Xenolith, Page 60A. Sparrow
Chapter 51: Arizona
A ring of pressure gripped Frank’s legs and rippled up their length, razzing the fabric of his trousers. The unseen force, feeling powerful enough to snap bones, collected and guided Frank through the shimmering ellipse. It rolled up his torso. He tried bringing his hands down to protect his face, but his arms refused to budge, as if he were an avalanche victim encased in snow. Air squeezed from his lungs. The ring slid up and engulfed his head, pushing his eyeballs deep into their sockets, peeling back their lids.
A blast of brilliant, scorching light stung his eyes. Parched air robbed the moisture from his breath. He skidded through a dirt patch and latched onto a bush whose springy branches arrested his slide. Astringent emanations from its sparse and glaucous leaves filled his nostrils. He lay dazed, gazing up at a cloudless blue sky backing the filmy white outlines of the Eldest Brother’s cabinet.
Tezhay, wild-eyed, pulled him to his feet. “Run! They may follow.” Before Frank’s senses could fully return, he found himself pounding through a corrugated landscape, barely keeping up with the swifter Tezhay as they dodged through mazes of cactus and thorn bush. Thumps and a clatter of metal sounded behind them.
Tiers of rumpled and treeless mountains surrounded them, near and far. Frank heard the grumbling buzz of a small motorcycle or chainsaw in the distance.
They entered a broad outwash plain where several arroyos disgorged their sediments. Tezhay made confidently for the central arroyo as if he were navigating his own back forty.
“Leave no track, walk on stone if you can,” Tezhay shouted back, hopping from stone to stone avoid the softer patches of sand and silt.
Frank tried but failed to mimic the far nimbler Tezhay. He undershot stepping stones, left toe scrapes in the sand. Pale, loose-branched cacti peppered the ground like booby traps. In evading one, his ankle brushed another. A chunk snapped off, barbs embedding in his skin.
“Ah, fuck!” Frank stooped to attend to his injury.
“No stop! Keep run,” said Tezhay.
He swatted it off with a stick, and lurched to catch up with Tezhay who waited for him at the mouth of the arroyo. They followed its twisting bed until the walls grew shallow. Tezhay led them up and out onto a spur.
Cliffs of sandstone, fractured and dissected into house-sized blocks, interrupted the slope above them. Tezhay paused to study these outcrops, which arced around the spur like molars in the jaw of a dead steer, rounded and scalloped by wind and sand.
Frank spotted the vapor trail of an airliner high in the sky. A distant rumble drew his eye to the glint of a tractor-trailer tracing a razor line halfway up the slope of the sinuous, brown hill before them.
“Now, I give you a chance for be free,” said Tezhay, avoiding Frank’s eyes. “You no follow me. Keep go straight. Climb and you find road. Good luck.” He stepped away and angled up the slope towards a bluff isolated by wide gullies on both flanks.
“Wait a minute, what is this place?” he said.
“Harizona,” Tezhay called back, without turning.
“Really?” An odd tingle swept through Frank. He pictured himself hiking up to the road and hitching a ride to the next town. He could find a phone, get someone from his office to wire him funds. He could book a motel room, shower and shave, catch up on news, a good meal from a steak house, sleep in a bed with cotton sheets and soft pillows. The next day he could be on a flight back to Maryland.
Rocks clattered in the arroyo below. A man grunted in pain. Tezhay hesitated when he noticed Frank standing still. “Go, quickly!” he scolded. “That way.” He pointed at a gully between two bluffs. Frank could see a stretch of guard rail where the road switched back high above the outcrops.
“But … where are you going?” said Frank.
“Never mind where I go,” said Tezhay. “You go home.” He turned and headed for the center of the bluff.
The sloth that had taken up residence in his soul goaded him with the prospect of resuming Sundays in his den with Peet’s coffee and the New York Times in the morning, IPA and NFL in the afternoon. But the doldrums that had consumed his life had little else to offer. His agency job had enmeshed his medical career in a bureaucratic tar pit. He had whittled down his friendships to a few casual acquaintances. The disastrous outcomes of the few abortive romances he had nurtured post-Liz made him flee the hint of any further prospects.
Did he really wish to fritter away the rest of his years in such a state? The chance that Liz survived had sparked some sort of tinder within him. Was he ready to snuff it so soon?
Each moment he lingered, Tezhay put more distance between them. A figure appeared on the opposite side of the arroyo, spotted them, and shouted to others below. Frank surged headlong up a ramp of tinkling talus to catch up with Tezhay.
“Hey, wait up,” he called as he ran.
Tezhay turned, looking pained. “I don’t understand. This is your home. Why you follow me?”
“This ain’t home,” said Frank. “Not without Liz. Twenty years, I haven’t had a place that felt like home. I’m going with you.”
Tezhay studied him. He looked puzzled, but he said no more; he just put his head down and continued on towards the outcrop.
The reached a heap of loose stone beneath a cliff and followed the base around to the chute separating it from the next bluff. Overhangs and shallow caves, carved by wind, riddled its underside. Tezhay smiled when he found a cave harboring a queer glow that hung in the air like a web woven from strands of light. A cold wind poured forth.
A clank of metal on stone rang out around the curve of the outcrop. Heavy footsteps approached. A voice jabbered excitedly. Frank lowered his head and charged into the glimmer.