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Charles Grand: A creative writing thesis

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CHARLES GRAND: A CREATIVE WRITING THESIS
A Thesis
Presented to the
School of Arts and Sciences
Sul Ross State University
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree
Master of Arts
by
Paul Hamilton Slocumb
May 2010
UMI Number: 1485948
All rights reserved
INFORMATION TO ALL USERS
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a note will indicate the deletion.
Dissertation Publishing
UMI 1485948
Copyright 2010 by ProQuest LLC.
All rights reserved. This edition of the work is protected against
unauthorized copying under Title 17, United States Code.
ProQuest LLC
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CHARLES GRAND: A CREATIVE WRITING THESIS
Approved:
^OM^
^yyjL
Laura PayneH^utler, Ph.D., Chair
Sharon Hileman, Ph.D.
Approved:
Jim Case, Ph.D., Dean of Arts and Sciences
ABSTRACT
Writers of apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, and dystopian novels rely on the
technique of argumentation to accomplish four important goals: to aid reader suspension
of disbelief (with argumentation between characters), to develop characterization (with
character self-argumentation), to develop a novel's narrative premise (the major point of
narrative argument), and to empower characters to "write" the novel themselves. This
thesis, through the presentation of an original, post-apocalyptic novel, attempts to
demonstrate how argumentation in dialogue, interior monologue, and narration can meet
those four goals. Argumentation is shown creating the narrative momentum vital for the
success of both the reader (ease of entry into unfamiliar fictional terrain) and the writer
(filling the pages with premise-focused characters and narration).
iii
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I thank my parents, Charles and Sandra Slocumb, my brothers, Charles and
Billy Slocumb, and family and friends who have contributed directly and indirectly to
the completion of this thesis. Special thanks go to my friends Bob Mastin, the late
Glenda Mastin, and Cindy Lockwood for feeding me, sheltering me, and providing me
excellent guidance.
Although I began writing creatively at an early age, I did not truly become a
writer until taking fiction-writing courses from Dr. Laura Payne Butler, who graciously
served as my thesis committee chair. Dr. Butler provided the technical foundation upon
which my authorial imagination will continue to build. I thank both Dr. Sharon Hileman
and Dr. Beverly Six for serving on my thesis committee. Dr. Hileman's engaging
instruction will guarantee a lifelong interest in Shakespeare and post-colonial writers.
Dr. Beverly Six's freshman composition course ingrained in me the power and
importance of rhetoric; the influence of that course should be obvious in the introduction
to this thesis. Courses taught by Dr. Nelson Sager, Dr. Paul Lister, and Dr. Dave
Mattison influenced the text of this thesis; I thank them for their terrific instruction.
iv
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Page
Abstract
iii
Acknowledgments
iy
Chapter
I.
II.
Introduction
1
Charles Grand: Epigraph and Timeline
16
III.
Air
19
IV.
Ripped
24
V.
Mother
25
VI.
Light
31
VII.
Help
35
Meeting
42
Buried
53
Key
63
XI.
North
72
XII.
Ring
78
XIII.
Bugs
83
XIV.
Freeway
85
Phenomena
99
VIII.
IX.
X.
XV.
XVI.
Bride and Groom
124
XVII.
White
133
XVIII.
Church
137
v
Table of Contents, Continued.
Page
Chapter
XIX.
Meeting
145
XX.
Reason
151
Wulf
163
Babies
172
XXIII.
Grin
180
XXIV.
Adam
182
XXV.
Order
189
XXVI.
Sendoff
192
XXVII.
Valley
194
XXVIII.
Bodies
205
XXIX.
Escape
216
Storyteller
225
XXXI.
Bye
238
XXXII.
Sin
248
XXXIII.
Move
252
XXXIV.
Anthony
260
XXXV.
Caroline
265
XXXVI.
Thanks
271
XXXVII.
Maybe
278
XXXVIII.
Funeral
279
XXI.
XXII.
XXX.
vi
Table of Contents, Continued.
Page
Chapter
XXXIX.
New America
290
Blackened
302
Opportunity
307
Adventure
313
XLIII.
Truman
318
XLIV.
Morning
326
Trust
328
Leader
330
XLVII.
Troy
337
XLVIII.
Phenomena
344
Help
353
L.
Forest
363
LI.
Trust
368
Tunnel
372
LIII.
Grin
383
LIV.
Ground
390
Concrete
393
LVI.
Tunnel
395
LVII.
Clean
400
LVIII.
Mr. Habit
403
XL.
XLI.
XLII.
XLV.
XLVI.
XLIX.
LII.
LV.
vii
Table of Contents, Continued.
Page
Chapter
LIX.
Mrs. Habit
407
LX.
Bunker
409
LXI.
Stadium
411
Revolution
417
LXIII.
Awake
423
LXIV.
Cloudless Blue Sky
425
Phenomena
427
Chance
440
You Have to Kill
452
Senator
462
LXIX.
Crane
465
LXX.
Safe
467
Phenomena
474
LXXII.
Ringing
485
LXXIII.
Surgery
493
LXXIV.
Order
498
LXXV.
Leader
503
LXX VI.
Ringing
506
North
509
Fire
511
LXII.
LXV.
LXVI.
LXVII.
LXVIII.
LXXI.
LXXVII.
LXXVIII.
viii
Table of Contents, Continued.
Page
Chapter
LXXIX.
Escape
513
LXXX.
Phenomena
521
LXXXI.
Works Cited
534
Works Consulted
536
LXXXII.
ix
CHAPTER I
INTRODUCTION
Novels from all genres can utilize argumentation in dialogue, interior
monologue, and narration; however, apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, and dystopian novels
employ argumentation to an especially large degree because of their inherent focus on
the destruction and reconstruction of human society; this heavily political topic
necessitates argumentation just as much in fictional worlds as in our real world. While a
single novel may contain apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, and dystopian plot elements, for
this thesis a novel will be defined as "apocalyptic" if it contains an end-of-civilization
scenario in the narrative present; a novel will be defined as "post-apocalyptic" if such a
scenario arises via backstory (either narrated or through dialogue). Additionally, a
"dystopian" narrative will be defined as one which focuses primarily on the "abnormal
place" denoted by the Greek origins of the word "dystopia" ("Dys" 445; "Utopia" 1575).
Regardless of genre label or definition, creators of such fallen, fictional worlds
consistently utilize the technique of argumentation in order to accomplish four important
goals: to aid reader suspension of disbelief (with argumentation between characters), to
develop characterization (with character self-argumentation), to develop a novel's
narrative premise (the major point of narrative argument), and to empower characters to
"write" the novel themselves. With these goals as a guide, this introduction will briefly
examine the use of argumentation as narrative technique in three influential novels as
well as in my own, post-apocalyptic novel. Such an examination ultimately provides a
glimpse of argumentation's relevance to fiction as a whole.
1
2
The first novel that influenced my thesis is Stephen King's The Stand, an
apocalyptic narrative containing character argumentation on such current issues (circa
1978) as national economic problems, drug addiction, and abortion. King eases readers
into his fictional, apocalyptic world by presenting these familiar "hot" topics early in the
story. As King states of his book-writing philosophy:
Book-buyers want a good story . . . something that will first fascinate
them, then pull them in and keep them turning the pages. This happens, I
think, when readers recognize the people in the book, their behaviors,
their surroundings, and their talk. When the reader hears strong echoes of
his or her own life and beliefs, he or she is more apt to become more
invested in the story. (On Writing 160)
An example of King's reader-engagement strategy arrives in The Stands first scene via
dialogue concerning the problems of monetary inflation and national debt:
"Now what I say is this," Hap told them, putting his hands on his knees
and leaning forward. "They just gotta say screw this inflation shit. Screw
this national debt shit. We got the presses and we got the paper. We're
going to run off fifty million thousand-dollar bills and hump them right
the Christ into circulation."
Palfrey, who had been a machinist until 1974, was the only one present
with sufficient self-respect to point out Hap's most obvious damfool
statements. Now, rolling another of his shitty-smelling cigarettes, he said:
"That wouldn't get us nowhere. If they do that, it'll be just like Richmond
in the last two years of the States War. In those days, when you wanted a
piece of gingerbread, you gave the baker a Confederate dollar, he'd put it
3
on the gingerbread, and cut out a piece just that size. Money's just paper,
you know." (3-4)
Hap and Palfrey continue this argument until King sends a deadly disease "crashing"
into Hap's Texaco station. Such an outlandish turn of events could turn skeptical readers
off; however, by forcing his readers to first engage in a fictional argument over a
familiar "hot" topic King preempts such skepticism and enables his readers' suspension
of disbelief.
Also familiar in Hap and Palfrey's dialogue is the characters' use of "unofficial"
language. Such language exposes " . . . a great tension between the heteroglossic orality
that is slang speech, which codifies a knowledge rejected by those in power, and
monologic orality, which embodies that power" (Hohne 94). Through the everyday
vocabulary of Hap and Palfrey, whose names even sound like slang, King further
empowers readers' entry into the story by promoting a "validated unofficiality" (Hohne
98); he helps readers recognize their own "unofficial" attempts at arguing with
entrenched power. As Karen A. Hohne notes, "King's readers live in this unofficiality,
which is, outside of the book, constantly under attack by officiality" (95). Thus, when
the aforementioned disease (having escaped from an "official" government lab)
subsequently collides with Hap's gas pump, King's readers readily turn the pages in
order to solve their government's latest screwup.
While my novel's main "hot" topic—governments' need to control their citizens'
behavior—does not appear as quickly as King's, the intent is the same: to assist the
reader's imaginative transition from real-world drama to fictional-world drama.
Additionally, my novel contains mother-son argumentation in some of the earliest
chapters in order to utilize familiar, familial situations to present a futuristic setting in a
4
more recognizable form. In the following example, Charles Grand and his mother argue
over Charles' desire to transport his dead father home:
"Let's take Dad home," said Grand. "The girl can help."
"She couldn't move your father an inch, Charles. He's going in the
ground right here."
"Don't you miss him, Mom?" asked Grand, warning the tears to stay
away.
Rachael frowned.
How long will it be before I get to bury you, Charles? Stupid father,
stupid son.
Rachael tried and failed to smile.
Don't think that. . . even if it's true.
"Charles, I love your father very much. I always will, but his body will
not last a four-day journey to Onall. You don't want to see what happens
to the body."
"Maybe I do," said Charles.
"Then you're sicker than him. Charles, please."
"I'm not the one who dragged him two hundred miles. I'm not the one
who wants to shove him in the ground . . . and never see him again."
"I know you're not!" screamed Rachael, ready to limp away, to leave
her son and the cemetery and the entire broken world.
Peering around her tree trunk, Luz watched the woman scream and
begin to cry.
Luz crouched and covered her useless ears.
5
Rachael's tears fell fast.
"Goddammit, Charles! I wish your father was alive, so he could take
you away and teach you how to be a man. But he wasn't one himself! Do
you understand that? Won't you please understand that? Your father was
a little boy who got himself killed over a little boy's argument about a
little boy's dream, and that's the kind of world we live in—a world where
dreaming boys die," said Rachael, wincing, shifting on and off her twisted
ankle. "And I want you to bury me, not the other way around. I brought
your father here because it was a chance to save his life. Accept it!"
(57-58)
This argument between a teenage boy and his mother takes place amidst the rubble of a
chaotic, post-apocalyptic setting. Readers initially hesitant to imaginatively engage with
such a fallen, future state can, nevertheless, recognize the conflict between youthful
idealism and parental realism. In this way, familial argumentation provides a familiar
symbol of chaos, which subconsciously eases the reader into a disordered, fictional
world.
With reader disbelief suspended, novelists can more comfortably investigate the
complex, internal rhetoric of characters—what Karen F. Stein calls " . . . the selfconscious questioning of [their] motives and actions" (79). This is evident in Margaret
Atwood's dystopian novel, The Handmaid's Tale, where the heroine, Offred, largely
characterizes herself through self-argumentation presented clearly via first-person
narration. As Atwood has noted concerning the creation of her novel, " . . . part of the
challenge for me was the creation of [Offred's] voice and viewpoint" (qtd. in Howells
94). Self-argumentation appears to have played a large role in satisfying this
6
characterization goal by allowing Offred not only to question her own "motives and
actions" but also to ultimately reclaim her "private spaces of memory and desire"
(Howells 93). The result is a thoroughly characterized depiction of a woman's spiritual
journey from fear to liberation while physically subjugated within the country of Gilead,
a patriarchal, totalitarian state.
In Atwood's dystopia and Offred's narrative journey, the legislated silencing of
childbearing Handmaids like Offred creates an environment where internal monologue
must thrive—where Handmaids must internalize their personal stories. The culmination
of both this internalized story and Offred's rhetorical character development can be seen
in the following, unspoken penance delivered near the novel's climax:
Dear God, I think, I will do anything you like. Now that you've let me
off, I'll obliterate myself, if that's what you really want; I'll empty myself
truly, become a chalice. I'll give up Nick, I'll forget about the others, I'll
stop complaining. I'll accept my lot. I'll sacrifice. I'll repent. I'll
abdicate. I'll renounce.
I know this can't be right but I think it anyway. (298)
Offred thus concludes, via internal argumentation, that physical and cultural submission
are acceptable alongside a continued freedom to "think;" she simultaneously
characterizes herself as capable of rejecting ("I know this can't be right") and assenting
("but I think it anyway") to male authoritarian power.
Such submissive rhetoric may appear only to grant Offred a partial victory over
the patriarchs of Gilead; however, as storyteller, Offred has already demonstrated her
interest in simultaneously reporting and challenging Gilead's theocratic system of
meaning (Staels 459). While outwardly maintaining an "official" dialogue of banal
7
phrases like "Blessed be the fruit," "Praise be," and "Which I receive with joy,"
Atwood's subaltern character has consistently used internal rhetoric to " . . . interrogate
her world, her identity, and the position of her identity in her world" (Hogsette 264). For
example, by keeping alive her pre-Gileadean name (June), Offred "interrogates" her past
identity in the context of her oppressed present. Her subversive refusal to relinquish her
real name functions as both self-argumentation and characterization as it " . . . breaks
through the discursive Law of the theocracy . . . giving life to a silenced discourse"
(Staels 459). Even while outwardly playing the Gileadean game, Offred repossesses
linguistic authority and ultimately agrees " . . . to take responsibility for creating her own
meaning" (Hogsette 268). As a result, a "submissive" Offred's dangerous, argumentative
storytelling both " . . . resurrects the missing part of herself' and provides the reader a
completely developed characterization (Staels 460).
In contrast to The Handmaid's Tale, my novel contains an ensemble of major
characters, none of whom is the narrator; however, like Atwood's heroine, all of my
major characters are allowed to "argue" their cases via interior monologue. The most
extensive internal argumentation comes from the teenaged, eponymous character,
Charles Grand, as exemplified by the following passage where Grand stares at a teenage
girl's limp body:
Cold. She'll die if I leave her. If I leave her, she'll die. I would be killing
her, and the guidebook says we're not killers—with one holy exception.
Mom killed Lucy. Mom tried to kill Lucy. Lucy wanted to leave. I
wanted to leave. Both of us going south. Why did she get sick? Mom
wanted her sick. Why did she hide in the woods? Mom wanted her dead.
Brothers and sisters can't get married. Brothers and sisters can't make
8
babies. Charles you're making this up. Charles you're making this up.
But Lucy didn't die. I never saw her die. She's in the woods, in the snow,
in the dark. I already found her. (256-57)
Through most of the novel, Grand talks, thinks, and dreams about his own ideas but
follows the plans of adults; it is self-argumentation like that shown above which reveals
to readers the true depth of Grand's beliefs and experiences, especially the extent of his
desire for his sister and distrust of his mother. Although full of his father's hubris, Grand
must internally argue away doubt in the novel's most intense scenes. This argumentative
depth—the function of an omniscient point of view displaying multiple, major-character
perspectives—allows the teenaged Grand a level of characterization impossible to
achieve with dialogue and third-person narration alone.
Another area of depth sought by novelists is that of narrative premise, which
James N. Frey defines as the major point novelists prove through narrative argument
(50). In the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, author George Orwell uses
argumentation in both narration and dialogue to develop his premise that fascist
totalitarianism is a natural outcome of the human condition. From Orwell's authorial
perspective, such premise-centered argumentation represents a novelist's inevitable
desire " . . . to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people's idea of the
kind of society that they should strive a f t e r . . . . No book is genuinely free from this
political bias" ("Why I Write" 141). Significantly, Orwell sees such argumentation (or
lack thereof) as the difference between his own "strongest" and most "lifeless" literary
efforts (143). In one of his "strongest" works, Nineteen Eighty-Four, the narrated
argumentation arrives in the form of a book within a book; the protagonist, Winston
Smith, reads The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism as written by the
9
never-seen character Emmanuel Goldstein. In the book's first chapter, "Ignorance is
Strength," Goldstein argues that the world's current dystopias have resulted from an
accumulation of historical knowledge in conjunction with growing technological
prowess:
They had been foreshadowed by the various systems, generally called
totalitarian, which had appeared earlier in the century, and the main
outlines of the world which would emerge from the prevailing chaos had
long been obvious.... By comparison with those of today, all the
tyrannies of the past were half-hearted and inefficient.... With the
development of television, and the technical advance which made it
possible to receive and transmit simultaneously on the same instrument,
private life came to an end. (Orwell, Nineteen 206-07)
To buttress this argument concerning the novel's premise, Orwell has Smith argue with
Inner Party leader, O'Brien, about the inevitability of human tyrannies. In response to
Smith's doubts, O'Brien states:
The first thing you must realize is that power is collective. The individual
only has power in so far as he ceases to be an individual. You know the
Party slogan, "Freedom is Slavery." Has it ever occurred to you that it is
reversible? Slavery is freedom. Alone—free—the human being is
always defeated. It must be so, because every human being is doomed to
die, which is the greatest of all failures. But if he can make complete
utter submission, if he can escape from his identity, if he can merge
himself into the Party so that he is the Party, then he is all-powerful and
immortal. (267)
10
In this manner, argumentation via both narration and dialogue serves to develop Orwell's
premise through the layered presentation of a world experienced as rhetorical situation,
of argument as power.
Throughout Charles Grand, I utilize argumentation to develop the premise that
chaos can withstand and include instances of order, but order cannot withstand instances
of chaos. While the concise, impartial narrator of Charles Grand is practically invisible
compared to Nineteen Eighty-Four's narrator-rhetorician, much of my novel's dialogue
consists of the characters' taking sides for and against the "political" narrative premise;
at one point, a major character named Grin even states the premise verbatim:
I can hear someone saying to himself, "It's so simple. All people need is a
little order and away they will go." But then what happens? People get a
little order and away they go, much farther away than anyone planned.
Why? Why! I believe that chaos contains order, instances of order, but
order cannot contain chaos. That means that chaos is the superior of the
two—the outer sphere. It means that chaos was there at the beginning,
and chaos will be there at the end. It means that founding a city or a
nation or a New America based on ideas of order is a preordained disaster.
Who's with me so far? Anybody? (233)
Although my novel is not designed to be didactic, my inclusion of this novel-length,
argumentative focus on a single premise strengthens narrative cohesion and momentum.
When Grin's statement is countered by the doctor, the single premise forces divergent
ideas (chaos and reason) to converge in dialogue:
"So you're blowing things up in order to build a city of chaos, is that
it?" asked the doctor. "Who would live there? Maniacs like yourself?"
11
"Yes," said Grin, taking a careful sip of water using his one functioning
hand.
"And that's going to succeed?" asked the doctor. "But a nation founded
upon reason and order will not?"
"The Nation of Cold Light? How are things going up there, Doctor?"
asked Grin.
The doctor didn't respond.
"It's interesting how the rumors of that place grow more and more
fantastic as time goes by," said Grin. "In fact, it's a perfect example of
what I mean by chaos." (232-33)
As with Nineteen Eighty-Four, my novel thus engages argumentation in the task of
narrative-premise implementation, sharpening the focus of major characters and readers
alike. This argumentation juxtaposes chaotic death and destruction with the enduring
human drive for order, resulting in the naturally dramatic rise of a "political," postapocalyptic narrative.
From a reader's perspective, the above uses of argumentation as technique may
appear too obvious to merit much attention; after all, a writer seeking to create drama
must inevitably utilize argumentation in dialogue, monologue, and/or narration.
However, from a reader's perspective, the novel's pages are already full, and the writer's
creative struggle to fill those pages is generally not shown or discussed in the narrative.
This contrasts with the writer's perspective, which experiences the novel's pages as
initially blank and understands that a conscious advancement of argumentation can be
the difference between filling and not filling those blank pages. Such has been the case
12
in my initial attempts to write Charles Grand, where argumentation has become the clue
to solving a stubborn mystery: how to get characters to "write" the novel themselves.
I first confronted this mystery in collegiate creative-writing courses where every
textbook seemed to contain quotes from successful writers who claim they do not
actually write their entire narratives. Instead, these writers insist, their characters do
most of the work. For example, in Frederick Busch's anthology Letters to a Fiction
Writer, Ray Bradbury addresses a young writer and states quite plainly, "My characters
write my stories for me. They tell me what they want, then I tell them to go get it, and I
follow as they run, working at my typing as they rush to their destiny" (62). For an
aspiring novelist, reading such a revelation is both inspiring and frightening: inspiring
because it sounds "true" and is therefore a hidden "secret" exposed but frightening
because it is not immediately obvious how an imaginary character could write or take
any action without creative effort by the writer. The reality, of course, is that characters
don't write narratives; writers create, type, and scribble their own stories with assistance
from real people, real research, and the experiences of real life. Nevertheless, if writers
quoted in textbooks consistently emphasize allowing characters to "write" the story
themselves, an aspiring novelist is forced to pay attention and search for clues as to why.
About thirty-thousand words into the first draft of Charles Grand, I was
fortunate enough to discover not only the "why" but also a potential "how." I created a
character called Ronnie Bastrop because I needed a "bad guy" who was going to
transport kidnapped "good guys" to the dystopian New America. Since I prefer to have
characters explain dramatic plot shifts via dialogue (instead of using narrative
summary), I needed Ronnie to give a speech. To my surprise, this character whom I
could barely visualize and whose name had been invented only seconds earlier began
13
delivering a speech without any prodding or analysis from me. My mind buzzed with a
revelation: This is what writers mean when they say, "Characters write stories." To my
further surprise, Ronnie refused to act or speak like a stereotypical "bad guy." Ronnie
argued coherently and politely with reason, attempting to persuade his fictional audience
—the people he and his men had kidnapped—that what he had done and what he was
about to do were for the best. Ronnie utilized argumentation: the elaboration and
presentation of an argument. When he appeared finished, a priest among the kidnapped
rose and argued back. Reasons battled reasons, and I immediately recognized that this
rhetorical performance, "written" by the characters themselves, was the strongest part of
my novel yet created. Of course, Ronnie and the priest didn't actually write any part of
my novel. Their speeches, like every other speech in the story, conveyed my conscious
or unconscious ideas and beliefs. Nevertheless, blank pages were filled, and the
narrative gained crucial momentum—all as a result of formulating a technique in which
I utilize argumentation as fundamental to characters' roles in narrative and plot design.
Ultimately, the importance of argumentation as technique in apocalyptic, postapocalyptic, and dystopian novels raises the question of its relevance to other genres of
the novel, as well as to fiction in general. While such a question may deserve a booklength answer, I will attempt to provide only a brief solution with the assistance of a
foundational work in literary theory. In The Rhetoric of Fiction, Wayne C. Booth
addresses "technique as rhetoric" (ii) as utilized in a wide array of literature. Although
he does not address argumentation as a specific technique, Booth clearly views the
relationship between writer and reader as analogous to rhetorician and audience. In the
book's conclusion, he states, "The author makes his readers... . [and] finds his reward in
the peers he has created" (397-98); moreover, according to Booth, a writer creates
14
"peers" most effectively when he " . . . makes them see what they have never seen
before, [and] moves them into a new order of perception and experience altogether"
(398). While more recent critics have debated Booth's assertion that authors can wield
"deific powers" over readers, it remains accepted that Booth's interest in the power of
fictional rhetoric is based on his strongly held belief that, "the ethical import of novels
matters" (Shaw 207-08). As Harry E. Shaw adds, "Novels for Booth are things you can
lose yourself in. They can take over your mind" (208). This authorial power, "deific" or
otherwise, thus implies a special significance for the technique of argumentation in
Booth's literary worldview.
Within this worldview, Booth's emphasis on authors' "making" readers by
allowing them to "see what they have never seen before" might appear to directly rebut
Stephen King's claim that a reader wants to " . . . recognize the people in the book . . .
[and hear] strong echoes of his or her own life and beliefs" (On Writing 160); however,
the two claims cannot be mutually exclusive, as they both imply a need for effective
fictional argumentation. While Booth's book and rhetoric are presumably aimed at
readers of "high" literature, with King's beliefs presumably aimed at readers of popular
genre fiction, the function and importance of argumentation as technique transcend such
literary and readership distinctions. As Edward P. J. Corbett states, "The exercise of
rhetoric seems to be as natural and as necessary for human creatures as breathing" (viii).
In Corbett's view, an argument's "effect on an audience" defines "the very essence of
rhetorical discourse" (3). Thus, whether an author strives to produce rhetorical "effects"
through implied-author narration (a major focus for Booth in Rhetoric) or through
omniscient narration, first-person narration, dialogue, and internal monologue (as seen in
the novels of King, Atwood, and Orwell shown above), the importance and effectiveness
15
of argumentation as technique are ultimately judged by neither the academic nor the
author of fiction, but rather by "the audience." Regardless of fiction's genre or literary
intent, rhetoric's ubiquity within the human experience guarantees that readers of fiction
will look for argumentation and deliver their opinions of the technique by simply
agreeing or refusing to keep "turning the pages."
CHAPTER II
CHARLES GRAND: EPIGRAPH AND TIMELINE
[Mathematical] Chaos suggests that there are severe limitations on our potential to
predict
the future behavior of even rather simple physical phenomena.
- Edward B. Burger and Michael Starbird,
Coincidences, Chaos, and All That Math Jazz: Making Light of Weighty Ideas
See, at his feet, some little plan or chart,
Some fragment from his dream of human life
- William Wordsworth,
"Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood"
16
17
Timeline
251,000,000 B.C.
a 12-mile-wide object slams into Earth; 70-percent of land
vertebrate species and 90-percent of marine species become
extinct—Earth's worst mass extinction
40,000,000 B.C.
present ice age begins (ice appears in Antarctica)
3,000,000 B.C.
ice sheets appear in the Northern Hemisphere
69,000 B.C.
Mount Toba erupts on present-day Sumatra releasing 2,800
times the material released by Mount St. Helens in 1980;
1,000-year ice age acceleration; drought reduces Homo sapiens
population to 2,000 individuals (all in Africa)
16,000 B.C.
32-percent of Earth's land area covered in ice
10,000 B.C.
Holocene epoch begins; glacial expansion ends (glaciers begin
receding); Homo sapiens population estimated at 5 million
6,200 B.C.
glacial lakes in present-day Canada burst through ice dam into
Atlantic; Gulf Stream shuts down; extreme cooling results
5,000 B.C.
2,000-year warming period begins; warmest temperatures
during Holocene epoch
1,000 A.D.
Homo sapiens population of 254-345 million
1650 A.D.
beginning of "Little Ice Age" (climatic minimum)
1816 A.D.
"Year Without a Summer" results in 200,000 deaths in Europe
1900 A.D.
Homo sapiens population of 1.6 billion
1993 A.D.
analysis of Greenland ice cores shows abrupt climate change is
normal on Earth; most extreme case shows twenty-sevendegree Fahrenheit shift in less than ten-year span
18
2049 A.D.
Homo sapiens population of 9.2 billion
2050 A.D.
Greenland glacial melting shuts down Gulf Stream; Holocene
epoch ends; new glaciation period begins in Northern
Hemisphere; global food shortages
2075 A.D.
Homo sapiens population of 7 billion
2100 A.D.
Homo sapiens population of 2 billion
CHAPTER III
AIR
2125 A.D.
"First you get the gold, then you build the city."
How many times did Dad tell me that?
Countless.
Charles Grand had never thought much about air until he saw his father's
breathing slow and appear to stop. Air was invisible but always present. You couldn't
own it, but your life depended on it. Grand knew air was important, but he had never
considered how important until he saw it slowly denying life to David Grand.
His father's chest rose and fell once more, the movement barely noticeable.
Grand looked around at the musty unfamiliar hospital room.
So much air, he told himself.
Grand imagined himself gathering up air in his arms and somehow sending it into
his father's lungs. He willed the air around him to listen and respond.
Then something peculiar happened. The air surrounding Grand—all of the air in
the dimly lit room—began to vibrate, rippling like a pond disturbed by stones. The stale
heavy air in the run-down hospital became material, touchable, visible, orderly.
I can grab it, Grand thought.
Excited, Grand reached out to possess the rippled air, then wondered:
Why can't I hear anything?
19
20
The flash of light was yellow with orange streaks like the first flames of campfire
kindling. The world became black.
Sometime later, whether a short time or a long time it was impossible for Grand
to tell, the world was light again, the soft, dark gray light of a late September evening.
Grand wasn't sure what had happened except that he had been standing inside a hospital
with his mother and his dying father, and now he was lying outside the hospital. A level
layer of concrete chunks filled the street as if a river of debris had suddenly broken its
banks, swamping the flood plain.
For Grand, the world seemed soundless except for a far-off ring.
Grand tried to sit up but couldn't. His broken collarbone—one section split and
thrust forward—formed a circle of sting at the base of his neck.
Grand struggled to breathe.
The air wants to kill me, too.
Grand reached into the coldness above him, but the rippled, powerful, life-giving
substance was hidden again, invisible again. His mind entered a dull panic. Blurry
movement fluttered inside his dim periphery.
People...
the people who did this .. . Why can't I move?
Grand pictured himself stuck on a giant nail, his spine and chest impaled, a
childhood nightmare orchestrated by his mother. Wandering through Onall, Texas,
Grand, his mother, and father often searched the torn-up town for materials to repair
their one-room shack hidden a few miles away. His mother, Rachael, constantly warned
of nails, of missteps and falls, of being impaled with rust and tetanus. In an earlier age,
the nails had served humans, binding buildings, creating order, birthing neighborhoods
and towns. But when the neighborhoods fell, the nails became wicked and rebelled.
21
Flat on the flood plain of broken concrete, Grand ordered his hands to search and
seize the giant nail protruding from his chest. His hands obeyed and found nothing.
No nail. No blood. Why can't I move? My arms
work....
Grand lifted his legs.
My legs work.
Sifting jagged concrete from his long black hair, Grand surveyed his scalp but
found only scratches. With his right arm he reached and grasped an infant-sized chunk
of what used to be concrete hospital floor. But a push and pull could not raise his body.
Everything moves but my shoulders and chest. Just roll.
Grand's legs rolled over easily, but his hips froze. He lay for a while, legs
twisted like a discarded doll. Grand laughed and winced in pain.
Then Grand's heat rose, pulsing through his body, puffing up his weakened,
hungry flesh with the anger his mother said he got from his father—the father almost
killed in a brawl on a desolate Onall street, the father whose father had been killed in a
similar act of unexpected violence. Grand felt the madness a human feels at being too
small in a too big world, the madness of being a helpless man, the madness of survival
encoded in his DNA, the madness which would let him kill if necessary. The madness
exploded inside him like a bomb he could only feel, not see. Grand thought of his
mother warning him against the world, the world of rusted nails and everything wicked:
Don't trust strangers, if strangers talk to you, tell them almost nothing, tell them useless
facts, tell them everything is fine, tell them about the weather, sun and rain, sun and rain,
say the crops are growing, say the crops grow at their own pace, it's a good pace, it could
be better, no, it couldn't, we don't complain, sun and rain, don't trust Anyone, Anyone
wants things to fall apart so Anyone can pick them up, you live with your mother and
22
father, you have two uncles, they are not pretend, what are their names, Joe and Jack,
strong names, strong uncles, Anyone will not check for your uncles or your father,
Anyone is searching for decay, for weakness, but fear will protect us, stay afraid, stay
alive, we plow
in a straight line for a reason, we use our mind to think, it tells us what to do, we do not
just act, we think in a straight line. His mother would say all this. Over and over.
Grand wondered where the anger came from. From his heart? It couldn't be
from his mind. Or could it? Was he thinking in a bent line? With a bent mind? Bits
and pieces of line liquefying into something new? Bits and pieces of hospital forming a
river of angry debris?
Grand rolled himself over with an angry jerk, shocking collarbone nerves,
flooding his body with pain. Tears moistened his eyes. His hot mind shone bright with
hate—hate against all things invisible, like air, things with the power to destroy or not,
things never subdued by a mother's warning. Grand's hate-mind tore apart and crashed
together. He wondered if a person could cry even if he couldn't hear himself crying. He
wondered because he felt the wetness on his cheeks but heard only the far-off ring.
Nauseous but with nothing to vomit, Grand knew he must rise. He knew he
should be hiding—hiding with Mother and pretend uncles and a father breathing his last
breath. But Grand's body demanded rest. His head hungered for dark comforting sleep.
Grand realized staying in the street of debris meant inviting death to run over him. He
accepted this fate: being part of the rubble for now. Just as the hospital lay damaged and
exposed, Grand's mind had been blown open. Once again, Grand's hands caressed his
head, checking for holes, checking for an exposed, pulsating mind.
No blood. No blood, yet.
23
Face first in debris, Grand thrust his arms out, embracing concrete boulders and
shards, fitting his broken body into the chaos.
CHAPTER IV
RIPPED
One mile from the hospital, an expressway encircled The Capital. A man in a
ripped black trench coat staggered forward, pushing a rusted wheelbarrow up a slope
towards the peak of a curving elevated road. A pile of plastic bottles, see-through green,
jostled in the wheelbarrow's bin. The man stopped, rested the wheelbarrow on its metal
feet and grabbed one of the green bottles. The well-worn grooves of the cap and bottle
slid open with ease. The man emptied the bottle, sending liquid past his mouth straight
to his throat, gulping like a machine designed for this single purpose. He sucked on,
then licked the bottle's round opening, not wasting a drop. His tongue canvassed the
inside of his mouth and the outside of his tender cracked lips. He replaced the cap,
clanged the bottle back into the wheelbarrow, and lifted the rusted metal feet off the
asphalt. He pushed his lightened load up the slope, the shredded ends of his trench coat
floating and flapping in the cold evening air,
His plan was in motion.
24
CHAPTER V
MOTHER
Rachael opened her eyes and felt her face flat against the hospital. The broken
tiles and disturbed grout smelled like dirt and old medicine, as if someone had poured a
rotten prescription into the earth.
Iodine, she told herself. For wounds.
Rachael thought of her home outside Onall and its rocky earth smell. She was
not a native of Onall. She was, in fact, a native of this place, this city now called The
Capital for a reason unknown to her. She was even a native—by birth—of the faceless
hospital on whose floor she now lay. Yesterday, when the nurse led Rachael's husband
into this room, Rachael had wondered if she might have been born in the very same
room where her husband would likely die. Rachael found comfort in the thought. If she
couldn't save her husband's life, at least he could pass away in a familiar place, familiar
to his living wife.
Rachael decided to stand but paused and grabbed her head.
. . . must've smacked the floor. . . and my glasses . . . gone . . . crushed. ..
exploded.
Squeezing her eyelids, Rachael begged the headache to vanish.
She inhaled, exhaled, inhaled, exhaled.
My
hearing....
Rachael could hear herself breathing, but the sensation of sound came from
inside her head, not from the outside world.
25
26
It will come back. It will come back. Just move, Rachael. Just move.
Over twenty years earlier, Rachael had been living in this same city when bomb
blasts began. She knew the term "shell shock." She had seen shell-shocked people:
able-bodied men and women who refused to move, frozen in time and place, minds
exploding.
I'm fine. I'm fine.
Rachael wanted to jump up, to hurtle debris, to see if her son was all right, to see
if the blast had denied a peaceful death to her husband. But something held her down.
. . . grabbing my feet.
The explosion had extinguished the hospital's weak fluorescent lights, but new
light now seeped in through a missing wall—the deep gray of a cold September evening.
Rachael twisted her stiff neck, trying to see behind her. Disappointed with the view, she
twisted the other way—this time twisting her hips as well.
It's huge.
A fractured concrete slab appeared to have her pinned, but Rachael believed she
could escape by flipping her entire body.
Not going to happen.
Rachael prepared to yell for help, then stopped herself.
Anyone could be out there . . . the people who did this. Maybe I'll die right here.
David and Rachael and their son, Charles ... all dead or good as dead, all killed at the
same time in the same place. Not random ... meant to be. Just God doing a thorough
cleaning. No kisses goodbye. No goodbye at all. Just goodnight.
Rachael tried to cry but couldn't.
I'll die of starvation...
No...
I'll die of thirst.
27
Rachael smiled and laughed. In a world of daily disintegration, she had never
considered what her own death might look like. She had been too busy worrying about
all the horrible ways her son could die, pleading with him to avoid death, haranguing
him with fear, keeping him in line, forcing him to follow some kind of order, some kind
of common sense.
I'll have several days to find
out....
A second smile snuck onto her mouth, but Rachael crushed it.
Then Rachael got mad. Her son, Charles, needed her. She was his hope, his
chance to stay alive, his chance to understand how things really worked. His chance to
avoid his father's fate.
Gold? First you find the gold, then you build the city? Well, it didn't work out so
well in Onall, did it? David, are you listening? I ignored your stupid passion, your
ridiculous idea. The idea that killed you. I should have yelled more, screamed more,
stood up for sanity, stood up
for....
Rachael had wanted to find and join whatever new society emerged from the
chaos—a society based on cooperation, not gold and rebuilding past empires.
People don't need gold, David. They don't even need cities. They need food,
water and shelter. They need each other. People need other people, not shiny metal.
Shiny metal leads to brawls on streets. And bombs. And dead husbands. And dead
fathers.
Rachael got angry at the man or men who lit the fuse which pinned her to the
floor. Her rough fingernails sunk into the fractured floor. She yanked her legs—
surprised when her left foot slid forward. She could turn now and did so quickly—too
quickly. The pain of a turned ankle burned through her leg and made her angrier.
28
Envisioning evil men, she let out a scream from the depths of her diaphragm, a scream
she could not hear, a scream which bounced her bones. She wrenched her right foot
forward, then used the metal frame of David's hospital bed to pull herself up. Dazed as
confused blood relocated, she smiled at her strength but felt embarrassed. She wondered
how loud the scream had been. She wondered if it had been a scream at all, if it was
even possible to scream if you couldn't hear yourself doing it. She set her twisted right
foot down, immediately raising it back up, face contracting, eyes moistening.
You're a mother, Rachael. And it's only a sprain. We'll get home and...
in two
weeks . . . maybe a month ... it will heal completely. You're a mother, Rachael. . . and
this is a minor thing.
Rachael looked to her side and seemed to notice for the first time the bed to
which she clung. Despite gritty gray air and poor eyesight, Rachael could see her
husband. The bed had moved, shoved to the inside wall by the blast, but her husband
had not changed position on the old foul mattress. Rachael thought she saw David's
chest rise and fall beneath a thin white sheet. But when Rachael placed her hand on
David's cold pale foot, she knew her husband was gone—the rise and fall caused not by
weakened lungs but by an evening breeze blowing through the blasted-out wall.
It was not a mistake.
Rachael's mind replayed two hundred miles of half-carrying, half-prodding her
husband north to a hospital which might or might not exist. David hadn't wanted to
leave their one-room shack. His plans for a New Onall had failed, but his attackers had
been killed, and thus the idea and the passion had been saved. Rachael and David's son,
Charles, had offered to go himself and get medicine for his father's infected wounds.
But Rachael had been firm. She was a wife. She was a human being with common
29
sense. She chose the best chance and stuck by the decision. She still believed in
hospitals as a lifesaving invention of human beings. She still wanted to believe.
Now, with a bad ankle and missing son, there seemed little chance of getting
David into a decent grave, but Rachael refused to leave her husband in a place which
reeked of sickness.
The city cemetery is one mile away...
If it takes me a
week....
Struggling towards the missing outer wall of the room, the wall now shattered on
the street below, Rachael once again prepared to yell, this time to call her son. But she
knew it was pointless. She wouldn't be able to hear him respond, and from her secondfloor perch her focus could only penetrate five feet into the evening's deepening dark.
She turned and hopped back to her husband's bed, closed her dry, dust-infested eyes and
visualized David walking to the afterlife, to a gate among clouds, like a child trudging to
his first day of school. Another child—their son, Charles—trudged alongside his father,
gazing up.
Father and son, child and child.
Rachael reached out for both children, then dropped her arms. She opened her
eyes and looked at the body on the bed, its shape blurred by weak light and weak vision.
Once again, she couldn't cry. Her husband had fought his way through life solo—a man
and his belief taking on the world. David never wanted, asked for, or was given
Rachael's help.
And that is exactly why he is dead. . . But I've got to find Charles.
"And I'll take any help I can get," whispered Rachael, hoping the words alone
would bring back her good hearing, the good vision she had as a child, and the good luck
she had never known. Rachael tucked the billowing sheet under her husband's cold feet
30
and hobbled into the dark, debris-ridden hospital hallway, looking for some crutches and
a doctor or nurse who wasn't dead.
CHAPTER VI
LIGHT
In a third-floor hospital room with a missing wall—a wall ripped and flung to the
street below—a seven-year-old girl knew she had chosen the wrong place to hide.
Unlucky, she thought.
Yet, still alive, the girl believed she must have been luckier than some.
She hadn't wanted to leave the orphanage, even if remaining meant remaining
alone. She left because someone—one of the older kids—came back and set the
orphanage on fire.
The old building, poorly constructed, hadn't been designed for human habitation.
Dirt floor, thin aluminum roof, skeleton of wood wrapped in nervous brick walls.
Machinery could be stored there, animals could be sheltered from the rain.
Or monsters, thought the little girl. The orphanage was for monsters—awful
crazy monsters. The awfullest.
This is what the children believed. They lived in a building built by good
monsters to hold, to lock up, bad monsters. But the bad monsters, the crazy monsters
had escaped—or been let loose—to roam nearby neighborhoods, eating mothers and
fathers in the nighttime world. And these bad monsters would come back and eat the
children, too. Because all of the good monsters had gone away.
Children will be dessert.
Every orphan knew this. And every orphan knew what the monsters looked like.
But no one wanted to say, no one wanted to mouth the words.
31
32
If you say it, you will see it. If you say it, you will see it. Bad luck, bad luck.
Monsters go away. Bad luck, bad luck. Monsters go away.
The girls sang the sing-song. The littlest boys, too.
But structural defects and monstrous history didn't keep the seven-year-old girl
and scores of orphans from living inside the old broken building, some of them for
years. They came, were brought actually, after monsters destroyed their parents in the
racial killings begun a decade earlier—when their country unofficially quit. The states
held on for a while; some of the smaller, better organized cities were rumored to still
exist. But orphans like the seven-year-old girl remained at the bottom of the list of
priorities, if they were on any list at all.
What the girl knew was that she was seven-years old—she was sure of that—and
she knew her parents had simply disappeared into the night one year earlier. That night,
her father came into her room and took her to a closet, the one in the center of the house
with a hidden hatch opening to the dirt below. Her father said, "Hide in the dirt until I
come back. If you hear voices, cover yourself with dirt, then don't move. I'll come back
soon." The girl asked if she could have her doll, the one her mother had made from bits
of old clothing and fragments of other dolls—Frankendoll her mother called it. Her
father held out his hand, palm facing the girl, the sign for both "no" and "stop talking."
He lowered the hatch and shut the closet door. The girl listened to her father's feet
pound the old wooden floor. He's running, she told herself, crouching in the cool earth.
A door slammed shut.
"Our moms and dads are dead," an older girl had confided when the girl arrived
at the orphanage. But this girl, the one who was definitely seven-years old, the one who
had been both unlucky and lucky when the hospital bomb went off, had known the older
33
girl was lying. She knew her parents had just gone away. They ran away, but they'll run
back. After spending the night in the dirt beneath the house, the girl disobeyed her
father and opened the hatch—she was hungry and wanted her doll. Her parents were not
home. She found her doll and made herself breakfast, then waited. In the afternoon, she
peered onto the street and saw light gray asphalt littered with chunks of black—as if a
giant storm had rained down charcoal. A week later when the food was all gone, the girl
finally went outside, traveling down the street to see her aunt and get more food. From
the sidewalk, the girl stared at the large black chunks—the bits and pieces of burned
human bodies. The girl rushed to her aunt's house and stumbled up the porch. She
found the door open and no one home.
One year later, with the orphanage blackened like charred bodies in a street, the
seven-year-old girl ran across a weed-filled lawn, past the orphanage greenhouse, stutterstepping to a stop at a nearby sidewalk. The older girl was there, sitting on a curb and
crying.
"Everyone is dead except kids," she said.
But the seven-year old knew her parents were still alive. They had gotten away.
They ran away. They couldn't take me because I couldn't run. I couldn't run, so they
didn't take me. But I can run now, she told herself, sitting on the sidewalk next to the
older girl, feeling light-headed from happiness. Her emaciated body slumped forward.
I can run and find them.
Now, huddled against a wall in a faceless hospital, the girl could smile about one
more thing: She knew her name, Luz. Many of the children, orphans for years, had
34
forgotten their names or had never known them. Some were given nicknames. Some of
the youngest went by no name at all.
But you can't find Mom and Dad without a name. I'll give my name to an old
person, and then they'll check the list.
Luz knew there had to be a list because the warden kept lots of lists.
I'll give my name to an old person ... maybe even the warden...
if he's still
around. I just have to ask nice.
In the near darkness, Luz lifted her head.
"Have you seen my parents?" she asked, practicing "nice."
"Have you seen my parents?" she asked again.
But something seemed strange, even stranger than sitting in a faceless hospital
room, exposed to a cold and foreign world.
"Have you seen my parents?" she asked once more.
She touched her warm ears.
Why can't I hear myself talk?
CHAPTER VII
HELP
Charles Grand awoke to metal grinding metal, feet trampling rubble, and a
slightly more distant far-off ring. He blinked, turned his head, and watched a man in a
ripped black trench coat approach clumsily but with purpose. The man pushed
something hidden by the near darkness. Tired and beaten, Grand's body cried for rest,
but face-down and prostrate he remained vulnerable. Grand reached down into the
rubble, snaking his hands through chunks of hospital floor and wall. With both hands
secured against the street, he pushed upwards. His mind turned bright white with pain.
He relaxed his left arm and shoulder, lessening the tension on the broken left side of his
collarbone. His right arm still extended, Grand managed to raise his torso and slide his
knees forward, ripping his pants and scraping his shins on sharp debris.
Ten feet away, the man in the ripped trench coat both stumbled and sped up.
Grand felt no fear and wondered why—the man was a stranger and strangers were to be
feared.
But I need help
....
Grand straightened his right arm again and shucked his feet forward.
Blood and consciousness drained from Grand's brain as he rose, wobbled,
stepped forward, then back. The metallic grind of the stranger's now-visible
wheelbarrow stung Grand's ears as it joined with the far-off ring.
"Can you help me find my-"
Grand's request was cut off by a fist to his face. Instead of falling back, Grand
sat down hard. He felt something crawling against his throat, like a bug mistakenly
35
36
swallowed. He opened his mouth, hoping the bug would crawl out, and waited as a glob
of bloody saliva pooled on his pants. Inside the glob was a tooth, a small molar.
The man never stopped walking, his wheelbarrow bouncing forward, its
monotonous shriek broken by steel shouts when the metal feet struck concrete below.
Staring at the hospital's exposed interior, it occurred to Grand that his mother and
father might still be inside the hospital's second floor. Shape-shifting clouds hid most of
the moon's light, but Grand could still see a rubbled scalable slope. He walked, then
climbed, left arm dangling, twitches of pain teaching him how to let it hang. When the
moon escaped the clouds, Grand could see his steps leading him not only to the edge of
the second floor, but to the edge of his father's room—a room half-consumed halfuntouched.
He reached the roll-away bed and saw his father lying peacefully, the sheet over
his body reflecting bright frigid moonlight. Grand gathered his father's hands and felt
the stiffness of congealed blood, the stiffness of lifeless joints and skin. He had known
his father was going to die soon. The doctor had said so when they arrived a day earlier:
"There's nothing you can do?" his mother asked the doctor.
"If we had penicillin, he would be well in a week or two. But we haven't got
any," the doctor said, wanting to leave the room to attend to savable patients but wanting
Grand and his mother to understand why the infected husband and father would die.
"Is there any chance you could get some soon?" Grand's mother asked.
The doctor's jaw clinched, then released.
"We haven't had any for ten years, so, no, there isn't any chance. The whole
world could be out for all we know. I'm surprised we still have electricity. Actually, I'm
surprised we still have doctors . . . or a hospital for that matter."
37
Grand shivered, waiting for his father to do the same.
Glad his father's eyes were shut, Grand closed his own. He saw his father back
in Onall, standing in front of the New Onall Bank, addressing a crowd which had drifted
in from fields outside of town. It was the day of Onall's new beginning, the day his
father would explain how leaderless men would now be led, how civilization would
renew.
"We will not fear anymore because we will not wait," his father told the crowd,
standing in the bed of a dead rusted truck. "We will act. We will centralize. We will
order this town and the agriculture around it. Civilization cannot be lost unless we fail
to try. This bank is filled with gold—the gold represents not only money but a standard
of order among men. My gold-"
"The gold you have stolen or killed for," said a man hidden in the crowd.
"That's not true," said David Grand, hunting for the man with his eyes. "I have
gained all of this gold justly, lawfully, and New Onall will be run with the same sense of
justice and law—the standard of order we all desire."
"Meaning we do what you tell us," said another voice in the crowd.
"Meaning you do what is smart," said David Grand, pointing at the man he
suspected of speaking, then changing his mind and pointing at another. "These hidden
voices are the reason we are where we are. The voices of quitters . . . the voices of
quitters. They get inside our heads and make the rest of us quit, too. Don't they? The
voices tell us that order cannot defeat chaos, no matter how hard we try. Well, if the
quitters—these men hiding in the crowd—want to go bury their heads in the dirt, I say
let them. We'll do the smart thing, the right thing, the simple thing: first you get the
38
gold, then you build the city. We have the gold—the standard of order. Now, let us
rebuild like intelligent human beings."
The crowd rustled and split—making space for a person approaching David
Grand's perch. The person wore a ram skull mask and overalls covered with dirt from
the nearby fields. The person stopped and stood one foot from David Grand but said
nothing to the speechmaker.
"These hidden voices are the reason we are where we are," said David Grand,
watching the person in the ram mask.
Shivering, Charles Grand stared at his dead father—the man jokingly christened
King David by faceless voices in the crowd. Moments after he delivered his gold-andcity speech, a street brawl erupted and a sword sliced open King David's stomach.
"Dad," said Grand, barely hearing his own voice.
Tears fell hot and fast. Grand let go of the cold dead hand, wondering what his
father would want him to do. The New Onall Bank had been ransacked after the brawl.
Every follower of King David had been killed. Just as the gold—and the moment of
order—evaporated in the late summer sun, any momentum towards a future had been
damned by angry, hungry, frightened men.
Grand considered searching for his mother but didn't want to find her dead, too—
a childhood world wiped out in one afternoon. He struggled to picture himself alone—a
world of one.
I would be free . . . free . . . but what does it mean?
Grand looked at his dead father.
First you find the gold, then you build the city.
39
King David's desire echoed inside his son's mind, the words rising in pitch, the
syllables breaking apart and crashing together until they fused with the far-off ring.
One mile from the hospital, Grand came upon a park camouflaged by overgrown
grass and weeds. A tiny dead forest of tree trunks formed black silhouettes—barren
crooked arms stretching between. Stepping off the sidewalk, Grand spotted a circle of
soil which could hide him for the night. He headed towards it, paying more attention to
the throbbing nerves around his neck than the ground beneath him. Grand tripped and
landed on a human body embalmed in a ripped black trench coat. He scrambled to his
feet, expecting a chase, but the body didn't budge. Grand jogged a comfortable distance
away, noticing the warm acrid stink of homemade alcohol. The man on the ground,
drunk or dead, reminded Grand of a distiller near Onall, a friend of his father's. The
distiller, a heavy drinker himself, informed Grand that alcohol was useful for killing
both germs and people, then offered Grand a free sample.
Grand ran his tongue over the newly acquired gap between his teeth. The molarsized crater continued to bleed.
I should be afraid.
But Grand couldn't muster fear. He wanted to ask the man questions. He wanted
to know who had been right—father or mother—about cities and gold.
"First you get the gold, Charles, then you build the city."
"Forget about gold, Charles. Your father is a dangerous fool. Think about food.
You can eat food. You can stay alive if you have food."
Grand wandered further into clumps of dead grass and shadow, until the
stranger's body disappeared. He found a circle of soil, laid down and fell asleep.
In his dream, Grand returned to the fields outside Onall where he noticed a
the distance.
"Is that Father?"
"Father's dead."
"Where's Lucy?"
"Who?"
"Lucy. Lucy sister. Sister Lucy."
"Lucy died. I told you that, Charles."
"Lucy ran away into the woods."
"No she didn't, Charles."
"Lucy ran away into the woods."
"Charles!"
"I'm going south with Lucy. I'll find her in the woods."
"You're not going anywhere, Charles."
"I'm going south with Lucy."
"Are you going to get gold like your father?"
"Yes."
"Then you're going to die like him, too."
"You can't be my mother forever."
"I will be your mother forever, Charles."
"I won't be your son forever."
"Charles, I will be your mother forever. And you will be my son forever."
"Lucy ran away into the woods, and I'm going with her. I'm going away."
"You're a boy, Charles. Boys get killed by the man in the woods."
41
"I have a plan."
"Your father had a plan."
Grand turned from his mother and stared at the man in the field. The man wore
overalls torn, patched, and torn again. Evening obscured the man's face, but his head
seemed too large to be human. And his head appeared to have horns.
CHAPTER VIII
MEETING
Rachael groped her way along the reception desk, softly saying, "Hello . . .
hello."
She stopped and played with her ears, then snapped her fingers but heard only the
far-off ring.
The explosion hasn't ended.
Rachael wondered what life would be like without hearing.
If Charles is dead, maybe it would be better. I couldn't hear anymore explosions.
I couldn't hear anyone in pain.
Rachael thought of her youth in this semi-destroyed city now called The Capital.
Hearing was an unrealized luxury then. She remembered listening to music.
It's been so long
....
She remembered sitting on a sofa in her parent's house—sitting in the living
room—listening to music on the radio with her parents. Her father liked the oldies
station and so Rachael did, too. The music sounded kind of funny—old, but good, her
father would say.
Rachael remembered dancing for her father. She remembered making him laugh.
But then the news would arrive at "the top of the hour," and her father's eyes would
unfocus, his mind absorbing the world's slow disintegration. Rachael would sit on the
sofa and watch her father's face for reaction to the news, reaction to the starvation and
violence, still in other countries, still in the poorest countries and the poorest countries'
neighbors. She would wait for her father to say, "Don't worry." He always did, even
42
43
when they could hear bombs from their front porch, even when they hurried south to
Onall.
"We did things one way, and now we just have to find another," her father had
said. "Right now there's just a lot of confusion, but people are naturally ordered. Order
is natural for people. You look out into the universe and what do you see? Order
everywhere. Things ordering themselves . . . and staying ordered. We all want it. It's
simply a matter of creating a different order for things, a better one, a new beginning to
our new universe. The trick is to find an order that can last."
Arriving outside Onall, their newly created order became growing enough food
to feed themselves—with any excess used for trade. A majority of urban and suburban
Americans chose the same new order, but this "new universe" never materialized—too
much random violence and bad luck, even in the small towns. Instead, people snuck
away from the small towns just as they had run from the cities. They turned their backs
on trust to shake hands with survival.
Continuing along the reception desk, Rachael thought she knew where to search
for supplies. It was too dark to tell for certain, but her heart jumped when her hands
crossed a metal cage and the metal lock securing it. She could feel the sand-like bumps
of rust on the old lock, but one yank told her it was just as strong as the day it first
clicked shut, decades earlier. The lock was bigger than her fist, and she knew she could
never break it.
These doors will break before the lock will.
Rachael slid her fingers across the steel-grid doors, softly punching her fingers
into the diamond-shaped holes. She pulled on the doors, cutting off circulation to her
44
finger tips. The door hinges gave just enough play to disappoint her. She tilted her head
to examine a ceiling she couldn't see, but her bruised legs and twisted ankle were enough
proof that the floors and thus the ceilings contained reinforced concrete.
I won't be tunneling in from above.
Rachael continued to stare up into darkness, wondering if there might be
anything useful on the upper floors.
Maybe a place to sleep if nothing else.
The main set of stairs at the front of the hospital had been partially destroyed and
covered in debris, an obstacle course she couldn't navigate with a twisted ankle, if at all.
But Rachael assumed another staircase existed.
Probably in the deepest darkest corner of the building. But I'm used to the dark..
Inside their one-room shack outside Onall, fire provided the only night light—
fire kept small to conserve wood and conserve the need to gather it. Despite knowing
how to make a torch, Rachael, her husband, and son never went out after dusk.
The third floor will be safer than the second. . . and I have no choice.
Luz awoke from her light sleep and felt spider legs dashing up one of her own.
She sat up, then scurried back quickly, kicking out her legs until her body hit a wall, at
which point she tried climbing the wall with jumps and screams. The screams were
silent, leaving Luz amazed. She prodded her throat and screamed again, this time
saying, "Stay away all bugs and spiders!" Luz could feel her voice but not hear it—the
strangest thing ever. Losing her parents wasn't strange because she hadn't lost them.
Being stuck in the blasted shell of a hospital wasn't strange because it wasn't better or
worse than being stuck in a run-down orphanage. But speaking and not hearing—
45
Luz felt her throat again—smooth skin unharmed. She wondered if she was the
only person in the world who couldn't make sound. She wondered if the problem was
with the air.
Maybe the air is gone .. . The words can't breathe . . . Daddy will know when I
find him.
Luz looked through the space where a wall used to be. Buildings glowed in the
moonlight like unnameable living things, giant and sleeping. Luz exhaled a shallow
breath, entranced by the quick fog drifting from her mouth. The thought of her ample
attire—three coats, two pairs of gloves, two pull-down watch caps and two pairs of
socks—stirred a smile. The warden at the orphanage never gave out enough clothing,
and Luz hated being cold. When the orphans broke free—after the warden had been
mysteriously gone for more than a day—the air was relatively warm for a late
September day and many of the children left their coats and cold-weather clothing
behind. Not Luz. If one of the older kids hadn't been a pyromaniac, Luz would have
found a fourth coat and a third pair of gloves—at least.
The smile left Luz's lips as she felt the kiss of cold air. She remembered an older
girl, a storyteller, speaking of places to the south where the air always stayed warm. Luz
never believed the tales, but on the coldest orphanage nights she wished they were true.
Now, alone in a dark cold world, Luz once again tried imagining such places of
warmth—the storyteller called them beaches—but when Luz conjured warmth, her mind
fancied flames. And Luz knew fire did more than warm things up.
One thing Luz hadn't grabbed from the orphanage was food. The AWOL warden
left nothing edible, and the orphanage gardens had been ransacked by newly freed boys.
Luz knew it was bad to leave without food. She knew everyone had to eat. Her stomach
46
had already grown exhausted with its growl and switched to a numbed whimper.
Creeping into the hospital the day before—because of a nurse's ultra-clean, ultra-white
uniform—she asked one of the nurses for food, but the nurse just smiled. The nurse said
her name was Katharina and Luz blurted out her name then blushed. Luz asked for food
again, as "nice" as she could, but the nurse only gave her a glass of water. Maybe they
eat water for food in a hospital, Luz had wondered.
Sitting in the dark, Luz now wondered if they ate spiders for food. Her mouth
winced at the imagined taste. Her dry tongue examined her dry mouth, making sure she
hadn't eaten a spider already. But Luz was so hungry she knew she would try to eat a
spider if it was dead and she could watch someone else eat one first.
At the back of the hospital, Rachael found a staircase which, judging by the
number of spider webs running across it, hadn't been used for years. A stench from
outdoors, floating through a windowless window, sullied the staircase air. Rachael
peered out the window, trying and failing not to inhale.
Rotting garbage . . . with feces mixed in.
Rachael wondered if the hospital blast had been a kind of finale—the end of The
Capital as a civilized place to exist.
In the morning, I might be going through that garbage . .. But maybe I'll get
lucky before then.
Rachael reached out and grabbed some webs, ensuring they were real, not
imagined. Shaking off the sticky white threads, Rachael saw an army of tiny black
bodies scurry into crannies.
If the stairwell is this webbed over, there can't be anything useful up there.
47
Rachael's stomach, ankle, and parched throat argued back.
... it might be a safer place to sleep.
Still sitting with her back against the wall, Luz closed her eyes, then popped
them open, rushing fingers across her pants in search of big spiders. Her sleepy eyelids
debated re-drooping, but hunger and invisible night crawlers seemed intent on keeping
her awake. Luz once again wondered if the nurses had food. At the orphanage, the
warden never stopped eating, always picking and gobbling the freshest garden goodies
or chewing on dried meat that the older orphans said was deer. Luz remembered
meeting such an animal at the orphanage window. The deer, stymied by plastic shingles,
couldn't jump into the garden. Luz had a pea pod long saved for an emergency latenight snack, but she thrust it out the window—an offer both curious and friendly. When
the deer reached her hand, Luz jerked it back inside. The deer stuck its nose against the
window sill and sniffed. In fear, Luz threw the pea pod out the window, hitting the deer
in the head. The deer stared at Luz until Luz apologized, then snatched the pea pod from
the dirt, chewing and swallowing while staring at Luz. Sneaking her hand out the
window, Luz realized her fingers were about the size of pea pods and jerked her arm
back inside, scraping it on the sill. The deer departed, leaving Luz to wonder how the
Warden could chew the dried flesh of something so pretty and dangerous.
Luz felt her pockets for the umpteenth time, and for the umpteenth time found no
emergency late-night snacks.
Mom and Dad will get me food. I just have to find some tonight...
tomorrow, unless the spiders eat it all.
or maybe
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Luz stood up and crept to the doorway. She leaned her head into the hall, then
jerked it back. With her hearing gone, a monster could be breathing and drooling one
foot away, and Luz would only find out when jaws punctured her head.
There will be monsters . . . or friends of monsters: giant spiders.
Luz touched her head—two pairs of gloves patting two woolen watchcaps—
ensuring everything was still there. She wondered if all the hospital monsters were as
hungry as she.
But they haven't eaten all the adults yet. . . and children are dessert.
Luz wished she had some pea pods to toss out the door—just in case.
Luz knew the front stairway—the one she had used to reach the third floor—was
probably blasted and gone. But she remembered a long hallway.
There could be food at the end of the hallway. Something to eat or another glass
of water.
Her head in the doorway, a new smell hit her face.
Yuck.
The food in the orphanage often smelled just as bad, but the kids still ate it.
Luz's stomach told her to take one step forward, just one step to see if the floor
was still there.
It was.
Her stomach told her to take another step, just to see.
"Just to see," she said, instinctively covering her mouth with her hand.
Arms and hands extending, she felt a wall.
The hallway wall.
"But what if-"
49
Her hand shot up to her mouth again, although her ears had heard nothing.
But what i f . . . .
Her stomach cut off the thought. Her stomach explained that if there was food,
even bad-smelling food, at the end of the hallway, then yes, there may very well be
monsters, or friends of monsters, the giant spiders, but the monsters would be eating the
food, or they would be full from eating adults because there had to be many adults left to
eat, so the monsters and giant spiders wouldn't bother her unless she forgot to be nice
and didn't wait in line. And Luz knew how to be nice and stay in line. If you wanted
food from the warden, you had to be nice and stay in line.
Her slow steps quickened, her shoulder and arm trailing tightly against the wall
as if magnetized. The smell became more pungent. Luz coughed, then covered her
mouth.
It's not food. It's not food I will
eat....
But Luz's stomach told her she might be surprised what she would eat. Her
stomach said, feed me.
Rachael held her left arm out, keeping her forearm vertical to plow through the
wall of webs. Her right forearm slid along the hand rail, wobbling ancient wall
connectors. Trying to hop up the stairs on her left foot, Rachael used her right foot and
twisted ankle for balance. Enduring the pain, Rachael imagined a small troll latched
onto her ankle, jerking it from side to side, re-twisting it with a wide smile. After
multiple mis-hops, Rachael considered sitting down on the steps, but the idea of spiders
and spiderwebs tangled in her hair kept her moving forward and up.
50
At the top of the stairs, she rubbed sticky webs into big strands and tried casting
them away with little success.
Vibrations filled the floor.
A far-off bomb?
Rachael noticed a rhythm.
Someone's alive up here ... or some thing.
Rachael pictured an animal, perhaps a squirrel or a possum.
No human would walk around in this darkness .. . except me.
Rachael knew a small animal would avoid her.
Don't let it be a skunk...
or a bear.
Hobbling forward into a hallway, Rachael thrust her hands into darkness. She
struck the animal, re-jammed her ankle and jumped back in pain.
Jesus that's big.
Rachael pictured one of the bears which roamed near Onall, scavenging fields
and forests. The Onall bears, hated by all mothers, were rumored to eat children. But
Rachael knew how to fend one off.
Luz hit something solid, her double-gloved hands smacking a soft wall. She
stepped back, confused.
Are giant spiders soft? Are monsters soft? Good monsters or bad monsters?
Why isn't the monster eating me? Turning me into black stuff and spitting me on the
street?
Luz pictured something else soft and furry. A teddy bear belonging to an older
girl at the orphanage. The teddy bear was nice to most of the girls as long as the girls
51
were nice to the older girl who slept with it. Luz had wanted her own teddy bear—
Frankendoll had quickly disintegrated in the rowdy hands of orphans—but this darkhallway teddy bear would be quite big. Luz imagined big teddy bear hugs and all-night
snuggles. She cautiously stepped forward, then stopped—the teddy bear having
transformed back into a giant spider.
With both of her hands, Rachael punched the bear in what felt like its shoulders.
She then made herself look as big as possible by raising her arms in the air. She tried to
yell "get away," but her dry throat gagged on the words and none came out.
The teddy bear, monster, or giant spider punched Luz in the shoulders, propelling
her backwards. Her face contracted, preparing for tears. But then Luz wondered if the
teddy bear, monster or giant spider simply wanted to play.
"I want to play with you," said Luz, her words failing to enter her own ears.
Rachael's hearing remained minimal, but she thought she hear the animal speak.
"Who's there?" she asked, swallowing hard.
If it's a person, it must be a child, a frightened child...
or a dwarf?
Rachael stuck out her hand, awaiting the sudden sharp clamp of bear teeth.
Nothing bit, and she hobbled forward to touch the animal's shoulder again.
A wool coat...
or coats?
The animal-person pressed itself against a wall.
Rachael slid her hand down a wool-coated arm and found a wool-coated hand.
She felt a head wrapped in wool, then cold clinching chin.
52
A child.
Rachael grimaced at the thought of her punches.
Luz felt a hand search her body and realized the monster was not a monster at all,
nor a teddy bear, nor a giant spider, but a person, a big person—an adult who had not yet
been eaten. Luz wondered if she was in trouble for leaving the orphanage. She wanted
to explain, to tell her story, to give her name and get back her parents.
But I can't hear...
I can't speak if I can't hear.
The big person knelt down and pulled Luz in for a hug. Luz returned the hug as
much as three heavy coats would allow. Long soft hair—a woman's hair—brushed
against her numb cheeks, and Luz wondered if she might be hugging her mom, if her
mom had known all along about the orphanage, the escape from fire, and the unlucky
hospital hiding spot.
I told the nurse my name, Luz thought. And she told Mom.
Luz wanted to explain about the boom, about her hunger, about the spider, about
the loss of sound and words.
The hair swished off Luz's cheek, and cold dry lips arrived. The lips moved,
emitting soundless sounds.
Mom?
"Mom?" asked Luz, silently mouthing the word.
Luz hugged harder, so hard she squeezed tears from her tired eyes.
CHAPTER IX
BURIED
Waking, Grand's tense eyes blinked in gray-white morning light. A human figure
stood one-foot away.
Mother.
Grand sat up and scanned the park.
The man in the trench coat was gone.
Grand carefully massaged the back of his head, running rough fingers across
tender skin. He examined his fingers for blood and found none. He looked behind him
and saw a flat piece of stone embedded in the ground - his unwitting grave-marker
pillow.
Is this a cemetery?
Between himself and his still silent mother, the body of Grand's father lay
wrapped in a sheet with a blanket underneath. A second sheet, rolled up, looped under
his father's arms and through two holes in the blanket, had been used to drag the corpse
through streets and over debris. Grand examined his father's pale face. Rigid cheeks,
taut lips and skin of bluish hue combined to make David Grand look like an invalid on
the cusp of yelling orders.
Rachael hobbled backwards and leaned against a tree for support.
"I thought you were dead," she said, examining her son as much as her caloriedeprived mind would allow.
Grand nodded at his mother's voice, at the words distorted by a far-off ring. He
looked at his father, wanting and waiting for the dead man to speak.
53
54
"We need to bury him," said Rachael, her voice exhausted but impatient. "We
need to get back home."
"Why did we leave home in the first place?" asked Grand, placing his hand
against his stomach to staunch the hunger pains.
"I've told you why, Charles," said Rachael. "You know why. I had to make a
decision."
"And that's what I'm asking . . . why did you make that decision?"
"Your father was going to die."
Rachael knew where the conversation headed. Too tired to sigh, she stared at the
dirt beneath David Grand's body, wondering if it would dig easy or hard. She studied
the nearby plots for signs of recent digging but saw only a thick pasture of weeds and
dead grass. The nurses had recommended avoiding this place—if Rachael wanted the
body to remain in the ground—but that was before the bomb and before the twisted
ankle and before the hunger and thirst.
"I could have come here myself," said Grand. "I could have found out about the
medicine. He could have stayed alive in Onall."
"Your father would have died in Onall, Charles. This was his chance. We gave
him a chance by coming here."
"He would be alive right now in O n a l l . . . just like Lucy."
"Don't start, Charles," said Rachael, stepping towards her son. "I hope some day
you'll get to be a parent-"
Rachael squeezed the anger back inside.
He's just like his father. Already starting stupid arguments, already wanting to
get himself killed. Better not give him any practice.
55
"Where?" asked Grand.
Rachael looked around the park, studying patches of dying weeds, dead grass,
and wet black dirt.
"Here," she said.
Grand stood up, mistakenly using his left arm for a push. The pain surged less
than the night before but still made his mind and body stagger. He stumbled back into a
tree.
Rachael came forward to examine his arm. She felt for cuts or breaks, then saw
the purple-black bruise at the base of Grand's neck.
"How bad does it hurt?" she asked, touching the shifted bone covered by puffy
skin.
"Oww!"
Grand winced.
"Can you dig with your right hand?" asked Rachael.
Grand looked at his father's body. He wondered if the cold wet dirt could
preserve a man's will, a man's idea and plan.
You can't bury something true.
Grand looked back at his mother.
"Let's take him home," he said. "People will want to see him."
"Charles-"
"Some people still believe."
"No one believes anymore, Charles. They're all dead . . . just like your father."
"I still believe," said Grand. "And I want to bury him at home."
"We'll bury him right here," said Rachael.
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"And never see him again?"
"That's what happens when people die, Charles. You never see them again," said
Rachael, wanting to hit her son, then wondering where that impulse came from.
I never hit him. That was never me.
"We'll take turns pulling Dad on the blanket," said Grand, standing again, letting
his left arm dangle.
"The blanket wouldn't even make it out of the city," said Rachael. "It's already
half gone."
Charles checked the worn and torn blanket.
I'm not giving in. Not this time. We shouldn't even be here, and she knows it.
"We'll get more blankets and change them when we have to," said Grand, peering
into the fog-roofed city, trying to determine which way was south. "We might find
something with wheels, a cart to push. Maybe ours wasn't destroyed by the bomb."
"Everything was destroyed, Charles. Everything we brought is gone."
"But people leave things by the road all the time. Remember, on the way here?
There could be a cart just outside the city. There's probably hundreds."
"There are zero, and you know it," said Rachael.
" B u t . . . the railroad! Remember the rail car?"
"Charles-"
"We slept in the rail car! It's already on the tracks. We just have to get it to
move. I bet it runs right through Onall-"
"Charles! Stop dreaming and help me dig. You can't be a child anymore. You
just can't. You're an adult, and adults dig graves. I'm sorry."
Grand knelt down and palmed the dirt.
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Rachael limped away, shaking her head and searching. She spotted the little girl
with deep brown skin crouched behind a tree. The girl held a thin metal implement
close to her body like a favorite toy. Without words, Rachael asked for and received the
implement—a knife.
"Who's that?" asked Grand.
"A girl from the hospital. She's alone," said Rachael.
Rachael motioned, and Luz moved from standing behind one tree to standing
behind another, slightly closer tree. Luz, still deaf, had tried speaking to the woman, but
the woman had frowned at her attempt. Not wanting to say wrong words, Luz vowed
never to speak again until she found her parents.
A breeze separated David Grand from his thin hospital sheet, revealing work
clothes bloody and patched. Rachael re-covered her husband.
I still have Charles ... I still have Charles . . . and maybe the girl, too.
"Let's take Dad home," said Grand. "The girl can help."
"She couldn't move your father an inch, Charles. He's going in the ground right
here."
"Don't you miss him, Mom?" asked Grand, warning the tears to stay away.
Rachael frowned.
How long will it be before I get to bury you, Charles? Stupid father, stupid son.
Rachael tried and failed to smile.
Don't think that. . . even if it's true.
"Charles, I love your father very much. I always will, but his body will not last a
four-day journey to Onall. You don't want to see what happens to the body."
"Maybe I do," said Charles.
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"Then you're sicker than him. Charles, please."
"I'm not the one who dragged him two hundred miles. I'm not the one who wants
to shove him in the ground . . . and never see him again."
"I know you're not!" screamed Rachael, ready to limp away, to leave her son and
the cemetery and the entire broken world.
Peering around her tree trunk, Luz saw the woman scream and covered her
useless ears. She watched the woman begin to cry.
Rachael's tears fell fast.
"Goddammit, Charles! I wish your father was alive, so he could take you away
and teach you how to be a man. But he wasn't one himself! Do you understand that?
Won't you please understand that? Your father was a little boy who got himself killed
over a little boy's argument about a little boy's dream, and that's the kind of world we
live in—a world where dreaming boys die," said Rachael, wincing, shifting on and off
her twisted ankle. "And I want you to bury me, not the other way around. I brought
your father here because it was a chance to save his life. Accept it!"
"A chance?" asked Charles. "Just a chance?"
"Yes!" said Rachael, stamping her right foot.
"Where?" asked Grand.
"Where what, Charles?"
"Where do you want me to dig?"
"Right here . . . next to the place you slept."
Grand dug fast, his right hand plunging, cramping, and swelling into black earth.
Occasionally, he used both hands to clear away a loose mound of wet dirt, accepting
59
increased pain for a quickened burial. During the dig, Grand continued glancing at his
father, watching and waiting for the lungs to expand, for the body to rise, for the speech
to begin.
Grand grimaced. He shook his head. His mother seemed to avoid death by both
hiding from it and preparing for it. His father, constantly working on a beginning, never
considered an end.
He died because he lived. I should carry him to Onall myself.
Rachael helped dig by stabbing the ground with the scavenged nurse's knife,
breaking off chunks of wet earth which Luz scooped out with small careful hands.
Grand watched the exhausted effort and wondered if all the old machine-made tools
would soon be gone—knives and bombs included.
Without tools . . . only hands will be left. . . People will kill with their hands.
Grand looked at his dirt-stained hands and filthy trembling fingers.
The world will be safer. Killing will take more effort, more thought. Ideas will
have a better chance
....
After four hours, the trio had cleared a hole three feet down and two feet across.
Grand stopped moving and sat down. He said nothing, but didn't think he could dig any
more without food or at least a little water. Rachael—hungry and thirsty, too—pictured
a pile of hospital rubble and the Onall food and water trapped inside. She shook the
image from her head.
We need a deeper grave, a safer grave.
Rachael looked at her son who looked at her, their hands, forearms and clothes
covered in dirt.
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"Do you have any water?" asked Grand.
"The jugs are buried," said Rachael. "I guess we put our stuff on the wrong side
of the room."
You put our stuff on the wrong side of the room, thought Charles. You made
Father come here. You put our stuff on the wrong side of the room. You're putting my
father in this shallow hole in this nowhere place. You!
The blood departing Grand's brain seemed reluctant to return. He blinked to
remain conscious.
"At least our bodies were on the right side," whispered Grand.
Rachael sighed and forced herself to stand. She knew they had to find food and
water—especially water—and she didn't want to consider the consequence of failure.
Rooftop greenhouses and water collectors filled the surrounding city, but Rachael
assumed they had owners—the kind of people crazy enough to sleep with explosives.
... or maybe all the bad people have blown themselves up.
Rachael wondered if the hospital had a rooftop farm unharmed by the blast.
