The air is leaden with the humid reek of late human occupation, the grim post-industrial night splayed like a grizzled corpse on a mortuary slab, fluids seeping and pooling on stainless steel, insufferable as rolling iron and cattle cars. Factories crouch and belch on far endless horizons, dreaming of grainy couplings under gouting coagulates of oilspume.
The sky is never black but a dark firebrick red, like old blood, stinking of iron and rot.
This is the third night her daughter has been missing. The woman clings to shadows in her search, avoiding arc lights and flame spigots, anyplace that might distinguish her from a shadow, from a desperate thing of more than two dimensions.
Three nights prior, after checking the trashed, excoriated rooms, they'd holed up in a ruined motel, listening for predatory gangs where once guests had lain awake listening—when the winds were right—to the muted roar and rush of the rigs on the distant interstate, a sound like the hoarse and reluctant breath of a giant come to regret his own birth.
Somewhere in the night, the girl had wandered, and the woman has little hope of finding her, though she will never quit trying. In a way, she almost hopes she's dead, for death is tender when set against the grim spectacle of an encounter with the feral gangs.
She thinks back to her life before, and it seems bereft of any meaning, like they were spitting moonshine into a campfire while lunatic clowns capered hidden in the unlit trees.
How she misses her sweet child. Feels her absence like the great plains once missed the warm bison fug in the morning of the world.
A shape passes before her, silhouetted against the refinery night. Animal. She stills, and slows her breathing almost to nothing. It passes before her again. Coyote shape, tail held level, ears keen. It stops and raises its snout to test the air, then swings its delicate head to look at the woman, as if needing to learn what type of profane being is culpable in this great outrage, what obscene biped straddles its appalling root.
What passes between their eyes moves beyond language and enters a realm for which myth itself is too tangible. For the woman, it is something like a debridement. For the wild dog, it's the tailend of a fretful tumble amid the burned-out obstacles of voiceless grief, the eerie quiet that always follows an act of violence, before the blood's relentless urge to keep moving, to return home and replenish its squalling young.
The woman watches as the animal passes from sight, and presently she too moves on while the night moves not one iota and nothing else of any significance changes anywhere.