Friday, May 26, 2017

FREE FRIDAY FICTION : Welcome to the End : Part 30 -- Piles

Thirty. It's a nice round number, and that's where we are. Thirty parts. Thirty weeks of zombies and aliens and Mac and Caroline. Probably five more parts to go. So Welcome to the End is coming to an end. I am in the middle of plotting a second part, carrying on Mac and Caroline's story past this. I like where it's headed. It's different than this story, but it'll move the story along nicely.

OK, on with the story.


Welcome to the End//Part 30 -- Piles

This life had started to feel normal. The wailers had seemed annoying but avoidable if you didn’t put yourself in situations where you were vulnerable. Living in an old fairground wasn’t a horrible thing considering the alternatives. And I had liked Maggie and Walter and Caroline. Life wasn’t anything like I’d ever expected, but it was feeling like it was becoming normal.

Then the rains come. Then the wailers stampede. Then everyone dies. Now, this fairground seems like the last place I want to be. I’ve never been to Oklahoma, but it seems as good a place as any now. Now that nothing feels normal again.

I get back behind the wheelbarrow and begin to push it back to the storage area where I’d found it. Then I stop. It doesn’t matter if it gets back to where it needs to go. No one is ever going to be here again.

I don’t know that, of course. Someone else could come here to Fair Park thinking that it’d make a good place to regroup. Maybe to call home. And I can’t say that they’d be wrong. It has been a good base to work from for the last month. Suddenly, a month doesn’t feel like all that long. Four weeks. That’s all we’ve been here. That’s nothing. It’s an inconsequential amount of time. One twelfth of a year. Just 8 percent of a 365 day cycle, give or take.

But this month, it feels eternal. That’s what happens, I guess, when the world comes down around you.

I go back to camp. Caroline is gathering her mom’s stuff--her bedroll, her clothes, everything that still says Maggie. She’s putting it all in a sloppy pile.

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“Cleaning up,” she says. “I’ve already got all of Walter’s stuff together.” She points toward a similar pile a few yards away.

“Want me to get Bethany and Britt’s things?”

She doesn’t look up from her work. She’s going through a box that Maggie kept by her pillow. Caroline cracks it open. It’s pictures. She pulls them from the box and starts slowly flipping through them, studying the faces on each one. A small smile sneaks onto Caroline’s lips, and I realize that I’ve lost her. She’s dived headfirst into each of the pictures.

Britt and Bethany didn’t have much with them. I take what they did bring and toss it onto the pile of Walter’s stuff that Caroline has made.
Caroline puts the photos back into the box and puts the box in her pack. These don’t go on the pile.

“What’s the plan for all of this stuff?”

“Burn it,” Caroline says. “All of it. Tonight.”

I nod. It’s a good idea.

Friday, May 19, 2017

FREE FRIDAY FICTION : Welcome to the End : Part 29 -- The Girls

Following up on a smaller entry, Part 29 feels a little longer than normal. So, you're welcome.

Things in the story are wrapping up. We are coming to the end of the beginning. A few more posts now, and we'll be done. Let me know if you've enjoyed the journey so far. I'd love to know if I've kept you entertained.


Welcome to the End//Part 29 -- The Girls

I can’t leave Bethany or Britt. It just doesn’t feel right, so the next morning I get up and start digging a grave for them. Just one. It’s set a bit away from the graves for Walter and Maggie. For some reason it seems better to keep them separated, even in death. They don’t deserve the prime locations, not close to the others.

I had a horrible dream last night. It was of what happened here that night. I saw the wailers get Walter. I saw them get Maggie. I saw the two of them fight. And I saw Bethany and Britt run, and even though I know it’s a dream, it’s made me mad. I’ve sided with Caroline. I feel obliged to give these girls a burial, but I don’t feel an obligation to give them more.

I get their hole dug in a couple of hours. I do it in the early morning, as the dawn gives way to day. I want to have the whole project finished by the time that Caroline wakes, so I dig fast. I’ve pulled off the coat I’ve been wearing for what feels like months. Awake. Asleep. It hasn’t come off. But if I don’t take it off now, I’ll sweat through it.

