This is it, our final installment. If you've been with us for all 33 parts, thanks. If you joined the party late, thanks for sticking around. I appreciate it. I hope you've liked the story. I am working to get the ebook version up by next week. Day job and dad responsibilities might get in the way of that. If they do, be patient. Like I've said a couple of different times, if you've stuck with the story and enjoyed it, I hope you'll show your appreciation by buying a copy of the ebook. It puts a little change in my pocket and can help get the story in front of others who might enjoy it.
Publishing an ebook, depending on the publishing path I choose, could mean that these installments all go away. That's the price you pay to play the Amazon game. To get in some of their programs you need to be exclusive, and having each of these parts posted violates that. But I'll let you know if they are going to go away. I'll also let you know when the ebook is ready to go.
Now, for the last time, on with our story.
Welcome to the End//Part 33--North
“You can watch these fires,” she says. “But I’m going to sleep. I want to be up early and on the road north. If you’re coming with me you better be up.”
She punches me on the shoulder as she passes.
I stay up for a bit longer and continue to feed Walter’s stuff into the barrel. The flames are warm, and it’s nice. It’s like a blanket. I take over my chair and lean it far back. I try to drink in how good this feels—the soft leather, the overstuffed cushions, the warm air that’s swallowed me up. I know that this is the last time that I’ll get this feeling. It’s comfortable. It’s familiar. Tomorrow I’m going to have to fight for anything even close to this, so I let myself drift off to a satisfying sleep.
The fires have died, and it’s the chill that wakes me. The sun is coming up to my right and it’s throwing a glow on what’s left of downtown. It’s a beautiful destruction that I’m going to miss. It feels odd to think that, but, like anything, this whole existence in Fair Park has become familiar. Leaving that isn’t easy. But I also find myself excited. I’m getting the anxious butterflies that I used to get before I set out on another month away from home. New faces. New places. The excitement of the unknown.
I know that where we’re headed isn’t new. It’s far from unknown. But, we haven’t seen it since everything fell apart.
I wake Caroline with a shake to her shoulder and she rolls to her back.
“It is. And you’re getting up late.”
“None of that.”
“You have us any breakfast?”
“I whipped up something over the last of the fires.”
Caroline’s face lights up for a moment. “Really?”
“No. Not really. But that was too easy.”
“I hate you.”
“Get your gear. Let’s get out of here.”
I’d spent the last hour or so getting my stuff in order, balancing everything in my pack so it sits comfortable on my back.
“Gear’s been ready since yesterday. Just give me a few minutes.” She points a thumb over her shoulder toward our little graveyard.
“Take all the time …”
She turns before I can finish. I sit back in my chair and give her whatever time she needs. I’m making a mental map in my head, laying out my route north. I’m following Caroline to McKinney. That much is for sure. I am assuming that we’ll take Central Expressway. It’s a straight shot into Oklahoma.
The roadway should be mostly clear. My only concern is what we do at night. They sunk the highway years ago for reasons that I don’t understand. But that makes us sitting ducks once the sun goes down, in a narrow cavern with high walls on either side. So we’ll need to climb out early enough to make sure we have light to find a place to camp for the evening.
That feels like a good enough plan for now, and I look back to see Caroline approaching. Her eyes are red. Her cheeks are wet. She pulls her pack up and slips it over her shoulders in one smooth motion.
“Let’s go,” she says as she passes. “I’m ready to get out of here.”
I follow her, taking a few quick steps to catch up.
We pass the barrels. They are still warm.