In the canyonlands, you can always see it coming.
At twelve noon on this green mesa, it came.
She got a bus to the stretch-baked, red-eyed desert. A truck stop, a Mickey D’s. The rusting plant of steel tanks and smokestacks was backed by nothing, a lawless city in a dead-horse land.
He was here for money, just for the summer. He’d written her: no friends in this town.
Her skirt caught a nail and ripped in the doorway. Shit fuck… But he was in a booth smiling through sweat-freckles and she slipped in next to him and denim rasped on denim and it didn’t matter.
Up near Los Alamos, a thunderhead was winding down the canyons. It stalked the suburbs of Albuquerque, firing tinder-filled lots and leaving heavenly trails of whiteburn.
He tensed up suddenly under her hands and then she felt them, four of them, dipping her ponytail in boiling rapeseed oil, running their chip-nailed fingers under her bra, laughing spit-mouthed as they held him face down on the table. What’s yours is ours, remember, bitch?
She slid under the table so she didn’t see what happened, but she felt him lunge-punch one of them, heard a thump-grunt followed by a yell, heard the final grind of steel-on-rib, felt the soul-sick litter of red body-leak.
There was panic and a slamming door. She hung on crazily to his limp calf in the half-dark. His keys had fallen wetly into her lap, his old Corvette. On a mad impulse she took them, went outside and drove off in the cloud of oil and Lone Star and Axe he’d left behind.
Due east was a great purple sky-bruise 20 miles wide, a wicked ancient of the mesas spit-spraying the living on its way to oblivion. Floods flashed in the sagebrush spines of the desert.
Grease had blister-cooked her back and bubbled the old blue leather seat. His streaky blood was gummy with her snot on the whipstitched wheel. The sky was dark behind her and people were pulling off the road.
At Long John’s service station she reminded him of his ex. He reminded her of the man whose blood she carried. Bad storm coming. You can stay and wait it out…
She paused. She felt a pull to slip and flash in his sunburnt eyes, to curve in his harmless, straight-edged hands. But there was a scattershot of sand against the window; she couldn’t stay. Nah. Thanks.
The steel head of the door clanged shut, sealed in the dreamcatchers and turquoise rings and Formica tanned in Pine Sol and the strange, murky tragedy of maple-look linoleum.
The supercell was plum and indigo-grey, a wizard of the riven canyonlands. People, rattlers and saltbush found their horizons erased by fog and lightning-dust.
On one tank through the borderlands, she turned at Flagstaff and climbed north. She was dry now and hell-bent on getting there, on taking their trip with the pieces she had left.
The old ’Vette coughed and muttered on pine-soaked tors. She fought past tourist-booths and came to rest in the shadow of a tour bus. She looped past agave and sage.
At the rim, she viewed the paint-worked impossibility of the canyon, reckless, breathless like he knew she’d be. Some god had broken this green mesa to spill the innards of the earth; she saw them bared in sorrel and drip-cut lime and hazy jade.
A few minutes later, she saw it arrive. A purple-black maw of the abyss, foaming, roiling at the edges, blowing rain and fire.
If we make it out to Vegas, he’d said, we’ll get married. So don’t fall in, babe. Don’t fall in.
The storm was impatient. It mock-bowed, clapped its thunder-hands and took a step. Rain clattered down the greenlit Colorado. It took another, and lightning scarred the boulders at her feet.
The wind laughed like the echo of a landslide and she crumpled in her own hot piss. On failing hands and knees she said a prayer, asked some dry-eyed god for a new dream.
T. L. Ransome is a writer from both coasts and the middle of the United States. Ransome’s flash has appeared in Reflex Fiction and Flash Fiction Magazine and is forthcoming in FlashBack Fiction. Ransome has been listed for the Cambridge Prize and the Bridport Prize.