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.

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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.

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