Dusty Trails Announcement + First Chapter

Since release, we’ve had a lot of people asking if the story of Highway Blossoms ends where the game does, and we’ve been saying no. While we have a few ideas for more HB stuff that we could do, today we’re unveiling something that’s been a pet project of Syon’s for a while.

Highway Blossoms: Dusty Trails is a light novel series centered around the Trio of Marah, Joseph and Tess. Written by Syon and illustrated by Myuto, a chapter is now available to read. We hope to do a physical release of the book eventually. Sound like something you’d be interested in? Let us or Sekai Project know!

Here’s Syon’s take on the project:

Hey guys, Syon here. Been a while. I think I was supposed to pop up post-HB to thank everyone for sticking with us. But while I can finish a VN, I can’t finish a blog post. Very tragic. Still, before we get into the meat of my designated podium time, I’d like to thank you all for making HB a success. It means a lot to me, and even after six months I’m still not sure how to process it. To this day, I am blown away by the amount of feedback and love it’s gotten. It’s because of that success and love that Dusty Trails is possible. And speaking of, I’ve got a little more info to share about that.

Like Josh mentioned, Dusty Trails is going to follow the continued adventures of Mariah, Joseph, and Tess. The story takes place about a month or two after the ending of HB, and a few weeks after the Trio’s fruitless search for the government caravan in Texas. With Mariah now lacking a purpose, the three of them wander the southwest United States, hunting for potential treasure and getting themselves into trouble.

But they aren’t the only ones. Following the Second Gold Rush, a culture of treasure hunters, prospectors, and general weirdos have started cropping up. All lured out by the legends and rumors that now run rampant. In other words, the west is wild again!

Dusty Trails will mostly be episodic. At least initially. That means every chapter will be a new short story featuring one of the Trio, or all three. Tonally, there is going to be a lot of experimentation. Some stories will be firmly grounded in the Trio’s signature insanity, while others will go for a slightly different approach. Either way, we’ll be exploring what the events of HB have done to the setting and we’ll be learning about the pasts of Mariah, Joseph, and Tess.

Dusty Trails isn’t as grounded in reality as HB was. It might not be your thing. But if you dug the Trio in HB, then I think you’ll dig them here. If you’re still on the fence, I think this chapter is a great jumping on point. And yes — I totally stole this idea from Duel. 

HB_dusty-trails-sample-illust_waifu2x_art_noise2_scale_tta_1.pngMyuto can be followed here: twitter.com/_myuto

So, without ado, here’s chapter one!

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The dry desert highway gave way to drier sand, its sunburnt asphalt baking under the muted sky. In the emptiness of nowhere in particular, only two vehicles occupied the road: a monstrous black RV, and the modest red car behind it.

Years of travel had chipped away at the car’s paint, covering it with battle scars.

But despite the trail of exhaust that followed behind, the car maintained its dignity. The dented grill and cracked headlights were trophies, puffed out for all the world to see.

The RV was nothing more than a shiny infant to the car, unworthy of owning the road. Its sleek, new paint and sparkling windows told the story of an arrogant rookie. It hadn’t weathered the dust and storms the car had, and it most certainly hadn’t paid its dues.

It was time to change that.

Drifting into the other lane, the red veteran eased back in front of the RV. The car was once again in charge, leaving the rookie to choke on its bitter fumes.

“That jackass just cut us off! Joe, did you see that? He just cut us off!” Mariah screeched. She tossed her hair behind her faded, red bandanna, pining for a better look at the ‘jackass.’

Joe yawned. “Let it go, Mariah. We’re not in a rush to get anywhere. We should take it easy for a bit. Especially after Texas.” He pulled his own bandanna up from over his relaxed eyes and plonked his feet onto the dash.

“Hell no! I was here first! He’s not even going fast! If he was gonna cut, he should speed instead of driving like he’s getting road head. I don’t wanna ride his ass for the next two hours!”

“Language, Mare. We got precious cargo aboard.” Joe nudged his head to the back of the RV. “It’s not like you want to owe that jar anymore money than you already do.”

“She spent all of it on more beer,” a small, pale girl remarked. She didn’t bother glancing up. Laying on a cot built into the cabinets, she continued progress on her new license plate windchime. She thought it would sound a lot better than the empty cans that rattled across the floor. She had a bandanna too.

