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Welcome to the End//Part 19 -- The bubble pops
Caroline is still asleep, and I kneel next to her and rock her by the shoulder. Her eyes resist opening, but she slowly sits up.
“Yeah?” It’s a breathy response, one that it seems to take all of her energy to give.
“I need you awake,” I say. “Once this little bubble you’ve created pops we’re going to be in the same boat as we were before.”
She takes in a couple of deep breaths then stands on wobbly legs and looks at me. She’s startled. I’m still in my goofy mask, and I’m sure I appear like some kind of odd monster in this outfit.
I raise my hand, sort of an “I come in peace” gesture. She looks away and starts surveying our position. I can see everything start to come back to her, the fog of confusion beginning to fade. She looks up to the top of the dome above us and sees the rain still coming down.
“How far does this go?”
“Still there. Waiting for us to come back out.”
Thunder crashes outside. We can hear it. Either it was an extra loud clap or the rain is slowing.
The thunder is followed by wailers crying out. It’s the rain. Hard to tell from here, but it must be slowing. I begin to gather the things from my pack that are still in a pile on top of our stack of rubble. I reload everything carefully, wanting to make sure that the backpack is balanced once we start walking back to camp. Just in case.
Caroline has already pulled her pack on her back. She’s holding the machete loose at her sides.
“The stove,” she asks, “where is it?”
I shake my head no. “Leave it,” I shout through my mask. I don’t know that she heard me, but she doesn’t move. So either she’s come to the same conclusion or this mask doesn’t impede conversation as much as I thought it did.
Caroline watches me climb down the pile and asks: “We have a plan?”
“Not yet,” I say. “But we need one.”
“Mine, right now, is pretty simple. Fight.”
“FIgure that one out while you were off dreaming?”
“Like this little hedge of protection? Then you’ll allow me to sleep a few minutes. This,” she rainbows both arms above her head, “takes a lot out of a girl.”
“And I’m forever grateful.”
We are approaching the edge of our dome and the mud rain has slowed dramatically. I am expecting a herd of wailers just outside the dome trying to claw their way through the light and energy, but they aren’t there. None of them. The city looks wet and empty.
“Where …” Caroline starts but doesn’t finish.
“They were here earlier, just a few minutes ago. They were screaming at me. Crying out. Trying to get in. I don’t get it.”
“And just like that …” Caroline flares her fingers “Poof … they were gone.” She smiles and giggles.
“Glad this is funny.”
“Oh, lighten up old man.”
That’s when we see it, a body. Not a wailer. A human. It’s laying across the middle of the street about a block ahead, clearly beaten and broken. Clearly dead.