Chapter 10: Beyond the Wall
The light was so bright that I couldn’t see for a moment and it dimmed the world around me. I heard the sound of hooves striking against the hard floor, and vaguely I could make out Roderick caped figure riding forward into the bright light.
My own horse shook his head eager to go forward, and for a moment I wondered if I was making the right decision. My stomach still had completely settled from that unnerving complete darkness, and now it was time to face such insane brightness. How was Roderick able to ride so confidently out into the world?
Kevin reached over and gripped my hand ripping me from my indecision, “Ready to go Liv? Let’s do this at the same time. Count to three?”
I gulped and nodded. It was time to face the outside world. “One, two, three.” On three I nudged my horse forward and next to me Kevin’s horse also moved forward toward the edge of the box where the glaring sunlight shone in and where the books said a bright blue sky waited for me.
The edge of the box shifted out of view and soft blue sky filled my vision. As the horse moved forward, more of the dome of the sky became clear; a soft blue filling the rest of the world around me. I struggled to put words or description to it. It was simply the purest shade of light blue ever to grace anything in this world. “Why is the sky blue?” I asked no one in general and no one else was paying attention to answer. We were all fascinated with this beautiful world outside the wall. The bright light came from somewhere, but at the moment it seemed to be hidden by the giant wall behind us.
There was a city around us or at least the ruins of it. There were old houses left here to rot, but for some reason they hadn’t fully rotted. It looked… abandoned. I looked back and the gates of the wall were closed behind us. It was a solid gray Wall now reaching up to block out the sky, and above its insane heights. I couldn’t even see the pink dome that I knew covered the city. There was no going back into that Wall. We had to move forward.
I pulled out my compass and map and oriented myself. We were supposed to ride west out of the city. Roderick rode up beside me steering his poor creature next to mine, “Don’t worry about that. I already have figured out which way we need to head, how far it is, and all that fun stuff. I’m so excited to finally get to use the skills I learned in the wall!”
His voice was so different from the stiff formal teacher in the Wall, and I couldn’t help but smile at his excitement as he trotted forward bouncing in his saddle and heading almost parallel but slightly away from the wall.
I glanced over at Kevin and gave a wallish shrug, laughing a little internally, before pushing Kingston into a trot. It was stupid to name a creature that was going to die, but Kingston had come with the name. I might as well use his name instead of thinking of him as just “my horse”.
Roderick’s horse went back to a walk and our horses piled up behind. The little gray pinned it ears and whipped its head around with its teeth barred toward us. Roderick patted it’s neck and the horse settled a little.
Did the sudden transition back to walk after such excitement to be leaving the city have anything to do with how uncomfortable Roderick and the horse looked with Roderick bouncing along on its back? I wasn’t going to ask.
I wanted to ask Kevin about his time in the Wall. He had a brown stubble of facial hair that had grown over his face, and though I could still see the E burned into his skin, the hair was attempting to cover it its coarse curls. He looked more like a grizzled guard than a Most Honored now.
He was looking at the strange silent ruins of steel and rock and around us. I opened my mouth to speak, but I couldn’t bring myself to say anything. Not with Roderick so close.
Roderick who, if Lisa was to be believed, was here leading the way out of an obsession with me. And I was here out of some crazy desire for my own redemption. And Kevin. He was supposedly here because of some silly promise he made as a child. Was that the only reason?
We continued to travel in silence for a while. Everyone seemed lost in their own thoughts in this bright blue world with its forgotten ghosts lining either side of this road like the people who lined the road as we road from the City into the Wall.
The bright light that existed in this world outside the Wall became brighter, and the bright object providing light slowly appeared up above us in the sky. I tried to look at it, but the thing called the Sun in the books ate at my sight. I looked away and then glanced back trying to glimpse its beauty, but it was too painful. It was easier to just look ahead.
“Look, it’s a cloud!” Roderick’s black cloaked arm pointed at the edge of the sky dome. Vaguely I could see a white wisp marring the blue sky the way white specs showed up to mar the pink on fingernails.
“What a strange world this is.” I couldn’t draw my eyes away from that white slash in the sky.
Roderick’s hooded head nodded. “Yes. Clouds are made of water vapor, and sometimes they release the water back to the Earth.”
“Water vapor? What is that?” I had never heard the term used before.
“You know how hot water releases steam?”
“Yes,” I had seen hot water release steam before.
“Steam is water in its gas form, and clouds are steam.”
I looked at the cloud again. It didn’t really look like steam, but maybe that was because it was so far away. It was amazing the amount of knowledge that the wall people had archived about the world they never saw.
Roderick’s horse halted, and I could see he was trying to grab something from his saddle bags.
“What’s wrong,” I asked as I pulled my horse into a halt.
“Aha! I found it!” He proclaimed as he pulled out some sort of little square thing, “Its the radiation detector.”
He had mentioned something like that before. I watched as he stared intently at the device. What was he trying to figure out?
“We are good on radiation for a while longer. We’ll need to take a pill tonight with dinner at the current radiation, I think. And no, I don’t know if we will need our three pills at equal length.” He turned toward me, and I could see a touch of a smile within the folds of his hood. Then the hood covered his face again and his horse was walking forward again.