If they had a greenhouse, they would have used that stairway every day, she
thought, remembering the web-choked stairs.
Wiping his brow, Grand smeared dirt across his face. A fog-reflecting puddle
caught his dry red eye. The puddle—frost melt and mist—had amassed within a
weathered divot on top of a large gravestone. Grand stumbled to the gravestone and
sucked up the water, tasting dissolved marble. He looked for carved words but saw only
a phrase in moss-covered metal at the base of the grave: Founding Family. The small
cemetery had been the city's first.
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Grand tried to imagine a future for this city, a future with no buildings or paved
streets—everything replaced by a field like the ones scattered outside Onall. Grand
wondered how long it would take before all of The Capital's buildings dissolved like a
marble gravestone. He wondered how anyone could bring such a huge dead city back to
life.
Dad could have . . . Dad would have
....
Grand licked the gravestone dry.
Rachael saw her son lick moisture off a grave and turned away only to see the
young girl, mouth open, gazing at Grand. Rachael thought she could see the girl's mind
churning.
She's learning.
"We'll go back to the hospital and see if they have food on their rooftop . . . or
water. I'm sure they will have water," said Rachael, trying to smile at the girl. "There
will be water."
"And if there isn't?" asked Grand.
"We'll look for our bags in the rubble. We'll look for our jugs," said Rachael, her
face suggesting no more questions be asked.
"And if-"
"We'll walk back to Onall thirsty and hungry," said Rachael. "You might have to
carry this girl."
Luz, sitting limp, stared at the strangers who appeared to be discussing her. She
smiled but wanted to crawl behind a tree.
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When Grand's father finally lay in the ground, buried in wet earth, each
exhausted grave digger sat silent, wondering whether he or she might actually be dead,
too. A cold mist began to fall, further dampening their worn clothes. Minutes later, a
cool fog joined them on the ground, making the Capital and its founding cemetery
disappear.
CHAPTER X
KEY
After wading across the river of rubble and climbing to the second floor, Rachael
asked Charles to check the hospital's roof. Gone for fifteen minutes, he returned with
dirty empty hands.
"There's a greenhouse, but it's locked. I tried to break in-"
"Maybe if we find something to hit the walls with," said Rachael. "Maybe this
knife or a big piece of concrete-"
"I could see inside, Mom. Everything has been picked . . . everything worth
picking. I saw a few small things, little green tomatoes, just the beginnings," said
Charles.
"Beginnings would be fine," said Rachael.
"There's got to be something better," said Charles.
"There is something better in this locker," said Rachael, pointing to the steel
doors with diamond-shaped holes. "But we'll take what there is to take. What about
water?"
"They have a system. It's sending water into the building, but I couldn't figure
out where."
Rachael rechecked the locked storage locker, examining the wooden boxes she
was certain held food.
Some vegetables, maybe dried meat and nuts, maybe even some old
bread....
The rusted lock looked as huge and impenetrable as it felt the night before.
Rachael checked for weak hinges, but the hinges were hidden inside of the doors.
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A thin gap gave Rachael an idea. She stuck the knife in the gap between doors
and worked it gently side to side. She stopped when the knife seemed about to snap.
We could pound the lock with concrete, she thought, then realized neither she, nor
her son, nor the little girl could lift and move a good-sized chunk of rubble in their
present conditions.
Rachael looked at the girl, who returned the look. Rachael mouthed the word
"food" pointing into the locker. The girl nodded, mouthing the word "food." Rachael
smiled and shrugged. The girl smiled and shrugged, pleased with the new game despite
her intense hunger.
Grand began checking rooms on his own. Rachael thought her son looked thin
for reasons other than a lack of food and hoped he wasn't dying of the children-killing
diseases which swept through the families around Onall.
Calm down, Rachael. Charles may have inherited his father's stupidity, but he
also got his father's strength. He hasn't even been pushed yet.. . unless that bomb was
a push.
Grand's search turned up little of use except a patched blanket and two well-worn
sheets. Grand, his mother and the little girl sat at the blown-open edge of David Grand's
former room, their feet resting on rubble, their heads hanging from exhaustion.
Periodically their eyes would sneak a stare at the building across the street and its fagade
of blown-out windows.
Rachael turned to give the little girl a hug, mainly because she needed one
herself, but the girl was gone. Rachael regretted not telling the girl to stay close, but she
knew the girl's hearing was damaged—Rachael had relied on tapping the girl's shoulder
to gain her attention.
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Just as Rachael rose to search, the girl returned with a mug of water. She took a
sip, then handed it to Rachael. Rachael took a thirsty sip, stared at the girl, then
swallowed two giant gulps, nearly choking on the second. The girl smiled. After
handing the handle-less mug to her son, Rachael raised her arms, the human sign for,
"Where'd that come from?"
Luz smiled. She knew what the woman's arms were saying. Luz hadn't
considered figuring out words through body movements, and the idea of yet another
game appealed to her. Luz walked to the door, then motioned for Rachael to follow her,
Luz's arms saying, "C'mon." The pair went back to the row of lockers and to Rachael's
surprise, the girl stuck her small finger in one of the grills and pulled it open. Rachael
felt stupid for not seeing the extra unlockable locker door at the end—but with no
obvious hinges there was nothing to give away the fact that a finger, large or small,
could open it. The locker held an old barrel-shaped cooler filled with water from a roofconnected pipe. An assortment of mugs, most with missing handles, surrounded the
cooler. But that was it. Rachael checked the barrier between the open locker and the
locked one containing food.
Steel...
at least we have water.
Rachael smiled at Luz, who thought she understood the words of the woman's
smile.
"What's your name?" asked Rachael, embarrassed at having waited so long to
ask.
Luz understood but still couldn't hear anything or anyone including herself. She
decided to give speaking another chance.
"Luuuuuzzzz," she said, drawing out the word while trying to stare at her mouth.
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Rachael had never heard that name before.
"Luz?" she asked.
Luz nodded, uncertain. The woman's mouth seemed to have said her name
correctly.
"Rachael," said Rachael, pointing to herself. "RAY . . . CHUL."
Luz nodded. She tried to say the woman's name and must have gotten is close
enough because the woman, RAY-CHUL, nodded back. Luz looked forward to
practicing the name.
"Ray . . . Chul," she whispered. "Ray . . . Chul."
A metallic ping shot up from the street, followed by a second ping, then a third.
Rachael and Luz walked back to their second-floor perch and saw a man striking a huge
slab of concrete with a thin metal rod. Rachael recognized the man—the doctor—
although his well-worn white coat was missing. A question struggled toward Rachael's
lips. She wanted to yell, to find out about the locker and the food, to inquire about
crutches—Rachael wasn't certain she could make it home without crutches, not anytime
soon—but the doctor kept beating the slab like an angry oblivious child.
The doctor's rectangular-rimmed glasses, each hinge secured with string,
bounced on the bridge of his nose as his body jerked the rod up and down. After several
more thwacks, he looked up and saw the adult woman, the adolescent boy, and the little
girl staring at him. He turned towards the ten-story office building across the street and
raised the rod to fling it away—a child finished with his toy. But the rod remained in his
hand. The doctor looked back at the three faces, his own face tired and apologetic. He
dropped the rod and began walking away.
"Doctor, wait!" yelled Rachael.
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But the doctor didn't wait. Without a hospital, without the tools of medicine, he
no longer thought of himself as a doctor.
"Doctor, please!" yelled Rachael, her voice pitching higher.
The doctor continued his pace, allowing a memory to surface, the memory of a
lacerated man dying of infections and fever.
Stupid, perfectly treatable infections, the doctor recalled. Except they weren't
treatable. Not in a world where anonymous men blow the face off one of the country's
few remaining hospitals, a blast which kills one of two doctors and the only competent
nurse—the doctor and nurse buried on the spot, their own hospital turned into a
roadway tomb.
The thought sickened the doctor, making him laugh.
This is what people want—not all but most. You take away trust. Then you get
fear. Then you get bombs. Or maybe it's: first bombs, then trust gone, then fear.
Equality of fear. Everyone equally afraid. The playing field—the field of survival—
perfectly leveled. The dumb with the same chance as the smart. Evil the same chance
as good. But it's equal—a fair game. Humans had a chance, and that chance was
Reason. But dumb people don't use reason, and scared people, and evil people, use only
basic
reason—an animal rationale. That's what they blew up, our chance at a rational
world. That's what they didn't like—people having a chance, human beings having a
chance to surpass other human beings, having a chance to out-survive the dumb . . .
with reason.
The doctor stopped. He looked down at cracked asphalt and the edge of the river
of debris. Something seized his attention. It wasn't the woman's voice—her pleas only
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made him want to yell, "I can't treat infected wounds," although he assumed her husband
lay dead by now. But something else kept him from walking away.
Why did I come here? Not to dig out the doctor or nurse, they're both dead,
killed instantly I hope. But what was it then?
Then the doctor remembered seeing a little girl standing alongside the woman
and boy. The little girl with little arms and little hands.
The locker.
The doctor scrambled back across the rubble—aware of the risk of rushing yet
unable to slow down.
God knows I couldn't treat a scratch at this point, he warned himself, laughing
again.
The second-floor faces stared as the doctor approached but said nothing. Men in
positions of power still commanded respect, even if their power just had its face blown
off by men who had more.
"I need the little girl," said the doctor.
Rachael's eyebrows lowered and cinched.
"Do you know who she is?" asked Rachael. "Do you know her parents?"
"No, I'm sorry I don't. I just need her help for a moment."
Rachael nodded, her face confused, her smile compliant.
"You have to motion to her," said Rachael. "I don't think she can hear, maybe it
was the b l a s t . . . . "
The doctor offered a perfunctory nod—a movement molded by years of patients'
attempts at self-diagnosis. He waved to the little girl.
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Luz looked at Rachael for information. Rachael pointed at the man down on the
street. Luz nodded and began descending the rubble. When she reached him, the man
bent down and pointed to the dark space between two huge slabs of concrete. Luz
followed the man's example, bending over to look. She drew back, scared eyes shut.
An arm lay in the space between slabs and even Luz could tell the arm was bent
wrong, bent backwards, a symbol of death. Luz peeked again. Dark maroon blood,
almost black, and dried white bone at the arm's elbow served as further evidence of a
painful, unnatural shift.
"It's okay," said the doctor.
A dizzy Luz blinked and stiffened her neck, afraid to move.
"It's okay," said the doctor. "It's okay."
Luz understood the man's mouth and nodded as much as her stiff neck would
allow. The idea of understanding mouths excited Luz again. Her eyes smiled. Then the
doctor pointed at the necklace Luz was wearing—a piece of dark-brown leather string
with a small flat stone hanging from it. Luz drew back, and the doctor shook his head.
"I don't want that," he said.
Luz understood his mouth again and nodded. The doctor pointed at Luz's
necklace again, then at the arm lying inside the concrete gap. Luz didn't budge. The
doctor lay down on one of the slabs, crooked his left arm—mimicking the dead arm—
then pointed at his neck and grabbed something imaginary, using a jerking motion as if
pulling an object away.
He wants me to pull away the trapped person's necklace, thought Luz, proud of
her understanding but still confused.
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Luz didn't want to take someone else's necklace, and she didn't want anyone
taking hers. The man reached into his pocket and held a small metal ring that had three
keys on it. He took one key and dangled it from the base of his neck. Then he took the
key and pressed it against the stone hanging from Luz's necklace. Luz drew back out of
habit. The doctor pointed at the hospital, holding the key aloft in the cold sunlight and
twisting it.
The person has a key for the hospital around her neck, thought Luz, nodding.
Luz remembered Rachael playing with the rusted lock—the lock and locker
which held the food. Excited but cautious, she crawled back to the gap and stared at the
crooked arm. She thought of the two dead children she had seen in her year at the
orphanage. Neither Luz nor anyone else touched the children—the dead bodies—until
the smell of human rot reached the warden. The doctor reached down and removed the
mittens from Luz's right hand. Without hesitation, Luz shoved her arm and shoulder into
the gap, stretching towards the invisible dead neck. Her fingers brushed a leather string
then flicked a piece of metal. Her hand seized the sharp-edged key. She looked at the
doctor. The doctor nodded, jerking the imaginary key from his neck. Luz pulled hard,
but the key wouldn't come. The sharp edges bit into her skin. She pulled again,
achieving the same result. She pulled once more, anxiety turning to fear, jerking her
hand like the doctor. She let go and slithered out of the slab. She wanted to speak but
shook her head instead.
The doctor patted his pockets then looked at Rachael.
"Have you got a knife?" he asked.
Rachael grabbed her wad of improvised sheathing and removed the nurse's knife,
cleansing the blade of dirt. She held it out to her son, motioning with her head as if her
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son couldn't hear. Grand silently took the knife to the doctor, who then held it out for
Luz. When Luz failed to grab the knife, the doctor sawed the air. Luz didn't nod but
allowed the knife to be placed in her small shivering hand.
Luz both understood and didn't. She knew what the knife was for but didn't
know how she could possibly use it. She laid back down and reached into the black gap
until her hand brushed the nurse's bare chest. Luz stared at the gray sky and began
sawing into darkness. She wailed and dropped the knife. Jerking her hand from the gap,
she felt her heart beat hard and fast. She looked at the doctor, who frowned. Luz thrust
her bloody hand at the doctor and looked away, afraid to witness her self-inflicted
wound. The doctor knelt and searched between the slabs, but the knife had vanished in
the darkness.
"I can't do much for your hand if you don't get me the key," said the doctor,
rising and smiling.
Luz couldn't understand the man's mouth. It moved too much and too fast. But
she saw the doctor point to the dark gap, and Luz knew what he wanted. She lay down
and reached back into the gap, her hand now hot, pulsing with fresh adrenaline and
blood. Her blood-wet grip groped along the nurse's neck, grabbed the key and pulled
hard. But the pull wasn't necessary—the string had been cut along with the nurse's skin.
Luz sat up and smiled. The doctor held out his hand. Luz tried to let go of her prize, but
couldn't. She turned her hand over and gazed at the sticky maroon and slick red
substances covering her hand. The doctor smiled, held her hand steady and peeled the
key away.
CHAPTER XI
NORTH
"You can keep all the food," the doctor said, handing Rachael the pair of crutches
she was relieved to see. "But I'm taking all of the medical implements . . . the ones
worth taking."
"Where are you going?" asked Rachael.
"North. Northwest actually. There's a city that used to be called Denver; now
they're calling it The Nation or something like that," said the doctor, carefully loading a
bag with stainless steel scalpels.
"Will there be a hospital here again?" asked Grand.
"Now you're interested in hospitals?" asked Rachael, glaring at her son.
Grand glared back.
"Certainly not in this building," said the doctor, re-examining the locker for
anything useful.
He grabbed a long rectangular strip of bed sheet, then twisted and tied its ends,
forming what looked like a parachute. He handed the improvised sling to Grand.
"Put the knot around your neck and your left arm in the spread-out cloth," said
the doctor. "That should help your collarbone heal and help with the pain. It's quite a
nasty break. I'm sorry, but that's all I can do for you."
Grand followed the directions and smiled, surprised by the quick relief.
Why didn't I know how to do that? Why didn't Mom show me how?
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"What about somewhere else in The Capital?" asked Grand. "Couldn't they
make some other building a hospital? If someone was going to rebuild this city . . .
they'd need a hospital."
Rachael looked at her son and shook her head.
Maybe he wants to be a
doctor....
The doctor smiled as he bent down in front of Luz and began to wash, disinfect
with alcohol, and bandage the girl's minor cut.
"Ten years ago, a group of men began patrolling the streets around here and
calling this 'The Capital.' They had guns, and I suppose plenty of ammunition, so we
began calling it 'The Capital,' too. But 'The Capital' of what? The men never explained
and now they're gone. Most of them dead, probably . . . hopefully. Have you noticed
the world, our world, is becoming one of women and children? Maybe that's the real
hope. Let the men kill themselves, then the ladies can figure things out."
Rachael smiled, uncertain the doctor was being serious, frightened that he might
be.
The doctor finished bandaging Luz and smiled at the little girl, who smiled back.
He looked at Rachael with a smile both sympathetic and cold.
She'll be dead in a week, he told himself. The boy and girl, too.
The doctor looked at Grand.
"Forget about The Capital, young man. You need something bigger than a capital
in order to have a capital, and we haven't got anything bigger."
"What about The Nation?" asked Rachael. "Do you know people there? Is it
safe?"
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"I've heard rumors for a while. There's something strange about the place, but I
don't think it's evil. The intelligent people I know have already gone there. Christ
knows if they've made it, but
The doctor slowly lifted the bag, letting the contents settle. He stared out the
corridor which once led to stairs. Through the corridor, he could see the missing
windows on the building across the street and thought of a man's legs he once saw,
covered in open black sores.
We never figured out what was wrong with him ... except that he was going to
die.
The doctor looked back at his injured audience.
"Maybe if we pool all the intelligent people left in this . . . what would you call
this? A country? This land? Well, I guess that's the idea behind The Nation."
The doctor laughed.
"The Nation of Cold Light? All of these ridiculous names. Why don't they just
call it Denver? Not the same appeal, I guess."
"But isn't it cold up there?" asked Rachael. "Isn't that too far north? And in the
mountains?"
"They get snow year round, but they must have figured it out. Then again, I
haven't been there," said the doctor.
"Why not come to Onall with us?" asked Rachael, wondering if the doctor had a
family, and specifically a wife.
"Onall?" asked the doctor. "Is that a place?"
"It used to be," said Rachael. "People live outside the town now. Good people.
It's not much. Nothing like this city once was, but-"
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The doctor stopped Rachael with his soft, pale hand—the human signal for "no."
He removed his glasses and carefully cleaned them, using the tail of his worn and torn
shirt.
"I appreciate the offer, but I've made up my mind. The Nation intrigues me.
Smart people," he said. "No offense."
The doctor strode through the hospital towards the rubble-strewn street. Rachael,
Grand, and Luz followed him as if under orders. At the edge of David Grand's former
room, the doctor turned around. He studied the three humans before him, a tired doctor
sizing up the last patients of his final shift.
"You're not going to spend the night here, are you?" asked the doctor.
Rachael looked at her son and the little girl.
"I thought it would be best," she said. "It's already so late . . . There are beds
here, and now we have food and water."
The doctor nodded.
"Maybe it's as safe as anywhere else," he said. "But I wouldn't trust anyone you
run across here—or anyone who runs across you. That bomb was the last bit for this
place, this city, The Capital. People may stay because of the gardens and water
collectors on the roofs, but then again, other people, the ones who did this," said the
doctor, pointing through the missing wall, "they may come too, just to get what they can
get. I wouldn't trust anyone . .. especially anyone who offers help."
The doctor turned to go.
"What was her name?" asked Rachael, pointing to the rubble.
"Who? The nurse?" asked the doctor.
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"She told me her name," said Rachael. "But I've already forgotten. She was the
last person I talked to before all of this. I never got to thank her."
Rachael looked down at the slab which had knocked her out and pinned her
down.
"We always called her Kat," said the doctor, pausing in thought. "But I think that
was short for Katharina or Katrina. I used to know her last name, too, but I suppose we
don't use those anymore. Names create a kind of order, don't they? Ordered thoughts.
First and last. We mustn't waste our time with names anymore, should we?"
"How long will her body last?" blurted out Grand, glancing at his mother. "How
long before it goes away . . . I mean, forever."
The doctor smiled and looked down at the concrete rubble entombing the nurse.
"You've got an interesting imagination, young man. You could have been a
pathologist," said the doctor, aware the boy had no idea what a pathologist was. "You
could have been a lot of things. I wish we could put Kat in the ground, and the other
doctor, too, wherever he is in this. It's best not to think about it."
The doctor began his descent.
Grand stepped past his mom.
"Are you sure they won't rebuild here?" he asked. "Someone? Anyone? What
about all of the buildings? Everything is ready if you could get the people. My dad-"
The doctor nodded and smiled but didn't slow his long, rubble-straddling strides.
"That's actually a very logical idea, young man," he said, his voice drifting into
the quiet city as he hopped from one huge slab to another. "Many smart people have
said the same thing for years. The problem is . . . most of them are dead."
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The doctor stopped when he reached street level and looked both ways, fulfilling
some archaic habit. He turned and looked at the three people who were looking at him.
"What I can't figure out is . . . why we hung on for so long."
CHAPTER XII
RING
Darkness arrived.
In the hospital's long-abandoned third floor, Rachael chose a room which, like
her husband's, looked out onto the street below. After struggling up stairs with thin
mattresses in tow, Rachael and Luz curled up on a broken bed which creaked under the
slightest disturbance, while Grand set his mattress between the bed and the missing wall,
giving him an unblocked view of the black quiet city.
Grand filled the silence with a question.
"Who did this, Mom? Who made the bomb?"
"Men," said his mother, "just some men."
"Powerful men?"
"Just men. Just some stupid men."
"How much do they control?" asked Grand. "Do they have gold?"
"Charles . . . I don't think they want to control anything," said Rachael. "And
please accept the fact that gold doesn't make any difference in the world - it doesn't
make any positive difference. It never will. Your father learned that. . . . "
"But could these men control other things, not just bombs, b u t . . . the air? Could
they make the air something you could grab and give out to certain people and take
away from certain people and . . . so the point is, you wouldn't need gold because you
could control the air."
"What?" asked Rachael.
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Grand stayed silent. He shivered, then shook himself hard to create warmth.
Dust and must rose from his mattress and hung in the air like a second blanket. Grand
turned his body from the blackness of the room to the blackness of the night.
"Where do they keep the gold in this city?" he asked.
"Jesus Christ, Charles! Gold? Charles, your father was a smart man in some
ways, but-"
"You never believed in his plan," said Grand. "He could have used your help. It
might have kept him alive."
"Listen, Charles . . . " said Rachael, rubbing her face with dirty calloused hands,
praying sleep would arrive quickly and last long. "Your father had some good ideas. He
was a good man. I truly believe he wanted to help people. But being a good man and
wanting to help people doesn't mean much if it gets you killed. I know you loved your
father, Charles—I did, too. But this world kills men like him. Every. Single. Day. You
just can't expect things to work like they did before. I wish that wasn't true. I really
do-"
"You're just like the men in the crowd," said Grand. "The quitters . . . . "
"Charles-"
"Dad needed your help."
"He didn't need anyone's help getting himself killed. Any idiot can accomplish
that by himself."
"Dad had a plan and you didn't," said Grand. "Dad had the plan. You just
wouldn't believe. You chose not to believe."
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"I wanted to believe, Charles. But your father wasn't a reasonable man. He
thought gold and a bank would be enough to change Onall, but things aren't that simple.
I wish they were. I really wanted to believe, Charles. I really did, but-"
"No-"
"Charles . . . shut up and listen. Dreams are dangerous and the best thing we can
do is build on what on we already have. Build bigger farms. Raise more animals. Get
help from neighbors. Give help to neighbors. You don't need gold to do that."
"But what if Dad's idea did work?"
"It didn't work. It won't work. It will never work. That's why he's dead. Jesus,
it's not that complicated, Charles. Good people try to build towns. Good people try to
rebuild cities . . . cities with hospitals. And bad people try to stop them. Look around.
As long as the bad people are winning, you stay out of their way. And guess what? The
bad people are winning. As far as I'm concerned, the bad people have won. So don't
challenge them in the street if you want to stay alive. The end."
"But people want change. Not all, but some. They stayed silent in the crowd,
but they were there. They were listening. And they wanted what Dad wanted . . . and
what I want."
"Charles, what the hell are you talking about? I'm sorry your father is dead, but
learn from it, at least. Learn from it! We'll be fine when we get back to Onall. Things
will be fine. Our friends are watching our fields and house. We'll keep improving what
we have. Now, please let me get some sleep."
On her outstretched arm, a yawning Rachael felt the soft breaths of a sleeping
Luz.
We both need it, little girl.
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Grand wanted to ask his mother what they would do if bad people—if men with
bombs—came to their house and field in Onall. But he knew his mother didn't want to
answer.
She doesn't know the answer.
Grand closed his eyes on the night.
Later, sunk into sleep and darkness, the far-off ring returned. The sound grew in
strength, buzzing and burning Grand's eardrums, spreading across his mind like windcaught fire. Grand placed his hot palms on his hotter temples, but the ringing continued.
It's burning me. The blast and fire.
Sweat popped from Grand's pores. His squeezed-shut eyes became coals of
white heat. His face contracted, then released, then contracted, trying to wring the hurt
from his head. But the ringing increased. Grand gave up. He relaxed his face, his arms,
his body. His hot knuckles hit the cold floor, sizzling. His body began to vibrate. The
ringing increased. Tears streamed from the corners of his eyes—Grand imagined the
tears were blood expelled from a hot swollen brain. His mattress began to vibrate, then
the entire room, then the building.
The whole world is ringing. The whole world is shaking and breaking and can't
be stopped except by ... .
Grand had heard of God from a man wandering around Onall.
The voice of God. The ringing
....
Grand listened closer, his head, he believed, on the verge of explosion. He
realized the sound was a voice - not a ringing or the remnants of a hospital blast, but a
kind of singing. Grand tried to picture God singing but saw nothing. He pictured his
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mother singing in their one-room shack in Onall, singing songs from her youth. But this
singing wasn't a mother or a person or people or a God but the collective voice of every
atom, every quark, every bit of concrete and dust and cloud, every cell of every plant
and animal, all tiny things singing at once, buzzing with movement, speeding up solids
and liquids and gases and shaking the air. Nature was screaming.
Then it stopped.
Grand saw his father, dressed in bloody work clothes, hands and face covered
with dirt.
Grand saw his sister, pale and naked and beautiful, like a woman from an old
magazine.
"Mother said you were dead, but I knew
Lucy smiled.
Grand reached out to touch his sister and father. But grasped only air.
CHAPTER XIII
BUGS
One hour before sunrise, the sound of rubble cascading into rubble woke Grand,
Rachael, and Luz. Small white lights gleamed in the dark world outside the blown-out
wall. The lights vanished, then reappeared, then vanished in jerks of motion.
Concrete noises came closer.
Rachael pulled Luz tight against her chest.
Grand turned towards his mother's bed.
"Are those bugs?" he asked, his voice bouncing off walls.
"I don't think so. Shhh."
The trio heard male voices talking on the street—voices with no intention of
being quiet.
"What do they want?" whispered Grand.
"Just lie still. Shhh."
Rachael rolled out of bed and tested her ankle.
Better. . . but won't be running away tonight.
The voices seemed only feet away—bright sound amplified by black night.
Luz clung hard to Rachael's hand, but Rachael broke free and groped for her
crutches - a potential weapon. She stopped when she heard the doctor's voice.
Maybe he's changed his mind about going to Onall, she thought, exhaling. /
hope he doesn't expect us to go north.
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A whirring sound filled the room. White lights flooded the frightened faces of
Rachael and the little girl.
"Is that you, doctor?" asked Rachael.
"Yes, I'm afraid it is," said the doctor. "Let go of me."
A scuffling sound came from the hallway then stopped.
"Excuse me," said the doctor. "The trade was three for three. Now let me be on
my way."
CHAPTER XIV
FREEWAY
There were ten of them. Ten men shrouded in raincoats, faded-orange vests sewn
over the outside. Rachael remembered seeing such orange vests when she was a child
in this city. The vests had been worn by men working on roads and sometimes by
police.
Rachael shook her head, amazed by the number of people "captured," all of them
sitting on the highway, all of them, except small children, with hands and feet bound by
rope, all of them being watched by ten men in orange vests. Luz sat next to Rachael,
leaning her head against the big woman's shoulder, her unbound hands and feet carefully
fidgeting. Rachael's hands were bound but with a loose rope between them, to allow her
the use of her crutches.
The large group of captives sat shivering on a city expressway underneath the
belly of an elevated highway interchange, a position meant to keep the cold morning
mist away. But the mist ignored the plan, streaming in slanted with the breeze,
dampening dirty hair and tired faces. The group sat on the five lanes closest to the the
city—across a concrete valley lay another five lanes.
Northbound and Southbound, thought Rachael, who hadn't seen a driven car or
truck in several years.
With her glasses missing and presumed crushed, Rachael couldn't discern the
borders of the sitting crowd. Still, she reckoned there were at least two hundred people
taken from the city, maybe three hundred. Rachael hadn't seen any "elderly" people yet
but had noticed lots of women and children, some of the children too small to walk.
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All these people held by only ten men?
The ten men had tied their captives' hands tight at the wrists with few exceptions
for injuries or age. Most hands were tied in front of the captives, but some of the male
captives, perhaps the ones already guilty of causing trouble, had their hands tied behind
their backs and fastened to a second rope slung around their necks and groins—any
attempt to move their hands would choke them and apply unpleasant pressure to their
genitals. Most of the hungry, thirsty captives seemed dazed, faces somber, eyes glazed,
trying to wake up or trying not to wake up.
The ten captors carried leather whips glistening from a fresh application of oil.
The whips were attached to their belts with a loose knot. They also appeared to have
what Rachael thought were police batons—a policeman and his family had lived next
door to Rachael when she was a child in this city. The baton made Rachael wonder if
the men in orange vests were the remnants of some police force, not that it mattered—
what was happening wasn't legal, at least not by any laws voted for by the people
captured and bound.
Rachael looked over the number of heads again.
There might be four
hundred....
Rachael wondered why no one yelled or tried to escape.
Four hundred versus ten?
The captives' ankles had been bound with fresh hemp rope like their wrists but
not fastened tightly together. There were two strong lengths of rope tied between two
ankle loops—enough slack to walk without too much trouble, but running would be
tricky and perhaps impossible. Despite letting Rachael keep her crutches, the captors
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had removed Grand's sling in order to bind his hands, forcing Rachael to watch the pain
return to her son's face, although Grand said nothing.
From her seated position, Rachael studied the sea of tightly packed captives
huddled inside insufficient clothes.
Why isn't anyone doing anything? There might be five hundred. . . that's five
hundred versus ten! If everybody broke away, if we did it together, we'd be unstoppable.
The men must have guns—at least one of them must have a gun. Ten versus five
hundred? That can only work with a gun.
The captors paced the group's borders, simultaneously waiting and unwilling to
wait. Rachael noticed two of the captors stop at a shoulder railing. The men gazed at an
unobstructed view of The Capital and began conversing. One of the men was lanky with
slick black hair. The other man, shorter, stocky, and older, wore a white plastic hat, the
kind Rachael's memory associated with construction. He was the only captor wearing a
hat.
The
leader....
Rachael wished she could listen in.
"Five-hundred and twenty, Ronnie."
"Damn, that's too many."
"It ain't like they're gonna wait around for us if we leave 'em here."
"No, I want to take them. We'll have to march them hard, though. Keep them
thirsty."
"They won't march hard if they're thirsty. But they will march hard if they're
scared."
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"They'll march hard."
"Ten pounds of gold per person, right?"
"That's what Cypher said."
"How much is ten pounds times five-hundred and twenty?"
"A l o t . . . and no safe place to keep it. Hell, we might have to open a bank
ourselves."
Watching the two men talk, Rachael squinted then relaxed her eyes. With her
eyesight—and without her glasses—lip-reading was an impossibility even from a
distance of ten feet. She tried anyway but read nothing. Luz tugged the sleeve of
Rachael's coat. Rachael smiled, wishing the little girl would speak more, wishing the
little girl could hear at least a little. Luz pointed at a man near them while continuing to
tug on Rachael's coat.
"What?" asked Rachael.
Luz used squinted eyes to help her determine a course of action. She still
couldn't hear herself speak.
If I say the wrong words, she might get angry, thought Luz, remembering the
cemetery, remembering the woman get mad at her son.
Luz shrugged and tugged Rachael's coat again. Rachael smiled and mouthed the
word "what?" Luz decided to play the game.
"I know him," she mouthed, emitting a nasal version of the words while pointing
at a captive man sitting five feet away.
"You know him?" Rachael mouthed back.
Luz understood and nodded.
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There are a lot of ways to
talk....
She pointed once more at the captive man—the warden from her orphanage—but
before she could mouth the words "I know him," the warden turned slightly and stared at
Luz with a single eye which sped the little girl's thoughts. Luz hadn't been friends with
the warden, but she had respected him—the warden was like a father to all of the
children, the only father most of them would ever have. Luz thought she saw the
warden smile.
I can ask him about Mom and Dad.
The warden spun on his butt to face Luz as if he too had a question to ask. But
he didn't. And Luz's question became mired in her mouth.
Monsters....
Half the warden's face burned bright red like a big single scratch. The smile was
not a smile but a grimace.
Back by the railing, the man in the white hat and the slick-haired captor ceased to
speak and focused on the entrance ramp which began twenty-five feet below the
expressway. The man in the white hat waved and moments later four mules appeared at
the top of the entrance ramp, hooves clapping asphalt. Each mule hauled a cart holding
several large plastic water containers and a food box made of wood. The mules had one
driver each, bringing the number of men in orange vests to fourteen. The man in the
white hat nodded in conversation with the slick-haired captor who then took out his
whip and cracked it. The pop of the whip bounced off the belly of the overhead
highway, then crashed into the crowd of captives. The pop garnered everyone's
attention, but the slick-haired captor cracked his whip again anyway, this time with a
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violent jerk of his body. The nervous, tired crowd gazed at the man in the white hat,
who everyone assumed was the leader. The man in the white hat began to speak with a
voice calm and loud.
"Greetings future citizens of New America. My name is Ronnie Bastrop, and I
will be your guide to your new and exciting destination. I realize the conditions of
transportation are not ideal, nothing in this world is nowadays—we all know that. Be
that as it may, my friends and I, as authorized by the President of New America, will get
you to your new home as quickly and as safely as possible. But we need your help! I do
not want to hurt anyone. These men do not want to hurt anyone. But we will."
The man in the white hat paused, inhaled deeply, then allowed the breath to
leave. His calm-but-raised voice continued.
"When we arrive at your new home, at our home, you will be checked out by a
doctor and given medicine or treatment if needed."
Rachael wanted to ask—in her loudest voice—if these doctors would have
penicillin.
Don't think of David anymore. It's not your fault he is dead. Charles must never
see you cry. He can't see that, ever.
The man in the white hat drank water from a plastic bottle, then continued.
"You will be fed, and let me be clear on this, at New America, we do not eat
people! We have plenty of real food: vegetables, grains, poultry, pork, and beef. We do
not eat people, so put your minds at ease. We grow our own food and raise our own
stock. Eventually, those of you who are able to work will be asked to work in return for
a guaranteed three meals a day, and of course, all the fresh water you can drink. We
have milk, too, probably the best you've ever tasted. In the summer, we have fruit."
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"Not a bad deal," yelled the slick-haired captor, studying his whip like a surgeon
checking his scalpel.
"Not a bad deal at all," continued the man with the white hat. "All things
considered, I would say it's the best deal you'll get for a few hundred years while we
New Americans work together to rebuild what Man and the Old Americans have lost."
A silver-haired man near the center of the crowd stood up, nearly falling over as
he rose. He appeared to be older than most of the captives, perhaps in his fifties or early
sixties. His lengthy hair framed a wrinkled, weathered face, but his stature was
vigorous. Only the hemp bindings seemed to lessen his health.
In a steady voice, the silver-haired captive asked, "Why have you bound our
hands and feet?"
"Because people don't know what's good for them!" barked the man in the white
hat who quickly calmed. "I'm sorry. But it's for your own safety and ours. People don't
know what's good for them anymore. That's why things have gotten where they are.
We're not going to survive if we don't work together."
"I have a home," said the silver-haired man. "You took me from my home."
The man looked around the crowd.
"I know I'm not the only one," he continued. "Some of us don't want your help.
If we decide we do, then we will ask."
The slick-haired captor walked into the crowd, trying to avoid people on the
ground but stepping on them when he couldn't. He grabbed the older captive and pulled
him towards the railing, the crowd hastening to produce an exit path.
The slick-haired captor stood the older captive before the crowd.
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The older captive, his face an angry red, looked at the slick-haired man and said
in the same calm voice, "I don't need your help, either."
The slick-haired captor smiled, dropped his whip, straightened the older man and
punched him hard in the throat, knocking him onto the expressway's cracked-asphalt
shoulder.
The slick-haired captor picked up his whip.
The man in the white hat remained calm but frowned at his associate.
"That's enough," he said, before turning to readdress the crowd. "That's enough,
isn't it? For all of us. We've all had enough, haven't we? Enough violence, enough
worrying about where our food will come from, enough worrying about whether the rain
water is enough or the river water is safe, enough worrying about the future. Haven't we
all had enough of that?"
The man in the white hat paused as if waiting for a collective response. He
pointed at the older captive who had crawled to the rusted railing and propped himself
up, cradling his swelling throat with bound hands.
The man in the white hat looked at the crowd and smiled.
"Now, I want all of you to take a good look at this man. This guy thinks he's
smart, and he is! He's so smart that he's going to go live in a hovel for the next ten years
and eat boiled acorns. Once every year, he will find a dead squirrel killed by some
animal that's smarter than him, and this man will get to feast on rotted squirrel meat.
Then, ten years from now, he'll break his arm when a storm washes away his hovel.
When the storm is gone, he'll crawl to a source of water which will keep him alive for a
month as his untreated arm develops gangrene, and the gangrene slowly spreads across
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his body, killing him in the most agonizing way a human being can die. And that's
exactly what being smart will get you in this world. Who else wants to die in pain?"
The older captive managed to stand up using the rusted railing as support. He
tried to speak but coughed instead. He swallowed hard, then tried to speak again.
"I've never eaten a boiled acorn," he said, his voice a barely audible rasp.
The man in the white hat spun.
"What?"
The older captive swallowed hard, face crimson, body trembling as he opened his
mouth to speak.
"I have never eaten a boiled acorn."
"You idiot," said the man in the white hat, his voice low as if speaking only to
the older captive. "You just don't get it, do you?"
"What I get," said the captive, his voice steady, his sharp blue eyes staring, his
long silver hair straying across his face, "is that I would rather die in pain than die in
prison."
"I'm not taking you to a prison, you idiot. Who said anything about a prison?
Look at this city in front of you, falling apart left, right, up and down, people trying to
grow food on rooftops, trying to catch water in broken buckets set out in the street.
That's a prison! That's a death sentence, my friend."
"If you tie my hands to prevent me from using them, and tie my feet so I can
barely walk, you have made me a prisoner. If you force me to march to a place I don't
want to go, I am a prisoner. And if you tell me I have to work in order to get food, you
have made me a slave and the whole world, my whole world, a prison. I have a place to
live. I have a garden that supplies much of my food. I have friends with gardens-"
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The older captive stopped and watched the slick-haired captor unleash his sixfoot braided-leather whip. The whip's knotted tip audibly tapped the wet road.
The man in the white hat smiled, then addressed the crowd once more.
"He still doesn't get it, but I'm going to try one more time because this is
important. In fact, this might be the most important speech you ever hear. So, listen up.
I don't like doing this. I don't like going to filthy, half-destroyed cities and rounding up
human beings like cattle. I could get killed doing this. So what's in it for me? That's
this silver-haired gentleman's attitude: 'What's in it for me?' So, I'll ask the same
question for myself. Why am I doing this? I put myself in danger because I believe in
something bigger than myself. I could be like this man and care only about myself, or
only about myself and my kids and wife. But what happens when I die? Maybe my kids
will still be alive or maybe not. What if they have kids and then die with nothing better
passed down to their kids than what we have today? Every generation will be on the
edge until one day it's all gone. Look around, people. Do you see a brighter future
coming soon?"
The man in the white hat paused and pointed again at the dilapidated downtown
area facing the crowd. In The Capital, most buildings, even the tallest ones, had only
half their windows. Vandals had completely torched some of the oldest, smallest
buildings, leaving the blackened skeletons to dissolve slowly in the rain. The visible
rooftops did hold greenhouses which also served as water collectors. Most appeared in
use by squatters, minus those among the hundreds now rounded up.
"Do you see a brighter future coming ever!" asked the man in the white hat. "If
you stay out here, you will die in pain, your kids will die in pain, and the whole
goddamn human civilization will disappear . . . in pain! Hell, it practically has already.
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Now, if we come together, perhaps against our will at first, we can rebuild. I'm not
saying it will be the way it was, and maybe that's for the better. But we can rebuild a
world where people don't have to plant food on a roof or lick water off a street."
... or lick water off a grave, thought Rachael, unconsciously nodding.
The man in the white hat continued, saying, "We can sure as hell build a world
where hospitals don't blow up in the middle of the goddamn day. And listen . . . a new
system won't organize itself, people. We have to come together!"
The man in the white hat looked at the older captive and said, "Now, get back in
the group, sir. C'mon . . . let's go. We can do this the right way. We can do this
together."
The older captive didn't move. His silver mist-drenched hair released rivulets of
sweat and rain down the cracks in his weathered face.
The man in the white hat and the silver-haired captive stared at each other with
tired frowns. Two small birds landed on the railing not far from the older captive. The
birds chirped for a moment, then took their argument to the air, flying deep into The
Capital.
The older captive coughed.
"People can come together without being forced to do so," he said, trying to
massage his neck. "I am sixty-years old. I am still alive because people have helped me
as I have helped them. We have helped each other because we are human beings, and
that is what human beings do—naturally—without your tying their hands and screaming
at them."
The man in the white hat swayed slowly back and forth, nodding with his whole
body.
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"Okay," he said. "Maybe you're right."
The older man allowed himself a wary half-smile.
The man in the white hat walked directly through the crowd, saying "excuse me"
when he brushed a person's arms or legs. He reached the other narrow strip of highway
shoulder and sat down on the railing, beyond which lay a concrete valley, the other five
lanes of this once heavily-used expressway, and the other side of The Capital. Above
him and surrounding him was a complex of highway interchanges formerly called "The
Mixmaster" when everything had a name. The crowd wasn't sure which way to look
until the man in the white hat spoke again.
"This man, this sixty-year-old gentleman, says he survives with the help of other
people. And you probably want to believe him. But in order for that to be the truth, in
order for you to survive through the kindness of others, you have to trust them. Right?
Don't those two things go together? Trust and help?" The man in the white hat nodded
at the group, willing them to nod along with his rhetoric. "I think our sixty-year-old
friend here is full of shit, but I'll give him a chance to prove me wrong."
The man in a white hat pulled a knife from a sheath on his belt. To those
captives near enough to see, the knife appeared both long and sharp, too long to have
been made for fighting, perhaps forged as a butcher's knife. Still sitting, the white-hatted
captor beckoned the older captive to cross through the crowd. He beckoned using the
knife, implying that the knife could be used to cut the older man's bindings.
The older man, seeing the knife, hesitated.
"C'mon," said the captor, motioning with the knife. "If you want help from
people you got to trust them, right? C'mon."
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The older man stiffened and began walking forward cautiously. He stopped in
the middle of the crowd and waited.
The man in the white hat didn't move, the knife's clean silvery sharpness resting
on top of his dirty black pants.
"C'mon," said the man in the white hat. "C'mon."
The older captive didn't move.
The man in the white hat smiled.
"That's what I thought. I knew you were a smart-"
The man in the white hat paused as the older captive began walking again,
passing through the rest of the crowd until he stopped two feet from the captor and the
resting knife.
"Fine," said the man in the white hat. "That's just fine. You trust me, right?" he
asked the older captive. "I'm a human being and you trust me, right?"
The older man sighed.
"You are a human being," he said, "but no, I do not trust you."
The man in the white hat nodded.
"Like I said, you are smart."
The man in the white hat shot his free hand up and out, grabbing the older man's
tied hands, then pulling the older man forward and to the side. The older man spun, his
thighs hit the railing, and he toppled backwards into the concrete valley, his face banging
and scraping against the rough concrete as he rolled to the narrow bottom. No bones
were broken, but because of the binding around his hands and feet, the steepness of the
man-made valley, and the mounds of vehicle debris blocking the valley in other places,
it seemed unlikely the older man could escape without assistance.
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The older man raised his crimson-scraped face one inch off the ground and stared
at the man in the white hat, who returned the stare. The man in the white hat had
planned on giving a lecture once the demonstration seemed complete, but the slanting
mist had morphed into a slanting light rain, the captors and captives had a long way to
travel that day and the next, and he was a man who, although prone to oration, believed
words were mostly a waste of time.
CHAPTER XV
PHENOMENA
A short march south followed by a long march east began. The rows of ten
muddled and mixed as people with different strengths and limitations tried to maintain
the same pace and the highway shrank from five lanes to three. Despite being thankful
for her crutches, Rachael knew her arms and shoulders would soon be as sore as her
right ankle. She glanced around at fellow captives and imagined many of them, like the
now-abandoned older captive, would have preferred to stay behind.
I bet they won't argue with three meals a day, though . . . could they really have
meat and milk?
Rachael hadn't tasted milk in years and hadn't served her family meat except
when a rare hunter wanted vegetables in trade. Some hunters around Onall hinted they
would get Rachael more meat if she provided them with quick pleasure in the woods,
and David, busy rounding up gold or daydreaming about plans for a new city, seemed
oblivious to the bribes. But Rachael remained faithful, despite her son's emaciated body
making her feel selfish.
Crutching herself forward, Rachael watched her son dangle his bound wrists in
front of his thin frame—a semi-successful attempt to avoid disturbing the nerves around
his collar. Grand had often wanted to hunt meat to excite his monotonous diet. He
learned to kill crows with hand-thrown rocks, but Rachael never let him cook or eat the
birds.
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Maybe I was too strict. . . Maybe it won't matter. . . Maybe nothing I did will
matter. We'll all get wounded eventually - break our arms or legs, die of thirst or
hunger...
I gave Charles clothes, food and water. . . everything else he got from his
dad.
"What happens to people when they die?" asked Grand.
Rachael laughed at the surprising question, then tried to cover her mouth.
"You mean what happens to the body?" she asked.
"Well, maybe," said Grand, sleepy but on the verge of anger. "When people die,
is that it?"
"Do you remember that preacher?" asked Rachael. "The one talking about
heaven and hell?"
"He just acted crazy to get some food," said Grand.
"He wasn't crazy. Some people believe like he does. A lot do, especially now.
They believe there's something better after you die, at least for good people," said
Rachael.
"Is that what you believe?" asked Grand.
"It's what I want to believe," said Rachael. " . . . I can't think of anything better."
"What if it's a lie?" asked Grand.
"Then maybe life is a lie, too."
"Were Dad and Lucy good enough to get in?" asked Grand. "To heaven?"
"Charles, we're not going to talk about Lucy."
Anger rising, Grand re-worded his question.
"Was Dad good enough to get in?"
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"I think we all are, Charles. Even the worst of us. We're all just trying to make
sense of something that doesn't make sense," said Rachael. "Maybe it's a test. Or
maybe life is just a waiting room . . . one big waiting room where we're all stuck
together."
"But supposing they didn't get in . . . supposing Dad didn't get in . . . . "
"If there's a heaven, your father got in," said Rachael, wishing her son would
drop the subject, at least for a few years.
"I saw Dad last night," said Grand.
"You had a bad dream," said Rachael. "You'll dream about your father, and
that's-"
"It wasn't a dream," said Grand.
"It was a dream, Charles."
"My eyes were open. I heard him through the ringing," said Grand.
Hungry, thirsty, and tired, Rachael sighed. She didn't miss her husband's foolish
behavior, but at the moment she wished he would rise from the grave and provide his
son some answers.
"Your father's dead," said Rachael. "And there's nothing we can do about that.
If there's a heaven, I'm sure we'll all meet there and be together forever—safe and happy.
I hope that's how it works, Charles, but we can't bring your father back to this place.
And that's a good thing. Don't try to bring him back."
"What if he wants to come back?"
Rachael felt a tug on her coat. She glanced beside her and smiled at the little girl.
Pretending to be angry, Rachael playfully mouthed the word, "What?" Luz pointed to
the row behind them.
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"Your friend?" mouthed Rachael with a smile. "You know him?"
Luz paused in thought, then shook her head. She pointed at Rachael.
"You know him."
Crutching herself forward, Rachael glanced behind her. She regretted the loss of
her glasses in the blast, but the doctor was easy to recognize.
The doctor stared straight ahead, his face tense and tired.
Rachael frowned and strangled the wooden grips of her crutches.
"Hi," she said, trying to glance back and stare at the doctor, the angry look on her
face no longer pretend.
The doctor, flanked closely by a woman his age on one side and a teenage girl on
the other, didn't respond.
"Is that your wife and daughter?" asked Rachael, smiling.
"Yes," mumbled the doctor.
Luz saw the doctor say "yes" but couldn't read Rachael's lips. The doctor didn't
seem very happy.
"Pleased to meet you," said Rachael, making eye contact with the wife.
Arms dangling, Grand turned his head, maxing his tolerance for pain. He saw
the doctor's wife whispering to the doctor. Then he saw the daughter staring at his
strange hunchbacked stature.
She's beautiful, Grand thought, watching the daughter brush wet brown hair from
her face. Almost as pretty as
Lucy....
Grand tried to smile, but the pain from his collar forced him to look away.
The doctor's wife finished her whisper, then waited for her husband to nod. She
looked at Rachael.
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"My name is Jane. This is my daughter, Caroline."
Rachael crutched herself forward, fighting the temptation to glare at the woman
behind her.
"Rachael," she said, eyes locked on the bodies in front of her. "This is my son,
Charles."
Grand tried to turn and look at Caroline but tripped on the ropes between his
ankles. He stumbled, barely avoiding a fall.
"I know who you are, and I'm sorry," said Jane.
Rachael continued to crutch herself forward. Her strides getting bigger.
Luz tugged on Rachael's coat sleeve, wanting in on the conversation.
"What?" mouthed Rachael.
Luz shook her head and resumed staring at the big bodies in front of her.
"How are those crutches working for you?" asked the doctor.
"Fine. Just fine," said Rachael, turning her head and smiling. "Except I can't get
them to head in the right direction. I want to go south, but for some reason they're
taking me east."
A wall of clouds from the north pushed south, darkening the already gray day.
A cold northern wind began blowing across the highway, stirring the hair and clothes of
captives, relieving the heat of dehydration.
"What happened to your son's sling?" asked the doctor.
"What do you think happened?" asked Rachael, turning her head and glaring at
the doctor.
The doctor smiled the same smile he gave every newly arrived patient—the smile
that says, "I'm sorry you're hurt."
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"Why didn't you head north?" asked Rachael.
"I'm sorry," said the doctor.
"I said, 'Why didn't you go north?"' asked Rachael.
"No," said the doctor. "I mean I'm sorry I told these men where you were."
"You're sorry you got caught," said Rachael, aware her intensifying grip
threatened the structural integrity of her crutches.
"That's right," said the doctor. "I'm sorry I got caught trying to save my family."
Rachael laughed and nodded. She looked back at the doctor's anxious wife and
teenage daughter.
" W e l l . . . I guess we're all family now," said Rachael.
"They would have gotten all of us anyway," said Jane, her tone apologetic.
"Is that right?" asked Rachael, sockets puffing with blood, eyes boring into the
face of the doctor's wife.
At the rear of the marching rows, the two captors standing guard noticed a man
approaching from the west. The man, wearing a black trench coat shredded at every
edge, pushed a wheelbarrow while talking in a loud voice, although he appeared to be
alone. The captors looked at each other, remembering their orders to avoid
confrontation and never to kill anyone unless absolutely necessary.
The captors looked back at the approaching man, then back at each other.
"Should we speed the group up?" asked one.
"I think we're at top speed," said the other.
The captors looked behind them again. The man in the black trench coat seemed
determined to overtake them. The group of captives continued their slow forward
march, none of them having noticed the man in black.
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"Let's pick it up, people," said one of the rear captors.
A few captives glanced back.
"If we keep up a good pace, we'll be there tomorrow night. And the first thing
you get is a good meal," added the other rear captor.
The march remained slow.
Now less than one-hundred-feet away, the man in the black trench coat appeared
to quicken his pace.
"Halt!" yelled one of the rear captors. "Halt!"
The man in the white hat, riding in a cart at the front of the group, stood up and
peered back across the marching human mass.
"Halt!" yelled the man in the white hat.
The four drivers stopped their mules. The group of captives lurched to a stop—
exhausted rows colliding.
The man in the white hat turned toward the drivers.
"Pull them out."
All four drivers unsheathed shotguns and jumped to the back of their carts, facing
the crowd. The three captors on each side of the large group and the two standing on the
ground in front of the group all stared into the crowd, whips unfurled. The two captors
at the back of the group unsheathed their batons, looked at each other, then looked for
their leader and saw him running their way. Ronnie Bastrop—the man in the white hat
—had learned that dealing with wanderers and assorted crazy people required his full
attention, and the man in the black trench coat, approaching clumsily but with purpose,
would get it undivided.
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The crowd of captives remained motionless, some still sweating despite the
rapidly cooling air. A small number of captives, mostly children, sat down. On the
northern side of the group, one older woman lay down and closed her eyes, her small
body only a few feet from the highway railing, a steep concrete incline and an exit ramp
covered in vehicle debris. One hundred feet from the ramp, an abandoned strip mall
formed the border between a neighborhood and the highway.
Rachael tried discerning the scene at the back of the group but saw only gray and
black fuzz. An icy fleck pecked her eye, melted, and ran down her cheek like a cold
tear. Another flurry hit her face. Then another. Rachael looked up and saw dark clouds
churning.
Nobody planned on this, thought Rachael, recalling her departure from Onall,
recalling the sun and the warmth. It's too early for snow.
The man in the black trench coat careened forward, wheelbarrow swerving.
The man in the white hat, huffing from his run, shook his head and smiled.
"Well hello, stranger," said the man in the white hat, stepping between the
stranger and the crowd of captives.
The man in the black trench coat showed no intention of slowing down.
The two rear captors raised their batons.
The man in the trench coat stopped and slammed the wheelbarrow's metal feet
into the road.
"What's your name?" asked the man in the white hat.
The man in the trench coat smiled and belched.
"Grin," he said.
"Grin?" asked the man in the white hat. "Like the smile?"
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"Like the smile," said Grin, sweat streams running down his face like his hair
was crying.
"Is that the name your momma gave you?" asked the man in the white hat.
"That's just what people call me," said Grin. "Momma's been dead a long time."
"Were you lost, son?" asked the man in the white hat.
Grin smiled and shook his head like a child.
"Not unless we're all lost."
Unable to hear the talk, Grand took the opportunity to check out Caroline, who
glanced at him and smiled. A few more captives sat down, but all those standing craned
their heads to watch the confrontation.
"I asked if you were lost, son," said the man in the white hat.
"I answered, 'Not unless we're all lost,' son," said Grin.
The man in the white hat stared at Grin with a confused grimace.
We used to just shoot people like you, he thought. And if we weren't trying to
save
ammunition....
Grin pushed down on the handles of his wheelbarrow, lifting the front wheel.
The sole remaining green plastic bottle rolled and rattled.
"Well," said the man in the white hat, "the road ahead can get very dangerous,
Grin. There's all kinds of crazy people roaming around. But if you want our protection,
you can join our group. We'll get you some food when we stop. At New America, we
eat three times a day. We eat vegetables, fruit, grains, eggs, meat, ch-"
"That sounds good," broke in Grin. "That's sounds damn good. How do you get
all that? Have you fixed everything?"
Grin suddenly stood erect and put his hands on his hips.
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"Have you fixed everything, sir?"
The man in the white hat looked at one of the rear captors.
"Get some safety ropes."
The captor looked at his boss for a moment, sheathed his baton, jogged to the
side of the group, and began sprinting forward.
"Those are some nice shoes," said Grin, winking.
The man in the white hat looked at the well-worn tennis shoes on his feet. He
wiggled his hidden toes.
My shoes are comfortable, he thought, and you are fucking crazy.
"Those are some real nice shoes," said Grin, an unintended drop of drool leaving
his mouth and blowing away in the stiff northern breeze. "Working shoes! Construction
shoes. Hell! Hell! You could build yourself a whole damn civilization with those
shoes. Hell, Ronnie Bastrop!"
The man in the white hat nodded and smiled.
The two men stood in silence.
The sprinting captor returned with precut lengths of rope.
"Well, I tell you what," said the man in the white hat, "since you know my name,
I guess I'll have to get you a pair of shoes once we get where we're going. Now, C - "
"Only problem is," broke in Grin, "They don't protect your feet from accidents."
"Well," said the man in the white hat.
" . . . from the unexpected. Mine are better for that," said Grin. "Steel toes."
The man in the white hat nodded politely and turned to grab the rope. As he did
so, Grin tilted the wheelbarrow and rolled it slowly forward until the wheel rolled onto
the man's shoe.
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Grabbed by the wind, the green plastic bottle rolled out of the wheelbarrow and
bounced off the highway onto the underpass. A steady snow began to fall.
"I tried to tell you, sir," said Grin, letting the handles slip from his grip, watching
the wheelbarrow turn on its side and clang into asphalt.
"You idiot," said the man in the white hat.
The rear captors approached Grin slowly, batons unsheathed.
"We're not going to hurt you," said one.
"I'm not going to hurt you, either," said Grin, slurring the last word and taking an
awkward step back. "But remember, my feet and hands aren't bound. They won't take
orders from anyone, including me."
"It's not going to matter," said one of the captors.
The man in the white hat shook his head and said, "Hurt him if you have to."
"Stop," yelled one of the captors from the side of the crowd near the exit ramp.
The man in the white hat looked and saw two people running away, a man
dressed in a black suit and a woman wearing a long white dress. The man in the white
hat remembered grabbing the pair at a church the day before.
"Stop," yelled the captor again.
One shotgun fired.
Sitting captives jumped up. Standing captives crouched.
Another shotgun fired.
The man in the white hat felt a hard object hit the toes of his left foot. He looked
down in pain to see the sole of Grin's boot excavating a hole in his well-worn tennis
shoe.
"Goddammit!" he screamed, bending down, then crumpling over.
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From the asphalt, the man in the white hat looked up and saw a rear captor
crumpling, clutching his groin and two bloody molars from his mouth. The man in the
white hat involuntarily licked his full set of teeth, then watched Grin swing the fallen
captor's baton at the other rear captor.
Two more shotgun blasts and a snowfall no longer light.
A group of twenty people broke away in the same direction as the bride and
groom—a run made risky by ankle restraints and a steep slide down the concrete wall
which hit the exit ramp. Across the ramp lay a wide frontage road, a small parking lot,
the abandoned strip mall and a neighborhood disappearing in billows of white.
Now, they're just making things worse, thought Rachael, sitting on the asphalt,
massaging her ankle. What about the people who can't run? We'll be
punished...
whipped. . . beaten. We could have planned something earlier. We could have broken
away as one.
Rachael felt a tug on her coat sleeve.
"What?" she asked Luz.
Luz wanted to tell the woman something but didn't know the name of Rachael's
son. Instead, she just pointed south, the direction opposite of that taken by the runaways
and towards the highway median and three more debris-ridden lanes.
Rachael stood, used her crutches to pivot, then tried to change her focus from
close to far. The furthest extent of her blurred field of vision showed snow raining down
on what looked like trees.
A park?
Rachael shifted her focus closer and saw two men on the otherwise deserted
lanes, one man holding the other man down, beating him with a baton. Rachael looked
Ill
left, then right. Her son was gone. She looked at Luz, who continued pointing at the
two men. Rachael tried to focus on the men's faces but couldn't. She reached out for her
son as if the strong northern wind threatened to blow him away.
"Charles!" yelled Rachael, releasing her crutches.
"They're shooting," said Jane from behind Rachael. "They're shooting people."
Rachael spun around ready to stare down the doctor's wife but saw that Jane
spoke to her husband.
"They're not shooting at people," said the doctor, holding the arms of his wife
and daughter, watching a smaller wave of captives make a run for the strip mall's
abandoned buildings. "They don't want to kill anyone. They're just shooting in the air.
Stay calm."
Three of the four drivers danced on the the exit ramp.
Three more shots filled the air.
A scream rose.
No one on the highway could see the ramp because of the steep drop-off. But
captives surged, wanting a look. Captors cracked their whips.
"Get back!" screamed a captor as the snowfall increased. "Get back!"
Rachael's eyes strained to see the two faces on the deserted lanes.
Charles, did you run?
She turned back to Luz.
"My son?"
Luz nodded, her face frozen from the rapidly cooling air and the uncontrollable
violence surrounding her.
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Rachael looked towards the two men and screamed. The captor stopped beating
Grand and looked up, then continued the beating.
Sheets of snow turned the landscape white.
At the back of the group, Grin wrestled a captor to the ground. The man in the
white hat kicked at Grin with his good foot. A captive rushed the man in the white hat
from behind, knocking him over, sending his white hat crashing. Two side captors
rushed to aid their boss. Rachael saw the captor on the opposite lanes stop beating her
son, leap over the highway median, and join the struggle against Grin. Rachael crutched
herself toward Grand, trying to avoid captives sitting out the chaos.
Move!
One of Rachael's crutches came down on a pregnant woman who yelped and
scowled. Rachael scowled back and swung herself to the median railings. The crack of
a whip stopped her short.
"Get back!" came the captor's yell from a few feet away.
Rachael slid her hand to the bottom of her right crutch and swung for the captor
obscured in blurry whiteness. She hit nothing and toppled over. A hand hidden in
snowfall grabbed the crutch and yanked it from her, then knocked the other crutch from
her side. Using her hands and one good leg, Rachael rose and faced the direction of her
now invisible son.
"Get back!" yelled the captor.
"Charles!" yelled Rachael.
Luz turned from waiting for Rachael's reappearance to searching for the warden.
Luz knew it wasn't a good time to ask about her parents, but she wanted to make sure the
warden knew she hadn't run away.
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Running away is against the rules, lectured Luz, unable to see the warden, unable
to see faces at all. I only ran because they started a fire. The boys started afire. The
boys burned it down.
Luz looked in the first runaway direction—the abandoned strip mall. She saw
snow and frightened crouching outlines. The doctor, his wife, and daughter were gone.
Three more shotguns blasts.
A second scream rose from the exit ramp.
On the opposite highway lanes, Grand lay on his hands and stomach, his body
badly bruised. He tried to shove his stuck hands forward, wanting to cover his ears. The
ringing worsened. The million screams returned.
Why did I run?
"First you get the gold," said the voice of his father.
"Then you build the city," said the voice of his sister.
Grand lifted his head.
"Lucy? Dad?"
Grand couldn't tell if his bruised throat and mouth emitted sound.
"The quitters," said his father's voice. " . . . the voices hiding in the crowd. First
you-"
"I will. I will," said Grand, his vision the bright white of screams, not snow.
"We're so close to the woods," said his sister's voice. "In the woods we can get
away. Take me to the south, Charles. Take me. Take me. Take me."
"Lucy, where did you go? Why did you leave?" asked Grand.
"Mommy killed me," said his sister's voice. "Mommy killed me and put me in a
grave."
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Rachael heard another scream from the invisible exit ramp but continued to
squint at the opposite lanes, wishing she could shove aside the curtain of snow and
reveal her still-alive son.
Rachael blinked.
Charles?
A black figure crawled the white highway.
He's alive. God, please don't let him be punished anymore. He didn't mean to
run. He didn't want to run.
Rachael imagined the men in orange vests tying her son's hands behind his back.
The
pain....
Four shots rang out. Then four more.
Another scream—but this one came from the older woman near the railing.
Kneeling in fresh snow, staring down at the exit ramp, she screamed again.
Everyone's leaving, thought Rachael, only guessing in the near-blizzard
conditions.
Rachael tested her swollen ankle.
Still tender.
Rachael wanted to grab the little girl and rush her son off the highway before
punishment arrived.
Snowflakes struck her eyeballs, blinding her.
Why did they do this so late in the year? she wondered, blinking the moisture
away. They must have a lot of food. . . buildings full. . . meat and milk
....
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Luz squinted and studied the older woman by the rail. The crying woman
covered her mouth with violently shaking hands. The woman turned back towards the
group.
"They're killing people," she whispered.
Luz crouched and crawled.
"Ray-Chul! Ray-Chul!"
Through waves of snow, she found familiar shoes and grabbed familiar legs.
Rachael winced at the new weight on her ankle. She reached down and pulled
the little girl up, then looked once more at the opposite lanes. The crawling black figure
was gone.
Charles, come back. Let them punish you. They won't kill you. Let them punish
you. No one survives on their own, Charles.
Two more shots rang out—blasts muffled by freezing gusts of wind.
Rachael swiped at the snow attacking her face, trying to glimpse what remained
of the crowd. She saw only white but heard the pounding of a human body.
Beyond Rachael's vision, Grin lay limp while Ronnie Bastrop—his white hat
blown away—attempted to pulverize every bone in Grin's body. A group of captors
stood and watched, exhaling hot heavy fog.
Whips cracked.
Somewhere between the highway and strip mall, a woman unleashed the day's
final scream.
A man shouted, "No!"
Across the opposite highway lanes, across another entrance ramp and frontage
road, sprawled a forgotten playground. Among snow and golden wild grass, a prostrate
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Grand positioned himself to lessen the pain of his recent baton beating. He peered back
toward the highway but saw only snow.
Just run. Just get up and run.
Face-first on the ground, Grand's bruised body swelled with hot blood pulsing.
Just a short rest...
to breathe as much as I can.
Grand heaved in air, winced, then smiled.
I'll get Dad. We'll go back to Onall together. . . I'll find Lucy in the woods . . .
we'll go south.
Grand heard yelling. He pressed his numb face into snow-stiffened grass.
Back on the highway, Luz saw the man who once wore a white hat wail into a
dark object, drop his baton, then grab some rope. With help from another captor, he tied
the rope to the railing which faced the opposite lanes. The pair dragged the dark object
—a man—to the rail, slipped the rope around his neck, then pushed him over the railing
into the narrow space between the two sets of lanes. Luz looked at her feet, trapped in
soft snow, not wanting to know where the stranger's body fell.
The captors cracked their whips, then stopped at a bark from Ronnie Bastrop's
angry mouth.
For five minutes, as if a truce had been called, no one but the captors moved, and
no one spoke. The captors and captives caught their breath amidst a calmer snowfall. A
small flock of birds fled from the nearby park as Ronnie Bastrop limped in a circle at the
rear of the crowd. Two captors—shotguns ready—watched their boss pace.
With cold-stung eyes, Rachael once again searched the area beyond the opposite
lanes but could only discern faint patches of darkness—the bodies of leafless trees—
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sandwiched between white ground and white sky. Her son's name rose in her throat.
She choked and swallowed it down.
If you come back, we'll say you had to relieve yourself- you needed privacy.
They won't beat you anymore, Charles. They're tired. It's snowing. They just want to
move us east. We'll go east together. We'll stay together.
Still lying in the park, Grand thought he heard a speech begin but couldn't make
out the words. The voice—a fuzzy booming echo—seemed to speak from the highway
underpass fifty feet away. He shut his eyes and listened. Mixed in with the oration,
Grand heard the sound of a rope pulling against a railing. Then the voice of the
speechmaker rose loud and clear.
"Is this what you want? A hanging? A hanging! Do I need to hang everyone
here in order for you to understand!"
The voice belonged to the man who once wore a white hat. Grand waited for the
man and his fellow captors to find him. He waited to be beaten, to hear the ringing
again, to hear his father and sister.
. . . but they can't control the air here. The snow is controlling the air. The
storm.
Grand opened his eyes.
No one came.
"Is this what you want?" screamed Bastrop, holding a whip in each hand,
demonstrating his ability to use them.
Cries of "Don't, please don't" rose from the group.
Bastrop stopped. His arms collapsed. His hard breaths fogged his vision.
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"I don't understand people," he said with quiet emotion—a boy speaking to his
mother. "I don't understand the human being—not anymore. I just want to get rid of
these people and go home. But I'm an adult—an adult human being. And there is a
plan—not was—but is. And as an adult human being, I will follow that plan to its
logical end. That is what human beings do."
Captors paced the sides of the crowd, batons unsheathed and whips unfurled,
their bodies being beat by cold.
"C'mon, let's go," said Bastrop.
The two captors standing next to Bastrop jogged to the front of the crowd,
shotguns bouncing. They climbed onto their carts, garnering gazes from their patiently
waiting mules. Other captors got back in position as Bastrop limped forward.
"Get up! Get in rows! C'mon, let's go."
The two missing drivers reappeared at the top of the exit ramp—one hundred
yards in front of the carts and crowd. Through sheets of falling snow, with shotguns
carefully aimed, they prodded two shuffling, still-bound captives. The captives marched
along the railing and stopped near the middle of the remaining crowd.
The captors shoved the two escapees—the doctor and Caroline—into a row. A
few feet away, Rachael stood in shock, fighting the urge to speak, to ask about the
doctor's blood-covered clothes and face.
One of the captors, gripping his shotgun by barrel and stock, glared at the doctor.
"This is the last time we're forgiving," he said.
The doctor jerked himself upright, despite the new rope binding his wrists, neck,
and groin into a tight crucible.
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"Shoot me now," said the doctor, staring hard, glasses splattered with blood.
"And my daughter, too."
Caroline, crouching on snow, began to cry.
"Dad?" she asked, choking on the word.
"Shoot us now, you animals!" yelled the doctor. "I will not go one step further,
and neither will my daughter."
The captor nodded, smiling like a professor with a teachable moment. He raised
his shotgun and pressed the coal-colored barrel against the doctor's pale head as snow
continued to fall.
The gun clicked. No shot fired. The captor looked at his shotgun, then thrust it
out to his partner for a switch.
With his partner's gun, the captor once again approached, pressed the barrel
against the doctor's head, and pulled the trigger.
Click.
No shot fired.
The captor felt his pockets.
"More shells down here!" he yelled, turning to glare toward the two captors
sitting in their carts, reins in hand, ready to go.
None of the captors moved.
The captor who had twice failed to shoot the doctor turned his glare on Bastrop,
who stood five feet away, his missing white hat replaced by a purple bald head.
"This is why you don't take five hundred people at a time," said the captor, his
voice unsure but angry. '"Don't get greedy.' Isn't that what you always told us, Ronnie?"
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Ronnie Bastrop raised a limp arm and tried to crack a whip, but the snow dulled
the sound, the oiled tip disappearing in the drift.
"C'mon, let's go," he said, turning and walking toward the carts.
"They're out of bullets," said the doctor with loud childlike glee. "They're out of
bullets. They can't stop us if we all leave at once."
No one moved.
"Drivers," said Bastrop, "Mount up! C'mon, let's go!"
"C'mon, let's go," said the doctor, with an angry laugh. He grabbed his
daughter's arm, pulled her off the ground, and led her forward to the exit ramp's
entrance.
Rachael watched, muscles tensed, waiting for one or more of the captors to split
the doctor's skull with a baton.
None of the captors moved.
The snowfall strengthened—silent, windless and ordered.
"This is ridiculous," came a voice from the bright wall of snow.
A few people began blindly following the doctor's path forward. Large numbers
followed, shuffling their feet, holding on to one another or thrusting bound arms and
hands into the white darkness. With worried whispers, they passed the carts and mules.
Where are they going? wondered Rachael, waiting for the yells of captors whom
she could no longer see.
Rachael had no idea what her present location was—other than "east of The
Capital."
Luz hugged Rachael's hip, her fingers and toes fidgeting for warmth under
multiple layers of wool. Rachael grabbed one of the girl's mittened hands and limped
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toward the opposite lanes, the pain of missing her son exceeding the pain in her
throbbing ankle.
I'll come back for the crutches ... or maybe we"ll just hobble back to Onall.
Rachael and Luz tripped simultaneously, falling on top of a warm wet body.
They scrambled to their feet, separated until Luz grabbed Rachael's big hand with her
two small ones. Rachael's instincts ordered her to help whoever lay bleeding, but she
could tell by the clothing and the acrid moonshine stench it wasn't her son.
"I'll come back," she said, pulling Luz toward the railing. "I'll help you, I
promise."
"Charles," said Rachael, speaking into a solid white world.
Rachael considered the irony. In a dark world, light was normally welcome and
struggled for. Now, she stood inside a world of nothing but light, and it blinded her.
Lying still on the grass and snow, Grand's mind and body told him to stay put.
She won't let me get Dad. . . She won't let me find Lucy.
Something kicked Grand's head. He grunted and grabbed the guilty object—
Luz's little boot.
"Charles," said his mother, leaning down beside him.
"I'm here," said Grand, for now.
"Can you stand?" asked his mother. "Let's get under the highway."
As the trio hobbled toward the sheltered highway underpass, it occurred to
Rachael that the men in orange vests might have the same idea: rest in the underpass
until some semblance of a plan could be worked out or at least until the snowfall
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slackened. But when Rachael, Grand, and Luz arrived, there were no captors, just four
more former captives, all of whom Rachael was surprised to see.
The doctor tended to an injured man—injured by gunshot—while his daughter
huddled behind him, staring at the sheet of snowfall fifty feet away. A woman in a white
dress held the injured man's hand. Rachael recognized the man and woman as the first
captives to break away from the crowd. They looked like they had been snatched
straight from a wedding ceremony. The doctor—wrists still tightly bound by rope—
applied pressure to a blood-drenched dressing on the injured man's chest. The injured
man's hands—also bound—were hidden underneath his back. He appeared to be
unconscious.
As Rachael, Grand, and Luz approached, they saw a fifth person lying far from
the other four. Rachael assumed the person—lying flat, with face and upper body
covered by a jacket—was Jane, the doctor's dead wife.
Within a few feet of the awkward triage, the trio stopped and waited for the
doctor or the bride to acknowledge their presence. No one said anything. Rachael
decided to sit down at the bottom edge of the sloping concrete berm which led to the
belly of the highway twenty-five feet above. Luz plunked next to Rachael, and Grand
lay down a few feet away.
Rachael examined their surroundings. The triage site seemed like a stark, dark
concrete room with a narrow strip of light running across the ceiling—the narrow space
between the railings of the eastbound and westbound lanes. The far walls consisted of
blinding snowy whiteness. Although Rachael's hearing was nearly back to normal, she
couldn't detect a sound and wondered if the air was too frozen for noise.
Rachael looked at her son.
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. . . already asleep ... I hope he's not dreaming.
Rachael thought of her husband, tossing in his sleep, screaming and striking at
imaginary foes, throwing off his covers, sleepwalking into the night. Rachael would
find him in the morning curled up beneath a tree more than one mile away—always the
same tree. Pestered with questions, David would claim not to remember. "That will be
the last time," he promised over and over. Rachael was certain a night would come
when David would pass by his sleep tree and walk into the woods, never to return.
Rachael frowned at her son.
Your father died in his sleep, Charles . . . Don't dream those dreams . . . Don't
fight those fights . . . Don't die in your sleep.
Rachael yawned and felt guilty for being tired.
David was the planner, but I've got to make a plan ... I could sleep for a month.
Rachael imagined closing her eyes knowing she would never wake up.
Would Charles be okay? Would this little girl be okay? Would God just let us
sleep forever? Is that what death is—God's sleep? God knows I've earned it.
Rachael lay back against the sloping berm and closed her eyes. She felt the little
girl next to her, already asleep, one hand stuck inside Rachael's coat pocket. Rachael
pulled the girl closer and smiled.
She's got so many clothes on, she's like a stuffed animal, like a little doll.
Without meaning to, without planning to, Rachael drifted into a heavy dreamless
sleep.
CHAPTER XVI
BRIDE AND GROOM
Rachael needed several minutes to remember. Even when her newly awakened
mind settled on the story—the explanation—of how she arrived in the open concrete
room with the walls of bright white snow, she questioned her consciousness. In
Rachael's new world, everything went along slowly until it didn't, and when it didn't, it
went too fast to comprehend: a hurried trip to a deteriorating city to save her husband, a
hospital bomb, a middle-of-the-night kidnapping, a forced march, a violent breakaway—
the new world sped up without warning or reason, threatening to drown the past in its
wake.
But sleep and heavy snow had curbed the chaos—for the moment.
Rachael looked to her left and right. Her son and the little girl, Luz, remained in
the grips of a hard heavy sleep.
Hopefully
dreamless....
Rachael looked for the other survivors and saw the bride playing doctor, her stillbound hands pressing a cloth compress onto the groom's chest wound. Fifty feet away,
Caroline sat by her dead mother and stared into the wall of falling snow, her youthful
face shrunken by shock. Joining his daughter, the doctor also peered into the storm, eyes
unfocused, searching. Rachael—the mother—worried about the doctor and Caroline
being blinded by the snow. She wanted to point out the danger but didn't want to yell at
the far-away family, and even she would feel silly warning a doctor about his health.
Appearing to hear Rachael's thoughts, the doctor turned and walked back towards
the group, grimacing slightly as he left his dead wife and his daughter's blank stare.
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125
Reaching the wounded groom, the doctor resumed his duties and the bride took a break.
Rachael rose slowly, carefully testing her still-swollen ankle. She hobbled closer to the
doctor, the bride, and the wounded man.
"Is there anything I can do?" she asked.
"I don't think there's anything we can do," said the doctor, his low voice
vanishing inside the giant concrete cavern.
Rachael nodded and tried to smile.
He's half ghost like every other man
....
"Did they let you bring your tools?" asked Rachael. "Your medical things?"
"Yes. Well, they didn't 'let' me do anything. They told me to bring it. They told
me to bring anything a doctor might find useful. I guess New America is short on blunt
scalpels. They're probably short on blunt doctors as well."
