Estavez Estralla remembered Navajo Joe fondly. He was the only one who appeared to care about his family. After their dangerous trek through Arizona, each subsequent guide seemed more ambivalent.
Jake made it clear he had seen enough Mexicans. “Look I’ve been doing this for two months. I’ve got people to the north east but I seen a lotta them die. Once you get to the north west, it’s just another form of death.”
Then one night as they huddled from a helicopter that had flown over the fly-blown town he told them they needed to go a long way east to go west.
“There is nothing east,” Estralla told him.
“Yew finally getting it,” Jake responded. “They don’t expect anyone to come from the dead lands. We head to Kansas and Wyoming and strike west. The way north is blocked.”
For days they jolted around dirt tracks in Jake’s jalopy, living close to the breadline. In Kansas they saw the crops that once formed the bread basket of America, scorched and dead under the relentless sun. Only then did the scale of the tragedy hit Estralla. If America could no longer feed itself who could? They bunked in the remains of houses and cowered in a cellar when a dust storm headed their way. Their diet made them break out in boils and hives but still the dirt road stretched ahead of them.
Estralla knew the breakdown was not far away. Maria was unrecognizable from the woman who had persuaded him to buy heels in Mexico City three years earlier that had cost him $900. It was perverse now to remember his anger and how he would gladly exchange the passive shadow of a woman before him for the firebrand of the past.
One night in remains of a once grand ranch house after eating a pale gruel, they approached him after Jake had retreated into a Bourbon-assisted sleep.
She was sitting on the floor, flanked by Emmanuel and Calista. Estralla’s daughter had been coughing now for days. The sound froze him inside.
“Esta,” she said, shaking her head slowly. “This trip is becoming a nightmare. We are not living. It’s as if we are ….” And she struggled to find the words. “Corpses.”
“We are like the Living Dead from that old film. We exist but we cannot go on much longer.”
Estralla lit a cigarette and dragged hard. “You know Maria, there are few words I can use to comfort you. We are going forward because there is no way back but we don’t yet know if there is any way forward.”
“Have you seen your son’s ribs sticking out from his skin, Esta? I don’t trust this man Jake. I just don’t know.”
The conversation petered out. Estralla didn’t know if it was better or worse than the silence. None of the alternatives were good ones anymore.
The wind got up in the night. Estralla dreamed of arriving on the North West and finding it peopled by demons and cannibals. The howling got to him. Even when the dream moved on, the howling was going on in his head. When he woke he heard something clatter upstairs. There was a moaning and a howling that was horrible to experience. He pushed open the old hardwood door and sat on what was once a grand porch. Across the blasted fields he saw the up against the dawn sky. Three funnel clouds were moving slowly across the edge of the field by the road. They pulled from the sky, drawing down the blackness, devouring it and roaring on. Under their sharp teeth the remains of trees and debris and an outbuilding, were pulled up and ripped apart. Now they veered toward the house to move away east.
Estralla moved indoors and shouted for his family. There was no response, although he heard a mutter from upstairs from Jake. He moved outside to look again at the manic dance of the twisters at the edge of the field. Then he saw something that stopped his thoughts, heavy like the thud of a tombstone. In the center of the field, he saw a figure hunched but sprinting. Two smaller figures were joined to her hands. They were beating a path through the dead stubble toward the funnel clouds. Estralla was off the porch and moving after them. He looked again and they were gone into the darkening vortex as if they were an apparition.