When they crossed from South Dakota to Wyoming, Hunter glanced down at the dashboard. He was cruising at 84 mph and they were down less than a quarter tank. Nothing but smooth sailing: no traffic, no construction, and the air was cool enough to leave the roof open. He glanced over at Tena, who was staring out the passenger-side window.
She felt him focus on her and turned to smile at him. “Pronghorn,” she said.
She laughed unguardedly. “No, idiot. There was a sign saying that you could see pronghorn deer around here, and I just saw a little family.”
“Yeah, what looked like a mother and two kids. An adolescent nearby.” She turned suddenly. “There, another mother and her child.”
“Where’s the father?”
“Probably fighting someone else, defending his territory, the women he owns.”
Hunter thought about that. He shifted his hips and shoved his lower back flush with the seat back’s curvature. “Does it look like there are a lot of deer out here?”
His wife shrugged. “What’s a lot? I saw a few bunches back there and now they’re gone. Maybe that’s how they live.”
“I wonder,” he said pointedly. When she glanced at him he nodded to his left, and she looked out at the landscape. Hazy blue mountains ringed the horizon like the edge of torn paper; nearer were flat planes of sagebrush and dry, yellow soil. There was a constant stream of barbed wire fencing along the highway, giving people 15′ feet to pull over for emergencies before demarcating the rest of the expanse as someone else’s territory.
Tena saw a little black cabin in the center of the vast tract. Pulling out her monocular, she was able to see it was wood plank siding that had been tarred. There was a rusted pickup truck parked nearby, and a gravel lane ran from it to a break in the fencing by the road. Immediately next to it was a broad, round divot in the earth, as though God had reached down to scoop it out like ice cream: layers of clay and shale were exposed beneath the dry, dusty soil. Tena knew they were driving west, which set crater south of them, and to the west of this round pit were two more pits (smaller but not shallower) and then a line of five (even smaller, but here the earth was especially torn up). She estimated it had missed the cabin by half a football field.
She checked her phone: she’d lost her signal due to roaming but GPS was still functional, because why would the Feds lose track of the citizenry if they didn’t have to? “We just left Beulah,” she announced, “and we’re heading toward Sundance.” Pulling out a rumpled paper map from the door pocket, she found those towns again and marked the footfall with a circle in purple felt-tip pen. “How long ago do you think she was here?”
Hunter worried at a fragment of peanut stuck behind his canine. “News said last week.”
“Think she’s still here?”
“I wasn’t paying attention. I guess she could be. It won’t really stay in the news until she hits a city.” He shrugged. The wind in the roof brushed gently at his short haircut. “I guess that’d be Gillette. She could skip it, though.”
“What about those, uh, those frackers? And the oil drills.” Tena studied the long-violated folds in the old map and almost perfectly restored it to its intended form.
“Maybe, I guess, if she takes out enough of them. Oil refineries don’t seem to be her targets, though.”
The tires screamed in a dull, high rasp through the bottom of the car, and wind rumbled all around the windows, as it had for four hours prior and would for as long as they felt like driving. Tena scanned with her monocular and found another huge footprint, a mirror image of the first, and what looked like a third one disappearing over a low ridge.
“Those poor pronghorn,” she said to herself, but her husband said he was sure they fled her path long before she showed up. She hoped he was right.
It was 40 minutes later when they spotted a small lake some distance north of the highway. Tena swore and closed the sunroof, and Hunter set the ventilation to recirculate rather than pull from outside.
“There’s no body of water around here at all.” She checked the paper map, then her smartphone. She looked up again and grimaced. “Is that what I think it is?”
Hunter was laughing. “Guess she doubled back and relieved herself. Or maybe that’s still there from when she was heading northeast, a month ago.”
She gaped at him. “That couldn’t still be! That’s a lot of goddamn… It looks like it hasn’t even begun to evaporate or recede or anything. Hold on.” She pulled out her monocular once more. “What are those little white tents on the shore?”
He glanced over but, even driving on a featureless highway, couldn’t study them long enough to tell. Tena took a picture with her phone and blew it up and they examined that. “Ah, okay. That looks like worshippers.” Hunter sighed and stretched his neck.
“Worshippers? Like Baptists?”
He laughed again. “In a way. They’re worshipping her, they’re fixated on her.”
“They set up those tents to change in. Look at the image, they go right down into the water.” He laughed. “Well, ‘water.’ They disrobe in those tents and just submerge themselves immediately without, say, exposing themselves to anyone on the highway. Like us.”
Tena scowled at the little row of white tents on the shore of the golden yellow lake. “Are you serious?” Her husband didn’t say anything so she added, “That’s fucking disgusting.”
“Different strokes, sweetie.”
She spun to face him, the map crinkling in her lap. “Would you ever do that? Is that something you’re into?”
“Me? No. That’s not my thing.”
“I swear to Goddess.”
“I could do that for you if you wanted. Lie you down in the bathtub.”
Hunter appeared to think about that, then politely turned it down.
Tena smirked. “You didn’t answer promptly.”
“I was trying to sort out lay vs. lie in that case.”
She was about to insist she’d gotten it right, but instead went rigid and gasped. “Oh, fuck. Pull over, Hunter.” He glanced at her, then followed her stare. He also swore and looked for a clear spot on the shoulder. Fortunately there was a randomly placed “scenic overlook” and he decelerated hard to meet it. He disengaged himself from the car, stretching out a surprising number of muscle cramps and stiff joints, while his wife scrambled out of the passenger side and rounded the vehicle. She shoved the monocular into his chest and lined up a shot with her DSLR camera. He scanned around, focused, and scanned again.
Beyond miles of Midwest wasteland, hazy in pastels like the mountains, the upper body of an enormous woman appeared. Her arched back rose and straightened, seemingly in slow motion. Her head slumped from her shoulders, cascades of long, unruly curls flowing from her scalp in brown and honey blonde, obscuring her face.
“She’s beautiful,” Tena whispered. She studied the musculature on the colossal woman, her rippling deltoid, the tension of her triceps. Hunter entirely focused on her massive, pendulous bare breast, saying nothing.
The woman drew one arm back. Her shoulder raised ponderously, and then her elbow took forever to sail backward through the atmosphere. Her slender fingers flexed and curled into a fist, and in one protracted arc it swung all the way behind her head, over her head, then hurtled behind a low ridge of mountains. Hunter heard his wife’s camera clicking rapidly, capturing every deceptively languorous second.
The woman’s arm straightened out and her shoulder descended to follow it. Her shaggy mane glowed yellow and vast balls of fire slowly rolled up from behind the ridge, unfolding and blossoming. Seconds later, Tena and Hunter heard the deep bellow of thunder.
“I guess I was wrong,” he said.