He was two days on the road before he began to think that he should have taken a horse. He was footsore already and there were days of walking still ahead of him.
You’ve gotten soft, he chided himself. You’ve gotten soft while you were sitting there with them in their makeshift fort, in their imaginary castle on a hill.
He shivered. Why had he thought of it that way?
Because somehow you know, that’s what it will become. Someday, somehow. He swallowed bile. That’s part of why you’re running, isn’t it? You’re afraid that if you stay, it won’t happen–that you’ll somehow, by your presence, prevent it from coming to pass.
Phelan squeezed his eyes shut against tears that began to sting, tears that didn’t come from the stiff wind off the lake to his right.
Two days out and you miss them already. You have gotten soft, Wanderer.
He bit the inside of his cheek and lifted his head. There was the scent of woodsmoke on the wind, a scent that made his stomach feel hollow.
Must be another settlement nearby.
“Just keep walking,” he mumbled to himself, glancing sidelong toward the lake to his right. There was ice nearest to the shore, the deep blue of the water visible far beyond, dark against the gray sky. Lake Michigan had swelled its normal banks since the end of everything and had showed no signs of sinking again.
The lakeshore in the city’s underwater, he thought. What’s left of it, anyway. Water all the way to Michigan Avenue and beyond, swamp the museums and the low-lying places. Just as well that there’s barely a soul still breathing there. He shuddered. He still had nightmares about his escape from the ruins of Chicago, nightmares he hadn’t breathed a word of to any of his friends. There was no reason for them to worry about things that they couldn’t change, that they’d have no control over.
Thom seemed to be handling the idea that his parents were probably dead well enough anyway. He wasn’t sure if any of the others had family there, but no one had asked and he hadn’t told.
Intellectually, he knew the odds were slim that he was the only survivor of a city of almost three million souls, but he didn’t hold out much hope that there were many others who’d lived.
He squeezed his eyes shut. Everywhere you go, everywhere you make your home, people suffer.
That’s why I can’t make my home anywhere. I am the Taliesin, the Wanderer. I am doomed to wander for all time, les I endanger those I love.
He thought of Jacqueline, of Thom and Marin, Neve and Cameron, J.T. and Matt and all the rest.
I can’t be selfish anymore and endanger the ones I love. I have to keep moving–always moving. There’s no choice anymore.
No choice at all.
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