DATELINE: July 17th, 2018
Somewhere on Route 285, skirting the Carson National Forest, NM
The storm had tracked us since Alamosa. As we slipped south past the border, it shouldered in, riding alongside like a good ole boy with bad teeth and a worse attitude. It was pretty darn clear it was looking to start something.
The tail end of our trip south had lost its shine. Hawkeye had struck again. His ‘slight detour’ to dip a toe into a different state took us in a loop around some of the more desolate and depressing sites New Mexico had to offer. Dead or dying farmland. Vast junkheaps piled high with the ransacked corpses of old trucks, the exoskeletons of ruined farmed equipment splaying out thorny limbs like gigantic fossilised insects.
Every building we passed was empty, windows boarded up or kicked in. Scattered stands of graying lumber stood like waiting funeral pyres. The gateway to a ranch that we could not see had deer antlers knotted over the uprights, ugly-white as a bad dental job in the frantic light that pulsed out from the heart of the storm. The gateway to another had a mannequin strung by its neck hanging from a cross post.
I hope it was a mannequin. In the shadow-carved light, it was so difficult to be certain.
The storm was still with us, effortlessly keeping up the pace. Every now and again it would fling out a handful of rain, just to keep our attention up. This wasn’t the clean, warm Colorado rain we had come to welcome. This was dirty, greasy stuff, oil-spill and septic run-off, smearing the bug-strike across the Buffalo’s windshield without ever letting it clear.
The storm grumbled, thick and heavy as the snort from a Harley’s drivetrain, a deep pulse shaking us about like beans in a can. Anytime now, the fucker would pounce. Just at the point where we were furthest from help, it would clench its bruise-dark fists and pound us into the blacktop.
We found a way west. Route 64. According to the map, heading into the heart of the Carson National Forest. Months without rain had turned the landscape into a patchwork of khaki and tan, like camouflage, as if New Mexico was trying to hide from itself. The thirsting ground would have gratefully accepted the punishment of the storm. It was too busy toying with us to care about opening up.
The leading edge of the cloud front mutated, or maybe it was our change of course that shifted our perception. It developed a snout, sharp as a shark’s tooth. An eye-shaped meniscus bulged into being. Colourless as bone at the inner edge, deepening to the flat grey of dead flesh towards the orbit. Within, where a flash of blue from the early evening sky would have given us a faint glimpse of hope, there was only darkness.
No. Not darkness. Lightning flickered in there, actinic forks and nets of light, gone before they’d really registered. A complex pulse of activity, like the workings of some vast, inhuman mind made visible, all the better to inspire dread.
We felt it, alright. Barreling down a desolate highway with a malevolent weather system at our shoulder, dread was a default. The radio had gone dead. There was no-one else on the roads. There was no sign of habitation. No lights in the houses we passed. No livestock in the fields. This was abandoned country, dead land. Tierra muerte.
For a while, we wondered if the apocalypse had already happened and we were just a little late to the party.
Finally, we hit Highway 84 at Tierra Amarilla and could start working north. The storm, bored now, tossed one last bucket of dirty water at us and turned away, sulking south. Its dark eye closed, its snout flattened. Just a weather front now. Whatever demon had possessed it for a while on a an evening in mid-July in the New Mexico hinterlands was gone. At Chama, just south of the border, civilization began to reassert itself. A petrol station open for business. Houses with lights on. A dog in a yard, barking joyfully as we span past.
We broke the Colorado border at Chromo and the sun cast aside the last of the cloud. We were bathed in red and gold dusk-light all the way home.
A day later we would visit a town best known for its resident cannibal and bounce a deer off the Buffalo’s rear offside.
But that’s a story for another campfire.