Alice White and her abductor are trudging through the Chihuahuan Desert. She’s in her Sunday blue dress and her legs are bare, thin, and shapely. The dress is missing buttons. The sun is so hot she feels it will burn her to ash. When they pass the carcass of a Mexican wolf, she wonders if death can live longer than a Creosote Bush. She wishes the sun would turn to a cold soup filled with the alphabet letters of her name. It would satisfy her thirst and she would be so full of herself.
Her abductor is named Leon, an itinerant ranch hand. Leon has two stumps for fingers. Alice believes his constant scowl means he can never get enough of anything.
He had abducted Alice from the bordello where her surrogate mother worked. She took Alice in after General Geraldo Rama’s raid left Alice’s town a pyre of burning wood and reeking blackened flesh. The woman sneaked Alice covered plates of tack, souse, and chili-flavored jerky. In a tiny room with red ants zigzagging across floorboards, Alice slept with her face snuggled against the woman’s breasts. Alice slowly regained her speech. She never lost her fear of fires even from a distance.
“We near the Pecos River, yet?” asks Alice, shading her eyes. They pass clumps of Rainbow and Fire-barrel cactus. Alice stubs her big toe against a small rock. A tarantula hovers next to its own shadow.
“How you know?”
“I just do.”
“The sun looks the same to me. Maybe you think we’re walking but we ain’t moving at all.”
“Shut up, girly.”
In town, Alice sometimes peeked through a hole in the second-floor wall and watched the men undress before the women, their bodies pot-bellied or made ugly by scars. She wondered how they could down whiskey after whiskey until their appetite for love, like their booze, oozed through their pores. Some fell asleep above the women and nothing was exchanged. Alice laughed. They’d die prisoners of their own brand of poison.
Leon’s horse stumbles to the ground, remains there. In a fit of rage, he kicks arcs of glistening sand into the air.
“Poor horse,” says Alice, “must have been dreaming of water.”
“I should ride every whore out here.”
“But you can’t shoot a gun,” Alice says, tilting her head, leaving her lips slightly parted, giving off a kind of innocent schoolgirl charm.
“I can shoot you, girly. Try me.”
Alice turns and continues to walk. She closes her eyes and imagines walking into the sun.
“Do you think the sun has yellow spots?” she yells out.
“What a stupid thing…”
“It’d be unnatural, wouldn’t it?”
“Shut up, bone-brained girl.”
“Just a joke, Mister.”
“It ain’t a joke. I’m selling you. Remember?”
Trouble started when Alice’s surrogate mother told the other “employees” that Leon could only please a woman with his tongue, that he couldn’t “shoot his gun.” It spread from one clique to another. When Leon traced the source of the gossip, he demanded money from Alice’s mother for “damaging his character.” She stammered that she did not have the amount. He kidnapped Alice, saying that he knew a barren couple near the border who wanted a child, even though Alice was now fifteen.
“They’ll pay plenty for blond hair and blue sing-song eyes. A watery dream.”
At night, Alice hums a song by the campfire. Leon snores so loud, she thinks he will attract wolves, the kind that thrive in heat.
Slowly, she leans over and tries to wake him. He doesn’t budge. She slips an unsteady hand around his gun, then finishes his canteen water. She wipes the dribble from her lips.
By sunrise, he awakes to Alice pointing his gun at him.
“I bartered your water,” she says in sing-song.
“Little bitch, ” he says, rising from the dirt.
“Don’t,” she says, backing away, “I can shoot straight.”
He tries to stare her down.
“Then why don’t you drop me here. Being this close, it’s a sure shot. And you could turn back and head home. That is, if you can find your way or if the sun doesn’t melt you to nothing.”
Her lips slowly curl.
“I want you to take off your clothes.”
His eyes widen.
“Why? You never saw a naked man before?”
“Sure. Seen plenty back in town. ”
“Then why? Don’t you think I’m a little old for you.”
She fires a bullet into the ground near his foot. The dust forms thin drifting clouds.
“I don’t want you, Mister. I want you to burn.”
He removes his clothes. They move on, this time with Alice behind him. They grow weary, thirsty, too heavy for themselves.
In the desert, Alice thinks of death. How vast. Maybe it is a whiteness that stretches everywhere, bleeds through everything. Maybe it is the color of nothing. And she cannot think or feel or remember. To be blotted-out, made numb. The way she felt after General Rama had burned her town down.
Sometime in the afternoon, with the sun strong as ever, Leon rambles on about how his father was a yellow-bellied bastard, a deserter from The Border Wars, how he left the family with barely enough money for food. His mother scraped a living, performing various chores farm to farm, bringing Leon with her. She became a mistress to a wealthy businessman. Leon disowned her.
He collapses in the sand. Crouching beside him, Alice can feel no pulse. His body is scorched. With eyes full of desert and sky, she hates herself.
She surveys mosaics of waist-high grass in the distance. She imagines water running somewhere under tall grass. A secret place.
She rises, looks into the sun, and aims the gun. She wonders that if she fires into it, will the sun rain all the water it has withheld?
The thought of this makes Alice laugh so hard that she might pee whatever water is left inside her.
Kyle Hemmings lives and works in New Jersey. He has been published in Elimae, Smokelong Quarterly, This Zine Will Change Your Life, Blaze Vox, Matchbook, and elsewhere. He loves 50s Sci-Fi movies, manga comics, and pre-punk garage bands of the 60s.