Rachael had another question but didn't want to sound foolish. The doctor
guessed the question.
"They had my bag on one of their carts . . . But they wouldn't have helped this
man—sorry," he said, realizing he was talking about the groom as if the bride wasn't
there.
"It's okay," said the bride.
"What he needs is blood, and I didn't have any transfusion equipment in my bag.
The tubes we had at the hospital were so worn it was impossible to keep them sanitary
and usable. They were all buried by the blast anyway."
"Where would you get the blood from?" asked Rachael, once again afraid of
exposing her ignorance.
"One of us would have to donate it," said the doctor. "Actually, considering the
blood loss, all of us would have to give."
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Rachael watched the bride awkwardly wipe away a tear.
Rachael cleared her throat.
"This might sound stupid, Doctor-"
"My name is John," said the doctor, looking up at his daughter rejoined the
group.
"This might sound stupid, John, but have you had time to come up with a plan? I
mean, do you know where you're going from here?" asked Rachael.
"No," said the doctor. "I wanted to bury my wife, but it seems like we're all
being buried at the m o m e n t . . . At least we don't need to worry about water."
The doctor examined his patient.
"We can't move this man—sorry," he said, apologizing to the bride. "We can't
move William. We can't risk any more blood loss."
The doctor looked up and saw Grand and Luz staring at the dying man.
"Is he still breathing?" asked Grand, watching the man's chest for movement.
Caroline examined Grand as her father examined his patient.
"Yes," said the doctor.
"His chest isn't moving," said Grand.
"Not much," said the doctor. "Unfortunately, I have to press on it. But I can still
feel his lungs expanding . . . and his heart beating. He's a fighter."
"We can go to the church," said the bride, staring at her groom with unfocused
eyes.
Everyone stared at the dying man.
"The church?" asked the doctor.
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"My church," said the bride. "That's where we were when they found us. It's
heated—they have solar collectors and the battery storage still works. They have a
kitchen with an electric grill. They have food."
"Are any others there?" asked the doctor.
"There was a priest and a deacon. They lived on the property. Everyone in the
parish stayed in houses," said the bride.
"Is it okay if we just show up?" asked Rachael.
"Of course it's okay," said the bride. "It's a church."
"Can we find it in this storm?" asked Rachael.
"It's not far. It's close to this highway, about a mile back the way we came," said
the bride. "There's a small cemetery on the property. We can bury your wife and
William there."
"You don't think there's a chance he'll pull through," said Rachael.
The bride spun around, her wet angry eyes meeting Rachael's, her pale face
covered with dried splotches of blood.
Exhausted, the bride let her anger subside, her words remain unsaid.
"We couldn't see anything that happened," explained Rachael. "We thought
people were getting away. W e l l . . . I know I did. The men on the carts weren't pointing
their guns at anyone. They were shooting at the sky."
"We thought they wouldn't kill anyone except in self-defense," said the bride. "It
was idiotic—of course, I can say that now—but we thought we could get away. We
thought they wouldn't bother with a small number. How many guards did they have?
Ten? Twelve? It was obvious they had too many prisoners. I guess people are just too
scared, too like cattle or sheep. Once we saw how big the group was going to be, we
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decided to wait. We figured after the group had gone some distance, the guards wouldn't
want to stop and chase a few runaways. What would be the point if they already had
more than they could handle? We thought if we ran, some others would run, too, and
that would give us cover. But we didn't think the others would all come our way. Why
wasn't anyone smart enough to try the other side?"
"My son did," broke in Rachael. "He nearly got beaten to death."
The bride looked at Grand's face—red scrapes and dark blue bruises.
"Maybe it was smarter to follow us," said the bride. "I made it away without any
trouble. But it was more difficult for William. When they captured us—inside the
church—William fought them hard. He slugged two of them . . . and for that they tied
his hands behind his back and put that extra rope around his neck—like they did to the
doctor. Mine were tied in front. I just held out my hands while I ran—almost like
normal. But William fell on the incline right after we jumped the first railing. He
couldn't slide down because of his hands. He tried to run down and slammed into one of
the railings on the exit ramp. I came back, but he told me to run. He kept whispering,
'Get away, get away. I broke my leg. Get away.' I didn't want to leave him. God, what
was I thinking? I saw that big group break away . . . all of them sliding down the incline
and the guards just yelling, just shooting in the air. But maybe too many left. I tried to
drag William over the railing, but you see how big he is. He kept whispering, 'Get away,
get away.' So finally I did. I got to the edge of the stores. I turned back and saw
William trying to stand up. Then the guards came running with their guns. It must have
been one of the guards William had slugged . . . the guard who shot him. William
couldn't have run away if he wanted to, but they shot him anyway. J u s t . . . bang. I don't
know what I thought then. I guess I wanted them to shoot me, too. I ran to him. I was
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running up the ramp, the doctor, his wife, and daughter were running down the ramp.
The doctor stopped to help William. I thought, 'What are you doing?' His wife must
have thought the same thing. She came back to grab him. They shot her right in front of
me—they might have been aiming for me. But they didn't bother dragging me back to
the group . . . I guess they figured I would have lost my interest in 'New America.' They
grabbed the doctor, though, didn't they?"
The doctor nodded.
"None of this is your fault," he said. "None of this is our fault. Those men are
killers. We shouldn't blame anyone but them."
A strong wind joined the snowfall. The wind's soft echo filled the concrete
cavern.
"I wonder if anything they said was true," said Rachael. "Could it all have been
a lie?"
"Does it matter?" asked the bride.
"Well. . . one thing their leader said . . . well, it mattered to me," said Rachael,
her voice trailing off. "I agreed with it even if he didn't mean it. If you have kids, you
do wonder what kind of world they'll inherit. And if there was a way to rebuild
something, anything better than what we have . . . then maybe I'd be for it. I was born in
2085. Things were getting bad when I was growing up, but mostly in other places, other
countries. We built a greenhouse and planted a garden like they told us to. We wanted
to help out just like everybody else, or like almost everybody else. Sometimes people
from the northern states wandered through our neighborhood, asking for food or money,
mostly taking advantage of the bad news on television, I think. But we had a country.
We just had to wait it out until everything was fixed, until they figured out a new way to
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order things. All they needed were physical changes, logistical things, just shifting
everyone south as much as possible. I think too many people took advantage, a small
number, but still too many—too many to control. That's why it's gone. That's why we
don't have order. Just that small number of people. But if you have kids, you do think
about the future—their future. You think about the way things used to be. You think
about getting it back for your kids. I know it wouldn't be like it was, not for a long time.
But still, you want to leave them something better. You want to bring back direction,
some kind of order."
The bride spun around, remaining on her knees.
"You sound just like the man in the white hat," she said, her voice low and cool.
Rachael nodded.
"Maybe he was lying about everything—lying about 'New America'—but there
was still truth in what he said, even if he didn't realize it. We don't really know how
much was true . . . And now we can't know . . . But maybe everything he said was the
truth"
"There are two more bodies out on the street," said the bride, turning back to
look at her dying groom. "Maybe the guards who blew holes in those faces will take the
bodies to New America and bury them 'just like in the old days."'
"Do you know something about the men that we don't?" asked Rachael.
"What was there to know?" asked the bride her voice loud and breaking. "Are
you crazy? If you want something better for your kids, then build it yourself!"
"I've built a home for them—my husband and I. We have a field planted—three
acres, in fact. We have a greenhouse. We even plant for winter, a few things in small
beds covered with glass. I'm not saying we can't survive, but what that man said at least
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made me think. I don't believe we should just give up and say, 'Well, this is all we can
do, because we can't trust anyone but ourselves.' I want something better. I hope we all
find it. My husband thought he did, but he needed too much control. It has to be more
communal, more participation from more people-"
"Right," said the bride. "We just have to trust more people, like that man in the
white hat—the leader of killers. We just have to trust people like him to kill us f a s t . . .
and solve all our problems at once. You're an idiot. And I hope for your kids' sake you
ask yourself one question real soon: Were people happier before, living in cities,
working in buildings, having more things, living in debt their whole lives? Remember
that? Remember the way the economy worked? A prison filled with toys."
"This person," said Rachael, trying to motion to herself with bound hands,
"would be happy if her husband hadn't died from an easily curable infection—easily
curable with modern medicine. Do you remember that? Hospitals keeping people
alive? Fathers getting to stay alive and help raise their kids?"
The doctor released his pressure from the man's chest. He felt for the man's
pulse.
"I'm afraid your husband has passed on," he said.
"He's not my husband," said the bride. "The priest never got to perform the
ceremony."
Luz, who had been trying to read the arguing adult lips, felt something drip on
her neck.
Water, she thought, looking up at the strip of whiteness that separated the two
sides of the highway.
Another drip hit her neck.
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The snow is melting.
Luz knew that was a good thing. She tugged on Rachael's coat.
"It's melting," she said, wishing she could hear how the words came out.
Everyone in the group looked up. A strong wind blew through the underpass,
freezing numb faces.
At the entrance to the underpass, snow continued its white cascade.
"The highway is still warm from the sun," said the doctor.
Another drop hit Luz's neck. Another hit her nose. She wiped at the funny
wetness, then stared at her mittened hand.
Why is the water red?
Luz showed the red stain to Rachael.
"Did you cut yourself?"
The others looked at Luz, who pointed to the strip of light. Everyone gazed up
again—this time at a human arm which hung outside the railing.
CHAPTER XVII
WHITE
Up the exit ramp and onto the highway, the doctor trudged alone.
The protruding arm belonged to a stranger in a ripped black trench coat, his face
shiny-slick with bright red blood.
The instigator, thought the doctor. The catalyst, the rabble-rouser, the mischiefmaker . . . I've seen you before.
The beaten man looked like numerous denizens of The Capital - hidden in
skyscrapers, scrounging food from rooftops, they wore long dark coats year round to
keep off precipitation, wind, and sun.
The new breed of human
....
Their coats covered bodies sheathed in patched and re-patched clothing. Their
long unkempt hair covered faces with stories to tell.
Feral....
Squirreled away in their steel and glass trees, in their crumbling downtown
forest, they waited for the old humans to leave.
Spawned by chaos . . . I guess they won . . . but someday they'll have to leave,
too.
The doctor examined the man for fractures, breaks and bleeding. The man's lone
intact limb was the stretched-out arm—grasping for someone, for some God, for some
thing. His other arm and hand still clenched the rope around his neck.
The doctor shook his head.
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No . . . they were just people . . . just regular human beings hiding, trying to
survive. And this is just a man ... a man used to the dark.
"Why didn't you want to hide today?" asked the doctor, dragging the man's body
like an archaic farmer dragging a sack of roots from a hand-plowed, hand-picked field.
Jesus, you stink.
Quite light, the man seemed to consist of a torn overcoat, broken bones, and a
one-to one ratio of alcohol and blood. The doctor had heard of buildings inhabited
solely by drunks, the alcoholics of a new age, using most or all of their greenhouse soil
to grow potatoes for an alcoholic mash, and most or all of their collected rain to create
one of God's more poisonous versions of water. They ate the leftover mash—if they felt
like eating—but many simply drank until death. All this according to rumor, for the
drunks never sought help but died like they lived—like all rumors live—in the darkest of
possible darks.
But you're not going to die . . . I'm going to save you.
The man's pulse seemed decent, considering the extent of his wounds, and he
suffered from only minor external bleeding.
I'll check your insides when I get you inside some shelter...
if I can move you at
all.
Straining with hands still tied, the doctor dragged and lifted the body inside the
beaten man's wheelbarrow. Bound hands spread, the doctor then lifted the wheelbarrow,
clasping the center of its back metal lip. His awkward grip nearly toppled the broken
stranger, but the doctor adapted, pushing the ancient tool like a sled.
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The snow is good for something, thought the doctor, pushing and breathing hard,
his triage instinct rising. All of us will have to help carry the bodies . . . three bodies . . .
two dead, one alive.
The doctor tried to avoid the spot where men in orange vests shot his wife, but
keeping the wheelbarrow upright became a bigger priority. Glancing down, the doctor
recalled his wife's blood mixing with snow, forming what looked like an old
summertime dessert. Covered by fresh snow, only a faint patch of darkness remained.
Just a bruise.
Snow fell faster and wind blew colder as the entire group stood ready to leave.
"Did you happen to see any crutches?" asked Rachael.
"I'm sorry, no," said the doctor, shaking off snow. "Actually . . . I didn't look.
I'm afraid we need you to help carry the bodies, so crutches . . . . "
The doctor's voice trailed off. He stared at his wife: a pair of legs, a waistline,
and a coat covering the rest. He remembered dragging his wife, his daughter unleashing
hysterical sobs. Don't look, he told her. He remembered reaching the underpass,
removing his wife's jacket. Don't look! He remembered staring at the inside of his
wife's skull, struggling to remove her coat, spilling and splattering her blood.
"I'll carry my wife," said the doctor. "Caroline, you and the young man each take
a handle of the wheelbarrow. You two ladies can carry William—you'll probably have to
drag him by his arms, sorry."
The doctor peered into the curtain of white.
"Which side of the highway?" he asked.
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"The church is on this side," said the bride, motioning to the side where they
stood, the side where people had escaped or died trying.
"Dad," said Caroline, fresh tears filling her eyes. "Can we go home?"
The doctor nodded, then tried to smile.
"It's too far," he said. "We'd never make it by dark and if the snow continues . . .
we simply can't stay out past dark."
The doctor turned to the bride.
"I hope you'll be able to find the right street," he said.
"I'll stay close to the curb," said the bride. "I'll stop and read the signs. There
are still some left around here."
By instinct, the group searched for a sign. They saw only sheets of snow
billowed by oblivious wind.
They trudged into whiteness.
CHAPTER XVIII
CHURCH
Before they saw the church's giant wooden doors, the six refugees saw three red
crosses—chapel-illumined stained glass. By herself, the bride jumped up steps which
were no longer steps but a slope of snow—over one foot of flakes had fallen since their
departure from the underpass cavern.
The bride jerked on the door then quickly turned around.
"I need help!"
The wind bayed like a horse begging for freedom.
Grand wondered if anyone else heard the bride's yell. The only person he could
see was Caroline—a block of fuzzy blackness a few feet away. He bounded up the
stairs, the rope between his ankles reaping a frozen white harvest. Grand's numbed mind
and cold lungs began to worry about the snow-choked air—he had never been stuck
outside in a storm.
How much air...
do you need to keep breathing . . . How do you know. . . it's
killing you?
Inhaling snow flakes, Grand coughed hard.
"Pull with both hands!" yelled the bride.
"We're drowning!" yelled Grand.
"What?"
"The air is drowning us . . . killing us!"
"What?"
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"Someone's controlling the air!"
Confused, the bride placed her two hands at the bottom of the long, cold, brass
handle.
"Grab the handle and pull!" she yelled into the wind.
Grand gripped the cold metal handle with both of his bound hands.
The pair strained, slipping on snowpack. Grand tried to ignore the pain in his
collar and lungs.
We need
air....
The door jerked ajar but only by two inches.
There's air inside, thought Grand, wincing.
They pulled again, piling snow. They pulled again, and the door budged by a
third, wide enough for a tired human body to squeeze through. The loud wind
demanded to enter first. Grand and the bride stared inside the small dim antechamber.
They stared at a second set of doors and its cracked smoked-glass windows.
"The chapel's always unlocked," said the bride, her voice filling the chamber
void.
Grand and the bride looked down at an orange cat which looked up at them. The
cat appeared to frown, then turned and jumped through a small feline door cut into the
bottom of an interior wall. The only thing left in the antechamber was an empty coat
rack covered in webs.
Grand squinted at the bride, snowflakes striking his face. The bride squinted
back.
"You'll have to go down and tell them!" yelled the bride over a strengthening
wind. "I don't think they can hear us!"
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"What about the bodies?" asked Grand.
The bride stood for a moment, her mind churning, halting, and churning again,
hating the cold, hating the need to decide.
"I'm too tired!" she yelled. "Ask the doctor what to do!"
Grand waddled down, carefully raising his still-bound hands for balance. He
found the group huddled together, forming a windbreak around the wheelbarrow.
"The door's open!" he yelled.
"Help me with the injured man!" yelled the doctor directly into Grand's ear.
"We'll leave my wife and William outside for the moment!"
With the injured man awkwardly in tow, Grand and the doctor entered the
antechamber first. They set the unconscious man on the floor and waited until the rest of
their group sidled inside. The doctor seemed reluctant to open the chapel's interior
doors. He closed the outside door, then turned and faced the bride.
"Would you introduce us?" he asked.
With shivering vigor, the bride nodded and swung open the tall doors, revealing a
chapel filled with escaped captives. Someone stood just inside the doorway, facing the
crowd, taking in the scene. The person wore an orange vest fluttering in the newly
introduced cold air.
"Deacon?" asked the bride.
The deacon, a woman in her eighties with boy-cut silver hair, turned around.
"Dorothy?" she asked the bride. "I'm so glad you're alive."
The bride spread her arms to hug the deacon but stopped and stared at the long
black object protruding from the deacon's hands. The deacon lifted and studied the
baton as if it had magically appeared.
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"How do you like this?" asked the deacon. "Stick of lead. Most weapons won't
last but this," she said, trying to wave it with one hand but needing both, "this will never
go out of style."
"Deacon, what are you doing with that? And the vest?" asked the bride.
The rest of the newly-arrived group stood in silence—happy to be out of the
wind but hungry for more heat.
"We got four of them," said the deacon, her eyes narrowing on the baton,
studying small scars in the stick. "Captured! Like the animals they are. Rodents, I
think, don't you? Why they came here, I couldn't say."
"The kidnappers?" asked the bride. "The men who grabbed us are here? Did
they get you, too?"
"They didn't get me. They got Father Ben, though. I hid in the kitchen. Pots and
pans. They didn't bother with the pots and pans. Then I went to a friend's house. I
should have warned you—your wedding, oh Dorothy—but I was afraid to move. Have
you seen the Father?"
The bride teared up thinking about Father Ben Wulf.
God, don't make me think about it. Don't let me think about it.
"He stood up to them," said the bride, smearing away the wet streams on her
cheeks. "Before we left. They had all of us gathered together, hundreds of us—and he
was the only one to stand up to them. He made them answer for what they had done, for
what they were about to do."
"Well, we'll make these four answer some more," said the deacon, raising both
the baton and her eyebrows. "One way or another . . . What did they do to Father Ben?"
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"Their leader shoved him into the valley that split the highway . . . near
downtown," said the bride.
"Could he make it out?" asked the deacon.
"It looked steep. His hands and feet were bound. But I'm sure he could," said
the bride, thinking, if he hasn't made it back by now....
"Did you tie them up? The
men in orange vests? They aren't free, are they?"
"Oh my dear Dorothy, they may never move again if I get my wish," said the
deacon. "I know that isn't Christlike, but if Christ wants them to pass on to hell in a
gentler way, then he better hurry."
"Who are all these people?" asked the bride, gazing at the crowded chapel scene.
"Just like you, I suspect," said the deacon. "They told me some of what
happened. They got here a lot sooner, though, hours ago. The four rodents came right
after that. What took you so long?"
"They killed William. They shot him. We stayed to help. We stayed until he
died."
"I'm so sorry, Dorothy. I could have warned you. I should have warned you . . .
but this plague of rodents needs to be wiped out, and the sooner the better. We'll start
with these four—yes we will," said the deacon, her mouth bunching up. "Yes we will."
"Have you got any medical supplies?" asked the doctor. "We've got a man who's
badly hurt. Actually, we've got quite a lot of wounds between us."
"Yes, yes, I'm sorry to keep you at the door," said the deacon, waving them in
with the baton which looked heavier than her. "They told me I was too old to stand
guard, so of course, I had to stand guard. How do they think I got to be so old? By
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sitting around, asking favors? We'll take them to the kitchen, Dorothy, get the ropes off
first thing. Then I'll see what first aid hasn't been used."
Walking down the central aisle, the newly-arrived group stared at more than one
hundred former captives, their hands and feet unbound, many of them stretched out,
already asleep. Due to the sleepers, the rectangular chapel which could seat two
hundred felt packed—a few men even camped in the center aisle. The four captors—
now captives themselves—sat with their backs against the marble altar. Stripped of their
weapons and vests, they were bound to one another via hands and ankles, and appeared
unhurt for the moment.
The deacon led the newest group of refugees into the kitchen where a woman
slowly stirred a red watery substance in a ten-gallon pot.
"Soup," said the deacon, motioning to the pot. "Everything we have left is in
there."
The deacon grabbed a knife from a drawer and handed it to the woman who was
cooking.
"Would you do the honors," said the deacon. "I don't want to cut anybody with
these old hands . . . not anybody good."
The deacon lifted her baton with both hands and clanked it on the stove top. She
took over stirring the soup.
"Unfortunately, things were a bit out of control when people first came in," she
said, shrugging. "I started giving out food without knowing the whole story. I think
some of these people could have gone home . . . but safety in numbers . . . no matter how
bad things get, safety in numbers will never fail."
"Don't you have food stored for the winter?" asked the bride.
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"We did. Father Ben had enough deer jerky and nuts for the two of us. Our
problem has usually been too much food—people bringing us their extra to give away. I
should have rationed our stores, but you weren't here, Dorothy. People were tired, so
many of them, the little ones crying, close to hypothermia, dehydration. Some hadn't
eaten in two days. Then those four showed up. They tried to take over the church! Can
you imagine? They're lucky no one had eaten . . . everyone still weak from hunger . . .
otherwise those four rodents might be lying outside covered in blood and snow. Of
course, its mostly women and children in the chapel, and probably none of the men have
really ever hurt anyone, not physically like those four rodents. Neither have I. I've
never been in a fight my entire life. But I'm ready."
The deacon took out her anger on the soup, splashing vegetable gruel over the
sides.
The doctor, freed from his binds, massaged his wrists, then wiped the splattered
blood off his glasses. With Grand's help, the doctor lifted the still-unconscious stranger
onto a food preparation table in the middle of the kitchen. The deacon stopped stirring
and stared at the disabled body cloaked in a coat. If the man wasn't dead, she couldn't
see why not.
The doctor took the pair of ropes which had bound Grand's ankles, retied the
ankle loops, and showed Grand how to wear it as a sling. Once again, Grand felt
immediate relief.
"Do you know how to fix people?" asked the deacon.
"I'm a doctor."
"Oh," said the deacon. "And what can you do for him?"
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The doctor took in a deep breath, then let it out slowly. He didn't want to admit
it, but the smell of food made it impossible to concentrate on the hurt stranger. He felt
the stranger's neck.
"His pulse is still strong, incredibly strong given his condition. Right now we
should just let him rest. Have you got any blankets?" asked the doctor.
"No," said the deacon, "all being used. We had only a few anyway. But this is
the warmest room, right now . . . because of the stove."
"I'll get my wife's coat," said the doctor.
"Your wife?" asked the deacon, looking at Rachael.
"My wife died, like William, shot by those men. We brought them with us, my
wife and William. We thought we could use your cemetery," said the doctor.
"Of course," said the deacon. "I hope you can find it. . . underneath the snow, I
mean. I'm sure the storm will be b r i e f . . . of course there's no way to tell anymore. All
the weathermen have moved south forever."
The doctor nodded and looked back at his patient.
"He's going to be in incredible pain when he wakes up. Have you got anything
for splints, anything to limit movement?" asked the doctor.
"I don't know, but I'll show you where to look," said the deacon, staring at the
hurt stranger. "They really did a job of it, didn't they? The rodents. God, we need more
men like William. I'm not surprised the rodents killed him. Kill the strong, imprison the
weak. Were there many injured like this man?"
"He's the only person they beat like this," said the doctor. "The only person I
saw beaten with batons."
CHAPTER XIX
MEETING
Inside the dim chapel, three of the former captors fell asleep while the forth
studied his surroundings. He looked at the sleeping chapel refugees and smiled at the
wide berth they had granted.
After finishing their soup, which failed to satisfy their hunger but filled their
stomachs nonetheless, the bride and Caroline retired to the deacon's room and Grand,
Rachael, and Luz lay down in the priest's room. The doctor said he wasn't tired—which
no one believed.
"I'll stay up with my patient," he said.
In the priest's room, barely lit from a hallway bulb, Rachael carefully mouthed a
question.
"Are you ready for sleep?"
Luz nodded, her eyelids drooping for emphasis.
Rachael placed her hand on Luz's small shoulder with one more question to ask.
"Where are your parents?"
Luz understood the question but didn't want to answer. She didn't like the answer
she had to give. She stared into the older woman's big dark eyes.
"I don't know," she mouthed.
Rachael nodded and they both lay down.
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Luz sat back up and Rachael followed.
"I don't want to go back to the orphanage," Luz said loudly, hoping her words—
the strange vibrations which seemed to come from inside her head rather than out of her
mouth—would be understood.
Rachael nodded even though she didn't understand the last word. "I don't want to
go back," was all she needed to hear.
We'll go forward little girl.. . that's the only way to survive.
Rachael had assumed the girl's parents were dead—killed in the hospital blast.
And if Luz didn't have any family from the past, she would have Rachael for the present
and future. As the two lay down in a tight embrace, Rachael cringed at the thought of
considering Luz a replacement for Charles or her dead husband.
She isn't a replacement. No one can be replaced. And I will never forget that,
Charles.
Rachael peered across the little girl's body to say goodnight to her son.
She heard Grand whisper.
He's already asleep. Don't dream too much, Charles.
Rachael closed her eyes, thankful for a place of peace.
"Please make it stop," whispered Grand, unconsciously covering his ears. "Dad,
make it stop. Lucy, make it stop. The crowd
"People came from everywhere,
stamping on the street.
Making all the ears go
beep beep beep."
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"Make them stop, Dad. They'll cut you
"
"Snowing to the north.
People to the south.
Want to stay alive
better watch your mouth."
Grand jerked his knees to his chest. Someone had touched him.
Neck straining, he saw a human figure dart from the room.
"Lucy?"
Grand looked at his mother and the little girl, their eyelids shut, their eyes
fluttering.
Grand got out of bed, still fully clothed, and walked into the hallway.
"Lucy?" he whispered, dazed in the dim fluorescent light.
He turned a corner and saw Caroline standing in a shadow hugging herself for
warmth. She motioned for him to follow her. They walked back into the chapel towards
the antechamber, Grand trailing by a few feet. They entered the antechamber, and
Caroline quickly closed the door. She hugged herself again—the self-embrace tighter in
the suddenly colder air. Grand reluctantly gave the girl his coat, wondering why she
hadn't brought hers. They both stood silently, frozen in place, listening to the sighing
wind.
"My name's Caroline."
"I know," said Grand.
"Sorry I woke you up."
Grand waited for an explanation. When it didn't come, he began hugging himself
gently, avoiding any collarbone disturbance.
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"Did you want to talk to me?" he asked.
Caroline shook her head.
Grand sighed.
"I hate my father," said Caroline.
Grand hugged himself tighter then winced.
"He seems nice," said Grand.
"He turned you over to those men," said Caroline. "You and your mom and that
little girl."
Grand nodded.
"He seems smart."
"He got my mom killed. He told those men to shoot us, to shoot me."
"When?" Grand asked.
"After they killed my mom. Don't you remember? They dragged us back up
there . . . onto the highway . . . and my dad told them to shoot us."
"Why?"
"I don't know! I think he's crazy. He wanted us to go north . . . at this time of
year?"
"The Nation of Cold Light," said Grand, trying to form an image based on the
name.
"We didn't even have a real map, just some lines drawn on a scrap of paper."
"Maybe he is crazy," said Grand.
"I know. Can I come with you?" asked Caroline, putting her hand on Grand's
limp left arm, causing another wince. "Do you have a wife?"
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Grand shook his head. He had seen a few girls around Onall—brief glimpses in
the fields. And he had seen girls in magazines hidden by his father."
I could have been married by now...
to Lucy.
"How old are you?" he asked.
"Thirteen," said Caroline, stepping closer so that her coat—the coat she had
borrowed from Grand—touched Grand's shirt.
Grand had never said it aloud, for fear of motherly reprisal, but he had always
assumed he would marry his sister. He wasn't sure if brothers and sisters were allowed
to marry, but he was certain he wanted to spend his life with Lucy, and he was certain
Lucy wanted it, too—she had told him many times. Grand and his sister also looked
forward to running away. At night, in their parents' dark shack, they whispered their
plans over and over.
Grand looked at Caroline. She was as beautiful as his sister but with brown hair
instead of black, and hazel eyes instead of blue. Her lips were parted, waiting for his
answer.
The pair heard someone stir inside the chapel. When they turned their heads
towards the smoky translucent glass, Caroline moved her hands to Grands hips, her
fingers resting just above his belt, touching skin. They looked back at each other.
"Who were you talking to in your sleep?" asked Caroline.
"My sister," said Grand.
"Where is she?" asked Caroline.
"She's in the woods."
"The woods?"
Grand nodded.
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"She's waiting," he said.
"For what?"
"For me."
"What were you saying to her?" Caroline asked, lips parted further.
Grand stared at the base of Caroline's neck, at the indention which looked like an
entrance to a cave.
"I was just saying goodbye."
Grand put his hands on Caroline's hips, his thumbs lifting the edge of her
numerous shirts, skin touching skin. Lucy had always let him touch her. Grand and
Caroline pulled each other closer, pressing their lips together, both imitating pictures
from old magazines.
"Lucy let me do what I want," said Grand. "Lucy let me do what I want."
CHAPTER XX
REASON
Several hours after the others had gone to sleep, the doctor remained awake,
staring at his only patient, thinking about The Nation of Cold Light. He had heard of
that faraway place a few years earlier when his friend, an engineer working to restore
and transform The Capital's power plant to run on coal, abruptly decided to leave for The
Nation. The doctor recalled trying to talk his friend out of the move:
"You have no idea what's there," said the doctor.
"I've heard a lot," said his friend.
"You've heard stories, rumors. Have you spoken to anyone who's actually been
there?"
"No, but that's something in The Nation's favor, I think. If people traveled there
and then returned to this," said the friend, motioning to the deserted, trash-filled street
where they stood, "What would that say about the far away place? People don't come
back here for a reason: they don't want to."
"So you conjecture."
"If it's a guess, then it's an educated one. Listen, they don't just let you in the
doors. You have to do an interview. It's like a test—it is a test. They figure out what
kind of skills you have, your social attitudes, your general knowledge. They want
curious people—intellectually curious people. They want people interested in exactly
what they're doing, exactly what they're trying to build."
"And what's that?" asked the doctor, skepticism raising his voice.
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152
"A center of reason."
The doctor wanted to laugh but felt sorry for his friend.
"A reasonable Utopia?" asked the doctor. "Doesn't Utopia mean 'nowhere' in
Greek?"
"Utopias are founded on ideas . . . on ideals. They aren't rational per se."
"And a nation built upon reason is not an idea?"
"Reason is action. It's not abstract. It's an active counterargument against
something else already existing, some other action already underway."
"For example
"For example, this place, The Capital. A group of men with guns and a lot of
silly plans with no one to carry them out. It's a weak argument. It's irrational action,"
said the friend.
"But you're helping them," said the doctor. "You work for those irrational men."
"I did. And the power plant will actually work if anyone bothers to stay around
and finish the miles of rewiring. But-"
"But why not you?" asked the doctor.
"Because it won't make a bit of difference. You know that. No one's going to
stop this place from crumbling. Any reasonable person wouldn't bother. Why should I?
Why should you?" asked the friend.
The doctor knew he didn't have a reasonable answer, but he had an answer.
"This is what's left," he said.
"Of what?"
"Of me."
"Too old to start over?" asked the friend.
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"If I left here, I'd be leaving myself behind. Can you really do that? Forget who
you are? I don't think so. Maybe we're born as blank slates—with a few genetic
tendencies—but past forty the slate is filled."
"Wipe it off," said the friend. "I am. Lots of people are. Lots of smart people
are."
"I don't believe you can . . . except in death. The idea that anyone could simply
start over, now, in this world, pretending the past never happened, it's . . . irrational,"
said the doctor with a wink.
"See," said the friend, "You're using reason. That proves you don't belong here."
"Listen," said the doctor, "What happens if you don't pass the test? Maybe they
don't need any more reasonably good engineers. What happens if they just don't like
you?"
"There's a sister Nation to the west. Mostly agriculture, I think. The two Nations
trade between themselves. Technology for food and scavenged materials."
"You don't mind being a farmer?" asked the doctor.
"I'll get in. John, please, we're probably the two most intelligent people for
hundreds of miles in any direction."
"You think we are."
"And you know we are. Have you met any of the men who run this place, who
think they run the place?" asked the friend. "The ones who are supposed to be paying
me?"
"The Capitalists?" asked the doctor.
"Don't you need capital to call yourself a Capitalist? No one has been paid. And
what would we do with the payment? Empty plans and empty promises."
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"They're working on that," said the doctor, his voice void of enthusiasm.
"They have plans and guns," said the friend. "Plans and guns. That's it."
"This new place, this Nation, does it have a constitution? Is it democratic?"
"I assume so," said the friend.
"Then what's to keep it from failing just like the United States, just like every
other nationT'
"The United States let anybody in, well, not anybody, but there wasn't a
meaningful test," said the friend. "There's a difference with The Nation, John. Of
course they've learned from the past. How could they not? We've all been forced to
learn."
"What happens if your kids grow up and aren't smart enough? When do they get
kicked out of the cold light into the colder darkness?"
"John, could it really be worse than this?" asked the friend. "There's nothing
here. What? Food from dying soil on rooftops? Water hoped for from the sky? If
there's nothing here, then there's nothing left for you to do. There's nothing left of you."
The friend held out his hands, stood on his toes and gave a vaudevillian spin.
"You're practicing medicine inside a tomb, inside a corpse," he said.
"We're still safe," said the doctor.
"For how long?"
The friend waited for a response, then smiled and walked away, spinning around
once more.
The doctor, as he expected, never heard from his friend again. But rumors of a
nation to the north continued to grow as The Capital continued to crumble. The rumors
bragged of a place filled with intelligence and progress, the best the world still had to
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offer. The doctor sought out a first-hand account, but never met any Nation rejects or
returnees. The doctor continued to believe it was unreasonable to leave your home for
the unknown based solely on rumor-filled advertisements—no matter how good the
sales pitch sounded.
A bomb blast changed his mind.
The doctor fell asleep but quickly woke to the sound of metallic rattling. He
jerked up from the kitchen floor and blinked in the darkness. The hallway's fluorescent
bulb shone weakly inside the kitchen, showing shapes and movement but not details.
The rattling stopped, but the doctor saw its source: a figure in black rummaging
through a drawer near the large soup pot. For a sleepy second, the doctor thought his
patient might have woken—miraculously healed—but a glance at the kitchen table
revealed the injured body still lying limp.
"The ladle is hooked on the pot," said the doctor, assuming the rummager had
come for food.
The dark figure didn't respond but shuffled back into the hallway. The doctor's
stomach rumbled, loudly requesting more watery broth and overcooked vegetables. He
stood and walked stiffly to the soup pot, shut the open drawer, and filled the ladle with
soup.
This isn't sanitary, he told himself, drinking deeply from the ladle, forcing
himself to swallow. It might as well be water—tepid broth-polluted water.
The recent rummager made the doctor wonder if more escaped captives had just
arrived.
What a
nightmare....
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The doctor stopped sipping. He opened the drawer he had just shut. The drawer
was filled with knives.
More hands and ankles aching for freedom. If I have to treat another
wound....
The doctor took a greedy gulp from the ladle, feeling a watery substance run
from the corners of his mouth down his cheek.
Almost gone . . . we'll all be eating snow for breakfast.
A choke or stifled scream interrupted the doctor's thoughts. The ladle dropped
back into the pot, mingling germs with cold sustenance, but the doctor's stomach
overruled his mind's decision. He grabbed a food-stained bowl and ladled soup up to its
edges. He replaced the ladle, then left the dark kitchen, walking down the dimly lit
hallway cradling the bowl and carefully sipping the pasty liquid into his dehydrated yet
salivating mouth.
Stopping at the back entrance to the chapel—the one used by a priest or deacon
during a church service—the doctor was struck by the appearance of a woman in the
front pew. Flapping her arms, mouth open, she appeared unable to breathe.
Choking ... a seizure
....
The woman saw the doctor, then pointed her still-flapping arms at the altar. A
man, the dark rummager from the kitchen, was stabbing one of the captured New
America guards in the throat.
The doctor looked back at the woman with flapping arms.
She's trying to scream.
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The doctor stood frozen, wanting to rush in and tackle the dark figure, to wrench
away the knife. Instead, he simply watched as the man stabbed the bound helpless
victim with strokes so violent each penetration seemed designed to remove the victim's
head. The murderer, plunging the knife with both hands, revealed wrists still bound by
rope.
"Stop," uttered the doctor, cradling the empty bowl, his body vibrating.
The doctor wondered if he might be dreaming. He continued to watch as the
dark figure plunged and plunged into the victim with machine-like rhythm. The doctor
hated his instinct for wanting to intervene. He hated his rational mind for telling him
"don't." Physical altercations had been rare at the hospital, but whenever they occurred
the doctor longed to stop the violence and never actually did.
If I get hurt, every patient who needs my care gets hurt, too . . . I'm not security.
I'm a doctor.
His eyes fully adjusted to the dim chapel light, the doctor saw that one of the
bound captors had already been killed. His blood-stained body pulled off the altar—
head nearly separated from the neck. The woman with flapping arms ducked behind her
pew and vomited. The bowl slipped from the doctor's fingers as if gravity urged him to
action. A loud crack filled the chapel. The bowl shattered into shards stained
translucent red by the weak soup.
The prisoner closest to the man in black—and closest to the body being
decapitated—woke up and shrieked. The chapel's refugees stirred in their hard cold
sleep. The men who had agreed to watch both the prisoners and the church's front door,
awoke from their unintended slumber. Shocked by the altar violence, they rushed
toward the murderer, knocking him to the floor and wrestling away the bloodied knife.
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The barely-lit chapel buzzed with women worried for their children and children not
wanting to wake up.
"What are you doing?" asked one of the men holding the murderer.
"Can we have more light in here?" asked the other tackier, looking at the doctor.
The doctor realized he stood next to a light switch. He flicked it and watched
two fluorescent bulbs buzz into life, brightening the white marble altar stained slick red.
The doctor, his feet stuck in place, stared at the two dead men, heads nearly separate
from bodies, blond hair soaked and matted with blood—men no longer in need of a
doctor.
"I know that man," shouted a woman from the second aisle, pointing at the
murderer.
The doctor squinted through the brightening light to get a glimpse of the killer
who, despite his vicious knife wielding, had yet to put up a fight once tackled. The
man's face, glossy grayish black, provoked a grimace from the doctor's mouth.
Frostbite.
"It's the priest," said someone.
"Father Ben?" asked another.
"The man who gave the speech on the highway. It's the man they left for dead."
"It's Father Ben. He's the priest here. This is his church," said the woman who
had vomited but finally found her voice.
Curious refugees snuck forward to behold the fresh carnage, but the doctor's
mind, familiar with the ends of violence, wandered away.
Weather. . . weather. . .
weather....
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The one-word chant gained volume until it wrenched the doctor's feet from the
floor. He jogged past the tackled man who lay staring at the ceiling, each hand pinned
by one man, both legs pinned by a newly arrived third. The doctor jogged past gaping
adult mouths and still-asleep children. He kicked his way into the antechamber and
threw his shoulder into the cold front door. The door didn't budge. He turned and
slammed his back into the door—achieving the same result.
If the snowing has stopped, Caroline and I will leave at daylight. I'll make a sled
. . . We'll rebuild our supplies. We'll scrounge every filthy building in The Capital. And
the next day we'll leave for The Nation. Or the next next day. Quit fooling around and
go, John!
The doctor knew an October walk north was ridiculous.
I can't wait. . . not any longer. . . I'm sick to death of these people . . . slicing
each other open then wanting me to make everything better. . . depending on me.
The doctor laughed.
There's no point. . . there's no point. . . there's no point...
As long as I stay, it's
irrational for me to be me. The Capital may not be a corpse, but its disease is terminal.
I'm not accomplishing anything by staying. I haven't accomplished anything for years.
The blood will flow here until the bodies have all been emptied. I heard what was
said. . . over and over. . . but I didn't listen. I should have listened. Maybe something
is wrong with my ears. Maybe I need a doctor. My wife is dead because I didn't listen.
Maybe I killed my wife.
The doctor knew he would have to live with the results of his actions and
inactions, but he could live with those things if he made it to The Nation of Cold Light.
He could live with a past deformed by disease if he could only be surrounded by people
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whose lives and environment were directed towards a future, directed by their minds—
by rational thought—not their sensory desires or their hearts which was just another way
of saying their dreams. He could live anywhere far from a snowed-in church in a deadand-buried city.
Why won't this door budge? wondered the doctor, continuing to batter the thick
wooden door with his back. The priest must have used a different door.
On the verge of a new hunt, the doctor noticed a coldness in his spine. He turned
and pressed palms against the door.
It's frozen . . . it's frozen . . . snow drift...
or maybe frozen rain-
The doctor rammed the door with his shoulder and felt it budge half an inch. He
rammed the door again, wondering if the fear and adrenaline speeding up his blood came
from claustrophobia. He rammed the door again. Six inches. Another ram. Twelve
inches. The doctor's shoulder screamed "stop!"
The doctor peered at a wall of snow rising higher than the doorway as if the
outside air had been replaced with white frozen water. He resisted the urge to leap
inside the snow, to ram his body into its hard but malleable coldness, to tunnel and crawl
his way out of the church which had transformed into a buried cave. The doctor wanted
to get away from these people he didn't know—these people he didn't want to know. He
fought the urge to call out, "Caroline! We're going, Sweetie!"
Picturing his disappointed wife—the wife he left dead at the bottom of the steps
—the doctor froze.
No choice. No choice.
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He felt a sudden urge to see her, to grab and hold her and explain to her his need
to leave, his obligation to flee. Then he pictured tiny pieces of metal ripping away his
wife's face, the blood and flesh, leaving a skull studded with shot.
Is she grayish black by now?
Purplish-blue?
Tears formed on the inside corners of his eyes.
"I just want to get out of here, please," he said to the empty chamber and wall of
snow.
I sound like a little boy, or a little man, going a little insane. So this is what it
feels like to go over the edge ... I should take notes. I should write an article,
"Introduction to Insanity" by John Stern, MD, certified loon.
The doctor grabbed the disused coat rack, snapping ancient webs from the wall.
He jammed the rack into the outdoor snow ceiling, demanding with swift upward strokes
to see the night, to see that snow had ceased to fall, to feel the warm wind sent by God to
melt this frozen flood, to return everything to normal by morning, to dissolve the
memories of the last two days, to go back in time. But his thrust through the snow met
only more snow which plummeted to the chamber floor. The doctor longed for the
darkness of night to ensure the inevitable lightness of day, but repeated thrusts revealed
only the never ending snow of winter nightmares. The doctor wanted to take the coat
rack and break open windows and break off doors and break off the entire front of the
church, pushing it forward like a giant snow plow, shoving it all the way north and west
to The Nation of Cold Light.
The doctor stopped and laughed, realizing he could now understand the man or
men who had bombed the hospital.
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They should bomb them all. The buildings are going moldy. They're infested
with mold, with old, dead, unhealthy air. The buildings can't breathe. Septums
malformed and clogged. The bombs are a prescription—a minor surgery really. We
must give them new faces—new facelifts—so they breathe properly. Otherwise they'll
suffocate and die.
The doctor thought of his wife and the hospital—faces gone, skeletons exposed.
God, I don't want to be a doctor anymore. I don't want to be anyone anymore. I want to
be a blank slate, a faceless thing. Make me an idiot, too. I don't care!
A woman opened the door. The doctor recognized her and hoped she couldn't
read his thoughts, hoped she couldn't see his terrible weakness, hoped she couldn't see
the fear, the smallness of him—the smallness of his mind.
"John," said Rachael, "They want you to take a look at this man out here. They
think he's got hypothermia. They want your advice."
CHAPTER XXI
WULF
The priest's face, patched black with an underlying greasy gray, was twisted as if
under attack, yet no one stood near him—chapel spectators granting another wide berth.
They fear his disease, thought the doctor. The anger disease
....
The doctor knelt beside the priest, recalling the priest's speech delivered to a
group of strangers less than twenty-four hours earlier. The priest had argued for
freedom. He had argued that order could arise through freedom in a more sustainable
way than through coercion—that bad luck would never be feared by the truly free. The
doctor looked at the two bodies with almost-severed heads and wondered if their deaths
were a continuation of that argument—or perhaps the beginning of a new one.
Coercion and order by decapitation . . . very effective.
"Can you hear me?" asked the doctor.
"Yes, I can hear you," said Father Ben, the face of a dead man surprising
everyone with its words.
"Do you have any injuries besides frostbite?" asked the doctor. "Anything I can't
see?"
Father Ben gave no answer.
Despite the priest's blood-drenched clothes, the doctor remained reluctant to
check for bleeding, not because he regarded the priest as dangerous, but because he
couldn't muster any sympathy.
This pleased the doctor.
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164
No more Dr. Stern . . . I'm really finished, he told himself, wondering what he
would do in The Nation of Cold Light, wondering if The Nation would ask him, or
require him, to resume practicing medicine.
Have I really "practiced medicine" in the last decade? Did I ever?
"I'm thirsty," said Father Ben, "and I'm hungry."
Rachael hurried back to the kitchen while the crowd of refugees continued to
stare, wanting to ask the priest about his escape from the concrete valley but confused by
his murder of bound men. The deacon arrived in layers of robes, followed by Rachael,
who carried a bowl of soup puffing steam into the cold chapel air.
"Father Ben," cried the deacon, seeing the black-faced, blood-coated figure
sprawled on the floor. She knelt beside him, grabbing one of his cold-charred hands
with both of hers. She looked up at the doctor.
"Can you save him?" she asked.
The doctor leaned towards the priest and said, "I'm going to take your pulse
now," as if the priest still had a knife and intended to use it again. The heat from the
priest's neck stung the doctor's hand.
The pulse raced.
"Can you save him?" asked the deacon again, her voice expecting the worst.
"His pulse is fine. He needs fluids," said the doctor, motioning to Rachael.
Rachael passed the bowl to the doctor who, making no attempt to hide his
displeasure, used his free hand to prop the priest's head onto a small cushion and offered
his patient a spoon of watery vegetable matter.
The deacon continued to look at the doctor as if her question hadn't been
answered.
165
"He doesn't need saving," said the doctor, "not from me."
The deacon stared at the bloody clothes with confusion.
"I don't think any of that blood is his," said the doctor. "He killed two of the
guards when he came in."
And how did he get in? wondered the doctor, afraid to ask and reveal his desire to
leave.
The deacon looked at the two dead guards whom no one had attempted to hide—
their bodies lying stiff on the altar, their bloody blond heads dangling onto the floor. She
looked at the two unhurt guards. One was short and skinny with black hair and a black
coat covered in his comrade's blood. His black pants reeked of urine. The other was tall
and heavily muscled with curly red hair. Nonplussed by the carnage, he stared at the
priest with eyes lost in thought.
The priest raised his still-bound hands, refusing weak soup.
"We need a knife," said the deacon.
A man handed her the blood-stained butcher's knife and without hesitation she
sawed at the priest's bindings.
"Are there only two left?" asked the priest. "Did you kill the rest?"
The crowd exchanged bewildered looks, their faces asking, "Were we supposed
to kill?"
With no one else willing, the doctor decided to answer.
"We don't know what happened to the rest of the guards or the rest of the
captives," he said, immediately realizing his error. "Actually, four of the captives were
killed before the group broke apart. Every guard but these four got away, as far as we
know."
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"Did one of the captives come back for you, Father?" asked a woman's voice, her
body hidden in the crowd.
"No," said the priest, his eyes closed. "There was no help."
Pain erased the brief smile on the priest's cold-burnt face.
"Actually," he added. "That's incorrect. The snow helped me, pressed into
bricks, pressed into stairs of snow."
"How much has it snowed?" asked the doctor, his voice low.
"To the neck," said Father Ben, "and still snowing. Have you asked any of the
kidnappers to explain themselves? Have they asked you for forgiveness?"
Everyone looked at the two remaining guards, who looked at the crowd in return.
"We don't need your forgiveness," said the red-haired prisoner, his voice calm as
if stating an obvious fact.
The priest sat up, massaging his newly freed wrists. Taking the knife from the
deacon he began to saw at his leg restraints.
"Then we shall not grant it," he said.
The black-haired prisoner shifted his buttocks, having wet and warmed his
trousers once more.
"Look," said the black-haired prisoner, the word seeming to disappear back
inside his small mouth. "We can help you. We will. We will help you."
He looked at his partner, then back at the staring crowd.
"I will help you," he said. "I'll tell you everything . . . anything you want to
know. I'll help you find them if that's what you want."
The red-haired prisoner smiled.
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"Will you help us kill them?" asked a woman, stepping from the crowd, her
clothes covered in blood.
"No, they won't," said the bride. "Because we won't hunt them down. We're not
savages."
Turning towards the crowd, the bride asked, "What's wrong with everyone?"
"They killed my husband," said the blood-stained woman, words firing from her
mouth.
"They killed my husband," said the bride.
Both women stared at the blood on each other's clothing.
The bride unconsciously wiped at the maroon splotches on her cheek.
"But killing those men won't accomplish anything," said the bride.
"It will keep them from killing others," said the other bloody widow.
The priest, his ankles freed from each other but still trailing rope, struggled to his
feet.
"This woman is right," he said, pointing his black hand at the widow, his body
movement tired and determined—a man rising to go to work. "We have to protect
ourselves and if that means we k i l l . . . then we kill. We know everything we need to
know about these men."
"But you don't know everything," said the black-haired prisoner to himself.
"Father Ben," said the bride, "the Bible speaks . . . every sermon you give speaks
of God's plan—people doing God's work to fulfill God's plan."
"You can't do God's work if you're dead," said the priest, waving off further
protest with the blood-spattered knife. "We can't trust these men. I think we all know
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that by now. They've taught us that much, haven't they, God? We trust You, God, and
not these men."
"But we can turn the other cheek," said the bride.
"My cheeks are black from turning," said the priest, "turning and turning before
the enemy wind. The skin is falling off. Soon, I will have no cheeks at all, my dear. No
more turning away. The confrontation is here and now."
"But once we're safe-"
"Never, my dear. Never again shall we be safe . . . we must trust God-"
"And serve God," said the bride.
"And serve God. But we can do neither if we're dead. Trust me, my dear. God
wants us to stay alive. He did not kill Adam and Eve because of a single sin. He did not
have Abraham kill Isaac. God does not kill the righteous. But he does destroy the
wicked. I am trusting God, and I am being God-like. Where is the man in the white
hat?"
The priest took a careful step forward but slipped on blood-wet marble. The
doctor jumped forward to block the priest's progress.
Why did the deacon give him a knife, the doctor wondered, instinctively looking
for Caroline, who remained absent from the scene.
The priest, on his knees, pointed his knife at the two prisoners, then dropped his
arm, nearly stabbing his own leg.
"Tell the man in the white hat that God will get the last word, God will have the
final say, God will end all arguments. Tell him t h a t . . . and in God's Name kill him.''''
The woman who had asked questions from behind a wall of others excused her
way forward. She watched the priest struggle forward on hands and knees, wavering
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like a drunk. The doctor stepped back but continued to shield the two remaining
prisoners. The black-haired prisoner pressed his small body against the red-haired
prisoner's muscled frame. The woman walked to the base of the altar and stopped. Her
hands rested against her stomach, fingers and palms clasped together as if her wrists
were still bound.
"Please don't kill them," she said in a motherly tone, her tired eyes looking down
on the priest. "Think of our children . . . please."
"Please," said another woman's voice from behind the wall of humans.
"I am thinking of our children," said the priest, standing up, straightening his
back.
The priest's eyes floated, his black eyelids blinked.
"Ask them about the food," said Rachael.
Among the crowd, a few heads nodded.
"The three meals a day," continued Rachael, stepping forward, then stopping at
the sight of the two dead men. "Was your leader telling the truth? Do you have
medicine? Do you have a government?"
"Everything he said was true," said the black-haired prisoner, his voice cracking
on the word "true."
The red-haired prisoner smirked and stared at the back of the chapel as if he
could see for miles.
"Why is your friend laughing?" asked a voice from the crowd.
The black-haired prisoner looked at the red-haired prisoner, then back at the
crowd.
"It's true. All of it."
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The red-haired prisoner's face relaxed.
"My name is Anthony," said the black-haired prisoner, "and I'm from here—
from this city. We moved outside the city when I was young, but I was born here . . . not
that I can prove it. . . but I was, I promise. My parents and I, we were in one of the first
groups they rounded up. I've been out there, in New America, for six years—since the
beginning."
"Not since the beginning," interrupted the red-haired prisoner, who took in a
deep breath and let it out.
"Yes, I have," said Anthony, watching his comrade shake his head. "Everything
he said was true—the man in the white hat. We didn't want to hurt anyone."
"Then why did you?" asked the doctor, helping the priest sit, then lie down.
"Why take people against their will? Why tie people up? Why not just go around and
ask for volunteers?"
"Because no one believes you. No one believes anyone anymore. Ronnie told
you that. The guy in the white hat, remember?" asked Anthony.
"You really have enough food to feed groups that big?" asked Rachael.
"We have plenty of food here," said a loud female voice from the crowd.
"We got no food here," said the deacon. "But in the neighborhoods they've got
plenty. People save for the winter."
"Some people," said a quiet female voice from the crowd.
"You could still go there," said Anthony. "If you take us, I'm sure they'll let you
in."
"They'll kill you if you go there," said the red-haired prisoner. "If any of the
recruiters make it back, and they recognize you, you're dead."
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"They need people," said Anthony.
"Will they come back for us?" asked the bride.
"Of course they'll come back for you," said the red-haired prisoner. "They'll go
get more ammunition first. But they'll be back."
"It doesn't matter," said the doctor, looking at the group. "We won't be here."
"They'll find you," said the red-haired prisoner, "and they'll kill you."
"New America," scoffed the bride.
"You haven't seen it," said Anthony.
"I think we should all go back to sleep," said the deacon, seeing the priest begin
to nod off, eyes flickering. "Everyone will be on their way by the afternoon, so you
might as well have a good rest."
"How long can we stay here?" asked the woman with hands folded against her
stomach.
"We're out of food," said the deacon, "so . . . I believe you don't want to stay
here."
The deacon smiled at the doctor, who then tried to lift the nearly unconscious
priest. Rachael stepped in to help, and along with the doctor led the stumbling Father
Ben to his room. The crowd slowly dispersed back into pews with curious but careful
glances at the two remaining prisoners. A few children, finally awake, stared at the two
corpses. Anthony looked down at his cold wet pants while his red-haired comrade stared
back at the crowd.
CHAPTER XXII
BABIES
"Has anyone seen my son?" asked Rachael from the priest's bedroom door.
The priest lay on his bed, asleep or unconscious. No one had bothered to remove
his clothes and the sheets were now soiled with blood.
Rachael checked the deacon's room, then the kitchen, holding Luz's hand while
the little girl yawned again and again. Rachael entered the chapel just as its occupants
were once more settling into sleep.
"Charles," she said softly.
Rachael didn't trust her eyesight in the large dim chapel. She bent down, looked
at Luz and mouthed the words, "Have you seen my son?"
Luz shook her head and yawned.
The pair walked up the aisle, but before they reached the antechamber Luz let go
of Rachael's hand and stood motionless. Rachael stopped and looked back.
"What?" she asked.
Luz stared at the man she had pointed to on the highway. The man—half his face
scraped red—stared at Luz.
Examining the man, Rachael asked, "Do you know her?"
The man raised his eyes, surprised.
"In another life," he said.
"What other life?" asked Rachael, noticing the little girl try to follow her lips.
"I was the warden in charge of an orphanage. The kids burned it down," said the
warden, examining the girl as if to ensure she was real.
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Rachael turned to Luz and mouthed the words, "You burned down the
orphanage?"
Luz shook her head, her eyes moistening with tears.
"No, no," said the warden, trying to get the little girl to see his smile. "I'm sure
she wasn't a part of it. I wouldn't even blame the ones who started the fire, the older
kids. We never had a plan for them. Should we have just let them go? Maybe. But
what would we tell them? What could they do to survive? And where? They wanted
their freedom, but still, I wish they could have run away without burning the place
down. There are some little boys and girls wandering around out there . . . unless this
turn in the weather gets them."
The warden smiled at Rachael.
"I wondered if people would take the kids in—what kind of people," he said.
"Thank you."
Luz pointed at the warden's red face.
"Did the older kids do that, too?" asked Rachael.
"No. The Orange Vests did. Those boys up there on the altar . . . or their
friends . . . I can't remember much. I helped someone get to the hospital—a neighbor of
mine who was dying. I was gone too long . . . but it's just me, you understand? The
orphanage was mine. Others helped with food, but I was in charge of all those kids—a
father to fifty. I get back from the hospital and see the place burned to the ground. I
start walking around like an old fool, looking for the littlest ones—we had some younger
than Luz if you can believe it. But those boys got me—the Orange Vests. I tried to
explain myself, but you know, they look at you like you're stupid. They must think we
are. Too stupid to survive on our own. I was a father of fifty for years. Was I stupid?"
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Luz had been waiting for a break in the conversation to ask a question—the
question—the question she had wanted to ask for the past year. She cried, hoping the
words would come out right.
"Can you find my parents?" she asked.
The warden looked at Rachael, both of them wondering what to tell a seven-yearold girl, wondering what a seven-year-old girl could accept. Luz re-gripped Rachael's
hand.
"I'm afraid your parents," began the warden, pausing and unconsciously touching
his red cheek. "Well, I'm afraid I don't know where they are. But we'll look for them
together, okay."
The warden winked at Luz who nodded and put her head against Rachael's hip,
wiping at tears with mittened hands.
The doctor approached Rachael and Luz from behind.
"Have you seen my daughter?" he asked.
Rachael shook her head, thinking the one place she hadn't checked was the
antechamber. She moved that way, but Luz stood firm, pulling Rachael back.
"I was in there earlier," said the doctor, pointing to the antechamber.
The doctor went to check the small cold room anyway and found it empty—the
front door still jammed open into snow. He closed the inside door, wondering if anyone
had seen his earlier adventure. Shaking his head, the doctor walked towards Rachael,
exasperated arms extended.
"My son is gone, too," said Rachael. "Maybe the deacon has an idea."
Rachael looked at Luz and asked, "Do you want to stay here with your friend?"
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Luz glanced at the warden, then put her face into Rachael's hip and shook her
head. Rachael leaned down and gave the girl a big hug. She wanted to pick Luz up, but
knew her bad ankle wouldn't allow it—not for a couple of weeks at least. Rachael
kissed Luz, who wiped away new tears. The trio headed back towards the deacon's
room, Luz waving goodbye to the warden, and the warden waving back, the sad
expression on his red and white face making him look like an old-fashioned clown.
"Could they have gone outside?" asked the doctor. "Or some place back here?
How did the priest get in? I think he must have gotten in back here."
Rachael acknowledged the questions and statement with silence as the sleepyeyed deacon shook her head. The group of four went down the hallway and past the
priest's room before stopping at the church compound's back door. They opened it and
watched as dim light from the hallway cast itself over a six-foot wall of snow. The wall
had been heavily altered near the door—someone having dug out an area wide enough
for the door to swing open. The doctor stepped outside, crunching already compacted
snow.
While waiting for his vision to adjust to the darkness, the doctor's body and mind
embraced the cold fresh air. He inhaled it slowly, his nostrils savoring the sting. The
doctor's glasses fogged over, and after wiping them off he saw that fully dilated pupils
would do nothing for his vision—the night was too dark. Without words, he tried
climbing the wall of snow, boots sinking deeper with every step. His legs froze in place.
Soft snowflakes powdered his hair and face as the swirling wind whined. The storm
seemed as strong as before, and the doctor marveled at the priest's superhuman effort
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battling back from the concrete valley. The doctor tried to turn but couldn't. Rachael
noticed the struggle and kicked away the snow behind the doctor's legs.
Back inside, the doctor jerked the door shut. He placed his cold hand on the
colder dead bolt, hesitated, then turned the knob locking the door.
"I don't think they could have gone outside," he said, brushing snow from damp
pants. "And I don't know why they would. Anyway, they couldn't have gotten far."
"And they couldn't have just vanished," said Rachael, turning to the deacon.
"Well," said the deacon, examining Luz, "If they're not at the front of the church,
and they're not at the back of the church, then they must be on top."
"On the roof?" asked the doctor.
"In the steeple," said the deacon.
The steeple stairs began behind the wall which formed the back of the altar. On
stairs wobbly with age, the doctor climbed up alone. Fifteen seconds later, he returned.
"They're up there," he said.
"Is it safe?" asked Rachael. "Are they coming down?"
"Well," said the doctor, looking at Luz, feeling relieved the little girl was deaf. "I
believe they're having sex."
"What?" asked Rachael. "But they're coming down now?"
The doctor's lack of a response implied Grand and Caroline were not coming
down now.
"Did you say anything?" asked Rachael.
"I'll talk to Caroline," said the doctor, holding his hands out in the human signal
for, "Take it easy."
"When?" asked Rachael. "When will you talk to her? When she's pregnant?"
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"My daughter knows how procreation works," said the doctor. "She knows how
to avoid getting pregnant. Does your son know?"
"My son is thirteen-years old," said Rachael.
"Then he's more than old enough to know," said the doctor, catching Luz reading
his lips.
"Does your daughter do this often?" asked Rachael, wanting to scream her son's
name but not wanting to wake up every sleeping refugee, alerting a crowd of strangers to
her son's activity.
"I don't believe my daughter has had sexual relations before."
Rachael's face warmed. She stifled another scream as she considered hobbling
up another set of ancient darkened stairs. She had no desire to see her thirteen-year-old
son naked and having sex, but she knew the veil of responsibility had not yet been lifted
—and probably never would in relation to her son.
I can't stop this ... but...
damage control, Rachael told herself, wishing her
mind was well rested. As soon as the roads are passable, we're gone. Back to Onall,
back to reality, Charles. I may have failed as a mother up to this point, but that can
change. That will change. That boy is not going to turn out like his father.
Rachael tilted her head and peered into the dark steeple, glad not to hear any
sounds except a strengthening wind. She looked at the doctor and found him examining
her like she was his patient. Rachael's warm face reddened.
"I guess your daughter is moving to Onall with us," she said, tightening her grip
on Luz's hand, then leading the little girl back to the deacon's room.
I hope she does get pregnant, thought Rachael, collapsing on the deacon's bed.
Then Doctor John can explain his idea of responsible parenting. Oh, but his daughter
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knows how to avoid it. Rachael smirked and pulled Luz tight against her body. I guess
you can't get pregnant if you have sex in a steeple.
When they had finished having sex for the third time, Grand collapsed on top of
Caroline, who managed to shift half his body to the floor before he fell asleep.
Grand's eyelids fluttered closed. His unconscious mind quickly filled with the
familiar ringing, but Grand made no attempt to protect himself from the sound. As the
ringing increased in volume, he felt a strong breeze cool his body. His eyes fluttered
open, and Grand saw a grassy field like those surrounding Onall—fields hastily cleared
for agriculture, then abandoned by people fleeing further south. A supine Grand lay
surrounded by the colors of spring - fresh green and perfect blue. A tall figure in heavy
winter clothing emerged from a nearby woods. Grand tried to lift his head to identify
the fast-approaching figure, but his body seemed stuck to the ground. Bringing a hand
to his neck, Grand massaged the bruised break in his collar. When he returned the hand
to his side, the winter figure stood only a few feet away.
Grand blinked.
"Dad? Lucy?"
Grand tensed. Sex with Caroline had made him wonder if Lucy might end her
visits, if she might stay in the woods forever—brooding and angry.
"I was thinking of you, Lucy," said Grand to the dark figure stuck in his
periphery. "I did it with her, but I was thinking of you."
The figure came forward and leaned over Grand. The figure wore a sawed ram's
skull as a mask. Grand remembered being punched by the man in the trench coat and
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wondered if this would be a second helping, but the person in the ram's skull lifted
Grand to his feet, then walked towards the woods.
"Lucy?" asked Grand. "Dad?"
A new breeze blew across the field and the flowers began to wilt. The grass
dried up, turned golden then gray then black as the nearby trees lost their leaves. The
sky darkened. Grand heard thunder and shook violently in the cold air.
The ringing stopped.
Grand felt something press into his face.
"Charles," said Caroline, tapping Grand's face, then gripping it by the chin.
"Charles."
Grand reached his right arm into the darkness and grasped nothing. His hand
landed on a naked thigh, and Grand remembered where he was.
"Charles," said Caroline, "I'm going down now."
Caroline stood and dressed. She found the railing and carefully guided herself
down the stairs.
Grand listened to the wind, shivering, still unprotected from the cold.
CHAPTER XXIII
GRIN
For the next five hours, every person in the church slept except for a man in a
ripped black trench coat. The man lay awake and thinking on a kitchen table cutting
board.
I can move every part of my body, but no part of my body wants to move. I feel
no pain, but that means nothing.
The man in the black trench coat had never felt physical pain.
As a child, frequent injuries never stopped him from frolic—his nervous system
never alerted him to pain. He would notice that his head was gashed if the blood seeped
into his eyes. He would notice a twisted ankle because his foot worked weird. But that
wouldn't stop the man, then a boy, from running or jumping through abandoned city
street and buildings—jumping through holes in floors, crashing into debris. Then the
ankle would break, and the child, now a man, would stop playing until he could find a
brace or a crutch or a cane. Then play would resume and ultimately result in a body
deformed by injury without pain. The man in the black trench coat knew physical pain
did exist—his body felt it and warped to adapt. But his mind seemed to hover in an
outer sphere, a sphere from which his mind could notice limps become staggers, a
sphere from which his mind could notice bent wrists and crooked fingers lose their
dexterity, but a sphere whose nerve connections had been severed from spheres below
like an all-seeing god no longer worshiped. The mind did feel a type of pain—the
suffering of thought—but the man, once a child, had learned to control mental anguish
with alcohol stolen or made.
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Now lying in the almost dark of someplace unfamiliar, the man felt nothing—no
pain, physical or mental. His body lay broken, his clothing and skin had stiffened with
his own dried blood, but his mind simmered in a sober liveliness utterly new. For years
—the years since tearing apart buildings became a boring child's game—the man had
felt destined to miss the big opportunity he relished. While moments of chance rose in a
world of unfettered disorder, the quality of such moments declined, encouraging not big
ideas or big accomplishments but small survival techniques. In an era made impotent by
chaos, scavengers succeeded while true creators died off. Waiting for his chance, the
man, worn down physically by a world he couldn't feel, rebelled with thought, his time
divided between reading books to develop ideas and consuming pure alcohol when the
weight of impossibilities threatened to drive him mad. He filled notebooks with a plan
he thought perfect. Then shredded the plan and used it to kindle his moonshine still.
But lying on a table in a place unknown, the crippled man felt reborn,
reconnected to the lower sphere of nerves. He breathed in air from the strange dim room
and tasted its unfamiliar flavors.
Maybe I'm being prepared for dinner, he thought, licking the inside of his mouth.
Or maybe I'm being given what I always lacked...
an audience.
A young man walked into the kitchen. Staring, Grin experienced mild surprise.
He recognized the young man as the recent victim of his punch atop a pile of hospital
rubble. Grin considered apologizing to the young man, but apologies were a base and
Grin was much more into acids.
"Water," said Grin, his voice arid and raspy with disuse.
The young man, Charles Grand, spun around and stared, instinctively running his
tongue across an empty space in his mouth.
CHAPTER XXIV
ADAM
By late afternoon, everyone was worried.
The sky had never stopped snowing.
"Is there no one nearby who would help us?" asked Rachael, sitting in the chapel
with the deacon and every refugee except the injured man in the black trench coat, the
doctor, and the priest. "What about the people who come to your church?"
"People come and go," said the deacon. "We have some long-time parishioners,
but I don't go to their houses. Sometimes they bring us food, though we have never
really needed it. We just give it away. Sometimes we compost it. Imagine t h a t . . .
having too much food."
"What about the nearby houses?" asked Rachael, looking at the bride. "Do
people live in them?"
"Some are still used," said the bride. "But even if we could reach them
The bride gestured towards the large crowd of over one hundred people. She
tried to smile.
"They might give us a little food," she said.
"We'll just have to tough it out," said the deacon. "Snow like this won't last a
week. And, of course, we'll never run out of water."
"I was thinking of the children," said Rachael. "The smallest ones might not last
a week without food. And it can't be healthy having all of these people so close together.
It can't be sanitary for a week. What if someone has a virus?"
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183
The bride looked stunned.
"Aren't you the same person who couldn't wait to get to New America and all
those people?"
"I didn't want to go there," snapped Rachael. "I was interested in w h a t . . . I was
interested in how things worked there. I just wanted to know if they were telling the
truth. I have a home, too."
The bride and Rachael glared at each other—a glare both strengthened and
weakened by hunger.
"We'll last," said the deacon, "even the little ones. God will not kill a child in
this church. Some of us may have to be carried home, but we'll last. We have water, and
water is what we are . . . mostly."
Despite the deacon's pronouncement, she noticed faces filled with uncertainty.
The deacon resolved to compensate with ultra optimism at every opportunity.
"Yes we can!" she added.
"There was plenty of food on the carts," said Anthony, his voice faltering in the
expectation of being ignored.
The crowd moved their eyes toward the two prisoners many had forgotten.
"Were they going to feed the entire group?" asked Rachael.
"They could have," said Anthony, "only a little bit, but everyone would have
gotten something. Dried meat and nuts . . . and water. They had grain, but that was a
treat for the mules."
"Would they have left the carts?" asked Rachael. "Because of the storm . . .
would they just leave them in the road, so they could get home faster?"
The red-haired prisoner suppressed a smile.
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"Left the carts?" he asked. "Why? So they could die, too?"
"We're not going to die," said the deacon.
"We are if you're left in charge," said the red-haired prisoner.
"And what is your idea?" asked the bride.
"Let me go, so I can take my chances outside," said the prisoner. "You can keep
Anthony. He probably wants to stay."
Anthony began to speak but stopped himself.
"Why would we let you go?" asked the deacon, her age-spotted face turning light
purple. "You'll be here for the rest of your life as far as I'm concerned! If I have to build
the prison m y s e l f . . . I will!"
"You don't have to build one," said the red-haired prisoner. "Your God has sent
one down from heaven. But still, I would like the chance to break out on my own. If
I'm going to die, let me die in my own footsteps—not hiding in this holy tomb."
"This church is anything but a tomb, sir," said the deacon, purpler.
"You're wasting time talking about it," said the red-haired prisoner, "hoping the
sun will melt your problem away. You need to leave now, while there's still light
outside. I need to leave now."
The deacon scoffed and stepped forward to slap the prisoner.
Rachael jumped between.
"Leave and go where?" asked Rachael.
"Anywhere there might be food. Yeah, the snow might be gone in a week, but
then what? Has anyone here gone a week without food? And the snow might not be
gone in a week. You've got rope. If you tie it together, every bit of rope you have, a
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team could tramp or tunnel across the street and attach a rope to a chimney. Then you've
got a safety line . . . and anyone who wants to cross the street can make it across."
"What would that accomplish?" asked Rachael.
"What will sitting here accomplish?" asked the red-haired prisoner.
"This is a trap," said the deacon, pointing a finger at the prisoner. "He wants to
get us outside and let the cold finish the job that he and his rodent friends couldn't do
themselves. He'll get us outside, get us killed, and scurry back into his hole. Oh, he'll
laugh. He'll laugh at the people who fell for his little rodent trick. We know your game.
I'm eighty-four years old, sir. I know your game better than anyone—the silly game of a
silly boy. For eighty-four years, I've watched things crumble because of boys like you
and their stupid games."
"I told you I wanted to leave," said the red-haired prisoner. "I'm not hiding
anything. There's no trick. You don't have to go anywhere. I want to leave. It's not a
game to want to stay alive."
"Oh, but it is," said the deacon, her face tightening as she watched the red-haired
prisoner's smile widen. "Go ahead and laugh—laugh at the old woman—but remember
this, sir, if you have nothing in your life higher than yourself, then life or staying alive
can be nothing but a game. We don't need your help because God will help us plenty
when He sees fit to do so. You see, sir, Christian people are not unaccustomed to floods.
If you're really concerned about surviving, you should read our guidebook. Can you
read?"
"You can leave it up to God if you want," said the red-haired prisoner, "but
doesn't your God, in turn, leave it up to people, helping those who help themselves?
That's your saying isn't it? Perhaps I read it somewhere—back when I could read. You
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can make this as complicated as you want, but the truth will stay simple. What happens
nowadays when people don't plan ahead? What happens? Everyone here knows the
answer to that, even the children. Look, if you leave me here, it's as good as killing me.
I know you're not killers—with one holy exception—so what I'm really asking you to do
is to not commit murder. That's in your guidebook, too, isn't it? For that matter, I'm
suggesting you don't commit mass suicide, either. If you're going to leave this up to
chance or God—if there's even a difference between the two—at least take action. Do
something while you've got the chance. And even if you want to stay here and die,
anyone who wants to go should be allowed to go. Isn't that what your priest argued
yesterday morning? Let the people go?"
The deacon was no longer the only person—or the only Christian—who wanted
to slap the red-haired prisoner. But every angry refugee was also hungry and afraid.
"Where would you go?" asked Rachael.
"Anywhere," said the red-haired prisoner, "anywhere I thought I could find
food."
"But where?" asked Rachael. "If we let you go right now, where would you go?
What direction? To the highway? Would your friends have left a cart behind?"
Rachael stared at the prisoner and his long red hair.
The prisoner remained silent.
"Why did you four leave the group?" asked Rachael. "There were a dozen of
you—a dozen plus four drivers. Why split up? Why not go back to New America where
there's plenty of food."
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The red-haired prisoner, no longer smiling, made no attempt to speak. Anthony
looked at his comrade, then down at the dirty empty hands lying in his urine-stained lap.
Anthony cleared his throat.
"There were fourteen of us," said Anthony, "ten guards and four drivers."
"There was a fight," said the red-haired prisoner, "When the captives left, when
all of you left, there was a fight. Ronnie told us—the recruiters—to climb onto the carts.
Four of the recruiters—two guards and two drivers—said 'no.' They shot the other two
drivers. They shot Ronnie and Ronnie's lieutenant, the man who punched your priest.
They took all four carts and left, warning us not to follow, telling us we wouldn't be
welcome in the New New America. They stayed on the highway, driving east through
the blizzard. There were six of us left. Two went after the carts, thinking they could kill
at least one of the mutineers and steal the cart. The rest us, the four of us—well, now
two—we followed a big group, we followed you . . . the tracks you left in the snow."
"To kill us," exclaimed a female voice from the chapel crowd.
"No, you idiot. Michael thought if we rounded some of you back up, we'd be
back in business," said the red-haired prisoner, slowly shaking his head. "I just wanted
to get inside."
"Michael is one of the guys you killed," said Anthony, motioning to the bloodstained altar where the two dead guards had lain.
"I say we let them go," said Rachael.
"They're killers," said the deacon, "and nothing but."
"What if he's able to get somewhere, even just across the street?" asked Rachael.
"We need food."
"Do you want to go with him?" asked the deacon.
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"No, but we can watch how he does it or how he fails. If he can't get anywhere
and we can't get anywhere, then we can accept that. I can accept that. But not until
we've tried. We've got maybe five more hours of light.. . whatever light there is
outside. I say we use it."
CHAPTER XXV
ORDER
Work on the ropes began at once. The red-haired prisoner, who said his name
was
Adam, recommended not bothering with the short pieces which had wrapped around
wrists, but to use instead the longer pieces which had hung between ankles.
"What if the rope gets wet?" Rachael asked.
"Rope gets stronger when it's wet," said Adam, who remained tied to both the
altar and Anthony despite being the crowd's current de facto leader.
"How much weight will this line support?" asked Rachael.
"The rope is more guide than full support," he said, "something to help keep your
balance as you cross the street."
The crowd agreed to free Adam once the rope was finished. Adam would then be
led by knife point up the stairs where the steeple's air vent had been removed. With the
rope secured inside the steeple, Adam would climb onto the Church's roof and make his
way across the snow which appeared to be twelve-feet deep and rising. Once he reached
the house across the street, Adam would attach the rope to the house's chimney.
Refugees without children who wished to leave would go next followed by persons with
children. It was believed that each successive navigation of the street would pack the
snow, making it easier for the those who followed—especially the children. Once on the
roof of the house across the street, refugees would cross to the house next door, using
another rope attached to another chimney. A small number of people who lived within
one mile of the church thought they might be able to get home, although for most of the
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refugees, one mile of travel through twelve feet of snow seemed impossible. The
general consensus was that refugees should travel as far as possible until one hour before
darkness, always scanning the snowtop for greenhouse roofs and smoking chimneys.
