to cover, so he had stopped trying. "Where else can I go?" The dapper youth looked back at the line and waved his hand for Conrad to lean closer. When he did, the youth said, "You didn't hear it from me, but out back of the men's restroom building there's a paramedic on break. He works on all the sniper victims that come through. Slip him a twenty and he'll fix you up fine, be outta here in no time." He cleared his voice again and said loudly, "Now if you'll excuse me." The youth continued telling the old man to take the next right when he left to get to the right Wright River. DOWNSHIFT Conrad stumbled backwards from the counter. His boot slipped in the puddle of bloody Chihuahua drool in the middle of the floor, and Conrad wafted into the air. He landed hard on the tiles and, naturally, cracked his head open. The woman with the cyclopean eyebrow loomed over Conrad and held out the slimy bandana. It had originally been red with white outlines of swirly paisley patterns. Now it was just red. "Thank you for letting me borrow your handkerchief," she said. A thick drop of something red threatened to fall from the bottom corner of the bandana into Conrad's eye. "Uh, that's okay," Conrad said, rolling to the side as he held his skull together with both hands. "You can keep it." "Why, how kind of you," the woman said with her tight smile. She slid the mushy gob of red into her kimono, where there may or may not have been an inside pocket. Conrad walked carefully to the door and shouldered it open, plodded out towards the men's restroom building. His hands were still pressing his skull together, gut he thought it might stay there all right if he let go. He gently lifted his hands away, felt the two halves of his skull settle a little, then stop. If he didn't walk too enthusiastically - that is, if he didn't "romp" - then it would probably stay together. POP THE CLUTCH In the neatly mown lawn behind the men's restroom building, Conrad found the paramedic and his clients. There were only two in line, waiting for the man to rejuvenate a gerbil who was a victim of the road. Conrad got in line and began his wait. It didn't take long for the health-care provider to get the gerbil back to shape: he simply blew into the rodent's head through an eye socket to puff the tiny creature whole again, then gently returned his entrails to their proper place through its mouth. It didn't even take more than twenty minutes to sew up the ripped stomach, no more than a half hour to set all the creatures bones and construct a full-body cast. What took the biggest chuck of time was performing micro-CPR on the critter. Conrad had long since fashioned a turban out of his denim shirt. The turban functioned as a bandage to stop the blood loss, and as a temporary measure to hold his skull together. He was beginning to feel woozy, and getting a chill with his shirt off, so he set fire to the restroom building. The building was conveniently constructed of mesquite, which provided just a soupcon of low background aroma to the full, heady fragance of the fire. Sadly, the burning feces spoiled the scent somewhat. When the gerbil finally sprang to life and bit the paramedic, who promptly cut off all its limbs and laughed with satisfaction at the quadriplegic rodent, the line advanced. Next was a chubby woman with her Siamese twin nieces joined at the knees. The only one left in line in front of Conrad was a short Black man with a chest wound, another victim of a sniper. Conrad tried to strike up a conversation with the man, since they had at least one thing in common, but the man ignored him. During the wait, Conrad became a "foxhole convert," believing with all his heart that the universe must have been created by a benevolent being. Conrad loved God and knew he would pull through, or maybe he would die and go on to the next life, but either way it would be God's plan and God was right and God would love him and he would love God. That idea eventually trickled out the side of his head like everything else. When he was only the second in line, Conrad's faith had been strengthened by a feeling of hope. The paramedic's successful separation of the teenaged twins using only a sharp soup-can lid was nothing short of inspirational. But when it came turn for the Black man with the chest wound, and the man revealed that he also had a ruptured cornea which would require hours of delicate surgery, plus testicular cancer and tennis elbow, and the man said that he was holding place in line for a bus-load of expiring nuns (this point naturally came to a large dispute, but the paramedic allowed it); it was then that Conrad lost faith and began to despair. It was one thing if God would fix him up and let him be His eternal servant, or if God would let him die and get it over with. But God wasn't doing anything. The Almighty was letting Conrad suffer for days and weeks with his head punctured and on the verge of splitting in half, while some other clown got fixed. And, he decided, any world where you can hold places in line for people well, there's no justice in a world like that. Conrad left in a huff, saying, "Well, fuck you." "He pulled his rig around, made his way to St. Christopher's, and began to die. The surgeons clamped his head shut and filled the hole with gauze. They accidentally left a fingernail clipping in the left lobe of his brain, which brought him within an arm's length from death. A nurse saved him, married him, had a boy child by him. They lived happily ever after until they were both sixty-three and killed themselves. THE END.