They’d started hiking early, in the predawn chill, expecting the day to warm. Now, midday, they stood on the ridge top in knit hats and windbreakers near the husk of the Ten 3 restaurant, charcoaled in a late-summer megafire, and watched rain and storm clouds erase the city on the plain five thousand feet below.
He was relieving himself against a blackened pine when she spoke. “It’s over,” she said.
Discolored urine ran into a small hole in the ash and dirt at the base of the trunk.
“It’s been over for a while,” she said. “I think we both know it.”
Woody, their Chihuahua riding in a carrier strapped to her back, began to whine.
“I’ll move out,” she said. “You can keep the apartment, the furniture.”
He zipped up and turned to stare at her. She stepped back. A rock rolled under her boot. Where it had been scraped it clean of soot, she saw it was pinkish brown Sandia granite. She knelt and picked it up.
He still hadn’t spoken.
She stood, clutching the rock to her chest.
He took a step toward her. “I want Woody,” he said.
“Are you kidding?”
“I paid for him, and I’m keeping him.”
“You’re not taking my dog,” she said.
Woody whined and rocked back and forth in the carrier. She turned her head. “It’s okay,” she said.“Everything’s okay.”
He stepped toward her.
She sidestepped a charred stump, putting it between them. Woody kept whining.
“I’m keeping Woody,” he said.
“You’re not.” She shuffled backward, stumbling into another burnt pine.
He reached over her head and grabbed the carrier, the muscles of his arm hard. “Give him to me,” he said.
“Get away from me!”
He shoved her against the trunk and grabbed the carrier, trying to tear it from her back. Woody whimpered and cried. Her head cracked into a branch. Strands of her hair caught and tore from her scalp.
“You’re not taking my dog,” he said.
“Stop,” she said. “You’re hurting me. You’re scaring Woody.”
The thunderheads loomed over the ridge crest, cutting off the sunlight. Ash and charcoal dust danced in the electrified wind. She fought for breath. In the eery darkness, he forced first one buckle, then a second open. Untethered, the carrier shifted.
Tremors wracking his body, Woody whimpered.
She struggled to break free, but he was too strong. He forced her arms upward. She felt the carrier lift, felt Woody’s tiny weight moving away from her.
Woody barked frantically, his voice tiny in the wilderness.
“Woody!” Her boots churned the dust as she fought for balance. She lunged forward and grabbed a handful of his shirt with one hand.
He held the carrier out of her reach and looked down at her, his eyes the color of the bruised sky, and laughed.
She screamed, a horrible sound full of fear and rage, and swung the fist gripping the chunk of Sandia granite, putting an end to his laughter.
When he’s not hiking Mexico’s volcanoes, Jim Latham lives and writes in Cholula, Puebla. His stories have appeared in The Drabble, Spillwords, Better Than Starbucks, Eunoia Review, and elsewhere. He publishes free flash fiction every Wednesday on Substack at Jim’s Shorts.
Photo by Prashant Mishra on Unsplash
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