“Ungh.” My limbs felt like jelly and my feet were on fire. I wasn’t sure how long I’d been out; all I knew was that whatever I was on was mostly soft, there was a pillow, and I was still utterly exhausted. I sagged, groaning weakly again and scrubbing a hand over my face. Never before had I felt like utter crap, and in that moment I prayed I’d never experience such a feeling ever again.
I groaned, rolling onto my side and making an attempt to force myself up into a sitting position. It took a minute and a lot of effort, but I managed to get myself upright. “What happened?”
“You passed out, that’s what happened.”
I feel like I should’ve stayed unconscious. “Thanks for stating the obvious, Carolyn. What’s going on?”
“Pretty sure the world ended about six hours ago.” She moved over, sat down with me on the mattress they’d clearly salvaged from the dorms. “Did you walk that whole way up here from the mall?”
Did I? God. I must have. I rubbed at my eyes. “I must have. My legs hurt.”
“You’ve got a knot on your head the size of a baseball,” she told me, grimacing. “And I totally can’t blame you if your legs hurt. Mine would definitely hurt.”
I smiled weakly at her, drawing one leg painfully up against my chest, stretching my thigh muscles gently. “Everyone okay?”
She frowned. “Depends on what you mean by everyone. I was in the library with Jacqueline and Davon and Rory. I’ve seen some of the others. Don’t know exactly how many are still alive out here. Hopefully more than I’m afraid of.”
“Hopefully,” I echoed. “Do you guys have any ideas?”
“Forty, maybe? I’m not sure. I’ve been sitting with you since Jacqueline and Leah decided you’d live, waiting for you to wake up. They told me I was probably better off here than…well…elsewhere, doing something else.”
Probably right. Carolyn doesn’t need to see half of what she might be seeing in the near future here. I suppressed a shudder, remembering the stench of the church. Definitely doesn’t…sooner or later, though, we won’t be able to keep it from her anymore. I leaned into her shoulder, closing my eyes again and sighing tiredly. “Have they checked everywhere?”
“Not sure, really.” Carolyn reached down, picked up the blanket that had been spread over me and wrapped it around my shoulders. I gave her a questioning glance, but she just shook her head. “You’re shaking, Marin.”
“I’m tired. That’s all.” I tugged the blanket closer. It felt cooler than it should have been—much cooler. I squinted toward the sky. Sullen red, streaked in dark gray. I don’t like the look of that. I took a deep breath, exhaling slowly.
Take a breath and wait to die.
I squeezed my eyes shut.
“I’m okay.” I started to try to push to my feet, gasping at the pain in my calves and ankles. “Ungh. Ow.” I sat back down abruptly, blinking stinging tears from my eyes. God, that hurts.
She looked at me quizzically. “Who do you need?”
“Not sure. Who took charge?”
Carolyn blushed a bit. “I’m not really sure, honestly.”
Wonderful. I sank back down, waited a long moment for the pain to abate slightly before asking, “Where are we, exactly?” That she’ll know.
“Hills outside of Copeland and Robinson.” Carolyn hugged her knee against her chest, flipping dark hair over her shoulder. “They looked like the most stable areas to set up shop.”
I nodded tiredly. Makes sense. More solid ground than anywhere else on campus. Dorms would fall back down into the ravine before they fall forward onto the hills, if they survived the initial…whatever that was. A glance outside confirmed that they had survived, but I could already see the nasty crack forming in the end wall of Copeland. They wouldn’t last. “Mattress come from inside?”
“Yeah. Some of the camps staff is hauling crap down and out. We’re not sure how stable the buildings are. Davon’s been checking, I guess. Outer shells on some of them are probably okay, it’s everything else we’re worried about, maybe. I’m not sure. Like I said, they told me to stay with you.” Carolyn grimaced. “Glad it’s them in there and not me. Getting out of the library was bad enough.”
Of course it’s still standing. “Was it bad in there?”
She shrugged, pushing to her feet and moving over to a bag that lay beneath the shade of our makeshift shelter—shelter built, I realized, from stacked and pinned furniture from the dorms shoved up against one of the trees on this particular hill. From the bag, she produced a bottle of water and a package of crackers. I threw her a questioning glance and she smiled guiltily. “We sort of raided the C-store,” she told me, pressing the crackers into my hand. “Rory said Jacqueline and I shouldn’t freak out too much.”
I couldn’t help myself. “And you listened?” I unwrapped the crackers.
She shrugged. “It’s not looting if everyone else is dead, right?”
I stopped, almost choking on the cracker I’d just shoved into my mouth. Carolyn scrambled to uncap the water bottle and thrust it toward me. I gulped some down, coughed a little, then downed some more before I regained the ability to speak—or sputter, as it were. “Did you just…?”
She shrugged again, not making eye contact with me. “We all realize that something’s gone terribly, horribly wrong, Marin. It’s the end, isn’t it?” She finally looked me in the eye. “Like what you used to talk about sometimes with Kellin and Drew and Rory, the stuff you told me I could ignore. The stuff you used to see. That stuff.”
My breath caught in my throat and I thought I would just fall over onto the mattress again right then and there. Was she actually saying this? Our Carolyn? Our Carolyn? She was the only one we’d tried to shelter more than anyone else. She was the one that we’d agreed maybe couldn’t handle the strain of knowing, of learning—and yet, she’d been the safe one, even more than Jacqueline or Davon, because she wouldn’t ask—Davon just thought we were all crazy, I was fairly certain, and Jacqueline would have started asking questions that we weren’t ready to answer. But Davon didn’t understand—not yet—and we were going to have to sort out a way to tell Jacqueline without accidentally breaking her. It wouldn’t be easy, but they would eventually accept it. They wouldn’t deny it. Not like… I stopped the thought before it got rolling.
Carolyn grimaced and started to stand up. “I’m going to go find Kellin. She said I should when you woke up.”
I held up a hand to forestall her departure. “Carolyn, wait.” I scrubbed my hand over my eyes, crackers half forgotten in my lap, bottle of water locked in the other hand. My head was slowly clearing—too slow for my comfort. I took another gulp of water. “How…how do you know?”
She shrugged a little again, sinking down to kneel in front of me. “Just a feeling, I guess. Everything feels like the end of the world, anyway.” She frowned, fidgeting a little. “If it wasn’t, someone would’ve made it to us by now, anyway. We’d have seen something.” She bit her lip. “I just…I know, Marin. And you know, too. It’s all over your face, and Rory’s and Kel’s and Drew’s. You all know it.” She rocked up to her feet. “Better walking into whatever comes next with open eyes rather than denying it until I stop breathing.” She managed a smile. “Trying to look at it like a big adventure. I can think of worse teams to get stuck on. Drink your water. I’m going to get Kellin.”
I nodded mutely, unable to contain my shock. Our Carolyn indeed. Never saw that coming. I drank my water, trying to slow down—gulping it wasn’t going to do me any good. Is this how it’s going to be? They’ll just start…waking up before we’ve had the time to properly prepare them? I grimaced. Maybe that was why Kellin had been so insistent on talking to me quickly after I woke up. I suspected it was otherwise, though. She’d have other things to pick my brain about. I’d be the one to bring up the others waking up to the abilities we knew that they must have. Another Thom isn’t going to help anyone in this situation. I winced, hugging my knee against my chest.
“One was enough,” I mumbled to myself. “Davon will probably deny it, too, though. Maybe.” I rested my forehead against my knee and sighed. He probably would, at that. At least at first. But maybe he wouldn’t. We’d have to see.
There were a lot of things we’d have to see.