The stranger Lido's legs burned like scorched iron. He was trudging now at a great, loping pace. No more hurried than a machine piston, and as relentless. Head low, eyes narrow as knives, intent on the track - an old trail worn hard, headed straight and sure to someplace. He flared his nostrils in the dry air that pooled around him. If he stopped, he'd be standing with a cool, steady breeze at his back. He didn't stop. He was striding within it, becalmed in a storm's eye of his own making. In an absolute stillness, in perfect sync with his speed and direction. The world held its breath, and turned beneath him.
He was wearing a ball gown, or what once had been one. It had since been torn, distorted, remade as a sort of a dirty pink tulle poncho. He laughed once - a short, rasped bark. The whole damn caper had gone wrong, unless that was what she'd had in mind. He paid good money for this damn dress. Rose Althea was going to make it look good again, or else: before he'd decide to kill her, or not. Or wait.
None of this was anything he thought in words. He'd stopped thinking in words two days ago.
The gap was closing. He had walked all night last night timeless and moonlit through a waking nightmare that haunted him vaguely. All night, he'd kept starting in spurts of panic, sure he'd somehow passed her by, or lost the trail.
He was right behind her, now. Sure of it. This land was flat, flat - but he'd seen her. Seen somebody, up ahead: a shimmering wiggle of white on invisible legs. Her skin, tanned the same color as the desert's dry, fine sand that blurred out for miles in all directions - and above it, the white shimmy-blob of his own god-damn shirt! Topped suddenly by a weaving jet black blot - she had lost her hat? No, the black blot disappeared, tucked again under the soft no-color of her mother's sombrero.
A good hour passed. Morning was coming towards noon, and the white wiggle had vanished, for the moment at least. The stranger Lido was unconcerned. There was nowhere for it to vanish to. Nowhere for it to hide away, no place to go underground and no way short of a horse could she outdistance him. His vulture gaze devoured everything for miles. There had been no damn horse.
So she was right in front of him, and she must have looked back. Seen him coming. She must have flung herself flat, lost in the heat shimmer. She was probably crawling! Desperately, clawing her way through the dust to escape his path. He smiled so wide his bottom lip split, dry. Not enough water in those cracked lips to bleed. He smiled wider with the pain. He knew he couldn't keep walking this pace under a noonday sun, but he damn sure could hold out longer and further than she could crawl. There was no way she could've bolted upright any distance to either side of the trail without his eyes tracking her. Crawling wasn't going to get her far, not far enough. He'd soon be close enough to where she'd disappeared for his squint to pierce the waves of rippling heat, and then he'd see her, and then he'd reach her. Even if she was lying flat and perfectly still, hoping not to raise dust, not even moving to breathe - she'd be too close to the trail for him not to spot her. As soon as he closed the distance, through this heat. He was almost there now. He decided he wasn't going to rest until he was on top of her.
His eyes no longer looked down. The ground was too hard to hold much trace, anyhow. His head was up, looking side to side warily. Seeking a hiding place. This damn desert was all one color, that was the problem. It had been flat as flat forever, but now he began to see features forming. Miniscule hills, tiny hollows. Nothing to hide a person in, but enough to curse at. He forced himself to go a bit more carefully. Slowing, he felt the breeze now, and it felt almost cold. There was something up ahead, flat and lifeless to the side of the bone-dry track. Something bright against the sun-bleached dun.
It was a dirty white shirt.