The hole is narrow and only about four feet long once I’m done with it, but it doesn’t need to be big. With the condition the girls are in, it will do.

I lay the shovel beside the hole and the pile of removed dirt. I head out into the park to scavenge a wheelbarrow. It’ll be easier to use that and a shovel to move the girls to the grave.

It’s not until I get out into the park looking for the items on my short checklist that I begin to consider how matter of fact it all sounds. I need a wheelbarrow and a bigger shovel so I can move two bodies.

I’m moving bodies. A lot of this experience of the last month or so has been surreal. And a lot of it are things that you get used to, things I never thought I’d become accustomed to seeing or doing. Like bodies. It was remarkable how quickly I got comfortable with seeing a dead body. It’s not like they littered the streets, but they haven’t been uncommon. Going back into downtown I’d see a couple a day maybe. Prior to this, I’d only seen bodies at a funeral, when they’d been cleaned and dressed and neatly positioned. Here, these were bodies where they’d fallen, and there was something more oddly normal about that.

This job, though, moving Britt and Bethany feels different. Maybe it’s because I knew them a bit. Or maybe it’s because they are in such a condition that I feel like I need a shovel to complete the task. Maybe it’s just all of it. Everything that’s happened has accumulated to the mental levels that it all seems a bit absurd now.

Whatever it is, I instinctively smile then laugh in a way that I can’t control. I look around for Caroline. I don’t want her seeing me, to think that all of this is a joke. I’m alone, and I let myself get overcome with the feeling of absurdity.

I step through a crumpled spot in a fence that separates a back part of Fair Park from the public areas as the fit of funny passes.  I find what I’m looking for. I don’t know why we haven’t seen this before. It’s some sort of storage and staging area for the park’s grounds crew. There are beaten electric carts that can be used to haul material all over the grounds. There are rakes and shovels and wheelbarrows.

I climb behind the wheel of one of the carts and hope beyond expectation that it will somehow start. The keys have been left in the ignition, and I go to start it. I’m trying to talk to the cart, telling it that it’d be great if it could turn over. That I want it to fulfill its purpose, like it’s some animate object that has a higher duty beyond hauling lazy humans and gardening equipment across a park in Dallas.

It doesn’t start.

I try two other carts with the same results before I give up and start rummaging through a shed looking for a shovel bigger than the one I’d used to dig the three graves. I eventually find one that is comically large.

Everything I find is oversized. The tub in the front of the wheelbarrow looks like a small wading pool. The wheel in the front isn’t some plastic or rubber number. It’s a tire that requires inflation, and it’s about half flat. My arms are spread uncomfortably wide to reach the handles on the back. The large shovel I’ve tossed in the tub is sliding around as I wind my way through the park to where Britt and Bethany are. It’s taking twice as long as it should since I’m having to navigate around piles of destruction.

I pass the old football stadium. It’s half gone now. The concrete grandstands, lying in crumbled heaps. The field is getting overgrown.

I reach the girls. They look worse than the day before. Something has gotten to them, and it reaffirms my decision to leave. Whatever this was, it wasn’t small. If there are things like this roaming our park, or at least coming into our park, Caroline and I don’t need to stay.

I pull the shovel from the tub and work the front lip under the girls. It takes some pushing to get it there, and the resistance makes me gag. I try not to think about what I’m doing, but trying not to think about it only makes the thoughts about what I’m doing more clear. I’m shoveling bodies. Human bodies. Into a wheelbarrow.

I finish the job and wheel Britt and Bethany over to the grave I’ve dug for them. I tip the wheelbarrow up and let their bodies fall in. I use the shovel to even them out so they evenly fill the space then start dropping dirt back into the hole.

I pat the dirt smooth then toss the shovel out into the field.

Three graves. Four bodies.

Friday, May 12, 2017

FREE FRIDAY FICTION : Welcome to the End : Part 28 -- Making Plans

Part 28 for you. This is the point in writing this story that it felt like the corner was finally turned. We have a way forward now. Something to look toward. It feels like our legs are back under us. Hope you get the same feeling in reading it.

