God Comes to Tres Piedras
Rust says that God is coming tonight. When we’ve run our drills before, it’s taken me barely a second to tell that that’s all they are. Tonight, I know he’s telling the truth. His forehead is jeweled with sweat. His voice, normally stiff and steady, quivers, and he punctuates his speech with flustered coughs.
“How do you know?” I say.
“The meteors,” he says. “This is the sign.”
“Yes. We need to go.”
We pack the books, the notebooks, the medicine, the vitamins, the guns, the solar panels. We pack the preserves and the toolbox and the clocks. We load it all into the truck and tie it down under a tarp.
“We will be all right,” Rust says.
The truck rattles along the highway and then down the county road. The pavement drops off at the cattleguard. We drop with it, wheel by wheel, onto the desert ground. Clouds of dirt rise from the tires. The twilight bathes the landscape in blue. I can barely make out the sage against the clay.
In the sky, above the dark peaks we hurtle toward, I see the first meteor, then the second. The third, I swear, eclipses the mountains and lands on the mesa at the foot of the peaks near our land.
“Did you see—”
“Yes,” he says.
The tarp over the truck bed inflates and flattens as our supplies shift underneath it.
“Is he speaking to you now?” he asks.
“No,” I say. “But I expect that won’t last long.”
Rust grunts. “You need to keep yourself busy until God arrives. Don’t give him an opportunity to fill your idle mind.”
“I’ll put the radio on and—”
“You will not. The rules are clear. We must keep the area free of interference or God will not come. We have been over this.”
I cry silently the rest of the way there. Three more meteors fall. Each seems to sink into me, overfill me, push more tears out. When I’m able to look at Rust, I can see that he’s crying, too. The green glow of the dashboard reflects off his face like a traffic light on a wet road.
The cabin is as alone as we left it. The sun has bleached the floral pattern on the sheet over the entryway. The windows are covered in dirt. Everything is still there: the rocks that I anchored the sheet down with last time we were here, the outhouse twenty feet off to the north. But that’s it. There’s no meteor, no crater, no cosmic blaze. There’s no God.
But there will be, I tell myself as we unload the truck. I stumble on the same bump every visit, and my toe begins to throb and burn. I keep carrying and stacking and pushing my way through the towers of boxes that now fill the cabin.
When we’re done, Rust gets back in the truck, cranks the window down, and beckons me to come. The Demon stirs in me, wriggles and prods at my leg muscles, tries to steer me towards the open desert. Walking forward feels like pushing my body through a wall of needles. I will not give you what you want, I think. I will not go where you want. I will go to my husband. God will return tonight. I will not give you what you want. I will not go where you want. I will go to my husband. God will return tonight.
“I’m going to drop the truck at the water buffalo and fill the jugs,” Rust says when the needles finally exit through my back. In the holes they leave behind I feel a warmth from his breath and a chill from his words. “I’ll be back in a few hours.”
“Do you really have to do this?” I ask–though I know what the answer will be.
“No vehicles within three miles,” Rust says. “We cannot risk it. The rules are clear.”
“I’m not trying to argue with you,” I say.
“Good.” He starts the truck and I back away.
“Would you start unpacking in the meantime?” he shouts above the roar of the engine. I nod. He leans out the window and looks at me. As I begin to step forward, he turns his head to the sky, the gibbous moon, the lone wisp of cloud.
“Perfect night,” he says to the night itself.
Then he’s gone, and with his headlights off and my glasses covered in dust, I lose sight of him so quickly that I think maybe he was never here at all.
Standing alone in the middle of the property, our quarter-acre square of nothing on a plateau of nobody’s nothings, I listen to the Demon’s leaden voice tangle with the low, booming wind.
I arrange the National Geographics chronologically on the shelf above the bed. I break down the boxes-in-boxes of canned jelly, pickled eggs, and powdered milk. I restock the outhouse with cat litter and potting soil. I wipe portholes in the windows with a sock and my spit.
By the time I’m done and can catch my breath at the kitchen table, the moon is at its peak and Rust still hasn’t come back.
With every moment I spend in wait, the Demon devises more material for his heretical screeds. “You were right to doubt him,” he says, “and it’s a shame you came along for this. Now he’s left you here alone, waiting for God without him.”
“What should I have done, then?” I reply. “If I hadn’t come, he still would have, and I’d be alone anyway. And you’d probably be tormenting me about not even respecting God enough to come and see His return.”
“I wouldn’t, because He isn’t coming.”
“I love my husband and I love God. You will not accuse me of doubting either of them. I have never doubted them. Only you have doubted them.”