Adam agreed to stay by the chimney across the street, maintaining the integrity
of the rope until as many people crossed as wanted to cross. Anthony would then be
released, and the two former guards could go where they pleased. Many in the chapel
crowd realized Adam might just leave as soon as his bindings were cut, but they also
figured Adam was acting as their snow-world guinea pig, and thus sharing the risk. It
was also unspoken but understood that those who left the safety of the church were
essentially on their own. They were not leaving as a group but as individuals or small
families. Despite the uncertain outcome, no one openly refused to go, and everyone
seemed aware of the same stark reality: they were living inside a building which held no
food, a building surrounded by rising twelve-foot walls of snow, with daylight quickly
dying.
The deacon, refusing to help with the rope, continued to insist that Adam's
"trick" rope would transform into a talking serpent with even worse lies to tell. But no
one had expected the deacon to leave the church anyway, and her words failed to slow
the pace of work. It was also assumed that the priest, who had not yet reappeared from
his room, would stay. The doctor informed everyone that the man in the trench coat
remained awake and had been fed the last of the soup. The injured man wouldn't be able
to walk for at least a month and perhaps never—it was impossible to determine without
x-rays.
"He says he has no pain," the doctor told the group. "That's remarkable, but it
makes it more difficult to treat him. I'm limited to my sight and sense of touch."
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"You'll stay?" asked the deacon.
The doctor shrugged then nodded.
I'm a fraud, he told himself. I can do nothing for the man . . . except inform him
of his death.
The bride volunteered to stay until everyone who wanted to leave had crossed the
snow—at that point she would leave, but as soon as possible she would return with food
for whoever remained.
While the crowd stayed busy turning hundreds of short ropes into one long rope,
the bride kept a close watch on Adam. Like the deacon, the bride didn't trust the redhaired prisoner and openly suggested that someone armed with a knife cross the snow
directly behind Adam to make sure the New American "recruiter" followed instructions.
Since no one, including the bride, volunteered for that knife-wielding duty, the fate of
the refugees—the former captives—was at least partially back in the hands and feet of
one of their former captors.
CHAPTER XXVI
SENDOFF
"I think you should go with Rachael and her son," said the doctor to Caroline,
securing the finished rope to both a strong beam and the metal railing inside the steeple.
Caroline nodded, her eyes glazed by the memory of first sex.
"But how will you find me?" she asked.
"I'll ask Rachael... she'll draw me a map."
"So you'll come?" asked Caroline, peering down the steeple stairs, searching for
Grand.
"I might try to go north, first," said the doctor, "to the place we were headed.
Caroline, I've told you this before, but you should try to spend your life doing something
you believe in. Try to find that."
"You never told me that," said Caroline, looking at her father, wondering if this
would be their last day together.
"Yes, w e l l . . . perhaps I behaved in a way . . . perhaps I provided an example . . .
that is, I always wanted to provide an example of how best to go about things. This
might sound ridiculous, but you have to understand—I once believed in life here, in the
future of this city. I believed in the people—not in the men with guns trying to rename
the city—but I believed in people generally. I grew up here. Your mother and I . . . and
you . . . we've lived in the house that I grew up in. I believed in the other doctor, too,
and the nurses. That's why we stayed. But I was naive. We all were. A collection of
people isn't enough. You need the right people," said the doctor, seeing that his daughter
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was hearing but no longer listening to his words. "If the place in the north, this Nation,
turns out to be what I think it can be, I'll come back for you. I'll have a map
"Maybe we'll come up there," said Caroline, her voice hopeful. " . . . Charles
and I, when it's warmer."
"This isn't goodbye," said the doctor, grabbing his daughter's hands and holding
them, noticing how warm they were compared to his. "I want you to know that."
Caroline nodded, pleased that she wasn't crying, wishing more than anything she
could take a hot bath, then fall asleep next to Grand.
CHAPTER XXVII
VALLEY
"We're done," yelled a woman from inside the steeple. "We're ready for him."
Down by the altar, Rachael stared at Adam.
"Well," said Adam.
"I'm going to free you now," said Rachael. "Please help us. Please trust us like
we trust you."
Adam smiled but said nothing, his face free of expression. As Rachael knelt to
cut his wrist bindings first, Adam let his long thick fingers slide across her wrist,
continuing even when she stared at him.
The bride stepped onto the altar, a shiny object jutting from her side.
"Just so you know," sad the bride, "I have a knife."
The nervous blade gleamed.
Adam let out a quick sigh—a disguised laugh.
"I thought you were against killing," he said. "Weren't you just preaching to the
preacher?"
"I am and I was. Killing someone whose hands and feet are bound is murder,"
said the bride, pausing to swallow and hold back tears. "But killing someone who's
trying to kill you is self-defense. I don't want to kill you. I just want you to leave and be
gone for good. People like you don't belong in a church. Ever."
"This was my idea," said Adam. "You realize that, right? I'm the one who
wanted to leave. I want to leave."
"I think you're full of shit," said the bride.
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"I didn't murder your husband. I didn't have a gun."
"You didn't try to stop those who did," said the bride.
The wrist rope snapped, and Rachael moved down to Adam's ankles. Adam
massaged his newly freed wrists and stared down Rachael's shirts as she bent over.
When his ankles were free, he stood and stretched his legs. Keeping his eyes on the
bride's shaking hand, he turned toward Rachael.
"Since you freed me, you can come with me if you want," he said. "I know you
want to see what's there."
The bride shook her head as if Adam had propositioned her.
Rachael smiled.
"I have a home," she said. "It's not much . . . maybe not as nice as New America,
but...."
Rachael's smile widened.
. . . but maybe
....
Adam shrugged.
"If you change your mind
The bride took a step forward, her taut grip suffocating the knife's wooden
handle.
"Your friend won't be free until every one of us who wants to cross gets across
safely," said the bride, flicking her head towards Anthony.
"He's not my friend," said Adam, "but I'll do what you ask out of the goodness of
my heart. You can thank me when you get to New America in a year or two."
Adam smiled and laughed.
"Don't give me an excuse to use this," said the bride. "I don't want to."
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Adam let out another sigh-disguised laugh and walked toward the hallway behind
the altar. The crowd parted. The bride followed closely.
At the top of the steeple, Adam turned and looked into the crowd of curious
refugees being protected by the bride.
"Do you have anything I can beat snow with?" he asked. "A short board?"
The stairwell stayed silent.
Finally, a woman asked, "How about a skillet?"
"What's it made of?" asked Adam.
"I don't know. I don't even know if they have one. I just t h o u g h t . . . . " The
woman turned and yelled, "Is there a light-weight skillet in the kitchen?"
"Cast iron would be better," said Adam, the crowd staring at him with frightened
childlike faces
Seconds later, an aluminum skillet passed up the stairs. Adam examined the
dilapidated pan then stuffed it into his jacket. He tied the rope around his waist.
"This is a long shot," he said, "but have you got any plastic I could put over my
hands? An old shower curtain would work."
"We're losing light," said the bride.
"I'll go faster if my hands don't get wet," said Adam.
"They didn't give the priest anything to cover his hands," said the bride, "and I
saw them last night. They're black . . . frozen all the way through."
Adam stared at her, shook his head, then turned to the open vent. He shoved one
foot outside the vent and peered into the snow.
"I'm sorry they killed your husband," he said, looking back at the bride. "I
wouldn't have. Maybe that's why they didn't give me a gun."
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Perched on the square where the vent had been ripped out, Adam turned around,
gripping the inside of the steeple. He set his knees into twelve inches of rooftop snow
and gazed back at the bride's sad blue eyes.
"I think I'm going to need another person," he said.
"I knew it," said the bride, inching forward with the knife.
"Wait. Listen. The person doesn't have to do any work. I just need someone to
stand behind me, dig me out if I get buried. Otherwise you might be waiting up here for
hours while I'm dead."
"That would be horrible," said the bride.
"So is starving to death," said Adam, one of his knees slipping and sending an
avalanche of snow down the roofs steep slope. "And you wouldn't want to lose your
precious light."
"What if no one wants to help you?" asked the bride.
"What about your son?" asked Adam, squinting at the shadow where he knew
Rachael stood.
Rachael hesitated then turned to the stairs and yelled, "Charles!"
The staircase crowd parted as Grand passed through. When he reached the top,
Rachael explained the request, and Grand agreed to help.
"Wait until I tug the rope," said Adam, "then slide down the roof and try to land
behind me, as close as you can."
Adam turned away from the steeple then quickly turned back.
"But not on me," he added.
When it was dry, the aluminum church roof would have been impossible to stand
on without slipping. And as the roof was currently covered in a foot of slick snow—
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before it joined with the fourteen-foot sea of whiteness—Adam had two choices: slide
down the roof and accept what came or run and jump off the roof, perhaps reaching the
edge of the snow-buried sidewalk. He knew the people inside would have to accept the
first choice, but since he was now a human snow plow with hours of struggle ahead,
Adam took off in an awkward gallop envisioning a huge labor-saving leap. Instead, he
slipped, fell backwards and slid down the roof, disappearing at its edge.
Fifteen minutes later—although it seemed like an hour—Grand felt the rope
tighten. Seconds after that he felt a tug. He turned around and looked for Caroline, but
saw his mother instead.
"Help him," said Rachael, peeking into the gray-white world.
Adam remained invisible, but the hole he plunged into had grown bigger.
Grand stared at his mother. She reminded him of Lucy in appearance: black hair,
blue eyes, the face of a woman in magazines.
I don't even know her, thought Grand, wondering why that was.
With wind and snow blowing into his dry red eyes, Grand nodded to himself.
.. . and I never will.
He turned around, and without hesitation, skipped down the slope like a prancing
deer, stumbling near the roofs hidden edge and landing face first and fully prone on the
snow. His entire body sank five feet just to the right of Adam's small hole. Grand felt
the snow beneath his left arm give way as a cold wet glove clasped his forearm—the
forearm still braced in an improvised sling. The black glove pulled him face first into a
much deeper hole, which Grand filled with tiny avalanches as he struggled to stand.
"Easy," said Adam over the whining wind.
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Once standing, Grand felt his numerous bruises begin to pulse, fresh blood filling
the darkened patches of flesh.
"You know what you're here for, right?" asked Adam.
Grand nodded.
"To dig you out," he said, unconsciously crouching.
Adam nodded.
"When I move forward, you follow and pound the snow down with your feet."
Grand nodded again, examining Adam's face.
A face from a painting
....
The painting Grand remembered lay on the floor of an abandoned Onall house.
His mother saw him staring at it and asked if he wanted to take it back to their shack.
Grand said no, although he would have taken the painting if his mother hadn't asked.
Like his father, Grand hated permission. "It's a lie," his father had said. "Animals don't
ask permission. They take whatever they can take . . . as much as they can take."
Using the aluminum skillet, Adam gouged the wall of snow. After every foot of
progress, he pounced forward, crushing and packing the snow. When his boots sank too
far, he signaled for Grand to help. After thirty minutes they had plowed five feet with
seventy-five feet remaining.
"I gotta rest," said Adam, his heaving lungs and chest visibly expanding his coat.
"Will we make it before dark?" asked Grand, snowflakes crashing all around.
"We might not make it at all, unless we get some help. They should have done
this at first light. They knew the food was gone," said Adam, words accompanied by
dark-gray steam.
"Is all that stuff really true?" asked Grand. "What the guy in the white hat said?"
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"Yeah," said Adam.
"They really have all that food?"
"Yes," said Adam. "I guess I didn't believe it either. I didn't think it would work,
but it has so far. I like my own idea better, though."
"Your idea for what?" asked Grand.
Adam waved him off.
"You feel like working?" he asked holding out the skillet.
"I can only use my right arm," said Grand.
"Try it," said Adam. "Pull the stuff on top down to your feet, then stamp. Don't
worry about making it pretty. You're lighter than me. Maybe you won't fall through as
much."
Grand went to work and quickly developed a rhythm. The skillet was an
awkward tool and forced Grand to constantly free his face from powdery snow, but
Grand covered more ground at a faster pace than Adam. The red-haired man followed,
using his greater weight to crunch the snow under heavy boots. After three hours of
work, they stood ten feet from the house, panting in near darkness. Grand dropped the
skillet and switched places with Adam, collapsing backward into the snow. His hot body
compressed the frozen floor another six inches, half-entombing Grand who made no
attempt to move. Adam carefully rested his large body against the delicate side wall.
Snow continued to fall at the same rate as the previous thirty hours. When Adam
squinted toward the church to check their plowing progress, he could see a fresh layer of
as much as twelve inches covering the tracks.
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"They better cross tonight," said Adam to himself, musing that the previous day's
chaos, eight people killed—four guards, four captives—the small initial breakaway, the
bigger breakaway, all of it was meaningless. "We never would have made it."
"What?" asked Grand, lifting his head, then dropping it down.
"We wouldn't have made it to New America. Not with all of those kids."
Adam wondered if anyone from New America would have gone out searching
for them.
. .. no.
The recruiters were independent contractors, traversing small towns and small
cities, culling controllable people, except the very old. When Ronnie Bastrop boasted
his crew would scour The Capital, the President of New America told him he was crazy.
"Too dangerous, too big, too many bad possibilities. Go out to the country, Ronnie—
those people are scared." Adam imagined Ronnie's dead, bloodied body lying on the
highway underneath a huge pile of snow. Adam had respected the chief recruiter enough
to confide his own idea for a "New America," an idea grounded in history.
He thought it was funny. . . but old men don't go for new ideas. Ronnie, the
President, the old men of New America . . . they like what they got. . . even if they know
it won't last.
Adam watched a film of white cover the teenage boy.
"Are you dead?" he asked, his voice void of emotion.
Grand didn't answer, his face hidden under snow.
"Are you dead?" asked Adam, calm but loud, his mind measuring the time
remaining before night's blackness became complete.
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Grand lifted his left hand and before he could take it back, Adam yanked him up.
Cold and hungry, Grand hardly felt the pain from his fractured collar. He looked at
Adam. The man seemed bigger and more muscled than anyone Grand had ever seen.
They must have good food, Grand thought, trying to picture an entire settlement
of muscled New Americans.
He pictured his own skinny muscles, the ones telling him to give up.
"I think we should go back," said Grand. "It's too late. No one's going to walk
out in this."
"We'd have to start all over in the morning," said Adam, an edge to his voice.
"What if the weather changes?" asked Grand.
"What if it doesn't?" asked Adam. "You're just like those ladies inside the
church."
Grand protested with a tired timid shake of his head. He wondered what would
happen if he lay back down and just went to sleep.
Grand sat down.
"You pray to God?" asked Adam.
"What?" asked Grand.
"Do-You-Pray-To-God?"
"I guess," said Grand.
His mother had told him about God whenever violence or harsh weather
interrupted their lives in Onall. But Grand had never found God compelling. People
couldn't see Him. God didn't help plow or plant. God didn't protect the good from the
bad or the smart from the dumb. But most important to Grand, God never showed up in
his dreams. God was a word.
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"Waste not, want not," growled Adam.
"What?" asked Grand, feeling lightheaded, mechanically ordering himself to eat
some snow for water.
"The Lord helps those who help themselves."
"What?"
"We're not going back!"
Adam lifted Grand by the shoulders.
A pool of pain swirled inside Grand's mind.
"What do you want me to do?" he asked, wincing.
"Watch."
Adam exploded into the fifteen-foot wall of snow. Grand tried to watch but
could only see a fuzzy dark figure disappear into barely visible whiteness. For ten
minutes, as the night air became black, Grand saw nothing. He pictured himself
returning to the church, trying to surmount the roof using the rope and his one good, but
exhausted, arm.
Suddenly he felt a tug from the rope, but couldn't figure out which direction the
tug came from.
Maybe mother wants me back.. . should I go back?
Grand felt another tug then crouched as the rope slid hard through his hands.
It's going towards the house. Should I grab it? Is Adam on the roof?
Grand looked around for instruction, but the blackness of night lay complete. He
extended his right arm and touched the nearest wall of snow. The rope whipped away,
directly into the wall.
What's he doing?
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"What are you doing?" Grand yelled, searching the area around his feet, flailing
in darkness.
He grabbed the rope with both hands, gripping it hard. A small smile formed on
his freezing face then vanished as the rope and Grand disappeared into the wall.
Should I let go?
The rope pulled him forward another two feet, then another two feet.
I'm in a tunnel.
Melting snow soaked Grand's face. He wrapped the rope around his hands,
improving his hold, but another stiff yank shot the rope away. Grand searched with
numb frantic hands and found the rope, but began worrying about the air.
When the air is this black, can you still breathe it?
The rope pulled him forward two more feet, and for a single horrible second
Grand pictured himself being trapped in this snow like a summer bug in winter ice—
killed by frozen air.
I'm dreaming. I'm about to wake up. I'm about to wake up.
Grand shot forward again, then again. He tasted a change in air—from cold and
clean to damp and musty. He felt someone grab his shoulders as his body bumped
across wood.
He's pulling me through a window.
CHAPTER XXVIII
BODIES
Grand lay on the floor, wet eyes blinking in blackness, mind flashing with a
yellow-orange light, ears exploding with an bomb blast too loud to hear, body lifting,
tossing, flying through a shower of rubble into a broken city street.
Grand searched his chest for the giant nail keeping him stuck to the ground. He
found none. He rolled over and clasped carpet instead of rubble—carpet exuding not
dust but the stench of ancient urine.
Grand stood, sore and stretching, his mouth catching breaths while his ears
caught the sound of someone searching a dark house.
Grand knew Adam's search was for food, but couldn't imagine eating anything
Adam might find—the sour musty air had already bored into Grand's belly, forcing his
stomach to excrete acid, which although unpleasant gave Grand a temporary feeling of
fullness. Despite his wet clothes and uncontrollable shivering, Grand wanted to raise
every window in the house.
. . . the
air....
Grand constricted his throat, coughed, then heaved in air. He turned in darkness
towards his assumed point of entry. He quickly found the window, smashing his knee
into a wall just below the sill. He thrust his head through the opening and inhaled. The
hole created by two tunneling bodies remained open to the night, allowing a thin cool
breeze to sink inside the house.
The snow will block the air.
Grand took shallow breaths, sticking his head further outside the window.
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He heard a rattling sound and jerked himself back.
"I found matches," said Adam, shaking a small cardboard box.
Adam struck a match and Grand walked toward the flame. The match went out.
Searching sounds followed until another match lit. Adam used the flame to kindle the
wick of a a small candle less than half an inch tall and secured inside a round aluminum
container. Adam held the flame close to his face, watching it flicker and rise.
"This might last an hour," he said.
"Then we'll go back?" asked Grand.
"Why would we ever go back?"
Grand tried to come up with an answer but couldn't.
"You've never been apart from your mom, have you?" asked Adam.
"Yeah, I have," said Grand, uncertain.
"Yeah, you haven't," said Adam.
Grand remembered his night alone in The Capital.
"I slept in a graveyard two nights ago," said Grand.
"By yourself?" asked Adam.
"Yeah. E x c e p t . . . that guy on the kitchen table, he was there, I think."
"What's his story?"
Grand shrugged, then realized it was too dark for body language.
"I'm gonna look around," said Adam. "You never know what you'll find in these
houses."
Adam wandered through the living room, Grand close behind. The candle flame
found decomposing furniture and animal scat. Adam walked towards the strongest
smell, expecting to find the kitchen, but instead found the master bedroom and three
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human bodies on a bed. The corpses were covered with a sheet like sleepers who never
woke. Adam swung the light across the three dead faces. Leathery skin dried taut
produced insane smiles of bright white teeth—faces competing in a happy-death contest.
"Died of starvation or thirst," said Adam, lifting the sheet and checking for
injuries. "Last winter or the one before."
"Then there's nothing here," said Grand.
"Nothing valuable . . . not this close to the highway," said Adam, pulling the
candle back to his face, trailing hot wax on cold faces. "The people we rounded up were
deep inside neighborhoods—in clumps. They weren't hard to find. We could tell from
the street which houses were lived in."
"I wonder why these people didn't eat each other," said Grand.
"They were family—related somehow. They chose this end. They could have
gotten food and water. Hell, that church is across the street. They could have begged
and stayed alive."
"Why didn't they?"
"Depression . . . it makes you lose your appetite for life . . . for anything. They
chose to stop eating and drinking."
"Why?"
"Depression, kid. Only those with purpose survive. They didn't want to see
another long winter. And they didn't want to hit the road."
Grand nodded. He looked at Adam's flicker-lit face.
"Have you ever eaten a person?" asked Grand.
"No. You?"
"No. But would you, I mean, if you had to?" asked Grand.
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"Yeah. You?"
"No."
"No?"
"I guess not. Maybe."
"Maybe?"
"No. I don't think I could," said Grand, rubbing his stomach through his thick
wool coat.
Closer to the kitchen, the air seemed both colder and cleaner. Adam and Grand
searched every shelf finding only porcelain plates and cracked drinking glasses. The
silverware trays lay empty.
"Why is it colder in here?" Grand asked.
"Open window," said Adam, " . . . or open roof."
Adam searched the walls surrounding a dust-covered dining table for the source
of coolness. The weak candle light illumined a deer's head. Grand froze then moved
backwards before noticing the deer—a young doe—was missing her eyes.
"Did they kill that?" asked Grand.
"It killed itself," said Adam, holding the candle close to the window, showing the
doe's hind legs stuck inside the rotted windowsill, caught in a trap set by decay.
"How long has it been there?" asked Grand.
"I don't know, but if it's been there less than a month, there might be some meat
left—the maggots go slower when its cold."
Grand wanted to look away from the deer but couldn't. Its bent front legs and
lowered head created a scene of struggling for escape.
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"Hold this," said Adam, holding out the candle.
Grand fumbled the hot metal cylinder, spilling wax onto his hand and nearly
extinguishing the flame.
"Easy," said Adam, lifting the doe's hind legs out of the window sill and laying
the stiff carcass onto the floor. "It's light," he said, pulling out a knife.
"You had that the whole time?" asked Grand, referring to the knife.
"Your mom gave it to me on the stairway. She felt my pants and put it in my
pocket."
When Adam slit the doe's belly, Grand glanced away, but only a fine dust fell out.
Adam peeled the hide off the ribs revealing white bones covered with a thin layer of
translucent brown. He took the candle from Grand and set it on the floor, then snapped
off a rib and handed it to Grand.
"You'll have to suck on it for a while to get anything," said Adam. " But your
stomach will know you're trying."
Grand took the rib and sniffed it.
"Is it safe?" he asked.
Adam snapped off another rib and put it in his mouth, holding it between his
cheek and teeth like a piece of candy he expected to last a while.
Grand licked the dried brown meat with the tip of his tongue, then followed
Adam's example.
"What will we do tomorrow?" asked Grand, the rib distorting his words.
"Get up on the roof unless it snows all night," said Adam.
"What if it snows all night?" asked Grand.
"We'll start sucking on this hide," said Adam. " . . . we'll start chewing it."
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"How long will those people last without food?" asked Grand.
"Two weeks for the kids and old people, longer for everyone else, especially the
cannibals," said Adam with a wink.
"So you're going to help them?"
"Sure."
"Why don't you just run away?" asked Grand.
"In fifteen feet of snow?"
"But you don't have to help them," said Grand.
"Maybe I'll get something out of it," said Adam. "Right now, I'm just trying to
make it through the storm like everyone else."
"Then what?"
"Back home."
"New America?"
"Yeah."
"Won't those guys kill you?"
"What guys? The mutineers? There not in charge of New America. I don't think
they could pull that off, especially with the snow. Hell, they might be dead by now.
That's what happens to mutineers—death or exile. Anyway, New America is the only
place I have for now."
Grand began to speak, then hesitated.
"I guess you could come back to Onall with us," he said.
"Where the hell's that?"
"Four days walk south if the highway is clear," said Grand.
"What would your dad think of that?" asked Adam.
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"I don't know," said Grand.
"You never knew him?"
"He's dead."
"How?"
"Someone cut him in the stomach during a street fight. The wound got infected.
His head got hot. Then he couldn't breathe. He ran out of air."
"He ran out of air?"
Grand nodded.
"Somebody just cut him?" asked Adam.
"My dad was in a group—a kind of army, I guess. They all got killed—not at
once but around the same time."
"An army?" asked Adam.
"They were going to restart the city—the town of Onall. Everyone lives outside
now. People just go in to scavenge."
"So someone didn't want your dad fixing things up?"
"People had different ideas. They were afraid of attracting attention," said
Grand.
"What was your dad's idea?" asked Adam.
"Gold," said Grand.
"Gold?" asked Adam, taking the rib out of his mouth.
"Get gold . . . gold coins, gold bars . . . restock the bank, build a marketplace, not
just for food, but for anything, tools, clothes . . . Then make laws, then pay some men to
enforce the laws. A lot of people had guns—everyone probably—and some still had
ammunition. My dad thought there should be laws. He thought there would have to be
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laws in order to rebuild—not just people with guns but law and order. But his temper
was bad. He couldn't have been a lawman."
"Only an executioner," said Adam.
"He wasn't like that, either. He wasn't a killer."
"He just wanted to be king," said Adam.
"He wanted to build-"
"He wanted to be king."
"He didn't. People called him that—King David. But my dad thought it was
stupid. You need kings for big places. He just wanted to rebuild Onall. Gold, a market,
laws, some kind of order . . . A lot of people wanted the same thing. He had the gold,
but...."
"What happened to the gold?" asked Adam.
Grand shrugged, his body language censored by darkness.
"Fear," said Adam.
"What?" asked Grand.
"Fear. That's the only way you can control people at first," said Adam. "Not
gold. Gold gets people excited, gets them dangerous. But fear . . . You have to stoke the
fear of death. It freezes people. Then you relax things once order is established.
Eventually, you want the people's support to be voluntary. But fear comes first. You
control lives by making people fear their own deaths."
"That's New America?"
"At first. But they relaxed things too soon."
"How do you know it's too soon?"
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"People get angry. They speak out. A few leave. A few mutiny—or try to. You
don't mutiny when you're afraid."
"Why didn't you mutiny?"
"I would have. But they didn't trust me . . . the mutineers."
"You missed your chance."
"I don't think so," said Adam. "Gold and lawmen, trust and fear. There's more
opportunity now than ever. You just have to know the recipe. And I know the recipe."
"What's the recipe?" asked Grand.
"More gold. More lawmen. More trust. More fear. You're fighting nature. So
you push in every direction. Full speed. At all times."
"How?"
"Follow me and find out."
"What if I-"
"Follow first. Lead later."
"What if I already know what to do?" asked Grand.
"You don't know shit, kid. Now tell me, what happened to your father's gold?"
In the darkness, Grand shrugged again.
"All I know is it's gone."
"We'll have to get our own then."
The candlelight died.
"Were you going to sleep in here?" asked Grand.
"The bedroom's probably the warmest place," said Adam, sucking and gnawing
dried meat off the edible rib. "I could eat an entire deer."
"I didn't see any blankets," said Grand. " . . . in the bedroom."
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"There won't be any. Somebody cleaned this place out a long time ago," said
Adam, "but we could get those sheets off the bed. It looked like there were two—one
below, one above."
"Wouldn't they smell?"
"Everything smells," said Adam.
As if to settle the question, Adam lay down, candle smoke wafting across his
face.
"How will we know when to wake up?" asked Grand.
"Our bodies will tell us. But it doesn't matter—those people aren't going
anywhere without our help. They're afraid, or didn't you notice?"
"They want you to be in charge," said Grand.
"They want anyone to be in charge—anyone but themselves."
"You like being in charge," said Grand, half statement, half question.
"I don't like other people being in charge of me," said Adam. "I'm not afraid, or
didn't you notice?"
In his dream, Grand opened his eyes and found himself standing in the black
winter field—an intense ring vibrating his head. The person in the ram mask stood at
the edge of the woods, waiting for Grand to follow. Grand trudged forward, crunching
dead grass, his whole body pulsing like one giant bruise. The person in the ram mask
walked into the woods with Grand close behind. Deep amongst the stunted leafless
trees, the person in the ram mask stopped, knelt and tunneled into snow, disappearing.
Grand dove into the long tunnel and slid into a snow cave filled with the bodies of dead
deer. Surrounded by bones, Grand's sister lay naked on a floor of powdered snow which
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looked and felt like cold white cotton. Lucy appeared to be sleeping, unaffected by her
icy bed. Grand looked at the person in the ram mask, waiting for instructions, but the
person only stared at Grand with dark empty sockets. Grand gazed at his sister's pale
body lying on her sheets of snow.
"Mother can never know," he whispered.
The ringing stopped, and Lucy's lips flared.
CHAPTER XXIX
ESCAPE
Grand felt a boot tap his head. He opened his eyes, blinking in the darkness.
"It's light," said a voice.
"What?"
"It's the morning."
"Who are you?" asked Grand.
"C'mon," said the voice. "I got an idea. Help me tear up this floor."
Two hands groped Grand's body, seizing his left arm and pulling him up in the
darkness. Grand experienced the familiar bright surge of pain. He staggered backwards,
hit a wall, then noticed a soft, vertical rectangle of light twenty feet away. His dry pupils
dilated. The rectangle became a window—the window entered the night before.
"Did the snow melt?" asked Grand.
"No," said Adam, walking toward the window, "but it stopped snowing."
"If nothing melted, how-"
"I tunneled up to the r o o f . . . that's why it's bright. But listen, those people won't
be able to jump from roof to roof, like I thought. It's about a six-foot gap between this
roof and the one next door, but what we'll do is rip out some pieces of this floor if it's
rotted enough. They can use it as a bridge between the roofs."
Grand nodded, walked over to the window and crumbled snow into his clammy
hand. He bit into the soft ice and worked it around his mouth, letting the water run
down his esophagus and loosen his shrunken stomach.
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I should have taken more deer ribs ... I should have grabbed my share.
"When do you think we'll get food?" asked Grand.
"Maybe tonight," said Adam, wrenching a semi-rotted piece of plywood off the
floor. "You can come with me to New America . . . I'll get you some real food."
"Why me?" asked Grand, swallowing a yawn, wanting more sleep despite twelve
straight hours of unconsciousness.
"The mutiny made me think. You need a plan and a team. I have the goal. I
need the team."
"What goal?" asked Grand.
"I'll tell you tonight," said Adam, wrenching another piece of plywood off of the
carpetless floor—except for chipped edges, the warped sheet stayed intact. "Don't tell
your mom, though, or anyone else. Right now, the offer is just for you."
The sound of screeching steel nails pulled from pine filled the living room.
Adam walked over to the window holding a dark brown two-by-four. He shoved it into
the snow tunnel and swung it from side to side, widening the hole. The tunnel's early
morning aura intensified.
"Yeah," said Adam, "This is going to work just fine."
Adam and Grand kicked and tore a dozen planks of wood from the floor. They
raised them to the roof and placed them between the roof of the house they were in and
the roof of the house next door. They also tore out four sheets of nearly intact four-footby-eight-foot plywood-sheet flooring. Adam hid the sheets in the bedroom with the
three dead bodies, then climbed back up the snow tunnel and secured the church rope to
the house's chimney, leaving plenty of slack in the line. Snow had filled in much of the
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previous evening's path between the church and house, so Adam sent Grand back across
to the church to test out the rope and explain the new two-by-four plan.
Grand's awkward journey back to the church encouraged hungry refugees to take
their chances with escape. Adult refugees began coming across one at a time with the
rope working as hoped. When the first twenty people finished the journey and stood
precariously on the roof of the first house, Adam told them to cross to the second house,
then take two of the two-by fours and use the lumber to cross onto the next roof. If they
came to a point where the two lengths of wood were no longer sufficient, they would
have to improvise. Adam didn't know how far the two-by-fours would take them—no
one could see far enough to tell—but some of the people who lived within a mile
thought the boards would get them home by nightfall. In any case, a light snow had
begun to fall and everyone realized they had no choice but to follow the red-haired
prisoner's plan.
By late afternoon, everyone who wanted to cross had done so, and there was no
sign that the earliest groups had turned back. Adam crossed the now well-trodden snow
valley and pulled himself up the church roof toward the steeple. The bride waited,
watching every step.
"We need the rope now," she said, her tone nonnegotiable.
"For what?" asked Adam.
"The rest of us are leaving, but a different way," she said.
"I need to talk to the boy," said Adam.
"For what?" asked the bride.
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Instead of answering, Adam entered the steeple. The bride backed away but
stopped at the top step of the staircase, unsheathing her knife.
"I need to talk to the boy," said Adam, his voice calm, his lips suppressing a
smile.
"For what?" asked the bride.
"I need to ask him a question."
"What question?"
"Would you like me to kill you?" asked Adam. "Is that what this performance is
for? Your husband is dead, and you want to join him?"
The bride's eyes tightened against tears.
"If you want me to go get the rope for you," said Adam, "let me speak to the boy.
If not, try to kill me and get the rope yourself."
Adam folded his arms. The bride stood still for a moment, then slowly began
backing down the stairs, eyeing Adam the entire way.
When they reached the floor of the church, the bride wiped her face with her
sleeve and motioned towards the chapel with her knife.
"Hurry up," she said.
Grand sat in the chapel's front pew, ostensibly guarding Anthony, although he
appeared to be staring straight through the altar. Adam walked towards Grand and heard
footsteps following him. He sat down next to Grand, then watched the bride take a seat
directly across the aisle.
"I thought you were going to release Anthony," said Adam to the bride.
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"We wanted to make sure you were gone, too," said the bride, the knife jutting
from her lap.
"Uh-huh . . . meaning you wanted to make sure I was gone," said Adam.
"Just say whatever it is you have to say and leave," said the bride.
Adam turned to Grand.
"Have you thought about it?" asked Adam.
Grand nodded.
"And?" asked Adam.
"What will we do in New America?" asked Grand.
"You can't be seriously considering going with this guy," said the bride as
Rachael, Luz, and Caroline entered the chapel.
"Maybe he wants to eat some decent food for once," said Adam to the bride.
"Is Adam going with us?" asked Rachael.
"Oh . . . and where are we going?" asked Adam.
"You don't need to know," said the bride.
"What's wrong with you?" asked Rachael, staring at the bride.
"This creep is still trying to get your son to go to New America, but maybe you
don't have a problem with that," said the bride.
The doctor entered the chapel, looked at the bride and said, "I've changed my
mind if that's okay with you . . . well, hunger changed my mind for me. Do you have
room in your house for two more? I think I can carry the injured man. He'll be lighter
than my wife."
"Where's your house?" Adam asked the bride.
The bride laughed.
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"Go get the rope, bring it back here, and leave," she said. "And take your friend
with you."
Adam didn't move.
The bride looked at Rachael and asked, "Can you have your son go get the
rope?"
Rachael hesitated.
"Charles-"
"I'm not going if Adam can't go," said Grand.
The bride looked at the doctor and asked, "John, can you go get the rope?"
"Across the street?" asked the doctor.
"Please," said the bride, speaking to the doctor but glaring at Adam. "Untie it
from the chimney."
"How much food do you have in your house?" asked the doctor.
The bride continued to glare at Adam.
"Venison, pecans, walnuts . . . enough for two people to last the winter . . . more
than enough. I have two hens. Assuming they're still alive, they can produce about five
hundred eggs a year combined. I have a winter garden which might be okay—it's in a
greenhouse. I have two small root cellars stocked full for winter—onions, carrots,
potatoes. Why?"
"Well, with yourself, Rachael, the girl, Charles, my daughter, myself, and the
injured man, that's seven. Even though the priest and deacon aren't going, we'll need to
bring them food. That's nine with the priest and deacon needing your help long term."
"There will be enough," said the bride. "I'll make sure there's enough."
"I understand," said the doctor. "The problem is we don't know how long the
snow will stick. Also, I just checked and it's snowing again. For how long, we can't
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know. So my suggestion would be to take these two men. One of them has already been
very helpful, and he may be even more so in the future in securing food."
"No," said the bride. "And you know what, I think I've changed my mind about
helping all of you. I'll help the priest and deacon, but that's it. I'm not sure I trust any of
you except the little girl. But even her
Luz realized she was being talked about but didn't smile or try to read lips, her
body and mind too exhausted by hunger.
"How are you going to get home by yourself?" asked Rachael.
"I'll find a way," said the bride.
"And what would you suggest we do?" asked Rachael. "For food?"
"Why don't you ask the red-haired beauty over there. He's quite resourceful,"
said the bride, rising.
The bride marched into the hallway behind the chapel and found the deacon.
"I'm leaving. I'll come back with food tomorrow," said the bride, noticing the
deacon stood guard outside the priest's room. "Is he okay?"
The deacon shook her head.
"He killed two people," she said. "We were all a little hysterical... But he'll
never forgive himself, Dorothy. I forgive him
The bride nodded.
"I'll bring food tomorrow morning."
She walked to the steeple stairs and climbed them, not bothering to see if anyone
followed her. At the top of the stairs, she buttoned her coat, pulled her cap down,
stepped out onto the roof and promptly slipped, banging both her knees hard on the
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metal roof. She clung to the steeple vent's wooden border, trying to pull herself up,
slipping at every attempt. She let her body slump onto the roof. Her nose touched the
cold metal surface. The bride took careful, shallow breaths and tried not to cry.
"Do you need some help?" asked Adam, peering into the gray coming-of-evening
sky.
A light snow fell.
With a burst of anger, the bride pulled her upper body to the vent's wooden
border. She glared at Adam as if, under slightly more favorable conditions, she would
be stabbing him in the face. The bride jammed her left foot in the lower right vent
corner, jammed her left hand in the upper right vent corner, and swung her free leg
around the right side of the steeple, barely reaching the apex of the roof with her
outstretched foot. She plastered her body to the steeple wall and spun herself around
backwards. The foot which had been in the vent landed on the roofs apex and the bride,
momentarily pleased with herself, smiled. Trying to turn sideways and re-attach to the
steeple, the bride slipped onto the side of the roof opposite from the rope, the open vent
and Adam's grinning face. She slid down the steep slope taking an avalanche of snow
along. Like a toy tossed into a bubble bath, the bride's body disappeared inside a sea of
snow.
In one trip, Adam hauled the four ripped-out sheets of plywood onto the church
roof, then returned to the house's chimney to untie the rope. After pulling himself and
the coiled rope back up the steeple, Adam carefully let himself down the other side of
the church. At the edge of the roof, he saw the bride shivering in a deep, narrow hole.
She looked at him, her red eyes cold and wet with tears, her face strained by fear.
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"If you'll feed us for one night, I'll help you get out of there," he said.
The bride looked up at him and mouthed the word "okay," the corners of her
mouth filling with the water from her eyes.
She's broken . . .for now.
CHAPTER XXX
STORYTELLER
With Adam carrying Grin and the doctor carrying Luz, the group of nine used the
rope to rappel down the side of the roof not used by the rest of the refugees. Under a
steady snowfall and with one hour of light remaining in the dark gray sky, the group
coursed the snowed-in street using sheets of plywood as a sort of snow boat. With a
knife, Adam had drilled two holes in the end of every board and sent a loop of rope
through the holes. The group walked on three of the sheets while the fourth sheet was
brought forward from the rear and shoved in front. The weight of three people would
collapse the boards two feet into the snow, but because the weight and collapse were
spread over a four-by-eight-foot sheet, no digging or tunneling forward was needed.
The group kept close to the roof line in case the old gray boards began to fail—but the
boards survived, and the group arrived at the roof of the bride's house just before dusk.
At the back of the house, Adam dug a tunnel through the snow enabling access to the
kitchen's sliding glass doors.
The bride's home was similar in size and layout to the house Adam and Grand
stayed in the night before—except much cleaner and without dead bodies. The bride's
two chickens and winter greenhouse garden remained in good condition, although her
solar panel had been covered in snow and the batteries used for electric light and
electric-coil cooking were almost dead. The bride had a fireplace but her store of wood
lay buried by her backyard fence. Grand watched as Adam emptied an old bag of
charcoal into the fireplace, lit kindling with sparks of flint, and made a coal fire for
warmth, light,and boiling both eggs and vegetables. After eating, the bride decided that
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everyone but her would camp in the living room by the fireplace to take advantage of the
dying heat. The bride went directly to her bedroom and fell asleep.
"Adam," said Rachael, once the group had spread out beneath blankets, "Tell us
about New America."
Luz slumbered beside Rachael, and Grin lay close to the fire with eyes closed,
but the rest of the group focused their vision and thoughts on the red-haired former
captor and captive.
"You still don't believe it exists?" asked Adam, yawning.
Grand and Caroline followed with yawns of their own.
"I believe what you told us," said Rachael. "And I believe what Anthony told us,
too . . . but what's it like to live there, I mean, day to day? Are people happy?"
"Are you happy right now?" asked Adam. "You've got food and a place to sleep.
Most people are happy with that."
"But wouldn't some of the people rather be on their own?" asked Rachael.
"No," said Adam, "otherwise they would leave. They stay because things are
growing there, and they want to be a part of that—the idea of a future. It's fear, strength
in numbers, decent food, and a place to sleep. It won't last, though."
"Why not?"
"Ten years from now, maybe twenty, maybe fifty, New America will be too big.
They'll have to change the way it's run. People will want a say in how things operate.
They'll want a government. They'll want democracy. Some will want to break away and
form their own nation—New New New America," said Adam, smiling at the fire. "And
maybe the split will be peaceful, and they'll end up with two smaller settlements instead
of a single big one. I doubt the split would be smooth, but even if it was, smaller
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settlements are vulnerable to theft from inside and out, just like a bigger settlement. And
vulnerable to violence, just like a bigger settlement. And vulnerable to competition . . .
Eventually it will all go away."
"And there's no way to stop the fall?" asked Rachael, staring at Adam.
"They need something stronger, something meaner," said Adam, staring back.
"They need a real leader with a real plan."
"Is that supposed to be you?" asked the doctor.
"It could be me. I understand why they're going to fail. But I wouldn't want to
build on a broken foundation. That's why The Capital never became anything. They
thought they had a plan, but they couldn't see the biggest picture. They had no
perspective from history. They ignored the city's past like it was a toy they could change
at will—a toy they could make new by moving pieces around and playing make believe.
The city was dead a long time ago. First you need perspective
"And you do?" asked the doctor.
"I know why things worked in the past, why they failed, why the same attempts
will fail again."
"You knew the men who started The Capital?" asked the doctor.
"It's the same group of people who control New America," said Adam. "New
America was supposed to provide all of the food for The Capital."
"Why did they call it The Capital?" asked the doctor.
"Because that's what it was supposed to be—The Capital of Texas. When the
U.S. government disappeared or dissolved ten years ago, the governor of Texas became
the President of Texas."
"Brandt," said the doctor.
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"W. B. Brandt," said Adam.
"He couldn't have believed he was President of anything," said the doctor. "No
one voted for him to be President. Even the last election for governor . . . how many
people actually voted? I showed up at the polling place and no one was there."
"It didn't matter. Brandt foresaw the fall, the end of the U.S. government. He'd
been stashing away gold for years, minting his own coins. At some point he was worth
billions in paper money. He turned enough of that into gold to pay his own private army
when things fell apart."
"Why did he move his capital up here from Austin?" asked the doctor.
"Gold, or the promise of it. Maybe Brandt was running out. He'd been paying
that army for fifteen years. A guy named Sullivan Cypher—calls himself 'The
General'—he sent word to Brandt that his army, Cypher's army, had control of the Dallas
Federal Reserve and two entire floors filled with gold. He wanted to combine forces—
Brandt in charge of the government, Cypher in charge of the military, Cypher's son in
charge of food production at a site east of The Capital... where New America is now."
"Why didn't it work?"
"Cypher wanted it all. He, or maybe his son, killed Brandt upon arrival and took
Brandt's gold. He tried to bring the soldiers together—Brandt's soldiers and Cypher's
soldiers—but, of course, no one trusted anybody. A few left. Most ended up dead, I
think. Cypher had the gold hidden somewhere else in The Capital, or if it was in the
Federal Reserve, no one could get to it. Anyway, a group of Brandt's soldiers chased
Cypher out, captured his son, tried to find the gold. They never did, though. I think
Cypher's just biding his time. Once New America gets big enough, he'll try to move
back into The New Capital. Unless someone can find the gold first."
"So Cypher is in charge of New America?" asked the doctor.
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"The President of New America, although he still calls himself The General,"
said Adam.
"I don't like your story," said Grin.
Everyone but Luz looked toward the crippled body, which lay wrapped in a
blanket in front of the fire. Grin made no attempt to roll over and face his newfound
audience, but his eyes opened wide, staring into embers.
"What don't you like about it?" asked Adam.
"It's trite," said Grin, using his tongue to cleanse his teeth of remnant dinner.
"Plus, you're just not a very good storyteller."
"History isn't always that interesting," said Adam.
"History isn't always that true," said Grin. "Fortunately for everyone here, I'm a
much better storyteller, and I have a much better—and truer—story to tell. The title of
my story is "There Was No Gold," although the title itself is a lie. There was gold, quite
a lot if you think one-thousand pounds in coins is a lot. It sounds like a lot, but a fiftypound bag of gold coins is not much bigger than a human head—say an over-sized
human head like the one on Sullivan Cypher's over-sized body. Take twenty of those
bags—twenty large human heads—and you've got one thousand pounds. It could fit
inside this fireplace; nevertheless, delivered by Cypher's son, it was enough to convince
W. B. Brandt to head north, which due to his own financial situation was an easy choice
to make. Of course, Brandt wasn't stupid. As soon as he arrived, he demanded to be
taken to see the one-thousand tons of gold—some in coins, some in bars—that Cypher
and his son had promised President Brandt in return for moving his capital to The
Capital and recognizing The General as The General. A ton, by the way, is two-thousand
pounds—that's a short ton. A long ton is two-thousand-two-hundred-forty pounds, but
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we can assume that Cypher's tons were short, so short, in fact, that they didn't exist.
Needless to say, when Brandt went down into the lower levels of the Federal Reserve
and saw entire floors filled with nothing, he wanted to know where his one-thousand
tons of gold were—let's see, that would be about forty-thousand big heads or twothousand gold-filled fireplaces. Cypher said he would try to find out, and then lots of
heads magically appeared, but these heads were attached to bodies holding guns, some
of them even loaded. Brandt asked Cypher 'why' and Cypher said 'because I want to be
President.' Brandt said, 'President of what?' Cypher said, 'Texas.' Brandt said 'without
an army you can't be President of anything.' Cypher said, 'I'll take yours.' Brandt said,
'without gold they won't stick.' Cypher said, 'I'll work on that.' Then Cypher's son cut
off Brandt's head with an ax - it was a small head. Brandt's seven bodyguards did
nothing, realizing that whatever happened, however many of Cypher's men they killed, it
wouldn't be enough—they would die, too. Cypher told them to take a message to the
soldiers on the street above. They would all be equal partners in Cypher's new business,
which consisted of kicking people out of nearby areas, relocating them to the
agricultural site, scavenging the same areas for gold and other precious metals and
jewelry, and using the system to build wealth and build an army.
"Despite the loyalty Brandt had believed in, his soldiers stuck with Cypher for
about a year before they drifted away, finally realizing Cypher's plan produced nothing
but food, most of which was consumed by the people growing it. The soldiers left with
virtually nothing, their 'pay' having been 'banked' by Cypher in the Bank of Cypher,
which didn't allow withdrawals or even inquiries into accounts. Most of the soldiers
assumed Cypher kept more gold hidden away in some tall building, but none ever found
it. Finally, Cypher gave up on his old plan and moved east with a new one, giving
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himself the promotion from Last President of Texas to First President of New America.
Unfortunately, he failed to inform his son of the move. The son was kidnapped and
tortured by soldiers from Cypher and Brandt's army who weren't interested in becoming
farmers. They tried to find out where the secret stash of gold existed but got no
information for two reasons: one, there was no secret stash of gold, and two, the son had
a rare condition which prevented him from ever feeling pain. Can I have a glass of
water?"
Everyone but Luz and Grin peeked around, trying to guess the thoughts of others.
Rachael rose to get some water for Grin.
A minute later, she returned with a glass of rainwater mixed with cubes of snow.
"So you're Cypher's son?" asked Adam
"Yes," said Grin. "Or at least he's the man who raised me. I never met my
mother."
"So where's the gold?" asked Adam. "Even if your dad didn't have a secret stash,
he must have recovered that original thousand pounds."
" W e l l . . . hmm . . . Dad and I haven't kept in touch, but he could have a fewthousand pounds buried somewhere around New America. There's a reasonable chance,
I suppose."
"Suppose we go and get it," said Adam. "How's that sound? I mean, the guy left
you for dead-"
"Oh, that's not being nice," said Grin. "I'm sure my father would form an
emotional connection with me if he were capable ... just as I would form a physical
connection to the world if I could. My father only likes shiny things, and people aren't
shiny, they're dirty. Aren't we all filthy? I can't feel, but I can smell."
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"So these bombs that have been going off," began the doctor, " . . . Are they the
work of disgruntled soldiers—Brandt's men, Cypher's men—maybe trying to destroy
any future chances for the city?"
"Those aren't bombs. They're experiments," said Grin.
"Experiments by whom?" asked the doctor, an edge to his voice.
"Experiments by me," said Grin. "You see, I have my own theory about
rebuilding civilization—I guess public administration runs in the family."
"A theory?" asked the doctor, his voice raised. "And what could that be?
Rebuilding civilization by killing people. You do realize your bombs kill people?"
"It's unintentional doctor, I assure you," said Grin. "If my hands aren't clean,
then my conscience is. And they are experiments. Please be nice and call them
experiments. Please. You'll make your patient happy."
"Your conscience is clean? I find that difficult to believe," said the doctor,
"maybe I should open your skull and have a look. My own diagnosis for your condition
is insanity."
Grin laughed.
"Interesting . . . but Doctor-"
"And I'm not your goddamn doctor, not anymore. Good luck living much longer
without one."
"My body is in chaos—that's true—and it would be horrible for me if I weren't
immune to pain. Yes . . . for someone not immune and in need of reigning in this
corporeal chaos, a doctor is definitely in order, a doctor is desired and required. But for
me, although I appreciate everything all of you have done on my behalf, I'm afraid my
experiments, my investigations, would ultimately set us on divergent paths, so-"
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"So you don't mind if I throw you out the front door, right now?" asked the
doctor.
"Well," said Grin, searching for words, "Don't you want to hear the rest of the
story?"
"There are two men in this room who lived in New America, who came from
New America. We know the rest of the story," said the doctor, weighing something in
his mind.
"Not the story of New America," said Grin, "I'm sure there will be one thousand
similar attempts in the near future—New New New and Improved attempts at rebuilding
civilization. There are probably lots already underway. I can hear someone saying to
himself, 'It's so simple. All people need is a little order and away they will go.' But then
what happens? People get a little order and away they go, much farther away than
anyone planned. Why? Whyl I believe that chaos contains order, instances of order, but
order cannot contain chaos. That means that chaos is the superior of the two—the outer
sphere. It means that chaos was there at the beginning, and chaos will be there at the
end. It means that founding a city or a nation or a New America based on ideas of order
is a preordained disaster. Who's with me so far? Anybody?"
"So you're blowing things up in order to build a city of chaos, is that it?" asked
the doctor. "Who do you expect to live there? Maniacs like yourself?"
"Yes," said Grin, taking a careful sip of water using his one functioning hand.
"And that's going to succeed?" asked the doctor. "But a nation founded upon
reason and order will not?"
"The Nation of Cold Light? How are things going up there, Doctor?" asked
Grin.
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The doctor didn't respond.
"It's interesting how the rumors of that place grow more and more fantastic as
time goes by. In fact, it's a perfect example of what I mean by chaos. Let's say you live
in a world that's reverting back to nature, everything built by humans is either gone or
going. Then someone tells you a rumor of a place that has not only halted human
disintegration but solved all of the problems that caused disintegration in the first place.
You think that's great—new new new and improved—but you're skeptical. You have
further conversations about those rumors with people who, like yourself, have never
been to this paradise, but at the end of the conversation the paradise has somehow
improved upon itself. Why? Human minds are generally designed to give order to their
world, imagined order. That's why we have language. Nothing is really tall or short—
we just apply those labels to create an artificial sense of order and improve our chances
of survival. So, an imaginary place like The Nation of Cold Light—or perhaps by now
it's The New Nation of Cold Light—will continue to morph into a more and more
Utopian Utopia as long as there isn't any evidence to contradict the hopes and dreams . . .
the imagined order. What's absolutely hilarious is that human imagination, even in its
attempts to create order, is inherently chaotic. If you try, or even if you don't, it's easy to
imagine all of the bad things that could happen at a place called The Nation of Cold
Light, all of the chaos which could reign. But most people—your kind of people—will
ignore those possibilities as long as possible. It's a defense mechanism. When you're in
trouble in reality, your fantasies will choose only the imagined possibilities of order, the
possibilities that provide a chance for survival and especially an improved chance for
your children's survival. In the short term, it works. After all, human civilization—
human order—survived thousands of years. Democracies survived hundreds. And all
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the while, millions of minor anarchies sputtered and failed. But in the long run order
can't maintain order, no matter how great the desire—or the reasons—to build it. Sorry,
folks."
"How do you know The Nation of Cold Light doesn't e x i s t . . . or isn't what
people say it is?" asked the doctor.
"How do you know it is?"
"How do you know it isn't?"
"I don't," said Grin. "But I also don't know anyone who has come back from
there."
"If it is paradise, a rational paradise, why would someone come back?" asked the
doctor.
"Wouldn't you come back to tell your friends or your daughter?" asked Grin.
The doctor began to speak, then stopped. He tried to look at the faces around
him, faces hidden in the weak light of orange coals.
"It's a difficult trip," he said finally. "No one would want to come back unless
they had to."
"'Had no reason to'—isn't that what you mean?" asked Grin. "So paradise is
based on reason . . . hmm . . . Why didn't we figure that out a long time ago? Why didn't
we achieve it? Too much unreasonable riffraff? But they're not allowed in are they?
Not in the New New New New New and New and Improved Nation of Northern Make
Believe . . . sounds tempting, but I'll go with the evidence at hand."
"You do realize," said the doctor, "that if you continue with your experiments
you will eventually run out of buildings to blow up."
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"The bombs are only meant to scare away people like you, doctor, people
interested in maintaining order. Anyhoo, I'm almost out of fertilizer. But once the city
center is rid of its orderlies, and the only people remaining are those of chaotic minds—
my kind of people—then the final experiment will begin. We'll have to grow food and
collect water, of course, and everyone will play a role in that morning performance. So
the day will begin in equality, in order if you like, and degenerate from there. Once food
and water are taken care of, Citizens of Old Chaos can do whatever they desire. They
can attempt to organize others and accomplish something orderly, they can partake in the
chaos of love, drink themselves unconscious, etcetera, etcetera. I admit the city will not
be a great place to raise your kids. Ironically, though, I think kids would just love it!"
"What if these Citizens don't help out with food and water. What if they don't
want to follow your rules? The rules of chaos?" asked the doctor.
"Chaos reigns supreme in mathematics, yet there are also mathematical rules.
These rules beget order until chaos slowly takes over—or quickly takes over.
Mathematical chaos is not pure randomness. You begin with a point of order, then a
small change occurs due to chance and the small change grows into greater disorder.
Then you start the game over in the morning. Fun and games for anyone and everyone!"
"And you think this city, your city, will outlive reason, will live longer than
democratic civilization, longer than feudal empires?"
"Hmm . . . I think it would be fun to try. The point is to try to create a world of
chaos where everything must live at once, just as the air is everywhere at once, affecting
everything at once, everything connected by air, little pockets of air, buzzing with
chaotic energy. Haven't you noticed the connections which make chaos contagious? It's
the way things are. And for Christ's sake, life is short, man. Relatively. I think if you
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get the opportunity to do something you truly believe in, then that is exactly what you
should do," said Grin.
The doctor began to respond verbally but settled for a sigh.
Grand watched Caroline's eyes search the darkness for her father. He watched
her give up and shut her eyes on the night.
Coals cracked.
Grand turned and looked into the dying orange glow.
He blinked and fell asleep.
In his dream, Grand molested his sister as she lay unmoving—the person in the
ram mask stood silently and watched. Grand's moans and exhortations echoed inside the
snow chamber, melding with the vibrating air, walls, floor and ceiling to create a perfect
ringing world. Sated, Grand watched the person in the mask ram into the snow and
disappear inside a new tunnel. Grand looked at his sister who mouthed a single word
over and over.
"South . . . south . . . south."
"I love you, Lucy," said Grand, plunging inside the new tunnel.
The tunnel quickly emptied into a dark shaft, and Grand fell deep into the earth.
He crashed into a pile of black rocks, choking the air with dust. Lungs heaving, Grand
listened as a metallic whirring sound filled the air. A long string of lights flickered,
illuminating a giant cavern with shiny black walls. Grand lay prostrate—unable to rise
—in an open rail car filled with chunks of black rock blasted from the walls. The person
in the ram mask released a spinning metal lever and leapt beside Grand.
The car began to roll.
CHAPTER XXXI
BYE
A swish of her hair woke Rachael. She blinked and watched a slim body tiptoe
to the kitchen.
Dorothy? Rachael wondered, trying to imagine the bride without a wedding
dress.
Rachael rose and hobbled to the kitchen. She saw the bride standing beside a
plastic cooler, filling a cup with melted snow.
"Good morning," said Rachael.
"Good morning," said the bride, dark half-circles beneath her eyes.
Light from the tunnel stained every object soft blue.
"Where can I go pee?" asked Rachael.
"There's a bathroom next to my bedroom," said the bride.
Rachael nodded.
"How do you . . . get rid of things?" she asked.
"It's a composting toilet. William built it into to the bathroom wall," said the
bride.
Rachael nodded, picturing herself peeing in her parents' backyard because the
city water had ceased to flow.
The sewage backed up.. . Father dug a hole.
Turning to leave, Rachael noticed puddles on the floor near the kitchen's glass
doors. She checked the ceiling but saw no sign of leakage. She stepped into the living
room, then stopped.
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The sheets of plywood were leaning against the glass.
Rachael turned back.
"Did Adam and Anthony already leave?" she asked.
Anthony stumbled into the kitchen and looked at the bride.
"I was wondering if there was a place I could . . . a place I could pee," he said.
"Is your friend gone?" asked Rachael.
Anthony shrugged—grubby hands rubbing sleep from his grubby face.
Rachael peered into the living room and waited for her eyes to adjust. She saw a
small body walking towards her. The blue light lit Luz's face.
"I have to pee," said Luz, the words high-pitched but comprehensible.
Rachael nodded instinctively and grabbed the girl's hand. As they passed
through the living room, Rachael blinked and saw a floor covered in flat blankets.
Before she could call out her son's name, a person entered the living room from the back
hallway.
"Is everyone else in the kitchen?" asked the doctor, his voice deep, betraying a
long hard sleep.
"No," said Rachael, feeling the empty blanket beneath her feet. " . . . I don't
think so."
"They've left," said the doctor.
"Who?"asked Rachael, hoping the doctor wouldn't tell her.
Luz pulled on Rachael's arm, and they headed past the doctor towards the
bathroom. The doctor didn't move, but Rachael felt his following eyes as she traversed
the near darkness.
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In the kitchen, the bride fixed a breakfast of dried venison, raw broccoli and
walnuts.
"My son is a constant explorer," said Rachael, peering up the snow tunnel, afraid
to slide open the door. "Maybe they just went to look around."
"With that injured lunatic?" asked the doctor.
Rachael looked into the living room.
I fell dead asleep
after....
Rachael tried to picture Adam, Caroline, Grin and her son on tip toe.
. .. Adam would have to carry Grin.
The bride pushed the platter of uncooked food across the kitchen table.
"Did they at least take some food?" asked Rachael.
"They took some," said the bride, "but not much."
"Where?" asked Rachael.
"Where? Oh, I think that's obvious. They must have gone to New America,"
said the doctor looking at Rachael. "You've been telling us how great it sounds. Your
son must have finally believed you."
"And your daughter?" asked Rachael. "I suppose it's my fault she left?"
"My daughter can do what she wants," said the doctor, looking down at the
platter and seeing a tray of scalpels.
"She's thirteen," said Rachael.
"So is your son," said the doctor.
"I know. And thirteen isn't old enough to be on your own," said Rachael.
"He's not on his own. He's with your friend Adam," said the doctor. "I saw you
two head into the kitchen last night."
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"I got some food," said Rachael. " . . . I went a long time without eating, just like
everyone else."
"I didn't hear eating," said the doctor, staring at Rachael.
Rachael looked at Luz who looked at her.
"What would happen if they went to New America?" asked Rachael, turning to
Anthony.
"That depends," said Anthony, putting a piece of broccoli in his mouth and
choking it back out.
"On what?" asked Rachael.
"Things."
"What things?"
Anthony shrugged. He swirled water inside his mouth, gulped, then coughed.
"I'd have to go there to see," he said.
"See what!" asked Rachael.
"Things," said Anthony.
The bride rubbed her face and eyes.
"You can stay here," she said to Rachael, " . . . and see if they come back . . . If
another storm comes, they might be back tonight."
Rachael peered up the tunnel again, seeing blue sky veiled by wisps of white
clouds.
"Do you have a thermometer?" she asked.
The bride shook her head.
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"But they might have one at the church—I could check for you. I'm just going to
wash up and head over there. Actually, I'd appreciate some help . . . if anyone else wants
to go. I wanted to take a lot of food, since the weather is . . . what it is."
"Have you got anything to cross between roofs with?" asked the doctor.
The bride thought for a moment.
"William kept some scraps of lumber by the back fence. It was under the pine
tree and covered by a tarp, but I don't know what condition it's in or how long the pieces
are."
Everyone looked at the wall of snow pressing against the kitchen's glass doors.
The tunnel of light seemed to brighten then dim.
"How far is it to that tree?" asked the doctor.
"Not far," said the bride. "Maybe twenty feet."
"Which direction?"
"Straight back."
The doctor nodded, recalling the snow-encumbered tree from their arrival the day
before.
He turned to Anthony.
"Will you help me?"
Anthony shrugged, wiped his small hands on his dirty pants, and nodded.
Two hours later, the doctor and Anthony emerged from their crude snow valley
with two gray two-by-fours and two narrow pieces of dark gray plywood. They set the
wet wood and most of their wet clothes near the warmth of a fresh coal fire.
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Rachael looked away from the men and gazed down at Luz. The little girl held
one of Rachael's hands while moving her feet like she was dangling from a jungle gym.
Rachael smiled. She didn't want to leave Luz behindBut I'm responsible for my son. Only me. If they go to the church, I have to go.
Adam and Charles surely left tracks . . . Maybe the deacon saw something or heard
Charles pass by...
.
Luz continued moving her legs and feet—movements which now looked like a
dance.
Rachael's smile widened.
This is the first time I've seen her unafraid.
Rachael didn't want to ruin the girl's apparent fearlessness by leaving her alone in
the house. She also didn't want to put Luz in danger by taking her on an unnecessary
trip to the church. They would have to cross about thirty rooftops and somehow manage
to get through two forty-foot stretches of snow—the first, a neighborhood street
crossing, the second, the crossing between a house and the church.
We made the same trip yesterday, but that was with Adam . . . and better sheets of
wood.
"I guess I'll have to stay," said Rachael.
Luz hugged Rachael's hip, nodding her head into Rachael's coat.
"What do you think the weather will do?" asked Rachael, looking at the halfnaked doctor.
"We usually don't have snow on the ground through the entire winter," said the
doctor. "But there's so much out there now . . . it will shrink into ice before completely
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disappearing. If we had a whole week of decent temperatures—above freezing in the
day time—the roads would probably clear."
Rachael turned to Anthony.
"How long will it take them to reach New America?" she asked.
Anthony shrugged, hugging his pale chest.
Rachael sighed and tried again.
"How long would it take to walk if the roads were clear?"
"If you left right now and only stopped to sleep, you could be there tomorrow
night," said Anthony. " . . . if the roads were clear."
Rachael turned to the doctor.
"How long until they get there with this snow?"
The doctor shrugged.
"Maybe tomorrow night? Who knows?"
"Were you not planning to save your daughter?" asked Rachael.
"I thought she was moving in with you?" asked the doctor.
"Will you help me find them once the roads are clear?" asked Rachael.
"No," said the doctor.
"No?"
"I have other plans."
The bride brought two large mended backpacks filled with food, including a
handful of boiled eggs fresh from the pot.
"How can you just give up on her like that?" asked Rachael.
"How can I hold onto her?" asked the doctor. "When they're old enough to
leave, they leave."
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"Aren't you worried about her?" asked Rachael. "Aren't you worried for her?"
"Yes," said the doctor. " . . . of course, I am. You're not the only worried parent
on planet Earth. But kids grow up and leave. That's what they do."
"They're thirteen," said Rachael. "That doesn't concern you in the slightest?"
"No," said the doctor, putting on one of the backpacks. "I'm a father, not a
mother."
"You're a parent."
"I'm practical. I'm reasonable, rational. They'll have a full day's head start. We
don't even know where they've gone."
"You seemed pretty certain a minute ago."
The doctor's tight lips darkened.
"I have other plans," he said. "You should go home. I should go where I want to
go. Our kids should go where they want to go. That's best for everyone. And besides, it
looks like you have a new daughter to take care of-"
"And it seems like your daughter could die soon."
"We're all going to die, Rachael. It's time to accept reality and let go of things
you can't control."
"She could be raped. She could be killed. She could be enslaved."
"She wanted to go. She chose to go and so did your son. We don't live in a safe
world, okay! There is no safe, not anywhere. Maybe there never was. If my daughter
wants to go, I'm happy for her. I hope she enjoys her life."
"It's going to be brief."
"Goddammit!" said the doctor.
Luz stared at the table.
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A tear fell from the corner of Rachael's eye onto the old wooden floor, mixing
with dust to make a spot of black mud.
"I'll go after them myself," said Rachael. "Luz and I will go."
"Anthony will go with you," said the doctor, waiting for Anthony to
acknowledge that fact.
"I might not go back," said Anthony with a slight shrug. " . . . It could be
dangerous."
"Dangerous how?" asked Rachael.
"Well," said Anthony, looking down at his smooth-soled boots, " . . . if the men
who shot Ronnie go back there, what are they going to say? What are they going to
do?"
"Was Ronnie a lawman?" asked the doctor. "Did he work for the President?"
"No," said Anthony. "We were independent. I mean, we could stay there and eat
because we had credit with the Bank, but we didn't farm like everyone else. We brought
in people, and we got so much gold per person, well, per adult as long as the adult
stayed. Except we never got paid. They just kept the amounts on a ledger. I think that's
why those guys s p l i t . . . why they mutinied. Not because things went crazy this one
time. They didn't trust Ronnie, and they didn't trust President Cypher. But what if they
went back for their gold? The guys who mutinied? The guys who killed Ronnie?"
"What if they went back for their gold?" asked the doctor.
"Well," said Anthony, staring at his dirt-encrusted finger nails, " . . . after what
that man said last night, the crippled man, I don't think President Cypher would just give
it to them. It sounds like there wouldn't be enough anyway, not to pay what the
President owes. I mean, he owes a lot. He tells us he doesn't owe anything. That's what
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he says when people grumble. He says it has all been paid, and he's just keeping it in a
bank for us—his bank. I mean, it's not like we could buy anything with it, but still, some
people don't trust him."
"Do you trust him?" asked the doctor.
"I don't know," said Anthony. " . . . after what that man said last night. . . well I
j u s t . . . I don't know. Who can you trust?"
"Let's say they go back, and there's a fight," said the doctor, "Would those four
men have a chance against the lawmen?"
Anthony shrugged.
" . . . the lawmen and Cypher . . . they're all old."
CHAPTER XXXII
SIN
Traversing the rooftops went quickly, but the trio's trip to the church halted at the
first street crossing—the narrow sheets of plywood sank as much as five feet into the
softening snow. After debating whether or not to turn back, the doctor, the bride and
Anthony made the laborious crossing to the house across the street. They rested for a
full hour, then continued crossing roofs until they reached the house across the street
from the church.
"Is that rope on the roof?" asked the bride, squinting across snow at the church's
steep roof.
"I think so," said the doctor
"I was sure he'd come back for the rope," said the bride.
"Who?" asked the doctor.
"Adam."
The doctor nodded. He wanted to put his arm on the bride's shoulder—to calm
the patient's anxiety and his own.
" W e l l . . . he didn't. Who knows where they went?"
"I was sure he'd get the rope," said the bride.
"We could dig our way to the back door, if you don't want to climb up the roof,"
he said.
"The front door would be easier," said Anthony. "It's higher off the ground."
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249
The doctor and the bride looked at each other, then back at the church. Since the
night they deposited two dead bodies on the sidewalk, neither had mentioned the
existence of corpses or the burial that needed to be.
"Let's try the back door," said the bride. "I think the snow is melting a little, and
the roof is metal, so we'd slip-"
"The front door would be easier," said Anthony as if thinking out loud.
No one responded. The doctor cautiously walked down the house's low-slung
roof to the point where the sea of snow began. He placed a sheet of plywood onto the
snow and eased his weight on top, sinking lower as the snow compacted in spasms.
Thirty minutes later, they reached the area above the church's back wall, and the
doctor tunneled his way to the door using Adam's method. Inside the hallway, they
found the deacon asleep at the foot of the priest's door. It took the deacon a confused
minute to remember who the bride, the doctor and Anthony were and why they had
come. The deacon refused food, saying she wasn't hungry.
"Your pulse is weak," said the doctor.
"My pulse is fine," said the deacon.
The doctor shook his head.
She'll be dead soon.
"Father Ben won't come out," said the deacon. "So I just curled up right here—
for the company. I used to sleep alone. I always slept alone—my whole life I slept
alone. Honestly, I did. But now I close my eyes and see men in orange vests."
She looked at Anthony, uncertain.
The doctor knocked on the priest's door.
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"Father Ben, we've brought food," said the bride.
No answer came.
"How long has he been in there?" asked the doctor.
The deacon stared at the open bag of food held by Anthony
" . . . since you l e f t . . . no, since we talked to the prisoners. Right after he . . . . "
"Father Ben, if you don't answer we're going to break open the door," said the
bride.
Again, there was no answer.
"Do you have any tools?" asked the doctor. "A pry bar?"
"Kitchen things," said the deacon, still staring at the bag of food.
The doctor went to the kitchen and came back with a long knife. Jammed
between door and frame, the blade quickly snapped in half. Using the sharp stub, the
doctor tried sawing around the door knob before giving up and throwing the useless
piece of metal down the hall.
"Father Ben?" he asked in a loud, firm voice.
The doctor sized up Anthony, then motioned for everyone else to clear from the
door. The first kick cracked the doorknob from its screws. The second kick sent the
doorknob flying. The room lacked its own light source, but the group could see an
empty mattress and empty floor and no sign of Father Ben.
They found the priest's body hanging from a rope attached to a post behind the
altar. The post—sticking out from a wall—once supported a large wooden cross. Father
Ben had removed the cross and rigged a noose from the ropes which had bound his
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ankles. Frozen in mid-air, his sallow face shone jet black. A search of the priest's room
failed to turn up a note.
CHAPTER XXXIII
MOVE
"I think I want to go back," said Caroline, plunked down on a sheet of plywood,
staring at a veil of white clouds covering bright blue sky.
"Okay," said Adam, nodding to himself.
"Charles, do you think we can make it back by tonight?" asked Caroline.
"I'm not going back," said Grand, "and I didn't ask you to come."
"How do I get back then?" asked Caroline, rubbing her eyes and hiding her tears.
"The same way you came," said Adam, "minus the plywood."
Caroline closed her eyes and pictured the plywood. Adam had used two sheets
like giant snowshoes, pulling both himself and Grin down the snow-covered highway.
Caroline and Grand used the other sheets in a slow awkward fashion, stepping onto one
sheet then pulling the other fully forward before changing their position.
"Let's go," said Adam. "Move it. We'll find an empty house before dark and
anyone who wants to stay until the snow melts and walk back is welcome to do so."
Adam lunged forward, guiding his huge wooden snowshoes. Caroline made no
effort to rise.
Grand glared at the girl, then watched Adam gain a fifty-foot lead.
"Wait!" he finally yelled.
Adam looked back, and Grand held up his right arm.
"I can't pull her!"
"If I have to come back," yelled Adam, renewing his surge forward, "She's going
over the side of the highway!"
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Caroline heard the threat but remained prostrate and rigid, unwilling to move.
She wondered what it would be like to die on a snowbound sheet of plywood. She
wondered if a person could die like that—if a person could choose when and where and
how to die.
Caroline heard the dry crunch of Adam's plywood shoes suddenly stop.
I've never stood up to anyone, she reminded herself. Why didn't I stand up to
Dad? Why didn't Mom stand up to Dad? Because he was smart? Was he smart? We
should have made our own plan
....
"Goddammit," yelled Adam, swinging first one then the other plywood sheet
around, rocking the crippled Grin.
"He's coming," said Grand, trying to sound friendly. "He's bigger than you."
"I want to go back," said Caroline.
"He'll throw you off the highway," said Grand, looking back and forth between
Caroline and the fast approaching Adam.
"He'll let us both go. He'll let us take the plywood if we both go," said Caroline.
"We have to listen to him."
"I don't have to listen to him," said Caroline. "He's not my dad. Is he yours?"
"Why did you come out here?" asked Grand.
"Why do you talk to your sister when you sleep?"
"What?" asked Grand, watching Adam chug towards them.
"Why do you talk to your sister when you sleep?"
"I don't know. She talks to me. I don't know why."
"I can hear you," said Caroline. "I can hear you talk to her. I hear what you say
to her, what you want to do to her."
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"She's my sister. I love her."
"She's your sister:"
"I know. I love her."
"Why isn't she here?"
"She's in the woods."
"In what woods?"
"Outside Onall."
"Why?"
"Mother makes her hide. Mother makes her hide."
Grand's wiggling fingers prepared to lift Caroline as if telling his mind what
needed to be done.
Adam stood ten feet away, his face as red as his hair. He leapt and landed two
feet from Caroline, crushing the sheet of plywood further into snow. Caroline scrambled
to her feet, then stumbled backwards grasping at air.
"I'll go," said Caroline, falling backwards into the snow, her voice altered by fear
and crying. "I'll go."
"I know you will," said Adam.
"I mean I'm staying. I'll go to the place . . . New America," said Caroline, trying
to wrench herself from the snowpack. "I'll go wherever you want to go."
Adam took two giant steps forward, picked up the thirteen-year-old girl and
threw her ten feet into the air.
Snow snuffed Caroline's scream.
Grand froze, his feet nailed to the sheet of plywood. He looked at Grin who lay
curled up on one of Adam's sheets. Grin winked.
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"You fucking bitch!" yelled Adam, on his knees in the snowpack, immersed with
Caroline in a fresh five-foot valley of snow.
Adam jerked Caroline's coat collar, rolling her head like a broken doll's.
Caroline's eyes closed and opened and closed. Her wet face shone in the veiled sunlight.
Grand thought she looked beautiful, like Lucy but with sun-glow skin and sun-brown
hair. Grand looked at Grin and saw the crippled man mouth the word "chaos." Grand
looked back at Adam and watched the red-haired, purple-faced man stomp back over
Caroline's sheet of plywood, shivering surrounding snow, starting a small avalanche to
cover Caroline's body.
"You better keep up," said Adam, glancing back at Grand.
Adam shrunk to a speck of black before Grand budged. He stepped towards the
five-foot valley of snow and waited for the word "hey" to escape his mouth. When it
did, Caroline failed to stir.
Grand sidled into the valley and touched Caroline's boot, recoiling at the
coldness radiating through his glove. He focused on the boot, on its blackness, its
scratches and scrapes, its soaked-through leather. He stared at the remnants of a brand
name, squinting at the word, willing his vision to be as good as always—not failing like
his mother's. Grand could decipher the letters, but the word they formed had no
meaning.
A ringing rose inside Grand's mind. He stood and felt the late afternoon breeze
rub coldness into his face. The ringing disappeared.
"Lucy," said Grand, shivering, massaging numb ears.
"Caroline," said Caroline, eyes blinking then closing once again.
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Grand stepped off the sheet of plywood and yanked Caroline up using his right
hand. With Caroline's waist on his shoulder, he lifted the limp body just as Adam had
lifted Grin and the doctor had lifted his dead wife. Grand turned and laid Caroline on
plywood as puffs of fog left his dry cold mouth. He knelt beside Caroline, staring at her
long, light brown hair. He removed his gloves and stroked her face.
The ringing returned—along with a voice.
"How many breaths
"What?" asked Grand. "Lucy?"
"Caroline," said Caroline, eyes shut.
"How many breaths
"Lucy?"
"How many breaths do we get?"
"I don't know, Lucy."
"Caroline," said Caroline.
Grand pressed his palms against his ears.
The ringing worsened.
"She isn't dead," he said. "I wasn't dead. On the street. I wasn't dead. In the
hospital, Dad wasn't dead. The air was dead. Fix the air. Fix the dead."
Grand shivered. The ringing stopped. He looked east and saw cloudless sky.
Evening horizon dark purple. He looked down at Caroline, removed his glove and
touched her face.
Cold. She'll die if I leave her. If I leave her, she'll die. I would be killing her,
and the guidebook says we're not killers—with one holy exception. Mom killed Lucy.
Mom tried to kill Lucy. Lucy wanted to leave. I wanted to leave. Both of us going
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south. Why did she get sick? Mom wanted her sick. Why did she hide in the woods?
