There, he says.
What? says his brother.
Moses stops the car but doesn’t get out. There are too many slugs around. He points through the windshield to a broken jar on the side of a main drag that leads to the freeway ahead.
She’s been took, Moses says.
Took by who? Slugs?
No. Not slugs. Took by other people. Maybe Fletcher, maybe others.
What’re you talkin about?
That olive jar. She was feastin from it last night.
How do you know it’s the same one?
It’s recently busted. There’s juice still in it.
Okay. So why does that mean she’s been took?
She ain’t the kind to go bustin jars just for the jollies of it. Plus, she knows we’re after her, and she wouldn’t of left any clues behind on purpose. No, she’s been took.
If it’s Fletcher, that’s bad news for her.
Mostly likely it’s bad news for her any which way. No kind soul givin somebody a lift would begrudge them the luggage of a jar of olives. A conflict took place here.
So they know they are headed in the right direction anyhow, and they drive with an eye on the horizon, looking to find some sign of the Vestal.
They drive slow, and soon the city is behind them. Just before evening falls, they see something else caught up on the bramble bushes by the side of the road. The vestments of the ghost herself, like a disregarded bedsheet left over from a child’s Halloween costume: the Vestal’s white robes.
At least we know they went this way, says Abraham Todd grimly. He massages his knee below the gunshot thigh, wincing.
When night falls, they stop, afraid to miss the clues of the Vestal’s path, and barricade themselves in a dusty second-floor room of an old motel. The dead have a difficult time climbing steps. They can do it, eventually, but it costs them time and fuss – and by the time they have reached the top, they have usually forgotten what brought them there in the first place.
That night Moses lies awake listening to his brother turn fitfully in the bed next to his. The room has heavy curtains blocking out the moonlight and so is straightup blind dark. He has grown accustomed to it over the years of roaming the deadlands of the country – but it was not always like that. When he was a child, there was light everywhere. It seeped in under doors and through blinds. Nothing was ever entirely dark. You had daylight, and then you had dimness – and it seemed as though the world was a glowworm of a place, a thing that produced its own bioluminescence – and you would never have thought how dead a place it could be.
Abraham shifts again in the dark.
How’s the leg? Moses asks.
Guy must of shot me with a poison bullet, says Abraham.
You want to take a look?
Again silence permeates the dark, and Moses feels what it must be like to be buried alive. Then he listens harder, and he can hear the dead outside, bristling along against each other like a nest of rodents.
Then Abraham speaks again.
Why do you think she ran away?
Don’t know, Moses says. Likely she’s the kind who eschews too much company on her travels.
But a holy girl. How’s she got the guts to . . .
She ain’t so holy.
What do you mean?
It occurs to Moses that his brother has never seen the other side of the Vestal Amata. He was tending his leg when she shot the man who injured him. He was waiting in the car when she nearly bashed Fletcher’s brain in.
She can take care of herself, Moses says. You haven’t seen it. She’s got a little bit of killer in her. Who knows what else.
You didn’t see.
So she ain’t immune to them? That was just a trick? I knew it.
No, it ain’t a trick. I don’t know what it is. Maybe she’s holy in some ways and unholy in others. Or maybe holiness wears a new aspect these days. I don’t know. But all I know is that she ain’t no damsel in distress.
Abraham is quiet for a moment. Then he says:
If she ain’t no holy girl, does that mean I can bang her when we find her?
He chuckles in the dark, and Moses replies with simple silence.
Sometimes Moses feels he is more at home among the wandering dead – for while he does not share their appetites, he can understand them. Now he finds himself in the company of reprobate brothers and unholy Vestals. The dead may refuse to rest, but it’s the world of the living that’s gone asunder.
No, but serious now, Abraham says again in the dark. If she ain’t a holy girl like we thought before, what are we huntin her for? We ain’t getting paid, and we ain’t on a mission for God – so then what?
She’s still a lost girl – holy or not.
But it seems like she don’t want to be found.
Moses says nothing for a moment. Then he turns over on his side and blinks his eyes. The dark is the same no matter whether his eyes are open or closed.
I don’t got the answers for everything, he says. Sometimes you do things just cause they need to be done by someone and there ain’t nobody else around. Is that answer enough for you?
Abraham shifts again in his bed, grunting.
Sure, he says. Me, I’m easy. Free and easy. Abraham Todd is like a delicate autumn leaf, brother. He goes where the wind blows.
The next day they find her in a little town called Fountain Hills at the edge of a vast scrub desert. They follow the tides of the dead, who are stirred up, presumably, not by the Vestal herself but by whoever took her. There is a park in the middle of the town, and that’s where the bandits have set up camp. There are not many of them – maybe ten – just enough to travel light but protected. Their cars are parked in a huddle, the bandits are guarding the camp from the slow but steady onslaught of the dead while at the same time they hoot and holler at the redheaded girl dancing naked in the centre of the camp.
The exchange is a quick one. The bandits see the Todd brothers approach and attack. It is no matter to them who the Todds are or what they want: this group of travellers moves from place to place exercising their desires with a violence inherited from the very land over which they travel. They are scarred and ugly and brutal in their actions. They speak the language of death with accents muddy and coarse.
But the Todds have travelled the same ragged roads, and violence is a language that flows from their tongues as well. There are a couple with rifles, and Abraham dispatches those quickly, cutting off their range. The others scrabble to melee – but they are all distracted, caught unaware in their leisure.
Moses uses Albert Wilson Jacks’s horrible blade for the first time. It is grotesquely heavy, and once put in motion it seems to swing through arcs of destruction all of its own accord. Moses finds himself merely trying to finesse the direction of centrifugal rage in the weapon. It rips and tears and leaves slews of rooster-tail blood behind its swing. Moses flails it across one bandit’s middle and sees the man’s guts spill out of the multiple gashes opened up in his abdomen. There is no grace in the weapon, no art. Brought down on another bandit’s head, the skull simply pops like a frail coconut, the mess of grey brain splashing every which way and the cudgel digging itself well down through the man’s throat and lodging between his shoulder blades. Moses has to let the body fall and put his foot against it to pry the weapon out again. Graceless and resolute, the thing moves through flesh without recourse or order or reason or precision. It is the opposite of surgery – it is senseless and animal.