I pulled out some of my travel food and chewed on a stick of extremely chewy meet. One bite of this stuff would last almost an hour it seemed. Small bits stuck in my mouth. I’d been warned to not let myself drink too much as water was limited, so I took a sip, and swished it around in parched mouth. It was getting quite hot out here and this water felt so good. How was Roderick able to stand this heat in his dark cloak? He didn’t look bothered, but it was hard to tell under his cloak.
I could see sweat dripping of Kevin’s face, but he just brushed it away and didn’t seem too bothered by it. He hadn’t said a single word since we left the Wall. Was he angry? He glanced over at me, and I pulled on my horses reins, slowing the large beast down, and motioning for Kevin to slow down as well.
He obliged, and I let Roderick get a little ahead of us.
“What’s up?” He finally asked, breaking the silence between us.
I looked down at my horse’s think black neck. “Did you ever try to come see me while we were in the Wall?”
Why had I asked that. I’d meant to ask what he had learned in the Wall, but I had blurted out the question that was really bothering me.
“No. Did you try to come see me?” His response felt like slap.
“No. Why not? Why didn’t you want to see me?” I hated myself for asking, but I couldn’t stop myself.
“Liv, sometimes I think we all need space. You are like an annoying little sister who is constantly getting into trouble and dragging me into it. I’d mostly been following along, unsure of what I was doing. You weren’t coming to see me, and I appreciated the space to think. Why did you not come to see me? I thought it was because you realized I needed space.”
His response stung. I knew he didn’t have romantic feelings for me, but it hurt to hear it. I couldn’t tell him of my own fear.
“What realization did you come to in that time? You are still here following me?”
He smiled at me, his grey eyes lit to an almost blue color by the sun sparkling on them, “I realized even if you aren’t my sister by blood, you are the only family I have left.” His smile disappeared and he looked down at his own horse, “I realized there is no going back. We are exiled now, and I will never see my father or brother again.”
He looked back at me with a much more somber look, “Liv, I left the Wall because I would have gone crazy in that silent place. I know you think exile to be this grand adventure out beyond the Wall and then you will go back and regain your honor or something like that, but I don’t plan on going back. If we find somewhere where we can safely live, I want to explore that place. I want to die out here beyond the confines of the Wall. This is my death sentence whether we die from the radiation and lack of food, or if we one day die of old age.”
“And what if I chose to go back and you are left alone? Didn’t you just say you see me as family?”
He sighed, “Do I have to spell it out for you? You might be what is left of my family, but I am done with that place. I’m not going back. You might be like a sister, but if you chose to go back I’m not following you further.”
“I like you! I always have.” I blurted out unable to contain my own anguish.
“I know.” He looked away at the horizon. “Maybe I should say I figured. I’ve never felt that way towards you, and I think your own feelings are more of a savior complex towards me because I helped you out when you were Dishonored and I made that promise.”
How could he brush off my feelings like that!? “How dare you!” I yelled at him and kicked Kingston forward into a trot, my posting like an ungainly child’s attempt to move with the horse, but it was better than staying near Kevin. At least right now.
I passed Roderick whose horse started trotting as well. He flopped around like a ragdoll on his horse, and I slowed back down to walk. If he fell off he could get injured, and we needed his radiation readings.
Even though I hadn’t wanted to drag him along on this exile, without him we would probably die out here. Even with him we might die, but at least we had more of a chance.
If the whole place had too much of this radiation stuff for us to survive anywhere out here, we would still all die. He was simply giving us more time before we slowly died.
I looked back at Kevin who had just very thoroughly told me his reasons for being here. And that he had no interest in me at all. Was I wrong to be so focused on him for so long?
Lisa said a similar thing about Roderick. Were he and I similar in our fixation on a single person? His sister did seem quite young, and maybe it was just her own take. Maybe Roderick wasn’t as silly as I was. I didn’t actually know him super well.
“Everything ok?” Roderick’s voice cut into my thoughts.
“Yeah, just- ” I had almost said something about getting my feelings hurt. He didn’t need to know that. I was going to be in the company of Kevin and Roderick for a while, and I didn’t need to make things any more awkward than I had just made them. I forced myself to smile as I wiped beads of sweat on my face with my hand.
“I just need some time with my own thoughts.” I needed to time to fight back the tears stabbing the corners of my eyes. The buzz in my throat threatening to tell everyone how I felt. I needed to to get my self together and forge ahead. There was no turning back. Not yet for me. Not ever for Kevin, and I had no idea what Roderick’s thoughts were on the matter. One day I might ask him. One of these days I should get to know more about him and why he came with us. But not today. Not with the ants crawling in my throat.
His black hood moved up and down in a nod, and I felt grateful for his silence. If something could be said about the wall people, it was that they were not afraid to embrace silence. Silence normally felt so scary and full of tension, but now it was calming and supportive.
Clip Clop. Hooves striking against the solid ground underneath. Air gently moved across my face like the light brush of grass. I could hear things rattling in the ruins around us.
