Between us and Oldenburg is a mountain range. We stop for the night in the lee of a mountain pass and build a fire with the white gas stove. Overhead the stars are out in spectacular brightness the way they would be if we were on earth. It is silent but for the wind.
She has thought to bring a bag of marshmallows and we actually put them on a stick and roast them in the fire.
Honey, don’t burn your mouth, I say.
She is conspicuously silent. Holly has never been moody but who could blame her?
Hey, were you a girl scout? I say.
She says, I was a brownie.
I always wanted to fuck a girl scout, I say.
She is crying. I put my arms around her and hold her and say nothing.
It’s too much, Chad, she says. First I find out we’re dying and now…she gestures vaguely…now I find out we’re not even on earth. Never were.
I know it, I say. The sight of old Earth in that window was appalling.
A cold wind whistles through the pass and I hold her tighter and rock her and hum Braham’s’ Lullaby. We are warm enough but the sight of our breath coming out in steam is a reminder that we are orphans. All of us are.
A fake meteor flashes in the overhead starlight, streaking across the firmament and dying in brilliance. To the southeast Orion rises like an electric kite.
How do they do that? She says.
It’s just a big laser light show. Like in a planetarium.
If we’re out in space like this how do they protect everybody from solar flare radiation? She says.
IDK. Don’t know how they protect us from meteors either. I never asked Joaquim. Earth has…had an atmosphere and a magnetosphere but as far as I know there’s nothing like that to protect us. Only atmosphere is inside here.
I wanna go home, she says and the snivel turns into a bawl and I hold her and say, You want to go back to San Agustin?
Hell no. Those people hate me. They would have lynched me if Irvin hadn’t put me under armed guard. I don’t have a home.
I don’t either, I say. None of us does. Our home is with each other.
I’m sorry to be such a baby, she says to the accompaniment of a blown nose.
I would be lost in this tiny world without you, I say dramatically.
Will the horses be safe?
I hobbled them and let them graze and water. They cant wander off.
I mean what about pumas? She says. Wont they…
Pumas? No. There haven’t been any big cats around here for a hundred and fifty years.
Sure I’m sure.
The fire is dying and we get into the sleeping bag and hold each other until we fall into a troubled sleep.
I wake in the night when the ground shakes and I sit up and look for the horses. They are standing with their heads raised against the gauzy sky. A train is hobbling along the valley below, pale yellow cone of the headlight boring slowly down the desert. Clatter of the train cars outlandish and mechanical in the dark waste of silence. Lonesome whistle calling for the crossing. Heading to distant parts of this cylinder/world to places like Buena Vista and Wittenburg and La Plume that I have never seen.
I go back to sleep. Later I am startled awake by the most ungodly shriek I have ever heard, part banshee, part siren. Holly stirs and says, Whaaa..
It’s nothing, I say. Go back to sleep, my love.
When I don’t hear it again I drift back to sleep. I’m sure there are no pumas up here but it could have been a bobcat in heat. I don’t tell Holly because she’d have a fit about the horses.
We don’t leave till late the next day. In twilight we cross a broad volcanic plain bounded by a rim of hills. Darkness comes down suddenly as the round feet of the horses clomp deafeningly in the cold and stillness. In the final dying light we cross the terrace of low hills eroded by the wind.
Through a fence line or where a fence had been, wires torn down and rolled by the wind. Posts wandering single file through the night like an enfilade of broken teeth. Through the pass in the dark we sit on the horses and watch distant lightning over the plains. Wind is thrashing through the trees and in the wind are spits of sleet.
Finally we find an escarpment that is enough of an overhang that is out of the sleet and wind. And I wake in the night, down sleeping bag or no.
Days later on the road out of Caborca. We crest a steep rise in the mud road and when we do there are six ganaderos in the road blocking our path. They all have a rifle or shotgun drawn. I motion Holly to stop and we stop in front of the ganaderos and stare at each other.
Don’t be afraid, I whisper.
She is petrified. She squeezes my arm so hard it hurts. The ganaderos do not make a threatening move but do not move out of the way either. Presently one of them spits and says, Donde hacen vienen de.
San Agustin, I say.
Donde hizo los caballos vienen de?
De San Agustin.
Pienso que usted los robo de mi, he says and spits.
Oh, shit, I say to Holly.
What, she says.
He is a drunken fool but he says we stole our horses from him, I say.
Esta sobre una mission para del Autarch de Caborca, I say to the ganadero.
That seems to do it. They study each other carefully and look back at me and reluctantly move aside. We do not lose time leaving town.
WTF was that? She says.
They were going to beat us and rape you and maybe kill us both. I threatened them with an Autarch and they melted.
I’m scared, Chad, she says.
Me too, I say, my voice shaking. That was close. Very, very close. I wish we’d taken the jeep instead of these damn horses.
She looks down and says, My fault.
No. You didn’t know. And I thought they’d leave us alone because lately they have been. But you never know. Let’s get back and take the jeep wherever we’re going.