We have just under 4,000 words left in the story. That's probably another month and a half of posts. In case you wanted to mark your calendar.

On with our tale.


Welcome to the End//Part 28:Making Plans

I walk the Midway looking for Bethany and Britt, but I can’t find them at first. Caroline never got specific about where she saw them, so it’s a hunt. The length of the main walk in the Midway is empty, but on my second pass I see them. They aren’t in the main walkway. They are huddled in a bloody pile inside one of the booths set aside for games. A board filled with small bullseye targets is above them.

They died together and went violently. My only hope, even though I didn’t have much use for either of them, is that it was fast, and by all indications, it was. There aren’t defensive wounds on either of them. My guess: the wailers came into Fair Park from the front entrance. They stampeded past what would have been Big Tex and got funneled into the narrow walk that led straight to the Midway. Maggie got caught away from the main crush but obviously was caught by other wailers. Walter put up a fight of some kind, one he had to know was going to be futile. Predictably, it looks like Britt and Bethany ran, although I can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same thing. They got a decent distance away, honestly--a few hundred yards.

They must have ducked into one of the game booths hoping to crouch in a corner and go undetected, but wailers aren’t easily fooled. They came in here and cornered themselves. They didn’t stand a chance.

I bend to try and pick them up--they deserve a burial too--but I can’t. They are shredded. Arms. Legs. Torsos. They are all individual pieces at this point. And what is left, on closer inspection, has been picked at. Whatever animals have found their way into Fair Park have gotten to the girls.

I stand over them for a moment, contemplating what to do with them when I hear a voice behind me.

“Just leave them,” Caroline says. “They didn’t care to try and help. Or to fight apparently.”

“I might have run too, considering.”

“No, you wouldn’t.” She turns back for camp, and I follow.

She sits on a milk crate and stares off to the setting sun. I offer her my chair, but she refuses. I sit.

“So, I’ve been thinking,” she begins. “I don’t have much here anymore. Anything, really.”

She pauses, and I wait what feels like forever for the next sentence that I know is coming.

Caroline continues: “Tomorrow, well, maybe not then, but soon, I’m leaving. I’m heading north. I need to try and find my sister. If she’s alive, she’s all I have. So, that’s what I’m doing. I’ll follow I75 north up to McKinney …”

“I’m going to Oklahoma,” I blurt out. It’s the first time I’ve said it outloud. It’s honestly the first time that I’ve really even landed on a positive decision. I’d considered it, but only in fleeting moments. Apparently, I was decided.

She looks at me, and I can’t read her. Is she disappointed? Disapproving?

“Oh.” She pauses. “Then you can come some of the way with me.”

“I suppose so. Yeah. I’m headed toward Oklahoma City, but I can come with you to McKinney. I need to make a left at some point, but there’s plenty of opportunity to do that.”

“Good. I’d like the company.” She stands. “I’ll take the chair now.”

Friday, May 5, 2017

FREE FRIDAY FICTION : Welcome to the End : Part 27 -- Fair Park

A short installment this week, but the story breaks pretty naturally here so that's what you get. As a make-good you get a new cover. This is what I'm going to put up on the book-selling sites when it goes live. This is what you'll look for when you go to buy your copy in a few weeks as a thanks for keeping you entertained for almost seven months. Seven months? Can you believe that?

Take a moment to marvel at that then enjoy the story.


Welcome to the End//Part 27:Fair Park

The streets a few blocks from my place weren’t empty, but they were close. I passed guys my age who seemed lost, still taking in the new Dallas. They were still mentally having those “why” conversations in their heads. I suppose I would have been too, but traveling actually helped me get past that part quickly. Not that I think missing a plane or a train or a bus is any actual equivalent to what had happened. I’m not dumb; it’s not close. But those moments when I had to suddenly reconfigure plans and shift travel arrangements, often in countries where I didn’t speak the language, had taught me to adjust and think on my feet.