“Sheesh, already? You know me and Tess rely on that mouth of yours to keep us from starving, right?”

“Eat me. It’s not like we had any money left to begin with.”

“So naturally, you spend the only money we do have left on alcohol, right?” Joe sighed.

“Duh,” Mariah scoffed.

“You know…” Joe tugged on the collar of his shirt. “Maybe it’s time we pawned off the nugget. It wouldn’t be too much, but the cash would help us get by until we figured something out.”

“WHAT?”

Joe held his wounded ear. The ringing was going to be there for a while.

“You can’t be serious. It’s been in your family for… “She took her eyes off the road and counted on her fingers. When the numbers got too complicated, she gave up. “A long-ass time, okay? Thing’s an heirloom!”

“Yes. It was so important to my family that we let it collect dust in our basement for decades.”

“Are you or are you not a treasure hunter? Those thieves might’ve slithered away with the rest of the gold, but that piece is ours! Our license! Our birthright!”

“It’s a worldly possession that won’t mean anything if we starve. Also, those ‘thieves’ gave us another piece of that treasure—“

“Out of pity.”

“Out of the kindness of their hearts. They earned it fair and square. But you didn’t mind selling that.”

“Ain’t happening. Bring it up again and I’ll”—her attention returned to the road—“Wait. Is that idiot actually slowing down?” Pounding away on the horn, she craned her head out the window. “I SWEAR TO GOD, I WILL BASH YOUR BUMPER IN”

“That’s right Mariah, threaten them. That’ll make your problems go away.” Joe slid his bandanna back over his eyes.

Grumbling, Mariah jerked the wheel. The RV slid to the other side of the road. Its weight shifted to the left, tossing Tess onto her side. The front and back right tires briefly glided into the air, weightless. Gravity slammed it back down and Tess landed on her tummy. A trail of skid marks followed Mariah as she swerved in front of the car.

Mariah’s lips curled into a satisfied smirk. She had taken back what was rightfully hers.

Tess blinked, then returned to her windchime.

Joseph cringed beneath his bandanna. “Do I want to know?”

“Hell yeah you do! I just took back our spot.”

“You must be proud.”

Tess continued her work. “It’s sis’ biggest accomplishment.”

“Har har. Laugh it up, slackers. But it’s my quick thinking and low tolerance for dumbassery that gets us from point A to point Z.”

“It’s also what puts points B through Y in critical condition,” Joe said.

“Points B through Y are roadblocks and roadblocks are for running over. You’d know that if you—,” the booming pop of an engine drowned out Mariah’s words. The red car revved past them. A rush sand blasted through the windows. Mariah and Joe coughed the dust out of their lungs.

“Sheesh.” Another cough. “Looks like you’re not the only one with something to prove, Mariah.”

A few seconds followed. Silence.

“Uh, Mare?”

Mariah’s knuckles cracked as she clenched the steering wheel. The sound of her teeth grinding against each other put Joe on heightened alert, a state he was all too familiar with. As the dust settled around them, her eyes twitched.

“Don’t do it, Mare. It’s not worth it.”

Mariah tuned him out. His words dissolved into an echo-y white noise. She stayed fixated on the car as it eased back into its usual sluggish pace. Everything else was a distraction.

“There are better things to get angry over. Just let it slide off your back.” But it was already too late. Mariah had made her decision and hell was about to rain down upon them. “Why do I even bother?” He sighed. “Tess! Get ready, kiddo!”

Tess nodded and stashed her windchime in the cupboard above her. Then, she patiently sat on the edge of her cot and slouched her shoulders. She learned long ago that relaxing was the best way minimize damage.

“RETRIBUTION!” Mariah screamed.

Joe groaned.

She hunched forward and slammed on the gas pedal. The tires spun in place as the rubber burned against the pavement. Then, the RV thrusted forward. Joe was thrown into his seat.

Tess slid to the edge of the cot as Mariah sped towards the car. As she was about to hit it, she swerved away and stole back her spot in front. The car screeched and braked, just shy of meeting Mariah’s bumper.

“SERVES YOU RIGHT, SLOW RISER! MAYBE IF YOU WEREN’T SO BUSY JERKING OFF YOU WOULD HAVE SEEN THAT COMING!” Mariah flung her hand out the window and kept it in the air. Curious, Tess leaned forward to see what her sister was doing with it, but she couldn’t quite make it out.

