Now you’re soul-split too, she says and points the shears at him. If I’m broke, then so are you. If I’m dead and empty, then so are you. Whatever hell I’ve got boiling inside me, you loved it – and that makes it part of you too.
She laughs again.
Who do you think you are? she continues. Your soul ain’t better than mine. You ain’t lookin at me from some high tower. You’re down here in the muck with the rest of us. You want order? You can play at order and righteousness all you want, but the world ain’t got any obligation to conform to your notions.
He looks at the nest of red in which she sits.
Your hair, is all he can utter.
Time for a new look, she says. Sometimes you got to wear your ugliness on the outside of you. The amber tresses ain’t me any more. Haven’t you heard? I’m the walkin dead – just a slug that’s been trained to talk and f**k.
He turns and walks out of the kitchen. He goes outside and sits with his duffel on the front porch. He finds a cigar he’s been saving and smokes it while he waits.
There is not a person in sight, living or dead. Sometimes it can be this way – just quiet and still. The sound of a breeze through the high grasses, the creak of an unoiled barn door, the sandy brush of dust blown across an abandoned macadam road. Sometimes there is nothing for miles and miles around to remind you of the way things used to be. The world is so big – the amount of empty space is deafening. Who could of learned to live on this vast and poisonous air? What kind of man?
To end up in this place. Moses has gone wrong somewhere. The woman in the house behind him – she shouldn’t of been his burden. He’s the wrong man to bear such a trial. It ain’t that he’s a good man – not by any measurement – but he’s got to believe there are laws. He’s got to believe there are things you’re supposed to do and things you ain’t – or else what’s it all for anyway? There are everywhere you look forks in the road. If there weren’t some purpose to choosing one or the other, then – then what? Then he and the world would be paralysed with quandariness.
So maybe that’s what’s happened after all. The whole world at a crossroads – and no reason to go either one way or the other.
Finally, she emerges from the house. Her hair is chopped short and ragged. Uneven patches stick out every which way, and she looks more like a child than ever. A ferocious and feral child – all spit and hiss and gnashing teeth.
You ready? he asks, looking away from her.
Okay then, he says and rises. Let’s get it done with.
In the next town, Gunnison, an hour’s walk away, they find a car lot and search until they locate a vehicle that still runs. They do not speak. Moses glances down the road behind them and wonders what he would do if Fletcher caught up to them right now and wanted to take the redhead away. He imagines handing her over with an old-timey bow and flourish. He imagines it, and it gives him pleasure – and he checks himself for he does not want to become someone who lives exclusively in the mind.
They drive east. The roads rise in twists and turns over another mountain range. They see snow on the ground again. Moses thinks of his brother waiting for him to return, his leg festering.
Again they pass out of the mountains, and again through wide plains of farmland all gone fallow. They stop and look at the maps Moses carries in his satchel. They continue.
In a place called Penrose they turn onto a new road and follow it north. There is nothing for miles. A big blank, the whole world unravelled – gone back to immensities of stone and sky.
But half a day after they find the car, they arrive at Colorado Springs. It is thick with the slow dead. The city holds warmth enough to keep the dead animated, but they move with painful slowness across the icy streets. The faces of the slugs here all wear the same blue pallor, and frost settles glistening in their hair and eyelashes. They reach out their arms at the car passing through, but there is nothing to be done. In some cases, their clothes have frozen into the ice on the ground, and the slugs are leashed there, trying fruitlessly to rise. They will not be able to do so until the spring thaw. Until then, they close their eyes against the snow that falls peacefully on their upturned faces.
The place they are looking for is north of the town itself, so they drive through. They turn up another road, and the Vestal Amata points to the road.
Look, she says. Tyre tracks. Cars have been through here. A lot of them it looks like.
It’s a good place to hole up, he says. The dead ain’t much of a threat – at least half of the year.
They begin to see skeletons of old fighter jets parked on concrete platforms, landing strips and radio towers every which way.
Where is this citadel we’re going to? asks the Vestal.
It’s military. The friar said it was part of the Air Force Academy.
The Vestal shakes her head.
Goddamn army men, she says. They’re the worst for surviving ugly.
What’s that mean?
It means I don’t trust em.
Maybe it ain’t for you to trust them – but for them to trust you.
God and the army – two things that ain’t ever worked so well for me.
What about that pendant you wear on your neck?
What about it? she says, placing a palm against her chest. It was a gift, that’s all. The symbol of it’s neither here nor there.
They round a bend and come to a large gate in a fence that runs out of sight in either direction over the snowy foothills.
Moses stops the car before the gate, and two soldiers emerge from a guardhouse. One stands at a watchful distance while the other comes to the window of the car.
Are you hurt? asks the soldier.
Not to speak of, says Moses.
Are you seeking shelter?
Huh-uh, Moses says and shakes his head. We got business. I was sent by a friar in Tucson. He said to bring her to the cathedral here. She’s a vestal canoness.
I don’t know what it means either. I was just told to bring her, so here she is. You’ll like her, she does tricks.
The soldier leans down to look at the Vestal Amata, who glares at him. Then he stands and goes to the guardhouse while the other soldier stands watch.
I ain’t a pet to do tricks, she says in a low voice to Moses as they wait.
Look, Mose, she says and turns to him. I don’t like it here.
Her voice has a quiver of nervousness to it, but he doesn’t know how far he should believe her.
It ain’t exactly my vision of home either, he says.