That’s all I was doing here. I wasn’t thinking about what I’d lost (Everything). I wasn’t thinking about what I’d do long-term. I was just thinking about what was next, and that was to take another step. You’ve finished with your right, now swing out your left. Keep moving forward. A destination will reveal itself eventually, but wherever it is, it’s not behind you.

So that’s what I did. I kept moving, swinging rights and lefts until I found myself walking down the middle of Interstate 30. The highway was mostly elevated interchanges near downtown, and those had fallen in the initial assault. But just east of downtown, the highway—at least for a stretch—was still intact. I found my way to the middle of it. The sun was beginning to set and darkness was coming on fast. Wind rattled through the trees off to my right—those that were still standing. As the breeze separated the branches, that’s when I saw the fires that Maggie and Walter had set. They were like beacons, and because of their intensity, I expected to find them surrounded by dozens of people all congregating and consoling each other. I wasn’t in the mood for it the other night, but this evening, a little human interaction didn’t seem like a bad idea.

So I climbed off the highway and into the neighborhoods I’d been warned to stay out of when I got to Dallas. The homes were old, and many didn’t survive the barrage from a couple nights previous. My route to the fires was circuitous. By the time I got there it was full dark, and the crowds that I’d expected were non existent. Walter stood near the first fire, hugging a shotgun across his chest.

He dropped into his hands and let it hang loose in front of him as I approached. I raised my arms and put my hands up in front of me to show him that I wasn’t armed.

“Hello,” I shouted.

“Can I help you?”

“Saw the fires. Was hoping you guys might welcome another to your camp.”

“Well …” Walter tucked the butt of the gun under an arm and extended a hand for me to shake. “We have the room.”

He told me his name was Walter as he walked me down to the second fire and the women standing in a loose circle around it.

I introduced myself, saying hello to Britt and Bethany first. Neither seemed overly interested, but I credited that to the early-day shock that still hadn’t worn off for many. Then Caroline came over and shook my hand with a smile. And behind her was her mom.

“Hi,” she said. “I’m Maggie.”

Friday, April 28, 2017

FREE FRIDAY FICTION : Welcome to the End : Part 26 -- South

Part 26. We're flashing back again. A little more background. A little more foundation building. Hope you like it. If not, we'll be back to real time soon enough.


Welcome to the End//Part 26:South

I walked past that small park again the day after everything crumbled apart. It was even more crowded than when I’d left. There was a din of voices, all of them slightly raised. A general sense of worry pulsed from the place in waves. I heard tears.

I looked into the crowd. The small bunches from the night before were gone. It was now one big mass of people, an impotent little mob with nowhere to go. I did have somewhere to go, though. I was going home to gather things and to figure out next steps.

The air had taken on it’s now familiar brown haze, everything bathed in a light khaki. The amount of destruction was still shocking, and around every corner was another gasp—a familiar building or site left in a pile. All of this was stuff I missed in the dark and confusion of the night before. People were still on the streets, all of us looking at what had become of our city. Well, their city. Dallas was still too new to be my city. This still wasn’t home. It was getting there. I had started to find my spots. There was a pizza place a few minutes east of downtown that made this rectangular, cracker-crust pizza that it served on plastic lunch trays. It was an old place, family-owned spot that had been around forever. Delicious.

The coffee spot that was a block or so from my apartment. It was just a hole in the wall little place with a counter, a few two-seat tables. The lady who worked the counter in the mornings was cute, and she’d finally learned my order. I’d show up, get in line, and my drink would be ready by the time I got to the register to pay.

So I’d started to set my paths. I’d begun to find the routines that make life feel comfortable and familiar, those things that you miss when you’re away from home for too long.

The walk to my apartment took the better part of that day, but I hadn’t hurried. My path there was a little bit wandering. My curiosity had gotten the better of me more times than I should probably admit. I let myself go off course more than a few times to investigate what had happened to this location that I knew, or to see where a noise was coming from.

People were out sitting on curbs. They were head-in-hands crying. That or they were still a bit stunned, still in shock and not sure what to do next. Something down in me thought I should offer them some kind of comfort, but I didn’t know what I’d say. I couldn’t tell them that it’d be OK. That everything would get better. I didn’t believe it, especially then. I don’t know that I believe it now.