“Hey, that’s enough. Poor guy is probably shaken up as it is.” Joe wiped away the sweat that had formed underneath his bandanna.

“Good! Maybe next time he’ll remember who the roads really belong to.”

“Pedestrians?” Tess inquired.

“Yeah—wait, no! Screw pedestrians. They get run over too.”

“Pretty sure that’s vehicular manslaughter,” Joe pointed out.

“Don’t get fancy with me, slacker.”

Behind them, the engine revved again. Mariah glared in her side mirror. The old car wasn’t done yet. It drifted into the opposite lane, zooming past them and stealing back its spot. Its speed waned, now slower than ever as it crawled down the desert highway.

That’s when it hit Mariah. This wasn’t just some punk trying to go wherever the hell it is they want to go. This was a dumbass. A real one! In the wild! Actively going out of their way to screw with her. Just who the hell did he think he was?

Mariah snorted, steam nearly puffing out of her nose. “I don’t know where this bastard gets off, but his balls must be bigger than his brain if he thinks I’m bending over for him.”

The gas pedal was like a tin can and she crushed it beneath her boot. The RV shot out. Her hands stayed glued to the wheel, steady and unmoving as the car’s bumper got closer.”

Joe’s relaxed voice sparked. “What are you doing? We’re gonna cras—,” Mariah gave the brakes a solid stomp. Joe’s head swung forward, nearly cracking against the dashboard.

“How’s that dash taste? Like victory?” Mariah slumped back in her seat, satisfied, but keeping pace with her rival.

Joe gulped and looked up out the windshield. They were nearly driving on top of the car. “Pretty sure ‘victory’ implies domination. All you’re doing is tailgating.”

“It’s bullying,” Tess gave a sagely nod, lying admits a pile of bottles and cans in the corner.

“I don’t know what kind of crap he’s been telling you, but it’s not bullying if they deserve it.”

Yes, Your Honor. My client pleads not guilty on grounds of the victim ‘deserving it.’” Joe mocked.

“What? You saying it’s not true?”

“If the shoe fits.”

“‘If the shoe fits’ then I say take it off and throw it at the bastard’s head.”

Tess spoke, “One dollar.”

“Dammit!”

Before Joe could point out the next dollar, both the RV and the car started speeding up.

“Oh no you don’t! This is what you wanted, so take it like the prom queen you are!” Again, Mariah beat down on the gas and matched pace with the car.

“Sometimes I think not even you know what you’re saying. What does that even mean?”

Tess stood up. Checking to see if it was safe to walk again, she glanced around her , then to her sister, before starting towards the safety of her cot.

“It means if he wanted to be ridden so bad…” Mariah gave a final step on the gas and a quick tug of the wheel. Veering off into the other lane, the RV smacked into the car. Tess was thrown right on back into the pile. “He should have just asked!”

Finally breaking its prideful silence, the car blasted a string of panicked honks, in sync with Joe’s own dread. “I think he gets the message, Mare!”

“I don’t care! He’s not off the hook until I say he is!”

Mariah eased off the pedal. Desperate, the car took what space it had. Then, Mariah pressed down again. This time she hit the bumper head on.

“HOW’S IT FEEL, HUH?”

She smacked it again.

“THINK I CAN’T FIGHT BACK?”

The road sloped down. All the car could do was speed away from Mariah. Over and over, she slammed into it, forcing the car to 80, 90, 100 miles per hour.

“I’M NOT GONNA LOSE AGAIN!”

The honking got louder. More desperate. It pleaded with Mariah, begging her to let it go. Promising if she did then she would never have to deal with it again. But Mariah roared over it with the RV’s own horn. It was a challenge.

“Slow down! We’re pushing 120! What do you think this is going to accomplish?”

“EVERYTHING!”

The wind whipped through the RV, cutting against their skin as the glided down the hill. Joe gripped his bandana, sweat trickling down his face. Mariah ignored all this and cranked the wheel to the left, dragging the RV into the other lane.

A short distance away, a timid man in a tiny, blue car adjusted his glasses as the one-sided battle raced onwards. In his lane, a hulking RV accelerated towards him. The gap got shorter. Every second it burrowed closer, its crazed driver became more visible through the windshield. He imagined his bones crack under the giant wheels of the machine. Terrified, he swerved out of the way and into the comfort of a splintering fence post.