Mom wanted her dead. Brothers and sisters can't get married. Brothers and sisters
can't make babies. Charles you're making this up. Charles you're making this up. But
Lucy didn't die. I never saw her die. She's in the woods, in the snow, in the dark. I
already found her.
Grand pictured the word "murder." Someone in Onall had scraped the word on
every house in town, cutting off squares of siding—MURDER. Grand pictured the
doctor's wife without a face. He pictured Father Ben sawing through the necks of two
tied-up recruiters. He pictured Father Ben sweating—beads of sweat oozing from
frostbit pores, sweat beading on a blackened forehead. Grand pictured the dull kitchen
knife making little progress on muscle and spine, forcing the priest to stab wildly, to kill
with rabid animal anger. Grand pictured his father breathing in an ancient hospital bed.
The thin sheet rising and falling. BREATHING. Grand pictured his sister wrapped in a
sheet, lying on the forest floor. BREATHING. He pictured his mother raising a shovel,
bringing the edge down onto his sister's neck, onto his father's neck, onto his own neck.
Lucy.
Grand watched his mother bludgeon his sister, into something unrecognizable,
unknowable—a thing, a deviation.
You're not dead. The air was dead. Your sheet didn't move . . . because the air
was dead.
Grand unbuttoned Caroline's coat and stared at her thin torso. He pushed
forward five layers of worn and torn shirts, caressing the soft thirteen-year-old belly.
His hands slid onto breasts, cupping them. His hands slid down to hips flaring from
torso. Grand remembered removing Caroline's clothes, how she had helped him, how
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she had helped him do what he wanted—the things he had done to Lucy, the "wrong"
things, according to his mother.
Catch up to Adam. Get gold. Build a city. Fix the air. Fix Dad. Fix Lucy.
Keep Caroline . . . Lucy will decide.
Grand stood and careened into the snow.
The blood settled.
He stood again.
How can this work? wondered Grand, his left arm still roped in a sling.
Grand hopped onto the empty sheet of plywood, grabbed its edge with his right
hand and pulled the half-inch sheet towards him. The wood cracked but wouldn't split.
He removed the rope from around his neck, letting his left arm dangle as a warm rush of
blood filled his disused appendage. He shook the arm gently, then used his right hand to
examine his bulging collarbone. The skin surrounding the break seemed to burn with
soreness.
The doctor said a month.
Grand pressed his knees into the center of the plywood sheet and grabbed its
edge, this time with both hands. He pulled, using his left arm only for balance, but the
sheet still wouldn't give. He glanced around at his surroundings, the white landscape,
the blue sky. Grand saw himself back in Onall, kneeling in the snow, building a snow
cave for his sister, a cave which would last until summer air destroyed all things frozen.
Grand looked at Caroline, pulsing with sexual desire. He saw her exposed chest
rise and fall.
Let me do what I want.
Grand hated being bogged down on roads of snow and ice.
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Mom will find me and take me back.
Grand reset his grip and pulled—fingers hooking hard in the into the old boards'
wilted edges. The surge of pain in his collar and left arm was accompanied by a surge of
adrenaline. He tingled.
The pain feels good.
A crack burst from beneath him.
Grand looked down, expecting blood. Instead, he saw knees pressed into snow
and a sheet of plywood split in two.
Fifteen minutes later, Grand took the first tentative steps with his snowshoes—
two long and narrow strips of plywood attached to his feet with rope from his sling. He
used rope from the split sheet to raise the wood as he shucked it forward, favoring his
right arm for the task. The rope from the other sheet—which held a still silent Caroline
—was slung around Grand's waist. His movements awkward, Grand trudged harder
anyway, knowing the angered Adam had most of the food, and more importantly, a
desire to find gold.
CHAPTER XXXIV
ANTHONY
Two hours before dark, the bride, the doctor, and Anthony returned to the bride's
house, traveling in the same manner they came, albeit more easily over already
compacted snow. The bride had offered to stay at the church—at one point insisting on
staying—but the deacon refused the help, asking only for additional food in two weeks.
Before leaving, the doctor and Anthony took the priest's body down from the post, dug a
small valley in the snow behind the church's back door, slid the body in, and collapsed
the cold white walls on top of the corpse. The priest's face, frostbitten black, looked
neither dead nor alive.
Back in her home, the bride cooked another simple dinner, and the group of five
chewed in silence. With dinner finished, the bride excused herself, heading to bed,
although the sky was not yet dark. The other four—Rachael, Luz, the doctor, and
Anthony—gathered around the fireplace, soaking in heat from a small freshly-lit fire.
They all wore one extra blanket.
"What do you think they'll do tonight?" asked Rachael, pulling her blankets
tighter.
No one answered.
Luz curled up against Rachael's thigh and closed her eyes.
"Anthony," said Rachael, "What do you think?"
Anthony shrugged, his body language unseen.
"I guess they'll try to find a house," he said. "Just like all the others who left."
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"A house with people in it?" asked Rachael.
Anthony thought for a while, chewing on end of his thumb.
"Probably not," he said.
"What's Adam like?" asked Rachael. "Did you trust him?"
"I guess," said Anthony. "I only knew him for a few months. This was my first
trip outside the farm."
"New America?" asked Rachael.
"Yeah. That's what I call it—the farm."
"How did you end up there?"
"Same as you, well, same as you would have ended up there. They nabbed me
and my folks. We had heard about it—we only lived five miles away."
"You must like it there," said Rachael.
"Not really."
"Why?"
"I don't know . . . the food is good . . . b e e f . . . fresh beef. But it's kind of a sad
place."
"Why?"
Anthony shrugged then smiled.
"Before they nabbed us, my dad and I, we'd hunt with a bow and arrows, not just
deer—we'd be lucky to kill a deer—but anything . . . squirrels, rabbits, possum. We
weren't very good, but good enough, I guess. We did it for fun as much as for food. We
had a greenhouse just like the lady here. We had pecans. No chickens, though. That
would have been nice . . . except they have chickens at the farm—in New America, I
mean."
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"If you didn't like New America, why not just leave?" asked the doctor.
Anthony quit chewing his thumb.
"I asked myself that a lot, every night there, probably. My parents are there—a
lot of people are there—but it's like I'm more alone than before, even more than when I
was a kid. I had a lot of time to think at the farm—even with all the work. So I would
ask myself, 'Why not leave?' I asked it all the time but never went anywhere, not even
back to my old house—my parent's house. I guess I liked having someone in charge,
even if I didn't like how they ran the place. If I left, I'd be in charge, and what am I
gonna do? My parents like the farm. I think they're afraid to leave, but they're old. I'm
not afraid . . . I'm not afraid."
"Are the people in charge violent?" asked Rachael.
"No, just privileged. They got whatever they wanted . . . if we had it. I mean,
we all ate well. But with women . . . if you wanted a woman, to get married or just to be
with a woman . . . well, the young women eat with the lawmen. And they stay with the
lawmen at night. They said if I did this for a while—recruiting, they called it—and
made enough money, enough gold, I could buy my way in, you know, pay to be a
lawman. Then, they said . . . you know, the women eat dinner with you, and spend the
night if they want to."
"Can't the women choose to marry anyone, or be with anyone?" asked Rachael.
The doctor sat up.
"You said people could just leave? Right?" he asked. "Even women?"
"They can," said Anthony. "Anyone can. But the lawmen, they have things to
make people want to stay. The older people like the food . . . the kids like being around
other kids . . . I guess. The men, like me, they say if you work your way up you can
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have whatever you want, you know, you can have women. And the women, well, I
heard they have things that they drink, something they smoke . . . makes them want to
stay. Plus, the younger women don't have to work if they don't want to. Everybody gets
something . . . I guess."
"Are you going back?" asked Rachael. "If it's safe?"
"I don't want to," he said, his voice choked. "But where am I going to go? My
parents' house? Maybe someone else lives there. And my parents don't want to leave
the farm because they're scared."
Anthony's wet cheek rose as he smiled. Earlier, while the bride and the doctor
had been inside with the deacon, Anthony had removed his pants and scrubbed them
with snow outside the church's back door.
Wiggling under blankets, Anthony felt comfortable in his pants.
. . . dry and clean . . . and the smell is gone.
"One thing, though," said Anthony, his eyes beginning to dry, "My dad and I . . .
we heard stories about houses being raided—bad people just taking whatever they could.
So we always left our bow and arrows hidden. We hid some other things, too."
Anthony stopped himself and for the first time really examined Rachael and the
doctor—staring at their shadowy faces.
After a long pause, he nodded.
"It's in the alley, behind the house, but you couldn't find it even if you knew
where the house was. Sometimes I think about that. If I ever left the farm, at least I'd
have a way to catch meat. But maybe I could do even better. Someone at the farm said
there were places . . . in the South and West, by the coast. He said it never gets cold—
well, not cold enough to snow. I guess a guy could go down there, just live on meat—
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meat that he caught—and be warm most the time. If it's warm, the animals will be out—
that's for sure. They give you something to talk to and something to eat."
Rachael stared into the kitchen. The walls shone dark blue as twilight seeped in
from a hole in the snow.
CHAPTER XXXV
CAROLINE
After three hours hours of non-stop struggle, Grand loosened the ropes of his
plywood snowshoes and fell face first into the highway snow. Thirty minutes of
daylight remained, and Grand knew Adam would use every minute, but Grand's muscles
demanded rest. He began to suffocate, trying to suck air from ice. Once again tasked
with lifting his beaten body, Grand rolled over, wincing and wondering if his collarbone
would ever get to heal. He lay still, his body scrounging every cell for energy, his mind
resigned to letting the dark blue sky turn black before rising to search for shelter.
If Caroline had helped, we might have caught him. We would have caught him.
Maybe she wants us to die. Maybe she's dead. Maybe I'm dead. Maybe we all died
when the air went bad.
Lifting his head from the snow, Grand was shocked to see Caroline sitting up and
staring back.
"Did you think I was dead?" she asked.
Grand let his head fall back into snow, the frozen headrest a pleasant anesthesia.
"You might be dead," said Grand. "We all might be."
"What?"
Grand lifted his head again, examining Caroline's face.
"How long have you been awake?" he asked.
"A long time," said Caroline. "I was going to get up, but you were moving fast
—faster than we moved together."
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"I could have used some help," said Grand.
"I'm not as strong as you," said Caroline.
"You didn't have to do anything, just stand behind me and move your feet—just
like walking."
"Sorry," she said.
"I'm not going back," he said.
"I know."
"You don't have to go with me," said Grand.
"I know," said Caroline, taking a deep breath, letting it out, and lying back down
under the dark blue sky. "What are we going to do?"
"We can't catch him," said Grand. "Not tonight."
"What did you mean that we might be dead?"
" . . . nothing."
"What did you mean? Will Adam come back and kill us?"
" . . . Do you know who controls the air?" Grand asked.
"Who?"
"I don't know," said Grand. "That's why I'm asking. The air can kill people. The
air could kill us right now."
"How?"
" . . . It just does . . . someone cuts off your air . . . Haven't you ever seen
someone die?"
"My mother
"
Grand started to respond but stopped.
Save body heat, he thought, lifting himself off the snow.
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Stumbling to the full sheet of plywood, Grand lay beside Caroline. He stared at
the quiet sky which seemed to belong only to them.
"So what do we do?" she asked
"Find a place to sleep."
"A place with people?" she asked.
"It's too late," he said, "too dangerous. If my mom were here . . . we just need a
place out of the snow . . . something abandoned."
Grand rolled his head on the wooden surface and stared at Caroline. Her eyes
were closed again.
"Are you sorry you came?" he asked.
"No. I don't know. I think my dad wanted me to go with you."
"To Onall?"
"Yes . . . or to anywhere."
"Your dad doesn't worry about you?"
"He used to. He never let me leave the house . . . except once, about a year ago.
He got tired of me asking about the outside, so he said, 'There's nothing to see but
crumbling buildings and you can see those from your bedroom window.' Or he'd say,
'There's no reason to go out unless you want to get raped and killed.' But I kept asking.
I kept arguing. I didn't want to stay inside my room my whole life—looking out
windows. What if I wanted to become something? My dad is a doctor, or he was. What
if I wanted to become a doctor? Finally, he took me along to his work . . . to the
hospital. It was gross. There were like . . . ten dead bodies right inside the door. People
just dropped them off and left. There were some old people—really old—who lived
inside the hospital, I think. They wanted to talk to me. I had never seen any old people,
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but still, I didn't want to talk to them. I didn't want to look at the dead bodies, either.
Some wounded people came in, and my dad just kind of forgot about me. So, I walked
outside. The streets were a mess, and the s m e l l . . . like a giant bathroom that only gets
cleaned when it rains. But still, I was outside of our house, outside of my room. I kept
walking, not even worried about getting lost. I saw some weird people and ran away
before they saw me. Somehow I got turned around—my sense of direction. I thought I
was walking back to the hospital, but really I was walking farther away. It got dark. I
got so scared. I promised God I would never leave again if I could just get back to my
dad. I hid in some shadows, staying close to the street so I could hear my dad yell. I
kept waiting for him to yell. Then all these people started coming out of the buildings—
like dead people in black coats . . . skinny pale dead people. I thought they might be
going to the hospital for help, but there were so many crowding into the street. I snuck
inside a building. I heard noises. I just wanted to hide. I ran farther inside. I ran into a
room filled with people. The smell was so strong and weird . . . alcohol, I think . . . and
death. I was choking on it, staring at the people. I thought they would eat me. But they
just stared back. They had a small fire, and they just stared. I wanted to move but
didn't. I kept waiting for my father to yell. He never did. After a while, the people—the
drunks—stopped staring at me. They just stared at the fire, waiting for this bottle being
passed around. Rats ran over my feet. I screamed. But none of the people even turned
around."
Caroline looked west at the day's last light.
"How did you get back?" asked Grand.
"I found the hospital in the morning. I used the sun—I headed towards the sun."
"What did your dad say?"
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"He asked me if I had a nice adventure."
Not wanting to risk the neighborhoods, Grand settled for a small long-abandoned
roadside store. From the stench of urine in the cold musty air, Grand knew the store had
been a frequent overnight stop for other wanderers—a free motel. He accepted the smell
because the front windows and locked front door had somehow managed never to be
broken in, and the back door came with its own security system—a large metal desk
pulled in front of it. Also, the evening light was gone and neither of the tired teens
wanted to search for better shelter in the black of night.
Grand suggested sleeping on plywood laid on the floor, but Caroline insisted on
using the more rat-resistant desk. Grand joined her without asking.
Both teens had stolen dried meat and nuts from the bride's kitchen—shoving
small handfuls into their coat pockets. After eating a little of the dry dense food, they
brought their bodies together, huddling in darkness.
"Are you sorry I came?" asked Caroline, sliding her hands inside Grand's coat.
"No, but I wish you wouldn't pick fights with Adam. We need his help."
"I know," she said. " . . . Can we catch him?"
"Not until New America. But I think he'll wait for us at the edge . . . I think he'll
wait for me."
"Why?"
"He can't get that gold by himself, even if the crippled man knows where it is."
Grand slid his hands underneath Caroline's five layers of worn and torn t-shirts.
"I don't want to take my clothes off in here," she said.
"Okay," said Grand.
I'll find another way.
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In his dream, Grand lay in the rolling rail car filled with coal, his hands pressed
hard against his head as the ringing morphed into rumbling. Peering forward, he saw
only the person in the ram mask trudging through the dark tunnel towards a pinpoint of
light. The coal car stopped. Grand got out. He began chasing the person in the ram
mask, but struggled to catch up—a rope around his waist forced him to tow the car of
coal. Grand could feel the energy leaving his body—being sucked back into the coal
mine. He could feel his chest being smothered, the air disappearing. He trudged
forward anyway, focused on the ram skull—the silhouette of spiraling horns. When he
could go no farther, Grand struggled back into the rail car and collapsed in the bed of
coal. He felt the rail car begin rolling backwards—back into the mine. The slope
increased. The ceiling flash of shiny black sped up.
Coldness grabbed Grand's collar—the coldness of Lucy's thin pale hand thrust
out from the coal.
"Lucy?" asked Grand.
Lucy clawed out of the coal and slid her arm across Grand's chest - her mouth
murmuring, " . . . south . . . south . . . south." She climbed on top of her brother and held
him tight as the rail car descended toward the darkness at the center of the earth.
CHAPTER XXXVI
THANKS
Rachael awoke to rain drops pounding a metal roof.
Never enough rain, she thought, picturing thirsty summer fields in Onall. Never
enough rain . . . until it floods.
Rachael rubbed her face and opened her eyes to darkness.
Where am I?
The loud metallic staccato sounded familiar, but slightly abnormal - too big for
Rachael's one-room Onall shack.
I'm in a chapel, a church ... no ... I'm in someone else's house.
Rachael sat up.
I'm in the bride's house.
A weak light shone in the distance.
Light from the kitchen. It's morning.
She stood up and checked the floor for bodies.
Luz . . . Anthony ... John the doctor.
Inside the kitchen, Rachael found the bride sitting and drinking from a plastic
cup filled with crushed snow and water. Outside the glass doors, the tops of pine trees
swayed in a breeze. The sky was rainy gray.
It's melting.
"How long has it been raining?" asked Rachael.
"A few hours," said the bride, pushing a plate of breakfast foods towards
Rachael.
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Rachael picked up a bean pod and bit into crunchy sweetness. She looked at the
bride.
We're eating all her food.
"If the streets clear up, we'll leave today," said Rachael.
The bride nodded, staring at the shrinking snow.
"Back to your home?" she asked.
Rachael began to speak, then hesitated. She sat down and stared at the plate of
food.
"No," said Rachael. "I have to find my son. I can't understand the doctor's
reasoning. Can you? I mean . . . could you just let your child disappear?"
The bride nodded mechanically as if she had missed the question marks.
"It's a dangerous world," said the bride.
" W e l l . . . if you can keep your kids from harming themselves
Rachael realized she was still trying to convince the doctor.
"You could come with me," she said to the bride, " . . . to New America . . . just
to see."
"There's nothing for me there," said the bride, turning to face Rachael. "But take
some food. You could even leave the little girl here
The bride nodded towards a sleepy-faced Luz who stood at Rachael's side,
yawning. Luz plopped her head against Rachael's hip.
"I don't think she would want to stay," said Rachael, moving her head so Luz
could see her speak. "Would you like to stay here while I find my son?"
Luz shook her head.
"You won't come back," said Luz, her voice high and nasal.
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Rachael frowned.
"Yes, I would," she mouthed, remembering the story of Luz's parents.
The doctor and Anthony staggered into the kitchen, adjusting their eyes to the
light. The doctor looked out at the dissolving snow and mumbled, "Good." He grabbed
a handful of nuts and sat down at the table. Anthony sat down and stared at the bowl of
food, taking nothing.
Rachael hesitated, then thought, What's the point in waiting?
"John, I think you should come with me to New America."
"I have other plans," said the doctor. "But Anthony is going back. He can help
you."
"I'm going to my parents' house," said Anthony, " . . . at f i r s t . . . after t h a t . . . I
don't know."
Rachael nodded.
Typical.
"Don't you think that's being selfish?" she asked.
Anthony's face showed offense.
"Not you Anthony," said Rachael, "I was talking to the father of Caroline."
"This conversation is over," said the doctor.
A steady rain continued to fall. By early afternoon, fifteen feet of snow had
dissolved into three feet of snow-ice. When the rain eased into a mist, the doctor
decided it was safe enough to return home, grab whatever supplies he could—the men in
orange vests had taken most of his family's food stores—and begin the long journey to
The Nation of Cold Light.
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"John," asked the bride, "were you going to bury your wife in the church
cemetery?"
"Or had you forgotten?" asked Rachael, helping Luz bundle up, having decided
that if the roads were good enough for the doctor, they were good enough for her and
Luz. "Maybe he thought the rain would dissolve her into the ground."
"Shut up," said the doctor, his mouth tight, his mind hot.
If I was the kind of man who punched women
....
"We'll help you," said Rachael.
"I don't need or want your help," said the doctor. "You and the others may laugh
at my going away, at the idea of a place based on reason and rumor—you with your
idiotic motherly fantasies—but the joke is, and it's quite funny, that you are the reason I
am going north. I'm going north to get away from people like you. Do you
understand?"
Rachael nodded and smiled.
"Before I forget, doctor, I want to thank you for what you did a few nights ago.
It was so nice of you to tell those men in orange vests where to find me and my son and
this little girl. What was the trade you made? Three for three? Of course, you were just
looking out for your family, and we all know how much of a family man you are. What
was your first thought when those recruiters kicked in your door? Did you offer them
your wife and daughter—two for onel Yes, I can actually hear you saying that. 'Take
my wife and daughter. I've got an intellectual wet dream to follow.' But hey, you
needed to get away from all of your inferiors. I understand."
"Shut up you ignorant bitch," said the doctor, his voice low.
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"Why, if it wasn't for your assistance, we'd be home by now, safely away from
brilliant reasonable people like you. Who knew spending the night in a hospital could be
so dangerous?"
The doctor smiled and turned towards the front door. Rachael followed him.
"Then again, you're not the first doctor to stab someone in the back," she said.
"But usually they offer some anesthetic. Don't they?"
The doctor jerked the front door open but calmly stepped outside. A jet of cold
damp air rushed into the house followed by an avalanche of ice.
Rachael stopped and stared at the white sea.
It's still too deep .. . too deep for Luz . • • too deep for my ankle.
Rachael considered following the doctor to the church just to heckle him, but
settled for a parting shot from the doorway.
"I know you're more intelligent than me," she yelled, wondering if there were
people in the neighborhood who could hear her taunt. "That's why you're heading north
at the beginning of winter. That's why you're going to a place that may or may not exist.
And without a map!"
"I have a map," the doctor yelled, not bothering to slow his march.
"Your daughter said you don't," yelled Rachael. "Remember her? Your thirteenyear-old daughter. Remember your family!"
Luz joined Rachael in watching the doctor tramp down the frozen street.
The bride approached the door.
"Were you leaving?" asked the bride.
"Could we stay one more night?" asked Rachael. "I think I'd have to carry her
the whole way."
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Rachael pulled Luz against her hip.
The bride nodded.
"Sure," said the bride. "But I'd like to get William buried with the doctor's
help . . . I'll be back before dark."
The bride walked back into the house, grabbed a double-layered woolen coat,
then rushed out the door, carefully crunching her way across the icy snowpack.
Anthony reached the doorway, rubbing his arms and shivering in the draft.
"Are you sure you won't go to New America?" asked Rachael.
Anthony shook his head like a shy child afraid of saying yes. He scanned the
white landscape.
"If I had money, I would pay you," said Rachael. "If you took us, I could pay
you eventually, in some way."
Anthony looked at Rachael. A weak smile spread across his small face.
"What do you think of me?" he asked.
"What?" asked Rachael.
"What do you think of me? I mean, when you look at me, what do I look like?"
Rachael considered the question, uncertain what was being asked, trying to figure
out what Anthony wanted to hear.
"I think you're a brave man."
Anthony nodded as he considered Rachael's answer. When his head came to a
stop, he spun and walked back to the living room. Buried amongst blankets, he found
his shoes, put them on and returned to the door. As he passed Rachael and Luz,
Anthony's mouth rounded and tightened, preparing to emit sound—but the words
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wouldn't budge. Instead, the light crunch of Anthony's tennis shoes served as his
farewell.
Rachael frowned and squeezed Luz tighter.
Maybe we should head home, too.
CHAPTER XXXVII
MAYBE
After they awoke, Grand and Caroline moved the metal desk to the front of the
abandoned store, laid back down and watched a steady rain dissolve the icy snow.
Despite having slept for twelve hours, they dozed some more, listening to water fall
from a nearby highway overpass.
When afternoon arrived and the steady rain had become a light mist, Grand
decided it was time to move. Rain had shrunk the highway snow to one foot of wet
white crunchable ice. Grand towed the unnecessary plywood for a mile before
discarding the wood in the road.
"How will we find this place?" asked Caroline.
"Maybe we'll see it from the highway," said Grand. "Maybe we'll get there
tonight."
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CHAPTER XXXVIII
FUNERAL
The doctor spotted the wheelbarrow which from a distance appeared covered in
dried blood. A closer view revealed the red to be merely a mixture of rust and old paint.
Grabbing the ancient wooden handles, the doctor jerked the wheelbarrow back and forth,
breaking the well-worn tool from the snow's icy grip. He lifted the wheelbarrow and set
it to the side, diverting his gaze from the ground.
My wife, William, Father Ben . . . and two decapitated guards. I get to see five
today.
In his fifteen years working in the now-deserted hospital, the doctor had seen
hundreds of dead bodies—as many as a dozen in one day. People would cautiously
maneuver the corpses inside the hospital's broken doors, occasionally expecting a
miracle, more often simply having no idea where to deposit the deceased. Despite the
disappearance of government, residents of The Capital were hesitant to just bury a dead
human being like they might bury a pet. The people bringing bodies into the hospital
expected to be questioned. They expected forms requiring their signatures. They
expected certificates and giant rooms of files which would hold those certificates
forever. At the very least, they wanted to write the dead person's name on a piece of
paper.
The doctor's education in carnage—the daily sights and smells of bloated, longdead bodies, the sounds of hemorrhaging screamers who lay dying a few feet away—did
nothing for him now. The doctor hoped against reason he could avoid carrying his
wife's body to the cemetery.
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I could push her in the wheelbarrow...
I could wrap her in a blanket and tow
her.
He looked down at the ground, then back up.
Just do the job, John. Perform the ceremony. Finish the responsibility—end
your responsibilities, John. End them. That's what this is—a necessary end, a desired
end. Put her in the ground, then walk away. It's time to live your life. You're not
changing. You never were a doctor in The Capital. You were always a man waiting to
begin. You can finally begin!
For the first time since his wife's death, the doctor considered the logistics of a
burial. He wondered about tools. He wondered about the earth—its frozen soil
structure, its willingness to receive a human body. The idea that there might be
complications made him angry.
. . . the rotten nonsense of a world without reason . .. doctors become
undertakers .. .we watch people die, then bury the disgusting corpses.
The bride emerged from the church's door and skidded down the front steps,
embracing five blankets. Setting the blankets in the wheelbarrow, she stared along with
the doctor at the white floor hiding William and Jane.
The bride stomped her feet for fear of becoming stuck.
The doctor considered doing the same but remained still, allowing the icy
coldness to reach into his boots and up his legs, freezing his will to move, killing his will
to leave.
I must leave, the doctor warned himself. I must leave now.
"We should find a spot first," said the bride, "get the ground ready."
The doctor looked at the bride.
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She's calm, John ... be calm . . . this is the last thing . . . the very last thing.
Using two rusted shovels from the cemetery storehouse, the bride and the doctor
stabbed and shoveled frozen snow, clearing a space big enough for five graves—
assuming the shovels would penetrate the dirt beneath the just removed ice.
"I didn't know it would be like this," said the bride, pausing to catch her breath in
the cold gray air. " . . . this much work just to reach d i r t . . . if the dirt is frozen-"
"We'll make one wide grave. There's no point in making five narrow graves,"
said the doctor, taking a break, checking his racing pulse out of habit.
The bride nodded.
"Your wife would spend eternity with my fiance
"And they would spend eternity with a murderous priest and two headless
kidnappers," said the doctor, sticking the tip of his shovel onto black earth.
The shovel slid in slowly. A crack spread down its dry wooden handle.
Too much leverage, thought the doctor, releasing the shovel.
"I really don't want to do this," he said. "But we just have to do it. We have to
do it right now. And we have to finish soon."
"I'm sure we'll finish," said the bride.
"I'm sure we'll finish,too," said the doctor, " . . . because we have to."
The bride tried to shovel dirt but scraped up only topsoil. She rested her hands
on the tip of the shovel's handle.
"We don't have to do it today," said the bride.
"We have to do it fast," said the doctor.
"The bodies will be fine for at least another day," said the bride.
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But I will not be fine, thought the doctor.
"I can't wait," he said.
"That's what I mean," said the bride. "You don't have to wait. You can leave. I
know you want to leave and if you're going north you should leave. Go back to my
house and get some food if you need it. I'll finish the graves. If I can't, I'll find some
people to help me. Tomorrow's Sunday, I think. People will be coming to church.
They'll want to help."
"I'm not a bad person," said the doctor. "I've helped people. I've helped
thousands of people."
"You're just tired," said the bride.
"I'm not tired," said the doctor. "I'm just through. God, I've helped so many
people . . . I've spent my life helping other people. And why?"
"Why?" asked the bride in a soft echo.
"I liked the idea of saving lives. Of course, when you haven't gotten your hands
dirty yet, it all seems like magic. You want that power—the power to heal, the power to
overcome death through rational science. That's i t . . . that's it, exactly. You want the
power to overcome death. You want to use other people to gain power over death . . .
like some kind of sick dictator."
"Were your parents doctors?" asked the bride.
"No. They worked for an insurance company—hated their jobs. Everything
became about insurance, didn't it? Everything became about planning for disaster—the
'when,' not the 'if.' Growing up, I saw what was happening abroad. I saw what was
happening here at home, too. How could I not? The media shoving climate change
down our throats every day, violence down our throats every day. My parents certainly
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didn't hide the truth from me. How could they? The truth was all they dealt with—the
truth of risk. They let me watch the 'disturbing videos,' all those people dying in poor
countries, not getting food aid because we weren't giving it anymore, trying to sneak
across borders into countries slightly less poor. People getting shot just begging for
food. The constant cry from the journalists, 'And there's not enough doctors . . . People
are dying because the doctors have all gone away.' I was a teenager . . . too s m a r t . . . too
smart to be smart. That media cry became my rallying cry."
The doctor laughed.
"Can you believe that?" he asked. "Rather than think for myself I bought
whatever the media was selling. Of course they went away, too. Didn't they? The
media. The journalists. But I'm still doing what they told me to do, still trying to save a
bunch of people who can't be saved, a bunch of people who don't deserve to be saved."
"So you thought it would come to this?" asked the bride. " . . . I guess I didn't."
"Come to what? Burying my wife? Digging the grave myself?"
"The bigger picture," said the bride. "Things falling apart. Everything falling
apart so completely
The doctor thought for a moment, his thoughts distracted by the cold reaching up
his legs into his loins.
"It didn't have to happen," he said. "We had the resources. We had too many
people, too many in the world, too many in this country. But the resources would have
been enough or close to it. It shows you what happens when the wrong people are put in
charge. Democracy guarantees majority rule but not rational rule"
"How do you get the right people in charge? How do you know who's right?"
asked the bride. "Wasn't that the real problem?"
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"It's still the real problem, if you believe things can come back."
"Do you believe they can?"
"Considering my current circumstances . . . no. Democracy, global civilization,
they'll never come back. I don't want them to come back - not the way they were. If
The Nation of Cold Light exists, if it is what people claim it is, then that will be enough.
Let the rational survive. Let the rabble and the righteous eliminate themselves like they
were destined to do. History—deep history—is marked by giant die-offs, not complete
extinctions of all life, but giant die-offs. Maybe that's what this is—a culling of the
field, a punctuation before a new equilibrium. The meek shall inherit this earth. The
rational meek."
"William was pessimistic," said the bride. "Even as a kid . . . he was so sensitive
to everything that was happening-"
"Is that what I am? Pessimistic?" asked the doctor. "I'm just describing the
world as it stands. I'm an unbiased journalist."
"I understand," said the bride. "I think I understood William. That's what I'm
trying to tell you. William shared your view of the world and your experience of the
world, to an extent
"How long had you known him?"
"My whole life. He was my brother."
The doctor winced. He examined the bride closely, locking onto her eyes.
"You married your brother?"
"We never had the ceremony. The p r i e s t . . . it's not as bad as it sounds. I loved
my brother—I loved the man, the individual. We weren't going to have kids."
But what if you did? the doctor wondered, nodding.
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"Maybe its not that strange," said the bride.
" . . . maybe it's not that rare," said the doctor, " . . . not anymore."
"It's safe," said the bride. "It's not exactly easy to meet people. Your daughter is
lucky in that way . . . assuming things work out with Rachael's son."
My daughter, thought the doctor, scrambling to imagine his daughter's face.
"I even thought you would end up going away with Rachael and that little
g i r l . . . going south."
"God, I can't stand that woman," said the doctor.
"Still," said the bride, "I thought the arguing might be a sign—a good sign.
Sometimes it is."
"She was right to say those things," said the doctor. "I got her into this—I have
no excuse. I didn't trust those men who came to my door in the n i g h t . . . but I was so
close to getting out of here. So close. Can you understand? I was minutes away from
leaving for the North. Seconds."
"Just you?"
"My family and I . . . we were so close to getting to a place that actually made
sense. I was desperate. I wanted to fight them—the men in orange vests. I could have
fought them right at my door. But I've never done that. I've never fought anyone. I
wanted to kill them. I just didn't know how. They would have never found Rachael or
her son or that g i r l . . . if I hadn't made the deal."
" . . . you were trying to survive, trying to keep your family alive."
"By jeopardizing others. I was a coward."
" . . . you're a survivor, a hero."
The doctor laughed.
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"I think Rachael would disagree," he said.
"You stood up to those men on the highway. You did more than that. You freed
all of those people. I'm sure you're familiar with Moses."
"Jesus," said the doctor, shaking his head, trying not to laugh.
"Him, too," said the bride.
"You still believe?" asked the doctor, smiling. "Christianity?"
"Why not? We need heroes, John. Christ is a hero—he's my hero. Why not
follow him? Why not believe in him."
"And spend your life believing in myth?"
"As opposed to what? Rationality? There's more truth in myth . . . much more.
You said so yourself."
"When?" asked the doctor.
"The meek shall inherit the earth
"Yes?" asked the doctor.
"It's a line from the Bible, John. You quoted Christ. Maybe it's not as much
myth as you think."
The doctor shook his head.
"I've been a follower my whole life—following the ideas and plans of others.
Not anymore."
"You still need an anchor, John. Christ is an anchor."
"An anchor?"
"To keep you from going crazy. Anchors let us search without going too far. We
can look without crossing. We have to look. We're driven to look. But if you've got
truth in your life—an anchor of truth . . . you won't fall off the edge."
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The doctor sighed and shrugged.
"I don't want to look. I don't want anything except to be far from here . .. the
meek shall inherit the earth."
"Why don't you go with Rachael?" asked the bride. "She'll protect you."
The doctor smiled.
"She's not exactly meek, is she? More like a fighter
"She's pretty modest, John. Go to New America, get your daughter and her son,
then go south. Their place—what's the town called? It doesn't sound bad. You'll be
away from things, away from most people."
"That's not far enough away. Why don't you go with her?" asked the doctor.
"Honestly . . . I don't like her very much," said the bride, smiling and twisting the
tip of her shovel in the dirt.
"You don't like her, but you want me to move away with her? Move in with her?
My daughter and her son, all four of us, all five of us in the same one-room house? The
same modest house?"
"Build a bigger house," said the bride. "It's good to stay busy."
"Yeah," said the doctor. "It's better to stay sane."
"I do agree with her about your daughter," said the bride.
"Oh you do?"
"Not that she isn't old enough to take a husband—life is short, especially
nowadays—but two thirteen-year-olds with that redheaded jerk," said the bride.
"I imagine Rachael is looking forward to being with him, maybe more than
finding her son," said the doctor.
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"I think she would do whatever she needed to do to keep her son alive. She's
already buried her husband."
"Her husband," said the doctor, picturing a sliced-open man dying of infection.
"What would your wife want you to do? Would she just let your daughter go?"
"I don't know," said the doctor. "God, I'm glad I can't ask her. I know that
sounds terrible, but I just don't want to think about it—I'm trying hard not to. What
would your husband want you to do . . . with the rest of your life?"
"My fiance?"
"Your husband, your brother . . . . "
The bride shrugged.
"Keep on living. Help people. Be happy."
"Find another man?"
The bride shook her head.
"There won't be another . . . I can't see it."
"You've got the deacon," said the doctor. "She could move in with you."
"She's too independent—too like you;" said the bride, smiling. "I told her to
forget about the church and just come live with me, but she said, 'Somebody's got to stay
here and tell people about God, or he'll really go away for good.' She wanted to help us
dig the graves. She's eighty-four!"
For a full minute, the doctor and the bride stood in silence watching their fogged
breath scatter.
"You realize we're burying two murder victims," said the doctor.
"Four," said the bride.
"And the murderer."
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"A murderer," said the bride. "The others got away."
"We're the police."
"And the victims."
"We'd better start," said the doctor.
"Okay," said the bride. "One grave?"
"One big grave."
The doctor and the bride dug until the evening sky became a dark wet gray. They
considered splitting the burial duties, having the bride wheel Jane to the grave site and
having the doctor do the same with William. But exhaustion demanded teamwork. In
front of the church, they wrapped Jane and William in separate "stretcher" blankets and
carried them to the cemetery, placing the bodies next to one another in the three-footdeep pit. The same process brought the priest and his victims into the grave. When dirt
covered all corpses, the bride and the doctor held each other's hand and stood silently in
the mist.
CHAPTER XXXIX
NEW AMERICA
Grand couldn't see the fire but smelled the smoke. The stench of burning wood
and other inflamed ingredients made him gag. Contorting his body, Grand searched for
fresh air.
"I think we should have stopped," said Caroline, coughing in darkness.
"We're only a few minutes away," coughed Grand.
"How do you know?"
"The sign."
Ten miles back, Grand, Caroline and the highway had passed the last suburban
neighborhood and entered a small town, spotting a hand-painted sign which read: New
America 15 miles. Grand had planned to stop at New America's edge, expecting Adam
to spot them, but he hadn't considered the quickness of night's descent, the fog of a
building fire, or the crash of ice-crunching footsteps.
This is a mistake, he told himself, wishing with every loud step that he could
somehow raise himself above ground, high above, and spot the night lights that must
surely accompany a settlement holding hundreds or thousands of people.
"Look for lights," coughed Grand.
Caroline gripped his hand, wincing at the invisible smoke sneaking up her
nostrils.
"Do people still live here?" coughed Caroline. "In this town?"
"They'll live outside . . . in the woods."
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Despite his proclamation, it occurred to Grand that the town's residents would
have been among the first rounded up to live and work in New America.
A metallic whir broke out. A light blinded Grand. He stood still, literally frozen
in his tracks. His mind flashed to the night spent staring out of a faceless hospital,
staring at the lights of far-off bugs bouncing over rubble—bugs which became men in
orange vests.
"It's them," whispered Caroline as the light switched to her face.
"It's not them," said a familiar voice, "but it could have been—as much noise as
you're making."
"Adam?" asked Grand.
"Follow me," said Adam's voice from the darkness. "Follow the light."
A few minutes later the trio stood inside a garage consisting of only a wooden
frame and metal siding. The garage interior was big enough to be a barn but built for the
purpose of repairing vehicles. Next to a small fire in the corner, Grand and Caroline saw
Grin's crumpled form. They couldn't see his eyes, but he appeared to be sleeping or
otherwise unconscious. Adam walked towards the fire. Grand and Caroline followed—
close together they moved and stumbled as one.
In the firelight, Adam noticed the moisture building in Caroline's hazel eyes.
"I'm not going to hurt you," he said to her. "I'm surprised you came."
Caroline nodded, her eyes staring hard at the ground like a child afraid of her
mistake.
"How long have you been here?" asked Grand, separating from Caroline and
moving closer to the fire, wishing he could move Grin's body and get the strongest heat.
"We got here in the morning," said Adam. "What took you so long?"
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Grand shrugged, staring at the yellow-orange flames, loving the promise of a
warm night's sleep.
"We smelled your fire from the street," said Grand.
"That's not my fire. Couldn't you smell the burning asphalt, the burning roof?
That's a house fire."
Grand thought of all the torched homes in Onall. They usually burned from the
inside, someone lighting a fire in the fireplace, then leaving the coals uncovered. If the
windows weren't broken and the doors were closed, you might not even know the house
had burned until you walked inside the shiny black shell.
"Other people live here?" asked Grand. "In this town?"
"Not many," said Adam, "a few wackos . . . but they keep to themselves."
"And what's this building?" asked Grand, staring at the bare walls and the high
bare ceiling.
"We used it between recruiting runs," said Adam. "To store s t u f f . . . and some of
us slept here."
"Are there any others?" asked Grand. " . . . other recruiters?"
"No sign yet," said Adam. "I figure the guys who mutinied must have taken over
New America by now—or died trying. We'll find out tonight."
"Tonight?" asked Grand, immediately regretting the childish complaint of his
voice. "How?"
"We're going there," said Adam, "you and me."
"We'll make a lot of noise," said Grand. "Our feet will."
"Once we're inside, it won't matter. They've never been prepared for an invasion.
That's why they won't last, remember?"
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'Are we an invasion?" asked Grand.
'Right now we're just curious."
An hour later, Adam and Grand walked out of the garage and crossed the
highway, their boots methodically crunching. Pine trees formed a thick roadside border
—stiff silhouettes stabbing a cloudless starry sky.
"Something's wrong," whispered Adam to himself.
Grand had expected twenty-four-hour lights—beyond that he'd been unable to
imagine what New America might look like.
The crowd. . . they controlled the crowd. . . everywhere else the voices break
things apart. . . but here . . . they silenced the crowd.
Grand searched but saw no lights.
"Are we close?" he whispered.
"Shh," said Adam, holding out his arm, stopping Grand.
Adam leaned towards Grand, his rough red beard scratching Grand's cheek.
"If you hear a gun shot, one gun shot, crouch down and crawl slowly into the
trees. If you hear two guns shots, or more, run back to the building we came from. I'll
meet you later."
Grand nodded automatically but wondered if he could find the garage in the
moonless night. He also wondered who would be shooting at them.
. . . not the crowd.
Grand pictured the one-room shack in a field outside Onall.
.. . Mom kept me away from the crowd. . . hidden from the voices.
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Adam and Grand continued to walk—steps unconsciously slowing. Blackness
now blocked all stars except those directly overhead.
. . . we're in the woods.
The pair reached a clearing and Grand saw the sharp black outline of a building
—an outline similar in size to the one Caroline and Grin were now huddled in. Grand
wondered if he and Adam had just traveled in some ridiculous circle. He searched side
to side but could get no bearings. His dizzy mind shook. He reached into his pockets
for any remnant of food, but his fingers found nothing.
First you get the food, then the gold, then the city . . . Dad never talked about
food because Mom took care of it. First you get the food.
A branch broke.
I'm not ready for this.
Adam and Grand heard crunching which wasn't theirs. They froze. Grand fell
forward, but his boots stayed stuck in snow. He lifted himself up, trying to ignore the
pain. His head hit Adam's outstretched arm. They stood motionless and listened, but the
foreign footsteps had stopped.
They've heard us.
Hoping to improve his night vision, Grand fluttered his eyelids. Illusory lights
filled his field of vision. Adam placed his hand on Grand's shoulder and pressed down.
They crouched. The foreign footsteps began again—multiplied.
Three people..
. maybe four.
Like a gymnast, Adam sprung from his crouched position, sending a whoosh
across Grand's face and ruffling Grand's long black hair.
Crunching mixed with a stifled sound of struggle.
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"Come here!" whispered Adam.
Grand complied, wishing Adam would crank his flashlight so Grand could see
where "here" was.
"It's okay," said Adam, forgetting to whisper. "C'mon."
Grand bumped into something furry. Adam whispered, "sheep." They stood,
adrenaline tense, while Adam contemplated their next move. The sheep passively
waited for direction. Adam let go of the sheep and grabbed Grand's left arm, pulling the
teen forward.
Stars gone, Grand knew he stood next to the building.
A barn, Grand told himself, nearly blurting the words when blasted with animal
odor.
"I'm going in," whispered Adam. "If I see anyone with a gun, anyone I don't
know, I'm shooting to kill."
Grand nodded. As Adam's footsteps rounded the barn, Grand experienced a
terrific urge to urinate. He wondered how long Adam would be gone. A sheep nudged
against his thigh then sniffed and licked his hand. The licking made Grand's urge to pee
unbearable. He unbuckled his belt, lowered his pants and began emptying his bladder.
A door creaked. Inside the barn, a voice preceded the metallic whir of Adam's flashlight.
The sheep continued licking Grand's hand. The other sheep nudged Grand's naked butt.
A door slammed shut. Crunching came Grand's way, but Grand couldn't stop the hot
flow of urine.
"What's that sound?" asked Adam from the corner of the building. "What's that
sound?"
"I'm peeing."
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Adam hesitated for a moment then said, "I'll check another building . . . but you
can go inside."
The invisible red-haired man crunched into the distance, and Grand relaxed then
tensed again.
A sheep nibbled his coat.
The barn flickered with fluorescent lights fed by batteries. The brightness
stunned Grand's eyes, leaving him blinking as he surveyed the nearly empty building.
The sheep, having followed Grand inside, gave up their attempts to eat his clothes and
laid down on the straw strewn floor. Turning his head from the strong manure smell,
Grand noticed an old man sitting against a wall close to the door.
... he's dead.
Grand stepped closer to the body and studied the old man's face—the loose skin,
the wrinkles, the spots of age.
The man wore only a long-sleeved shirt despite the barn's freezing temperature.
Why isn't his face black like the priest's?
Grand jumped up and stumbled back.
Having suddenly expanded, the old man's chest shrunk back. Seconds later, it
rose and fell again.
Adam returned.
"Wake up, old man," said Adam, looking around for something to sit on. "Did
they take everything?"
The old man blinked. His tongue tried to moisten his cold dry mouth.
"I'm awake," said the old man as if talking in his sleep. "I'm alive."
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"Did Alexander do this?" asked Adam.
"Who?" asked the old man.
"Alexander—the recruiter—and three others?"
"Oh, yes," said the old man, smiling. "They did this. They didn't give me their
names, you see. Three of them. Very Angry."
"Only three? Not four?"
The old man smiled revealing old gray teeth.
"You know," said the old man, "I used to be the treasurer of a place called New
America. I can count to three . . . much higher than three, in fact."
"Where did they move everything?" asked Adam.
The old man laughed.
"They got nothing," he said, his words followed by coughing. "Don't you see? It
was all gone by the time they got here. Fools. But no more foolish than the rest of us, I
suppose."
Adam's face tightened. His knuckles cracked.
Grand remembered the last time Adam lost his patience.
"You said Alexander and his crew did this, then you said it was done before they
got here
"They did this to me," said the old man, "tied me up. Left me to die. Don't
know why. I just told them what happened—didn't make it happen myself. I'm not the
one who took the gold. As you can plainly see."
"Who did?"
"The General."
"Cypher?"
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"None other."
"Where to?"
"Where did he go? Where did he go? Where did he go?" sang the old man.
"That's all they want to know. Where did he go?"
Grand thought the old man seemed drunk, although his hands were tied behind
his back and secured to the barn wall. Grand sniffed for homemade hooch, but smelled
only manure.
"Well?" asked Adam
"Well?" asked the old man. "Cypher said south, but I've come not to trust The
General's word. You see, he's gone back on it once or twice . . . a few times."
"So?"
"So, I would say that place to the northwest—the secret city."
"Cold Light?"
"Yeesss. Believe it piqued his interest. Why build something, when the thing
has already been built? Guess he figures he can buy his way in. Buy himself a position
in government. He's already a general, you know, told me so himself."
"Who else?"
"Who else?" asked the old man. "Who else went with General Cypher? Your
friends didn't care about that one, didn't ask 'who else.' Who else? Who else? Who
else? It was Vlad, had to be Vladimir. He was the only lawman I saw alive after I saw a
bunch of them dead."
"So Vladimir kills the lawmen, he and Cypher take the gold north or south or
wherever, then what?"
The old man looked confused.
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"Happily ever after?" he asked, gray teeth sawing at a cracked red lip.
Was he left behind to lie? Adam wondered, examining the tired old face.
"What happened here after they left?"
"First, nothing happened," said the old man, "nothing changed. People said,
'fine.' They said, 'good riddance.' They said, 'the wealth is in the land, it's in the
animals.' Then one said, 'There's no more protection, no more enforcement and . . .
therefore . . . no more guarantee, so I'll take this and this and be on my way.' They try to
stop him. They beat him, kill him. Another says, 'See, it's not safe, so I'll just leave.'
Some left just like that—the newest arrivals probably. Then the rest say, 'Let's sleep and
tomorrow we'll figure it out. Things will be better.' Morning comes, everything is gone
—all of the animals anyway. You see, they accepted the fact that, deep down, they were
all thinking of thieving. They just didn't want to have to look each other in the eye while
they did it. But they accepted it! Survivors. Couple of days later, your friends make
their appearance on our fine stage, and your friends were not acting very friendly, as you
probably know. They find me in the greenhouse—not taking anything, mind you, just
seeing what could be saved in the winter garden, me and some of the older people—
citizens we used to be called—too old to run away, especially in the deep snow. Your
friends say they walked through a blizzard to talk to The General. I said, 'Well, you can
walk through a bunch more to find him up north.' They weren't happy, your friends. It's
none of my business, b u t . . . they don't seem like the kind of people you would want to
be friends with. Anyway, they were hungry, of course, hungry for some real food and
for what they said belonged to them. Gold. Gold. Gold. They ask me where the gold is
really stored. I said, 'Fort Knox.' They said, 'What? Never heard of it.' They thought I
was making it up, and I was. Although, maybe I wasn't. What do I know? What does
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anyone know? I think they're going to kill me, so I tell them about Fort Knox. The
older people know about Fort Knox—the younger people just ask, 'What?' I told them to
look in Cypher's office. They found a map and showed it to me. A path to the Fort was
marked in ink—or was it blood? Cypher must have had ideas about the Fort. Of course,
if there's still a Fort Knox, and it does still hold gold, then it would be heavily defended.
And Cypher isn't much interested in heavy defenses. He likes 'em weak and old, people
such as myself. And of course he really likes scared people. Anyway, your friends took
the map and off they went. Funny thing, though . . . and I'll tell you this because I'm old
and you're young and . . . well, I'll just tell you."
The old man paused, shaking his head and smiling.
"What?" asked Adam.
"There is something valuable up by the F o r t . . . it's Fort Knox, Kentucky, you
see. Kentucky ... coal country. All these men want gold to build a city . . . but it's coal
they need, young man. Fifty years from now there won't be one solar panel left. And
from that day on it will be, 'No coal, no lights. No coal, no power. No coal, no city
worth a damn.' Coal is what you need. You want civilization? Then you want coal."
Adam smiled politely. His muscles relaxed.
"Why did they tie you up?" he asked.
"That's what I asked them. 'Now, why tie me up? What have I done?' They said,
'You knew Cypher didn't have the gold he owed us. You knew he was lying.' Yeesss. It's
true. But what am I going to do about it. I'm seventy-eight years old. They said, 'Well,
if we find what were after, we'll come back. And if you're still alive, we'll help you get
to seventy-nine.' That's your friends, sir. I hope you don't have enemies."
The old man made a pained face at the two sheep.
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"Now where did they come from?" he asked.
"Outside," said Adam, clearing his mind of the plan he had spent the past three
days forming.
"Must've escaped," said the old man. "Two sheep. There you go. That's your
New America for you. A couple of sheep and one old man. Appropriate? Yeesss. All
that's left."
The old man examined Grand as if just recognizing the teenager's presence.
Losing interest, the old man closed his eyes.
Adam nodded to himself, then stared down at the old man, "Okay, we're leaving
now. Should we untie you?"
The old man looked up, his eyes big and dark brown like a puppy's.
"I'll be your best friend," he said.
CHAPTER XL
BLACKENED
Rachael heard pounding.
Rain again?
Lifting her head to listen closely, Rachael realized the ceaseless thud couldn't be
raindrops.
. . . the front door. . . someone's knocking.
Rachael looked towards the kitchen but saw no light.
Still night.
The pounding lingered, softening. Rachael shot from her blankets, mind racing.
Charles....
Fastwalking to the front door, Rachael's arms were thrust out, palms flat, pressing
against the darkness, expecting a wall with every step. An image flashed—climbing a
dark staircase. Rachael swatted imaginary webs.
It might be Anthony...
It might be one of Dorothy's friends—someone from the
neighborhood.
Rachael's hands smacked the door and recoiled. She shook them then stopped,
twisting her head to hear a voice on the other side of the door, a low monotone, a person,
a conversation. Rachael turned and yanked the doorknob. Nothing budged. She groped
for a deadbolt.
"Charles?" she asked.
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No reply came, but the low-toned conversation continued. Rachael grabbed the
doorknob with both hands and jerked violently.
Jammed!
A kitchen light flickered. Rachael spun around and saw the bride staring, dark
semi-circles bulging beneath her eyes.
"Do you have a weapon?" asked the bride.
Rachael turned back to the door, hands rushing the now visible deadbolts.
Charles I'm coming!
Both deadbolts opened with a snap. A blast of cool air opened the door. A small
mumbling figure stood still, dressed completely in black. The bride approached the
door, armed with rotten lumber, one rusted nail protruding from the board. Rachael
slipped clear of the doorway—the black figure was not her son.
"It was my fault," said the black figure, volume rising. "It was my fault."
"What happened!" screamed the bride.
The doctor helped the deacon lie down on the bare kitchen floor, then clasped his
hands, wondering what he could do for third-degree burns. The word "nothing" stuck to
his throat.
The deacon's clothes had charred and fused to her skin. Her face had blackened
more than Father Ben's. The burning smell rose so strong, the doctor assumed parts of
the deacon still smoldered, although he couldn't see where and was reluctant to find out.
The bride knelt nearby, unable to move, choking and crying.
Rachael took Luz to the bride's bedroom.
The deacon continued to mumble like a woman in rough sleep.
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"It was my fault," she said, eyes shut tight. "It was my fault."
"God," said the doctor, covering his face to make the patient's pain disappear.
Two hours after arriving, the deacon regained consciousness, the smell of
burning flesh still fouling the air.
"Water," she said.
The bride's head remained buried on her knees.
The doctor rose, filled a glass with water from the kitchen cooler, bent down over
the deacon and tilted the glass until water trickled inside the deacon's mouth.
The deacon gasped then swallowed.
"More," she said.
The doctor continued administering small doses.
The bride peered from her perch, eyes rimmed in red.
"What happened?" she asked gently.
"It was my fault," said the deacon. "I should have known . . . but they came
when I was asleep . . . I didn't lock the doors . . . Father Ben always-"
"Who?" asked the bride. "Who came in?"
"Two men. Two strangers . . . but polite at first. I was asleep. They came in the
front door and called out. I couldn't understand. They were so loud but polite—like
policemen in an emergency. Do you remember police? I thought it was snowing again
—another crowd from a storm. I wondered how God would test me this time."
The deacon paused for a deep breath. She lifted her arms a few centimeters off
the ground—a plea for water. The doctor obliged with a trickle.
The deacon swallowed and gasped, words eager to exit her mouth.
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"They said they wanted their brothers. I told them everyone l e f t . . . two days
ago . . . wasn't it? Then they asked . . . men in orange vests . . . what happened? I said,
'Oh . . . two left, but we killed two of the rodents.' Then I knew . . . I knew who they
were. It was my fault, Dorothy. One of them took me . . . we went out back. The other
brought a mule and cart. I dug. They made me. They made me help. I was too slow.
They gave me the l i g h t . . . the cranking light. They yelled, 'Crank!' Then we found
William . . . and a woman with dirt for a face . . . then Father Ben . . . then the two
rodents. Oh, they were angry. One of them wanted to kill me . . . the other said, 'Wait.'
He said they needed my help. I told him he better kill me . . . I wouldn't help them
kidnap people . . . or beat people . . . or whatever they had planned. I wouldn't help
rodents! He said, 'no, no, nothing like that.' Suddenly he was nice—too nice—the nice
that is mean. 'You're the deacon?' he asked. 'Yes,' I said, 'I wasn't lying. I tell the truth.'
'Well,' he says, 'We need your help . . . with a church service.' They put the three
bodies . . . I'm sorry, Dorothy . . . they put William, Father Ben, the woman, all three on
the altar, but one of them said . . . that was no good. 'The altar is marble,' he said. 'The
base of the altar is marble. It won't burn.' So they drug them in the aisle, piled them up,
arms and legs . . . horrible. They had a box of old matches—the first time I've used
matches . . . in years . . . and I used them to burn my own church. They waited until the
fire had spread—the whole chapel in flames—then they left, locking the door behind the
altar. The only way out was the aisle—the aisle of fire and bodies. I waited too long. I
thought if I waited . . . the flames would die . . . at least a little. The whole altar and its
base . . . they're marble . . . I thought I could wait. But it wasn't the flames that made me
run, it was the smoke, the choking, the air. My breath is weak. I'm old and weak. Old
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and weak. Old and weak! I ran, Dorothy. I ran out of the church. I was on fire. I was
on fire . . . dancing on a street of ice."
The deacon paused for breath. She lifted her arms again and lashed her tongue
around her dry mouth. The doctor trickled more water into the scarlet mouth. The
deacon began to gag.
The bride lowered her head back into her knees.
"I wanted to come to you dear," said the deacon. "I didn't want to die like that.
We are never supposed to die alone. That's what the church is, my dear . . . that's why
we come together. God's children don't die alone."
The deacon closed her eyes. Her chest collapsed, then rose with force.
"You can never kill them all!" she yelled. "That's the problem with rodents!"
CHAPTER XLI
OPPORTUNITY
"Are we going after that general?" asked Grand, sitting next to Caroline and
behind Grin who remained curled in front of the fire.
The two sheep—wrangled to the garage by Adam—sprawled next to Grand.
"I might," said Adam.
"Just you?" asked Grand.
"There's no reason for you to go, or the girl, or Grin," said Adam. "You can take
Grin back to The Capital and be his second-in-command . . . his lab assistant. Or you
can head south, find someplace warm, drop Grin off along the way in a nice pile of
rubble. Or hell, just leave him here. I'm sure he'll be fine."
Grin's head jerked then settled.
"Won't you need help?" asked Grand, his voice rising above the crackling
smoldering wood.
"If I get the gold, maybe I'll find you back south," said Adam. "But you can't
move as fast as me, and right now I need to move fast. The General and his pal have
almost a week's head start."
"In which direction?" asked Grand.
Adam pulled out a strip of venison jerky, put one end in his mouth and moved the
strip around with his tongue like an ugly unlit cigar.
Grin's body unfurled. Now on his back, he stared at the darkness hiding the high
metal ceiling.
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"He went north," said Grin, "northwest... to The Nation of Cold Light."
"How do you know?" asked Adam
"I know the man," said Grin, "and the ego. He needs something big to ruin, and
by now he realizes he can't build something big himself—or get others to build it for
him. Plus, he talked about going there in the past. 'The Nation in the North.' My father
is old. He's got one chance left—maybe not even one—and he knows it."
"Chance for what?" asked Adam.
"The chance to be important. All humans want social recognition and
significance. For some, like my dad, there's nothing else."
"Like father, like son," said Adam.
"Sure," said Grin, closing his eyes. "I want significance, too. And so do you."
"No," said Adam, "not significance. I want to live the good life. I want luxuries.
It's just selfishness, not ego. What the hell would be the point of significance? No one's
going to remember us no matter what we do."
"You're kidding yourself," said Grin, eyelids flickering. "Recognition is the bare
necessity, but for men with minds, men like you and me, significance is the point."
"Really? Then how come there aren't one million people out there trying to build
their own cities? Trying to be recognized? How come there aren't ten million?" asked
Adam.
"Opportunity," said Grin.
"Opportunity? Hell, you can't get more opportunity. There aren't any rules right
now. There's never been a better time to steal and coerce and forge. It's all set up—
opportunity by the shovel-full—right now."
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"For most people, a dangerous opportunity is no opportunity at all. They'll put
survival first-"
"But you said-"
"I said all humans want social recognition and significance. But most want it in
a physically safe way, which means if they live in a fallen unsafe world, they'll get their
recognition on the inside—through the safety of imagination. But men with minds like
ours can't settle for that, can we? Everyone wants it. Everyone goes after it. Everyone
gets it—real or otherwise. But men with minds like ours have an extra need. We need
to taste it, too. And smell it. And hear it. We need to feel it."
"How can you feel significant?" asked Adam.
"You can't be that stupid," said Grin. "Can you feel your hand slap a person's
face, a person who won't slap you back because they fear you? Can you feel a woman
letting you do as you please because you are who you are and she is much less than you?
Can you feel the vibrations of applause from a new Nation in love with you, submitting
itself to your will?"
"Can you feel any of those things?" asked Adam.
"Close enough," said Grin. "One way or another we all get what we want."
"Until we don't."
"Sure . . . and by then it won't matter. Humans grow older and die. But right
now, my friend, you and I are going after the exact same thing."
Grin tried and failed to roll over and face Adam.
Adam shook his head and smiled.
"You might not be going after anything, anywhere, my friend. What path would
your father—The General—take to the northwest?"
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"The easiest path, the most obvious. He won't make it there this winter—he'll
need clear roads to move even a small cart filled with gold. Still, you'll have to get
lucky to find him. There are a million places to hide—maybe ten million."
"Maybe," said Adam, "but there aren't ten million places I can get one thousand
pounds of gold. Find the man, find the gold."
"It won't be enough," said Grin, suddenly squirming. "Could someone roll me
away from the fire. I can't feel it, but I think I smell my hair burning."
Caroline and Grand pulled Grin away from the fireplace.
"Thank you, young lady, young man," said Grin. "If my hair begins to smoke
again, feel free to douse it with water. No need to ask."
"What do you mean it won't be enough?" asked Adam.
"You want to build an army, right?" asked Grin. "Bring soldiers together using
gold as the lure?"
Grin waited for Adam to nod.
Adam nodded.
"So did my father," said Grin. "Think of all the people he had to kill to get that
one fireplace full of gold. He accomplished more with that one thousand pounds of
coins than you ever could—he's a very gifted liar, one of the all-time greats—but he
failed anyway. He realized it wasn't enough, and he was smart enough to get out—to
kill his way out—with one more chance for glory."
"How much do I need?" asked Adam.
"One thousand thousand pounds might be enough. You claim all the land like a
king. You pay men to be your soldiers. You pay them in gold first, until they trust you.
Then you grant them land in return for loyalty—armed loyalty. In order to keep the
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land, they pay you an annual tithe in crops or gold . . . or, as a last resort, military
conscripts. You keep your army busy grabbing more land and more gold, all of which
belongs to you if you can keep your soldiers loyal."
"How do you keep them loyal?" asked Adam.
"Be loyal and fair to those who are loyal to you."
"And to those who aren't?"
"Find an interesting way to kill them. The more public the better."
"One thousand thousand pounds?" asked Adam.
"Also called one million," said Grin. "You might need more. You should
certainly want more. A decent dictator always wants more."
Grand turned from the fire and cleared his throat.
"What about the Fort?" he asked, his voice breaking on the word "fort."
"The treasurer made that up," said Adam. "He said so himself."
"He said it might be true," said Grand. "He said it might."
"It is true," said Grin. "But you'll never get in. Fort Knox? It's like an
underground mountain of steel and concrete. They blasted the vault out of miles-deep
granite. Besides, it's the first place my father checked when the government disappeared
ten years ago."
"But it was there?" asked Adam. "The gold?"
"Twenty-five percent of the known reserves—the known world reserves. A few
years after climate change began, when people realized food doesn't grow in grocery
stores and real money doesn't grow in government printing presses, what did they do?
They started buying gold, coins if possible, bars if not. What did the government do?
They started buying it, too—buying it overseas and making it illegal for citizens to do
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the same. Eventually they made it illegal to own gold. Of course, people ignored that
decree along with many others. But that only encouraged the Chicken Littles in
Washington. Gold was going to be the emergency stop—gold would keep the
government on the cliff instead of off it. But guns trump gold. Politicians thought if
you held onto gold, you held onto your economy, and onto your country, and onto your
history. But the greatest commodity in history has never been gold. It's always been
violence. If gold gets people to perform violence on your behalf, fine. If not, it's just
shiny."
"How much is twenty-five percent of the known reserves?" asked Adam.
"You could skip the formalities of calling yourself King. Your new title would be
God."
"But steel?" asked Adam. " . . . concrete?"
"And the whole thing encased in granite," said Grin. "Precious metal encased in
rock—just as Nature fucking intended."
"And someone would be guarding it," said Adam, scratching his rough hairy
cheeks.
"Someone?," said Grand. "An Army? A Nation? Robot artillery? Who fucking
knows?"
"Gold that can't be got," said Adam. "It's impossible, then."
Grin smiled.
"Did I say that?"
CHAPTER XLII
ADVENTURE
Oceanic morning light flooded the bride's bedroom, waking Rachael, making her
believe she was floating at sea. Casting herself from bed, leaving behind a wellwrapped, deeply sleeping Luz, Rachael wobbled to the window. Rubbing away the
moist fog revealed a landscape of gray concrete, brown grass, and patchy white ice.
Then a movie reel played in her mind: a hurried trip to a deteriorating city to save
her husband, a hospital bomb, a middle-of-the-night kidnapping, a forced march, a
violent b r e a k a w a y . . . .
Charles.
Rachael left the cold bedroom, passed through the colder hallway and headed
towards the fluorescent-lit kitchen.
Someone forgot to turn off the light, Rachael told herself, shaking her head at the
waste of battery power.
She searched for a switch then froze at the sight of a thin white sheet and its rigid
black bulge. Rachael didn't need to touch the protruding blackened feet to know the old
deacon was dead. On the living room floor, the doctor and the bride lay huddled
together, asleep in front of a fire reduced to ash.
An hour later when everyone was awake and full of raw foods, the doctor and
Rachael carried the deacon's body to the church cemetery and buried the charred corpse
in the recently dug and dug-up grave site. They considered sifting through the charred
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rubble of the church for the bodies of William, Jane, and the priest, but the church had
collapsed and continued to smolder.
"A team of people would need a week," said the doctor, staring at huge pieces of
charred wood.
"I'll help you get her out," said Rachael.
The doctor shook his head.
"They buried her better than I ever could have," he said.
Silent, the pair turned back towards the bride's house, hands stained black with
dirt, clothes soaking up remnants of a cool morning mist.
Back in the bride's kitchen, the group of four sat at the table drinking greenhouse
tea.
"Well," said the doctor to Rachael, " . . . you should be there soon . . . tomorrow
night—if we can believe our friend Anthony."
"New America?" asked Rachael, interrupting her visions of Onall.
The doctor nodded and looked at Luz. The little girl smiled, then bowed her
head and stared at the fidgety hands in her lap. Luz didn't know exactly what had
happened during the night, but she could now read faces almost as well as mouths.
"We're going to Onall," said Rachael, tapping Luz on the shoulder and repeating
the declaration, mouthing the words slowly so her lips could be read.
"And your son?" asked the doctor.
"Like you said, he's old enough to find his own way. He's always had plans to
leave—or at least dreams. Maybe his father could have convinced him to stay. Maybe
not. I wish I could help him . . . . "
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"You think he'll be okay then?" asked the doctor.
"No," said Rachael. " . . . He would be okay in Onall."
Rachael stared at the glass doors, then at Luz.
"But I can't risk the unknown when I know the known will work just fine," she
said. "I've got this little girl to think of. Maybe I can do better with a daughter than I
did with a son."
Rachael paused again, searching her mind.
"There's something I read once . . . 'The Child is the Father of the Man.' Not 'the
Mother of the Woman.' No, 'The Child is the Father of the Man.' It's Men who form a
closed circle. No women allowed. Charles was never a mama's boy, that's for sure. I
hope that doesn't kill him."
"What if I was to go with you?" asked the doctor.
"To Onall?" asked Rachael, her voice rising with surprise. "Well-"
"To find our children," said the doctor.
"In New America?"
"We wouldn't stay . . . the rumor is that's optional," said the doctor, adding a
sarcastic frown.
"Why the change of mind?" asked Rachael.
"I haven't changed my mind. I'm still going north. I just want to see New
America. I want to see how things work there—for comparison with the city in the
north. We need to see, don't we? Both of us? Just so we don't spend the rest of our lives
wondering, driving ourselves loony thinking about it. We're quite close. The little girl
could stay here with Dorothy," said the doctor turning to the bride. "If that's okay with
you."
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"I'm going, too," said the bride.
The doctor looked concerned.
"I wouldn't leave this home if I were you. You have everything you need. Yes,
the church is gone, but you know other people, you'll meet other people. Maybe a new
church can be built, or an old one that isn't being used-"
"I need to go," said the bride, smiling.
"If this is for revenge," said the doctor, eyebrows raised.
"It's not. I don't believe in revenge," said the bride.
"I'm sorry," said the doctor, "but that's difficult to believe."
"Is it?" asked the bride.
The doctor shrugged at the sharpness.
"Revenge-"
"Revenge is what, in one way or another, has torn things apart," said the bride.
"I understand that as well as anyone. Revenge among men. And that's certainly a 'closed
circle."'
Unable to protest, the doctor shrugged once more.
"Well, we might be gone less than a week . . . hopefully. Maybe it would be
good just to get away from . . . what's happened. Can you get someone to watch your
house?" he asked.
"Father Ben and the deacon performed that service before, but as you said, I
know other people, not friends, but people living in the neighborhood. People who are
here to stay. I'll find someone. I want to leave today, though. I don't want to spend the
night in this house . . . not tonight."
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"We don't have much to pack," said the doctor, smiling at the little girl, who
smiled back.
CHAPTER XLIII
TRUMAN
Adam, Grand, and Caroline spent the daylight hours scrounging New America
for food and tools. They found little of use except a frozen chicken—frozen alive in the
storm—and the steel head of a pick ax. Adam searched President Cypher's office for
maps or other clues, but the room had been pillaged numerous times. Adam also looked
for the treasurer, hoping to wheedle more information out of him concerning Fort Knox,
but the old man was gone.
When they returned to the outskirts of New America, two men stood waiting to
greet them. The men—blond, thin and close in age to Adam—sat in the front seat of a
cart which was harnessed to a mule. One of the men had a face heavily creviced by acne
and short hair recently sheared. The other's face was so smooth and finely featured
Grand at first thought he was a girl, an interpretation aided by the man's long hair woven
into a single braid.
Adam nodded at the waiting men, who nodded back. No one smiled. The men
climbed off the cart and followed Adam, Grand, and Caroline inside the large empty
garage. Caroline walked towards the small pile of dying embers and crouched next to
Grin. Grand stayed close to Adam, who stayed close to the exit.
"I see you got your cart," said Adam.
"You could have gotten one, too," said the smooth-faced man. "but you didn't
want to come along."
"I didn't want to get my face shot off by Alexander," said Adam.
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"They never even saw us," said the creviced-face man. "Truman just stepped
right onto the cart and bludgeoned him."
"Alexander?" asked Adam, his arms folded across his chest.
"Arthur," said the smooth-faced man.
"Dead?" asked Adam.
The blond men nodded.
"That's no loss," said Adam.
The men said nothing.
"This is Charles," said Adam, pointing at Grand, " . . . and Caroline, and that's
Grin lying on the floor."
No one moved.
"Truman," said the smooth-faced man, staring at Caroline.
"Crane," said the creviced-face man, staring at Grand.
"We dug our brothers out of the ground last night," said Truman.
"Where were they?" asked Adam.
"I think you know," said Truman.
"They weren't buried when I left," said Adam.
"But they were dead," said Truman.
"I was bound," said Adam, "wrists, ankles . . . tied to an altar. I couldn't have
helped them if I wanted to."
"But I'm sure you wanted to," said Truman, glancing again at Caroline, who felt
forced to glance back.
"Nah, I wouldn't of helped them," said Adam swallowing hard and stroking his
bearded face. "Your idiot brothers fell asleep."
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"But you tried to wake them up, right?" asked Truman.
Adam shook his head.
"I'm not their daddy. And I'm not their brother."
"Nice," said Truman, pink cheeks getting pinker.
"What did you do with the bodies?" asked Adam.
"Our brothers are buried with our parents," said Truman, noticing the two sheep
dozing next to Grin. "Where the hell did they come from?"
"That's what left."
"Of what?"
"New America. We went back today - last night and today. Picked clean
"I don't believe it," said Truman, looking like he didn't believe it.
"It wasn't Alexander," said Adam. "Cypher ran away the night after we left—
carted away . . . with the gold. Killed every lawman except Vlad. W e l l . . . I'm sure
Vlad did the killing."
"How did you know?" asked Truman.
"The treasurer."
"Where's he?"
"Gone."
"Gone where?"
Adam shrugged.
Truman shifted his weight from one leg to the other and unsheathed his baton.
"Where's Cypher?" he asked.
"He said he was going south, but the treasurer guessed north—to The Nation.
Grin guessed north, too."
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Adam motioned towards Grin who lay listening with one eye closed and half his
mouth open.
"How the hell would he know?" asked Truman.
"Grin is Cypher's son."
Truman gazed at Grin—the ripped black trench coat covering a crumpled human
frame.
"He looks familiar," said Truman, palms squeezing baton.
"Probably because that baton you're holding is the reason he can't move," said
Adam.
"The drunk from the highway-"
"I know you," said Crane, pointing at Grand who shrunk further behind Adam—
Grand had been unsuccessfully dodging Crane's stare since entering the garage.
Everyone else looked at Grand.
"You know him?" asked Truman.
Crane waved at Grand.
"Sorry I beat you up, kid. Just doing my job. I'll make it up to you."
Grand nodded and looked at the floor, feeling Crane's eyes examine his body.
"So what's the plan, Adam?" asked Truman, putting his baton back in its leather
holster.
"The plan?" asked Adam, shrugging with his shoulders and lips. "Go after
Cypher, I guess."
"How?"
"Well, I figure Cypher is stupid enough to use highways when they're clear and
stupid enough to think Vlad by himself is enough protection."
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"They'll have guns," said Truman, "and lots of ammo."
"Here's what you do-"
"You?" asked Truman. "Meaning just me?"
"Us. Here's what we do," said Adam. "We leave tomorrow morning, straight
west, major highways. I figure they've had a maximum of three good travel days and
gone a maximum of two-hundred-fifty miles. We push hard, catch up in four days,
maybe five. Even if we don't, we keep going, keep pushing hard. If we don't come up
behind them by day ten, we stop for five days, see if they pass. If they don't pass, we
switch to another western route farther to the south, and repeat. When we find them, we
just follow and watch where they stay. Vlad will probably stand watch at night, while
Cypher sleeps. We wait until they leave in the morning, wait to see Vlad asleep on the
cart, then hit them. Simple. Kill the man. Take the gold."
Truman nodded.
"Adam 'the leader'... that's quite a surprise. No offense, but you always seemed
frightened
Adam shrugged.
"Well," said Truman, "We're going to our parents' house. We'll leave the mule
here. Let her sleep inside. Find some food for the mule, Adam. And feed it."
Adam nodded assent, but added, "Just so you know, someone's been burning
houses."
" . . . been playing with fire, Adam?"
"I smelled it coming in."
Truman looked at Caroline crouching in the distance.
"Little girl, you want to come home with me?"
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Caroline shook her head and looked at Grand.
"Is that your boyfriend or your brother?" asked Truman.
"My husband," said Caroline.
"Oh. I apologize. People get married so young . . . why don't you two come stay
at our parents' house? You can have your own room. Better food than whatever dried
shit Adam has been feeding you."
"No thank you," said Caroline.
"Are you sure?" asked Truman. "I bet you two have never even fucked on a
mattress—a real mattress, practically new, nothing crawling around inside it."
"No thank you," said Caroline.
"No thank you?" asked Truman. "Are they scared of me, Adam?"
"You know they are," said Adam.
"I'm really a nice guy," said Truman, staring at Caroline. "I like polite girls, and
Crane here likes your boyfriend—your husband, excuse me. We'll get along eventually."
Truman flicked his head towards the door, his big braid flopping against his neck.
Crane caught the signal and the two brothers headed to the exit.
Standing at the threshold, Truman turned around and smiled.
"Adam," he said, " . . . you know what will happen if I come here tomorrow and
you're gone, right?"
"You'll find me," said Adam.
Truman nodded.
"And?" he asked.
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"Kill me," said Adam
Truman nodded and walked away.
"I thought you said we weren't going after Cypher," said Grand, breaking the
silence inside the quickly freezing garage.
"We're not," said Adam. "I'll need more gold eventually . . . might as well get it
from the start. We're going to Fort Knox, and that crippled man is going to open those
steel doors."
Adam stroked his bearded chin with the back of his thumb.
"We've got two choices: leave right now with what we have, including the mule,
or go kill those two jerks, take what they have, and get a good night's sleep."
Caroline took a step forward, but Adam stuck his hand out—palm facing the
teenage girl.
"I know what you want to do," he said.
Adam looked at Grand.
"What's safer?" asked Grand.
"What's saferV asked Caroline.
Adam stuck out his hand to Caroline again.
"Short term—leave now. Long term—kill Truman and Crane."
"How would we kill them?" asked Grand, wondering if Caroline or Adam could
see him shaking.
"Go into their house—excuse me, their parents' house. We'll break in once
they're asleep. Beat them to death."
"With what?" asked Grand, bile secreting inside his stomach.
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"We'll find something," said Adam, re-scanning the garage. "I'd do it myself, but
with these two . . . I'll at least need a decoy. I'll need you to distract one of them . . .
make noise in a different part of the house. All you have to do is make some noise and
run."
"I say leave," said Grand.
"Leave?" asked Adam.
"Leave," said Caroline.
Adam studied the girl, noticing Caroline wasn't shaking - unlike Grand.
