Part 7 for those of you reading it. Seems like, just looking at the numbers on these last posts, we might have a small group of dedicated readers. I'm happy with that. Hope you're enjoying it. Like I said last time, I'm enjoying my end of it. It's writing easy, and that's always fun.
There's a little more Maggie and Mack in this installment. I like the play between the two if them. Feels a bit different than the interactions between Mack and Caroline, but you all haven't seen most of those yet.
Something you might not notice. Cover with the new title. So when you go look to buy your copy of this story once it's released you'll look for that version. I kid; I kid. (Mostly, but not really. It'd be great if those of you enjoying this would buy a copy once it's released. It won't be expensive.)
OK. Part 7. Here you go.
Welcome to the End//Part 7 -- Night Crashes
Night crashes hard now. The skies are covered with clouds all the time so it never gets fully bright anymore. There’s always a dull gloom over everything. But the clouds also speed up the arrival of night. By 4 at the latest it’s practically impossible to see without some kind of extra illumination.
It’s dark, and I’m thinking back to the lanterns that I plucked from the doctor’s office the night before. I can see their brass frames and clear glass, and I can see the warm glow of their light. They were elegant but would have brought a bit of sophistication to a world that was now just a few steps away from primal.
Of course, I knew why Caroline had to destroy them, and I wouldn’t have thought about them now if there wasn’t a fire burning in a 40 gallon drum in front of me. It’s putting off enough heat to slowly roast beef.
I’ve taken off my jacket, and Maggie takes off her outer layer when she slides up next to me.
“She says it’s from rubble.”
“Caroline says that she cut her arm on rubble.”
“That’s what she says?”
“It is.” Maggie pulls a nearby folding chair next to me.
“Then that must have been what happened.”
“It’s very neatly bandaged.”
“She must have wrapped it herself.”
“Well,” Maggie says, “she is a talented girl. You said so yourself. I hope I’m forgiven if I don’t believe her.”
“You’re welcome to believe whatever you like. It’s not like she’d be the only one around here with secrets.” I look at Maggie and the awkward air hangs between us for a few seconds.
“Had to use them?”
“We did. Pretty neat little trick.”
“If you liked that one …”
I spin my seat to face Maggie. “You never thought to mention that you could…”
“Hi. I’m Maggie.” She sticks out a hand for a fake handshake. “I’m a mom of two. Work in retail. And I can do magic. How well do you think that would have been received?”
“Well, good point. Unless you followed that up by shooting some kind of glitter beams out of the palm of your hands.”
“It doesn’t work like that, and don’t make fun.”
“I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“I know you were joking, but it’s also why I tend to keep it to myself.”
“Caroline says she can’t do it.”
“She can. She just chooses not to. Never took an interest in it, but it’s not some kind of recessive gene that skips a generation or two. She’s got the ability, just not the will.”
The conversation stalls. After a moment the first wailer of the night breaks the silence. It’s a lone cry coming from somewhere near downtown. It’s followed a moment later by dozens of others. It’s like a call and response from the church services I used to attend.
It’s the evening routine. Once the wailers start talking they don’t stop until the sun is up. One will call. The others respond. My body always tenses when it starts, an unease that sits in my gut. Makes me jumpy. Makes me anxious. And it doesn’t go away until the sun begins to rise.
Walter and Caroline join us around the fire. We are each sitting across from each other, Walter on the opposite side of the barrel from me. Caroline is across from her mom. It is each person’s responsibility to watch the area across from them. Nothing sneaking up on us.