The World Dimmed — duncan barlow
There was a paralyzing light. Something had come from the silence of dusk and cut between them, sliding headlong into them. She’d taken the brunt of it with her right flank. When the veil of night returned, she limped behind the others, slightly at first but more pronounced as they made their way into the high desert brush. Her body was slick along the ribs, the blood more oil like in the wan light of the moon. Parts of her caught in whatever it was that had come from the dark and crashed between them.
There’s nothing on either side for miles, the man said.
Not looking back, Dancell grabbed his bag and got out. No.
The man pulled a bottle from his cup holder, Got this earlier. Take it.
Dancell thanked him. Stood on the shoulder until the taillights were lost in the waves of heat. He checked his phone, then hopped the thin wire fence and began following the trail away from the mile marker. The droplets had dried, but there was enough blood to outlast the windblown dust.
He’d dreamed of the eye that night. Big and black as if bored through the skull and into the night. She couldn’t move but could see him clearly, and he, her. As if there’d been no space between them and time, those few seconds, on pause, a shock of static framing the road. Then the dream shifted perspective. Up and away when the car had vanished. The movement of the animals unmuted. Frantic and bouncing. She hobbled behind the others, the limp more pronounced as they made their way into the desert. She bleeding along the ribs.
They’d argued the night before. He, lying again. She, tired of it. A white lie, he’d called it. Linguistic smoke and mirrors with nothing behind it. Her heart was worn thin, she said. He’d stripped it bare. The next day, as he drove west. Away from her. To work. They’d argued again. Came to an agreement. They wouldn’t speak for a while. It was best. Emergencies and miracles. Deal.
Her breathing grew labored. More distance gathering between her and the others. She made a sound. The others stopped. The male came back, his gait slow. The world dimmed but bathed in the pale rising moonlight in the convex of his dark eyes. The young came next, their legs uncertain. One pressed her nose into her mother, whose beating heart seemed newly foreign.
Along the Arroyo the tracks began to change, the hoof prints elongating into desperate slides. Dancell thought back to Annatha. Her desire for truth. Why he couldn’t give it, despite her pleas. Her fevered reaction. That pain in her voice when he didn’t match up to what she wanted from him. Lying had been his instinct. His aloe against the burning truth of his disappointing nature. In the distance, a caldron of buzzards directed him from his thoughts. He looked at his phone. Bars but no message. The dry earth cracked beneath his boots as he crested a small lee on the banks of the dried waterway.
There were wolves on the ridge. Their howls growing louder as the moon rose. The drought pushing them east. Closer and closer to the lights of the cities and highways. Thin and savage. Dependent on the few amenities the earth offered in the best of times. She stood still as he pressed his nose into her side. Sniffed along the ridge of her jaw. Her legs quit her. Her body sinking to the dirt, joint-by-joint. The others gathered around, each taking turns pressing their noses, powdered in dirt, against her. She, overcome by pain, lay on her side. Panting.
Most of the water was gone. He’d spilled it when opening the bottle. The perforation not quite right. Small sips along the desert. Long ago his phone had lost reception. Perhaps he’d not find his way back to the road. He’d not thought it through. The heat and thirst. Not packed a jacket for the night. A hot wind rose along the skin of dirt, whipping devils and rolling tumbleweed off in the distance. He was close enough to see the mound above the heat waves. The birds hunched around it. Would they scatter when he arrived? He took another small sip to wet his lips.
When the wolves were close enough, closer than they’d ever allowed them before, the others left. They had no choice. She tried more than once to raise herself, but always collapsed beneath her weight. Pain pushed her breath in irregular spurts, the ins more painful than the outs. By the time the first wolf bit into her, she could no longer tell the difference between the pain within and the pain without. The moon reached its apex and tarry blood shimmered on the muzzles of the ridge-backed wolves as they snarled and snapped for the best bits of her.
He didn’t think of the deer when he unfolded the shovel and began digging. Didn’t think of the eye contact they made as his car connected with her. Or the sound of metal crushing beneath her unbending bones. The flesh left in chunks inside his collapsed headlight, along the side of the car. He reclaimed threads of his conversation with Annatha. The goodbye that felt more definite than anytime before. The dead line moments before he’d seen the paralyzed shapes and felt the crush and spin of his unyielding velocity. When the hole was deep enough, he pushed what was left, viscera, bone, and fur into the pit. He took another sip of his water and tossed his phone and keys in with her. He began to shovel dirt. One scoop atop the other. Night came and he sat—the cold air seeping into him. Staring at the thing he’d killed. Mostly covered in dirt. The head still exposed. The eye looking out at him.
duncan barlow is a fiction writer with one published novel (Super Cell Anemia) and two books forthcoming (All Possible Things on the Cupboard, 2016/17 and The City, Awake on Stalking Horse, 2017). He is a faculty member in the Creative Writing Program at the University of South Dakota, where he is the managing editor of South Dakota Review and the editor-in-chief at Astrophil Press. He has work published or forthcoming in The Denver Quarterly, The Collagist, Banango Street, Matter Press, The Apeiron Review, Calamari Press, and Meat for Tea.