So instead of saying anything I kept walking and got to my apartment as the sun was about to set. I dug in a linen closet for candles I’d bought for a date. I was going for romance, but she wasn’t interested. But it was OK. Now I had light.

I placed the candles on the coffee table and lit them. The room glowed and I sat on the couch in an eerie silence. It was that quiet you get, the deep stuff, when you remove all ambient noise. I listened for neighbors, but didn’t hear any. Most doors were open in the halls, I noticed climbing the steps to my place.

The room got warm, and I got sleepy. I spun my legs up onto the couch and let myself drift off. I crashed fast and hard. It was the last good night of sleep I’d had until the scavenging run with Caroline to the doctor’s office.

I woke to chatter out in the stairwell. I went out expecting to find neighbors, but didn’t. It was two guys, late 20s. They had bulging black trash bags over their shoulders, each close to overflowing with things that clearly weren’t theirs.

I closed my apartment door and locked it. Looters.

I grabbed a loaf of bread from the pantry and half-eaten jar of peanut butter. I made a quick sandwich and waited.

A couple of moment later the door knob jiggled, then: WHAM.

I’m assuming it was a boot into the door near the lock. Trying to kick it in so they could rummage through my stuff.

“Occupied!” I shouted.

A muted “Sorry” from the other side, and that was it.

I finished my sandwich then started to gather what I needed. It was an unorganized scavenger hunt that I rushed through, spooked both by the silence and the looters. I grabbed too much of some things and not enough of some others, all necessitating a couple of trips back.

I stuffed my pack of full of everything I thought I’d need then headed back out, locking my door behind me.

I’d gone north and ran into a bunch of people interested in talking about the whys of everything and how it happened. Not enough of them were interested in how we moved forward. I needed people in the latter camp. Of course, I wanted to talk about the whys and what nows. But, more than anything, I needed people who were thinking about how we get to those why and what now conversations. If they weren’t north, then I’d try south.

Friday, April 21, 2017

FREE FRIDAY FICTION : Welcome to the End : Part 25 -- Burials

Part 25. That means we are into month six of this project. This is the somber part of the story, but for the larger tale, this is where motivations are cemented. At least for me, the person that knows how all of this culminates, these moments are those first steps toward the next chapters and the ultimate end. I know that probably doesn't make a lot of sense from where you're sitting, but it does to me.

Looking at how much story we have left, I'm guessing we will get to 30 parts before all is said and done. So, we should be finished by the end of May.

Hope you enjoy this installment. On with the story.


Welcome to the End//Part 25:Burials

I hold my stone out in front of me and assess my creation. I’m happy. Caroline is still concentrating on the rock in her lap. I take mine over to the hole I dug for Walter and situate it at the top, adjusting it so it’s centered square. I wait a moment before heading back over to Caroline. I am trying to give her space. I don’t know if it’s what she needs or wants, but I haven’t asked. I don’t know how. I know her emotions are raw. I see that she’s been crying. And why not? Her entire world is now different. And that’s on top of it all going end over end with the attacks. She’s alone. Part of me, I suppose, is frustrated that I can’t predict her reactions anymore. Not like I could a day or two ago. She was feisty and bored. I could tell you with some certainty what she was going to say to my questions or how she’d respond to my remark. It wasn’t so hard to put myself back in that teenage headspace and predict what she’d do. Mostly because it’s what I would have done or said. But now, after the wailer attack and her mom dying, I didn’t know what she’d say or what she’d do because I couldn’t imagine, even in my wildest thoughts, being her. She was dealing with things that I would have never been able to handle at that age.

I go back to camp, and Caroline has finished with her rock.

“It’s nice,” I say. “She would have liked it.”

Caroline doesn’t stop looking at her creation. “I hope so.” She pauses. “I think so.”

“I’m going to transition Walter over. Spend a few more minutes with your mom. We’ll move her over after I get back.”

She nods then looks up to me. “Let me help.”