"Okay," he said.
CHAPTER XLIV
MORNING
Rachael woke up with a grimace and began massaging her neck. She couldn't
recall ever sleeping on asphalt—in this case, on top of a folded blanket inside a tent
pitched on asphalt—but she knew this might be the first of many such experiences to
come. She kissed Luz on the forehead, and the little girl stirred, softly stretching out her
short thin legs before relaxing back into sleep. The doctor and the bride held each other
under a pile of shared blankets, and Rachael felt surprise at not seeing exposed skin.
What was all that moaning? The wind?
The group had walked well into the night, the doctor pushing the red rusted
wheelbarrow which the church fire arsonists had neglected to destroy. The wheelbarrow
held food, water, clothing and blankets, all secured with rope. Rachael and the bride
wore backpacks, although once darkness set in Rachael gave hers to the doctor and had
Luz climb on her back. Rachael's ankle was stiff and still sore but a newly acquired
walking stick helped alleviate the ache. The doctor had suggested—then insisted—on
walking into the night, wanting to outpace future snowstorms. He also believed walking
and sleeping on the road might actually be safer than shelter in an unknown building—
no one could trap them as long as they could run.
The doctor and the bride stirred beneath their blankets, opening their eyes
simultaneously and staring at their tented shelter which smelled straight-from-the-box
new. When packing for the trip, the bride had bragged about the tent's ability to keep out
even the strongest rain. However, it now seemed obvious the tent couldn't block
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burgeoning daylight, and both the bride and the doctor rose fully clothed, their eyes
blinking in new sun. Luz opened her eyes and turned towards Rachael, spreading
herself across Rachael's stomach before closing her eyes again. Rachael smiled,
remembering similar moments with her son.
After crawling outside, all four wanderers took care of their bodily needs. They
ate and drank a small breakfast, then continued east on the highway, a strong cool wind
at their backs.
CHAPTER XLV
TRUST
"Adam isn't on this road," said Truman, standing in the middle of the highway,
fifty feet from the empty auto-repair garage which had formerly held Adam as well as
three other people, two sheep, a cart and a mule. " . . . that's the only certainty."
"Why would he leave?" asked Crane. "Even if he got the gold, he'll still want
men. Wasn't that what he always talked about—a group of men scaring people into
building a nation?"
Truman stared west, his eyes made moist by the stinging wind, his long
unbraided hair flying like a flag from his perfectly oval head.
"He didn't trust us," said Truman.
"He didn't trust you," said Crane.
"Not just that. He could have used our help to take down Vlad. He would have
needed us. And we could have supplied him with food," said Truman.
"Was it all a lie?" asked Crane, peering west with his brother, stroking his
beardless yellow, red and white-spotted face—a face formed through years of harsh,
untreated acne.
"Adam isn't smart enough to come up with a story like that, a plan like that, if it
wasn't mostly true. No, it was true, all of it except the word 'we.' Remember, he said,
'you.' 'You leave first thing in the morning.' That was true. Cypher is probably still on
this road. He'll probably be on it for a week if the weather holds, then turn north. But
Adam wanted us to go alone."
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"Why wouldn't he go after Cypher and the gold?" asked Crane.
Truman closed his eyes.
"Adam found something better."
"So let's go after Cypher," said Crane.
Truman shook his head and turned to look at the east, long blond hair whipping
around his attractive feminine face.
"What's better than going after Cypher?" Truman asked himself.
"Who cares?" said Crane. "We know where Cypher is—where he probably is.
We know what he's probably got. We know we can take anything he has."
"Wouldn't you like to get your hands on that boy you were staring at?" asked
Truman.
"I'd like to do more than put my hands on him," said Crane, staring at his brother.
"But Cypher is a known thing. We could practically walk up and take it. Go down to
Brazil like we talked about."
"Brazil?" asked Truman, turning his smile into a frown and shaking his head like
something had crawled onto it. "I don't like being lied to. We need to find us one old
treasurer."
"How?"
"He's old. He can't be far."
CHAPTER XLVI
LEADER
Reaching a northbound two-lane highway, Adam stopped the group. It was late
in the morning and the group had been traveling east for twelve hours. Adam knew
Truman and Crane would have found the empty garage several hours earlier, making the
new road north a tempting divergence. Also, Grin said the group would have to head
north eventually to hit Fort Knox.
Just go now, Adam told himself, watching Caroline feed the mule corn then
water.
The flurries made Adam hesitate—small white flakes whipping around his face
like albino flies. The strong westerly wind was now a stronger northwesterly blast. The
group, having left the garage with coats open and hats off, now wore coats fastened,
collars up, and hats pulled down tight. It was October, still traveling weather in the area
around New America and The Capital, but Adam had never been more than ten miles
north of his present latitude.
We'll head east. . . east as long as possible. Truman and Crane are a known
entity. If they find us, it's a known fight. The weather can't be fought, can't be beat.
We'll head east and fight what can be fought. . . if the blond boys catch us.
Adam stared at Grand, watching the teen struggle to sleep in the back of the cart.
We should have stayed and killed them . . . You're the leader, Adam. Stop asking
for opinions. You decide.
Adam shook Grand awake, and a few minutes later the group set off again—
Grand and Caroline walking the mule east, while Adam and Grin lay down in the cart.
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"Why are we doing this?" asked Caroline, grabbing and squeezing Grand's hand.
"We're building a city," said Grand, "or something like it."
"Why, though?" asked Caroline.
Grand's eyes unfocused. His mind wandered, mixing images of Adam's plan and
Grin's elaborations—a king, an army, people to grow food and collect water, the fear of
death, desire and opportunity, significance and recognition, the need for gold as money,
the need for gold as a symbol of wealth and power, the need for violence above all else,
the creation of a giant pulsing nation sending the blood of conquest in every direction
without cease.
But Grand felt more like a future servant than a future leader.
. . . not forever. . . not for long.
Grand looked at Caroline who looked back, waiting for an answer.
"Did you want to go north to that place—The Nation of Cold Light?" Grand
asked.
"My dad did," said Caroline.
"But did youT
Caroline shrugged.
"No," she said.
"Because you wanted to build a place of your own, right?" asked Grand.
"Because I don't like the cold," said Caroline.
"That's it?"
"Or the snow . . . I guess I wanted to go south," she said, strengthening her grip
on Grand's hand, staring at the wall of pine trees that lined the shiny early-morning road.
"I didn't know what I wanted. I didn't like the city—The Capital. It seemed dangerous,
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I mean . . . the kind of dangerous that never ended . . . have you ever seen a movie? We
used to have a computer that worked, and I could watch movies. The Capital was like
being stuck in a movie, stuck in the bad part of a movie, the scary part, and you couldn't
get to the safe part at the end. It's like a movie where people just keep dying."
"I've never seen a movie," said Grand, staring ahead, wiggling his hand loose.
"After I got lost that one time, my dad wouldn't let me leave the house," said
Caroline. "I mean . . . I didn't really want to go outside. I didn't want to see all those
sick people again. But still, I got angry when my dad said I couldn't. He told me I was
stuck. 'No more adventures,' he said. 'I can't save you and everybody else at the same
time.' But I wasn't asking him to save me. I just didn't want to be trapped like those
drunk people in the buildings—trapped in my mom and dad's home. My dad told me
about places outside The Capital. He made them all sound bad—except for 'The Nation
in the North."'
Caroline checked to see that Grand was still listening.
"We lived in an old brick building with some other families," she said, " . . . the
same building my dad grew up in. It seemed like we were protected at least. We grew
food on the roof and got water that way—collecting rain. We could survive, and I guess
I didn't like the idea of moving, but I didn't like the idea of not moving, either. I didn't
like my dad for making all the decisions, but I knew that he should make all the
decisions. He's the one who talked to outside people. He would tell us what he heard.
So, when he finally said we were leaving, I thought it must be the smart thing. My mom
and I, we just accepted it. We just accepted everything. What else could we do? Then
those men came, the ones wearing orange vests. We were just about to leave
Grand nodded.
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"We were just about to begin," he said. " . . . my dad and I, we had this plan.
First we got the gold-"
"He was building a city," said Caroline. " . . . You talk in your sleep. He was
building a city, then there was a crowd, and voices, and-"
"My mom, she just went along with whatever Dad said, at least when he was
around," said Grand. "When he wasn't, she said his plan was crazy. She said he was
crazy. She liked the idea of having some order, some laws, people working together—
but more like a volunteer community. She didn't believe my dad could pull off his plan.
She said he would get himself killed first."
"It sounds like he did."
"My mom killed him . . . well, she finished the job. He was healing in Onall. He
was getting better. There was a woman outside Onall. She lived in the fields near us. I
think she used to be a nurse. She stitched my dad up. She said he had a good chance—
well, she said he had a chance. But my mom wanted to take him to the city, to The
Capital, her hometown. My mom said that was his only chance . . . that's how she killed
him."
Caroline hugged herself.
"So you're happy doing this?" asked Grand, gesturing to the mule and the
highway.
"I guess. I mean . . . yes. Because of you."
"But you don't even know me. I could be crazy," said Grand.
"I think you are crazy," said Caroline. "But I want to be with you. Anyway, I
think my dad's crazy, too. I think he's worse. He's like those people trapped in the dark
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buildings. He's trapped in his mind. He wasn't always. When I was a girl—a little girl
—he seemed like the perfect papa."
Caroline looked at Grand with accusatory eyes.
"You never answered my question," she said.
"Why are we doing this?" asked Grand, staring down the silvery road. "You
have to understand what gold means. My father explained it to me over and over. One
hundred years ago, gold was just money, just one form of wealth. People had nice
houses, cars that worked, all kinds of electrical stuff. The roads were in a lot better
condition. Water came to your house in pipes—not water from the roof but water from
far away. Electricity came in all those fallen wires—except they weren't fallen. Some
people had solar panels, but no one had to have them. All those empty stores were filled
with clothes and food and tools. Gold was just one part of a very complex thing. People
didn't even use gold directly. They used paper money or plastic cards that had money in
them. 'Gold was just one tool in the shed'—that's how my father said it. But now, all of
those other things are gone. We can survive without them—grow food on rooftops,
collect water from rooftops, use solar panels and batteries if you have them and they
work. But if things are ever going to come back like they were, it will start with gold:
First you get the gold, then you build the city. That's how it worked way back in history.
The first big cities all had one person at the center who held a lot of gold. First you get
the gold, then you build the city. It's simple, but it's not. It's simple at first."
"It doesn't seem simple . . . what we're doing."
"It is. We just have to get the gold, then history will return. You can't forget
history . . . as long as you have the gold to maintain it. Gold is history . . . and it's the
future."
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"Your father had gold, right?"
"But he was alone," said Grand, " . . . he was trying to start things on his own. If
I had been older, I could have helped more. You have to understand the crowd. They'll
kill you if you don't. They'll help you if you do . . . if you control them right."
"But we don't have a crowd," said Caroline. "We're only four people. We don't
have any guns. We don't have much food. It's not like we're an army."
"Adam knows what to do. Grin knows. And I know. I know even better than
them, because of my dad. I know what not to do . . . if you get up to give a speech, you
have to . . . . "
Caroline glanced back to see if Adam and Grin were sleeping. She couldn't tell.
"I don't think they know anything," said Caroline. "I don't think my dad knows
anything."
"I do," said Grand.
Caroline unconsciously shook her head then stared into the pine forest on the side
of the road. She fought the moisture building in her eyes.
"You believe in cities that much?" she asked.
"My father did."
"But do you?" asked Caroline, mimicking Grand, staring at him with glistening
eyes.
Grand paused, then nodded.
"First you get the gold—tons of it, rooms full of it—then you face the crowd.
You speak. You hear the voices. You find the voices
"What?"
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"You find the hiders—the hidden people who yell. Then you find a man—a man
who isn't yelling. And you say to that man, 'Here's ten gold coins. Kill the people
yelling, and I'll give you ten more for each body.' That's how you deal with a crowd.
That's it!"
"Why? How can you build a city with violence? Do you want to blow up
buildings, too?"
"Violence creates fear and order," said Grand, his eyes finally awake. "More
than anything else, people don't want to die. The crowd doesn't want to die. You
threaten to take away someone's life, then you promise to help them live a long time if
they follow your rules, if they fit into the new order. You only give them two choices:
immediate death or a long happy life. Really, it's not a choice. You get gold. You buy
an army. You build a nation. You give people those two choices. It's a business. The
world used to be filled with business. The world was run by business . . . these closed
stores. That's all we're going to do—start a business, sell people something they have to
buy: their own lives."
"Do you think we'll find it?" asked Caroline. " . . . all that gold?"
"We'll find the people who have it," said Grand. "The question is: Can we take it
from them?"
CHAPTER XLVII
TROY
Twenty miles west of New America, Rachael, Luz, the doctor, and the bride came
upon an old man sitting on the shoulder of the asphalt highway, his back against the rail,
his slumped figure suggesting deep sleep or death. The group stopped a few feet away
and stared. Rachael, the bride, and Luz all looked at the doctor, ceding authority in what
appeared to be a medical matter. The doctor crouched, attempting to examine the old
man whose gray stubbled chin was planted deep into an unmoving chest.
"Are you okay?" asked the doctor.
The man's chest rose and fell. He lifted his head then dropped it back down.
"Are you okay?" the doctor asked again.
The old man lifted his head and kept it raised, although his eyelids remained at
half mast.
"No," he said, yawning. "Are you okay?"
The doctor didn't smile.
"We're okay . . . Do you need any help?"
"Sure," said the old man. "I need a house to live in and food for the winter. Got
any of that?"
"Where's your old house?" asked the doctor.
"That way," said the old man, making no effort to show which way he meant.
"Which way?"
"The way you're headed . . . east, they used to call it."
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The doctor realized he might be wasting his time talking to a lunatic.
He's headed to The Capital to join the others . . . don't worry, old man, you'll find
shelter in a building full of lunatics.
"What happened to your house?" asked the doctor with a sigh.
The man gave no reply.
"What happened to your old house?" asked the doctor again.
"Nothing," said the old man. "It's just too big. It's not a house, just a long room.
Built for numbers, you see. Now that number is zero. And somebody tore up the
greenhouses. It wasn't enough to just pick everything pickable, no, no, no, they had to
destroy everything. I bet some kids did the worst of it. Kids!"
The doctor nodded.
"Have you heard of a place called New America?" he asked.
"That's the place," said the old man.
"What place?"
"My place. Was. I hope you're not going there."
"Some friends of ours went there," said the doctor.
"Well, they're not there now."
The doctor looked back at Rachael, wondering if they had just walked seventyfive miles for exercise.
"Maybe you saw them," said the doctor. "A boy and a girl, both thirteen, a
crippled man, a large man, in good shape, red hair."
"Red hair?" asked the old man. "Kind of a jerk?"
"That's him," said the bride, unconsciously stepping forward.
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"Actually, no. He wasn't a jerk. I thought he was—got so many nowadays—but
the red-haired man is the one who freed me."
"Was anyone with him?" asked the doctor.
"A young man, a boy, I guess, and two sheep."
Rachael and the bride looked at each other. Luz mouthed the words "two sheep."
"Where did they go?" asked the doctor.
The old man shrugged, moving his shoulders one centimeter.
"You have no idea?" asked the doctor.
"Oh, I know," said the old man, then shook his head. "Actually, no I don't."
"When is the last time you had something to eat?" asked the doctor.
"I ate some snow last night, but it was all gone this morning. All melted," said
the old man. "First they take away the food. Then they take away the water. Then you
die."
The doctor furnished the old man with food and water, and the group waited
while the lone traveler fed and watered himself. When he was finished, the old man
detailed the fall of New America, his conversation with Adam, and how Adam might
have gone after Cypher and his gold, but if he did, that they would have most likely seen
him headed west on this same highway.
"Where do you think he's gone?" asked the doctor.
"United States Bullion Depository, Fort Knox, State of Kentucky, Coal Country.
They won't be the only ones, though. What's gonna be funny is all these people who
screw this place up—New America, I mean—they're gonna realize it was the best
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chance they had, or ever will have. And you know what?" asked the old man, pausing,
waiting for someone to ask "what?"
"What?" asked the doctor.
"That's why it's good to be old, sir. This geezer is going to die, and that's just
fine."
"How far away is Fort Knox from here?" asked Rachael.
The old man thought for a moment, then said, "Maybe two weeks if the roads are
clear. Just keep east on this road until you hit sixty-five in Alabama, then it's a long haul
north to Kentucky. Watch out for the traffic . . . which reminds me, you could be there
tomorrow if you had a car. And gasoline."
The doctor and the bride walked across the road to the opposite railing. Rachael
sat down with Luz in the middle of the highway and played the game Guess What I'm
Thinking Of—a game Rachael's son invented at an early age.
The doctor and the bride faced and squinted into a strong northwesterly wind
scented with frost.
"What are you going to do?" asked the bride. "Do you believe him?"
"Yes . . . w e l l . . . why not? It seems a little too complicated to be made up—and
a little too reasonable. Things fall apart. New America failed. We could check anyway,
since we're so close. We might as well stay there tonight, if possible, stay and think
about what to do next. Then again . . . maybe this guy is just crazy."
"Should we help him?" asked the bride.
The doctor shrugged.
"Help him how?"
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"I could take him to my house," said the bride. "There's nothing to see at New
America, and I hadn't planned on being gone more than a week."
"You're ready to go back?" asked the doctor, frowning.
"No," said the bride. "But if this old man needs help . . . . "
"I'd like to see you when we get back," he said.
"When will that be?" asked the bride.
"I don't know," said the doctor.
"We'll see each other," said the bride.
"I mean," said the doctor, "on a permanent basis."
The bride nodded, then looked away for a moment.
"You can stay with me as long as you want," said the bride. "I don't think I
would ever go to that place in the north . . . but you can try to talk me into it."
The doctor nodded and smiled.
"Do you think I'm crazy?" he asked.
"I don't want to be alone," said the bride.
The doctor grabbed the bride's hand, releasing it when Rachael noticed.
"I'll return as soon as . . . We'd better go now, though. You should take the tent.
It sounds like there are plenty of empty buildings at New America for us to sleep in."
The bride walked over to the old man.
"What's your name?" asked the bride.
"Well, it used to be Troy, but now everyone calls me 'the treasurer,"' said the old
man. "That is, everyone used to call me 'the treasurer.' I guess I've lost even that. We
lose our names, then we lose our lives . . . . "
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"I'm going to take you to my house," said the bride.
"You're not taking me anywhere," said the old man.
"Do you have a place to stay?" asked the bride. "I thought you said you were
looking for a house."
"Yeah, I said that," said the old man.
"Well, I've got a nice place for you to stay," said the bride. " . . . and food . . .
and water."
"Problem is, it interferes with my goal," said the old man. "I'm not too old to
have one of those, you know."
"What's your goal?" asked the bride.
"To die," said the old man, "not just to die, but to die unbeholden. That's what I
didn't like about New America, you see. They paid those recruiters and the lawmen—it
was all just on paper, but still, they were paid—yet for the rest of us, everything was a
gift with strings attached. We were indebted. For life. That was President Cypher's
plan. The low people, the workers, they all owed and they would always owe—eternal
allegiance to King Debt. Sure, you could leave—you wanted to leave—but then you
would feel guilty . . . because you still owed. You see, it gets inside your head. Then the
boss doesn't have to say anything. You know you belong to him—a piece of gold, a tool
in the shed, as they say. In debt. Some said it was fear that made people stick. Nah, it
was guilt—the slave's guilt, the ignorant slave's guilt. B u t . . . when the master just up
and goes, the way I see it, all debts are cleared. True emancipation. And that's how it's
going to stay with me."
"How will you get food?" asked the bride.
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"Food's around," said the old man. "If not, then I'll go quietly just like my
mother said I came in."
The bride struggled for words to explain the obvious. She shrugged.
"Okay," said the bride.
"Okay," said the old man, his dry red eyelids fluttering against the wind.
The bride walked over to the doctor, Rachael, and Luz.
"He doesn't want help," she said.
Rachael and Luz stood up. Rachael slung one of the packs onto her back. Luz
put her fingers in one of Rachael's pockets and yawned.
"What are you going to do?" asked the doctor.
"I guess I'll go see what's left of New America," said the bride, smiling,
restraining her urge to touch the doctor's hand.
"Should we give him a blanket?" asked the doctor
The bride walked over to the old man and asked, "Would you like a blanket?"
A cold gust of air seemed to enter the old man's calculations.
"No," he said, closing his eyes. "The truth is . . . nobody owes anybody
anything. Nobody ever did. If we had all acted that way from the beginning . . . . "
The bride returned to the group and slung a pack onto her back while the doctor
rearranged the wheelbarrow and tightened the ropes. With long glances at the traveler
collapsed against the railing, the group renewed their walk east.
"He's probably going to die right there," said the doctor.
"I hope not," said the bride.
CHAPTER XLVIII
PHENOMENA
"Anthony!"
Anthony turned and saw the two blond recruiters approaching.
Move! he told himself. Run! Run! Run!
Anthony's feet stayed stuck.
Move! Run!
Anthony stood and watched the blond men's boots plod through New America
mud, traversing the road which had once symbolized a beginning—the first path created
in a growing town or perhaps a soon-to-be city. Now, the road seemed destined for
erasure by snow melt and rain and a forest hungry for land.
What are their names? A bird? A bird?
Anthony stared at the blond recruiters, avoiding eye contact. He didn't know the
men well but knew their younger brothers' heads had been removed by a priest in a
church.
I was with your brothers, thought Anthony, practicing a sentence he didn't want
to speak.
"Anthony," said the feminine-faced Truman. "It is Anthony, right?"
Anthony nodded, the bow and quiver of arrows slung on his back gaining weight.
"We're surprised to see you," said Truman. "Adam told us how rough things got
in the church. We thought you must have run away."
"Adam said I ran away?" asked Anthony.
Truman nodded.
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"He said you made a fool of yourself. Didn't he Crane?"
Crane nodded.
Anthony wondered if his pants still smelled of urine.
They're clean. I cleaned them.
"What I want to know is how that priest managed to kill our brothers and not
you? No offense, but our brothers . . . they weren't like you," said Truman.
"They were sleeping," said Anthony, his quiet words kidnapped by the wind.
"Why didn't you wake them up?" asked Crane.
"I was sleeping, too. Then Adam kicked me . . . I sat up and saw . . . I saw a
head, just a head, and the priest stabbing off another."
"And what did you do?" asked Truman.
Anthony remembered the warm liquid filling his pants—it had never happened
before, not as an adult.
"I watched," he said.
"I don't like that answer," said Truman. "I don't like it, Anthony. What the hell
kind of answer is that?"
Anthony felt his feet sink further into mud. He felt a warm uncomfortable
pressure in his crotch and the need to relieve that pressure.
"But you're telling the truth, right?" asked Truman.
Anthony looked at Crane. The blond man's face was so creviced the skin didn't
seem human.
It looks like cat vomit, thought Anthony. The vomit from a cat.
"So you're lying," said Truman.
"Yeah," said Anthony. "I mean, no!"
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"Yeah?" asked Truman.
"No," said Anthony. "It's the truth . . . I'm sorry about your brothers."
"But you were gonna come tell us, right? Tell us where to find our brothers?
Tell us what happened? That's why you came here, right?"
Anthony nodded, wondering if he would be beaten before or after the
conversation ended.
"See, I told you," said Truman, hitting Crane in the chest with the back of his soft
hand. "I told you Anthony was someone we could trust. You trust us don't you,
Anthony?"
Anthony nodded, the pressure in his crotch unbearable.
"We were supposed to go with Adam this morning, but Crane here overslept.
Adam probably thought we ditched him, but you know we wouldn't do that. The
problem is . . . . "
Truman paused and studied Anthony's tense face.
"The problem is . . . we never asked him what route we were all gonna take, you
know, going after gold. We never decided. We were just going to meet, but he was
going to lead the way. He asked us to help and now he must think we ditched him."
Anthony nodded, certain he had no idea what Truman was talking about, and
certain he had to pee.
"But you know the route, right?" asked Truman. "Where Adam was supposed to
take us?"
The confidence of Truman's voice made Anthony believe he did know where
Adam was going.
"I thought he was coming here," said Anthony.
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"For gold?" asked Truman.
Anthony shrugged.
"For something," he said. "Maybe for the money he was owed."
"Who was with him?" asked Truman.
"A boy and a girl and a crippled man," said Anthony.
"Anthony, you know where we live, right?" asked Truman.
Anthony shook his head, hoping Truman wouldn't tell him where they lived. But
Truman did tell him. Truman also told Anthony to come find them if he found out
anything about Adam. Anthony nodded and said he had to go. He began walking back
toward the highway.
"You going home, Anthony?" asked Truman with a yell.
"They burned it," said Anthony, not bothering to turn around.
"I don't trust him," said Truman.
"I thought he was telling the truth," said Crane, watching Anthony speed up his
walk, awkwardly sloshing through ruts of mud.
"That's just because you think he's cute," said Truman.
Crane rubbed the cavernous scars on his colorful cheek.
Anthony wanted to relieve himself in the woods but didn't want to stop and give
Truman a chance to think up more questions. He had planned on sleeping in the
recruiter's garage but decided to hide until Truman and Crane went home. Since there
was less than an hour of daylight remaining, Anthony figured he wouldn't have to hide
for long.
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Back on the highway, his plans and his need to relive his swollen bladder were
interrupted by the approach of four familiar faces. They met in the middle of the asphalt
highway.
"Anthony?" asked Rachael, her voice raised in surprise. "Is this where you live?"
Anthony peered behind him.
"Kind of," he said.
"Have you been to New America?" asked the doctor.
Anthony nodded towards the mud he had just traversed.
"Yeah," he said.
"It's still there?" asked the doctor.
Anthony nodded again.
"The buildings," he said.
"The people are gone?" asked Rachael.
Anthony nodded again.
The bride stepped forward.
"Anthony, do you think we could stay at your parents' house?" asked the bride.
"We were going to sleep outside, but it's so windy
Anthony peered behind his shoulder again.
"My parents' house is burned," he said. " . . . was burned."
"Are your parents okay?" asked Rachael.
"They burned, too," said Anthony, watching two blond men leave New America's
wooded entrance.
"How did it burn?" asked the bride.
Anthony shook his head.
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"Maybe kids from New America. I don't know."
"Kids?" asked the doctor.
Anthony nodded.
"A lot of houses burned," he said. "Usually it's kids
"Did you have another place to stay?" asked the bride.
Anthony told himself not to look towards the recruiter's garage. Then he looked
right at it. Everyone else looked, too. Anthony glanced back at the muddy road and saw
Truman and Crane approaching.
"Can we stay there, Anthony?" asked the bride, motioning to the garage.
"No," said Anthony, still looking at the approaching men. "No. We can't."
"It would be nice if we could," said the bride. "Or . . . it would be nice if you
could help us find a place to sleep . . . out of the wind. You could consider it payback
for staying in my house. Not that payback is necessary-"
"Well hello there," said Truman, waving from ten feet away.
The bride began to ask Anthony who the men were, but quickly swallowed the
question.
Recruiters.
"Hello, hello," said Truman. "Anthony, please introduce us to your friends."
Anthony looked at Truman and said, "I don't know them. They're just passing
through."
Truman looked at the bride and asked, "Is Anthony telling the truth?"
The bride, remaining silent, wished she had a gun.
To maim at least...
perhaps to kill.
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"I know you," said Rachael, pointing at Crane. "You're the jerk who beat up my
son."
"Whoa, whoa," said Truman. "What's going on here?"
"Just be on your way," said the doctor, putting his hands in his pockets, his eyes
locked on Truman's.
Truman pulled out his baton.
"All I asked for was your names-"
"Shut up and leave," said the doctor, pulling out a butcher's knife from a hidden
sheath. "No one's interested in what you have to say."
"Now where are you folks headed?" asked Truman. "And don't say 'New
America."'
" S h u t . . . Up," said the doctor, unconsciously leaning forward.
"I'm trying to help you," said Truman.
"I said . . . shut up and leaveV
Truman lunged at the doctor who made no attempt to dodge the baton.
"Look out!" yelled Rachael, feeling dumb as the words left her mouth.
The baton cracked against the doctor's neck just above the collarbone. The
doctor grunted, his body slackened and he fell backwards onto the asphalt. But
Truman's body slackened, too. He collapsed on top of the doctor, an arrow stuck inside
his back. A circle of dark maroon spread from the beneath the two bodies. Truman
released the baton then tried to stand. He floundered and peered down at the knife
sticking into his chest. The bride grabbed the baton off the road, squeezing it with both
hands. She looked up to see a sawed-off shotgun pointed at her face.
"Drop it," said Crane.
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The bride dropped the heavy baton which barely bounced.
Rachael picked up Luz and ran towards the garage, expecting to feel little balls of
metal rip through her skin.
Crane looked at the spreading circle of blood.
... is it just me now?
Crane cradled the gun's barrel with his free hand, altered his aim toward the road
and pulled the trigger hard. The doctor's face disappeared. The bride let out a puff of
bright sound—like a bird being choked. She stared at Crane. He stared back, then
looked at Anthony who had a second arrow drawn. The arrow pointed at Crane, but
Anthony continued to stare at the doctor's missing face. Crane lifted his gun and pointed
it at the bride as Anthony released the string. The arrow struck Crane in his left thigh,
buckling the leg. Grunting, he landed hard on his left knee.
"Keep shooting," screamed the bride at Anthony while she leaned down to grab
the baton.
Anthony stood still as warm liquid ran down his legs, filling his loose muddy
boot.
Crane grunted again.
With one hand on the arrow shaft protruding from his thigh, Crane struggled to
maintain his aim. A horrible grimace made his face almost pretty.
The bride rushed forward, baton raised.
"You're nothing!" she screamed. "Nothing!"
The shot raped her neck and upper chest of skin. She jumped backwards as if by
plan. Her legs wobbled. Her head fell forward. She looked inside her own body,
examining the fresh red flesh, then collapsed, heart visible, still beating. Crane popped
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the shotgun open, shooting shells against his cheek. A gust of wind caught the shells and
sent them rolling down the highway. Crane looked at Anthony, let go of the shaft stuck
in his thigh, and reached inside his coat for loaded shells.
"Why did you do that, Anthony?" asked Crane as if speaking to a brother. "We
could have been partners . . . do you really want to be alone?"
"I'm sorry," said Anthony, watching Crane load the gun. " . . . I didn't mean it."
Anthony dropped the bow. The bow hit the ground and bounced against his wet
pants, remaining upright as if requesting one more use.
"Put those arrows on the ground, too," said Crane, straining to stand, nearly
screaming.
Anthony lifted the quiver's strap over his head, then just dropped it.
"I want you to understand something, Anthony," said Crane. "I'm not saving
your life. Do you understand that? Nod that you understand."
Anthony nodded, his face blank, uncertain.
"I'm only saving the shell. But if I see you again
Anthony nodded again, allowing hot urine to spurt down his pants. He raised his
hands and shuffled sideways into the northwest wind. Passing Crane, his shuffle turned
into a run—a run west back towards The Capital.
CHAPTER XLIX
HELP
Wrenching open the garage door, fighting the cold stiff wind, Crane hobbled
inside. A lone window barely lit the recruiters' former lodging. Crane listened to his
hard breaths echoing against aluminum.
. . . they're gone.
Crane imagined the asphalt patter of fast footsteps. He hobbled back outside in
time to see Rachael and Luz flee, machine-like gusts seeming to blow them east down
the highway. Beside the three road-strewn corpses, Crane spotted two backpacks
tackled by an overturned wheelbarrow. He hopped to the road, holstering his shotgun in
the sheath against his spine. Placing no pressure on his wounded leg, Crane righted the
wheelbarrow then slung the backpacks over the wheelbarrow's wooden handles. He
snatched Anthony's bow and arrows from the ground and laid them across the
wheelbarrow's blankets. He paused and stared at the arrow buried two inches into his
thigh. He grabbed the shaft, then let go, reaching instead for an unused arrow from
Anthony's quiver. The tip of the arrow was smooth metal shaped like a small bullet.
... a kid's arrow.
Crane nodded to himself and re-gripped the shaft stuck in his leg. His jaw
tightened. With a quick pull, the arrow slid out, followed by a trickling of warm blood.
It's not pulsing . . . didn't hit the artery.
Crane looked at his brother's body sprawled face down on top of the faceless
doctor.
"Truman," he whispered. "Truman."
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Crane wondered how his brother could have been killed by such a small arrow.
... a little boy's arrow...
a toy.
Wincing, he bent down, grabbed his brother's shoulder and pulled. Unable to
budge the body, Crane looked closer. He spotted the doctor's blood-covered hand still
gripping the knife stuck deep inside Truman's chest.
Must've hit the heart. Lucky hit. Unlucky.
Crane stood and opened one of the backpacks, revealing various containers of
food. The other backpack held more food and some first-aid supplies, mostly
homemade. He took four strips of first-aid cloth and tied them around his thigh—one
below the wound, one above, and two directly on top. A vein pulsed against Crane's ear,
signaling a shift in blood pressure, but Crane knew his blood loss was low. Just in case,
Crane massaged his creviced forehead to ward off a faint.
"Leave us something, please."
The voice came from the east, the strong northwesterly wind making the woman
sound far away. Crane turned too quickly, winced and stared at the woman. She stood
unarmed and alone.
Within range, Crane told himself, feeling the shotgun's heavy barrel press against
his back.
"Please leave us something," she said again. " . . . just some food for the girl."
"Where did your son go?" asked Crane, turning to see if his brother approved of
the question.
Sight of the prone corpse, half emptied of blood, made Crane's muscles tense
then relax.
"I don't know," said the woman.
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She's lying.
"Where do you think he went?" asked Crane.
The woman took a hesitant step forward and Crane reached back for his gun like
a man with a bad itch. He pulled the shotgun from its holster, letting the barrel land hard
against his hand.
"If you tell me where he went, I'll give you everything here," he said, watching
the woman watch his hands on the gun.
"All I need is a little food," she said, " . . . just for the girl."
"I'll give you the bow and arrows, too," he said, wondering if she knew how to
use them, wondering if she cared.
"I think they went north," she said.
She's lying.
"I'll help you find them," he said.
"I'm going back home, back south," she said. "Really. Honestly. All I need is a
little-"
Rachael stopped talking when she felt the tug on her coat. Luz grabbed one of
Rachael's hands with both of hers, then looked at Rachael, eyes into eyes. Rachael
waited for Luz to mouth some words, but the little girl only wanted to hold Rachael's
hand.
"I don't want to hurt your son," said Crane, shifting weight to his uninjured leg.
"I'm j u s t . . . curious. Honestly. I know they went after something. I want to know
what. And where. Maybe I can help them. I'm friends with Adam."
"I doubt it," said Rachael, regretting the words at once. "I mean . . . he doesn't
seem like the kind of man who makes friends, unless you let him do whatever he wants."
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"You're worried about your son," said Crane, feeling his dead brother speak the
sickly sweet words. "I can help. Let me help you. We can help each other. This isn't a
trick. I have no reason to trick you."
"You have no reason to help me," said Rachael. Except
sex....
"I have a reason," said Crane.
"What is it?"
"I'm alone."
"If this is about sex," said Rachael, "You should know I only like girls.
Women . . . I only like women."
I doubt it, thought Crane.
"I only like boys," he said. "Men—I only go with men. It's not important. That's
not what I'm talking about."
"What are you talking about?" asked Rachael, hoping the ugly man wasn't really
a homosexual, wasn't really uninterested in what she could offer.
"I'm talking about not being alone," said Crane. "I'm talking about safety.
Safety in numbers."
"That doesn't seem to work," said Rachael, wishing she could take back her
statement about being uninterested in men, wishing she could say, I'll have sex with you
for food, then we'll go our separate ways, and wishing the ugly man would accept the
simple bargain.
"It depends on the numbers," said Crane.
"What?" asked Rachael.
"The numbers," said Crane. "A few is good. A l o t . . . obviously . . . ."
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"I'll have sex with you for food," said Rachael, afraid to look at Luz, afraid to see
the little girl reading and understanding the offer.
"I like men," said Crane. "I don't find you attractive. No offense."
Rachael smiled and nearly laughed.
No offense, you ugly son of a bitch.
Rachael sighed - drained of energy, tired of fighting.
"I just want to go home," she said.
"With your son, right?" asked Crane.
"What do you know about him?"
"I know pieces of the story. I know Adam. But I need to know where they're
going. I want to go after them. Not to f i g h t . . . to join. You can come with me. Just tell
me the pieces I don't already know. We'll figure it out and find your son."
Rachael looked at the doctor's faceless body and the body of the blond man lying
on top—two corpses in a strange careless embrace. She looked at the bride who had
collapsed into a sitting position and remained sitting post mortem. The bride's arms
were crossed and lying against her thighs as if she was only pausing for a moment of
rest, as if the hole in her chest would soon heal, as if the blood pooled beneath her was
of no significance, as if death was not fatal but simply a passing embarrassment.
"What do you want?" Rachael asked, the question tired and simple. "What do
you want from mel I told you we can have sex, however you want. I'll scream if you
want. I'll talk dirty if you want. You can choke me while we do it. I've done it all, okay.
I'll do it all. I want to do it. Just don't kill me. Whatever you want. Use me up. I'll
love it. But then I have to leave with the girl."
Crane smiled.
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She's not lying.
"I want to find them," he said. "Adam and the others . . . I want to see what
they're going after. I'm not a killer, not by instinct, not by desire. That man without a
face, I killed him, but he killed my brother. That woman, sitting, dead, she would have
killed me, so I killed her. But I'm not a killer. I don't mean to be. My family is gone.
Same as yours."
"I saw you beating my son," said Rachael.
"They were paying me . . . I was supposed to beat him."
"And the deacon?"
"Who?"
"The woman you set on fire."
"The woman at the church? Truman did that. My brother," said Crane pointing
at Truman's corpse. "I just wanted to dig up our brothers. Actually, I didn't even want to
do that. I told my brother, what's done is done, but he-"
Crane saw the woman was both crying and hating her tears.
"Could you please just leave us a little food?" she asked.
Crane reholstered his shotgun.
"I live on Peachtree."
"What?" asked Rachael, choking on tears.
"Peachtree. In that town," said Crane, pointing at houses to the west. "The
fourth street into town. 6738 Peachtree. You'll see smoke in the chimney."
"Please," she said, watching him hoist the wheelbarrow—backpacks dangling
from handles—and begin to hobble home.
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Sitting on his porch, Crane put the third of three stitches into his thigh and tied a
bloody taut knot. He peered down Peachtree, watching the woman and little girl
approach.
Rachael spotted the ugly man resting. She smelled wood burning and saw smoke
waft from his chimney. Even though the unemployed recruiter and confirmed killer
appeared unarmed, Rachael waited at the curb, holding Luz's hand.
Crane watched the woman for a few minutes, saying nothing. Finally, he stood
stiffly and walked to the door.
"The food is inside," he said, leaving the door ajar.
The three survivors ate in the family room. The meal consisted of items from the
bride's backpacks.
"You didn't stock your own food for winter?" asked Rachael.
"They stocked it for us at New America. It was supposed to be a part of our
pay," said Crane, chewing a pecan. " . . . but I can always find food."
Rachael's brain burned as she tried to process the present state of her life: she
was sitting and eating dinner with the man who had beaten her son and just killed the
bride and the doctor, and she was planning to stay and sleep in the killer's house.
Rachael had only glimpsed a small part of the evening's highway violence, and she
hoped Crane had acted in self-defense or the defense of his brother, as he claimed. Still,
Rachael saw no signs of remorse in Crane's creviced face or stiff posture. He appeared
neither happy nor sad.
Maybe he's as innocent as Luz, she told herself, glancing at the hungry little girl
chewing on a large piece of venison jerky. Maybe he's smarter than all of us.
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Rachael watched Crane chew in silence.
. . .he's so ugly. . . his face
....
Rachael imagined the pain of Crane's adolescent acne. She unconsciously
touched her cheek.
Jesus.
Rachael looked back at Luz, wondering if the little girl might develop bad acne
which both Rachael and her son had escaped.
Luz noticed Rachael staring at her.
"What?" asked Luz, the word barely audible.
Rachael shook her head and looked back at Crane who stared at her like a man of
power.
"You have a pretty good idea where they went, don't you?" asked Crane.
"Some idea," said Rachael, thinking she would be crazy to tell him what that idea
was, just as she would be crazy to continue chasing after her son.
... I must be crazy.
"Like I said, I can help you," said Crane. "We can help each other."
Rachael sighed.
"There was a man," said Rachael, "an old man. We met him on the highway
coming in."
"An old man from New America?" Crane asked.
Rachael nodded.
"The treasurer," said Crane, leaning on the table, ignoring the walnut in his hand.
"You know him?" asked Rachael.
"More or less. What did he say?"
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"He mentioned a Fort. I can't remember the name."
"Not Fort Knox?" asked Crane, frowning, intensifying his stare.
"Why?"
Crane relaxed then shrugged.
"I heard it was picked clean a long time ago. Was it Fort Knox?"
Rachael nodded, then waited for Crane to laugh at her foolish trust.
"But the old man didn't know if Adam went there," said Rachael.
"That's where they went," said Crane.
"How do you know?" asked Rachael.
"Adam's dumb enough. They could go after Cypher, a moving target, who has a
small amount of gold and could be anywhere three- or four-hundred miles away. Or
they could go after a much bigger pot of gold—one that's stationary."
Crane paused, his eyes losing focus.
"Adam's a follower, though, not a leader," he said, " . . . I'm sure he's following
someone . . . other recruiters, maybe . . . an idiot following idiots, doing the same thing
that's been done, thinking the same thing that's been thought."
"Is it dangerous?"
"Dangerous? I just killed two people. One of the people I killed, stabbed my
brother—killed my brother. A few days ago, a priest cut off the heads of my other two
brothers—a priest."
Crane stopped. He thought about saying more, then decided his point had been
made. He shoved the walnut inside his discolored cheek.
A minute later, the group of three finished eating and Crane put the food away.
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"How about we split it?" asked Crane. "Just the food. You can keep everything
else."
"Okay," said Rachael, wondering how much food was left in the bride's house,
entertaining the idea of staying in the bride's house through the winter, then imagining
what would happen to her one-room shack in Onall if she stayed away too long. "What
do you think will happen when they get there . . . to Fort Knox?"
"Nothing . . . if they're lucky."
"Won't they come back?" asked Rachael. "It's almost winter . . . they'll have to
come back . . . . "
"They won't have to," said Crane. "Adam would be afraid to come back here."
"Why?"
"Adam took our mule and c a r t . . . and that big boy is afraid of my little brother."
"The brother who just died?" asked Rachael.
Crane nodded.
"Then where would Adam go?" asked Rachael. " . . . in winter?"
Crane shrugged and zipped up both backpacks, the food evenly split.
"He's got about a million empty houses and towns to choose from," said Crane,
handing Rachael one of the packs. "I'm going to sleep. You can stay here if you want to
. . . in one of the bedrooms . . . or out here."
Rachael looked at Luz then back at Crane.
"Can we trust you?" she asked.
"By now, you should know better. By now, you should know not to trust
anyone," said Crane, his creviced face tired and slack.
CHAPTER L
FOREST
Adam looked up at the late evening sky, then turned and stared west down the
highway. He blinked and rubbed his eyes, the cold wind blurring his vision.
. . . nobody there. . . Truman made a mistake.
Adam reined in the mule who stopped and sighed. Caroline and Grand stopped
walking as well, then turned to peer west at the road just traversed.
"How do you know they won't come?" asked Grand.
"If they knew we came this way, or even guessed, they would have raced down
the road and gotten us by tonight. . . they'd have gotten us already," said Adam,
checking the western horizon once more. "They'll go after Cypher . . . he's just as much
to blame for their brothers' deaths as I am."
"Could you have stopped the priest?" asked Grand, covering his wind-chilled
ears.
"I was dozing myself," said Adam. " . . . but yeah, I could have woken them up."
"Why didn't you?"
" . . . maybe I wanted to see what would happen. I've seen people killed. But not
like that, not slow like a performance. Have you ever seen a movie?"
Grand shook his head.
"That's what it was like—watching a movie. I couldn't wake them up because I
wasn't a part of it. I was in the audience."
"But now you're the actor," said Caroline, smiling briefly. " . . . now you're in
the cast. Now you can stop a murder . . . or be murdered."
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"Or be the murderer," said Adam.
Pine-choked woods lined both sides of the road, offering no glimpse of civilized
shelter. Rather than risk a mule climb up the steep grassy slope, Adam fought wind and
snow to pitch a roadside tent for Grand and Caroline. For himself and Grin, he secured a
tarp-roof over the cart then loosened the mule's harness so it could lie down on the
highway shoulder.
With energy sucked away by wind and cold, sleep came quickly for all.
Grand awoke inside the tent and blinked in the soft-gray light of morning. The
howl of the wind was gone, replaced with the bright voices of children at play. Grand
crawled out of the tent and saw two naked children dancing and jumping near the edge
of the woods. The children stopped to play with a small object, repeatedly throwing it
into the dirt and rescuing it back into the air. Grand pictured a homemade toy like the
kind his mother had once made, usually a single piece of carved wood that, with a little
or a lot of imagination, could become almost anything: a car, an animal, a person. From
within the woods, a woman's voice called the children, who responded by dropping their
toy and reentering the woods, giggling and running. Grand struggled up the brown slope
of dead vegetation—his muscles still asleep. Reaching the children's play spot, Grand
searched for the forgotten toy, but found instead a grounded black bird. The bird seemed
paralyzed but alive.
... it ran out of air. . . not air to breathe but air to fly.
Grand shivered. He peered down the slope but saw no movement in the tent or
cart. Likewise, nothing stirred on the long stretch of highway. Grand thought of his
father running out of breath on the hospital bed and decided to hold his own breath.
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. . . if I'm awake, I'll start choking . . . I'll start dying.
Grand exhaled, shut his mouth and waited while his lungs begged for breath. He
began to choke.
I'm awake. Just tired, but awake. The air must be thin. Someone has control.
Leaving the paralyzed bird, Grand walked into the woods.
After fifty feet of tall pines, he entered a vast clearing. Uprooted trees littered the
floor—a storm having ravaged the woods. Grand walked into the ocean of fallen timber,
feeling like a dumbstruck lumberjack.
.. . / could just keep walking...
walking and walking and walking away.
Grand thought about Adam, about the red-haired man's idea for building a city.
... a king, an army, peasants, a nation.
Grand thought about Grin's idea of institutionalized chaos.
. . . it's already happening, but there must be a control, a person in charge, not
Grin—Grin can't even control his own body. But someone's controlling things.
Someone vibrates the air, making it ring, making it impossible to breathe. That's what
Dad missed. Air is the real gold. First you control the air. . . then you control
everything.
Grand shivered again. He looked at the toppled trees—the wasted woods.
Air did this. Air blew up the hospital. Air killed my father. Gold is the trap—
fool's gold. Trap with gold. Control with air. Then they'll build anything you want.
That's what Dad missed. Dad had the gold. . . but someone else had the air.
Grand gazed far across the timber and saw a one-room shack, smoke rising from
its makeshift chimney. Scrambling over huge sticks of wood and the crevices between,
he reached the shack's open door. Inside, a naked woman, boy, and girl ate white snow
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from black bowls. The naked family of three stopped eating and stared at Grand, who
stared from the crooked doorway. The family said nothing, their faces blank but
unafraid. The woman, neither old nor young, but with snow-white hair which ran to the
floor, pushed her bowl towards the end of the water-worn, wooden table—an offering to
Grand. Grand took a step forward"Charles!" screamed a voice from far away—from the highway on the other side
of the woods.
Grand left the naked woman, her naked stare, and naked children. He sprung
towards the narrow strip of woods, vaulting the dangerous wood-strewn path like a
mountain ram possessed. Grand galloped faster, plunging into the woods and tearing
past trees which seemed to scurry from his path. Further and further into the woods
went Grand.
Confused blood fogged his mind.
. . . where is the edge...
the highway ... I'm lost.
Something slapped Grand's face. He glanced both ways, saw no one, and
collapsed into dirt and grass. He felt another slap and heard it, too. The forest blurred
and blacked out.
Grand's frigid body lay in the dirt and grass at the top of the slope. Adam placed
his hands under Grand's armpits and dragged Grand back to the cart like a father saving
his pond-frozen son. Grand blinked himself awake. Straining eyes open, he saw the
highway, cart, mule, tent and Caroline, hugging herself, fear on her face.
"Was it a dream?" asked Grand.
"Let's go," said Adam, dropping Grand to the ground.
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Grand glanced back at the woods, wanting to see the clearing, the hut, the goneaway dream, wanting to be with the stranded family, wanting to ask the mother
questions and get answers.
Grand decided to yell, but no words came to his mouth.
CHAPTER LI
TRUST
Rachel awoke in a house still dark. Luz slept soundlessly beside her. Rachael
wished she was home in Onall, wished she could sleep until early afternoon, eat a small
something, then get back into bed, denying the cold a chance to chill her bones.
Charles can get back to Onall by himself, she thought, her mind walking the
same ground as the day before and the day before that. He might even bring Adam
along....
Luz stirred and settled. Rachael pictured the little girl reaching out into a dark
hospital hallway, taking a shove, then another before bearing a frightened hug.
We'll be home soon, little girl. . . Daughter. They'll be no man to stir up the
town with half-formed ideas. Even if Adam tried that, I'd tell him to leave. No more
fools making us foolish. We'll live for the day with what we have. We'll grow old, but
we'll have each other, Luz. That's enough to build on.
Rachael stroked Luz's arm, then slid down, snugging her body to the little girl's.
... a perfect fit.
Rachael blinked, awakening once more, this time to a bright outside light which
gave the nearby curtains a dusty brown glow. In the kitchen, moving furniture scraped
the floor.
"Good morning," said Rachael, cautious.
Crane came to the kitchen door.
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"I'm leaving in a few minutes," he said. "I won't force you, but I'd appreciate it if
you left. I still have keys to the doors and like to lock up—not that people pay attention
to things liked locked doors anymore. But still, I like things secure."
Luz opened her eyes, yawned, then looked at Crane, who went back to his
chores.
Rachael gave the girl a kiss, then joined in staring at the man making noise in the
kitchen.
"Where are you going?" she asked.
"You sound like you don't want to know," said Crane.
Rachael sat up and watched the man organize a backpack much larger than those
belonging to the bride. She rose and began folding blankets. Luz rose and began
folding hers, studying Rachael to see how.
Ten minutes later, all three stood on the porch.
Crane locked the door.
"I figure it would be worth a look to go up there," he said.
"The Nation?" asked Rachael.
"The Fort. Maybe Adam will find something after all," said Crane, shrugging to
himself. "If not, there's no reason to stay here anyway. Ever heard of Brazil?"
Rachael nodded.
"The South," she said.
"I've heard stories," said Crane, tightening the straps of his backpack.
He nodded at Rachael and Luz without making eye contact, then headed out to
the street.
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Rachael and Luz adjusted their backpacks—Luz's light burden containing only
first aid—and followed Crane's path. Rachael pushed the wheelbarrow filled with
blankets yet to be bound by rope.
"Wait," she said.
Crane didn't stop but slowed and glanced back.
"How long do you think it will take you?" she asked.
"Ten days if it doesn't snow, twelve if I take a woman and little girl along."
"You don't mind, then?"
"You might be helpful. Maybe Adam won't try to kill me if he sees we're
together."
Rachael thought about that for a few steps.
"Are we going to find your son?" asked Luz.
Surprised at the sound, Rachael jerked her load to the side, dumping blankets into
the street.
"Can you hear me?" asked Rachael.
Luz shook her head, then asked, "Can you hear me?"
Rachael nodded.
"I understand you," she said with a wink.
"Are we going to find your son?" Luz asked again.
"Do you want to?" asked Rachael.
"Yeah," said Luz, thumbs hooked inside her backpack straps.
Rachael smiled.
Orphans don't miss a home they don't have.
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She looked ahead, watching Crane march toward the highway, setting a quick
pace.
Ten
days....
CHAPTER LII
TUNNEL
Adam, Grand, Caroline, and Grin made it to the gates of Fort Knox ten days after
leaving New America. The weather during their trip was increasingly cold, but dry.
Grin explained that the United States Bullion Depository was only a small part of a large
Army base devoted to different aspects of the military. In fact, he said, the Bullion
Depository was not technically a part of the Army base. It was owned and operated by
the U.S. Mint and guarded by Mint Police.
When the group reached the main entrance to Fort Knox, historical specifics
appeared irrelevant. Rusting tanks blocked the entrance, intent on halting vehicles for
centuries to come, but a short walk revealed numerous holes hacked through Fort
fencing—holes big enough for even an unhitched mule to trot through. As the group
walked down Fort Knox's main thoroughfare—a four-lane, cracked-asphalt road slowly
being subsumed by dirt and leaves—Grand voiced the obvious suspicion.
"If there is gold here, and we can just take it, why wouldn't someone else have
already taken it?"
Caroline and Adam looked at Grin, who rode astride the mule, his eyelids
fluttering with every clop.
"Right now, there are two possibilities," said Grin, trying and failing to raise his
head. "One is that the United States government removed all of the gold prior to its
folding. The other is that some kind of extraordinary precautions were taken to prevent
wanderers like us from getting anywhere near the gold. The problem with the first
action is that it would have been made in a country slowly falling apart. Word would
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have leaked out about the transfer, theft attempts would have been made, etcetera. There
would have been enough of a mess that people like me—you know, bad people—would
have heard about it. So, I theorize that they simply made it ridiculously impossible to
get at the gold without heavy machinery and serious explosives—they made it
impossible to get at the gold without large-scale coordination."
"I thought you said you had some ideas," said Adam.
"Oh, I do," said Grin. "I have lots of them. And as I explained before, many of
my ideas involve blowing things up."
"So if it's here, we'll get it?" asked Adam, vocally implying that "yes" was the
sole acceptable answer.
"No," said Grin. " . . . just kidding. Of course, we'll get the gold. It might take
awhile to get through granite walls and a twenty-ton steel door which wouldn't open
even if we had the multiple combinations because there's certainly no electricity around
here to power the door, but we'll get through it! As an interesting side note, it's possible
the government filled the entryway to the door with tons of concrete and perhaps placed
mines in the fields and roads surrounding the Depository, but we'll find a way!"
"Mines?" asked Grand.
"Explosives set in the ground that you trigger by steeping on or near them," said
Grin. "7 would have littered the place with mines."
"Do you know where this Depository is?" asked Adam.
"I know exactly where it is," said Grin.
No mines exploded as the group quickly reached Depository headquarters and,
with quiet surprise, swung open the unlocked doors. Daylight—dimmed by peeling
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window tint—shone into the lobby, illuminating a long abandoned building stripped of
everything but dust.
Searching for a vehicle entranceway, the group circumnavigated the building but
found only granite and marble facade. Grin, still sidesaddled, suggested following the
road which ran past the depository to see where it led. The road—a giant circle—
culminated in a tunnel entrance one-half mile behind the Depository—a tunnel hidden
by distance and a narrow strip of trees. The tunnel entrance lay thirty feet below the
Depository's main floor.
"This is stupid," said Caroline. "If people knew there was gold here, they would
have gotten it already."
Grand felt his body sinking into the earth.
... I could have gone south with Lucy. . . maybe I still can.
Grand stared at Adam as the red-headed man stared into the black tunnel.
"I'll go," said Adam, stepping onto the black underground road without waiting
for acknowledgment or approval.
"I'll go, too," said Grand.
Adam glanced back at Grand but said nothing.
"If you can't see anything, what's the point?" asked Caroline.
Adam produced a yellow rotary flashlight from his belt—the kind used by
Ronnie Bastrop and The Capital recruiters. Adam cranked the flashlight, which looked
like a misplaced toy in his giant cold-reddened hands. He pointed the charged beam into
the tunnel, but the weak light disappeared in the darkness. Adam entered the tunnel
anyway, and Grand followed closely like a child.
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The flashlight's faded circle of light lit the road's yellow center stripe—and little
else—as Adam and Grand walked silently forward. The road's two lanes were wide
enough, and the tunnel ceiling was tall enough, for industrial-sized trucks to make the
passage, and both Adam and Grand assumed the road would flare into a circle at some
point, enabling a truck turnaround.
One-hundred feet in, Grand glanced back and saw only a small square of
brightness. A million questions bounced around his mind—questions of danger and
possibility—but he kept his frightened curiosity to himself.
Grand listened for clues to the tunnel's'construction but heard nothing—even the
duo's footsteps were mute. Grand coughed. The air inside the tunnel seemed both
warmer and more difficult to breath than the cold air outside. Grand coughed again.
The flashlight's faded circle disappeared. Adam made no attempt to crank the
light back to life.
"It doesn't work anymore?" asked Grand, his voice strange, as if his ears were
plugged and the voice had emanated from inside his head rather than inside his voice
box.
"Let your eyes adjust to the darkness," said Adam, "maybe you'll see something
without help."
There's no light, thought Grand. You can't adjust to complete darkness.
Adam and Grand marched on—steps shorter, postures slouched, muscles seizing,
expecting to collide. Grand wanted to ask about running into walls, but figured Adam
would take the first blow. Grand also wondered about animals living in the darkness,
but the tunnel's length and thick sturdy roof made even dirt or leaves unlikely invaders.
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For centuries to come, the tunnel would remain an untouched rarity—perfectly
entombed in the past.
Still, Grand wondered.
. . . animals live in dark forests . . . they live in dark caves . . . why not a dark
Depository . . . except the
air....
Grand's felt his brain slow as his breaths tried to quicken.
. . . nothing .. . could live in this. . . you need full air...
to even have a
chance . .. we're going towards some death place. . . Adam . . . doesn't even realize . . .
if I called out. . . would he hear
me....
Grand reached forward into darkness. His fingers clasped together, grabbing
nothing.
A stifled metallic whir broke dark silence and Adam's light returned, appearing
weaker than before. Adam shined the light forward. The beam disappeared. He shined
it on Grand's face, forcing Grand's eyes to tighten as if under attack. Adam shined the
light back on the ground, leaving a circle of light one-foot wide and fuzzy. Grand
blinked, light trails swimming in his still-stunned eyes.
He slowly shook his head.
... we can't walk forever. .. this air won't last. . . why won't he .. . stop . . . this
air won't
last....
Adam and Grand felt their steps descend a slope, although their labored breathing
climbed.
... the outside ... the entrance . . . it's too long ... the air can't get in. . . .
"We're out of air," said Grand, his voice choked, a combination of gasp and wail.
"Almost there," said Adam.
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.. . almost...
where...
wondered Grand.
Without warning, the sound of plastic cracking shook the air. And the circle of
light—the circle of light Grand's eyes had been clinging to—disappeared.
Grand ordered his body to stop, but the lag between brain and body sent him
tumbling. His hands, knees and face hit a rough rock wall.
"What happened?" he asked, the sound of his voice dying outside his lips.
"What happened?"
" . . . it's broken," s^id Adam, " . . . the flashlight... but feel the wall."
Grand had already "felt" the wall but brought his right hand forward again,
touching the cold stone, instinctively shutting his eyes. Images appeared—the granite
outcrops of Onall, walking on rough igneous rock alongside the Onall River, stopping
and plopping on all fours to play with an insect in a tiny weathered crevice.
"Granite," said Grand.
"Maybe," said Adam. "But feel the w a l l . . . the whole w a l l . . . feel for . . . a
door or . . . something other than rock."
Grand's hand bumped across the coarse exterior. It occurred to him that this was
only a "wall" in the sense that it served such a purpose for the tunnel. The actual granite
might extend and descend for miles.
... a mountain in the earth, thought Grand, whose knowledge of geology came
mostly from science fiction stories read aloud by his father. It could touch the
Grand ran his hand against the rough rock again.
... nothing but rock.
center...
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"They sealed it," said Grand, the thought of cold pure outside air making his
mouth moisten. " . . . they sealed i t . . . in rock."
"Feel for concrete," said Adam, " . . . where tunnel meets rock . . . then work
back . . . feel for a door . . . something not solid."
Grand stood up and waited as gravity rearranged the blood inside his head. In a
comical embrace, Grand's body gripped the rock wall while unconsciousness blackened
his mind then vanished. Grand slid to his left, his shaking hands searching fractured
rock for an exit or entrance, his seized muscles awaiting a second collision.
One minute later, he stopped.
. . . I've gone too far.
Grand turned his head, his body still pressed into the wall.
" . . . have you . . . found a door?" he asked, the dead air strangling his throat and
words. " . . . another wall?"
No answer.
Grand continued his sliding search.
Then stopped.
... we must...
be in the vault...
we can't. . . find a door. . . because .. . there
is no door.
Grand wiped his forehead, finding dust instead of sweat.
. . . Grin was wrong . . . they took everything . . . they took it out. . . they took
the door.. . out. . . and everything . . . else ... if we had a
light....
Confused, Grand shivered. His eyes tightened, preparing for tears. The assumed
center of the vault wall, the point where he and Adam had first touched rock, seemed
lost forever.
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... I think. . . we're in the vault...
I
think....
Grand stepped to his right then stopped.
. . . if I go . . . away from center. .. I'll loop . . . back to tunnel...
go.. . left.
"Where are you?" Grand yelled, compressed lungs muffling the sound.
He massaged his ears and heard the rubbing sound.
. . . the sound from . . . inside not from . . . outside.
Grand decided to loop around the vault - instead of trying to track down Adam
and their invisible entry route. He shuffled sideways, to his left, hands clinging to rock.
. . . stay on wall.. . Onall granite.
The wall went away. Grand shuffled back to his right. He felt the edge of
change.
. . . still rock. . . but wrong
....
The wall cut inwards, towards the highway, towards the base entrance, away
from the tunnel entrance, as if the vault continued forward.
. . . are we ... in a vault. . . if I...
did I.. . get turned. . .
around....
A crash—body into body—sent Grand sprawling to the floor.
Concrete, thought Grand, his head smacking a smooth surface, his mind flashing
white. Grand covered his eyes with his arms, expecting a second blow.
Adam reached down into darkness, found Grand's left arm and pulled the teen to
his feet.
"Feel this," said Adam, his voice stifled but stronger.
Grand felt the smooth object thrust against his chest.
" . . . what is it?" asked Grand.
"What's it feel like?"
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Grand touched the object again.
" . . . the opposite," said Grand.
"What?"
" . . . of granite."
"Grab it," said Adam.
Grand grasped the object, frightened by the weakness of his fingers and the
smooth hardness of the unknown object. Adam let go just long enough for Grand to
realize the object, which ran the length of his forearm, lay beyond his strength to hold.
" . . . I don't-"
"Gold," said Adam.
" . . . how do you know?" asked Grand.
"What else could it be? I tripped over it. These must be . . . scattered in the
vault. We walked into i t . . . right into the vault. . . rows and rows and . . . rows of
gold."
" . . . but how do . . . we get out?"
"The way we came in."
" . . . but where . . . where is the way . . . we came in?"
"I know it," said Adam. "I'll find i t . . . this way."
Grand nodded, certain that at the moment the phrase "this way" meant absolutely
nothing.
Two minutes later, Adam, with Grand hugging him from behind, found the
broken flashlight at the point where it smashed. Grand and Adam turned ninety degrees
and began a halting walk in what they hoped was a straight line.
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" . . . why is it here?" asked Grand, still gripping the bigger man. " . . . just lying
here?"
"The gold?" asked Adam, turning his head to the side to see what could not be
seen. "It just is."
" . . . how much?" asked Grand.
"Who knows," said Adam. " . . . too much."
Adam's body trembled.
Grand closed his eyes and held the big man harder.
... he's
laughing....
" . . . are you sure we're . . . going the right way?" asked Grand, ten minutes into
the exit journey.
"We haven't hit a wall," said Adam. "It'll be a pain to get all that gold out. But
think about the future . . . what we can build."
A point of light, like a lone star on a black horizon, emerged from the darkness.
"How long have we been gone?" asked Grand, tasting fresh air.
"Not long," said Adam. "It'll be okay. We made it. We're really gonna do it."
"Do what?"
"Build an army. Everything. Build a nation. Can you imagine how big . . . we
just need a start, we just needed a start. It's like a house, like the best house in the world.
We build the foundation, the perfect foundation, and there's no limit to how high we go.
We just keep going higher. It builds itself after a while. Or the people build it for us. A
giant tower of fucking gold. It'll be amazing."
"No," said Grand.
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"What?" asked Adam.
"What?" asked Grand.
"You just said 'no."'
"I did?"
Grand wanted to run towards the light, but felt drugged.
. . . this is drunk.
"Charles," said a female voice.
"Caroline?" asked Grand.
"Keep saying my name."
"What?" asked Grand. "Caroline . . . Caroline . . . Caroline."
"Keep saying it."
"Caroline. Caroline. Caroline."
A hand grabbed Grand's right arm. A body pressed against his.
"What's wrong?" asked Grand. "A storm?"
"It's snowing," said Caroline, "but that's not why I came in."
"Why did you?" asked Grand.
"There's no one out there. I mean . . . no one to talk to."
"Where's Grin?" asked Adam.
"Lying in the snow."
"Dead?" asked Adam.
"I don't know," said Caroline. "He won't talk to me."
CHAPTER LIII
GRIN
Grin and the mule hadn't moved.
Snow fell in flakes not flurries, and patches of white speckled the brown fields.
"Well?" asked Grin.
"It's all there," said Adam. "No door . . . no anything . . . nothing to stop us."
Dropped by Adam, the bar of gold lodged in the ground a few inches from Grin's
head.
"I don't believe it," said Grin, knocking on the bar of gold with knuckles,
listening to the solid sound. "The United States Bullion Depository held five-thousand
tons of gold. You just walked into a vault—an open vault—with five-thousand tons of
gold?"
Shrugging, Adam stared across the fields, expecting an invasion.
"How much did you see?" asked Grin. "How many rows? How many bars per
row?"
"Enough," said Adam.
"All like this?" asked Grin.
Grand, huddling with Caroline near the tunnel's entrance, craned his head to get a
better look.
"I thought you said you tripped over that," said Grand, resuming his windprotected huddle.
"I did," said Adam.
"Maybe it's the only bar left," said Grand.
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"You want to go check for sure?" asked Adam.
"No," said Grand.
"After I tripped over it, I figured we must be inside the vault, or at least out of the
tunnel. I made little trips away from the wall. I felt rows and rows of bars. I'm telling
you it's all there. Enough of it anyway."
"You didn't see the bars?" asked Grin.
"The flashlight stopped working," said Adam. "What difference does it make? I
felt an entire row of bars. What were they? Lead? Iron? Steel? They felt the same as
this one. And that was just one row at the back of the vault."
"It doesn't make sense," said Grin, fingers caressing the golden bar. "It's not like
this place is a secret."
"It doesn't matter if it makes sense, you idiot," said Adam.
"It might," said Grin. "And how are you going to move it?"
"I know why you're worried, and you shouldn't be . . . not yet," said Adam.
"Why am I worried?" asked Grin.
"You think you're not needed anymore, which is true—there's nothing to blow
up, at least not right now. But I know you're smart. I value that. I know I can't build
what I want to build by myself."
"How magnanimous," said Grin, pressing his head against the bar which he
continued to fondle. "You are a true leader. Hooray."
"Of course, that doesn't mean I won't get rid of you," said Adam.
"How do you plan on moving five-thousand tons of gold?" asked Grin.
"How would you?" asked Adam.
385
"How would I? I wouldn't bother. I wouldn't have even come here if that doctor
hadn't been so angry at me for removing the front of his goddamn hospital. / really
thought he might kill me. And imagine that, a doctor killing his patient. What a world,
right? What a world. Shake your heads, people. But yes, I wouldn't have even come
here. You see, I have my own ideas about rebuilding civilization, as you may know."
"If you want to continue living," said Adam calmly, "Help me figure out a way to
move the gold."
"A train," said Grand, " . . . if you could figure out how to move a train . . . . "
"There are rail lines both east and west of here," said Grin. "And they're
reasonably close. But train engines run on fuel, so even if you found a train-"
"Coal," said Grand.
"There might be a few steam-powered trains around—leftover tourist trains,"
said Grin. "I'd have to find a library to figure out where one might be. But even if we
knew where to find such a train, we'd have to leave the gold here while we went to get it.
Obviously there's a reason the gold is still here, and it probably doesn't have to do with
the logistics of moving it. I say we go back to The Capital and give my ideas a shot."
"You idiot," said Adam. "It's here. It's all here. I felt the row. It must've been
twenty bars high . . . and longer than the headquarters building—twice as long, three
times as long, five times as long! This isn't some ridiculous idea about chaos and
blowing shit up. It's all here. This is the foundation, right here!"
"But there's a reason," said Grin.
"But it's here, you crippled freak! Just because you thought it would be stopped
up with concrete and covered in mines, doesn't make it strange. That just means you
were wrong."
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"I knew there weren't mines here," said Grin.
"Then why did you say there might be?" asked Adam.
"I like the idea . . . I don't know what it is about explosions . . . they just fascinate
the hell out of me."
"How did you know there weren't mines?"
"Because I was here five years ago," said Grin.
Adam walked up to Grin and put his foot on the crippled man's hand. Grin
released the bar of gold.
"If you've been lying to me . . . . "
"I haven't been lying to you, Great Leader. I simply haven't finished my story.
Now, if you'll let me tell it
"
"Tell it all," said Adam, "right now."
"Of course I will. Jesus. I was saving the most exciting parts for last and you're
welcome. That's what any good storyteller does. You of all people should take note."
"Let's be clear," said Adam. "I want the truth, not a story. Why were you here
five years ago?"
"Well, a funny thing happens when you're being tortured, even when you can't
feel the pain. You think to yourself, 'If I don't tell them something, they're going to kill
me. And since I don't have the answers to the questions they're asking, I'm going to tell
them something I think they'll be really excited about. That way I won't die right now.'
Maybe that's not funny."
"And you told them about this place?" asked Adam.
"I did. Except I made it ten-thousand tons of gold. Torturers like high numbers.
Higher and higher and higher."
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"So you came up here, and
"We found it—same as you. Except they didn't have a flashlight, they had a
kerosene lantern. But the lantern went out before they got to the vault, or so they said—
I stayed behind and cleverly stared at the guns pointed at my face. They came out with
two bars of gold, just like this one. I asked them if I could go home. They said I would
have to help them figure out how to transport i t . . . but I got away."
"How did you get away?"
"I used my superior intelligence and my modus operandi."
"Your what?"
"My raison d'etre."
"Did you kill them all?"
"Only a few."
"But you figured the others got the gold after you left?"
"Seemed likely."
"And what were you going to say when we found the place empty?" asked
Adam.
"I was going to say 'Shit happens, man.' And if that didn't work, I was going to
say the government probably moved all the gold to the Federal Reserve Building in New
York City as an attempt to bolster the economy before the final collapse. I was going to
say the Federal Reserve held gold owned mainly by foreign countries, which it did. And
at some point during the late chaotic unpleasantness, those countries would have wanted
their gold back, which might be true. And wanting their gold back would have implied a
great distrust of the United States and/or the U.S. economy. 'Fine,' our government
would have said, 'We'll just move our five-thousand tons of gold from Fort Knox up to
388
New York City. We'll show everyone how blindly confident we are in ourselves. Hip
hip hooray. Hip hip . . . hip . .. hip.'"
"You would have suggested going to New York City? In October?"
"For gold! There could be tons and tons and tons-''
"And what would you have said if we found an empty Federal Reserve?"
"Again . . . 'Shit happens, man. And hey, let's give Grin's Capital plan a try."'
"Weren't those three other guys going to come here?" asked Grand. "The ones
who killed Ronnie Bastrop? The guys who mutinied?"
"Alexander?" asked Adam. "They must have gone after Cypher."
"Or maybe they came here and found five-thousand tons of gold and went
looking for a train to carry it away in, or a team of somehow-fueled industrial trucks,"
said Grin.
"But it's all here," said Adam, thinking aloud.
"Listen," said Grin, "If there are five-thousand long tons of gold in there, that's
eleven-million-two-hundred-thousand pounds of gold. Divide that into fifty-pound bars,
then you've got two-hundred-twenty-four-thousand bars. How much can you pull with
the boy's help using that cart—because that mule isn't going in that tunnel? Onethousand pounds at a time? Two-thousand pounds? Let's say one ton at a time. That's
five thousand trips. Each trip is two miles from the vault to the rail line, assuming you
can get the cart through the fence. That's four miles round trip. Figure four miles per
hour, ten trips a day taking into account loading and unloading times and unforeseen
obstacles. That's five-hundred days—just to get it loaded—five-hundred straight days.
And who's going to watch the train and the vault while you're in between? Me? The
girl? Imaginary friends? And once the gold is on the steam-powered train that you don't
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have and which may or may not exist, you've got to take the train somewhere and unload
it. You could try to find more men to help you, but how could you trust them? How do
you know they'll want you to be king? Kings need to be surrounded by some kind of
cult in order to grow their kingdom—cult of family, cult of religion, cult of violence,
cult of all three preferably. How do you even know there are enough men out there to
build an army? You were in that church—that Church of Women and Children. Are you
going to build an army of women and children and the occasional old man? The
occasional crippled freak?"
"Wasn't this your idea?" asked Adam.
"I didn't want to crawl back to The Capital, okay . . . especially not sober. Plus,
my apartment is seven floors up, and the elevators stopped working before I was born.
But I'll be able to walk again, in a year or two, so help me God."
Adam nodded, staring at the quickly whitening fields, shaking snow off his curly
red mane. He released his boot from the crippled man's hand.
"Like I said, you're a smart man, Grin. But maybe too smart to be smart. I don't
have to put all that gold on a train to make it mine. And I don't need an army to remove
and protect it. I just have to make it disappear from this vault, and winter is the perfect
time to make things disappear."
CHAPTER LIV
GROUND
Using their hands and the handle-less pickax blade from New America, Adam
and Grand spent the remaining daylight hours forging a cart path through thick brush
and the double layer of base fencing.
The following morning, they used the mule to take the cart and Grin inside the
base. Adam took Grand and Caroline to an area one-mile south from the Bullion
Depository, near the base's fenced southern border. The area, like most of the base, was
covered in two-foot-high brown grass, bent and smothered by wind and snow.
"Dig a shallow trench right here and keep it parallel with the fence," said Adam,
thrusting the steel pickax head into the ground. "Only make it wide enough for one bar
of gold, but make it as long as you can—just keep going. When you get to the western
fence—that'll take a few days—we'll start a new trench a few feet over, saving the grass
in between. No one will see it unless they walk right up to it, and since there's already a
hole in the fence near the west entrance, no one will have any reason to enter the base
from this direction. We'll spend winter putting as much into the ground as we can. We'll
find a train in summer."
Adam stared at Grand.
"You loosen the ground with the head of the pickax. Let the girl dig the dirt out
with her hands. I'll be back in an hour with one-hundred bars, maybe more."
Adam left and the pair began their work—loosening and scooping cold damp
earth. A few minutes later, with Adam no longer visible, Grand stood and sighed. He
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dropped the heavy steel tool and watched it sink into the soft black hole. Caroline
searched north for signs of Adam, then brushed the wind-blown hair from her face.
"Do you want to leave?" she asked, bending down and grabbing a large chunk of
earth.
"No," said Grand.
"Are you sure?"
"I just don't want to do Adam's work for him," said Grand. "My dad said there
could be only one person in charge. My dad made sure he was that person."
"I don't think Adam's going to let you be in charge," said Caroline, dropping the
chunk of dirt, watching it break in half. "Anyway, he won't let you be in charge of him."
"I know he won't."
"Then why don't we leave?" asked Caroline. "We can find a home nearby, search
for food. Or maybe we should go south, back to-"
"What's that?" asked Grand, pointing to something shiny in the freshly dug ditch
near Caroline's feet.
Grand straddled the object, brushing away dirt. He grabbed the pickax head,
extended the ditch one foot, then forced the object from the earth. Dropping to his
knees, Grand admired the bar of gold.
"Did Adam already bury some?" asked Caroline.
Grand looked north at the distant Depository. He looked east at the line of trees
which camouflaged the base's eastern border. He looked south at the border fence fifty
feet away. Wrenching his neck, he turned and looked west then northwest towards the
base's main entrance.
"What?" asked Caroline.
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Grand shook his head.
"The ground wasn't broken when we started," he said.
Grand dug some more and found another bar. He continued digging a narrow
trench—towards the west as Adam had instructed. He uncovered three more bars, then
stopped.
"Someone already t h o u g h t . . . . "
CHAPTER LV
CONCRETE
Grand remembered faces peering from the forest—peering at him. He
remembered opening his eyes to darkness. The darkness which never changed. The
room was concrete and bare except for a thin foam sleeping mat and a flushing toilet—
something Grand had only seen in the abandoned houses of Onall, except those toilets
didn't flush and were filled with decayed or decaying human feces. Grand's body was
bare like the room—naked but not cold. A small round opening near the top of one wall,
an opening too small to accept a human hand, allowed the never-ending seepage of dim
gray light. Grand imagined the gray illumination to be daylight from an overcast sky,
but he could no longer trust his sense of time—there was no way to be certain what was
day or when was night as the dim light never changed. This room—the room he did not
remember being brought to—was incredibly clean. The smell of new concrete—an
attractive geochemical aroma—made Grand imagine the room had been freshly framed
and poured just for him.
