Above Lolo Pass, on what used to be US Highway 12 on the Idaho-Montana border, a young woman is lying flat on her stomach in the snow, raven hair tucked up carefully inside a white ski mask. She's wearing drab gray wool pants imported cheap from Switzerland, and a tan Columbia ski jacket with buttons sewn on in front; the zipper died a couple of years ago. Her most prized garment, though, is a white fleece blanket spread over her whole body. A flurry of snow covered her in icy powder a few hours before dawn. She's almost invisible from the air in all spectra.

The first time she did this, she had a pocket full of chocolate bars to keep her sugar up, and a little thermos of coffee to keep her awake. She hasn't even seen chocolate since summer before last, and then she didn't eat it herself. She closes her eyes against the glare as the sun rises over the hills in front of her.

In these early mornings, when the cold's so bad, she thinks about her old life. Piano lessons, dancing. A huge flag, illuminated by a spotlight, fluttering in the night wind at the supermarket: the most beautiful thing she can remember. She never sings out loud anymore, but she still thinks music.

A rumble in the distance brings her fully alert. She rolls to one side just enough to extricate the rifle from underneath her body, and gently slips a plastic bag off the muzzle. It's a Remington .30-06, the last one rescued from a Wal-Mart in Missoula five years ago, painted white the next winter. She pulls one glove off with her teeth, works the bolt and eases the weapon to her shoulder. Just a couple of minutes before the convoy rounds the bend.

America's last war is very cold.

Courtney finally called me. She's only been unreachable for what seems like months now. Told me she was leaving home and going to live with her boyfriend's sister & husband. She called a couple of times while I was out.. but I wasn't home. How could I know where to call her back? If she had left home, I didn't want to talk to her mother. If she wasn't at her boyfriend's, I definitely didn't want to talk to the sister. Dear god no.
Turns out she and Sheldon found their own place. I was so angry - she's still in high school, and though I'm only about four months older, I still felt like lecturing her. At least she's doing well; they seem to be getting along better now that they're away from parents, and the parents themselves are apparently much nicer now that they don't have to put up with their offspring all day long.
I'm glad they've left Sheldon's sister's place - it was so dirty there, the one time James and I visited, we were physically unable to stay the night. We had to call my mom at like three in the morning, wake her up, and beg her to bring us home, it was that bad.

The unfortunate thing about people like that is when they refuse to acknowledge that their home is a smelly, sticky, mildewy, hairy, bug haven. Gross.
Not only did these people fail to acknowledge their disgusting environment; they didn't even seem to notice. Courtney cleaned the house once, and the very next day it had returned to its former squalor. Not to mention Sheldon's sister had a fit because Courtney had had the impudence to point out dirt in her home.
I can't say it enough. Yuk.

Five days till Halloween.
I planned to be Pimpette, but it looks as if I may be forced into something else.
I have everything except the most important piece: the modified santa coat. I've got the boots, fishnets, excessive jewellery, blonde hair(though not long anymore, dammit)... and I'm working on finishing my Turkish.

I'm very proud of myself for this webcomic. I set myself a twice-weekly schedule and I haven't missed a day yet. Even though this week's Monday strip will be a piece of crap, I dun care. I didn't know exactly how to get Niche and Jon back to the club and make a joke at the same time, so I scribbled some shit about cops and ninjas. I don't think I have enough fans at this point in time for it to matter very much, but if I ever do then my scribbles had better be funny.

Oh well.
Time to go bug some friends to let me tag along Halloween night.

She sat and watched the planes taxi the runway.

Ninety-eight minutes.

Was that all?

Ninety-eight minutes had passed since their goodbye.

Sitting there, trying not to think about it. Think about anything--anything but that.

She remembered her friend had written her a letter. She began to read it, knowing what it would say but hoping it would somehow ease the pain nonetheless.

She read, and she cried.

As she wiped the tears from her cheeks and from around her eyes she felt foolish sitting in an airport, reading a letter and crying.

A guy, college aged, sat down in the seat across from her and to the left. He glanced her way, but she just kept reading. The letter contained things she’d been trying to hide from herself. But there they were, written out and glaring at her.

Before him, she didn’t think a broken heart could hurt so much.

Now she knew.

Stop thinking about it.

But she couldn’t. She thought back to the last few hours… days… weeks… months… She remembered all the good times and the bad, all the rough spots and the fun they had.

Was it all a lie?

Don’t think about it.

