Home > All the Crooked Saints(5)

All the Crooked Saints(5)
Author: Maggie Stiefvater

Some people find the effects of marijuana calming. Some people find it calms them, but they’re offended by its usage. Still others are not offended but find it makes them anxious. And then some are both offended and anxious. Pete belonged to this final group.

“You always this pedantic? Why don’t you turn on the radio?”

There was no knob. Pete said, “I can’t. The dial’s missing.”

With satisfaction, Tony replied, “Damn right it is, because I threw it out the window in Ohio. I didn’t want to listen to its whining and I don’t want to listen to yours, either. Why don’t you just point those lost-puppy eyes of yours right out the window and stare at God’s country for a while.”

This advice was mixed. If Pete had had something to distract him from the changing landscape, he might not have been as hard-struck by it. As it was, after Tony had concluded his smoking and nodded off to sleep, there was only Pete and the great outdoors. Over the course of the day, the landscape ran alongside the car, shifting from plains to hills to mountains to bigger mountains, and then, suddenly, became desert.

The kind of desert that is located in that corner of Colorado is a hard one. It is not the painted rocks and elegant cactus pillars one finds farther southwest, nor is it the secretive pine-furred mountains and valleys of the rest of Colorado. It is barren scrub and yellow dust, and blue-tinged, sharp-teethed mountains in the distance that want to have nothing to do with you.

Pete fell deeply in love with it.

This strange cold desert does not care if you live or die in it, but he fell for it anyway. He had not known before then that a place could feel so raw and so close to the surface. His weak heart felt the danger but could not resist.

He fell in love so fiercely that the desert itself noticed. The desert was accustomed to the casual love affairs of strangers passing through, so it cruelly tested his affection by raising a dust storm. Grit buffeted the vehicle, creeping in through the edges of the windows and drifting in the corners of the dashboard. Pete had to stop to remove tumbleweed and branches from the Mercury’s grill and to shake sand from his boots, but his love remained intact. Unconvinced, the desert then encouraged the sun’s full power to beat down upon Pete and Tony. The heat in the car climbed from double digits to triple digits. The dash cracked in the sunlight, and the steering wheel grew hot as molten iron under Pete’s hands. But as sweat rolled into his collar, and his mouth dried out, Pete was still enamored. Then, as the afternoon got old, the jaded desert conjured what little rain it could manage from the sky just north of the Mercury. That rain rolled into a flash flood that dragged sloppy mud across the highway, and in the thin evening light, the desert let the temperature drop suddenly below freezing. The mud froze and thawed and then changed its mind and froze again. All this indecision heaved open a crack in the asphalt, which the Mercury fell into.

Tony woke with a start. “What happened here?”

“Weather,” replied Pete.

“I like weather like I like my news,” Tony said. “Happening to someone else.”

Pete opened the door with some difficulty; the car was at an unnatural angle. “You steer.”

He climbed out to push and Tony put his shoes back on before slithering into the driver’s seat. The desert watched as Pete strained to free the Mercury from the gap in the road, heaving one shoulder against the rear bumper. The spinning tires sprayed a moist, cold layer of golden dirt onto Pete’s legs.

“Are you even pushing, kid?” Tony called out.

“I am, sir.”

“Are you sure you’re not pulling?”

“We can switch places,” Pete offered.

“There’s a helluva gap between can and should,” Tony said, “and I’m not eager to close it.”

Finally, the Mercury broke free. Pete’s eyes followed not the vehicle as it trundled forward but instead the varied and complicated horizon of the desert. The very last of the sun played over it and every stalk of grass dripped with honeyed light. His back ached and his arms were pebbled with goose bumps, but as he savored the view and sucked in big, juniper-scented breaths, he was still besotted.

The desert, which was not given to sympathy or sentiment, was nonetheless moved, and for the first time in a long time, it loved someone back.

 

It was not until several hours later, after night had fallen, that Pete worked up the nerve to ask Tony where he was headed. Before, it hadn’t really mattered; it had been obvious they were both going to be sharing the same path for a while, since they had met up in the part of Kansas that went away only if you kept going west.

“Colorado,” said Tony.

“We’re in Colorado.”

“Near Alamosa.”

“We’re near Alamosa.”

“Bicho Raro,” said Tony.

Pete looked at him hard enough that the Mercury swerved as well. “Bicho Raro?”

“Did I stutter, kid?”

“It’s just … that’s where I’m going, too.”

Tony shrugged with only his dense black eyebrows and looked out the window at only the dense black night.

“What?” Pete said. “You don’t think that’s a coincidence?”

“A coincidence that you don’t want to get out and walk in the middle of the desert? Yeah, it’s a miracle, son.”

Because Pete was an honest soul, it took him a long minute to process Tony’s meaning. “Look, sir, I’ve got the letter from my aunt right in my shirt pocket. You can see it for yourself—I’m heading to Bicho Raro.”

He fumbled it out of his pocket as the Mercury swerved again.

Tony took a gander. “This is probably your math homework.”

It turned out that the sweat of several days of walking by the highway had smeared the last letter Aunt Josefa had written Pete. Tony didn’t really care either way, but to Pete, the implication that he was anything but truthful, that he was a freeloader, was well-nigh unbearable.

“I’m going there for a summer job. My aunt visited there a few years ago. She lives up near Fort Collins now, but back then, she was in a, well—I don’t know why I would tell you this, but she was in a real bad place and says they helped her out of it. She wrote me and told me they have a box truck I could have as my own, and they’re willing to let me work off the price of it with hard labor.”

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