We chased autumn across North America. Stepping off the boat in Rhode Island we breathed deep the last rays of summer and caught her, hiding between the salt and spray. North she had gone, and north we went along that coast which scrawls along the Atlantic.
The old stones of Boston were already cold to the touch. Late September rain had slicked the streets and cleaned the city, made it fresh for winter’s snows. We spent days wandering the harbour and between campuses until Perses caught a trace of her outside Fenway and breathed deep of the blended scents, eastern blood in western skies. We hired a car and drove out of town. Three hours later a freak snowstorm caved in the roof of city hall, collapsing red brick into white ice.
We let New York be; too many life lines crossed, crosshatched between buildings which held their secrets like lovers in the night. We trusted our instincts and carried on the highways. Perses grinned as we crossed the Washington bridge; he had been before, would return some day.
The plan, Perses told me, was to go to places she would have left. Streets and stones and rules and laws which chase her away, which drive her as a trade wind. It was better, I thought, than having no plan at all.
The trees turned red like dawn on the coast, bleeding through the Chicago suburbs until they were washed in crimson. In the city they were already wearing overcoats and scarves, fortified against Lake Michigan’s promise of chill. When we stopped they were struck by a heat-wave. We stayed in the Greek district; the day of the marathon we sat in a cafe and drank iced tea, watching the runners sweat in the surprise weather. Perses laughed and breathed deep the smell of her, which flowed like Dionysian wine from the superstitions of athletes.
Iowa and Nebraska would all have been her lands, once. Under the yoke, they shone with rippling corn as we tore across the 80 heading west at a hundred miles an hour. We were still driving when the sun set and Psellus accelerated. She was always easier to find by night.
And then up, up into the Rockies, past Boulder and into Denver where Psellus had to stay in bed for a week, so overcome with the smell of her. I walked the streets by day and breathed the crisp, thin air; ate muesli with hipsters, waved to students doing Yoga in the park. At night I sat with my friend and asked him how he could hunt his own daughter.
Her time had come, he told me.
We were holed up so long that the Aspen trees had turned, burning bright yellow across the mountains. Psellus thought we could catch her in the mountains but we were stopped by a ranger who saw our plates and heard our accents and turned us around. Two difficult days driving in and out of the snowline followed. We ate rare bison in an empty ski town and afterwards drank ouzo with the staff who told us stories about tourists and the dangers of the coming snows. After they passed out we raised our glasses to Pan and turned in for the night.
There is wilderness and there is wilderness; Utah is forever wild and the fortifications built by a lake of salt will someday dissolve into the desert. It was the first week of November when we crossed into Idaho. Psellus made us stop in Twin Falls. He stood in the base of the canyon and midnight and called her name, over and over, listening to the echo. The next morning we went north.
Boise was lost to her; so tamed now that she would never set a foot there but all around were the signs of her; the tall mountains to the east, the morning snow which threatened to white out the landscape and push the people back into her arms.
A week later we reached the Washington coast. Rain blew in hard from the Pacific and lashed Seattle with the resigned perseverance of a broken workman, determined to see a task through to completion. It nearly washed her away but Psellus dragged us south. He wept in the car and when I asked him why he told me to mind my own business. We were close, he said. He could taste her in the beer, feel her in the morning mist.
On a beach in Oregon, beside a sand-dune the size of a house, we found her sitting alone. She had eyes only for a monolith, pushing out from the sea like a seal in a bathtub. Psellus put a hand on my shoulder and we stopped, only a few steps away. He moved forward and sat beside her, dusted the sand from his hands.
“You are a long way from home, Asteria.”
“As are you, father. I see you brought Iapetus with you.”
“Actually, he brought me with him.”
They said nothing at all for a while. The wind shook the grass on the dunes and lifted whisps of Asteria’s hair. Psellus put an arm around her and held her tight.
We had lunch together in a pub, a hundred yards from the ocean. A storm came in while we ate and blew itself out before we had finished drinking our coffee. Asteria made her father proud. She did not beg, didn’t try to bargain with me. I know that there were places she could go and as the sun and the sea breezes dried the day I tore at my own heart.
“Not many of us left.” I said.
Asteria sighed deep. “No, but my time is done here. There’s no wildness left here. No magic.” She took my hand, smiled at her father. “I was going to keep heading south, to California, but I lost my way there a long time ago.”
“I want a beer,” Psellus said.
We stayed until closing time.
We took her into the woods of Oregon, as she wished. After it was done, Psellus gave a cry of anguish. On a hill to the west, a piece of land gave way and the forest collapsed around us. I put a hand on his shoulder and kissed his cheek. His daughter buried, unmarked in the wilderness. A fitting end, out in the wild.