The afternoon dust had poured through the canyon, skimming over the valley’s cracked red clay, whirling around the tires of the car. A whisper drifted through the breeze, echoing across the towering rock walls. The call of the wind, desolate in its sound. And then, silence.
Nathaniel sat in the muddy brown seat of his car, waiting for the dust storm to end. He had come to a sputtering stop just moments before, and his environment alert light was flaming red. Ahead was a long winding road, twisting and turning with the valley. The road was old, cracking under the stress of time. Ever since the highway was built in A.D. 2133, nobody troubled themselves to use it. Nobody, except for Nathaniel.
Every so often, he would wander into his little car and take a very long drive. Sometimes, he would drive for days, taking the least known roads on his journey to nowhere. Nathaniel liked the open road, the freedom it gave him. He would ride with the headlights off, and all the windows down, even when the cold October nights snapped at his skin. The stars lit his path, and there weren’t any other cars to worry about. It was almost like driving through another world, where phantoms in the wind would crawl up his neck, and the moonlight would cast its skeleton white light, washing over everything it could touch.
Nathaniel was on one of these drives this afternoon, and as he watched the dust line his windows, he wondered briefly what would happen if it buried him completely. That wasn’t uncommon for these parts where entire neighborhoods had been ravaged by the torrential winds. It used to scare him, the maddening howls, the thrashing trees, houses crumbling – all of it.
He remembered well his time in the old district. A storm had pushed through the westerly winds, towards Navajo Lake where lines of sunset houses stood on the shore. It had come at dusk, rumbling over the hills of Sunshine Valley, and descended upon them. Doors were ripped off hinges, roofs torn off bedrooms, all the while dust and rocks attacked the residents. He had rushed to the lake, whose banks had receded out past the first buoy in an attempt to drink itself.
The water just barely covered his shoulders as he crouched down knees over ears with his eyes screwed shut, shielding himself from the biting dust. He had chanced just one look up, in a moment where the wind seemed to stall, and gaped at the destruction that was once his district. The sunset houses reduced to heaps of rubble, bodies strewn everywhere – their limbs warped unnaturally. The most haunting thing though, was the sound. A single cry pierced the howling winds — a baby’s cry. Alone in the devastation of their home, choked in desolation. He listened for a moment before the dust picked up and he crouched back down again. Was it hours he stood there? Or mere minutes? It had felt like a lifetime. When the ravage finally ended, he knew he was truly alone, for even the baby had been silenced.
One moment he was a man with a home, and the next he became a man with nowhere to go but away. And so he found himself the only relatively untouched car with just a couple of dents, and drove off into the depths of Sunshine Valley, anywhere the road would take him. There were whispers and murmurs about what lurked in there, stories of savage ghetto districts that had formed in the valley’s caves. The midnight phantoms were restless, endlessly whispering in the wind. And even though Nathaniel had never seen anyone, he knew the valley had eyes and ears, that it watched him.
And as he sat here he wondered if he would join the valley’s phantoms. He closed his eyes, and the canyon seemed to swallow him whole. Where would he go? He could imagine himself flying through the air, dancing with the whispers of the night, flowing freely through the bloody New Mexico valley.
Was that a voice he heard in the howling wind? He opened his eyes and hesitated, wondering if he was imagining this too. There it was again, even closer. The dust seemed to pick up speed, twirling around his car like drivers on a racetrack, growing louder with each lap.
Another voice. Closer this time.
Nathaniel waited, a hand hovering over the door handle. The call of the wind grew stronger.
Just as he was opening his door, the first few dust particles enveloping his hand, it slammed shut. Not from the wind, no. A hand, white like death, slapped against his window, and over the dust covered glass scrawled the word: “Help.”
The hand slipped away, fingernails scraping trails down the window.
He looked at the word, eyes squinted as if he could not quite believe that it was there. Slowly, he pressed his palm against it, moving his fingers to trace the crooked letters. Then, suddenly, as if in response to a silent signal, dozens of hands slammed upon his car. They pressed on all of his windows, fingers scratching as though they were trying to dig their way in. They pushed and slapped, jerking the car every which way.
Then, a gaunt face, rusted like iron pressed against his window, silent and unmoving. Nathaniel matched his inquisitive stare and saw how his eyes seemed to bulge slightly out of his head, bloodshot and dried. His skin peeled like paper, and his open wounds oozed onto the smeared window.
The man opened his mouth, as if to say something, then closed it. He did this a few more times, shuddering and gasping, like he was drowning with too much air. Finally, he let out a croak that Nathaniel would not have heard if his face were not so close to the window. He tried again – nothing. He took a gulping breath, that was equal parts air and dust, and finally gasped out, “Help me.”
He banged his hand on the window, and a little louder he repeated, “Help me.”
Nathaniel could only stare. There were too many, he couldn’t help all of them. He knew what they were. The ghetto savages, the self-exiles of Sunshine Valley. These days there was never a lick of sunshine, the air only clouded with dust balls and heat, a constant orange fog strangling the day. Still, here they were in this godforsaken land, Nathaniel safe in his car and the savages begging to be let in.
The man slammed his hand against the window again, a snarl in his mouth. He gnashed his teeth like a rabid animal, and roared, “Help me!” With a cry that rivaled the howling wind, the rest of the mob joined in. They screamed together, a jumble of words and wails.
A young girl came beside the first man and wept silently, touching her hand near Nathaniel’s face. He brought his hand to match hers, a tear slipping down his cheeks.
A cacophony of smashing and shouting on the other side of the car drew Nathaniel’s attention. Men were crashing their heads against the glass, and cracks were rapidly appearing.
Hands fumbling, Nathaniel turned off the environmental alert and turned on the ignition. He was about to step on the gas when he saw a woman with a baby slung against her breast, standing in front of the bumper. He stared at the baby, its mouth wide open, and even in the silence of the car he could hear its scream. He remembered the ravage of his old district, and the wails of the baby thundered around him. He looked at the men cracking the window, a dime sized hole in the middle, and back towards the woman and screaming baby.
With an anguished cry he closed his eyes and pressed on the gas. There was a sickening crunch, and the tremor that ran through the steering wheel infected his hands. He resisted the impulse to look in the rearview and raced towards the evening sun, his car jerking against the cracked road. The crimson streak that ran across the windshield blocked his view of the narrowing valley, so Nathaniel opened the window and stuck his head through, the wind howling in his ears. The sound filled him, and he remembered why he loved this valley. The open, lonely road, and its silence on his journey to nowhere.
The evening sun flooded the canyon, its bloody light casting over the colossal dust that skimmed over the cracked red clay, whirling around the tires of the car. A whisper drifted through the breeze, flowing across the towering rock walls.
A man rested his head against the wheel, hands shut over his ears. The valley’s phantoms haunted him, a wail echoing through the choked road. The call of Sunshine Valley, desolate in its sound.