Whenever Grand felt thirst, he would turn to the door and see a spotless metal
pitcher and cup. The water tasted clean like cool rainwater pooled inside a weathered
stone. And there was food, three times a day, the best he had ever tasted. Every chunk
of fresh meat, which he thought might be beef, although he had never eaten beef,
produced images of killing and butchering and roasting. And the meat was served with
garnish—a dish of roasted potatoes and carrots moistened in beef fat, butter, and blood.
Eating the hot fragrant dish, Grand felt like the rich man in a story his father had once
read aloud—the story of the richest, most powerful man in the world, the man who could
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control anything and anyone. Grand wondered if that man had brought him here, to this
room, to make Grand rich, too. Before the tray of hot food slid underneath the room's
only door, a deep-voiced man—perhaps the richest most powerful man in the world—
would say, "We must forget the future." Hearing the voice and tasting the food, Grand
would think: I will meet him ... I will meet him ... I will meet him ... I will.
After every meal, sleep came quick.
Hours later, Grand would awaken, his body damp and cool as if just washed—
every crevice touched and softly scoured. During one of his sleeps, Grand's hair
disappeared, shaved to the scalp. The sensation gave him both a headache and a sexual
pulse.
At first, Grand wanted to know what happened—he wanted to know where he
was and why. But later—days or weeks or months, Grand could not tell—names like
Adam and Caroline and Dad and Mom began drifting from Grand's consciousness like
smoke from dying coals. Eventually, Grand no longer reached for names or words but
slept or sat on his mat, content to let fires from the past die out while his belly full of
food pleasantly burned.
The cool air of Grand's cell smelled and tasted pristine, and like his washed and
trimmed body, inspired a sexual pulse. Back in Onall, Grand had learned to take care of
his needs when his sister began revealing her body whenever his mother was gone.
Now, in the concrete room, Grand took care of his needs quite often, imagining Caroline
and Lucy, separate and together. He was not beginning to like his room. He was
beginning to love it.
CHAPTER LVI
TUNNEL
"This might be it," said Rachael as she, Luz, and Crane passed by a path recently
thrashed through a double layer of twelve-foot-high fence.
One minute later, the trio stood staring at giant rusting tanks blocking the Fort's
main gate. Rachael inhaled and exhaled. She wiggled her boots in three inches of snow
and peered up at a sky which promised much more.
Rachael remembered a church.
The trio walked back to the path and trudged onto the base.
Rachael guessed the correct road, and twenty minutes after entering Fort Knox
she, Luz, and Crane reached the Bullion Depository. After a brief search of the dark
lobby and a circumnavigation of the above-ground building, the trio went back to the
base road and followed its circular route - the route which led to a tunnel.
"No footprints," said Rachael, walking up to the edge of darkness. " . . . on the
entire base . . . no footprints."
Crane and Luz both stared into the darkness.
"Charles!" yelled Rachael into the tunnel, waiting for an echo which never
arrived. "Charles!"
Crane pulled out his yellow rotary flashlight, spun the crank, and walked in. A
minute later he walked back out.
"If they're in there, they're sitting in darkness," he said. " . . . I couldn't see
anything . . . maybe they never made it."
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"Never made it?"
" . . . here."
"Here?"
"I don't know," said Crane. " . . . I don't know."
"No one bothered us on the way up here," said Rachael. " . . . and we were more
vulnerable."
Crane motioned to the gun holstered on his back.
"This makes bad people shy," he said. " . . . Maybe Adam went after Cypher
instead. Maybe he went north. Maybe he never left
Luz, having studied the nearby wall of trees, squatted and studied the snow,
pushing the frozen white powder into a mound.
. . . the warden let us play . . . when it snowed, he let us play. "Don't run away.
Don't run away."
Luz noticed a black spot marring the icy white. Her thrice-mittened hands
swatted, then scooped the object up. She held it to her face, winced, then offered it to
Rachael.
"A piece of cloth?" asked Rachael.
Luz thought for a moment then said, "Smell it."
Rachael took the cloth and held it to her nose.
"It stinks," she said.
"Remember?" asked Luz.
"What?" asked Rachael.
"The man in black."
Rachael smelled it again. She handed it to Crane, who held it to his nose.
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Crane shrugged.
Rachael gazed inside the tunnel, then studied the snowy field.
"We'll have to look inside," she said. "This is what they came here for, so this is
what we came here for."
"They came here for more than a look," said Crane as he, Rachael, and Luz
stepped inside the tunnel's darkness.
"Wait," said Crane, after five minutes of silence.
With both hands, Crane held all three of his flashlights, combining their weak
circles of light.
"Turn to your right. .. find the tunnel wall," he said, nudging Rachael, who
nudged Luz.
Crane shined the light on Rachael's and Luz's feet, following their movement,
stepping where they stepped. Rachael reached the tunnel wall but found it further than
expected, as if the tunnel had been slowly widening.
"Let the girl walk . . . between us," said Crane. "You walk . . . next to the . . .
wall and . . . keep one hand on it."
A few minutes later, Rachael said, "Stop."
Crane pointed the combined flashlights at the wall and saw only darkness. The
trio backed up and saw the edge of the concrete wall heavily gouged as if some terrific
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force had ripped away the vault door. Crane pointed his flashlights at the ground and
saw the same silent concrete.
"I wish . . . we had some rope," said Crane.
"I can't breathe," said Rachael. " . . . and the girl
"
Rachael pointed Crane's flashlights onto Luz's face, then redirected the
flashlights to her own face.
"Are you okay?" asked Rachael.
Luz shook her head and tried inhaling deeply.
"There can't be . . . anything here," said Rachael. " . . . animals?"
"Shine these straight... into the darkness," said Crane, handing Rachael two of
the flashlights and keeping one for himself. " . . . I'll go forward . . . then come . . . back
and . . . I'll find you . . . by the lights."
" . . . how long?" she asked.
"Right back," he said.
As Crane walked away, Rachael shined the lights on his coat until it dissolved
into black. Woozy, Rachael decided to sit. She pulled Luz down beside her.
. .. this is what happens .. . when you lose electricity . . . the world.. . becomes
invisible.
Rachael imagined her degenerating eyesight—and thus her world—becoming
dark forever. Drooping flashlights smacked her leg. She jerked them back up.
... the air...
lightheaded...
the
lack....
Rachael cranked both flashlights as Luz dozed against her shoulder. Suddenly,
Crane appeared in front as if he had never left.
"What happened?" he asked, coughing.
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" . . . the air," said Rachael.
"Get out," he said.
Rachael and Luz struggled to stand.
" . . . did you see?" asked Rachael.
Blood flushed from her brain. Her eyes fluttered.
"Get out," said Crane.
Crane grabbed Luz's hand and began walking, shining his light on the wall,
making sure it didn't disappear.
" . . . did you see?" asked Rachael, her voice alien, dreamlike.
. . . am I dreaming ... when did the dream . . . begin ... in Onall. . . before they
cut
David....
"Get out," said Crane.
Five minutes later, approaching light, Rachael's mind pleaded, "lie down!"
Beside her, a semi-unconscious Luz walked with eyes closed, steps uncoordinated.
All three made it to the snow-covered grass and collapsed.
On the verge of blacking out, Rachael managed to ask, "What did you see?"
Crane lay on his side, knees tucked under his chest.
"Gold," he said. " . . . everywhere."
" . . . gold."
" . . . and bodies."
CHAPTER LVII
CLEAN
Rachael awoke in a room of brilliant light.
Eyes fluttering, she ran her hands down her chest, stomach and thighs—her
fingers absorbing smoothness. Naked but warm, Rachael sat up and wondered how long
she had slept. Because of the strange surroundings—a bare bright room with only a
mattress and toilet for furniture—she wondered if she might still be asleep.
. . . if it's a dream . . . when did it begin?
Rachael's stomach rumbled for food, and as if on cue, a metal tray slid
underneath the room's only door. Deliciously fragrant fumes scented the room's pure air.
Rachael ate the roasted beef and vegetables in large efficient bites, using her fingers as
fork and spoon. When only sauce remained, her hungry tongue licked every trace.
Sated, Rachael re-examined the small white cube.
. . . my new one-room shack. . . it's so clean.
Setting her spotless tray on the smooth cement floor, Rachael noticed a metal
pitcher and cup.
She poured herself a drink.
Fast gulps spilt nothing.
She replaced the cup and lay back down.
. . . I've slept so long I have to sleep to recover from sleep.
Rachael yawned.
. . . Luz • • • Charles . .. why can't I worry about you?
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The bright lighting—hidden in the sides of the ceiling—gave the room a warm
white glow.
... like a snow cave, thought Rachael, recalling a children's book—often read to
Charles - depicting Eskimos and igloos.
. . . Eskimos aren't afraid of snow, Charles, and neither are we ... .
Once again, Rachael ran her hands down her body, crossing skin moist but not
dirty.
. . . someone has washed me.
Rachael felt her thighs, sat up and felt her knees, shins, calves, feet and toes.
Someone had shaved her legs and trimmed her pubic hair. She knew this should concern
her, but she could not feel concerned. She rubbed her face, then slid fingers through her
soft black hair.
. . . shampooed and cut. . . and so soft...
so soft. . . not since I was a
girl....
Rachael examined her nails—fingers and toes.
. . . cut and filed.
Rachael had never thought of herself as beautiful or even possessed the pretense
that beauty was important. But as her hands caressed every pore on her moist clean
body, she felt beautiful.
Addicted, Rachael's hands coursed her body again.
She pictured a giant bubble bath filled with perfect hot water—the baths of her
childhood.
. . . Daddy can I take a bath
....
A book interrupted Rachael's memory—a red-bound book sliding underneath the
room's only door. Rachael's mind said, "Get up. Get out. Ask about Luz. Ask about
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Charles." But Rachael's body—too comfortable to move—sat still on the warm comfy
mattress, while her sleep-dazed eyes gazed at the surprising new gift.
Seeing the book's gold-tipped pages, Rachael remembered the Bibles of her
youth. She remembered their insistent doorstep arrival, sometimes accompanied by a
messenger, sometimes just lying alone, waiting to be discovered, waiting to be read or
thrown away or burned. But both spine and cover of the newly-arrived book were blank.
Rachael grasped the book, lifted the red leather cover and read: The Autobiography of
Benjamin Franklin. The title sounded familiar, a phrase from a musty schoolroom, from
a class held long ago. Easing her back against the wall, Rachael turned to page one and
read:
Dear Son,
I have ever had a pleasure in obtaining any little Anecdotes of my
Ancestors . . . .
CHAPTER LVIII
MR. HABIT
Grand sat in the dim gray light, his mind attending to each inhale.
The man didn't knock.
The door opened.
Grand felt no impulse to leave, to rise, even to speak.
The man said, "Would you come with me please?"
Braced against the concrete wall, Grand stood—light and alert. He followed the
man down a long dark hallway toward a square of light which, when reached, became a
small window in a door separating the dark hallway from a fluorescent room—white and
square. The room contained only wooden chairs, which to Grand looked like chairs
made by a man in Onall—carpentered chairs. The only way out of the room was the
hallway door with the small window. There were no other windows.
The man said, "Please sit down."
They both sat, facing each other.
"Welcome to New America," said the man. "My name is John David Sym. You
are probably too young to remember, but I was the last President of the United States of
America. Technically, by order of emergency legislation, I still hold that position, but as
you are aware the United States of America does not technically exist at the moment.
Here, at this place we are calling New America, we maintain possession of every
important document pertaining to the founding and legislative history of the United
States of America. It's all here, underground, in rooms much larger than this. We have
ample
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small arms and ammunition as well as the equipment and raw materials to manufacture
much more ammunition. Our aboveground agriculture and animal husbandry can
currently provide for our population of ten thousand—and we are growing in both
resources and people. We also hold over five-thousand tons of gold in vaults at Fort
Knox inside the United States Bullion Depository. It is not important how you came
here. It is extremely important that you are here. Why are you here? To work with us
and expand the New America colony until we have reestablished control over all of the
former continental United States. What is your name?"
Grand did not answer immediately. He had heard and understood the man words,
not as an active listener but as a passive ear.
The question registered.
"Charles Grand."
"Good," said the President. "I'm glad you still carry two names."
It occurred to Grand that he had left his room naked and remained so. This
occurred to him because the President wore a striking type of clothing Grand had never
seen in person but knew from pictures was a suit, also called a business suit.
"What are you feeling right now?" asked the President.
Grand could think of nothing to say, so he said nothing.
"Good," said the President. "Follow me."
The President rose and went to the door. Grand followed, light and alert. They
walked down the long dark hallway towards a pinpoint of light which became a square
of light—another small window in a another door. This door opened into a bright white
room with a giant white counter. A man stood behind the counter, dressed in a type of
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clothing Grand had seen in both real life and in pictures—military-style camouflage.
The President approached the counter and motioned for Grand to follow.
"Charles Grand," said the President.
The man behind the counter took Grand's picture and had Grand place his fingers
on a piece of electronic equipment. When this was done, the President said Grand was
now a "patriot" of New America and "in the system." Grand was given clothes
consisting of underwear briefs, socks, boots, camouflage pants, pale green t-shirt,
camouflage top, camouflage jacket, gloves and a black wool watchcap. Grand put on all
of the clothing and then, as directed by the President, walked over to a full-length mirror
and stared at his reflection.
"What are you feeling right now?" asked the President.
Grand was ready for the question and replied, "happy."
. . . am I happy . . . what is happy. . . the President wants me to be happy.
"Good," said the President, pointing and nodding towards a new door.
The new door opened to a new well-lit hallway. At the end of the hallway, the
President pressed a button on a wall, and metallic-silver doors split open. The President
and Grand entered the elevator. The silver doors closed. The President pressed another
button and the elevator rose. Thirty seconds later, the elevator stopped, the door split,
and Grand followed the President down another hallway. The hallway ended in another
white room neither as small as the first conference room nor as big as the clothing
dispensation room. The room contained two wooden chairs placed side by side and
facing a white wall made of synthetic material. At the back of the room, a man sitting
behind a desk stood and walked towards the President and Grand.
"This is Mr. Habit," said the President.
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Mr. Habit stuck out his hand, and Grand shook hands as if the practice was new
to him, which it was.
"This is Charles Grand," said the President.
"Nice to meet you, Charles Grand," said Mr. Habit, still shaking Grand's hand,
studying Grand as if to determine how long Grand would continue shaking. Finally, Mr.
Habit let go himself, then smiled and nodded as if Grand had passed a test.
"Charles, Mr. Habit is going to explain things in detail. He will even answer
questions if you have any. We may not see each other for a long time, but I want you to
know that what you are doing is important, Charles. There is nothing more important.
This is what you are meant to do. Do you agree, Charles?"
Unprepared for the question, Grand gave no answer.
"Good," said the President, shaking Grand's hand briefly but with purpose. "I'll
be with you, Charles, even if I'm not physically present, I'm with you and I believe in
you. I'm incredibly proud of you, Charles. A lot of people are incredibly proud of you."
The President turned and departed through the room's only door.
CHAPTER LIX
MRS. HABIT
Rachael followed the woman down the bright hallway to another white room
which was four times bigger than the room she had slept in. The woman—tall and
slender with fair skin and blond hair—wore a business suit consisting of jacket and skirt,
both shiny gray with white stripes. Black-rimmed glasses sat snug on the woman's
pretty nose. Upon seeing the glasses, Rachael began desiring a pair.
The two women sat down on wooden chairs facing each other. The chairs were
the only furniture in the room.
"What did you think of the book?" the woman asked.
"I liked it," said Rachael.
"Good," said the woman. "What did you like about it?"
"He led an incredible life. I remember my father pointing out the small
businesses that stuck around even when things got bad. He said those industrious people
were the ones who built this country in the first place. Benjamin Franklin was an
example of that, I think."
"Excellent," said the woman. "I hope you'll join our book club. We focus on
early American literature—the Romantic period, mainly."
"There's so much to learn from those early Americans," said Rachael.
The woman nodded.
"How do you like things here?"
"Well, where is here?" asked Rachael.
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"First, answer the question, then I'll explain as much as I can," said the woman.
"I like it. It's strange not having clothes, I suppose, but I feel better than I have in
. . . I feel better than I have in a long time. I was happy as a girl—before things started
falling apart—and I feel that happiness again. But I want to know the little girl is safe,
and I w a n t . . . my son
"The little girl? She's fine. She's very well. You'll see her soon. My name is
Jordan Sym. You may not remember, but my husband, John David Sym, is the President
of the United States of America."
"I remember," said Rachael. "I remember the name."
"That's very good."
Jordan Sym went on to explain about New America. She took Rachael to another
room where Rachael received clothing, all of which was black and winter-ready. Then
they rode an elevator up to a new floor, and Mrs. Sym took Rachael to yet another room.
Rachael met Mrs. Habit. Mrs. Sym left the room, and Rachael's second interview began.
CHAPTER LX
BUNKER
After the history lesson, Mr. Habit took Grand to the elevator and back down to
Grand's room. Left alone in the darkness, Grand fell into a dreamless sleep.
Grand awoke inside a cement bunker which looked out onto a forest blanketed by
snow. Alone and fully clothed in camouflage, Grand stood and peered out at a dim
white sky indistinguishable from the dim white ground. Grand couldn't tell if it was
early in the morning or late in the afternoon. His stomach rumbled in hunger, but the
bunker held no food nor anything else but Grand. In fact, the cement bunker reminded
Grand of his recent room, except the bunker contained no door, toilet, or sleeping mat
and had a one-foot opening near the ceiling, which Grand continued to peer through.
The opening was four feet above the floor—accessible enough, Grand thought, to exit
the bunker without help. But as Grand examined the dim white forest, he felt no urge to
leave.
Mr. Habit's lesson had been mostly United States history. He explained that
"New America" had been carefully set up prior to the government's collapse a decade
earlier. In fact, he said, the collapse was actually a well-planned disappearance. No
grand reappearance plan existed, hence, "We must forget the future." Instead, New
America would grow however fate decreed—most likely one new patriot at a time. Mr.
Habit had not explained New America's daily operations or the expectations of new
patriots like Grand. Instead, Mr. Habit asked questions seemingly designed to find out
what kind of a patriot Grand wanted to become: what made Grand angry, what made
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Grand happy, what Grand coveted most—his goals and desires. Mr. Habit also asked if
Grand was sexually attracted to men. When Grand said he was not, Mr. Habit said,
"Good." That was the last question.
Still standing in the bunker, Grand wished someone would tell him what to do.
His mind simmered with smells of roast beef and vegetables, while ideas of gold and
empire, and characters like Adam and Grin, sank deep into Grand's subconscious like a
bedtime story told long ago. For weeks, Grand hadn't thought of his father or mother,
and even dreams of his sister and Caroline—dreams of sexual encounters—seemed less
intense than before.
Tired from too much sleep, Grand sat down, his scrubbed-new skin buried safely
beneath warm new clothes. With hunger his only complaint, Grand savored the bunker's
cold fresh air, then decided to sit and wait until someone showed up and told him what
to do.
One hour later, the dim white forest fell dark, and Grand closed his eyes on the
world.
CHAPTER LXI
STADIUM
Fighting to awaken, Rachael's consciousness slipped like a sleep-struck kid
wanting five more minutes, or better yet, five more hours to loll. Releasing an
exhausted sigh, Rachael yawned and opened her eyes. She had fallen asleep in the clean
white cell only to wake up in a stadium-sized room—a room filled with women at one
end and children at the other. The women, processing fruit and vegetables into jars,
chatted with each other, while the children sat listening to stories.
There's got to be one-thousand people, thought Rachael, rubbing her face and
adjusting her focus. Two thousand. Three thousand.
The women wore black, the children pastels.
Rachael rose, hoping to see smiles, but the faces were too far away.
"Good morning," said a woman's voice from behind Rachael's head.
Rachael turned and saw black clothing identical to hers.
"Although . . . it's actually afternoon," said the woman, raising her eyebrows.
"I'm sorry I slept so late," said Rachael. "I'm usually a very light sleeper . . . and
an early riser."
"That's okay. You're adjusting to a new climate—a new environment—and that
takes all of us some time . . . although we try not to think of time. Survive in the present,
but I'm sure you know all about that."
"Yes, I do," said Rachael.
"My name is Martha, and I'm your first friend at New America, except of course
for Mrs. Sym and Mrs. Habit whom you've already met. I'll take you down to meet the
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other gals and show you what we do during the fall season. I believe you requested
these," said Martha, extending a pair of glasses rimmed in black like Mrs. Sym's.
"Oh, yes," said Rachael, feeling silly as her eyes welled up at the thought of
improved vision. "Did I request them?"
Rachael and Martha left the balcony, descending a metal staircase to the giant
floor below. They journeyed to the tables filled with women, canning jars, fruits,
vegetables, and nuts. Rachael's eyes danced with new-found strength.
Work fast. Fit in fast.
"You don't have to do anything today," said Martha, sitting with Rachael at the
end of a busy table. "Just watch and learn."
"I've canned before," said Rachael.
"I'm sure you'll do fine. Nothing here is stressful as long as we forget the future
and do what we can do today. I'm going to leave you for a while, but I'll be back to
show you where we sleep, eat, and bathe."
"Okay," said Rachael, wishing Martha would stay and talk, or just stay and smile.
Martha walked away, and Rachael, adjusting her glasses on her nose, smiled at
the closest woman. The woman stared at her work.
"Can I help you?" asked Rachael.
"If you want," said the woman, pushing her canning materials closer to Rachael,
but continuing to stare at her work. "My name is Susan. I bet you have a lot of
questions."
"Is that okay?" asked Rachael.
"Depends on the question," said Susan, eyes examining a jar.
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Rachael smiled.
... is she joking?
"I'm Rachael. Is this what you do every day?"
"In this season," said Susan.
Rachael grimaced and grabbed ajar.
Stupid question.
"What about in other seasons?"
"We work in the fields, in the greenhouses, with the animals. That's our job:
Food."
"Are you happy here?" asked Rachael, mind buzzed by the hum of work and
chatter. "I mean, are people happy?"
"That's the wrong question," said Susan, leveling wax across ajar of fig
preserves.
"What's the right question?" asked Rachael.
"Are you happy right now?"
"Are you asking me?" asked Rachael.
Susan didn't answer.
"I traveled with a little girl," said Rachael. "They said I would get to see her."
"When we're done at the tables," said Susan. "At dinner and after that."
"Can I sleep with her?" asked Rachael.
"Sure, but the kids like to sleep together."
Rachael nodded and forced herself to exhale. She grabbed ajar and placed it on
her lap, trying to decide if she was happy.
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I'm happy I can see clearly again. Anyway, I'm definitely not unhappy, she told
herself, then corrected the phrasing. I'm definitely not unhappy right now.
A ringing bell ended the day's work period, and Kate returned to the table.
"We'll eat in about fifteen minutes," she said, smiling at Rachael. "Until then
you can rest."
Rachael thought of Luz, their introduction in a dark hallway, bumping and hitting
and hugging—a strange embrace. Rachael's warm face fought tears. She wondered
what the other women thought of tears.
. . . tears right
now....
"I was with a little girl," said Rachael, her voice cracking. " . . . Luz."
"Who?" asked Kate.
"A little girl."
"They're all coming this way," said Kate.
Rachael watched the children approach, many running and skipping despite
protests from their teachers. Rachael spotted Luz at the back of the pack, walking
slowly, a doll dangling from her hand.
... my new glasses, thought Rachael, adjusting the loose black rims on her nose.
God.. . I'll have to thank Mrs. Sym.
Seeing Rachael, Luz stopped and cried.
Rachael ran to the little girl, catching her glasses as they bounced from her head.
Swooping Luz up, Rachael squeezed hard.
. .. too hard...
no, not too hard.
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The lost little girl felt light. Rachael kissed the small warm cheeks, tasting salty
streams. Embarrassed, Rachael set Luz down. Luz dropped her doll and hugged
Rachael's hip.
"How are you?" asked Rachael, making sure her words were easy to read.
Luz's face tightened, portending new tears. Rachael felt a tap on her shoulder
and turned.
A young woman stood smiling, hands folded, ready to teach.
"Hi. I'm Jean, one of the teachers. Do you know this girl?"
"Yes," said Rachael. "We were traveling together."
"Oh, I understand. It's traumatic for some people. The kids, of course."
... traumatic for some people? wondered Rachael, her cheeks warming further.
I was feeling so
good....
"We were having some trouble with this little one," said the teacher.
"Trouble? She's been perfect with me," said Rachael, regretting her defensive
tone.
"Well," said the teacher, "not bad trouble, just so shy. Of course, they're all that
way at first—the kids and mothers come in separate—but usually it wears off after the
first day."
"It takes time," said Rachael, her new tone motherly, her wet eyes staring at Luz
as she squeezed the little hands.
"Well, yes and no. This little one's beginning her fourth week, and I don't think
she's spoken more than a few times."
Fourth week? wondered Rachael. Is that possible?
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" . . . that's because of her hearing," said Rachael, the phrase "four weeks"
echoing inside her mind.
"What's wrong with her hearing?" asked the teacher.
"I think she's completely deaf," said Rachael, wishing the doctor was present for
a proper diagnosis. "But she can read lips and speak pretty well."
"I wondered what was wrong," said the teacher. "With her voice, especially. We
don't have any deaf children here."
"I'll bet she'll be very popular with the other children then," said Rachael.
"They'll make up special games."
"Hmm," said the teacher with a perfunctory smile.
CHAPTER LXII
REVOLUTION
Grand awoke to the sound of boots crunching snow. He opened his eyes to
darkness, and unlike his awakenings inside the closed concrete room, Grand
immediately knew where he was.
The crunches—rising in volume—crunched too close together to be made by a
single human.
Silence.
The familiar whir.
A blinding beam of light.
Two people whispered, then stopped.
Grand imagined judges judging.
The crunching resumed, then stopped again.
An arm shot across the beam, a large hand grabbing Grand's coat.
"Come on," whispered a man.
Without hesitation, Grand grasped the outstretched hand which yanked him
forward. Sliding over the snow-covered ledge, Grand pictured a snow tunnel, a window,
a snow-buried house. He struggled to his feet. He saw nothing.
"Follow us," whispered the man. "Keep your hand on my shoulder."
Someone lifted Grand's hand onto a shoulder and the dark march began.
One hour later.
"Lie down and crawl."
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On hands and knees, Grand waddled forward. Branches scraped Grand's jacket.
Inside the domed hut built from brush, Grand stopped and stared. A small central fire
illuminated bodies packed side-to-side, waiting.
Grand pictured the clean concrete room, the hot meals.
. . . I'm hungry. . . this is a test.
Everyone wore camouflage except two women dressed in black coats and pants.
A hand grabbed and pushed Grand's shoulder, guiding him forward to a seat near the
coal-orange fire—a reserved seat—the spot next to Adam.
"Let's begin," said the man who had led Grand through the forest and pushed him
to his seat. "We got two more tonight which makes an even thirty—fifteen of us here,
two men on the inside, thirteen women on the inside. Eric left the signal, so the train
will be here tomorrow. Tomorrow is the day. Now, let's have the names of the final
two."
Everyone looked at Adam and Grand.
"Adam," said Adam.
"Charles," said Grand.
"Okay, Adam and Charles, whether you believe in coincidence or fate, whether
you believe what I'm about to tell you, the fact remains that you have been chosen to
carry out the final new beginning for the United States of America. Fortunately for you,
your job is an easy one. Essentially, you'll be lookouts. For your own safety, I'm not
going to tell you any more than you need to know. Just follow my instructions and
tomorrow you will become two of the most important men in the history of the U.S.A."
"Excuse me," said Adam. "Who are you?"
"That's not important," said the man.
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"Well," said Adam, "I guess I'll be leaving then."
"I wouldn't recommend that," said the man.
Adam smiled, his throat taut, struggling to squash a string of expletives. He
stood up, stooping under the low ceiling of dead dry branches, and turned to leave.
"You'll never get back to your bunker without a flashlight," said the man.
"I don't care," said Adam. "You drug me, keep me in darkness for who knows
how long, give me some history lesson about a place that no longer exists, put me in a
bunker with no explanation, drag me out of the bunker with no explanation and expect
me to just go along with some plan you won't explain. You're lucky I'm a gentleman."
"No," said the man. "You're lucky . . . You're lucky we've chosen you."
"I didn't ask to be chosen," said Adam, staring at the thatched roof, fists
clenched, leg muscles clearly bulging beneath his camouflage pants.
"You don't understand," said the man.
'Tow don't understand!" yelled Adam, kicking the fire and spraying coals on half
of the huddled men.
"Grab him."
Every man but Grand rushed Adam, throwing him to the ground.
"Don't hurt him . . . not yet."
With six sets of arms and legs pinning him in the dirt, Adam made no attempt to
move. The two women kicked scattered coals back into the fire ring.
Everyone remained silent until the man in charge spoke again.
"Get off him. Let him sit up."
One by one, the men restraining Adam stood and returned to their places around
the fire. When the last man released his grip, Adam sat up, then stood up.
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"Listen," said the man in charge, brandishing a knife. "Just listen."
Adam stood still, watching the lengthy blade reflect orange light from dying
coals.
"Just listen," said the man. "I don't want to kill you, and if you listen to what I
have to say, I won't have to kill you. You will understand everything we're about to do.
You will want to join us—I guarantee that. But if you try to bolt, I'll kill you myself.
And if somehow you get away, New American soldiers will find you in the morning and
kill you. We are not the people who knocked you out with ether. Did they get you at
Fort Knox? That's the same story with most of us. We're not with the President—the socalled President. We don't give history lessons. We came here for the same reason you
did. The gold. You want to start your own little nation, well, so do we. There's plenty
of gold in there for all of us. And what I mean by that is: there's plenty of gold for all of
us to take a share and go our separate ways. I'm not going anywhere. I've put in nearly
ten years in helping them build up New America—it's people like me who have done it,
not John David Sym and his old cronies. He calls it New America one day, the old
United States of America the next day, it's neither one. It's a dictatorship plain and
simple. Yeah, we get along all right, but if you want democracy, then you're going to
have to take out Autocrat Sym, and that's what we're going to do tomorrow with your
help—we're going to take it. Do you understand that much?"
Adam made no attempt to signal understanding. He made no attempt to leave.
"And if you want to leave right after we take over, if you want to leave with
whatever gold you can cart away, we'll give you the horse and the wagon. But you're
not going to get it any other way than our way. You're not going to simply walk in there
and take it—as you should know by now. Tomorrow there will be a train. It's a special
day for the President and his pals because the train's arrival is two years in the making.
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The train is a tool, a symbol of Sym's plans to expand. He knows people can stop
thinking about the future, and he knows the train will give them hope. The train
demonstrates progress, the reestablishment of order. The point is, they will all be there
when the train arrives—every last one of those arrogant sons of bitches. And so will
you, Adam, and every other person in New America, even the children. You'll be close
to Sym. He likes to keep new people close, so they feel close to him—the friendly
dictator. All we're asking you to do is signal who has weapons, who has guns. Maybe
none of them will. Sym loves that illusion—the friendly dictator who doesn't need guns
—even if everyone knows that complainers always disappear. Sym will have three men
standing with him—the Generals. We know they'll be armed along with the secret
service—men with maroon berets. But what we need to know is: do they have back up?
Did they arm some regular soldiers—men like you and Charles? Did they give soldiers
shotguns and send them around the area? The Generals we know. The secret service we
know. Anyone else, any last minute changes . . . that's why we need your help. We'll be
able to see you, but you won't see us. If they've set up defenses for an ambush, if they've
armed every soldier, all you have to do is keep your hands in your pockets. If you
haven't seen anything, then keep your hands out of your pockets. Hands in—we stay in
the woods. Hands out—we come out of the woods. That's it. Like I said, when it's
over, New America will have the democracy it's been missing for ten years—actually, a
lot longer. And you'll be welcome to stay, of course. But if you want to leave and set up
your own nation, we'll set you up with transportation, gold, and food. We're choosing
you because tonight is your test night. They want to see if you'll run. They want to see
if their little ether brainwashing stunt did its job. In the morning, if they find you in your
bunker, you've passed the test. You'll go see Sym, and he'll personally thank you again
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and all that bullshit. He'll welcome you to the cult of Sym, and tell you about soldier
school. And with the train coming tomorrow, he'll have you close to him the whole
morning. He wants you to love him—the son of a bitch."
The man in charge—the leader of the rebellion—stopped speaking and peered
around the fire as if awaiting last minute changes to the script. No one offered any.
"Now," said the leader, looking at Adam, "If you're with us, which I think you
are, we'll take both of you back to your bunkers. You'll signal us tomorrow, hands in
pockets if they're prepared for an ambush, hands out of pockets if they're not, you'll get
your gold the very next day—your dreams fulfilled. If you're not with us, since we don't
have any ropes to bind you, we'll have to kill you."
Grand—the words "brainwashing" and "ether" bouncing around his mind—
could think of no protest. Nevertheless, he gazed up at Adam, at the face lit by multiple
flashlights and shrouded in red beard and hair, for a sign of what to do: become a part of
the planned chaos or become its first victim.
"Okay," said Adam, putting his hands in his pockets.
CHAPTER LXIII
AWAKE
"Whose footprints are these?" asked a man in camouflage.
Blinking sleep from his eyes, Grand peered at the rectangle of bright morning
light.
"Whose footprints are these?" asked a second man in camouflage, louder than the
first.
Grand stood up, trying to recall if the rebel leader had told him what to say—how
to lie.
... if I tell them the tracks are mine, I'll get in trouble for leaving.
The camouflaged men crouched, examining the footprints like cops at a crime
scene.
Grand pretended to examine the footprints, his eyes at ground level.
.. . too many to say it was just one person.
"Who was it?" asked the louder man.
Grand swallowed. He shook his head.
. . . I should just turn in the rebels . . . but if they're right, if they take over today,
I'll get gold...
I can restart Dad's plan ... go south like Lucy wanted...
or...
or...
I
could just stay here.
"I don't know," said Grand.
"You don't know?" asked the loud man, staring at snow kicked inside the bunker.
Grand looked at the pile near his feet.
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424
.. . they know I left.
"I heard someone last night," said Grand. "I heard their steps. But they didn't
say anything to me."
"How many?"
"I don't know. It was dark, maybe you can tell by the tracks," said Grand,
contemplating the risk of more words. "Who do you think it was?"
The men studied Grand's eyes, then looked at Grand's throat, waiting for a
swallow.
"Did you smell anything? Hear any talk?" asked the loud man.
Grand wondered how Adam would explain the footsteps in front of his bunker.
"I just heard the footsteps. I thought it was someone from New America, making
sure I was still here."
"You didn't leave, did you?"
"I have nowhere to go."
"Did they have a light?" asked the man.
"Yes."
The man stood up straight and considered the evidence.
"All right, let's go," he said, motioning for Grand to join them.
CHAPTER LXIV
CLOUDLESS BLUE SKY
Her muscles tensed, then relaxed, then tensed again.
For several minutes, Rachael had been staring at a girl with brown hair.
She suddenly realized why.
The young woman, one of the "teachers" struggling to maintain the children's
attention, was Caroline. With cautious steps, Rachael moved towards the teenage girl.
. . . does anyone know we know each other. . . does anyone care?
Bells rang.
Women in black rushed to form loose columns while teachers began corralling
their kids. Amidst the chaos, Rachael lost sight of Caroline and shoved herself into the
crowd. At one end of the giant room, a set of double doors opened. The women began
filing out the doors and into a large concrete shaft. The women, followed by the
children, walked up four flights of stairs to a ground-level room, then exited the room
into a beautiful morning—cloudless blue sky, frosty air, white forest landscape. Men in
camouflage guided the columns to a wide concrete staging area next to what appeared to
be a brand new but empty train station. One hundred rows of women lined up beside a
few rows of camouflaged men. Nervously resettling her glasses, Rachael began
scanning the male faces.
She frowned.
. . . they look so alike.
Gazing in the opposite direction, Rachael saw the children—and presumably Luz
and Caroline—being herded past the men and women toward the far end of the
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ceremonial platform. Rachael smiled at the nearby women, anxiously checking for a
friendly face.
. . . don't ask "wrong questions."
CHAPTER LXV
PHENOMENA
As the rebels had expected, both Adam and Grand stood near President Sym,
alongside ten other men—all of them recently "naturalized" citizens. Unable to
communicate with Adam, Grand only knew that he had not witnessed any special
preparations to stop an ambush. Walking forward with the group of new soldiers, the
Generals and President Sym, Grand kept his cold gloved hands outside of his coat
pockets. However, when the group reached the front of the platform, standing only a
few feet from the north-south railroad tracks, Grand glanced down at Adam and saw the
red-haired man firmly plant his hands inside his coat pockets. About to do the same,
Grand stopped when he noticed one of the generals examining him. Instead of changing
his signal, he stared straight ahead at maroon-capped Secret Servicemen milling around
the forest edge. Grand wondered how long the fight would last, how many people
would die. He glanced at Adam and saw the red-haired man's hands still inside his coat
pockets.
. . . maybe Adam is wrong . . . but if I'm wrong I might lose my gold. . .
Once again, Grand moved his hands toward his pockets, and once again he
stopped short.
His body began to vibrate. His mind blackened. Grand was back in The Capital,
falling through the air, crashing into a street of crushed rock, a street of crushed hospital.
The vibration grew. Grand's eyelids snapped open. His knees shook and buckled,
expecting guns to blast. The crowd craned their necks and peered down the tracks,
persons in the rear pressed forward. Black smoke appeared, followed by the train's
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massive body. The crowd—men, women and children—quickly lost form, then
recombined to create one giant mass of straining necks and staring eyes.
Grand gazed at the crowd instead of the train. His head shook in disbelief.
... no one wants to run away.
Grand thought of the priest's speech on the highway—the speech about freedom.
. . . they want to be kidnapped. . . the air has changed their minds.
Grand remembered the rebels. He remembered their leader—the whisperer. He
remembered the leader's speech.
... he'll give us the gold because he'll take the air.
The train approached, pulling a long line of cars filled with coal.
A furtive Grand glanced to his right.
Pockets still hid Adam's hands.
What does he see? wondered Grand, his eyes searching soldiers for guns.
Grand's hands snuck inside his pockets. He held his breath and with everyone
else gawked at the smoke-belching beast. As the train rolled near the platform, the
Secret Servicemen jumped across the tracks then jumped back—uncertain on which side
to stay.
Wheel gears grinding, hot engine hissing, the train shuddered to a stop in the cold
morning air. The President waved at the crowd with both hands. He stepped up to a
microphone surrounded by several large amplifiers. The President spoke into the
microphone, but his voice remained unamplified and muted by the rustling crowd. With
a patient face, he stepped back and waited. The crowd parted for a man looping the
microphone wire and another man carrying a megaphone with rotary crank attached.
Frowning, the President gave the crank a spin.
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"I'm not sure if this-"
The President stopped, although the megaphone had worked as intended.
"Okay, I guess it will work," he said, smiling at his amplified voice.
A gunshot filled the forest.
Heads jerked down.
"It's okay," said the President. "The engine is cooling."
Grand unconsciously shook his head.
...
shotgun.
A second shot rang out.
"It's," said the President, watching Secret Servicemen jump between cars to the
hidden side of the tracks, " . . . it's okay."
The President lowered his megaphone and waited with the crowd for Secret
Servicemen to return. He stared into the crowd and swallowed.
A person from the hidden side of the tracks crawled underneath the coal car
closest to the engine, coughed hard and gazed at the crowd.
"What's going on?" Rachael asked, staring at the woman next to her.
"A man crawled from underneath the train. I think he's hurt."
"One of the soldiers?" asked another woman.
" . . . I don't think so . . . I see black clothes."
Grand immediately recognized the slumped form of Grin, pulling himself
forward with one arm.
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"Mr. President," said Grin. "Can I get on the train, Mr. President? I want to
ride the train."
Two more shots rang out, followed quickly by four more.
The crowd froze. Then, as if the novelty had lost its appeal, the crowd of
camouflaged men, black-clad women, and pastel children slowly shrank from the train,
the platform, and the President.
A flurry of gunfire crackled the morning air.
Pistols, thought Grand.
The Generals whispered to the President, who nodded energetically. All four
began walking, then jogging, towards the train station—the confused crowd scurrying to
create a path. A few women at the rear of the crowd ran towards the stairs which led
back to the giant room. Camouflaged men backpeddled, still searching for someone to
give them orders. After the President and Generals slipped inside the train station, every
woman but one began walking, jogging, or sprinting back to the stairs or to their
children.
Unmoved, Rachael held her glasses in place, eyes focused on a mane of red hair.
Adam.
Rachael's hot pulsing mind wanted to confront Adam, but her feet refused to
move.
"Adam," said Rachael, her voice competing with the noise of a runaway crowd.
Adam turned around, and the pair stared like two statues admiring one another.
Four gunshots rang out, then four more. Three Secret Servicemen—the only
three remaining on the station side of the train—collapsed near Grin, red holes in their
heads. The sight of instant death sent the remaining camouflaged men, except for Adam
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and Grand, retreating to the stairs. From within the growing stampede, several women
screamed.
Soon there were fifteen hatless men—the fifteen who had just killed fifty—
standing near the train's engine. Heartbeats speeding, Adam and Grand realized that,
being unarmed, they might simply be shot rather than be granted any gold. The rebel
leader—the whisperer from the night before—broke away from his group and ran
straight for Adam, who began hustling towards Grand.
"Where are they?" yelled the leader.
Adam turned and pointed at the train station building.
"There!" he yelled. "Or maybe further!"
"Help us find them!" yelled the leader. "The job is almost done!"
"I will, but let me speak to my friend first!" yelled Adam, pointing past Grand at
the smiling prostrate Grin. "I didn't know he was alive!"
"Hurry!" yelled the leader, turning back towards his group which stood stiff and
sweating near the tip of the hissing train.
Adam grabbed Grand's shoulder.
"Come with me," he whispered.
The pair jogged to the first coal car, then knelt next to Grin and the three silenced
Secret Servicemen. From warm dead hands, Adam inherited warm live guns, shoving
the three pistols into his pockets.
"Can you operate this train?" he asked Grin.
"Lovely to see you," said Grin.
"Can you?"
"It shouldn't be difficult."
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"What's that mean?"
"Yes we can."
"Wait here," said Adam to Grand. "If all of the rebels follow me, kill the
engineer and get Grin on board."
Adam stood up and took a step towards the rebel leader, then spun around and
crouched back down.
"We're going north," he whispered.
All but two of the hatless rebels went with Adam, racing toward the train station
to chase down and kill the President and Generals.
Grand stared at the two remaining rebels, who stared back.
"Did he leave you a gun?" asked Grin.
"What?" asked Grand, keeping his eyes on the rebels.
"Did Adam leave you a gun?"
"No."
"So you'll kill with your bare hands?" asked Grin. "That's cool."
"He said kill the engineer only if the engineer is alone." said Grand. "He's not
alone."
"I understand," said Grin. "You're afraid."
" . . . the engineer isn't alone."
"There's nothing wrong with being scared. Most people are. Join the crowd."
"How could I kill three people?" asked Grand.
"Hey . . . the glass is half empty," said Grin. "That's fine."
"What?"
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"The glass is half-"
"I'm not afraid," said Grand.
"I know you're not," said Grin. "That's what I've been saying this whole time.
'That kid is goddamn fearless!' That's what I've been telling people."
"What are you talking about? I want to kill them. I want to."
"You're a bloodthirsty son of a bitch, kid. I'm damn proud of you."
"I would kill them if I had a gun. I would kill them right now."
"You're a maniac. I'm afraid...
of you."
"Just shut up. We might need the engineer," said Grand.
"Ah hah! But could you trust him?" asked Grin.
"I think so," said Grand, sweating despite the cold. "We'll promise him gold."
Grin grinned at Grand.
Grin chuckled.
"Don't you want to build a city?" he asked.
"I'm going to," said Grand.
"Without killing anyone?"
"I'll kill if I must," said Grand. "I will kill. I'll kill thousands of people. Five
thousand."
"Oooh."
" . . . or I'll pay other people to do it for me."
"No, you won't," said Grin. "You won't kill, and you won't pay others to kill.
And you'll die just like your father."
"Shut up. You don't know anything about my dad."
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"I know everything about your dad. He wasn't much different from my father—
maybe not as smart, definitely not as lucky. But they both believed in order, didn't
they?"
"My dad had a plan-"
"And why didn't it work?" asked Grin.
"It did," said Grand. "It started to work. There was a crowd. People wanted to
follow him . . . almost all of them did."
"Almost all of them did. Almost all of them did. You sound like a child."
"Shut up," said Grand. "All of them wanted a plan. But they were scared . . .
just a few."
"And what did they do?" asked Grin.
"Nothing," said Grand. " . . . just voices in the crowd . . . no plan of their own,
no plan of their own . . . just voices in the crowd."
"So you're saying they had no plan of their own?"
"Shut up."
"But something happened."
"Nothing happened."
"Something bad happened," said Grin. "Something small and bad."
"Nothing happened."
"Something happened! Something small and bad!"
"Aman...."
"A man?" asked Grin.
"Or a woman
"Or a woman?"
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"I couldn't tell. I was hiding in a building—the bank building. I was looking out
a window."
"And you saw something happen."
"Nothing happened. A person wearing a ram mask walked up to the stage—my
dad was on a stage
"And?"
"The person in the ram mask walked up to the stage . . . and stopped . . . and that
was it."
"No it wasn't."
"The voices stopped—the voices in the crowd."
"And?"
"My dad stopped, too."
"And?"
Grand began to stand but didn't. He looked around.
Where can I go? Where should I go? Where would Dad go?
"Don't you remember what happened, Charles Grand?"
"I went outside."
"You left the building."
"I went outside."
"Why did you leave the building? Your dad told you to stay in the building."
"Something was going to happen."
"Something small and bad."
"Everything stopped. The voices . . . stopped . . . my dad . . . stopped . . . the air .
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"Did you run to help your father? Or did you run home, Charles Grand?"
"I ran to tell my mother . . . but she wasn't home. I ran to tell my sister. I ran
into the woods."
"And now your father's dead."
" . . . maybe," said Grand. " . . . maybe."
"Someone killed your father. And what did you learn?" asked Grin.
"My dad controlled the gold, but someone else controlled the air."
"No. What you learned is that we all must kill to stay alive," said Grin. " . . . kill
plants, kill animals, kill people."
"We'll promise them gold."
"No, young man. You'll promise them violence," said Grin, grinning. "Now go
kill those two rebels and the engineer."
"No," said Grand staring at the dead body beneath him.
Grin frowned.
"I understand you don't want to get your hands dirty, but Jesus, we're all dirty.
We're all filthy. There's no use fretting about decorum, Charles. Listen to me, you
simply have to destroy before you can build. It's counterintuitive as hell, I know. But
true. You have to destroy before you can build, and then in the morning . . . you have to
destroy before you can build. And then in the morning
Grand stared at the two rebels, who were staring at him. He looked back down at
Grin whose growing grin revealed teeth black and yellow. The wind changed. Grand
winced, inhaling the powerful stench from Grin's body.
His grin isn't bigger, thought Grand, standing, trying to escape the smell. His
face is smaller.
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"What happened to you?" asked Grand.
"Your mother is staring at you," said Grin.
"What?"
Grand looked up and saw his mother standing ten feet away, her face youthful,
much younger than he remembered. Grand looked at the train, then into the forest, then
back down at Grin. He knelt, unzipped the Secret Servicemen's jackets, then checked
the insides for hidden weapons or tools. He found nothing, but a glimmer near one of
men's ankles caught Grand's eye. Grand reached down, unholstered the small pistol, and
jammed it in his pocket. He looked back at his mother, who hadn't moved, her mouth's
gape exposing near-perfect teeth.
"Aren't you going to say anything?" asked Rachael.
Grand glanced again at the two rebels guarding the train. The rebels—entranced
by the mother-son confrontation—failed to notice the engineer leaning outside the
engine car.
"Charles, I asked you a question," said Rachael.
"What would you like me to say?" asked Grand.
"How about you're sorry?"
"I'm not sorry," said Grand. "Why would I be?"
"You're my son?"
"I'm not your son anymore. I'm not a son. I do what I want. Just like you. Just
like Dad. Just like anyone."
"Just like anyone?" asked Rachael. "You don't know anyone, Charles. And you
don't want to know anyone, or trust anyone-"
"Because of you. Because you told me not to."
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"I've been a bad mother, but I can't help worrying about you. I can see what you
can't. I can see you stuck inside your dreams. And I understand that, Charles. What
else do you have but your dreams? Not much . . . maybe not anything. But you've got
to find a new way to escape. This world used to be a very different place, Charles.
Every kid could dream, then grow up and live a real life—an adult life. But now we just
survive, and kids can't stop dreaming because the world has nothing left to offer. But it
will kill you, Charles. You must stop dreaming before you die in your dreams like your
father."
"I can survive. I am surviving . . . on my own."
"How can you survive, Charles? You're thirteen-"
"Don't ask me any more stupid questions," said Grand.
"All I've got is stupid questions, Charles . . . and I'm sorry, but I've got to ask one
more. How do you feel about me coming all this way to find you? Loving you enough
to risk my life for yours?"
Grand shrugged, staring at the dead bodies beneath him.
"I'm free now."
Rachael shook her head.
"Free?" she asked. "That just means you're old enough to die alone . . . if that's
what you w a n t . . . . "
"Yeah," said Grand. " . . . that's what I want. I don't need anyone helping me
die."
"What about helping you live?" asked Rachael.
"All the hospitals have blown up," said Grand. " . . . I know you're
disappointed."
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Rachael's mouth tightened as tears streamed.
I didn't have to get married, she told herself. / didn't have to let any man inside
me.
"Okay, Charles," said Rachael, both cheeks hot and wet. "But would you mind
giving your mom one last hug?"
"I don't do that anymore."
Rachael nodded and tried to smile. She turned back towards the small concrete
building, the metal staircase and New America. As she walked, her eyes closed and
tears broke free, disappearing into snow.
CHAPTER LXVI
CHANCE
The sun sat low when Adam returned solo. He jogged towards Grand and Grin,
ignoring the two rebel guards, who didn't ignore him. Reaching the boy and the crippled
man, Adam knelt and began retying the leather laces on his boots.
"Are they the only two?" he asked in a whisper, flicking his eyebrows toward the
rebel guards standing thirty feet away.
Grand nodded, eyes fixed on Adam's feet to avoid revealing the question.
Despite Grand's attempt at deception, both rebel guards walked over to Adam, Grand,
and Grin—their tired faces concerned but calm.
"Where is everyone?" asked a guard.
"Trapped," said Adam.
"How?"
"There's a stairway in the station house. It runs deep—seven flights down. Then
a door. Then a hallway. Then another door. Then another hallway. Then it split, so we
split, too. But we didn't know the doors were locking behind us—no keyholes, maybe
it's electronic. My group hit another split, so we split again. Then again, each of us on
our own. Whoever made it out first was supposed to go back to the station house and jar
the doors open—do the whole thing over again, jarring the doors. I guess I'm first. I
saw some crates of metal spikes in the station. We'll use those."
"Go," said a guard. "Make it fast. Those hallways could be pumped full of
ether."
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"You should go with me," said Adam. "Even if I catch the President and
Generals . . . that would be four against one."
The guards looked at each other.
"Charles can watch the train," said Adam, flicking his head towards Grand. "If it
moves, we only need the direction."
The guards took one more look at the train, then nodded their assent. Trailing
Adam, they hustled to the station house.
As soon as the station door closed, the engineer hopped from the engine car, saw
Grand, and froze.
"I need to check on the other cars!" he yelled, raising his hands.
Grand felt the weight of the pistol in his pocket.
. . . I shouldn't kill him . . . there's no reason to kill him.
"Okay!" yelled Grand.
But the engineer didn't run. He walked past Grand and Grin and the three dead
bodies, following the line of rail cars filled with coal.
Grin coughed and formed a pistol with his one good hand. He squeezed the
invisible trigger.
Grand shook his head.
"He could be useful."
Grin shook his head.
"He'll hide inside the crowd."
From the west—from the direction of the stairs which led to New America—a
human figure approached, shrouded in dusk.
"Lucy?" asked Grand.
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"Your mom told me," said Caroline.
"Lucy?"
"It's Caroline. Remember?"
Grand shook his head and looked again.
"Caroline?"
"Your mom told me you were here."
"Yeah," said Grand, looking down at Grin, who appeared to be asleep.
"Are you a part of the fighting?" asked Caroline.
"No . . . yes."
"This place . . . it's pretty nice. Isn't it?" asked Caroline.
"New America? I guess," said Grand. " . . . if it lasts."
"I hope it does," said Caroline. "The people are nice. They want to keep things
together. They've really done a lot. They accomplish so much everyday. They have a
lot of stuff-"
"We're going north," said Grand.
"But the gold is here," said Caroline. "Isn't that what you wanted?"
Grand shrugged.
"You don't have to follow Adam," said Caroline.
"I know," said Grand. " . . . and I w o n ' t . . . not forever."
"So you'll stay?" asked Caroline.
"Things are going to get bad here."
"How?" asked Caroline.
Grand pointed at the bodies. The holes in the heads had turned from wet red to
dry maroon with centers evening black.
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Caroline stepped back, squinting.
"Are they dead?" asked Caroline.
"Of course," said Grand.
"Did you . . . ?"
Grand shook his head.
"The rebels," he said. "Didn't you see? The gun shots . . . that wasn't just
'fighting.' It's a takeover, and the guys taking over, they want people to vote, like the
way it used to be."
"Isn't that supposed to be good?" asked Caroline. "Democracy was a good
thing."
"Not if the people don't know what's good for them," said Grand.
"But they do know," said Caroline. "Look at what they've already accomplished.
Democracy just means more people involved. They'll accomplish even more."
"Who are 'they?"' asked Grand. "That's what I'm trying to tell you. You don't
know who 'they' are. But 'they' are going away. The people who built New America are
going away."
"'They' are not going anywhere. They're building everything right here," said
Caroline. "And I don't need to know their names. I can see what they've done."
"They don't know what I know-"
"They do know as much as you, Charles. They know a lot more."
"They know as much as you do," said Grand.
"What do you know that I don't?" asked Caroline.
"What my father taught me," said Grand.
"Your father's dead," said Caroline. "Charles-"
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"And that was the last lesson," said Grand, his eyes locking onto Caroline's.
"There was this person in a mask-"
"Charles, you're talking like your dreams-"
"There was this person in a mask . . . at the foot of the stage. Everyone froze.
The air stopped. The person in the mask controlled the air. My father didn't understand
t h a t . . . but I do."
"Charles, that doesn't make any sense. No one controls the air."
"You have to control the air!" yelled Grand. "I've seen what happens when you
don't control the air . . . I've seen how death happens! I watched my dad stop breathing!
He thought of the gold and the city, but he forgot about the air. You need air all the time.
You-"
"Charles, that's stupid-"
"You need air all the time!"
"Of course you do! There's plenty of air for everyone, Charles. It's free. You
don't have to fight to get it. Air . . . it's like democracy. It evens things out. Everybody
gets air. Everybody gets to vote. Everybody gets a chance. You're just stubborn . . . just
like my dad . . . just like your dad. Just like all men. That's why New America is all
women and children. Or didn't you see? Women will run the place pretty soon. Maybe
they already do. Maybe that's what you're afraid of, Charles. You're afraid of women
being in charge . . . because they won't go along with men's stupid ideas. You're afraid
of women who aren't afraid."
"I don't care about women!"
"Except your sister!"
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"Except my sister! If women want to be in charge of this place, that's fine with
me. I want to be in charge of my own place. I know how to do it. I know what to do. I
know what to control."
"Charles . . . oh my God. Please, just listen. Yes, you know things. And if you
stay here, you will get your chance to be in charge. You just said they were going to let
people vote. Well, guess what? People will vote for you. I'll vote for you. You'll get
your chance, Charles."
"But why settle for a chancel" asked Grand. "Why ask permission just to get a
chancel Why ask people to vote on whether or not I get a chance. They don't know
what I know."
"You're missing it, Charles."
"What?"
"The point of everything!"
"You don't know what I know."
"Charles, I've heard your dreams. I've listened to your dreams. All you want to
do is run away, but you don't know where you're going. You can't build anything that
way. You want to build a city, right? You can't build a city on the run . . . in a dream.
You're like a little kid who won't wake up. But you have to wake up to stay alive. And
that's the only chance we get—not the chance to build a city—but the chance to stay
alive. We don't get the chance to live our dreams. We get to stay alive. That's all we
get, Charles. That's all."
"That's all we're given," said Grand. "That's what babies are given when they're
born. That's what kids are given. But adults can take. Air isn't like democracy. You're
wrong about that. Air is like the richest most powerful man in the world. The man who
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controls life and death. Air is the man you have to kill to be king . . . the person in the
ram mask-"
"Charles, you're crazy."
"Then crazy is normal. Crazy is right."
"Why do you want to be king, Charles? King of what?"
"My father-"
"Your father is dead, Charles. And we can be happy here. You don't have to
control everything to be happy. It's not complicated. They already have everything—
everything we need to be happy is right here."
"My father said there can only be one," said Grand.
"One what?"
"One leader," said Grand. "One richest most p o w e r f u l . . . . "
"Then stay here and become president, get elected president," said Caroline.
"Other people will want power."
"So share it."
"You can have only one leader! Listen! My father figured it out."
"He's dead, Charles!"
"I know! He didn't understand the power of air—the person in the ram mask.
He had the gold. And now I see it! First you get the gold, then you control the air. If
you control the air, you control the crowd. Then you build the city. The gold is like a
seed. You plant the seed and things grow . . . like the woods. One tree from one seed. It
always starts with one seed, one tree, one leader."
"They're already growing everything right here, Charles. The world doesn't need
any more forests. The world needs fewer. You can't grow food in a forest. You can't
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build a city in a forest. And the city has already been built! They're growing it beneath
our feet!"
"They are. But if I'm not going to grow, if I'm not going to build, then what's the
point? I might as well live by myself. The whole reason of belonging to a group is to
make the group bigger—their group bigger, their control greater. A mother's control.
That's what they need other people for—to help them. That's why people have sex—to
make more of themselves, to make themselves bigger, stronger."
"That's why you have sex."
Grand stared at Caroline. A silhouette of shadow nearly erased her oval face.
. . . beautiful. . . but she doesn't get it. Lucy got it. Lucy understood.
The earth shook.
Grand jumped.
. . . the engine.
Grand ran thirty feet to the engine car, climbed the metal staircase and looked
inside.
"Hello?"
No answer.
Grand pressed his hands against the black metal body.
Warm but barely shaking.
Grand jumped down.
The earth's vibrations grew.
Grand looked towards the rear of the train.
The train jolted backwards—moving north.
Grand walked, then jogged alongside the cars.
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. . . the engineer.
"Is there another engine?" Grand asked, jogging past Caroline, Grin and three
dead bodies.
"Stay here, Charles," said Caroline, trying to catch Grand. "I want you to stay
here. If you want to be in charge, you can be in charge here. I bet you're smarter than
most of the men. You're young. They'll want a young man in charge, even the women
will want that. You can use the gold to build an army just like you wanted to, just like
your father was going to. Think of what your father would do if he had a place like this.
You can figure out a way to control the air. I'll help you, Charles. I'll help you become
king. I'll help you become the richest, most powerful-"
"We'd need the train," said Grand, breathing hard. "Even if I stayed, we'd need
the train. And there's gold in the north."
"You're insane, Charles. Can't you see that?" asked Caroline, her lips tightening,
her pace slowing. "They have everything here. Have you seen how much food they
have? They have a hospital, Charles. Just like the one my dad worked in—and it's
clean. Your mom said my dad is coming here to join us. A woman in the hospital said I
could become a doctor, too. Or a teacher if I want. Don't you see how much they have
here? They have so much-"
"Who has it?" asked Grand, clasping a bar on a coal car, watching the train inch
its way north, the silent, south-pointing engine about to pass him by.
"We have it," said Caroline. "Everyone does. Anyone who wants it. And you
want it the most. I'm sure you want it the most, Charles. I'm sure they'll let you have
what you want. Just like I did."
A far-off crunching sound joined with the far-off rumble.
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Grand and Caroline glanced back at the station house and saw a hulking
deformed figure running towards them.
"Anyone can control New America, Charles," said Caroline, the words quiet and
unconscious.
"Anyone?" asked Grand. "You can't trust 'Anyone."'
"You can't trust anyone, Charles. He can't trust Anyone," said Caroline, glancing
at Adam. "But it's your choice. Can't you see that?"
"Why don't you come with us?" asked Grand, releasing his grip on the coal car,
thinking of Lucy's pale body emerging from coal, thinking of Caroline's body, naked in a
cold dark steeple, his hand sliding underneath layers of worn and torn shirts.
"Charles, they have everything here, everything you're trying to get is already
here. Here!"
"It's not mine."
Adam, with Grin slung over his shoulder, caught up to Grand and Caroline. A
glancing Grand searched for blood on Adam's clothes but evening hid all details.
The train pulled past them, increasing in speed.
"What happened?" asked Adam.
"I don't know," said Grand. "The engineer said he was going to check some
cars-"
"You didn't kill him?" asked Adam.
"I thought we might
"
Caroline grabbed Grand's arm, glaring at Adam as the trio continued to jog north.
"Charles is staying," said Caroline. "But you should go."
Adam smiled.
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"Have fun," he gasped. "This place will fall apart before spring. But I'll be back
to get the gold, if I still need it."
"You can take it all," said Caroline. "Build a house out of it. Eat it and starve to
death."
Adam laughed and looked at Grand.
"I like your new boss," he said, chugging harder for the north-bound train.
Grand put his hand around Caroline's wrist.
"I'm going," he said.
"You're staying," said Caroline. "You don't want to spend the rest of your life
alone or with people like Adam, with killers, with men who hide in buildings. They're
not alive, Charles. But we can stay alive. Together-"
"I'm going to marry my sister," said Grand, glimpsing the forest's dark outline in
the new starry sky.
"She's dead," said Caroline.
"No," said Grand, shaking his head. "She isn't."
"I talked to your mom, Charles, about 'Lucy."'
"I don't care."
"You don't care that your twin sister died at birth. Your mom showed you the
grave, right?"
"Shut up."
"Your mom dug up the grave and showed you your dead sister—the dead baby.
She took you to the tree and dug up the body, Charles."
Grand wrenched his left arm from Caroline's grasp.
He felt his collarbone.
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"The pain is gone," he said. "It's healed."
"Your mom was trying to help you," said Caroline. "Why won't you let us help
you?"
Grand's jog became a sprint, his surging heartbeat ringing inside his ears.
"Come back!" yelled Caroline, stumbling, then sliding on the snow.
She watched Grand's shadowy body reach the south-pointing engine car. She
watched Adam lift Grand aboard. She felt tears streak toward the corners of her lips and
slide inside - her eyes feeding her mouth.
" . . . come back . . . I'll help you . . . become king."
CHAPTER LXVII
YOU HAVE TO KILL
"Are the rebels dead?" asked Charles.
"Only five," said Adam, " . . . five that I know of."
"Will the rest come after us?"
"They have enough problems back there."
"Trapped?" asked Grand.
"Who knows? It's like a maze down there—you keep going around in circles. I
was lucky to get out," said Adam. "Twice lucky."
He turned to look at Grin, but the crippled man's twisted body lay lost in a heavy
shadow.
"How far to New York City?" asked Adam in a tense raised voice.
Grin tried and failed to clear his throat.
"Non-stop . . . at this speed . . . ten days . . . maybe less," he said, his voice
clogged with liquid.
"Can we make it go faster?" asked Adam.
"We?" asked Grin. " . . . perhaps."
"Where is this guy taking the train?"
"Back to where they found i t . . . . "
"Which is?"
"If we switch to an eastern track, then East Kentucky. If we switch to a western
track, then West Kentucky. Coal country."
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"How far could the engineer get with all these cars?" asked Adam. "This amount
of coal?"
"A long ways, but he'll have to stop for water. It's steam powered. They must
have a station for water," said Grin. "Maybe more than one."
"Is there any reason I should kill him right now?" asked Adam. " . . . climb
along the cars and kill him?"
Grin didn't answer. Adam crawled over to Grin's body and felt the crippled man's
pulse.
It's weak, thought Adam, moving his hand to Grin's head. Freezing...
he's
going to die . . . we'll need the engineer.
Grand cleared his throat.
"Do you remember being captured?" asked Grand. "At the Fort?"
"I must have passed out in the vault," said Adam. "Ether."
"What?"
"A gas they piped in."
"Is that how they controlled the air?" asked Grand.
"That's how they controlled the air. That's how they control New America."
"But won't it kill people?" asked Grand. "Won't the air kill people?"
"Sure," said Adam. "It could. But that's not what the President wants. He wants
sleep, not death."
"Making us sleep in those concrete rooms . . . It really worked."
"Of course, it worked."
"Not just sleep," said Grand. "It made me feel calmer . . . even after I woke up.
It made me feel good."
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"That wasn't the gas. That was your mind tricking itself," said Adam.
"It wasn't a trick," said Grand. "I really felt good."
"Yeah, you felt good because your mind ordered you to feel good. They made
you comfortable, so your mind would stop asking questions, so your mind would click
off of survival mode and onto communal mode."
"What's wrong with that?" asked Grand.
"What's wrong with no longer caring about your survival? Hmm
"How can you battle for recruits against something like that?" asked Grand.
"What?"
"How can you compete with New America—people who control the air."
"Loaded guns."
"We can't shoot everyone," said Grand.
"Yes we can," said Adam.
Grand rubbed his face, wanting sleep, wanting to rid his mind of questions.
"What's going to happen when they let people vote?" asked Grand.
"Let who vote?" asked Adam. "New Americans? That orange-headed jerk ain't
starting a democracy, kid."
"But the rebels want it to be-"
"I thought you were smarter than that," said Adam.
"But they said—their leader said—people would get to vote. What if people
won't follow you because you won't give them a vote?"
"And what if they do follow me . . . but then stab me in the back? I'll kill them.
I'll survive. I'll threaten. I'll bribe. I'll say whatever people want to hear, just like that
orange-headed jerk. If they want to hear about democracy, then yeah, I'll tell them
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they're about to get a vote. Hell, I'll let them vote, I'll beg them to vote, then I'll count
the vote myself and tell them I won."
"And-"
"And if they complain, I'll kill the noisemakers then let the crowd vote again. I'll
let them vote twenty-times over. It doesn't matter if it's democracy or a king or
whatever. People want to feel safe, they want to belong. Provide that and they'll accept
anything—they'll believe anything. Those rebels are going to do the same thing as us.
They'll lie. They'll kill. Just like us. Or just like me, anyway. They've got a head start,
but that's all. Those murders today . . . they can call them 'revolution' or 'terrorism.' In
the end, the new result is the same as the old result: current leaders die, new ones take
over."
"But how do you keep someone from doing the same thing to you? You kill and
take over, then someone kills you and takes over," said Grand.
"Jesus. Are you serious, kid?" asked Adam.
"How do you stop the circle?"
"Chaos!" yelled Grin.
Adam and Grand looked at the shadow hiding their crippled acquaintance.
"It's not too late to go back," said Adam. "You could be snuggled into your New
America right now. Snuggled in with your girlfriend . . . and your mommy."
Adam's laughter melded with the rattling, vibrating train.
"I'm never going back," said Grand.
Adam smiled and nodded in the darkness.
"If we find gold up north, what are we going to do?" asked Grand.
"Go back south, find someplace with good soil and enough rain. Start building."
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"What about me, though?" asked Grand.
"You'll be my second in command, my general—or maybe you should fight Grin
for that privilege."
"What if I want to go back—south to Onall—and start my own place?" asked
Grand.
"Maybe we'll go there together," said Adam.
"What if I want to go alone?" asked Grand.
"How old are you, kid?" asked Adam. "Didn't your dad try to do the same thing
in the same place and by himself? They killed him, didn't they? Do you want to be dead
within a week? Or survive and be a king with no subjects?"
"I have a gun," said Grand. "And I know what my father didn't know. There's
this person in a ram mask . . . somehow controlling the air, controlling the voices, too—
the voices in the crowd. But I'll have gold and a gun and-"
"So you're going to kill a few people, and the rest will get in line? They'll
disappear, kid. You need an army, not a pistol, an army, a loyal army who believes in
you. You have to make people believe in you, make them believe in your dreams, make
them want to follow your dreams. Look at that guy Sym, calling himself the President.
The President of what? An underground bunker? But still, he almost had it figured out,
didn't he? People love him. People fear him. People work every day to achieve his
dreams. But it only took a few who didn't-"
"So it doesn't work?"
"Sym wasn't ruthless enough—just like Cypher. You have to kill the ones who
don't believe. You have to kill, kid. Kill and kill again."
Adam reached out to grab Grand by the shoulder but grabbed only air.
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"Just follow me, Charles. I'll lead. You'll learn."
"Why will people believe in you?" asked Grand.
"You're here, aren't you? Why are you here?" asked Adam. "You're here because
you trust me more than you trust those rebel idiots. You trust me more than you trust
your mother. You trust me more than you trust yourself. It's a sign of intelligence,
Charles."
"I trusted this President more. I mean . . . it's not that I trusted him, but look at
what he built. He actually did it—not that I want to live there. I'm not going back. But
he did what we're trying to do. He already did it."
"And you see what happened to him—or what's about to happen to him. I've
been thinking about this a long time, Charles. Years and years and years. I've seen the
rise and fall, Charles. I can get someone to follow me right now if I put a gun to their
head, but as soon as the gun is gone, so are they. What does that mean, Charles? It
means that once you scare the shit out of people, once you make them fear a violent
death, you have to have a second act. What's the second act, Charles? If I get a bunch
of scared people to build a settlement which can then provide the scared people food,
well, those people will listen to me—they'll listen without a gun to their head. They will
listen and do what I say as long as the food and shelter are worth it. But what happened
at the other New America, the one I recruited for? As soon as the leader left, people
freaked out. They destroyed the greenhouses, stripped them bare. They broke up the
livestock—with one sheep you've got one sheep, with two sheep, a male and female,
you've got as many as you can breed. Did they stop and think about that? I doubt it.
Did they plan the break up? Hell no. They knew they couldn't hold that place together
themselves. Why? Because they thought they were weak, because they are weak. So
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the second act is to give people strength, to make them strong physically and mentally,
and to make them grateful to me for giving them that strength—the strength to no longer
fear violent death. Like a son is grateful to his father—the father who made him strong.
Or better yet, like a doctor who infects then cures, like a human being with the power of
God."
"Wasn't the President making people strong, giving history back to people?"
"No! I just told you he was making them weak. He was making you weak. Your
survival depended on him. This guy was just like Cypher—this President only seemed
more sophisticated because he had a head start. They built all those bunkers before the
big collapse. Everything was in place. Do you think President Sym or whatever his
name was could build something from scratch like I will? It was all a front—a dream
made believable by a sleeping gas."
"What if I find the gold in the north? What if I'm the one who gets it?" asked
Grand.
"If it's there and gettable, then we'll get it together," said Adam.
"But what if I got it on my own? You could have most of it. I would just need
enough to start a bank in Onall," said Grand.
"You're following me, kid. You got on this train because of me. If you want to
go off on your own and get killed like your dad, that's your decision," said Adam,
shaking his head and smiling. "Eventually, you'll understand why you're following me.
Eventually, you'll understand why you're not following your father's dreams, not
anymore. Those illusions will get you killed and you know i t . . . maybe not
consciously, but you know it, kid. The adult inside you understands that you're mortal.
You can't cling to childhood dreams, kid. You're following a real leader with a real
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dream based on real life—an adult dream. You're the first of many followers. You'll
see."
"But what if someone kills you and becomes the next real leader with the next
real dream . . . How do you stop the chaos?"
"You find every seed of chaos and crush it beneath your boot."
The train chugged north beneath a star-spangled sky.
Adam stood and walked to the engine car door. Confronting a cold breeze, he
stared into the night.
"Go to sleep, kid. Your leader will take the first watch."
In Grand's dream, the ringing became rattling shards of metal, splintering and
stabbing at millions of tiny nerves. Grand forced his eyes open, then relaxed as the
rattling became a rumbling—the rumbling of a steam engine a few feet from his face.
Grand lay alone inside an engine car. The sun had just set and the world was the darkest
of blues. Grand stood, looked out the engine car door, and watched a familiar scene pass
by. Shaking sleep away, Grand realized the train was rolling down Main Street in Onall,
Texas.
Rumbling past the Bank of Onall, the train turned a corner, entering a
neighborhood of skeleton houses burned to their foundations. Grand leaned outside the
door to steal a better look.
This is the last time, he thought, watching winter cold compress what little wood
remained, watching dampness work its way through everything, watching a
neighborhood consumed, succumbing to the rot of time.
Grand looked for signs of recent activity, signs of current life.
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He saw none.
The train never stopped and the world—Grand's world—turned frigid and too
dark to see.
Grand lay down on the steel floor and shut his eyes, opening them again to find
the train rolling through an arid land which stretched to all four horizons. The sun—a
circle of blinding yellow-white surrounded by high-noon blue—shone directly overhead,
baking the moistureless air. Mesquite, cacti, and plugs of dead grass spotted the
squinting landscape. Suddenly dark brown mountains rose sharp in the south—a sparkle
at their feet. With wide-awake eyes, Grand cheered the train forward, his words quickly
swallowed by rumbling. Arriving in the City of Sparkle, Grand smiled and stepped to
the door.
It's perfect, he told himself. A city from the future. A city from the past.
Skyscrapers sheathed in mirrored glass shot into the sky, disappearing in blue
reflections. Grand felt his body vibrate and warm, adrenaline infusing his blood.
Survival instinct, he told himself, caressing his arms and chest. Speeding up to
live faster, to stay ahead.
The train stopped in the middle of a broad thoroughfare.
. . . Main Street, City of Light.
Grand jumped onto soft black asphalt—fresh with the scent of tar. He searched
the street for someone, for anyone, to speak with—a denizen of the City who could tell
him what to do.
Grand knew he had arrived for a reason. But looking left and right, fulfilling
some archaic habit, his searching eyes saw no one. An intense heat rose around his body
like a giant warm breath.
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The City is alive, he told himself. The City is breathing, vibrating, ringing,
calling me.
Grand felt a punch on his shoulder. He searched the street for a culprit, but saw
only empty asphalt and empty pavement.
This City is for me.
Another punch landed.
This City is for me!
CHAPTER LXVIII
SENATOR
Grand blinked, his vision black.
Another punch hit his shoulder.
Grand opened his mouth but was silenced by the silence surrounding him.
The train lay still and quiet.
"He might be coming back here," whispered Adam. "Get up and move into the
corner by Grin. Don't worry. We won't kill him . . . not yet. Let me take care of it."
A few minutes later, the familiar dry crunch approached. Next came the clank of
boots against the engine-car ladder. The engineer stopped outside the doorway, cranked
his rotary flashlight and pointed the beam inside, illuminating Grand's feet and Grin's
crumpled body. Grin opened one eye and stared into the beam.
"Who's here?" asked the engineer, unconsciously leaning forward.
Adam answered the question with a fist to the engineer's face, slamming the
startled man into the back wall—the wall which opened to a gangplank and the first car
of coal. The flashlight clanked on the floor, and Adam scrambled for it, snatching it
while the engineer gasped for breath only inches from Grand.
"I'm a United States Senator," said the engineer, holding his broken jaw with one
hand, sticking the other hand out into the darkness.
"I didn't vote for you," said Adam, flashing light on the engineer's grimace.
"Who's there?" asked the engineer again.
"Your new President," said Adam.
"What have you done with him?"
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"With who?"
"President Sym."
"We boiled him into a stew. Want some?"
A shot rang out.
"Fuck," said Adam, dropping the flashlight.
Adam stumbled in the darkness. Grand felt a scuffle near his feet and shrunk
against the wall. Choking sounds bounced around. A boot smacked a boot, trying to
regain footing. The fight ended with a thud—the engineer's limp body dropping to the
floor. Adam snatched the flashlight again. He whirred the crank and aimed the beam at
his thigh, revealing a bullet-sized puncture and pants soaking up blood. He moved the
beam around the engineer's body, searching for a gun, finding none. He aimed the beam
on Grand's face. Grand squinted, reflexively raising his hands to block the blinding
light.
"Did you shoot me, kid?" asked Adam.
"I don't have a gun," said Grand.
"Where is it?"
"What?" asked Grand.
"Your gun."
"I don't have a gun."
"Don't move," said Adam, limping forward.
Adam patted Grand's jacket, finding the gun in Grand's right pocket. He grabbed
the gun and pressed the barrel to his face, feeling for warmth.
Cold.
"Why did you think I shot you?" asked Grand.
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"Why did you lie to me, kid?"
Grand didn't answer.
Adam laughed.
"Forget about it," he said, tossing the gun back to Grand, shining the beam down
on Grin who appeared unconscious.
Adam shined the light on his wound, examining the entry point.
Small caliber. . . small caliber.
Adam shined the light back on the engineer, spotting a black gun butt underneath
the dead man's pants. He picked it up and pressed the barrel to his face.