“It is not doubt to ask questions. You can love someone without trusting them, so why do you assume the role of ‘bad wife’ when your curiosity is rebuked?”
“What are you talking about?”
“And if you are so sure that I am wrong, why do you keep me alive? I am inside you. I am defenseless, but ignorance alone cannot kill me. You have chosen to contain me, and so I live on.”
“I haven’t chosen you. You’ve chosen me.”
“Regardless, the choices are all yours now. I cannot leave unless you force me. You can repress me to varying degrees of success, sure, but I will still be here. And—”
“And I know that God is not coming, which means that you do as well. God won’t come just because there isn’t a car or TV for miles.”
“God doesn’t care about books or meteor showers. He doesn’t entrust random men with welcoming Him home. Whoever spoke to Rust in his head was no more God than I am.”
I slam my forehead onto the table. A burst of color erupts behind my closed eyes and disappears as quickly as it came. When I open my eyes again, there’s a smear of blood soaking into the wood. The clock says it’s 12:21 AM.
A coyote is standing outside the cabin, perfectly framed by the viewing hole I cleared on the dirty window.
The Demon is quiet and I know.
I reach my hand slowly toward the window. The coyote stares. It doesn’t move. In the moonlight, its face looks gaunt, its eyes dry and matte. My hand touches the glass. The coyote blinks.
I stand up and my vision begins to go black. I fall back in the chair and slide down to the floor on my knees. It’s a short crawl through the kitchen door to the entryway, a rough one through the entryway and out beyond the sheet. The coyote is still there, but it’s not looking through the window anymore. It’s already looking at me by the time I round the corner.
Crumbs of clay dig into my palms. A gust of wind mists me with dirt. I open my mouth to speak and feel the dry membranes in my throat come unstuck.
“Are you God?” I manage to croak.
The coyote turns and trots away.
I push myself up, knees popping, shoulders creaking, and follow it past the outhouse and onto the barren mesa.
“Where are you going?” I call to the coyote. It stops and looks back at me.
An enormous sound fills my head, so large it fogs my vision and surrounds me like scaffolding. The sound replaces my bones, muscles, organs, vessels. It rumbles and vibrates and rings. Deep within my new form, a voice, devoid of pitch and timbre, says, “Follow me.”
My sight begins to return, and I try to move. My limbs respond. The coyote’s eyes glow and I can tell that we’re both immersed in the sound: the drone that shifts frequencies when I attempt to lock onto it, that’s pressurized my head to the point that I’m sure it will explode. And yet we are protected by it, the coyote and I. I can no longer feel the chill of the night air. My own voice comes through inside of me. It tells me to return to Rust, and I realize that this is the first time I've heard it since the coyote appeared.
I must always take the time to question who is actually speaking inside me, Rust says whenever I speak or act in a skeptical manner. Demons are not fixed like us; they can and will morph and mimic. Even when I think I have silenced the Demon, I must not forget that he need not use his own voice. That which I think is my own thought or another’s may well be neither, but rather a seed of evil in the Demon’s garden. A seed watered by unfocused, un-Godly thought until it germinates and sprouts and spreads. My brain, the richest sulfuric soil. My self, the untilled gley that seals it in.
My self, wife and companion, tells me to go back to the cabin and wait for my husband. Around it, the drone envelops me as if I’m inside a megaphone. And the coyote is there in the mouthpiece, silent on its godliness in a way that only God could be.
Again, it seems, the Demon takes my voice.
I walk toward the coyote. It resumes its route through the brush and I follow. In the moonlight, its fur is cast in ghostly blue. I am conscious of my feet touching the ground, but I do not feel the ground. I wonder what the coyote feels beneath its paw pads, if its bones are made of sound.
“Where are you going?” I ask again, more confidently.
“Just follow,” the sound replies.
We walk and walk, following the arc of the moon. I’ve long lost sight of the cabin and can’t make out any other structures. No lights, no lunar reflections off solar panels or heaps of scrap metal. Twice I hear a rattlesnake and once a distant howl, which the coyote ignores. The Demon, still wearing my voice, screams of thirst so loudly I can feel the cries reverberate in my larynx. But the coyote walks on and so I do, too.
I think thoughts I know for sure are my own. Has Rust returned yet? Does he trust me enough to wait for me at the cabin even though I didn’t wait for him? Or is he out looking for me? Will he believe me when I tell him about this? I want to ask the coyote to find him, too, to turn him into sound and pull him here, so that he can see for himself.
