There were landslide barriers on the cliff below the car. Huge cages of oversized chicken wire to keep the rubble from tumbling down onto the roofs of cars on the road below. Sam’s dad had sung her a song about it once. Something about low roads and high roads and getting to Scotland on time. Well they were already in Scotland, but she didn’t like the look of that low road. Not with all those rocks overhead, kept in placer by some giant’s rabbit run.
“Could they still fall?” she’d asked earlier in the day, when the sunlight reflecting off the cages had turned the cliff face into a golden honeycomb. Her mum had said no, and her dad had just chuckled a little, but Luke, her big brother had said “Course it could. Anything can happen.”
By the time they reached the middle of the high road, the sun had begun its blushing approach to night and the lights of the motorway were blinking on in the distance.
“Getting dark isn’t it love?” Said Sam’s mum, patting her on the knee. “Still, won’t be too long now.” Sam yawned and nodded. There were times when it wasn’t too bad , being treated like she was still a kid. She could have cuddled up to her mum and forgotten all about loose rocks tumbling about in the dark below. But she had been a teenager for almost two years now, and Sam knew that Luke would take the piss if he saw her “baby-ing out”.
“S’ok Mum. Sammy’s just mooning ‘cos she can’t read in the dark.” Luke leant over the back of the chair and flicked the bridge of Sam’s glasses. “I reckon we should sort out some night vision for these bad boys, eh Sam?”
Sam raised an eyebrow. She’d been practicing since she turned thirteen, and now she could do it whenever she wanted to. Her dad said it made her look like Mister Spock in Startrek, but it shut boys up at school. And Luke couldn’t do it, so it was an easy way to wind him up.
“I’m not mooning. I’m just tired from being in a car too long.” Sam leant her head against the window and stared out over the motorway again. All the lights were on now, a river of glowing yellow, with little flashes of light shooting away like luminous fish in a shoal as cars pulled in, pulled out. Sam felt herself drifting slightly as fish began to flash by on the low road, flickerings in the corner of her eye that pulled her backwards, towards sleep.
In the dream Sam was older. Her hair was shorter too, cropped close against her scalp, with just a few wisps of fringe drifting down to the top of her sunglasses. But she was still tired, even in the dream. There was a man shouting down at her in the dream. She couldn’t hear him properly, but she could read his lips.
“Get up” he was saying. “get off the ground.” It was hot on the ground, and sandy. Sam looked up at the man. He had skin like a tree and piercings in his nose. There were little threads of cloud in the very blue sky.
“I can’t move” Sam tried to say. “I think I’m asleep.” It came out as a croak. The man looking down at her nodded. “Water eh? Did you bring any with you?” Sam shook her head. It hurt, deep in the back of her skull, and her tongue felt fat and furry in her mouth. She tried to sit up, but then everything fell away again.
There was something in her mouth. It tasted metallic and stale, but it was wet and cool and vaguely bittersweet. “Wake up, girly. Drink the tea. C’mon. Wake up.” The tree man. She had her head against his shoulder. Sam croaked again, then sat upright, choking and spluttering, tea dripping down from the sides of her mouth to form dark patches in the dusty ground.
“Where’s the car? Where’s my mum?” Sam looked around. There was no car, no cliff face, no cages. Just miles and miles of scrub land, a clear tarmac slash cut through it, and off to the left, a group of vans and trikes and bikes with tents dotted around them.
“Sorry, kid.” The man with the tea was talking. He had a growly voice, like in the westerns her dad watched. “You were out here on your own. Must have taken a bit of a fall. You new to this?”
Sam nodded slowly. “Where is this?” she asked. The man pointed to a sign by the road. It said 614. “Highway six fourteen, halfway between Albuquerque and Oklamhoma. Near Dimmit. Miles and miles of shit-all.” He pronounced it Shiddaall.
“I was in a car. There were cages on the cliff.” Sam could feel the tears welling up in her eyes, and was glad for the sunglasses. “What am I doing here?” She bit down on a sob and took the canteen the man handed her. “Same as any of us I reckon. You’re following Mr Green.” Sam took a swig of the cold sweet tea and coughed again. Her head still hurt and she felt like she was moving. And now it was cold. “Who’s Mr Green?” She could feel a strange rumbling under her bottom, and then a kind of lurch. The sound of tires on gravel. “Who’s Mr Green?” she asked again, but the sound had gone again, and now the man with the nose piercings was mouthing away again. Her eyes closed.
The car had stopped. Sam blinked her way into wakefulness, the suddenly cold air blowing away the dream-fluff. She was on her own. In the car, on her own. She sat up, her breath catching in her throat as she scrabbled at the catch of her seatbelt.
Her mum and Luke were standing by the roadside, looking down at the road below. Luke looked like he was going to cry. Sam’s mum had blood on her face.
“Mum…what’s going on? Why did we stop the car?” Sam stumbled up to where they were standing, sleep still numbing her body. “Where’s dad?”
Sam’s mum turned to her. “He climbed over the side. He just stopped the car and got out.” She sat down suddenly. “He climbed over the side.”
Luke nodded. “Mum tried to stop him but he hit her in the face. I couldn’t do anything.” There were tears rolling down his face, leaving streaks of shine in the ray of the headlights. “He’s still there, on the landslide barrier. I don’t know what he’s fucking doing.” He was crying properly now. Sam shook her head.
“Still dreaming?” she muttered. But the wind was real, and she could remember what she’d had for breakfast and it was still dark and still Scotland. She went to the side and lay down on her belly, then looked over the side.
She could still see her dad, the orange cagoule he had bought in Glasgow flapping wildly in the wind. He was looking up at her.
“Dad!” She screamed at him, swearing, shouting, using all the words he hated, but still he didn’t move. “Dad, come back. Where are you going?”
Sam’s dad shouted up at her, but the wind cut the words into fragments, blowing into her face in a mockery of language. The only words she could make out at all were
“-have to fall sometimes, Sammy. It’s the only way we learn.”
Then Sam’s dad let go of the landslide barrier. Sam didn’t see his neck break, or the rock that collapsed his ribcage. She didn’t see him land and tumble awkwardly downwards towards the low road, a crumpled shape collapsed on a concrete bier. She was too busy staring through the tears at the plate welded to the cage where her dad had climbed down.
Section 6:14 it said. Green.