Tess stared out the side window. She watched as the man climbed out of his car and inspected the smoking hood.

A hill sprouted off the side of the road. Mariah drifted to the right, forcing the car closer to it. A sinister grin grew across her face. With the pull of the wheel, the RV scraped against the car. The car was thrashed into the jagged rocks, sandwiched between the hill and Mariah. Sparks flew from both sides. The car’s right-side mirror was torn off. By then, the entire passenger’s side was a light show.

“Knock it off! This is going way too far!” Joe yelled.

Mariah sped up as the road curved into a turn. It was an opening. Not much, but it gave the car enough room to squeeze by. Mariah refused to let it escape her clutches. She pushed down on the pedal until it scratched against the metal beneath it.

She was so close.

But before she could catch back up and give him one, final shove, a frightened yell stopped her.

“Mariah! We’re going to crash!”

Possessed for but a moment by earthly logic, Mariah slammed on the brakes. The RV skid along the curve, sliding to a stop inches away from metal railing. Etched deep into the land below them was a canyon.

“Damn.” Mariah looked outside. The road curved again and the red car turned, disappearing behind another hill.

Suffering from a near panic attack, Joe tried to settle his breathing as he turned to check on Tess. She was fine, just upside down on the couch. He glared at Mariah. “Can we go one week without trying to run someone off the road—just one?”

“Hey, it’s not my fault everyone but me—”

“‘Is a terrible driver.’ Yeah, I know. You always say that, but I’m starting to think you go out of your way to prove the opposite.”

Tess rose from between their seats. “It’s a cry for help.”

“You are so right, kiddo. How’d you get so smart?” Joe patted the wide-eyed Tess on her head, then slowly twisted his head to Mariah. “I have no earthly clue where you could have possibly gotten it from.”

“All you’re good for is turning people against me,” Mariah snorted as she ruffled her bandanna.

“Oh no, you’re plenty good at doing that yourself,” Joe said, losing interest in the conversation. He leaned over and checked the fuel gauge. Twenty-five miles to empty. We need to find a gas station pretty quick, okay?”

“Fine, whatever.” Mariah put the RV into reverse. She backed it up to the hill range until she felt it bump against the rock, then swerved back onto the road.

“Sorry Tess, we need the gas. Looks like it’s BLT again.” Joe sighed. “Without the tomato.” He paused. “Or lettuce.” He paused again. “Or bacon.” He contemplated how the three of them had sunk so low. “How do you feel about quesadillas?”

Rummaging through a cupboard, Tess dug out a fuel tank and presented it to him.

“Spare’s empty. Used it for the campfire the other night,” Mariah said.

“What? Why?” asked Joe.

“What was I supposed to do? We were out of lighter fluid.”

“What happened? Did you drink that too?”

“Shut up.”

The sun darkened to a blood orange as the RV curved along the road. Mountain ranges and canyons sunk back to the horizon, bidding farewell until the drive demanded they meet again. Then the road plateaued and reacquainted itself with the sand.

Eventually, a lone building interrupted the infinite stretch of desert. Just off the side of the road, with several rows of rusted cars scattered around it. One of those cars—a cherry red eyesore without a right-side mirror—caught Mariah’s attention.

Mariah felt no need to slow down or even brake as she veered into the isolated lot.

“Aha! So that’s where you went!”

Clinging to the roof handle, Joe scanned the area. “This doesn’t look like a gas station, Mar—,” he saw the car. “Oh.” He wasn’t impressed.

“I’m going in.”

“Please don’t.”

“Our pride is on the line.”

“We don’t have any pride.”

“Well duh, not anymore. This guy stole it!”

Silent, Mariah begged Joe. Not with a puppy-dog pout, but with a quiet, needing stare. Almost sad. On any other person, it might look like sulking, but from Mariah it was a rare moment of emotional restraint, and Joe knew it. He thought back to the few times in his life when he had seen this face, and he thought back to all the terrible things that usually followed it. Despite that, it was one of the few cracks in his otherwise firm wall, the barrier that protected the rest of the world from Mariah.

“Well, I guess it would give me some time to check on the radiator hose.” Joe rubbed the patch of stubble on his chin. “With all the racing you’ve been doing lately, I’m surprised it hasn’t overheated on us.”

