I sighed and shook my head slightly at J.T.’s question. “Sleeping. Being himself. That’s about it.” I chewed my lip. “Was a cold night,” I said quietly.
“Probably in for more,” J.T. said, rubbing at his forehead and shoveling a mouthful of oatmeal into his mouth. “Doesn’t look like things are going to get any better anytime soon. Probably a lot worse, in fact.”
I nodded slowly. “Early winter, I think.”
Snow flew, drifting down, tossed and sent swirling on the wind. The sound of Matt and Davon laying cinderblocks together was a counterpoint to the sound of the wind whipping through what was left of the buildings. We were still mostly working with debris that had come down from Mackinac, from some of the other buildings, building homes—building something that would hopefully keep us safe and warm.
How many weeks had it been? None of us were sure. The fire crackled and I stretched my hands out toward it, letting the warmth bleed into my fingers. It was just so cold, and so quickly.
“Only going to get worse,” Greg Doyle murmured. “Much worse. Long, hard winter. Been watching the animals.” He was hunkered down beneath a blanket, perched precariously on a stool near the fire, keeping an eye on the kettle so it wouldn’t boil over. His arm had healed straight and functional, but he still complained that it ached, and the ache got worse the colder it got. If Thom had a similar complaint about his ankle, he kept it to himself, though I suspected it hurt him as much as Dr. Doyle’s arm bothered him.
Carolyn’s voice was quiet. “How many winters like this do you think we’re looking at, Professor?”
He shook his head. “Matt may know better. Books might know better. Nothing can tell us for sure. Could be just this one. Could be for a couple years down the road. Thank god we’ve got that little greenhouse, and then the one up the road. It’ll be a hike to get there and back through this mess, but we’ll be glad of it halfway through the season. More than glad. Come spring, too.” He rubbed his face. “A lot of people are going to die this first winter. Maybe not here, but anywhere else…probably a lot of dying. Starving. Freezing.” He glanced toward Matt and Davon, stubbornly working despite the worsening snowstorm. “We’re luckier than most.”
I nodded slowly. Even if it didn’t seem like it sometimes, we were much, much luckier than most.
“Long winter, too,” I murmured, swallowing down some more oatmeal.
“Just gets better and better, doesn’t it?” For the first time since all of this had begun, he sounded glum. I had to smile at him, reached out to pat his thigh gently.
“We’ll be okay, J.T. Picked these teams for a reason, right?”
He smiled a little and nodded. “Yeah. Right.” He wrapped an arm around my shoulders and hugged me briefly, letting go as figures began to trickle toward us to get their breakfast, looking about as tired as I realized I still felt.
We didn’t have the luxury of sleep at this point. There was too much to do to ensure our survival past the next few weeks, the next few months. We might actually have enough food between the local grocery stores, whatever we would be able to salvage—laboring under the assumption that we, in fact, were the only pocket of live people within twenty or thirty miles or so—from houses and farms and the like to last us for a few months, to last us into the winter I suspected would be here within a few weeks. The meteorites that had come down more than likely hadn’t done much good at all for the atmosphere; this was probably as close to a nuclear winter as we were going to get, now, ever.
I’ll take it, if this is as close to that hell as we’ll ever get. Radiation…no. No, never want to deal with that. Not ever. I squeezed my eyes shut and struggled to banish the memory of those old visions from years ago, of the look of my friends seeming to melt away before my eyes because of radiation poisoning. Maybe those had just been my imagination—my brain extrapolating from the original visions I’d had that day when I was a freshman. Maybe. It wouldn’t have been the first time, after all, and I’d read more than one thing about that sort of thing happening. Those visions, the ones that I’d had after the original take a breath and wait to die vision…those had had more of a dream-like—or nightmarish—property than most of what I’d seen in the past, or what I’d seen since. It wouldn’t have surprised me if those visions were nightmares, the ones of my friends dying. Had I really seen what happened yesterday years ago, only from a different point of view? Perhaps. I wasn’t going to discount it as a possibility.
Thom grasped my hand, but his strength was all but gone. “Stay.”
I swallowed past a lump in my throat, gently stroking his hair. “Forever, if you asked me.” He can’t keep denying it. Can’t keep bottling it. He’ll just get worse… “Thom…”
He closed his eyes and shook his head slightly. “Not going to fight about it again, Marin. Not going to fight about it. Just…just stay with me, hold me. Just…just stay.”
I don’t want to lose you, Thom! I swallowed and nodded, leaning in gently to kiss him gently. “Of course, Thom,” I mumbled.
He didn’t say anything, just held onto me, and I stayed. I stayed all night, until he was so quiet that I thought he’d died, only an occasional rasp of breath, a shiver, told me that I hadn’t lost him yet, that he was still here, still with me. But for how long?
“Huh?” He looked at me, spoon hanging out of his mouth. He sucked the oatmeal off of it and swallowed. “What’s wrong, Marin?”
“You believe me, right? You believe me when I talk about what I see? You believe all of us, don’t you?” I felt sick. Did they all think we were crazy? What if we really were crazy? What if it was just all our imaginations?
His brow furrowed and he swallowed again. “Marin,” he said hoarsely, “you and Kellin and Drew and Rory are about all I’ve got left to believe. In for an inch, in for a mile. I believe you—I always have.” He reached out and squeezed my shoulder. “What’s got you worked up over this? What’d Thom say?”
“It’s not Thom.” But it was. It was Thom.
“You lie about as well as he does.” J.T. shook his head a little. “To me, anyway,” he amended, shifting his position slightly, stretching a little. “He doesn’t think you’re crazy, either. He just can’t accept…whatever the hell it is you both can feel. The shit the rest of us can’t see. He won’t accept it anymore.” He grimaced, taking another spoonful of oatmeal, swallowing it before continuing. “He’s just scared, Marin. That’s all.”