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Hunter removed the gas cap with a pressurized pop—a good thing—and fed his siphon hose into the minivan’s tank. He filled a small cup and checked the quality. Free of floating particles, the fumes and the taste also passed inspection; thankfully the gasoline remained pure enough to run his motor. He siphoned again and topped off his Kawasaki two-wheeler. Without the empty tank problem, the trip back home to Independents would be a cinch.

He screwed the gas cap back on tight for the next time he rode this way and left the tangled bones strewn about the front seat. Hunter sped his motorbike parallel to Interstate 80’s buckled pavement through the untended farmlands of central Nebraska. He slowed across a bridge spanning the Platte River, and picked up speed heading south on State Highway 10.

Long miles of travel wore on, his body roasting in the August heat under the midday sun. Sweat trickled off his brow and streaked across his new sunglasses. Riding alongside an empty irrigation ditch, he spotted the invitation of cool shade beneath a solitary cottonwood tree. He turned and was coasting to a stop when someone sprung up from the tall grass.

Hunter veered left, barely missing the person, and rolled straight for the tree’s massive trunk. He laid the Kawasaki over and landed on his feet, fists clenched.

His nostrils burned from the harsh exhaust blowing out the Kawasaki’s tailpipe; his faulty throttle was stuck again. Gas still revved through the fallen motorbike and the rear wheel spun in the air, creating a deafening roar.

A little blonde girl stood close by with her hands pressed against her ears.

Hunter killed the motor and returned to his fighting stance.

The girl uncovered her ears and stretched with a mighty yawn before rubbing the sleep out of the corners of her blue eyes. She wore jeans, and her white T-shirt was impossibly clean for someone taking a nap on the ground. Her feet were covered with grass stains, especially over her toes—as if green was their natural color.

“What the hell were you thinking jumping up like that?” Hunter said with his adrenaline still amped up high. Her frown caught him off guard and he felt stupid for yelling at a little girl. He took a deep breath, unclenched his fists and combed his fingers through his hair.

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