“Get ready for an ass kicking!” Mariah tore off her seatbelt and leaped outside.

“Play nice, Mariah!” Joe stuck his head out the window as she hurried to the entrance. Nervous, he leaned back in his seat. “Why am I letting this happen?” he whispered.

Tess handed him his toolbox.

Mariah sprinted to the stairs then stopped. Dwarfing her and the RV multiple times over, the building seemed less like a desert pit stop and more like a fortress. The aura of Americana snuck down the stairs. Dated photos of forgotten roadside attractions hung from the wall, showing off whatever was the ‘World’s Largest…’ of that time. Every picture and postcard shined through their frames like they were hung yesterday. The rest of the building was no exception. Even the wooden porch was spotless, as if it had been swept that morning.

Mariah looked up. A steam whistle hung on the side of the roof, the diner’s name painted on the wood next to it.

Speedy Steve’s Dinerama.

“So tacky,” Mariah snorted.

Marching up the stairs, she stomped to the door and forced herself in with a single kick. It hurdled against the wall, then creaked back. Mariah peered across the room, static-veiled country music crackling over the radio.

“Which one of you owns the red junk heap outside?”

Small groups of men filled the few tables and booths, yet none answered, ignoring her to read their newspapers or pick at their food.

Mariah snarled at their silence. With her hands tucked in the pockets of her jumpsuit, she started down the aisle. Her boots clicked against the floor’s planks, as she shot heated glances at every new group she walked by. Whenever she passed, the men would turn to the others across from them and give mutual smiles. Wide smiles. Frozen smiles. Nothing but teeth and stretched muscle.

                                                                                          

Mariah didn’t notice this. In fact, Mariah didn’t notice anything. From the plastic, dollhouse food on their plates, to the completely blank newspaper they were staring into. Even the identical baseball caps and checkered flannels they each wore. It all blended together to her. Only the enemy mattered.

Finally, she reached the end of the aisle. The only other room was the apparent kitchen with a sign on the door. Staff only, it said. Mariah turned around and the smiling patrons ghosted back to their facades. She scanned the room once more, then scrunched her nose.

“Fine. I see how it is.”

She clicked back down the aisle, ignoring the men as she forced straight head. Again, they twisted towards each other with stiff, unchanging grins.

Mariah stopped.

Mariah spun around.

At the same time, the men spun around too, returning to their roles.

Sneering, Mariah snagged a cup from a table and brought it to her lips. She waited for water to trickle down her throat—not even a drip. As she stared into the empty cup, she could see all the customers, their bodies warped and distorted by the glass.

Without taking her eyes off the men, Mariah flung the glass against the wall. It shattered on impact and the shards rocketed in every direction. But still, no reaction. The silence continued as the song on the radio came to an end, then after a small instance of drowning static, looped back to the beginning.

“I can wait all day, slow riser.”

She walked out the door. All that remained was the same air of nothing that was there before her arrival.

The men twisted their heads again, now to the door. Their mannequin smiles spread into wide, gaping mouths and they released a collective laugh. Unnatural and stiff, the laugh only contained the same ‘ha’ note over and over. No variation existed between one man or the other. Their laughs were the same. Their constant, frozen expression—identical.

In the midst of the laughing choir, one man stood up from his chair. He continued to laugh as he stepped through the kitchen door.

Staff only, it said.

Outside, Mariah stood on the porch. A fly buzzed around her head as she leaned against the railing. In the distance, she could see Joe, head-deep in the RV’s hood. She shooed the fly away and sniffed.

Tess watched her sister from the RV’s window. A gust of wind flew in from the open driver’s side door. It breezed through the newly hung license plate windchime, distracting Tess as they clanged together.

On the porch, slight rumbling vibrated through the wood. Mariah looked at her feet as it shook beneath her, growing in intensity. Suddenly, it stopped.

“What the he—”

Mariah was tossed into the wall. The shaking started up again, fiercer than before. It was violent and angry, as if the walls were going to split apart and the diner would come crashing down.

Tumbling across the porch, Mariah stumbled down the stairs and to safety. A mechanical growl roared from the building and settled into a steady purr. The porch shook again, but it was short lived. Colossal sized tires peaked over the wood, rolling on top of the porch as planks snapped beneath their weight. Within seconds, it had been swallowed by the building, reduced to splinters in the sand.

