To everything there is a reason, and to everything is time, from every object under the Pearly Gates and above the Fiery Ones.

That's what most people say, anyway: there's a reason for everything, and every God-given moment of the day happens because some great divine see-saw tipped under the Weight of the Lord and, thus, a reaction had to occur.

I don't think that's what happened. Call me crazy, but I really don't. God could've planned until His fingers were bleeding all over the Divine Day Planner and things would have still turned out the way they are today.

I don't have any credentials to back up this philosophical stuff. I'm just a girl in her beloved Corvette, one of the last of its kind, writing down my own personal shit so that people can see what their ancestors said to excuse the Way Things Turned Out. That's it, really—that's what everyone calls it, even the religious folk down in Eastern Pennsylvania. Even the Mormons in Idaho and the Amish in Ohio.

It's just the Way Things Turned Out.

Maybe I've been driving my 'Vette too long and the fumes from that glorious V-8 are finally taking me down the road everyone else has been using for the past ten years. That's what Society says will happen. Society says that my Corvette is the Devil reincarnate and that it deserves to be poked and prodded and finally unceremoniously burned and buried, the Devil back to the ground from which he came, praise Jesus!

No way, baby. I'm not trading in my boy for that Way shit. Even if that's what smoked the rest of the country.

I'm getting ahead of myself, I think. The future deserves to know what really happened, and while I'm by no means the woman (girl, say girl, you're not even eighteen) to tell this sad story, there are few others who would. People like to smile and nod and, I've found, casually shove the heavy coat of blame onto anyone nearby. As soon as possible, as fast as possible. Because once the blame's gone, you can die a happy soul.

Maybe that's why the 'Vette and I are still together, out here in the wilderness. I can't shove the blame onto his back, so I'm stuck with all of it. It wants to fly right off my shoulders and onto this paper, but I'll hold it back. For their sake. They deserve to know the truth. In fact, they better damn well know the truth.

To everything there is a reason, baby.

I can almost feel the minutes ticking by over my head as I write this, some big, droning piece of clockwork that is kindly counting down the last few days—hours, maybe—for me. I don't think there's a whole lot of time left—things are winding up for the big finish. The Beast has to be halfway across the ocean by now, and it's swimming like hell itself is on its tail.

But even the Beast isn't a God. It has to obey the earthly laws, just like everyone else. Thank God for that.

It gives me time to finish everything up, you see.

I thought about writing everything down as I knew it—what better perspective than a seventeen-year-old besotted with a Corvette, eh?—but something is telling me I need to go beyond that.

Some little voice inside my head is rattling at the door. It wants me to skip this retrospective bullshit. I need to go beyond. Beyond beyond. And there's only one way to do that.

Let me walk you through the process. It's nothing something I can really explain—not the schematics, anyway. But to tell this story, I need to go deeper than my own memories. Beyond them. Far beyond, into the world that was.

William Yeats called it Spiritus Mundi, that big spiritual chasm holding all the memories of humankind. It's a giant well of human remembrance, you see. Every person unknowingly dumps their memories into this unseen chasm, where they can be accessed by anyone.

Well, almost anyone. They have to know about it, of course. And that takes about 99.9 of the world out of the equation.

Yeats calls it Spiritus Mundi, but for me, it's the Universal Car Trunk. Not as pretty-sounding as Yeats', I know, but then again, I'm not getting paid for this. Calling it the Universal Car Trunk keeps it simple, and better, in terms I can understand.

To tell all of this, I need to open the UCT. Simple as that. It's something I discovered here in the wilderness…or something that found me. I've never been sure…

All right. Enough pretty talk. The little voice in my head is walloping at the door now, telling me to come on, tell it. A regular Jehovah's Witness, that voice.

