"Drifting into time passages,
Years go falling in the fading light,
Buy me a ticket on the last train home tonight..."
from Time Passages by Al Stewart
The next morning, they (as in Ryan and Ike) went through what Mitch left behind, which seemed to be just about everything. His winter boots were gone (though his tracks had shown that he was wearing them, so that was no shock) as were his heavy coat and gloves. Whatever survival gear he had owned was left behind, or at least what gear they knew about. Ryan had to use his police officer’s mind (which he hadn’t needed in a while) to deduce that Mitch went out into the wild to die away from everyone else, but wanted to be warm enough to put some distance between himself and the camp. It was as good a theory as he could come up with, but the only way to be sure was out there somewhere, lost to them forever, frozen in the snow, probably with the name “Nicole” on his dead lips.
Following that, there was nothing else to do but to take an account of what Mitch left behind and see if anyone had use for it. Tara couldn’t touch it and was adamant in her assertion that anyone who did was an opportunistic scavenger.
“This is wrong, this is just fucking wrong. We’re all just vultures.”
Ike replied, “Knock that crap off, Tara. Almost everything we have, we took from someone else. How much of our stuff did we loot? The only reason we could is because whoever owned it before us is dead. That doesn’t change just because we knew Mitch and Nicole. Everything we can make use of from them is something we don’t have to get out there, so use what you can.”
“I just don’t feel right about it, that’s all.”
“Well, welcome to the new world. This is what we have to do from now on. So, take what you can use, and that’s it. If it’s personal, like a picture of his parents in his wallet or something, you don’t take that. But this is not a world in which we can afford to waste anything.”
Before the day was out, anything that had belonged to Mitch or Nicole that could be of any use was distributed to everyone else and what personal possessions that could not be used were disposed of by throwing in the dumpster, reminding Ryan and Daphne of the unceremonious way that they had buried Nicole and her child. But this world still took lives even when it was not the dead doing the taking, and there was nothing to do but carry on. There had been so much death and they had all suffered the loss of just about everyone they had known from before. There was no getting used to it, but they had to accept it to move on.
And moving on was exactly what they did, although some handled it better than others. Morale took some time to rebound, since they had suffered four deaths in a short time, and one of those was one that never had even a chance for a single dream. That hurt the most, and it took a person of practical mind to understand that at least that poor baby was spared the horrors of the world that almost certainly would have taken it in short order, but no one spoke of it.
It would be nearly three weeks before things were back to whatever passed for normal these days. The group could not hide forever, and Manny and Yolanda allowed Michelle to interact more and more with the others, and had told them in their own way about how some of their friends just couldn’t stay with them any longer, just like her own parents could not. They had already come close to clearing out the junk food from the canteen, and the food in the mess hall was starting to reach the level that would concern a farsighted person. But it was just after the arrival of March that Ryan saw what concerned him the most. He looked one day at the sky and saw a break in the clouds, a break that showed the sun. Not long after, the cloud cover, which had been more or less absolute since winter began, started to break apart little by little. The most ominous sign that their little haven would soon have to be abandoned came in the form of icicles melting as the sun peeked through the clouds. Things were changing, and the next stage of their adventure was soon to begin. As they had done every week since arriving, Ryan and company cranked the engines of all the vehicles to make sure that winter wouldn’t kill them, but their group had shrunk, and not all would make the trip away from this place when the time came. Although morale did not plummet as spring approached, everyone grew understandably nervous. That world had not done them much good, and soon, they would no longer be able to hide from it.
One night, Ryan was sitting up in bed, smoking his pipe and reading a Time-Life book about aviation history, specifically about the air war in World War One called Knights of the Air, when Daphne came back from the shower, hair still wet, looking quite lovely to Ryan, thank you very much.
“Cold as a witch’s nipple out there.” Daphne said.
“But not like it used to be. Spring is coming, and it’s going to suck when it does.”
“Not that it was a great winter, Ryan. We survived it, but it was still pretty fucked up.”
“Hmm, you mean with an attempted rape, a dumb kid getting killed because he wanted to be a bad ass, a poor woman dying in childbirth and her baby not even drawing a breath in the outside world, and her guy wandering off to go join her? To say nothing of everyone being selfish or lazy, or in Tara’s case, ultra-bitch? Yeah, this one is for the books.”
“But we did survive. If Kristin hadn’t told us about this place, where would we be?”
“All dead. But then, look how lucky we were. We were damned lucky we even stopped at their cabin to begin with. It led us to everything else. Suppose we kept going. Supposed we had no idea that anything made it worth stopping there. You think we would have lasted long?”
Daphne thought on that, but the answers came pretty quickly. “Probably not. We might have made it through Delta by the skin of our teeth, but if we had headed north, we might have still run into Ike’s group, but if we had gone into Grand Junction, we would have gotten wasted there. And without Aaron’s place to chill for the summer and get to actually know each other, I would have gone right on thinking you were nothing but a fascist pig and you would have never thought I was anything but a biker whore. One of us might have tried to ditch the other if things didn’t change, and we would have either died together or died apart. I don’t see anything else happening.”
“Probably. You’re probably right. And what would we have missed? A couple of dependable friends like Aaron and Kristin, a little angel like Michelle, and a jack-of-all-trades like Boyd, and bad mother fucker like Ike…everything would be different…and worse. But hey…if I had found Ike’s group without you, you know, if you hadn’t made it that far, I’m sure I would totally be nailing the shit out of Tara right now.”
‘Well that’s convenient, since there’s a lot of shit in there to nail out. But come on, you would have never gone there, would you?”
“If I had gotten lonely, probably. And I would have hated her even more had I fallen for her, you know? Loneliness is a hard fucking thing to handle, and the end of the world has only made it harder. Summer wasn’t easy to get through, despite what you might think.”
“We were safe, and we had friends, Ryan. And maybe things could have gone differently if you had opened your eyes. You know I actually first wanted to sleep with you sometimes back in July?”
“No, I did not know that. Why did you wait? I could have had an awesome summer if you hadn’t.”
“Because I wanted to wait until I was sure you’d want the same thing, and I started thinking that you might never come around, that the line between us would never fucking go away. Cop to the bitter end, that’s what you seemed like.”
“Daphne, you know when I fell for you?”
“It wasn’t the first night we screwed?”
“No. If memory serves, it was sometime back in August.”
“Why didn’t you pull the trigger? I’d have gone for it.”
“Because I didn’t know that. I didn’t know if you were still hiding behind that line, the one between a cop and a criminal. I just didn’t know. But I dreamed about it when you just happened to be in my cabin, and then…well, you know the rest. Maybe it happened exactly when it should have.”
“Maybe. But I’ll tell you what. We keep each other alive, and we’ll keep screwing and doing all the gooey shit that couples do that makes everyone else sick. How’s that?”
“I believe we have an accord.”
"If you have a milkshake, and I have a milkshake, and there's a straw, there it is, that's a straw...and my straw reaches...acrosssssssss the room, and begins to drink your milkshake. I DRINK YOUR MILKSHAKE! SLURRRP! I DRINK IT UP!