The diner drove forward, then stopped. Its shadow engulfed the petrified Mariah.

She ran.

“Get inside get inside get inside get inside get inside get inside get inside get inside get inside,” she repeated to herself. Sprinting to the RV, she threw frantic waves at Joe.

With his goggles strapped over his eyes, Joe wiped the grease from his hands. “Back already? Were you able get back your pri—”

“Joe, get inside get inside get inside get inside get inside!” She rushed past him and leapt into the driver’s seat.

“Huh?” He put up his goggles. “But I’m not done yeaaaaaAAAAAAAAHH!” His sentence melted into a scream at the sight of the newly emerged beast.

The monster had gained speed and was barreling towards them.

Joseph was hardly in the RV when Mariah slammed on the gas and sped off the lot. The door swung shut as he pulled his foot inside. Watching in horror, he looked out the window. The cars that had just been parked beside him seconds before, and even the red car, were being crushed under the ‘Dinerama,’ leaving only scraps of metal corpses.

“What did you do?” He yelled.

“Nothing! I didn’t do anything!”

He pointed out the window. “THAT—that is clearly something!

“Why’s it have to be me who did it, huh? All I did was mind my own business!”

‘Sis. Joey.” Tess said.”

“By going in there you were doing everything other than ‘minding your own business!’”

“Joey. Sis.”

“That idiot made him my business the second he cut me off!”

“Escalation isn’t the answer!”

“Escalation is what stops wars!”

“Sis.”

“Escalation is what leads to weapons of mass destruction, sort of like mobile diners of death!”

“Joey.”

Joe was ready to continue explaining the dangers of death diners, but Tess’ meek voice finally broke through. “Sorry, kiddo. What were you going to sa–”

A blistering impact crashed into the back of the RV. The trio were flung forward. Mariah and Joe’s faces drooped to a nervous pause.

“They’re getting close,” Tess said.

Another blistering impact. The ladder on the back of the RV was bent and mangled, hardly holding on as it clanged against the frame.

Realization sunk in Joe. “Oh no, is that what he’s doing?” He whispered.

“What? What’s he trying to do?”

“Don’t you get it?” He quelled the urge to shake her. “He’s trying to give you a taste of your own medicine! You need to apologize.”

“Apologize? No way! It’s his own damn fault!”

“This isn’t an argument. Did you not see what he did to all those cars?”

“Those overgrown toasters were just defective.”

Tess tapped Joe on the shoulder and pointed at the back window. The Dinerama was gaining.”

“He’s going to try it again,” Joe warned.

“Then he’s gonna have a bad day.”

Smoke trailed the RV as it gained. Ripped off by the wind, the ladder landed in the road before torn to metallic chips beneath the building. Every lane on the road had been overtaken by the Dinerama, the edges of the building spilling over into the sand. On the back of the building, lines of gears spun and clusters of pistons pumped like blood. Steam screamed out of the whistle as the industrial monster rushed closer.

“Just apologize!” Joe begged.

“Go die!” Mariah fired back.

“That’s exactly what’s going to happen!”

On both sides of the Dinerama, the long, scenic glass rolled down like any car window. Two rows of hands lined up one after the other. One row for each side. Each hand carried a silver revolver with a wooden grip, and each silver revolver with a wooden grip contained six lead bullets. More than enough to kill anything that moves. On the right, a hand pulled back on the gun’s hammer. The first shot had been fired. Exploding out of the barrel, the bullet spun through the air and flew into Joe’s side mirror. Lodged in the mirror, multiple cracks split off from the bullet.

Joe swung back. “Holy hell, man! They have guns now?”

“They’re cheating–that’s bullshit! Is that even legal?” Mariah demanded.

“Nevada is an open carry state,” Tess explained.

“Huh. Guess it is legal then.”

“Since when have you ever cared about the law?” Joe asked.

A shower of bullets rained down on the RV. Making dents. Breaking glass. Joseph and Mariah ducked as the sounds of gunshots and falling bullet casings surrounded them.

Tess didn’t need to duck. She was already small.

The road curved again and Mariah pulled left until the wheel jammed, gliding into the turn. The Dinerama’s gears and pistons relaxed as the building recalculated, then it eased into the turn.

“Hey, it’s slowing down,” Joe pointed out.

Mariah scoffed. “Of course it is! No one can keep up with me!”