Anyways. It's unsettling, to say the least, opening the UCT—especially in a world like ours—but it needs to be done. I've done it once before, so I know what to expect, but…

It's unlike anything I've ever done. Words really can't do it justice. I go inside my head to get there, but it's a physical place, one that I can see in front of my very eyes. I see a glowing car trunk in my head—and of course it resembles the boot of a Corvette—that's almost alive with color. Sparks are flying everywhere; it's like a rainbow-colored firecracker, just about to explode. The first time I saw it, I didn't want to go near it, but I know better now. It's just the residue of what's inside it. The memories. Until things started falling apart, I never knew that memories could be physical, but…again, I know better nowadays. Memories are as real as cars, boats, trains, and planes. And the UCT carries within it all the memories of the world. Beyond, beyond.

All you need to do is pop the trunk.

And to spin this story like Charlotte, I plan on doing just that.

Other people tell their parts better that I ever could, and quite frankly, some things I don't even know. I suppose I could tell my sad story, but it's not good enough, not for the future. And I just don't know enough. But—lucky you!—I know who does.

And I know what memory she gave to the UCT—unknowingly, of course. But it's there, and I plan to see and observe as well as anyone who reads this journal. Opening the UCT will answer some of my questions as well.

So pull up a chair, Child of the Future. Turn off the laptop, unplug the TV. I don't think I can open the UCT more than twice in my life, so make this one count.

Make it count like hell and beyond. If not for me, than for the red-headed beauty beside me, the last 'Vette on the face of the Earth.

--

A shape…a lion body…vexed to nightmare… …why didn't you believe me, man?

Wait. What the—what's going on? That's not the memory I was look—

Looking

For

--

Tim Zimmerman checked his watch, let out a stream of curses in his head, then barreled through the line forming at checkout, ignoring the surprised—and angry—mutters. He leapt in front of the next customer in line and shoved his things onto the counter.

"Hey, what're you doing, you bastard?" demanded the next man in line. "You can't just—"

"I'm sorry, sir," the clerk said, looking a little overwhelmed at the situation and the thought of rebuking a cutting customer. "You'll have to wait your—"

Tim raked his hair back with a quick, nervous hand, then checked his watch again as it floated down from his hair.

"Dammit!" As if today couldn't get any worse. Mel is going to kill me. "I have to hurry, buddy, my wife's pregnant and due any day now and she started having false contractions this morning and if she doesn't have stuff for the baby I don't know what—"

"Whoa, hey." The man behind him laid a hand on his shoulder. "I didn't know that. Tell ya what, though, that was the longest damn sentence I've heard since Mrs. Elkinar's first grade spelling classes."

Tim sucked in a large breath and blew it out in a noisy huhhh. "Thanks."

"Don't mention it. Your wife's almost due? Go right on ahead, son. The world will put off ending in time for one nervous husband to buy some diapers and bottles."

The clerk, pimply face slack-jawed with relief at disaster averted, started to ring up the cloth diapers and baby bottles.

Feeling almost as relieved as the clerk—Mel, hormonally imbalanced as she was with the impending pregnancy, could be relied on to have breakdowns over minor things—Tim shoved a bottle of formula onto the counter and turned to the stranger.

The world will put off ending? Excuse me?

"What did you mean by that?" he asked, studying the man behind him. The first impression he got was simply gray. An ash-colored beard was growing rampantly on the bottom of the man's chin while equally cloudy hair took over the top of his head. Eyebrows, teeth, hell, even skin contained tinges of gray. The only things that stood outside the charcoal ensemble were the man's bright blue eyes.

Those eyes, round and pure as small sapphire marbles, fixed onto Tim's face. "What did I mean by what? The world ending?"

Even hearing the old man say it gave birth to a shudder that contracted Tim's innards into something resembling a writhing snake. "Yeah," he answered, trying to kill the shudder.

He's exaggerating. Or quoting a phrase. Something. The world's not ending. God, Z, get a grip.

"Exactly what I said," Mr. Gray replied, switching his Green Bag (Stay Clean! Get Green! Conserving the World—One Bag at a Time!) to his left hand. "Didn't you hear?"

The image his mind kept projecting of a pregnant Mel, waiting impatiently at home for diapers and bottles for a baby that wasn't even in the world yet, suddenly seemed unimportant.

"No, I didn't hear the world was ending," Tim said. "Must've missed the memo."