Hot.
"It's your fault," said Grand. "We have to kill for it, don't we? You said we have
to kill for it. We have to fight for it and kill for it. That's what you said. Why didn't you
kill for it?"
"I did kill for it, kid. Check the Senator's pulse."
"You didn't kill him right away. You were scared. I wasn't sacred—you were
scared."
"Shut up, kid. Grin's going to die," said Adam. "Shit, he might be dead already.
We needed an engineer—a living engineer. Do you know how to run a fucking train?"
"It's just a cold," said Grin, his voice hoarse and loud. "The flu, that's all."
"The flu?" asked Adam. "The flu lights your head on fire . . . and yours is like
ice."
"Maybe it's food poisoning," said Grin.
"What did you eat?" asked Adam.
"I believe his name was Crane," said Grin.
CHAPTER LXIX
CRANE
"I saw them take Charles and Caroline," said Grin. "It was afternoon. I thought
they would come back for Adam, but by evening . . . no sign. Adam hadn't come out
with the gold, either. I decided to crawl into the forest—a man doesn't want to sleep
outside in the snow, even a man who has never felt cold. I found a path that ended at a
concrete house—a cube—about a mile inside the forest. It took me about half an hour,
but I finally got the door open. Inside, a staircase went down four or five flights. I was
too tired to investigate, so I crawled into a corner and passed out. At some point in the
night, someone pointed a light in my face. I kept my eyes shut, hoping whoever it was
would think I was dead and leave me. They did think I was dead. But they didn't leave
me. They picked me up and carried me back into the forest, down another path. Black
of night. They threw me down on some kind of pile, then threw another body on top of
me. After that, they probably went to get Adam. I pushed things around—arms and legs
and heads—making a cave amongst corpses. Most of the bodies were old—a little skin,
a lot of bones. You could suck a little dried meat off the bones—the ribs mainly. But
that was it. I tried to conserve the fresh body thrown on top of me. But a man gets
hungry. Damn hungry. I thought I should eat more than usual—create more body heat.
It's almost winter after all. I can't feel cold or heat, but I figured as long as I had a
healthy appetite, I must be a healthy boy. After a week or so, they brought a second
fresh body. And I'll be honest, once I got past that tough skin, Crane was damn tasty.
You would think human flesh wouldn't taste that good. You would think. I finished the
upper body in only two days. I began to worry about my future. What would I do if the
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bodies stopped coming? I decided to check on the Depository—see if anyone else was
showing up for the gold, someone who might help a poor cripple get back down south.
No one showed. But a few days later, the rebels brought a woman to the body heap—a
live woman, one of their new recruits. I guess they wanted to impress her with the
cruelty of it, the cruelty of the underground country, the cruelty they were fighting
against. I introduced myself and told them I had been captured and cast off as a reject—
left for dead. They bought it, then made me a part of their plans. I love lying."
Grin coughed hard.
Once again, Grand whiffed the powerful stench marinating Grin's trench coat.
"When did they kill Crane?" asked Adam. "How long ago?"
"Three weeks maybe. I was finishing the last toe when the rebels found me—
kind of embarrassing. It's tough to wash up with cold snow."
CHAPTER LXX
SAFE
Morning in New America brought confusion and hope. Even though they slept
in darkness underground, citizens knew their reveille had blared before sunrise.
Whispers concluded the President must be dead. Whispers assured that he wasn't.
Instead of eating breakfast in the large cafeteria, patriots scurried into the stadium-sized
room where soldiers asked them to hush and wait. Unlike on the train station platform,
the public address system worked fine as First Lady Jordan Sym stepped before a
microphone to address the crowd of women, children, and men.
"On behalf of the government of New America, I would like to apologize for
what occurred yesterday. We took what we thought were adequate security measures,
but as you have already guessed, there was an attempt to assassinate my husband—an
attempt," she said, letting the final word echo inside the giant chamber. "If I hadn't been
ill and had made it to the ceremony, I'm certain they would have tried to kill me. In any
case, they failed."
Mrs. Sym stopped and without any apparent encouragement from her or the
Secret Servicemen guarding her, a smattering of applause exploded into a roar which
shook the stadium floor. Mrs. Sym made no attempt to quiet the crowd, and when it
began to do so on its own, President Sym entered the stadium from the door behind Mrs.
Sym's platform. The roar reached a deafening height which lasted fifteen minutes.
Before the applause ended completely, President Sym replaced his wife at the
microphone.
"The traitors are dead," he said.
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The cheering rose, then died.
"I will not keep you from your breakfast," said the President, examining
exhausted, anxious, and hungry faces. "After all, the food you eat is food you have
planted, harvested, and prepared. It belongs to you—all of you. I only wish to make
one point—two points, actually—and one request. Then we will get on with our lives
and continue the building of our great New America."
The President paused to acknowledge light applause. As he raised his benevolent
hand to the crowd, Rachael, standing between Luz and Caroline, looked past the
President and locked onto the the Secret Serviceman standing directly behind him. She
immediately recognized the orange hair and freckled face of the man who had pulled
Adam away from the train to go search for—and kill—the President and Generals.
. . . the rebel leader?
Rachael's grips on the girls' hands tightened as a stifled scream choked her throat.
She swallowed.
"The first point I wish to make is that we are safe. As you may have guessed, a
small number of conspirators were living and plotting both inside New America and in
the nearby forest. We were aware of their existence but not their exact plans. From the
single traitor who survived the skirmish yesterday, we now know their failed plans.
They wanted to take over New America and turn all of you essentially into slaves. Their
leader wanted to be king. But America has never had a king and will never have one as
long as I am here. The traitor who survived yesterday and told us of these plans died
this morning of his battle wounds. And so, out of this seeming chaos, we have been
granted a completely fresh start. Chaos cannot withstand our human will to order! The
second point I wish to make is that our continued safety is not guaranteed. The dead
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conspirators all came from within our tight-knit community. Their group included
several women, all of whom were killed yesterday as well. And so, my request is that
you immediately renew your relationships with each other. Those relationships are a
powerful, positive thing. B u t . . . if in the course of renewing your relationships and
building new ones, you discover some discrepancy, something just not right, you must
tell us immediately. I will protect you as much as I can. The Secret Service—none of
whom were killed yesterday, luckily—will protect you as well as they have protected
myself and my wife. And you men in our military will also continue to protect us. But
all of us must work to protect ourselves. We're all in this together, trusting each other,
and if there are any more traitors conspiring against us, we must root them out at once."
The President paused, letting his words echo and die.
"Please enjoy your breakfast. I know it isn't Sunday, but this morning we shall
have a Sunday breakfast. Be safe."
Raucous applause broke out. The President walked towards the door behind the
platform but stopped to speak with his Secret Servicemen. The applauding crowd
remained in place for a moment, then quickly dispersed towards the cafeteria. Rachael
stood her ground just like the day before. This time, staring at an orange-haired man
instead of Adam and her son.
"Go eat breakfast," Rachael said to Luz and Caroline, relinquishing her grip.
Rachael walked to the platform, watching the orange-haired man exchange words
with the President he had failed to kill.
"My son is on the train," said Rachael.
The President turned and looked at Rachael who stood ten feet below. His eyes
brightened.
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"I'm sorry," said the President. "I didn't hear you. Are you a new patriot? I don't
believe we've met."
"She was introduced three days ago," said Mrs. Sym, walking over to join the
conversation.
Rachael, you're turning in your son .. . you're turning in your son.
"Can I speak with you alone?" asked Rachael, smiling at the President.
The President looked at his wife. The man with orange hair stepped forward.
"I'm sure whatever you have to tell me, you can also tell my wife and the head of
the Secret Service."
Rachael looked at the man with orange hair—the head of the Secret Service. He
seemed not to recognize her from the day before.
"It's about my son," said Rachael. "But he's not against you. He's not against
New America."
"Is he here?" asked the President.
"He's on the train. He didn't take i t . . . he just climbed aboard by mistake," said
Rachael.
"He climbed aboard when the engineer took it north?" asked the President.
"Well, I'm sure he'll be safe as long as he asks the engineer for help. The engineer is a
nice man, a patriot."
As the President spoke, the man with orange hair stared at Rachael, his tired face
betraying no emotion.
"He wasn't alone," said Rachael.
"Who was with him?" asked the President.
The man with orange hair whispered into the President's ear.
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"Do you know the man with red hair?" asked the President. "Adam is his name."
Do you know the man with orange hair? Rachael wanted to ask.
"No," said Rachael. "But he's the one you want. He's the dangerous man. My
son-"
"Excuse me," said the President. "What's your name?"
"Rachael."
"Rachael, if you don't know this man, Adam, how do you know he's dangerous?"
"He took my son away from me. Not here—well, here, too—but first in the
south. That's where we're from. There was another New America-"
"How old is your son?" asked the President.
"Thirteen," said Rachael, "just thirteen."
President Sym invited Rachael to eat breakfast with himself, his wife, and Max,
the orange-haired head of the Secret Service. They exited the door behind the platform
and descended several floors on metal staircases before reaching the President's private
quarters. The furniture and design of the quarters were those of the White House. They
ate in a small room which Mrs. Sym said President Abraham Lincoln used when
composing his Gettysburg Address.
History, Rachael told herself, staring at the room which seemed both old and
new. That's what they're fighting for. The power of history. The hope of history. The
order of history. This isn't a nation . .. it's a museum.
"Why would your son want to go on the train?" asked Max. "Adventure?"
"I don't know," said Rachael. " . . . yes, adventure . . . just adventure. He has
dreams . . . dreams of adventure, like all boys . . . and some men."
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"They came here to get gold?" asked Max.
"Yes. Well, Adam did. I'm sure my son doesn't care. He's j u s t . . . he lost his
father and he's searching for something. He's at that age where boys just search—like
you said, for adventure, following their dreams. But I don't think he understands the
danger he's in."
"Rachael," said President Sym, "I'm going to tell you something which you need
to keep to yourself. I'm trusting you to do that."
Rachael nodded.
"We have a train depot not far to the north. Many trains are hidden there and
protected—coal-fueled, steam-powered trains like the one your son is on. They're part
of our plan to expand, once we're big enough to really expand, to get back aboveground,
as it were. I'm telling you this because your son really isn't in that much danger. The
engineer took the train back to the depot. He may be there already. This man, Adam,
would find it difficult to take the train much farther north. So, there's no reason to
worry. I wouldn't worry. It's winter, I think your son will realize he needs New America
—this Adam character will, too."
"Adam won't come back here," said Rachael. "And if he did, you wouldn't want
him here."
The President nodded. He looked at Max.
"Max will send a team to find your son and Adam," said the President.
"I'd like to go," said Rachael.
"That won't be necessary," said Max. "You can trust us."
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"But my son might not," said Rachael. "And if he won't come back, there are
some things that need to be said - 1 just need to tell him the naked truth, maybe he'll
listen to that."
"You-"
"This might be my last chance," said Rachael.
"You can say whatever you want to him when we bring him back," said Max,
standing up, signaling his intention to end the conversation and begin his journey north.
"It's only thirty miles away. I'll be back tonight."
CHAPTER LXXI
PHENOMENA
With morning light shining through the engine car door, Adam ripped open Grin's
pant leg, revealing a bent black-green shaft with little resemblance to a human leg.
Adam ripped off the other pants leg, revealing a second stench-exuding, black-green
shaft.
"They'll have to be amputated," said Grin, his usual amused countenance
replaced with a look of sick exhaustion—a face paler and grayer than a day-old corpse.
"We'll find something up north," said Adam.
"Some thing!" asked Grin. "Some thing! Are you referring to a hospital or gold
or something else?"
"All three, possibly," said Adam. "We'll find something soon. Don't worry."
"There's no time to go north," said Grin. "I'm sure you can smell that. But just
in case you can't, let me assure you of some thing: that ripe stench making you want to
vomit—that's me dying."
"I'll carry you to the front engine - the one facing north," said Adam. "You'll
help me restart the engine. We'll go full speed until we find . . . something."
"Yes," said Grin. "Yes. Your willingness to hurry on my account is quite selfless
and noble. I would simply point out t h a t . . . I'm not going to be much use to you once
I'm fully decayed. I'm sorry to say this, but you probably won't even be able to eat me—
not without some really terrific sauce."
"We're not going back south," said Adam. "Not any time soon."
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"What about your wound?" asked Grin. "Aren't you afraid it will get infected?
Bad things can happen with infections, you know . . . smelly things. 'Safety first,' I
always say. And, you know what, shouldn't that be our guiding light in this dark dark
world?"
"My bleeding stopped," said Adam. "Small caliber pistol, small caliber wound."
Adam gently touched the bandage around his wounded thigh—a bandage made
from strips of the dead engineer's shirt. Adam gazed at the dead engineer and shook his
head.
"What an idiot. He's alone. He flees the scene of a coup. He's got no protection
except a toy pistol. And what does he do? He stops in the middle of night-"
"Maybe he didn't stop," said Grin. "Maybe he arrived."
Grin reached down to his thighs and pulled the remainder of his pants towards
his crotch. The border between pink and gangrenous skin shone distinct.
"In any case," said Grin. "You might as well carry me forward to the other
engine car. Maybe they have a saw and some tourniquet string. Some medical things."
"What happened here?" asked a voice from outside the door.
Adam reached for his gun, but the voice had one ready.
A shot fired.
Adam landed hard on his knee, eyes shutting tight, fending off a new surge of
pain. He spun towards the door and fired, making no attempt to aim. Grand shrunk
against the car's back wall but remained exposed to the outside shooter.
"Give me your gun," said Adam.
Grand pulled the pistol from his pocket. He examined the shiny black surface.
. . . it's mine.
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"Give it to me!" growled Adam.
Grand flung the pistol, sending it ricocheting off Adam's hand and neck. The gun
clanked against wall and floor. Adam searched for it, maintaining focus on the engine
car door. He culled the gun from a pool of his own hot blood.
"Goddammit!" coughed Adam, grabbing the dead engineer and flinging the cold
corpse far outside.
Unzipping his coat, he ran a shaky, stained hand across his pulsing, drenched
dark shirt. He zipped his jacket back up, then leapt from the car—a caged animal finally
free. Grand scrambled to the front wall, protecting himself against direct shots but not
ricochets.
For ten minutes, as the sun brightened a perfect-blue sky and snow-white earth,
gun shots rang out in rhythm—each blast a guarantee that Adam remained alive and
other people did not.
A ten minute lull in the shooting gave Grand enough courage to peer around the
side of the engine car door. He saw only two bodies, one right outside the door, another
two-hundred feet away—the dead men dressed in dark blue coveralls just like the dead
engineer.
"You don't have to follow him, you know," said Grin.
"What?" asked Grand, reeling his head back to safety.
"He's not the one to follow," said Grin.
"I'm not following him," said Grand.
"Then what are you doing here?" asked Grin.
"This is j u s t . . . I'm here for now," said Grand, inhaling carefully, his tense
muscles ready to dodge.
477
"But you must have a plan?" asked Grin. "Everyone has a plan. First you
dream, then you plan. Everyone dreams and thus everyone . . . plans. What's your plan,
Charles Grand?"
Grand examined Grin. He ran his tongue across the empty space where a molar
had once been.
"Yeah, I have a plan," said Grand, " . . . more than a plan . . . my dad . . . I have
things all worked out."
"Things?" asked Grin. "More things. What thingsT
"A city," said Grand, " . . . rebuilding a city . . . controlling the air."
"We just came from a city," said Grin. "You just left a city already built."
"That's not a city," said Grand, peering outside again, seeing no movement.
"If it's not a city, then what is it?"
"I don't know," said Grand. " . . . The Capital... that was a city. New America,
the one we just left, it's more like a hideout."
"And your dad didn't build a hideout—hideouts weren't for him or his son. No
hiding in hiding places. No, no, no. Your dad rebuilt a real city?"
"He would have."
"But-"
"He didn't understand everything. He didn't understand the power of air. He
chose the wrong place—the wrong
"Location?" asked Grand. "And where is the right location?"
"South," said Grand, " . . . far to the south, through the desert, near some
mountains. I've seen it. My dad read me some stories about the far south . . . about
deserts and Mexico and-"
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"Listen, your dad-"
"My dad was in the hospital you blew up," said Grand.
"I didn't blow it up. I just removed the front w a l l . . . of the entire building," said
Grin, staring at Grand while scratching his still-pink groin.
"Did I kill him?" asked Grin.
Grand hesitated.
"I don't know," he said.
"Well, I apologize anyway. How's that? Since you're going south, do you think
you could apply some tourniquets, saw off my legs and take me back to my abode in The
Capital? I'll teach you some things which might be useful in building a city—or
rebuilding one."
"Your idea about chaos?" asked Grand.
"Electricity," said Grin.
"How to blow up buildings with electricity?"
"How to generate power, how to generate electricity using coal. Solar panels
don't last forever, you know. But you can still power a city with coal, especially if you
have a train to transport the coal. Which—at the moment—you seem to have."
"I'm going north," said Grand, " . . . for now."
"Not this gold nonsense?" asked Grin. "The world is too far gone, young man.
People just want to have fun, okay. Fun with violence. They don't care about gold. You
can't eat it. You can't buy anything with it—except your own death . . . and death's no
fun."
"I've seen it work."
"What?"
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"Gold," said Grand. "It attracts people."
"Like moths to a flame," said Grin, "which kills moths."
"I saw it work in Onall with my father. I mean . . . I saw it begin to work. There
was a crowd, a beginning. If my dad had been prepared-"
"I thought he just picked the wrong location."
"If my dad had gotten more gold," said Grand, " . . . he could have paid off the
people in the crowd. He could have killed the voices. He could have controlled the air.
He just needed more gold."
"But you'll have more gold," said Grin. "Gold. Gold. Gold. But still, nobody
having fun. Gold isn't fun. People just want to have fun, goddammit!"
Grin heaved and coughed, ejecting a pile of maroon phlegm on top of his filthy
black coat.
He swallowed.
"Blood," he said. "I can't feel pain, but I can taste blood. This isn't fun.
Goddammit, this is not fun. No fun for Grin. Nobody wants Grin to have fun!"
"First you get the gold," said Grand quietly. "Then you control the air—you pay
someone to control the air. Then you control the crowd—you pay someone to control
the crowd. Then you rebuild the city . . . then you rebuild the city."
"What?" asked Grin, examining bloody phlegm with a dirty finger.
"It worked in the past," said Grand. "I mean, you can read about it in books. It
worked in history. Gold control. We're just doing the same thing in those books. We're
repeating what's already worked."
"Always a good idea," said Grin, "repeating history, an approach that rarely fails.
And good for you for reading! But listen, history is mostly about dead people, and death
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can be viewed by some as . . . kind of a failure. So, maybe dead people aren't the best
role models. You can't argue with them. You can't test them. And listen, if you keep me
alive, I'll teach you how to power a city. I'll teach you more than that. I'll teach you
whatever you want to know. I've got a terrific library. It's seven stories tall and no
longer open to the public. Think about it. Usable skills—not ideas but skills. Can a
dead person in a book really teach you a skill? Plus, I'm a fun teacher, non-traditional,
always ready for trips into the field. What the hell do you mean by 'controlling the air?'
Say . . . do you like hooch?"
Grand looked at Grin's black and green legs.
"I'll think about it," said Grand.
"Well, I appreciate you," said Grin. "I really do. Just try to keep in mind that I'm
in the process of decomposing. About halfway there, I think. It might be safe for you to
go outside now . . . right now. If this is some sort of fort or rail yard or both, there might
be some first aid equipment—a saw, tourniquets, homemade liqueurs.''''
"Okay," said Grand.
"That man on the ground there had a gun," said Grin. "Take it. Remember what
I always say: Gold and guns lead the way . . . a saw and tourniquets would make my
day."
Grand peered out the door, seeing no movement.
He looked back at Grin.
"Did you shoot Adam last night?"
"I most certainly did," said Grin.
"Why?" asked Grand.
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"Self-defense. It's a funny thing about being crippled. People feel sorry for you
and assume you've accepted your lot. When those rebels asked me to be a diversion in
their little train-station surprise, I told them I wanted a gun. They laughed. They
smelled my legs. They knew what was happening to my body. They thought I was just
biding my time. They thought I'd accepted death and just wanted to go out in a glorious
gunfight. But they gave me the hardware. Of course, they never stopped laughing.
Unfortunately, I'm not a very good shot in the dark. I'm better with explosives—flicking
a switch doesn't require good lighting or a steady hand. Please saw off my legs!"
Jumping off the engine-car ladder, Grand tumbled down a slope of snow-covered
rocks. He searched the first dead body but found no gun. Two hundred feet away, he
searched the second body but again found nothing. Grand pictured Adam, limping and
bleeding, pockets bulging with guns.
. . . won't the world run out of bullets?
Dots of blood trailed north, parallel to the tracks.
Grand ran.
Three minutes later, panting hard, he reached the north-pointed engine car. The
train had stopped just short of a siding which led into a large rail yard. The dots of blood
connected five more bodies in a trail terminating half a mile away.
. . . another station house.
Grand checked all five bodies but found no weapons. He climbed steps to a
dusty platform used for loading coal into rail cars. He searched three more bodies, all
unarmed, then crouched and stared at a windowless, metal-sided, and metal-roofed
building.
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Inside the building, Grand found Adam sitting on the floor next to a pile of
pistols. Jacket off, shirt ripped open, Adam heaved in air like a sprinter just past the
finish line.
Propped on the pile of guns, a white metal box lay open.
Adam unfurled white gauze and tried wrapping it around his back with one
arm—the other arm bloodied and unmoving. Wincing, he settled for wrapping the gauze
around his neck like a sling. He coughed, lungs gurgling. He stared at his riddled
ribcage, watching loose white fabric soak bright red.
... I should help him, thought Grand. Should I help him?
Grand stared at the pile of guns and the blood pooled beneath. He found himself
back in Onall, watching wild dogs gnaw corpses in the street.
. . . wild dogs will eat you . . . wild dogs will eat anything . . . that's what
Mommy says.
Grand scanned the station house which also appeared to serve as bunkhouse and
cafeteria. A dozen bodies littered the floor.
Adam wheezed, then stopped, his breath skipping, his lungs missing a beat.
Grand unconsciously crouched.
. . . he's fighting the air. . . the air wants to kill him.
Adam paid no attention to Grand, but continued his fruitless attempts at damming
tributaries of blood.
Grand stood and stumbled, backing his way through the door.
Outside, the rising sun warmed the cold air and frozen ground. Grand gazed up
at pure blue. He inhaled slowly and deeply, expanding his lungs to the limit, then
gasping, then coughing.
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. . . more gold for me ... a bigger city...
the biggest.
Grand stared at the silent rail yard. Like the vault underneath the Bullion
Depository, the rail yard and its giant coal loader seemed stuck in time.
. . . why so many trains . . . the President already has
gold....
To his right, Grand saw four trains with engine cars at both ends and a string of
coal cars in between. To his left, Grand saw an even bigger yard filled with hundreds of
coal-filled cars ready for connection. A gust of wind covered Grand in a film of black
coal dust.
... it smells good. . . like cooking, like food, like the meat in my dark room.
Grand snuck back inside. Adam's chin lay stiff against his chest. Drops of blood
continued peeling off his pants onto the floor—the once bright blood already turning
dark maroon. Grand watched for the rise and fall of Adam's chest, but saw no
movement.
.. . the air won . . . the air killed.
Grand walked over to Adam and plucked the white metal box off the pile of spent
guns. He took the box to a table, pushed a metal tray of breakfast remnants to the side—
eyeing the cold grits and sausage—then examined the remnants of first aid: gauze in
plastic corrupted by heat, white medical tape yellowed with age, a bloody Band-Aid box
crushed and empty, and four small brown boxes labeled "tourniquet" in fading black ink.
Grand shoved the boxes in his pockets, closed the white metal box, and scooped the cold
grits into his mouth with the cold half-eaten sausage.
Savoring the starch and meat—his first food in more than a day—Grand stared at
the pile of guns.
. .. / could start a small army right now. . . if any bullets were left.
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Grand grabbed a waste bin from the cooking area, dumped its contents on the
floor and carefully loaded the guns inside. He spent the next ten minutes looking for a
saw, but found only some well-used steak knives.
... they won't saw through bone.
Grand filled another waste bin with whatever remnants of breakfast he could
find, skipping scraps stained with blood. Outside the station house, against a side wall,
Grand saw a large plastic box painted with the word "FIRE." Inside the box, a limp
looped fire hose encircled a never-used ax. Grand grabbed the ax, and with bins
balanced in each arm began the long walk back to a south-pointing engine car and a
decomposing Grin.
CHAPTER LXXII
RING
Rachael filled ajar with okra and placed it on the tray. She filled another jar with
okra and placed it on the tray.
"It gets better," said Susan.
"How?" asked Rachael.
" W e l l . . . when all the vegetables and fruits are preserved—the ones that have to
be preserved—we start quilting and knitting," said Susan, eyes on her work.
"Is that really an improvement?" asked Rachael.
"What would you rather do?" asked Susan, eyes on her work.
"I don't know," said Rachael, picking up another empty jar. "I preserve
vegetables, too—back where I'm from. I don't knit, but I sew. I repair clothes.
Whatever I need to do I just do it. But here
"You'll fit right in," said Susan.
Rachael nodded, eyes on her work.
"Do you feel safe here?" asked Rachael. "Do you trust the people in charge?"
"Oh yes," said Susan. "We've had a few incidents like the one yesterday,
although yesterday was the biggest yet. There always seems to be a problem when the
President is showing us something new. A few people try to ruin the good news, the
progress. I honestly can't see why they think we would just follow a new leader. We
like the one we have. President Sym built all of this. I guess a few people are jealous,
but the President takes care of it. He takes care of everything—the hard things,
anyway."
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486
Rachael thought about Max, the orange-haired man who was both head of the
Secret Service and an apparent fake rebel leader.
He's head of the annual rebel roundup. They trick people into rebelling ... or
maybe it's a test? But doesn't everyone want to rebel a little bit? Doesn't everyone have
to make their world their own, do what they want to do?
Rachael frowned at the okra in her hand. She filled ajar with okra and placed it
on a tray.
"They'll never run out," she said, staring at the overflowing bins of vegetables
waiting to be jarred.
"What?" asked Susan.
"Rebels," said Rachael. "They'll always have a fresh supply."
"Why is that?"
"Human nature," said Rachael.
"Well," said Susan, "if you think about it, it's actually human nature to follow
rules—as long as the rules make sense. And the rules here certainly make sense—they
keep us alive. New America is just common sense coming together, creating a
foundation...."'
A ringing in Rachael's ears blocked out the remainder of Susan's comment.
Rachael yawned in an attempt to refresh her hearing, but the ringing remained. She tried
shaking her head.
I wonder how many people are in on the joke: the head of the Secret Service is
the fake rebel leader. It must be a lot of work to ignore the truth ... or maybe not. . .
maybe the "patriots" love it. They're protected by lies. And as an added bonus, they get
some excitement every once in a while. A few people die, but hey, we all die. The
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patriots are protected, they get bored, the boredom is dangerous, the boredom is so
dangerous an annual culling of rebels is required. And it's all just a form of
entertainment. Post-apocalyptic theater.
Rachael looked at Susan whose eyes were on her work. Susan continued to talk
but Rachael still couldn't hear.
She's a cold-hearted idiot like most of them ... or all of them. They accept the
lies because they want to trust someone. They need the lies ... to protect them from
themselves.
Rachael thought of the priest on the highway—Father Ben Wulf—the priest who
wanted to stand alone, willing to fight alone, the priest who was left to die alone, the
priest who swam through a river of snow to slay the monsters, the priest who did slay
the monsters only to find a worse monster within, a monster which could never be slain.
The ringing stopped.
"Were you ever on your own?" asked Rachael, rubbing her ears.
"A long time ago," said Susan whose hair was gray but whose face had few lines.
"My husband disappeared—not on purpose, probably murdered. One of those random
things. He worked for the Mint Police at the Bullion Depository. One night, he just
didn't come home. I was scared, but then I heard about this place, some people came
around my neighborhood, going door to door, kind of advertising an underground
America. We lived in the town right outside Fort Knox—where lots of soldiers and Mint
Police lived. They said this New America was being run by the military—a government
experiment, but a safe bet. That was over twenty years ago."
"Twenty years ago?" asked Rachael.
Susan nodded, her eyes on her work.
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"It wasn't always this nice. It's nice now, though. Isn't it?" asked Susan, looking
at Rachael.
Rachael smiled.
Nice?
She wondered if the word had originally been a compliment.
"Do you have family, Susan?"
Susan shook her head.
"We wanted to," she said, looking at Rachael, trying to smile. "But things were
so up in the air . . . We were waiting for things to get better—and I thought they would—
but now I know better. It's like President Sym says, we just have to start over. Every
day we start over, forget the future, and start over. And that's okay. We can. We will."
"It seems like they would have more people than this," said Rachael. "After
twenty years, I mean."
"Ten thousand people isn't exactly small potatoes," said Susan, "and not all of
them are here, some live on the outside, most do actually."
"Have you seen them?" asked Rachael.
. . . because there can't be more than three thousand underground..
thousand...
. maybe two
maybe one thousand.
"Trust me," said Susan. "They are out there. Of course, the President could
grow things much faster, but he has to be selective, as yesterday proved."
"Do people ever leave?" asked Rachael. "For good?"
Susan looked back at her work.
"No," she said. "People die, but they don't leave. Why would they? You're not
going to find a better shake than here. Plus, we actually stand for something."
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Rachael looked at the empty jar cradled in her hands.
"What's that?" she asked.
Susan looked up again.
"Freedom. The American Way. It still exists, as you can see. We make it exist.
It's too strong to go away, Rachael. Never forget that. Three-and-a-half centuries of
good work doesn't just disappear. It's a permanent thing. Too much has been built for
this country to just disappear. It's like a perennial, you know, a plant. Winter covers us
up aboveground, but we're still alive below. Ready to sprout when the sun gives the
signal."
Rachael nodded.
And if the snow never melts?
Rachael scanned the surrounding tables. None of the women seemed to be
smiling—or frowning—just working and talking like her and Susan. Rachael's glasses
slid down her nose. She pushed them back into place.
. . . these will drive me crazy if I can't make them fit..
. still.. . they let me see
so much.
Eyes moistening, Rachael remembered her other pairs of glasses—one pair
smashed and lying amidst hospital rubble, the other pair lying on a shelf in Onall unless
someone had already looted the Grand shack.
"It takes a little while to get used to things," said Susan, smiling at the full tray of
jarred okra she had finished. "But we're alive and we're safe. In this world, that's all
you can hope for. Sometimes, I think that's all life is: not rebuilding a country but just
having hope."
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"Do you think they would mind if I went and played with my little girl?" asked
Rachael, the held-back tears affecting her voice.
"We get a break in forty-five minutes. I know that can seem cruel, but it's best to
keep to a schedule, the exact same schedule, day in day out. Time goes by faster, keeps
you away from those morbid thoughts. As President Sym would say, 'If you need help,
try hope.'"
Rachael nodded and looked again at the empty jar in her hands. She imagined
smashing it against the table and felt frightened by the impulse.
Where did that come from? Not from David. Even if it was, I can't keep blaming
him. I can't keep blaming, period. It's like Daddy said when I wanted to move out and
live with David: you can have your freedom, but you get the responsibility, too. He
never mentioned hope.
Rachael stood up and began walking towards the children's area in the back of
the stadium-sized room. Susan began humming, eyes on her work.
The children sat in semi-circles listening to teachers expound upon books and
lessons. Rachael found Luz's group, walked around the semi-circle and held out her
hand for the little girl to grab. With her other hand, Rachael wiped away streams from
her cheeks.
My face is burning up, thought Rachael. It's so stuffy in here. Can't they open
up a window?
"Excuse me," said the teacher.
Luz grabbed Rachael's hand.
"You're excused," said Rachael, winking at Luz and leading the girl away from
her teacher and class.
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Two men in camouflage guarded the door between the stadium-sized room and
cafeteria.
Rachael and Luz approached the door.
"You can't go in here now," said one of the guards, holding out his hand, palm
towards Rachael—the human gesture for 'stop' or 'no.'
"It's a free country," said Rachael, slapping the man's palm with her own—the
same way she had slapped her father's hand after making a backyard basketball basket.
The guard followed Rachael and Luz into the cafeteria as they headed to the
sleeping-quarters door. Catching up to the runaway pair, the guard put his hand around
Rachael's neck.
"This isn't a good idea, Patriot."
Rachael let go of Luz's hand, spun around and punched the guard in the throat,
sending her glasses flying. The guard's knees buckled as he cradled his throat with both
hands and jerked his head up, struggling to swallow. Wheezing then heaving, he fell
prostrate on the floor.
Blinking, Rachael saw the gun holstered on the guard's belt. She slipped it free,
then looked up and saw the other guard staring from the doorway. Jerking his gun from
its holster, he began jogging towards Rachael and Luz.
"Stop," he said, "just stop."
Rachael aimed into the foggy distance and fired, hitting the guard in the chest.
The guard fell. Rachael pulled the trigger again. A scream rang out from inside the
women's work tables. Rachael saw women rise and huddle around something. A second
woman screamed, then a third. Rachael grabbed Luz's hand and ran toward the sleeping
area.
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... I just wanted a nap ... I just needed to sleep a little bit more.
At the sleeping-quarters door, Rachael heard screams followed by shouts.
. . . time to go .. . but there's only one
exit....
Rachael's mind blazed.
I'm dreaming. Only dreams get bad so quick. I never left Onall. David didn't
die. Charles is home safe. I'm going to wake up. I'm going to wake up.
Rachael and Luz slid inside the dark sleeping area. Rachael felt the wall for a
light switch, then realized darkness was now her friend.
This is a dream, she told herself, willing her heart to beat slower. I'm asleep.
Just asleep. The whole world has gone to sleep.
CHAPTER LXXIII
SURGERY
"I thought you'd never come back," said Grin, his head lying against the engine
car floor, his eyes staring at a sideways world. "And where is our red-headed leader?"
"Dead," said Grand, lifting the waste bins of guns and food into the car, followed
by the heavy clank of an ax.
Grin eyed the red ax blade—painted red.
Grin grinned.
"Is that for me?"
"I couldn't find a saw," said Grand, grabbing one of the tourniquet packages from
his jacket and handing it to Grin. "What do I do with that?"
Grin opened the box with one hand, sending a reel of nylon string rolling across
the floor.
"Tie it around my thighs," said Grin. "As tight as you can, as high as you can,
but below the arteries. It's best to do it before you . . . operate."
Grand lifted the ax, staring at the glossy red blade.
... it looks new.
"Never seen one before?" asked Grin.
"My dad had three," said Grand. "But he never let me use them. Too dangerous,
he said."
Grand ripped open Grin's black trench coat, then winced and heaved at the sight
and smell of gangrene.
"Now, now," said Grin. "You're a doctor. Let's be professional about this."
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Grand touched his stomach—the cold breakfast boiling in bile.
"What do I do after?" Grand asked, picking up the reel of nylon string, watching
it unfurl. "I mean . . . how do I bandage your
"Stumpies? Let's call them stumpies. Lil' cute stumpums. Crush coal on the
floor and press it into the wound," said Grin, observing Grand's attempt to loop the
tourniquet string around flesh without touching any.
Grand turned his head and dry heaved again. He looked back at the leg,
intertwined the string once, then cinched the string tight.
"Tighter," said Grin, eyes fixed on the shiny-white nylon string. "Much tighter.
Don't be afraid to hurt me. Actually-"
Grand cinched the string as tight as his strength would allow, then finished the
first tourniquet with a knot. He stepped over Grin, knelt down and slid the second string
underneath the second thigh, his hand brushing against something both damp and
crusted.
Grand closed his eyes.
"Closing your eyes doesn't make the pain go away," said Grin.
Grand cinched and knotted the second string, then jumped up and ran to the
engine car door. The once cold, now hot, bilious breakfast sprayed from his mouth
across a swath of white ground.
Grand spit. He inhaled deeply then coughed up the too-big breath. He stared
into the bare black woods and slowly inhaled again.
"Won't that make the wound dirty?" asked Grand. "Putting coal on it?"
"Ironically no," said Grin. "If you burn the stuff, it pollutes, but in its solid form,
coal is used as a filter. Ancient life filtering modern life . . . well, not so modern."
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Grin grinned as Grand crossed a plank into a coal car and grabbed a pile of coal.
Grand dropped and crushed the coal next to Grin's crooked lower limbs.
Trying and failing to slow quickening breaths, Grand picked up the shiny-new
ax.
"The snow is melting," said Grand, stepping towards Grin. "Winter may not
come for a while."
"I wouldn't count on that," said Grin, his eyes following the swaying ax like a
baby eyeing a slightly scary toy.
"So, I chop?" asked Grand.
"Yep," said Grin. "A 111* choppie choppums."
"I just do it?" asked Grand.
"Just do it."
"I mean, do I chop a certain way?"
"Yeah. Down."
"To lessen the pain?"
"Luckily," said Grin. "Your first patient can feel no pain. Think of me as a
cadaver—a dead person. Today is your first day at medical school, and you're
performing an experiment—post-mortem—a dissection. I told you science can be fun!"
Grand nodded and spit away the final remnants of sausage and grits.
As he lifted the ax head, Grand feared his swing wouldn't be strong enough. He
imagined the blade slicing through black skin only to be stymied by bone. Grand
imagined multiple swings, black blood splattering on the walls, on the ceiling, on him.
He imagined Grin dying, running out of breath, staring at his killer—Charles Grand.
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Down with anger fell the ax, slicing skin and flesh and bone, striking the floor,
booming metallic vibrations which shivered up the ax handle and entered Grand's body.
"Cool," said Grand.
"Coal," said Grin.
Grand stuffed coal into the wound, but watched it crumble out with fresh blood
flow.
"It's not working," said Grand.
"Any more string?" asked Grin, fluttering eye slits filled with white.
Grand got out another tourniquet and tied the string—higher and tighter than the
first.
The blood slowed.
Grand packed the wound with all the coal it would accept, heaping and pressing
blood-wet grains as they continued to crumble back out.
Grand stood and wobbled towards the doorway, blood fleeing his head. He
climbed down the metal ladder and stumbled towards the dead engineer. The pale male
body lay sprawled in the snow, forearms hiding its face. Grand knelt in the snow and
removed the dead man's boots and socks. He climbed back into the rail car, socks in
hand, knelt beside Grin and pulled one of the socks over the coal-covered leg stump.
Tight fit.
Grand looked at Grin for confirmation of surgery correctly performed, but Grin's
head was bent backwards, eyelids shut. Grand put his hand on Grin's chest.
... dead...
shit.
Grin's chest rose and fell.
Grand waited.
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The chest rose and fell again.
. . . unconscious ... I should wait...
I should wait.
Grand picked up the ax and examined the black blood-smeared blade. He placed
one foot beside Grin's waist and one foot at the edge of the first leg stump. He raised the
blade, sparking the steel ceiling.
Eyes on the point of incision, Grand swung with zeal.
CHAPTER LXXIV
ORDER
Rachael opened her eyes to a bare concrete room.
. . . how did I get here . . . why am I naked.
She felt her body for cuts and bruises but found none.
... I shot a man . . . this is it.. . this is the end...
at least I get to know...
least I get to see . . . maybe they'll just put me to sleep ... let me sleep forever...
at
do
they have trials in this version of America ... is there a jury of my peers?
Rachael imagined a jury box filled with women. The women were canning okra.
Their eyes were on their work.
. . . maybe I'll get to make a statementThe door opened and Jordan Sym, First Lady of New America, stepped inside.
"Would you come with me?" she asked.
Mrs. Sym and Rachael walked down a concrete hallway—Mrs. Sym wearing a
business suit, Rachael naked, hugging her shivering self.
Everything is the same, except I'm cold, and Mrs. Sym forgot to say, 'Please.'
They entered a room at the end of the hall.
Rachael stopped and stared.
. .. nothing is the same.
Bigger than the first meeting room Rachael remembered, this room seemed
smaller, its floor space flooded with "furniture" made of shiny metal.
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499
... I guess they want me to make a statement..
. but they know everything ... I
told them about Adam . . . what else could I offer?
"Are you ready?" asked Mrs. Sym.
Rachael jerked her gaze onto Mrs. Sym. The First Lady of the United States
stood ten feet away, naked except for black high heels.
"For what?" asked Rachael.
"Your new life," said Mrs. Sym.
"What have you done with the girl?" asked Rachael.
"She's learning ... back with her class," said Mrs. Sym. "Although I've had
reports of trouble."
"She's deaf," said Rachael.
"That's troubling," said Mrs. Sym.
"Why don't you just let me go?" asked Rachael, hugging herself tighter.
"Because you killed two people," said Mrs. Sym.
"Two?" asked Rachael.
"A guard and a woman," said Mrs. Sym. "Don't you remember? Or is the ether
still fogging your mind?"
"I was brought here against my will," said Rachael.
"What difference does that make?" asked Mrs. Sym, laughing.
"What if I left right now?" asked Rachael. "What if left right away and took the
girl. You'd never see us again."
"That isn't the point," said Mrs. Sym, grabbing a black rod from a shelf near the
door. "You broke the law."
500
"What law?" asked Rachael. "I should have never even . . . I didn't want to be a
citizen here."
"A patriot."
"Whatever.;" said Rachael. "I only came here—not here, but to the Fort—looking
for my son. I'm a mother. Can't you understand that?"
Mrs. Sym shook her head, approaching Rachael.
"I don't have kids," she said. "Thank God. I think we're overpopulated as it is,
but my husband has this idea about growth."
"What's wrong with kids?"
"They grow up and want to change things. They are agents of change. It's a roll
of the dice with each one of the little shits. We try to teach them their history, but I'll be
honest with you, Rachael, they aren't interested in the past. They do have dreams,
though, don't they? They're bored. And what can this concrete palace possibly offer?
Canned food and books? But kids don't like reading, Rachael. If they would only read!
But, of course, they have no time for that. They're busy planning their futures—their
futures. We tell them'forget the future.' We ask them to study the past. Just a little!
But do they listen? No, Rachael. They don't. Sometimes I wonder if they're all deaf.
It's so strange. We try to give them something to believe in, but they insist on believing
in nothing, or worse, they insist on believing in dreams. The teens are the worst."
"And what do you believe in?" asked Rachael.
"Punishment," said Mrs. Sym, her face six inches from Rachael's.
"But you brought me here against my will," said Rachael.
"You seemed much happier the first time we spoke. But you're just like the kids,
aren't you? Are you an agent of change, Rachael? I'll bet you are, and you don't even
501
know it. You just can't help it, can you? Your heart beats a certain way, your mind
buzzes a certain way, and you act. You act out. But I'm glad you're a big bad girl,
Rachael. It's no fun having all of these toys and no one to play with."
"What if I run?" asked Rachael. "There's no one stopping me."
Mrs. Sym shook her head.
"Just like the kids . . . Jesus H. Christ on a Popsicle stick. The only thing you'll
find outside that door is cold death, you worthless bitch."
Mrs. Sym, ran her rod down Rachael's torso and hip.
"You're in very good shape, Rachael—a lovely pear."
"Why wouldn't I run?" asked Rachael. " . . . if you're going to kill me anyway,
why wouldn't I . . . Why isn't there a guard?"
"I'm not going to kill you," said Mrs. Sym, "as long as you please me, as long as
you ask me—beg me—to bring discipline into your chaotic life. You'll have to please
my husband as well, but that's easily done I can assure you. I don't bring a guard
because I want you to be properly submissive. I want you to submit to my authority of
your own free will, your own desire to be disciplined. Besides, the guards always want
to join in, but this is my playground. You know how much shit I have to put up with as
First Lady . . . but not here."
"Will you let me go, eventually?" asked Rachael. "If I'm good. If I beg-"
Mrs. Sym shook her head.
"Rachael, you've killed two people. I know things have gone downhill for law
and order recently, but s t i l l . . . killing people is wrong. Read the Bible for Christ's sake.
In fact, let's read it together as we discover just how wrong you've been."
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"If I submit?" asked Rachael. "If I fully s u b m i t . . . and do whatever you want
me to do, can't I just leave? I mean . . . eventually?"
"What's so lovely," said Mrs. Sym, sticking the rod between Rachael's legs, "is
that, if you truly submit, if you truly accept my plans for you, you'll never want to leave.
First, you will fear death. Then you will love the fear of death, and by extension, the
person who provides you fear of death. People want discipline in their lives, Rachael.
That's why God invented pain."
Rachael, red face wet with sweat and tears, reached out and caressed Mrs. Sym's
stomach.
"Is this-"
The rod struck Rachael's forearm with a vicious thwack. Both women winced at
the cracking bone.
Bent over, Rachael imagined her hot tears were blood.
Mrs. Sym smiled.
"You stupid bitch. You never touch me! We will have order here above all else."
CHAPTER LXXV
LEADER
As late morning became midday and midday became late afternoon, Grand
studied Grin for signs of consciousness. Grin's failure to stir forced Grand to consider
returning to the station house to search for medicine—what type of medicine, he had no
idea.
Grin should have told me more. He should have told me exactly what to do.
Dad
always....
Continuing to stare at Grin's limp, blood-spattered body, the word "books"
entered Grand's mind.
Grin lived in a library, learning stujf from books. If nobody will tell me about
things, I'll get the truth from books. And books don't order you around. Books don't
want a share of the gold...
or a share of the power.
Two hours later, with dusk at the eastern horizon and Grin still unconscious,
Grand wavered.
I could walk to the north engine car. . . start it before dark...
or wait until
morning . . . for Grin to wake up ... or die.
Grand examined Grin, watching for the rise and fall.
What would Adam do? He'd run to the north engine car. He'd start the train.
He'd find a way. He'd go north, get the gold in New York City, bring it back here. He'd
take over New America or build his own city. He'd keep moving.
Grand looked at Grin.
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504
Rise and fall. . . rise and fall. . . what would Adam do about Grin? What will I
do about Grin? If I had some plywood, I could drag him. If I had some
plywood....
Grand reached under the remnants of Grin's tattered black trench coat, preparing
to lift the unconscious body, then stopped, fingers stung by a sharp edge.
Grin's eyes danced underneath still-shut eyelids.
He's dreaming, thought Grand. He's dreaming bad dreams.
With stiff corners of sturdy paper pressing into his palms, Grand grasped at the
hidden object and tugged it into light.
.. . Operation
Manual....
Grand flipped the cover open, then flipped through page after page of detailed
instructions and engine car diagrams.
Where'd Grin get this? Was he going to tell me he found it?
Grand peered out the door at disappearing woods and a darkening field of snow.
Maybe I should leave him behind. .. for somebody to eat.
Opening the manual again, Grand read a random word.
. . . hydraulic..
.
hydraulic....
He gazed at the accompanying chart.
. . . numbers . . . pages of numbers
....
Grand looked at Grin.
He knows about New York City. . . but if he could shoot Adam . . . but I'm his last
chance and he knows it.
Grand chomped on the manual's binding, grabbed Grin under the shoulders and
slid the body towards the door. He thrust his head out of the engine car and searched for
signs of anyone who might stop him.
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Just me.
Standing on the ladder's final rung, Grand pulled Grin's body over his right
shoulder and jumped into the slush of half-dissolved snow. Relieving his mouth of the
manual, he headed north, clumsily but with purpose.
CHAPTER LXXVI
RING
The engine car pointing north appeared identical to the one pointing south.
Grand
opened the operation manual and stared at a diagram on page one.
. . . it's too dark in here.
Grand remembered the flashlight on Adam's belt—covered in Adam's blood.
Spinning towards the engine car door, intent on retrieving the bloody flashlight,
Grand froze, his ear drums vibrating with a familiar dry crunch.
. .. Adam killed them
all....
His eyes on the door—the rectangle of dusk—Grand reached for the waste bin
filled with guns.
He grasped air.
... I left it
behind....
The crunching came closer.
Adam would never forget his guns. Did Dad forget his ?
Grand stepped toward the open door.
I'll crawl under the train like Grin. I'll run back. . . get my guns
andfood-
Grand stepped outside and saw an orange-haired man grab hold of the metal
ladder. Looking up, the man froze, smiled, and pointed a pistol at Grand's chest.
"Where's Adam?" asked Max.
"I don't know," said Grand. "He's dead."
"You don't know? He's dead? Which is it?"
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507
"He's dead," said Grand. "I think he's dead . . . maybe it's someone else."
Adam wouldn't tell the truth. Would Dad?
"Someone else?" asked Max.
"I mean . . . I think he's in that building," said Grand. "He's hurt."
Do something!
Grand pointed at the station house. As Max glanced at the dusk-covered
building, Grand leapt, boots thrust forward, aiming for Max's head. The blow tore Max
from the ladder but not from his gun.
Grand hit the ground hard, face first, blacking out in the snow.
Max jumped up, smiled, and shook his bruised head.
"You stupid kid. Didn't your parents teach you how to behave?"
Blinking into ice, Grand's weak arms flailed.
Get up! Get up! You're running out of air!
Grand rolled himself over with an angry jerk, then stumbled backward as Max
approached.
Just get to the woods .. . get to the woods!
Holstering his gun and grabbing Grand's collar, Max thrust a cold fist into
Grand's cold jaw. Something scratched Grand's throat. He gagged. Syrupy saliva and
bright red blood dripped into the snow. Grand waited for the tooth to exit. He
swallowed when it refused.
"You stupid kid," said Max, laughing. "We kill freaks like you."
Bent over and coughing, Grand stayed stuck in the snow like a tossed-away toy.
Max put his cold hands around Grand's thin warm neck.
Max squeezed.
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The ringing rammed Grand's mind—brains cells blasting through blood.
. . . this is it.. . no more air.
Max opened his mouth and roared as if preparing to chomp a chunk from Grand's
cold-flesh face.
But the roar died. The choke-grip loosened. And the orange-haired man plunged
backward into snow.
Stretched straight out, Grand's arms fended off an invisible attack. He gazed up
at the engine car door and saw a gun aiming at his chest—a gun held by Grin. Grand's
field of vision burned bright white as the ringing crescendoed.
Everything shook, then stopped.
CHAPTER LXXVII
NORTH
Grand's vision returned. His arms fell as he watched Grin lower the gun, setting
it softly on the train's steel deck.
"What?" asked Grand, staring at Grin.
Grin replied in a hoarse voice which sounded miles away.
Grand shook his head. He peered down at Max, waiting for the rise and fall. But
the man never moved.
Grand looked up and discovered Grin still speaking.
Grand massaged his ears.
"What?" he asked, finally hearing his own question.
"I asked for two guns," said Grin. '"You only have one hand,' they said, 'only
one hand that works.' So, I asked for five guns, then ten, then twenty-five, then one
hundred, then one thousand, then three thousand, then twenty-five thousand, then onehundred-twenty-five thousand."
Grand tried to think of a reply but couldn't.
Grin grinned.
"They tossed me two guns," he said. " . . . and never stopped laughing."
Grand nodded, stretching his pulsing swollen cheek. He spit blood and licked the
open space where a molar had just been removed. He looked to his left—to the north—
and saw a mound in the distance where the sun had completely melted the snow.
. . . they covered the rails with dirt.
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510
Grand jogged to the mound and found, not rails covered with dirt, but no rails at
Someone already thought. . ..
CHAPTER LXXVIII
FIRE
"Everything has been thought of," said Grand, his left hand on a lever inside the
south-facing engine car.
With his right hand, Grand aimed the beam from Adam's flashlight onto the
ancient control panel.
. . . could something so old really still work?
"Everything has been thought of," said Grin, lying on the steel floor, his stumps
propped above Max's rolled coat. "But not everything has been done."
Grand pulled the lever. A loud clank shook the car.
Grand knelt down, crooked the flashlight in his shoulder and struck a match.
Holding the flame to damp kindling, Grand watched the dancing yellow crawl up
the match and singe his thumb. He dropped the match and watched it die.
. . . ignore the pain.
A second match struck and lit.
... I should be saving these.
Grand stabbed the kindling with flame.
"Blow on it," said Grin.
Grand blew across the match.
The kindling caught.
Watching moss and twigs burn orange, Grand shoved the kindling deep inside the
furnace—underneath a pile of coal.
"Use the air pump," said Grin.
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512
Grand pumped the foot-powered contraption and watched the coal begin to
smoke.
"Thirty minutes," said Grin.
"Thirty minutes," said Grand, pumping faster.
"I can't wait," said Grin.
"You can't wait for what?" asked Grand. " . . . you'll have to w a i t . . . we both
will."
"It's a figure of speech, young man. It means I'm excited."
Still pumping, Grand squinted in the darkness, searching for the invisible
crippled man.
"What do I do i f . . . what do I do if you die?" asked Grand.
"Oh, I'm in great shape, doctor," said Grin.
"You couldn't feel it if you weren't," said Grand.
"I'll make it," said Grin.
"But if you don't?"
"Go to the downtown public library in The Capital. Those books taught me
everything I know. Hopefully, no one's burned it down."
"Or blown it up."
CHAPTER LXXIX
ESCAPE
Peeking from a pillow, Caroline examined her surroundings. The long
compartment housed one-hundred unwed girls, glittering in their sleep beneath two blue
safety lights.
Cuddling in the same narrow bed, Caroline squeezed Luz tighter before noticing
the younger girl's stare.
. . . she never went to sleep either. . . everyone else went to sleep like nothing
happened.
Caroline's mind replayed the events: Rachael taking Luz, someone shooting a
guard and a woman, guards dragging Rachael through the stadium-sized room, women
screaming "murderer, murderer," Luz missing until bed time, Luz saying she hadn't
eaten, Luz saying they had scared her, Luz not explaining how they had scared her, Luz
saying Caroline needed to find Rachael so they could all leave together, Luz crying and
saying over and over, "I don't like it here . . . I don't like it here."
. .. and now nothing ... I know I didn't dream it...
.
Luz squeezed Caroline's arm and whispered, "I want to go—get RAY-CHUL and
go"
Caroline tried lifting her head but couldn't. She tried moving her legs but
couldn't.
. . . is fear a reason to stay or a reason to run
513
....
514
Caroline remembered nighttime in The Capital—herself, her father, and her
mother ready to leave, their backpacks perfectly packed with clothing, food, and one
keepsake each.
. . . seconds from, leaving . . . seconds from getting away . . . was it just bad luck?
Caroline remembered the men in orange vests.
Holding guns, giving orders. "We'll take you to New America. Everyone is safe
there. No more running. No more worrying about food. No more worrying about
anything. Your daughter will be safe—very safe. "
Caroline remembered her father arguing violently—as violently as one can argue
when your opponent is armed and you are not. Caroline remembered being dragged out
the door.
Forced. Taken prisoner. Hands and feet tied.
Tears formed.
. . . but we let them tie us ... we let them tell us what to do . . . they gave us
orders and we . . . acted guilty...
we were guilty of being free.
Caroline remembered her father pleading. She remembered her father offering a
trade.
"Three for three. Please. Please. Three for three." And then they smiled.
"Three for three? Sure. We're reasonable. Three for three. Show us the hospital and
three for three."
Caroline remembered crying.
Father was crying, too. Mother was not. Mother was angry but quiet.
Caroline's imagination let go. Her head jerked forward. She grabbed Luz's hand
and slid from the bed, pulling the younger girl with her. Caroline and Luz laced up their
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boots—the only clothing they hadn't worn to bed—and headed towards the closed doors
which glowed blue beneath the soft safety lights.
. . . they could be locked. . . they could be locked.
But the doors were not locked.
On the other side, Caroline and Luz crept into the large empty room used as both
a cafeteria and an after-work lounge. A single blue safety light shone above another set
of closed doors—these doors leading to the stadium-sized room, which led to another set
of doors, which led to a metal staircase and an exit to the outside world.
Inside the cafeteria's lounge, beneath the single blue safety light, two guards sat
in chairs, asleep, guarding the doors to the stadium-sized room. Caroline and Luz crept
up to the guards—rubber-soled boots softly tapping on tile.
The guards continued to snooze as Caroline tried the door.
Locked.
Caroline looked at one of the guards, then the other, watching their innocent
unconscious breaths.
One of them has the key.
Neither of the men were armed.
They don't want anyone to leave. . . we're locked in—unfreed—for safety. . . for
whose safety?
Caroline peered across the cafeteria at a serving area shrouded in darkness.
They won't let us out...
We know Rachael. . . They know we know Rachael. . .
That means we're not safe . . . We're not safe to them . .. We're in danger because we're
dangerous ... to them . . . because we want to be free ... We want to be unsafe . . . They
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won't let us out. . . They'll never let us out unless . . . unless this place becomes
unsafe . . . unless this place becomes unsafe.
Caroline looked back at the guards.
... a small fire.
Caroline and Luz crept into the serving area. Caroline, who had worked as a
food server as well as a teacher's assistant, turned a dial on one of the large electric
stoves. She hovered her hand above the coils until heat began to rise. In the near
darkness, she groped along shelves, inside cupboards, along floors, then stood, confused.
. . . there's nothing to burn.
Caroline walked down the dark line of serving tables. Her boot kicked a bucket
full of dry rags, sending it whistling across the tile.
The guards stirred, then settled.
Caroline grabbed the bucket and crept back to the stove. She hugged Luz, took a
rag from the bucket and lowered it onto the glowing orange coil. Smoke began to rise,
but Caroline jerked the rag up.
We need a big fire.
Stamping smolders from the rag, Caroline tucked Luz underneath a serving table
and crept back into the sleeping compartment, peering into shadows, searching for open
eyes.
. . . they're probably afraid to stop me.
Caroline walked to her bed, grabbed her mattress and pulled it down the aisle,
making no attempt to be quiet. Back inside the cafeteria, Caroline lay the mattress on
the floor and began grabbing hand-carpentered chairs from nearby tables, placing them
twenty feet from the snoozing guards. She put the thin mattress on top of the chairs,
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then grabbed Luz and put the younger girl in a dark corner ten feet from the guards.
Caroline went back to the glowing orange coil, picked out a rag from the bucket and
held it over the coils. Staring into the bright burning orange, her fingers increased their
clinch. Her breaths quickened. She placed the rag onto the coil and watched the gray
cloth glow orange then flame yellow. The flame reached Caroline's hand. She ran
towards the mattress but dropped the rag on the floor, shaking, then squeezing her hand.
She looked for Luz but saw only shadows. One of the guards stirred in his seat.
Caroline stamped out the smolders near her feet, gagging on the smell of burning
dishwater.
Hurry, Caroline. Hurry. There's no going back.
Caroline ran to the bucket, grabbed a rag, placed half the rag on the coils and
watched it singe, then burn, then flame. She dropped the burning rag into the plastic
bucket.
What am I doing ? What am I doing ?
The flames spreading inside, Caroline grabbed the bucket handle and ran towards
the mattress as the heat began cooking her hand. She dumped the bucket of flames onto
the mattress. The flames flashed, then disappeared. Caroline blew across rags until
flames returned. She grabbed a half-burned rag and tossed it to one end of the mattress,
spreading the fresh fire. She threw another, then another, then another until every rag
burned and a flickering yellow-orange light rose from the musty mattress.
Caroline clenched her hands.
Ignore the pain, Caroline. Ignore the pain and get out.
Breaths shortened, she smiled.
Why am I smiling?
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She looked at the guards, their eyes still shut, their faces now well lit. Caroline
grabbed a chair from another table. She began swinging it like a mother playfully
swinging a child, spinning round and round. She let go of the chair in mid-swing,
aiming for the locked doors but hitting one of the guards in the face.
She laughed.
I shouldn't be laughing! This is crazy!
"Fire," she said, the word muted by laughter.
The uninjured guard jerked awake, standing and staring as if seeing fire for the
first time in his life.
"Fire!" yelled Caroline. "Fire! Fire! FIRE!"
She ran to the guard who hadn't been hit.
"Open the door! Open the door! All the beds are on fire. We're dying! Open the
door!"
The guard turned towards the door, fumbling for a key, glancing back at the
flames. The injured guard stood, holding his head, wobbling towards the flames.
The key turned.
The lock clicked open.
"All of the beds are on fire!" screamed Caroline, her head suddenly hot, her
eyelids suddenly heavy.
Both guards ran towards the sleeping compartment, bumping each other, one
breathing hard, the other fighting off a yawn. Caroline searched the dark corner and
grabbed Luz. The pair ran to the door, jerked it open and ran into the quiet black
stadium. Caroline stopped. Luz stumbled to the ground. Caroline helped Luz up and
began running again, running in the darkness towards the doors she knew existed and
519
hoped to find unlocked. After ten seconds, she slowed their run to a jog then to a fast
walk—one arm thrust out, feeling for a wall she knew must be close. Her hand smacked
cement, and the pair of girls turned ninety degrees.
The doors will be locked. Of course they'll be locked. Why wouldn't they be?
There's no such thing as good luck.
Caroline's eyes moistened. Tears flew from her cheeks.
Daddy....
Sliding her hand across the cool cement wall, Caroline's fingers grazed metal—
the metal of doors which opened to stairs and led to the dark outside world. She banged
her wrist against jutting aluminum and fumbled for the knob. Glancing back towards the
cafeteria, she saw doors fly open and a bright fluorescent rectangle appear. Suddenly,
the stadium-sized room flooded with light.
There was a switch by the door.
A guard holding his face stood and stared at the two girls.
"You can't leave," he said, sounding like an amateur actor reading from a script.
Caroline turned the knob and pulled hard. The door swung open, and the two
girls fled up a dark metal staircase, legs lunging with rhythm, every step ending in a
delicious clang. After four flights, they reached the final set of doors.
If they're locked, we'll break them open. We'll break them down.
The doors opened and Caroline and Luz crashed into a wall of cold air.
Caroline's head and hands burned hotter. Racing, she looked up at a clear moonless sky.
A million stars. A billion. A trillion.
Reaching the train station and concrete platform, the girls turned north, filling the
night with a rhythmic dry crunch.
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. . . how far have you gone, Charles Grand...
we can't survive without you, we
can't. . . can we. . . can we?
"Yes," she said aloud, smiling, glancing down at the invisible girl running beside
her.
I wish you could hear me, Luz.
Caroline glanced back into the darkness.
Will they follow us? Of course. We're leaving a thousand footprints in the snow.
A million. Billions and billions. And they have flashlights. How long can we run?
Maybe they see us already. Can my body do this? Can our bodies do this? Can our
hearts take this?
Caroline put her free hand on her chest and felt the heartbeat thump through her
coat.
Don't stop.
Luz tripped on a fallen tree and fell hard into the snowpack. Caroline pulled the
younger girl close, squeezing their bodies together.
Both girls looked up, hearing, then feeling, a rumbling from the north.
Caroline tried to shield Luz from the sound.
They've found us already.
CHAPTER LXXX
PHENOMENA
Gripping a pistol in one hand and an engine car wall with the other, Grand stared
into the night. The train crawled along at five miles per hour—as fast as it would go
with only Grand shoveling coal - and the station house and New America meant
vulnerability.
.. . almost free.
Caroline and Luz saw nothing, but heard the hiss and felt the growing rumble.
"What's happening?" asked Luz, looking up for Caroline's face and finding only
an outline blocking the stars.
The outline didn't move.
Luz blinked and pictured a third-floor hospital room, her body tossed as the
building shook, her ears popping, then hissing, then hurting, her throat choking on dark
billowing dust, her voice and hearing disappearing, a wall missing, her world—a world
of murdered parents and orphanages set ablaze—blown up.
Luz blinked.
. . . will I always have to run away?
The vibrations increased.
Caroline stepped toward the woods, but Luz did not, her mind stuck inside her
childhood home.
. . . Dad told me to stay . . . but I was too hungry...
too....
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I was too hungry ... I was
522
Luz pictured a street littered with charred human remains.
. . . they burned Mom and Dad. . . the angry men . . . the monsters.
A hissing, rumbling crescendo surged past the waiting girls. Caroline crouched,
pulling Luz down into snow.
An orange glow floated past, scenting the air with coalfire.
Luz shrunk against Caroline.
. . . the train is burning, too.
Both girls saw a human pacing inside the glow.
... Charles? wondered Caroline.
A warm breeze blew—the wake of the passing train.
Without communicating their shared desire, both girls took off together, running
towards the engine car and the glowing Charles Grand.
Lifting Luz onto the ladder, Caroline fell onto rocks and snow.
"Charles!" yelled Caroline, sprinting to catch up.
Grand stopped shoveling, turned and stared into the black rectangle of night. He
dropped the shovel, picked up a pistol and jumped to the door.
"Charles!"
Grand crouched. He massaged one ear, then the other—the hissing and vibrating
engine joined by a far-off ring.
A hand appeared at his feet. Grand reached and grasped the small cold fingers.
He set the gun down and hefted Luz inside. He stared at the girl who stared at him.
"Charles!"
Grand gazed outside and saw Caroline struggling alongside the train.
... another dream?
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Spotting the stump-legged Grin, Luz crouched against the back wall, arms hiding
her face.
Grand knelt and leaned into darkness. The ringing rose, then disappeared as he
grabbed Caroline's hands and linked them to the ladder.
"Are we past New America?" Grand yelled, as Caroline's face appeared.
"No!" yelled Caroline, her feet on the bottom rung. "Soon! They might be
coming after us!"
"Why?" yelled Grand.
"Your mother killed two people—a guard and a woman! I think she was trying
to leave with Luz!"
"What?"
"Your mother killed two people! She wanted to leave, but they wouldn't-"
"What did they do to her?" yelled Grand.
"I don't know! They took her away! Charles, you'll never get to her! You'll
never get her out! I set a fire . . . just to open a door! We barely-"
"What did they do to her?"
"She's gone, Charles! They took her away! She's just gone!"
Caroline crawled inside the engine car and crouched beside Luz.
Grand walked towards the fire then back to the door. To the south, he saw the
station house emerge, its roof blocking stars, its white walls faintly lit with starlight. In
the distance to the west, Grand saw a white fluorescent light shining on a doorway—the
doorway which led to four flights of stairs, a stadium-sized room, and an underground
New America.
She can take care of herself. . . I'm not going back to Onall. . . not with her.
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Grand pictured the bare concrete room, the President, Mr. Habit, the story of
America, lessons from the past. He pictured his father, feverish and dying, lying on a
cart while Grand and his mother towed the sick man north to a hospital they weren't
certain existed. Grand pictured his father collapsing into the door of their shack,
breaking the door off its hinges, blood staining everything, mixing with dirt on the floor.
Bloody mud.
"It's gone," his father had said.
"The gold?" Grand asked.
"Everything," his father said.
"Who took the gold?"
"I was wrong."
"Who took the gold?"
"The voices can't be stopped. The crowd can't be stopped. It's bigger than me."
"Who can just take everything away?"
"Anyone can take anything, Charles. Anyone can take everything."
Grand didn't know how to dress wounds.
He's going to die. He's going to die.
"Take care of your mother," his father said, choking on the words.
He's going to die.
But Grand's father didn't die, not that day. His father passed out. His mother
returned home, then went for help. A nurse arrived and saved the bleeding man, stitched
him up, cared for him until infection and fever raged.
"We've got to take him north," his mother said.
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"You're going to kill him, like Lucy," Grand replied, the phrase smoothed by
three weeks of silent repetition. "You're going to kill him, like Lucy."
"Your sister died in this womb," said his mother, jabbing her stomach. "Lucy is
dead. Lucy is dead! Goddammit, Charles! Goddammit!"
"You're going to kill Dad . . . just like you killed Lucy. You're a killer."
"No one killed Lucy! And your father is going to die if we don't take him north.
We will kill him if we don't take him north."
The train continued its slow rumble south, the engine car passing the station
house.
Grand spun around.
"Why did she want to leave? Why did she kill people?"
Caroline shook her head, her face bunched up, ready for tears.
"Your mom said something at breakfast. She wasn't eating. She said she ate
with the President and his wife. They sent someone to find you, but they wouldn't let
her go along. I guess she thought she'd never see you again."
"What did they do to her?" asked Grand, picturing his mother naked in a bare
concrete room.
"They took her away," said Caroline.
"Why didn't they just let her leave?" yelled Grand.
"I don't know!" yelled Caroline, watching Grand step outside the door. "They
were going to get you . . . They were going to bring you back . . . They keep people—
people like us—inside . . . Your mother wanted to leave . . . But they keep people . . .
inside ... They're trying to build something! They can't just let people leave!"
"Ever?" yelled Grand, posing his question to the night.
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"I don't know!" screamed Caroline.
Grand spun and jumped back inside the car, lunging and grabbing the trash can
filled with guns. He ran to the door and slid onto the narrow walkway.
"Don't let the fire go out!" he yelled.
Grand jumped into darkness, hitting the ground hard and protecting the waste bin
with both arms like a father guarding his child. Thirty seconds later, he reached the
station house and heard voices and the familiar metallic whir. A light flashed on his
face. Grand reached into the waste bin, grabbed a gun and fired. The light fell,
disappearing inside dark snow.
Grand reached the door which led to four flights of stairs and the stadium-sized
room. Inside the door, a man in camouflage stood waiting, his back against a wall,
rubbing his hands for warmth.
"Did you see anyone?" the man asked before realizing he didn't recognize Grand.
When Grand shot him in the throat, the man slapped at the bullet hole as if
shooing a fly. Blood spurted across his shaking hand.
"Why?" he asked, gurgling.
Grand shot him in the head and raced down the steps.
No plan ... maybe that's better.
High fluorescent bulbs fully lit the scared women, sleepy children and scattered
men who filled the stadium-sized room. Still in their sleeping garments, some women
whispered while others awaited instructions.
Grand stood before the crowd, awed by its size.
Women near the doors looked up at Grand for answers.
527
"Are you Secret Service?" asked a woman holding an infant. "Why hasn't my
husband come back?"
"Can you tell us what to do?" asked another woman, shivering in the cold
stadium air.
Grand spotted a man in camouflage.
New plan: kill anyone in camouflage, then find Mom.
The first shot shattered the stadium air.
That's how you control the air - explode something.
The crowd screamed. A few women fled towards the cafeteria. A few children
ran to the school area at the back of the stadium. But most of the New American citizens
rushed for the doors which led to four flights of stairs and the outside world.
Grand scanned the moving panic for men, finding and executing them with a shot
to the head. None of the men resisted—none unholstered a gun of their own. When
Grand ceased to see camouflage, he punched and kicked his way to the platform which
led to bare concrete rooms, to the President and to Mr. Habit's history lessons on the
American Revolution—the foundation of a great nation, according to Mr. Habit.
Once inside the doors, Grand chose to go down.
It will be down, he told himself.
One floor down, Grand ran to and opened a door which led to the familiar bare
concrete hallway. Grand began opening doors which appeared every eight feet along
one side of the hallway. The first ten rooms lay empty. The eleventh held a naked man
sitting cross legged on a thin foam mat. The man looked at Grand and smiled, blinded
by the hallway's fluorescent light.
"We must forget the future," said the man in a calm voice.
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"Do you even know what that means?" asked Grand, slamming the door.
She won't be here. Her room will be locked.
Grand turned to head back towards the metal stairs but saw the President
standing at the end of the hallway—blocking the only exit. Grand ran for the President,
cradling the waste bin filled with rattling pistols.
"Stop," said the President, raising a pistol.
Man and boy fired.
Grand felt a bullet pierce the waste bin just below his bicep. Grand's gun clicked
empty. He threw it down and fumbled for another, then noticed the President lay
sprawled on the concrete floor—unmoving. Grand reached the bleeding body and
grabbed the gun from the President's dead hand. He ran to the staircase, descended one
floor, stopped to stare at another hallway entrance, then kept descending.
It will be all the way down. If the doors are locked, I'll shoot them open.
But the doors were not locked.
On the bottom floor of New America, room after room lay empty—except for the
room at the end of the hallway.
Entering, Grand squinted, his eyes adjusting to darkness. He could see furniture
against the walls, but at first, no people.
Grand began to choke.
The
air....
He thrust his head back into the hallway, inhaled then coughed. Inhaling again
and holding his breath, he turned and slid his right hand, the one holding a pistol, against
the darkened room's concrete wall. The pistol flicked a switch. A single fluorescent
bulb buzzed then lit, scattering weak light from the bare ceiling. Grand saw a metal
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table in the middle of the room covered in a sheet. A naked woman wearing a gas mask
rolled off the table.
"Mom?" asked Grand, gagging, trying to remember what his naked mother
looked like.
The
air....
"Mom?" he asked again, wondering why the waste bin had suddenly gained
weight.
A voice rose, muted by the mask.
Wanting to walk closer, Grand's vision blinked black.
The
air....
Grand lowered himself awkwardly to the ground. The gun and waste bin clanked
against the floor. The naked masked woman spoke again—words still muted.
She's asking a question.
Blackness.
The....
Grand released the waste bin, his left hand brushing cold concrete.
I'm still here.
Grand blinked, shook his head, and closed one eye while the other regained
vision. The woman stood three feet away. Grand tried to focus on the objects in her
hand.
A tank. . . of air...
a black stick. . . the men in orange vests
....
The woman raised the skinny black stick and blond hair swooshed across her
shoulder.
530
Grand fired his pistol. Squeezing and squeezing and squeezing. He watched
black dots appear on the woman's pale white skin. The black dots bled red. Grand
continued firing with his right hand, using his left hand to inch his body backwards—
back to the hallway.
Air....
Grand lay down on the hallway floor, inhaling calm breaths as his head began to
clear. Once more, he peered inside the room. He saw the sheet on the table rising and
falling.
It could be Anyone
....
Grand crawled into the room, grabbed the dead masked woman and dragged her
into the hallway. He unbuckled the mask, removed it and saw the frozen face of Jordan
Sym. He wiped the mask's fogged plastic with Mrs. Sym's soft blond hair, then held the
mask to his face and grabbed the small tank of oxygen. Walking back into the room, his
eyes pinned themselves to the rising white sheet.
He saw the black hair first, then the pale familiar face.
"Mom," he whispered—into the mask.
His mother didn't move.
Take her to the hallway. She'll wake up in fresh air.
"Mom," he whispered again, pressing the mask harder and gripping the tank
tighter, realizing he would have to use both hands to free his mother from the poisoned
room.
Grand dropped the mask and tank on the table and put his hands underneath his
mother's armpits just as Adam had once done to drag Grand out of a tunnel in the snow.
Grand felt the coldness at once—the unnatural coldness of his mother's skin. He began
531
to choke. He looked at the sheet—the rising and falling—and realized the movement
was too great to be an expansion of lungs. He pressed the sheet down and felt the cool
billowing draft blowing from a vent in a corner of the ceiling.
Ether.
Grand gagged on the absence of air.
She's....
Grand gasped, released his mother and grabbed the mask, pressing the rubber
seal hard against his face. He continued to choke. He felt his mother's neck, checking
for a pulse, just as his mother had shown him. The neck—blood congealed, hard as
bone—burned colder than the metal table. Grand ripped the sheet away and placed his
hand on his mother's stomach, waiting for a rise that wouldn't come.
Vision blurring, dry heaving, Grand stumbled from the room. He threw the
fogged mask and empty tank against the wall, picked up the waste bin filled with guns
and ran.
At the hallway's beginning, Grand paused before the door.
They'll be waiting for me.. . the President's men.
Grand threw the door open, but the staircase stood empty.
The stadium-sized room lay empty as well.
The President killed them all, or they killed each other. You can only forget the
future when you're dead.
Grand ran across the giant empty room, marveling at the sheer illumination.
So much wasted
light....
532
Sprinting through the jammed-open doors, Grand jumped up four flights of stairs
and burst into a wall of frigid air. He stopped, surrounded by a crowd of shivering New
Americans.
"Is it okay to go back inside?" asked a woman.
The woman held the hand of a young boy who stared at Grand with dilated
nighttime eyes—the eyes of a puppy.
Grand leapt. The crowd parted.
No," he said. "You're on your own."
As Grand dodged his way through the starlit crowd standing stunned on the
station platform, he wondered if the citizens of New America expected another train,
another speech, another President.
All the speechmakers are dead...
.except Grin.
Grand passed the station house, leaving the crowd and their voices behind. He
thought about dropping the waste bin—both of his arms begged for a break. But Grand
couldn't let go.
The greatest commodity in history has never been gold. It's always been
violence.
Instead of lightening his load, Grand simply ran faster.
Twenty minutes later, Grand heard the rumbling of coal cars headed south on an
antique track.
"This train runs straight through The Capital," Grin had told Grand while the
engine fire grew.
533
"How far south?" Grand had asked.
"How far can you imagine?"
As his run slowed to a jog, Grand's mind cataloged the possibilities. He could
stop at The Capital and learn what Grin had to teach—if Grin was still alive when they
got there. He could unload Grin, Caroline, and Luz at The Capital and go south by
himself. He could dig up his father, stop at Onall, and say goodbye to his dead sister,
Lucy. Or, he could go straight to the southern desert and the shining city of his dreams.
Grand listened to his labored breaths and the clanking guns near his chest. He
inhaled the train's steamy exhaust and saw the bright orange glow of the engine car's
coals. He felt the pulse from his heart pound inside his head—his ears ringing with it.
So many possibilities . . . and no one to tell me what to do.
CHAPTER LXXXI
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CHAPTER LXXXII
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Abbott, Joe. "Why Is Stephen King So Popular? Or, Meditations on the 'Domestic
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539
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