I tell her no, to stay here, and she doesn’t insist.

We’ve wrapped Walter in a blanket that we found over at the empty horse stables. Bundled like this he’s easier to carry, but still heavy. I take slow steps over to the grave. I lay him on the edge then jump in. I pull him into the hole with me. It’s only a few feet deep, but not so shallow that it should be disturbed. The bottom isn’t finished smooth, and he lays in there awkwardly, sort of half on his side. I adjust him so he’s flat as possible then jump out and start throwing dirt into his grave.

The dirt lays in a round mound on top of him, just like some fresh grave you see in a cartoon. It’s an oddly familiar site. Thanks, pop culture and your casual references to death.  I go back to where Caroline is and can see that she’s already wrapped Maggie in another blanket. It was one that Caroline picked specifically. It’s a Native American pattern of some sort, very angular and geometric. It’s all golds and oranges and reds. Caroline spent some time pulling the old hay and other debris from its weave, and it’s clear that she took some time getting Maggie wrapped. Extra fabric is tucked neatly away. She looks like a young, sleeping child bundled tight in its blanket.

Maggie’s head isn’t yet covered, and I can hear Caroline talking to her. I slow my steps, but she hears something crunch under my feet and turns. She wipes a tear then stands.

“I’m ready,” she says.

“There’s no hurry.”

“We have to do it at some point. I’ve said my goodbyes.”

I nod and bend to pick up Maggie. I grab the fabric that’s laying near her head and start to pull it over her face. Caroline puts a hand on my shoulder, and I stop. She bends down and kisses her mother’s forehead.

For the first time, I cry. Big tears wet my cheeks, and I can feel my chest wanting to turn this to sobs. I fight the wave of emotions back as I finish wrapping Maggie. I pick her up, and my tears fall into wet spots on her blanket as I carry her over to the grave I’ve dug. I go through the same procedure with her as I did with Walter. She lays flatter.

I climb from the grave and begin piling dirt back into the hole. Caroline places the stone she created earlier at the head of the grave then begins to sing.

“Amazing grace. How sweet the sound …” Her voice is a bit thin, and it’s understandably unsteady. But it’s pleasant. She continues to sing a variety of old church songs that I recognize until we can’t see Maggie anymore. That’s when she leaves.

I finish the job then step back and look at our small graveyard. Just two plots, but that’s a third of the population of our camp. And it should be bigger, but Caroline never told me where Britt and Bethany were. Once I get graves for them dug it’ll double our number of dead.

Friday, April 14, 2017

FREE FICTION FRIDAY : Welcome to the End : Part 24 -- Survivors

We had a rhythm. One that was very nice. For about 3 months, maybe more, I'd posted one of these every Friday. Go on vacation, forget to do it once, and all of that rhythm is shot. But we're back with Part 24. We are starting to deal with the ramifications of what happened in the last episode.

This is where the story changed for me in the writing. The character of Caroline suddenly felt a lot deeper and more important. She suddenly became whole to me. Hopefully she will for you too as you read on, not only in this episode but the episodes to come.

This is also the point in the story that I made some pretty big changes to the overall outline of the story. I thought I knew where it was going to go, what story I was going to tell. Right about the time I was writing his part, when characters seemed to shift on me like they sometimes do, I also shifted. The story that needed to be told became different. We will still end up in the same spot ultimately, but the path to get there is different now. Good different. It'll be a stronger story, so I'm not upset.

Enough rambling. On with the story.


Welcome to the End//Part 24--Survivors

Caroline is up early and scouting Fair Park for an open space to bury her mom. I have been out looking for something to dig with. I’ll do the heavy lifting today, as it were.

The wailers have done us a favor. They’ve broken into just about everything, and that includes maintenance rooms. It took some hunting, but I was able to find a shovel. It’s not much, smaller than I would have liked, but it will work for our purposes.

I am back at camp. I’ve also found a few packets of instant coffee. I’m boiling water, and Caroline comes around the corner.

“I walked this entire park, and I can’t find a better spot than the one I thought about last night. It’s just around the corner. Come on. I’ll show you.”

