Turns out this is a continuation of an earlier piece (read this first for sense) I wrote fifteen months ago about three women running from the law across a Cormac McCarthy landscape. Very yin and yang. A story demanding to be told? Perhaps. Anyway, here's the sequel, and there might still be more, who knows?
The night brought storms unforeseen.
The fugitive women lay more awake than not as the branches whipped like the tails of some wild vermin infestation and rocks cracked and detonated on the cliff face. The rains when they arrived were a deluge, and the tired women chose to saddle up and move on.
They moved north and climbed steadily, hoping to find a track around the bluff to their left. Whichever way they leaned, the stinging rain seemed aimed at them, the three women and their horses, and it was like walking in a dream dreamed by a heartless fabulist.
"We'll be caught," Ashlyn said into the raw throat of the raging night, and though her companions didn't hear her words, they read her tone and nodded along with the horses, six heads slung low against the gale and dripping with the dark plain's sorrow.
A new companion joined them by the name of hunger and after a while spent ignoring him they eventually stopped to dig in their packs. They ate quickly under the sharp dark arrowheads of rain, then hauled their weighty, saturated bodies onto their stoic mounts and continued plodding north.
"We need a good thing to happen." Clara spoke into the tempest and only her horse seemed to hear her and nodded forlornly in long-suffering agreement.
Ashlyn kept her head down and the relentless gusts snatched at Emilia's breaths.
The sun would be climbing over the eastern rim of the plains soon, but its grand arrival would likely be muted in such a squall. Yet as dejection seemed to move in and make room in their hearts, the world's caprice reasserted itself and the storm was gone in an instant, leaving a stillness more profound than the Anasazi graves over which they trekked.
Something brightened to the east and they thought it the sun.
Emilia spoke. "What the living fu—?"
The women and the horses stopped to comprehend a new thing. The air crackled as if electric gods were toying with their creation. Something huge, like a brain or a jellyfish hung over the prairie. Like a vast gelatinous parasol, orange in the growing dawn, it moved like bloody kelp in the sky, and its red fronds hung below, predatory veils clustered with bluish toxins, great bird traps glowering with menace in the gathering morn. In all the eastern dome of the world, white sheetlightning flashed silent with distance and the little wolves of the plain melted and slunk every which way.
The horses stutter-stepped, skittish as lambs in wolf country, and the women, afraid as they were, soothed them with hushes and touch.
Ashlyn dismounted and spoke first. "It's lightning."
"Ain't no kind of lightning I ever saw," said Clara.
"Me either, but I remember my momma telling it. She called it a sprite."
Clara looked at her. "Still don't mean a whole lot to me."
"She said it meant a clean slate, a new beginning."
"Old wives' tales?" Emilia laughed nervously.
"Old widows' tales, more like." All three women smiled at that and let the silence wrap itself around them.
The elder god hung in the eastern sky, vast as the dreams of giants, and began to pale as the first sunflash broke the horizon at last.
After a while, Clara said quietly, "Maybe it's that good thing needed to happen."
"Let's keep riding," said Ashlyn.