I told myself a story, about a young man who took an unexpected turn and found a strange set of ruins, where some evil genius had hidden away the world's children and covered his tracks by taking a few of the adults. In this story, the young man found his way into the hidden laboratory, and happened upon a death ray, and destroyed the evil genius and freed the children.
Then I told myself another story, about a young man who woke up imprisoned on a spaceship. He tricked his captors, took control of their weapons, and brought the abducted children - and the others, his own father among them - back to Earth.
That got me as far as Memphis. On the way to Little Rock, I told myself a story about a young man who came home to his father's funeral, and found that he'd inherited a book and a sword: the book to explain what had happened and what was coming, and the sword to fight against it. The Demon Lord commanded powerful forces, but in the end human stubbornness prevailed. With the Demon Lord vanquished, the ties between our worlds were severed - but the dead were still dead, and the missing, missing.
They were vague and grandiose fantasies, though I took some pleasure in filling in the little details: how the ruins look, why the villain had bothered with a death ray, how the aliens differed from humans... It was comforting, to imagine a world where good would triumph and evil would be defeated. It pleasant to think that, with the right combination of wit and insight, things might still be set right. And it was, ultimately, just a fantasy. I knew that, but I indulged it anyway.
I stopped in Little Rock to eat. I don't remember what I ordered. I don't remember my waiter. I don't actually remember eating the food, but I must have done so. I have a vague memory of latching my seatbelt on the way back out of the parking lot. Presumably someone would have stopped me if I'd forgotten to pay...
Mom called me just as I was leaving Little Rock. I pulled over to answer the phone, then assured her that I was fine and still on my way. She said she was glad that I was coming home, and I told her I was, too. And when she was done, I put the phone on the seat and got back on the highway.
It was starting to get dark, and I was tired. But I thought about it, and decided that I'd continue on; I wasn't too tired to drive. (This may not have been the wisest decision I've ever made.) So I drove, keeping the Jeep in its lane and watching the mile markers go past, and eventually I hit Texarkana. An impossibly long time after that, I drove into my parents' house in Grapevine.
By then I'd gotten my second wind, which was a good thing: Mom and Tina were still awake, waiting up for me. I barely made it in the door before they they were holding me. I was worn out from the drive, and maybe still in shock, so all I could do was wait through their tears and their relief, and assure them that I was glad to see them, too.
It was the worst homecoming I ever had.