“Yeah, trust me. I know.”

“I should push you out.”

Another bullet whipped by Mariah. She grit her teeth. “Dammit, he’s catching’ back up.”

“Want to apologize yet?”

Mariah glared at Joe. Furhter down the road, a green speck appeared. Mariah squinted at the horizon. It was a SUV, wobbling through the desert and soaking in its views.

“Idiots,” Mariah grunted under her breath.

She sped up to the car. Jazzy, experimental music blasted from the SUV, blaring over even the Dinerama’s engine and gunshots. Two young men sat in the front seats, both with scraggly, unkempt hair and beards. “Joe, tell them to get the hell outta here–and that their taste in music is trash!”

“Right!” Joe turned to them, making huge motions with his hands. Noticing, they rolled down their window. They couldn’t make out anything he was saying. All they saw was a fellow brother rocking out with them.

“Right on! Keep jamming, brah!” They honked back.

Mariah shoved Joe out of the way. “LISTEN TO SOME SKA, HIPPIES!”

Lip reading, they peered at Mariah, then at each other, then Mariah again. “Yeah! We hate ska, too!”

“Let them die.”

“Mariah!”

She looked in the side mirror. The beast was charging at them with renewed vigor. Mariah switched between the mirror and the hippies. The Dinerama was gaining. Fast.

“GODDAMMIT! Hippies don’t deserve kindness!”

She spun the wheel to the right. The side of the RV slammed against the SUV. Screaming, the hippies spun into the sand. Mariah pushed back down on the gas. The two men watched in awe as the Dinerama zoomed by and barely scraped their car. A few seconds earlier and they wouldn’t have been hip anymore.

“Please! Apologize!”

Cold sweat seeped down Mariah’s cheeks. She took a rare look down at the speed gauge. 80, 90, 100 miles per hour.

“Tess. White flag and megaphone.” She finally said.

Tess saluted and scampered to the closet. She dug out a megaphone and white cloth on a stick, then ran back and handed the megaphone to her sister. Tess climbed onto the couch and stuck her head out the window, waving the cloth in surrender.

Mariah turned on the megaphone. Feedback shrieked from it and pierced Joe’s eardrums.

“You know, I already thought I’d gone deaf from your yelling.”

“Shove it, slacker.”

With one hand on the wheel, she poked the megaphone outside and spoke into it.

“Hey, uh… Speedy Steve. My name is Mariah. I think I might’ve tried running you off the road. I got two slackers with me. One’s my kid sister, Tess. The other is Joseph, but I just call him Joe.”

“Hi,” said Joe.

Tess waved her free hand.

“They say ‘hi.’ Anyway, about the whole ‘pissing you off’ thing. I wasn’t trying to kill you. I just thought you drove like a dumbass geezer who took their Tuesday pills on a Friday. I might’ve been wrong about that last bit, though. Either way, you almost getting trampled wasn’t my fault. But my hangover went away a few hours ago, so I’m not really in the mood to die right now. That’s why I wanna apologize. Please don’t kill us.”

There was a long pause. The drive almost seemed pleasant as they waited for a response.

A single gunshot was fired.

Tess wiggled back inside and held up the flag. A small, singed hole was burnt through the middle of the cloth.

“I don’t think they accepted your apology, sis.”

Joe shook his head. “Why do I even let you speak?”

The building rammed into the RV again and the back window shattered open. Mariah drew sharp breaths. Again, the building rammed into them. The road stretched on for miles. No stops. No towns. Just desert.

Mariah swerved off the road and into the bushes and dirt. There was no path or highway now, only tire tracks in the sand.

The Dinerama skid to a stop, its mass propelling it as far as a football field. Mariah drove. She drove until all that could stop her was a canyon. The haze of the road could be seen beyond it, but that was far away now.

The fuel gauge began dinging as she shifted the RV into park.

“Ah crap, we never filled up on gas.” Joe checked behind them to make sure they were safe. “If we had any good money, I’d say that they’ll be back.”

Mariah cradled her head between the comfort of her knees. “We’re dead we’re dead we’re dead we’re dead. We’re dead and I killed us. I wanted to die rich and drunk, not poor and sober.”

Then she was struck by an epiphany.

She reached past Joe and opening the glove compartment. A leather-bound flask sparkled in the shadows. Mariah swished it around. There was just enough left.

