“Where did you find the sticks?” I asked her as we walked to the pool. I leaned on her little body for support, the crutch underneath my armpit. For several moments, she said nothing. I continued. “I mean, are their trees here? I thought all the trees were dead?” Again, she said nothing.
“Did I say sticks?” She finally answered.
“Oh, I meant bones. This cave is where we bury our dead. That’s another reason why they tossed my mom’s burned remains in here. Something about the crystals decompose the bodies quickly. Or they heal quickly, as in the case of the pool. Who knew right?”
“Bones. Some areas there are piles of them. People die around here all the time.”
“No shit. Where did you find a bone this tall? To fit me?”
“I didn’t say all the bones were human. Watch your step.”
She pointed the lantern in-front of her and onto the ground. A deep sink hole, if I had stepped in it...
“Fissures from the Cataclysm- run all around here, creating cracks and holes from nowhere, and sealing up others. That’s why you must be careful in the caves, the entire landscape can change from month to month,” she said easily.
“You know about the Cataclysm? You weren’t even born when it happened.”
“Do you have to be born during an event to know when things have happened?”
“Yes, I mean no, of course not. I just didn’t think such things were known so far out here.”
“The edge of civilization you mean?”
“I thought no one from beyond the border of the Wasted Waze came here.”
“When the last ships during the Great Migration left, Tombstone and our Argo had the very last pieces of any military grade weaponry. The Aeronaut was basically an armory. So, we get rescue ships, immigrant boats, flyers, all the time here. At least we did for a period. A lot of refuges from the Cataclysm are the proud citizens of Tombstone today. I thought that was why you came here, for our hardware. Isn’t that what brought you?”
“Well, what then?”
“It’s…a long story.”
“Doesn’t seem like you have an appointment to get to.”
I sighed. “I was following a girl. Namely, I was looking for my girl.”
“And did you find her?”
“No, at least not in the way I wanted to.”
She gave me that look with those eyes. I continued. “We fell in love in the area on the border. We were pursued by Marauders into a desert pool and …I lost her. Then, I don’t know, I went mad, at least a little. I walked into the Waze to get away from my pursuers.” This is when I expected her to be surprised, or guffaw, but she said nothing, just smiled and in the half-dark of the cavern, it seemed as if she nodded in understanding. “That brought me to a church, which in the end, brought me here.”
“A church? That little Tabernacle with the stained glass windows?”
“Yes, you know it?”
“Yes of course. It’s the last standing church on the continent, such as it was. It was built in 1998, making it over fifteen hundred years old. And you managed to blow it up? How appropriate.”
I felt shame heat my skin. “I didn’t blow it up. I survived a blast that killed my friend and almost killed me.”
“Did you pray?”
“In the church, did you pray? You know, for forgiveness and all that.”
I looked forward. “Yes.”
“You mean did I pray for anything else?”
“Yes, did you?”
“Well, what was it?”
I remembered Chirp calling me crazy for bending knee in front of that cross and praying to God to forgive me for what I was about to do. Maybe even then I knew what was coming down the pike. “I prayed to kill my enemies, see them driven before me, and to hear the lamentation of their women. That was the prayer in my heart if not in the words I spoke.”
She whistled. “Well, Jesus said what was in your heart comes out in your words. So maybe God got the message all right.”
“The lamentations of their women? That’s interesting.”
I figured this would be where she would investigate more about her mother and how I could have missed her on the road if I had walked through the Waze. But she did not mention it.
“These fissures in these caves, they run all the way from the Americas, down through the Old Atlantic Ocean, past New Europe and Nu Asia and into the Ancient Land of Holies, where we are now.” Chris-Anne said.
“I had no idea the fall out was that widespread,” I replied. “How do you know all this? Who told you? You have seismologist in Tombstone?”
“Size who? My mum told me. She could read the Earth.”
“Oh. Of course.”
“You don’t believe me?”
“Yes, I believe you.”
She continued. “These caves were always here of course, but after the Cataclysm, they really opened up. My mom showed me how to survive.” She stopped. “That’s it,” she pointed to a large dark entrance. “That is the cave of the pool-in-the-pit, come.”