Another stumbling step drew me closer to my destination. The sky grew dark slowly, though whether with gathering night—which I doubted—or something else, I wasn’t certain. My head was still ringing, pounding, and my body ached. My feet had never really hurt quite so much as they did at that very moment. I wasn’t even sure how long I’d been walking anymore, either, just stumbled slowly on my way down what was left of a highway, from where I worked toward where I lived, on autopilot, knowing—just knowing—that I had to get back somehow.
I daydreamed as I struggled along, letting currents of memory and imaginings carry me at least temporarily away from my body, from the aches and the trembling, the tremors of the ground and the sick feeling in my stomach that came with them, feelings that grew with every painful step I took along the way.
An exhaled breath sounded like my name. I rolled slowly, rotating in the cocoon of his arms, nuzzling his jaw lightly as I opened my eyes lazily to stare at him. His eyes were half-lidded and he smiled sleepily at me, reaching up and brushing hair away from my face.
“Almost afraid to get used to this.”
The corner of my mouth curled in a smile. “Why’s that?”
“Well, for one thing, it’s the first time you’ve actually not been distracted when we’ve done this.” He laced his fingers through my hair and drew my face down to his, kissing my forehead gently, tongue sampling the sweat wrought by previous exertions. “First time you haven’t said we’re being watched, or something equally weird.”
I stiffened, restraining myself. Something was watching us, but I’d elected not to say so. Elected not to once again end this before it started, to not ‘kill the mood’ as I’d managed to before. It wasn’t fair to either us—but what was more unfair was the fact that he denied feeling the same things that I was. I knew he could feel things, could see them. But for the past six months, he’d done nothing but deny that. It had put a strain on us—on us as a couple, as a thing. The fact that he kept calling it weird, though, and denying what we both knew…that was starting to put a strain on me. I cared about him too much to let him blind himself to what he was really sensing—what we were sensing, and feeling.
He felt me tense and sighed, letting go and sagging against the mattress, looking away. “Damn it anyway, Marin.”
I sighed, pushing myself upright. “I’ll go.”
“It’s your place.”
I shrugged, padding across the floor to find my clothes, lost somewhere between the door and the bed. “I’ll take a walk. You can do whatever. I really…yeah. I’m tired of fighting you on all of this, Thom.”
“I can’t live with the delusions.”
“They’re not and you know it, unless we’re both crazy.” I yanked my pants on, followed by my shirt. He didn’t say anything in response. I turned toward him, nodding firmly. “I’ll be back in an hour, Thom.”
He didn’t say anything as I walked out the door.
“Ungh.” My knees were scraped as I picked myself up off the ground again, peering blearily down the highway. Landmarks looked familiar. I knew where I was—I’d stumbled at least another few miles since the last time I was aware of where I was. I rubbed at my eyes, trying to ignore the pounding in my head and the grittiness around my eyes. God, it hurt. It hurt so much. I stumbled another few steps before stopping, blinking as my head cleared a little.
That’s the Grand River. But the bridge…god. The bridge…
I rubbed my eyes again, making sure I was seeing what I was seeing.
The M-45 bridge over the Grand River had collapsed. Bits of the bridge had already begun to drift downriver, moving quickly—more quickly than the Grand should. One car was overturned on the bank, half-sunk into the mud. I shuddered and stumbled sideways, retching onto the shoulder of the road. The air stank of death already. How long had it been since it all started?
The church to my left, the one near the riverfront, had been obliterated by something. The parking lot was packed. I shuddered again. That’s where it was coming from—the smell. I prayed that was the only place it was coming from.
I spat twice after puking, then pushed myself upright again, trying to study the bridge critically, figure out a safe way across the broken concrete to the other side. My head swam as I struggled to make sense of a path across, failing miserably. I pressed the heel of my hand against my temple, willing myself to focus, if only for a few minutes, just so I could make it across, get closer to home.
I stumbled onward, picking my way across the broken concrete carefully. I lost a shoe somewhere along the way, climbing across the broken pieces, stumbling up and down the pitched slabs. I dimly could hear someone calling my name as I made my way slowly, agonizingly across, but I couldn’t spare the brainpower or the energy in trying to figure out who was calling me—or if it was even real.
I lost my footing on a particularly steep bit, slid down the slab, scraping my legs up something fierce. I groaned, lacking even the energy to get back up again.
It seems stable enough. Maybe I can just rest here for a few minutes.
I looked up, squinting. “Rory?”
He turned away. “She’s down here!” He eased down over the edge of the slab, sliding down toward me, getting a shoulder under me. “You’re alive.”
“What’re you doing here?” I gasped as a stab of pain shot up my leg as I tried to straighten up with his help. I glared down toward my foot, feeling betrayed. Had I stepped on something?
“We came to see what M-45 looked like. Good thing we did, huh?” He heaved me upright despite my protesting muscles. Drew appeared at the top of the slab and reached an arm down. Rory heaved me up toward him and somehow I caught Drew’s arm. Between the two of them, they got me up onto more stable ground beyond the midpoint—they practically carried me to the other side of the river.
“The Baptist church over there…”
Kellin was at the end of the bridge, waiting for us. “We know. It’s not much better on campus, honestly, but we’ll see. Not sure how many are dead yet. I think lots.”
I had to nod, shivering. “I think so, too, Kel.” The ground quaked again. I shuddered and found myself unable to stop. I was so cold…
“She’s in shock,” Rory mumbled. Drew picked me up, cradling me like a child.
“We’ll take care of it.”
I wanted to ask how, but I didn’t have time before I just sagged into darkness.