Yips and yelps pierce the air. The coyote stops, stiff as a pillar, front paw pointing in the direction of the yips. It takes off in a gallop.
I feel the cloud connecting us stretch thin; my sound fades back into bone and sinew. It hurts: materials that shouldn’t mix, sensory cement and skeletal aggregate hardening and shrinking. I feel my brittle structure crumble and I realize that I, too, am galloping.
Half-grounded, half-possessed, I try to ignore the bouncing heft of my mismanaged body as I run. The coyote is out of sight but I follow the cacophony. The distant yips and the cracked cries from my throat grow louder until I can no longer tell one from the other.
Then they are there in front of me. Three coyotes: two massive dingy ones, matted fur saturated with dust; and the godly one, smaller than the other two, still faintly aglow under the moon but suddenly dirty, scraggly, feral. And a dog, a border collie, black and white, collar jingling as it runs and rolls and slams into the coyotes.
One of the large coyotes bites down on the collie’s haunch, and the dog lets out a nauseating yelp. The small coyote circles around the collie and T-bones the attacker, whose teeth scrape the collie’s skin as all three combatants hit the ground. Again, the collie screams. I want to scream too but it would only be for the coyotes’ ears.
Both large coyotes abandon the collie and tackle the small coyote, one on each side. There’s a sickening crunch of ribs and spine. The air is heavy with a salty, sour smell that makes me crumple to the ground, just managing to brace my fall with an arm. I vomit clear bile as silently as I can. When I look up, the canines are one indiscriminate mass of teeth, claws, muscle, and blood. The collie is pinned beneath the three coyotes, forgotten in the fight but immobilized, writhing and crying as it struggles to escape the fray. Its once-white chest is now dark and glistening. My ears ring with earthly, mortal noises: the wails of the coyotes, the shrieks of the collie, the thuds of bodies on hard ground. The fast, shallow beat of my heart, echoed a moment later by the resonant pulse in my head.
A voice tells me to run, and I don’t care whose it is. Shredded muscles and rickety bones threaten to break inside me. I push myself up and run back toward the mountains. Tears slide out of my eyes and leave cold, raw trails of skin behind them. The sounds of the fight fade. I don’t stop running until they’re inaudible over the rustling sage.
I try to orient myself, but I can’t focus long enough to get a lock on any landmarks. I shield my face with my coat sleeves and sob. More than anything I wish that Rust was here with me, that he would appear and carry me home. But he will not be happy with me when he sees me again. I couldn’t separate the demonic from the divine. If God doesn’t come tonight, it will be because of me. And I don’t think God will come tonight. I no longer think God will come at all.
When I stop crying, I look up and see a tiny pair of headlights out in the distance. They’re moving straight away from the mountains. A road.
Weak, hollow, my soul left behind in a pile of dying dogs, I walk toward it.
I end up at the water buffalo. Our truck is parked in front of it. I launch myself at it and press myself against its frigid metal body, and the relief of familiarity consumes me. Rust has left the cab unlocked. I slide into the driver’s seat and fumble for the recliner handle. My hand lands instead on a half-empty water bottle, which I drain in two gulps. The water sends an icy jolt through me. I finally find the handle and lay the seat all the way back. I breathe until breathing becomes natural again. The windows of the truck fog up with condensation. I could be anywhere now.
But I’m cold, and I don’t have the keys. I wipe a hole in the condensation and see a sliver of light on the eastern horizon. I need to get back to Rust.
Rust’s footprints are still visible here and there along the road, their treadmarks shaped like circles and chevrons. In other places, they’ve been obscured by tire tracks or simply blown over with dirt. I walk alongside the ones I can see and feel lost when they disappear.
At the “Trespassers Will Be Shot” sign, I follow the footprints onto our road. I start to recognize the rocks, the sage, the potholes. The cabin comes into clear view, a tiny wisp of smoke rising out of the chimney. The sun is nearly up; the pinks and purples have begun to give way to blue. I don’t feel like I’m coming home.
The footprints vanish into a sea of others, crisscrossing mosaic paths newly settled in the morning stillness. As I approach, I see movement through the porthole I cleared in the kitchen window. I squint but can’t discern any details. I don’t know what I’m going to tell Rust. I don’t think I’m capable of coming up with anything other than the truth.
I slip through the dirty floral curtain, give my pounding head a moment to quiet, then open the door. Rust is sitting at the kitchen table. He looks up at me and opens his mouth as if he’s about to speak, but no sound comes out. Sitting across from him, back to me, almost shapeless and utterly still, is another man.
I step inside and shut the door behind me.