“Coffee first?” I hold out a mug for her.

She takes it and sits.

“How you doing?” I ask.

She shrugs and looks over at Maggie.

“I found a shovel. The ground should still be wet enough that the digging will be easy.

She nods.

We finish our coffee in silence. Caroline sets her empty mug on the ground then gestures with her head like “follow me.”

“It’s this way,” she says.

We walk a few hundred feet west of where we’ve camped to an open spot that has a few picnic tables and a couple of tall, thick trees that somehow survived the initial assault.

“She’d like it,” Caroline says. “I figure we can bury her this way.” She uses her hand to indicate a position that’s perpendicular to the concrete path.

“That way,” she continues, “She can look to her right and see the Ferris wheel and to her left she can see Dallas.”

I’m just following orders and begin to dig, but Caroline stops me. She steps out to the middle of the open area and surveys the view.

“Do it here,” she says, so I do.

It takes me close to an hour to dig a hole deep enough. I don’t want to put Maggie or Walter into a shallow grave that’s going to be disturbed by whatever animals take over this place once we are all gone. There are already menacing packs of dogs wandering around.

Caroline comes back to check on me. I wipe sweat from my forehead with the back of my arm and tell her that I’m ready whenever she is. Then I start digging a hole for Walter. I don’t do it near Maggie’s plot. Somehow it just doesn’t feel like I should. The two were friends out of necessity, not choice. I don’t think they disliked each other, but burying them side by side feels like too much.

It takes me a little longer to dig a spot for Walter, but Caroline hasn’t returned. I head back to our spot and see her crying again. Deep sobs, bent over her mother’s chest. I turn and walk a loop around the park.

It’s crumbling more, like the wailers have accelerated the timeline on when all of this was going to come down. And I’m under no impressions that it wasn’t going to come down. Everything will, eventually, either by nature or by force. There was a lagoon area that is now filled with debris and floating trash. That stuff—plastic bags, bottles and cans—always seems to find the water.

I turn right and get a good look at the food court. There used to be tall and narrow towers that went up the front of the building and extended beyond the roof. Those are gone. Torn down, somehow, by wailers. The blue awnings that covered the Midway, at least those that had been still intact, are shreds now. For our purposes, this place has lost some of its practical value. And emotionally, after finding Maggie, all of my connection to Fair Park is gone. I don’t want to stay. I can’t stay. I have to leave, but I can’t abandon Caroline. Not now.

I come back to camp and see Caroline. She has her back to me and is working on something that’s in her lap. Her hands are busy. Magic, I’m thinking. But I get closer and see, no, she’s creating a marker. Some sort of headstone for her mom.

“Do you want to make one for Walter?” she asks.

I wouldn’t even know where to begin the process, I tell her. I didn’t know Walter other than from here. I’d let him sit in my chair, but that’s about the nicest thing I’d done for him.

“That’s fine,” she says. “But he should have something. He can’t just go into a hole in the ground. I’ll make it.”

“If it’s just going to be something simple then I can put it together.” I sit. “What do I have to work with?”

“Whatever you can find.” She has a wide, flat stone in her lap and has painted something on the front. It’s an abstract of colors in a looping swirl. It looks vaguely magical.

“Pretty,” I say as I stand. I’m about to dig in the bushes that line our path to find a rock of my own when I remember that the wailers have done most of my excavation for me.

“Thanks.” Her cheeks are still damp. She’s been quietly crying.

I go to the nearest pile of rubble and find something that looks as little like broken concrete as possible then come back to sit next to Caroline.

I push small tins of paint around looking for black.

“Where’d you find this stuff?”

“Over there.” She points to a spot on the Midway and a face painting stand. The door had been bent and broken to disengage the lock then left open after the contents were looted.

“You do that?”

“I needed in.”

I pick up a brush and dip it into the black paint. I letter “Walter” at the top of my hunk of concrete. I don’t know his age or his last name, so below that I just write the year: 2016.

I think for a moment then write one more thing in the space under the date: Survivor.