She stared out the glass, her cheeks wet again, watching the commotion out on the pavement. The college guy reached over and gently touched her leg with his boarding pass. "Is there anything I can do?"

She attempted to collect herself and give him a grateful smile. "No, thank you."

Stop thinking about it!

But she couldn’t stop thinking about it. She’d been in love.

Still was.

Days ago, she’d been in the same state. Broken, both mentally and emotionally. Her mind had been made up then as it was now. When they’d said goodbye, she hadn’t cried this time. Even though she knew this would be the last time she’d ever touch him, the last time she’d look into his eyes, the last time she’d get lost in them…

His eyes were a brandy brown with gold and green encircling the centers, and they had never ceased to fill her heart every time he looked at her with them.

But she hadn’t cried. Neither had he. Of course, he hadn’t known that this was the final goodbye. He might have known, but she hadn’t told him. She didn’t want to talk about it anymore. Not with him. She’d already cried so many times in front of him.

But he’d only showed emotion a few times in front of her.

Did he even care then? Had he ever cared? Was it all a lie?

She got up and walked around the terminal, anxious to take her mind off of it. It all hurt too much. She was still crying. The finality of it all hadn’t quite sunk in yet. But given time, it would.

After restlessly circling the food court and mini-shops, she boarded her plane. She sat in her seat and pulled out the yellow tablet she’d bought in one of the airport shops and began to write. That usually helped her to clear her head.

But what about her heart?

As she wrote, she cried. She tried to control it, but it was difficult while spilling her soul onto paper in the form of black ink from a ball point pen.

She continued to write as the plane’s engines gradually whined louder. The plane began to speed up and she turned from her work and put her pen down.

This really is goodbye.

As the wheels lifted off the ground, she pressed her lips together and sobbed gently. Her heart yearned to go back. Back to him, to them. Back to what could never and would never be.

Looking out the window, she saw only blue skies all around her, darkening with the promise of a star-filled night. Strangely, it made her feel better.

She was on her way home. She could take the pieces of her broken heart and put them back together again. It would take a long time, and it wouldn’t be easy, but she knew it was what she had to do.

It was time to go home and start again.

The little lady and I had our first real fight on Friday. A vicious little lover’s tiff that ended with me storming off dramatically. My spectacular exit was carried out with all the grace and appeal of a bubonic monkey with tertiary syphilis having a coronary (I slipped and almost fell down the stairs).

She called me later so that I could apologize to her, which I did. I know, I have little or no backbone, but I can’t stay angry at her for very long. It was our first real disagreement, and it wasn’t really about anything. This thing we have going is pretty good, but I think the cracks are beginning to show.

I love her, but sometimes she feels that she has to go to extremes just to prove her point. It’s funny sometimes, but not when it is about me.

We did the kiss and make-up thing this morning. Whether or not this happens again rests in her hands and, by proxy, mine.

I don’t want to drop the ball, but I have the strange feeling that I’m about to.

Today is my second e2 birthday.

Last year I made several resolutions that I did not keep, and became irrelevant after a few months. So I’m not going to do that again. Instead, I’m going to talk about something completely different.

It was a few days ago, around 1am. I had finished undressing for bed, and had turned out my lights. I sleep with the curtains open. If it is too dark I can’t relax. If I can't relax I can’t sleep. So I pulled back the curtains, and there was Orion.

I don't know if it's that I haven't been looking at the stars enough, or at the wrong time, or if Orion just isn’t visible all year round. In any case, I haven't seen that constellation for months.

But there he was, like an old friend.

You owe it to yourself to listen to Food For Other Fish by The Mermen (Mesa / Bluemoon Records). With good quality speakers and at high volume.

The evacuation order finally came at about noon yesterday. Kiki and I had packed the cars in expectation of the order and were out of the apartment in under 5 minutes; with only one minor hitch. As we were transporting him down the stairs, the cat carrier where we'd stowed Zorro decided that he was just too damn heavy and the bottom fell out, releasing a very frightened kitty into the out-of-doors. He was easy to corral and we were soon on our way out of the area... or so we thought.

