Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Thirty One

Finally there came a day when they found themselves on the outskirts of a ruined city. There had been fighting here, as tribes from the reservations battled local citizens for control of the deserted suburbs. Homes and businesses lay in blackened ruins and the structures that remained were falling apart, pock-marked with bullets and shrapnel.

Will reined in and looked around. "Estrella is on the far side of those mountains up ahead. Going around this town will take a whole extra day, and may not be any safer than cutting through."

Diana sighed. The green of the mountains was inviting. It would be cool up there, and she longed to see Amalia and rest in a bed of her own. "I'm not afraid to go through town."

Will looked at her belly, which seemed bigger with each passing day. "I won't let you put yourself in danger."

"I can manage."

"Your balance is all thrown off."

"I'm trying to think of it as a counterweight."

Will turned to Coyote. "What do you think?"

Coyote shook his head. "Nothing. I've been picking up a lot of interference lately."

"I thought you said you weren't a radio."

"I'm not. It's just a conversation I listen to, and lately they've been saying the same damn thing over and over." He darted a glance at Diana. "She's in no danger here."

"What about the rest of us?"

"We take our chances."

Will moved his horse in front, Diana behind him, with Macy and Coyote bringing up the rear. They were on the remains of the old state highway, the asphalt nearly buried under blowing sand. After a few miles, the highway became a business road, flanked on either side by decrepit hotels and ruined shopping centers.

"Look at all the pretty plastic!" Macy pointed to the remains of broken signs.

Coyote shrugged. "It's just old oil that would've been better used fueling a train."

"It's the colors I like. They'd make great jewelry."

"Too brittle," Diana said. "You wouldn't be able to shape them."

"I bet there's a way." Macy lapsed into a pensive silence.

They continued without speaking, the wind blowing trash, tumbleweeds and the remains of dead electrical lines across their path. It seemed the entire suburban region was uninhabited, although the scraps of old bedding and charcoal remains of cooking fires suggested someone had tried to live in these abandoned structures for awhile.

"I wonder what drove them out," Coyote said.

Diana looked around. "No water."

As they neared the center of town, the buildings became older, with thicker walls and windows placed to let the breezes flow through. There were trees here, indicating that a river flowed nearby. Here too, were the people. Children and dogs saw them first, rushing them in a shouting, yapping horde. Diana tightened her hands on the reins, but the others had all been street urchins once and shooed the kids away without a second thought. "Go on, we ain't got nothing. We're hungry, too."

The street curved toward the center of town, twisting and becoming lost amid the stone and adobe buildings. Trees were taller here and their leaves cooled the desert wind. There were people everywhere now, some on horses, donkeys and bicycles, but most on foot. They were intent on the ordinary business of running what was left of their city, and since there seemed to be no danger, Will suggested they try to look less threatening. Diana arranged her shift to emphasize her belly and tried to look meek. Behind her, Macy shook her hair out of its ponytail and unbuttoned her blouse. The men hid all but their hunting weapons.

When they came to the river flowing through the center of town, Will's horse balked. Although he jerked on the reins, the mare flared her nostrils, smelling the moisture in the air. Nothing would do but that she go down the bank and drink. "They're thirsty," Diana reminded him. Her own horse was fighting her, too.

The banks of the river were thick with squatters' huts, made of any sort of signs, bricks and paneling that could be held together with nails or yucca twine. A narrow stone path led to the water. The horses drank as Diana struggled for balance, leaning over the water to wash the dust off her face.

A voice behind her made her sit up. A white-haired woman, her face furrowed with years, stood watching her. “I’ve got better water than that,” she offered. “I distill it to remove the impurities. It will be better for you and your baby.” She gave a little jerk of her head. “Come with me.”

1 comment:

Alice Audrey said...

I'm going to assume she's a good Samaritan, and not a trap.