"How do you feel?" Donk asked Graves now.
Graves, still sitting on the bumper, flashed his ruined teeth. The dirty wind had given his eyes a teary under-rim. "How do I look?"
"Fading. We need to get you somewhere."
Graves looked down, angrily blinking away his eyes' moisture. "Where are we, anyway?"
"About an hour outside Kunduz."
"That's another hour from Mazar?"
Graves glanced around, but the dunes were too high to see anything but the road and the road was too straight to reveal anything but the dunes. "Not far enough, I imagine."
"We could hitch. Someone is bound to be along."
"Someone is. Who is the problem."
"You don't think the poor devils would use roads, for God's sake, do you? This far north? They'd be bombed within minutes."
"I have no idea."
With shiatsu delicacy, Graves massaged his face with his fingertips. A bright bracelet of untanned flesh encircled his wrist. Graves's watch, too, had been stolen. His hands fell into his lap, then, and he sighed. "I hope you're not worried, Duncan."
Donk decided not to remind Graves, for what would have been the fortieth time, that he preferred to be called Donk. The nickname--a diminutive form of donkey--dated to one of the boyhood camping trips he and his father and older brother Jason used to take every year in the Porcupine Mountains of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. If he had never especially liked the name, he had come to understand himself through its drab prism. donk st. pierre was stamped in raised black type upon his ivory business card; it was the name above which his photographs were published. People often mistook his work for that of some Flemish eccentric. When colleagues first met him, something Donk called The Moment inescapably came to pass. Faced not with a tall, spectral, chain-smoking European but a short, overweight Midwesterner with frizzy black hair and childlishly small hands, their smiles faded, their eyes crumpled, and a discreet little sound died just past their glottis.
"I'm not worried," Donk said. "I'll be even less worried when we figure out where we're going."
Graves stared at Donk as though weighing him in some crucial balance. "You seemed rather jittery in Pyanj. Wasn't sure you'd be up to this."
Excerpted from God Lives in St. Petersburg by Tom Bissell, pages 3 to 12. From the short story titled 'Death Defier'. Copyright © 2005 by Tom Bissell. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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