As we reached Tierrasanta blvd, traffic slowed to a crawl. This is to say that when we pulled out of the parking lot, we were basically in one long 2 lane parking lot. It may have taken us 5 minutes to get out of the complex, but it took another 20 to get us out of the neighborhood. In the process Kiki and I were separated. I tried to reach her on her cell phone but had many problems getting a line and when I did get a line, she didn't answer. I later found out that her cell phone had been in the trunk of her car. As we inched up the road towards Rueda drive, I looked over to the right of me (I'm moving westerly) and saw that the smoke on the ridge above our apartment complex was almost impenetrable. It was a wall of grey, acidic clouds billowing down the canyon and onto the roadside. The ash was falling like snow flakes, except I've never seen black/orange snowflakes before. If things had remained as they were the evacuation might have become a tragedy. Like many neighborhoods in San Diego, there is really only one way out. The SDPD came along very quickly and began to divert traffic onto the oncoming (already closed) lanes. This transformed a 2 lane parking lot into a 4 lane road. The congestion cleared almost immediately. Since I could neither see Kiki, nor could I wait to locate her, I made my way southbound to her parent's house in the central-east part of San Diego. Gladly, not 5 minutes after I reached her parents, Kiki pulled in and we unloaded the only the cats and the bird... by this time we were significantly concerned that the fire might spread to her parents neighborhood. That concern grew as evening wore on into nightfall and we began to be able to see flames. Once nightfall had completely overtaken the city, Kiki, her father, myself, and some of the neighbors went down to the community college to take a look at the flames and to assess for ourselves the severity of the encroaching threat. We had been there for all of 10 minutes when the campus police ran us off saying that they fire was going to come through here and there was nothing that they could do about it because there were simply no fire fighters available to fight that finger of the fire. We then helped Kiki's mom load some things into their vehicles should the evacuation order come. course of wisdom, but her parents had lived in that house for 30 years and weren't going to leave if they didn't have too. At the same time, we decided to sleep in shifts so that someone would be awake if the SDFD came through ordering a mandatory evacuation. Kiki and I took the first shift.

After midnight, some very interesting things are shown on cox cable... did you know that channel 55 broadcasts softcore porn after midnight? Now you do. You also now know that this porn sucks. Kiki made it until about 2:30a before, exhausted, she fell asleep on the couch. I managed to stay awake until 4a when her father came out to tell me that he was awake and that I could go to sleep. I didn't sleep until almost 5a though.

The phone started ringing at about 6a. Many people were calling to check on Kiki's parents, and they (her parents) were calling to check on their friends, former neighbors and employees. I awoke at around 7a and then fell back to sleep at 7:30a until about 9:30a. The fires in our area had really dwindled during the night and if the wind held wouldn't pose a significant threat. Now, I need to mention that today's wind forecast was for light Santa Ana winds that would gust between 40 and 50 mph. This is compared to yesterday's moderate Santa Ana winds which were gusting at greater than 60 mph (in some places). Those winds never materialized. For once, just when we needed it, mother nature decided to play nice... well really she shifted her attentions both north and south of us. The fire still burns in Ramona, parts of Scrips Ranch, Otay (O-tie for you people who aren't from these parts) Lakes, Alpine, and Paradise Valley. That break in the winds really has allowed the fire crews to make some strides in saving homes and property. As the day passed, we grew more and more confident that our apartment was ok and the her parent's place would be ok and we grew anxious to return and see what had happened.

The intervening hours were nerve wracking. There was literally less than 5mins of total coverage that related to our neighborhood. In the big picture, this is understandable because there are many other areas being ravaged, but still, we wanted information... we needed that information. How was our home, when would we be let back to see what had happened. At around 4p we heard that they were allowing Tierrasanta residents to return to their homes. Kiki and I took one car and headed back to evaluate the situation and make decisions. Thankfully, our apartment was spared. It was, however, a very close thing. There is at most 10' of distance between the fire and the back side of our apartment building not complex, but building. There is a fence that separates us from the wilderness area and that fence is the physical demarcation line between what burned and what didn't. One side of the fence has wet, green grass and the other... nothing. The fire crews did a valiant job holding the fire off, and from the looks of it, their back burn saved the day. The entire canyon behind our building, part of the Mission Trails Regional Park, is burned to the ground. There are still hot spots out on the ridge, trees that are still burning and the like, but they have no fuel that can spread the fire without serious, and I mean serious winds. It's a little eerie because we almost didn't notice, except that by chance I glanced past the building and saw that the trees that backed up to the fence were black. We'll get some pictures tomorrow, but there wasn't enough light for my digital camera to get any good ones tonight. Once we saw the fire area, we realized just how close we'd come to losing everything. It's one thing to crack jokes about how great renter's insurance is because you'll be able to get all new stuff, it's an altogether different one to realize that you almost had to do just that.

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