“Eh, one out of two ain’t bad.” She climbed of her seat and took a gulp, then walked to a drawer. Inside, was a piece of cloth wrapped around something invaluable and precious. Mariah peeled the old rag. A bite-sized gold nugget sat in the middle. It wasn’t long ago that Mariah swore she could see the flakes glitter off it. But now it looked like a cold, colorless pebble.

Tess gazed up at her sister with expectant eyes.

Mariah sighed. “Sorry, squirt. Go pray so you don’t end up where sis is going.” She gave Tess a firm pat on the head and took another swig from the flask, then collapsed on the bed.

“Hold on. Are you serious?” Joe stretched out of his.

“Yup. We’re dead. Why fight it? Ain’t that your life motto?” She threw the nugget into the air and caught it on the way down.

You. You’re giving up? You’re not even going to make a try for it?”

“What’s the point? We’re almost out of gas, so we’ll just get run down. We make a run for it and we just get shot full of holes then run down. We’re pretty much screwed.”

Joe watched, stupefied, as the one thing in the world he thought had no limits finally crashed into its glass ceiling.

She took two swigs this time. “Thanks for trying all this time. I don’t think it did any good, but—“Mariah paused. “Yeah, I don’t think it did any good. If we’re gonna do anything, now’s the time.”

“What?” Joe asked.

“What?” Mariah said. “Eh, whatever.” She kept drinking.

Tess looked up at Joe with expectant eyes. “Are we gonna die, Joey?”

Joe looked between Tess, Mariah, and the shattered back window. In the distance, he could hear the blow of the steam whistle.

“No… No, we’re not going to die. Maybe sometime later this week, but not today.” He marched to the bed. “Mariah, stand up!”

“I already told you, it’s point–”

“I have an idea, so stand up!” With a nervous grin, he leaned in and whispered, so Tess couldn’t hear. “Or are you gonna bend over to some bastard who’s balls are bigger than his brains?”

Annoyed, Mariah grunted, a glimmer of her pride fighting back. Joe extended a hand. She arched an eyebrow and looked back.

“If we die, you’re buying me a bloody mary in Hell.” She grabbed his wrist and hoisted herself up.

“I’ll ask the devil to make it a virgin.”

They walked back to their seats, Joe patting Tess’ shoulder on the way over. Mariah took the passenger’s side and Joe took the driver’s. He spun around the RV until their backs were to the canyon. They were going to face the bull head on.

The beast faded in from the dimming sunlight. It snorted out steam, then charged for the RV. Mariah offered Joe her flask. He finished it off. The Dinerama rolled faster, gears flying off and spinning away.

“Get ready, ladies.” He brought the goggles down over his eyes.

There was no slowing down now. The RV and Dinerama were silhouetted against the dying light. Rows of hands once again lined out the window of the diner, and each hand pulled back on the hammer.

“Let’s hope this works!” Joe slammed on the pedal with the force of a cinderblock.

The two vehicles screamed towards each other. Head on. Tires spinning. Dirt clouds all around. Then, right within crashing distance, Joe tugged the wheel in the first direction he thought of. The RV swerved out of the way, still catching sparks as the building dinged it. Despite the Dinerama’s attempts to brake, it continued skidding. The steam whistle blew one last guttural moan as the building somersaulted into the canyon. Edges of the rock and earth broke apart and crashed down with it. With the sound of thunder, it struck the bottom. A mushroom cloud of sand rose from the gorge, followed by an explosive bang seconds later. Smoke twirled and mixed with the sand, birthing a twisted plume of beige and black.

Tess was the first to unravel from their personal balls of protection. She glanced out all the windows, and when she decided it was safe, made timid steps outside.

Mariah was the next to notice, first opening one eye and then another. When the coast was clear, she joined her sister.

Joe looked up last. His companions were gone. He scrambled out the door to catch up.

The smoke dissolved into the sky, deep red and layered with purple. The three watched as the Dinerama burned below them. Tess flopped down on the edge of the cliff and dangled her feet, staring at the embers as they flew into the air. Mariah and Joe looked at each other and nodded. She slapped him on the back, nearly catapulting him into the canyon. When he regained his balance, they both wrapped an arm around the others’ shoulder. Their laughter was stiff and identical.

“You know,” Joe thought out loud, “I have no idea how it was possible for that thing to even function.”

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