Mr. Gray didn't even crack a smile. "I kid you not, son. Don't you watch PNN? Good morning, I'm Steve Coonan, isn't it a lovely day outside?"

Tim shook his head. "Not for about two weeks. The pregnant wife, you know…"

"Bad time to skip the tube, buddy. I don't have time to really go into details, but—"

"Hey!" A customer from farther back in line poked his head above the massive crowd at the checkout and glared like an irate chicken. "Keep it movin', people!"

"That should be your first clue," Mr. Gray said, jerking his head at the mass behind him. "You ever see so many people in a line at your local Darrenkamp's?"

Eyes following the direction of the old man's head jerk, Tim gazed out over the crowd. The shudder that had erupted after Mr. Gray's initial words had morphed into a dark, deeply cold feeling that stopped in his gut and made camp there.

There were almost a hundred people in the line at the checkout, and the crowd was growing.

What the hell…when I cut in line, there were only thirty people in front of me! How

With an effort, Tim tore his gaze away from the mass of people and focused on Mr. Gray again.

"What the hell's going on?"

Mr. Gray shook his head. "Between the end of your checkout and the beginning of mine, there isn't enough time to tell you everything. Listen, though: if I were you, I would leave Rapton. Go east. Go east as fast as you can. And stay the hell away from the Mojave Desert."

"What?" Tim croaked. Was is only this morning that his biggest troubles had been Mel throwing a crying fit over the lack of cloth diapers in the house? He clung to the most understandable of Mr. Gray's sentences. "We're in Pennsylvania, it doesn't get much more 'east' than that."

The clerk handed Tim his bag and receipt. Tim slung the bag absentmindedly over his shoulder as Mr. Gray unloaded his cart onto the checkout counter.

"Go east," Mr. Gray repeated, simultaneously putting items on the counter and talking. "Don't ask me, ask them. Go east. And tell your wife good luck with the kid." The sea of wrinkles that was Mr. Gray's face parted in a smile. "Boy or girl? Or are you Mennonite?"

Oh, God, not that. Not that. At that word, Tim's sense of doom in the day heightened to epic proportions. "No," he spat.

Mr. Gray raised an eyebrow. "Calm down, son. I was just askin'. You have the look of someone who wants to be surprised by their kid's sex."

How exactly do you respond to that? ' Oh, thanks, old man, what look would that be? Could you describe this look, sir?'

"It's a girl," Tim replied, trying to erase the stiffness in his body and voice. God, though, that word!

"Well, good luck to your wife and daughter, then, son, and good day." With that, Mr. Gray turned away and started digging in his wallet.

Tim shook his head, utterly flabbergasted, but as the line started to grow even more and growled curses began to color the air, he made his exit from Darrenkamp's, the troublesome cloth diapers and bottles rattling over one shoulder.

What a great day, he thought as he made his way through the automatic doors and outside the store. Great frickin' day. And all because Mel had to have those damn cloth diapers.

The thought of Mel brought back a feeling of terror quite similar to what the M-word invoked. Wincing inwardly at the thought, Tim sped into the parking lot, located the car with some difficulty (the pregnant wife, at home screaming about diapers, had once commented that he had some God-given talent for not being to find his own parked car) and jumped in. Keying the ignition into start, he belted up and switched the gearshift to R—then stopped.

Preoccupied by Mel's sure rage, he had failed to notice what Mr. Gray would have certainly called "a sign."

Tim blinked once, checked the glowing green clock on his dashboard, then peered out the window, Mel once again put into the back closet (sorry, Mel).

I did change it for daylight savings, right? Yeah, I did, because I had to take the damn dashboard apart to make the clock buttons work. Then why…?

Tim looked the clock again. It read 2:17 in cheery green print.

Ok, that's weird. That's really frickin' weird.

The sky, which had been the bright, pure blue of a really flawless day, was turning black. Not dull black with the arrival of night, not ominously gray with a sudden spring thunderstorm, but just…dark. The darkness was stealing over the blue, black sliding across the once-perfect sky in streaks that gave the atmosphere an eerie striped look. Soon, though, the darkness would envelop everything; that much stood without asking.

And it was only 2:17 in the afternoon.