As dusk set in, the highway heading south was clogged with cars, vans, SUVs, Hummers, tour buses and trucks.  The vehicles were crawling, inch by endless inch, a sea of pebbles at the mercy of a sluggish Friday rush hour tide.  Vonda Barrett was boxed in by a moving van on her left and a Mack truck on her right, each the length of the Great Wall of China, or so it seemed.  She tried to extricate herself from these mountains of steel but it was impossible; she was resigned to the fact that if she dozed off and an accident occurred she’d be crushed to a gory death, and that would be that.  A grape squashed by the foot of a gorilla.  No one would know she was even there.
 
Behind her smoky Goth eyes and platinum blonde hair, Vonda was a small town brunette who used to play baseball and bake red velvet cakes.  At seventeen, she conjured up a new life, turning Halloween into a daily activity.
 
When the traffic began to flow again, allowing vehicles to increase their speed, Vonda was thinking about the Standard Hotel with its white façade illuminated by eerie blue lights, and its quirky, eye-catching upside-down banner that seemed like the work of a prankster or a legally blind hotel employee.  With its live performance art, electric blue astro-turf sundeck, and nightly DJ in the lobby, the place thrilled and energized her.   
 
Vonda closed her eyes and could practically smell the hotel’s heavily perfumed air that seemed imported from some magical place where it was manufactured with a combination of oxygen and opiate.  She inhaled, and pretended.       
 
Just as Vonda opened her eyes, she thought her car had been struck by a missile from the sky, and the world was coming to a deafening, fiery end.  Then came the screeching of metal, and then the blasting or horns like the brass section of an amateur orchestra trying in vain to play the same note.  Like a flash frame in a movie, she caught a fleeting glimpse of her smiling parents before the screen abruptly cut to black.

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