Kevin trotted up to the other side of Roderick and asked, “What is making the air move like this. I do not see any fans.”
“I think this is the thing called wind. I read in a book that pressure changes cause the air to move, and that movement is called wind.” Roderick was also useful as our walking textbook on all things outside the Wall.
I thought I had learned enough to survive out here, but I would not have had a name for this gentle sensation brushing against me and pulling the damp heat with it for just a moment.
Strange noises filled the air with creaks, buzzing, and and chittering. Sometimes a bird could be heard, and I thought of the birds that nested in the city. If birds had survived out here, maybe we could as well.
In the distance I could see an end to the wall of ruined buildings where brown scars rose up from the land in strange and suffering formations.
It seemed distant, but we approached it I realized they were burned trees rising up from the ground. Looking back, I could still see the Wall looming over the edge of our vision like it had always loomed at the corner of everything in my life. I could also just barely make out the pink bubble that blocked out the sky rising up above it. Would it one day all disappear from view?
We continued on, each of us lost in our own thoughts. From time to time I looked over at the others as we rode forward, and everyone seemed as enamored with the strange scenery as I was.
The ruined city slowly faded to the edge of our vision as the road disappeared to just dirt and dead trees. Still the Wall rose up above the barren land as reminder of what was behind us.
The wind ran across my face again, its feet dancing along and drying the sweat. It was hot here, but the heat felt good. The sun felt like it was warming up a soul that had forgotten what warmth was. Pure unaltered energy slowly shifting across the sky towards our destination both guide and time teller as it slowly moved down blocking out what was ahead with its fiery brilliance.
Looking away from the brilliance I could see the other two struggling with it as well. Roderick had his head tilted down to take advantage of his black cloak and Kevin had his hand in front of his face to block the sun.
I took Kevin’s approach and held my hand in front of the Sun’s angry assault. My mind rambled back towards Kevin’s words. I had to let go. I had to move on. This world outside the Wall should be a fresh start without the lingering attachments of my old world to hold me back. At least until we found something to report and I returned.
But Kevin wouldn’t be returning. I thought of his family, probably now slaving away as Dishonored. His poor father was probably already dead from the treatment the Dishonored were given.
I hadn’t let myself think about that when time disappeared in the Wall. It had gone on and on in a cycle of forgetting old ways and learning new things. This ruined old world was my new world.
It would be a good place to start over if it wasn’t for the radiation. But there had to be something beyond the radiation. Radiation went away over time according to what Roderick had me read. It had been a long time since whatever happened to this world.
I thought of the books Roderick had me read. Some of them spoke of this as “The New World” discovered by explorers from a land mass across the sea. They also spoke of things called wars and huge numbers of people dying as the explorers killed those who already lived there.
Maybe there were people still living somewhere in this desolate world? Maybe not here, but somewhere beyond the ruins and sand. I just had to hope that this world beyond the safety and horror of the City was not my death sentence.
The sun sent rays of red light streaking across the sky like a bird stretching it wings across the sky as it neared the horizon and Roderick called for a halt again. He checked his device and nodded. “We need to take our first pill.”
“And when will we need to take the second?” I asked as he rode up next to me to give me the pill and he simply shrugged as I took the pill. Was he afraid of dying?
He rode away to give Kevin his pill. How much longer did we have? We needed to get as far west as quickly as we could, “I think we should ride through the night. We aren’t asking the horses for that strenuous a pace and I think they can handle it. We can take turns sleeping on our horse while we ride. We need to try and get out of the radiation zone before our pills run out.”
Roderick nodded as he pulled off his hood, and the red of the sky seemed to shift into his hair like a bloody halo. I hadn’t been able to see him earlier, but in the fading light I could see he looked tired. The joy and excitement he had when we left the city were gone. Was it simply the weariness of travel, or was it a realization that this was a suicide mission settling in? Was he regretting his reasons for coming?
“I recommend we ride through part of the night the way you are suggesting, but that we take some breaks to rest the horses.” Roderick said as he fiddled with his saddle bag.
“I think we should at least take a small break now,” Kevin’s voice came from the other side of Roderick. “As Roderick mentioned the horses will need rest, food, and water as well.”
Kevin’s horse halted, and Kingston and Roderick’s horse both followed. I looked down at the black creature I was riding, and noticed the sweat on his fur. I had been wrong to keep pushing them forward.
Kevin jumped down, and grabbed his saddle for support. Walking with what seemed like stilt legs, he pulled off one of the large bags attached to his saddle. “We each have one small grain bag and two water bags. Ration it, and don’t let your horse drink too much.”
“How much is too much?” Roderick asked before I could.
“I’d say half a bag.” Kevin was already holding open a bag for his grateful horse.
I tried to copy Kevin’s graceful dismount, caught my foot on the top of the saddle, struggled, and eventually freed myself landing hard on the ground, and collapsing. My legs didn’t want to support me. Kingston looked over at me with pity in his eyes and nudged me.
“Yes, yes. I’m getting you some water.” I told him as I grabbed his neck and used him to pull myself upward into a standing position. Maybe I should walk some next to him in the future because my legs and seat bones were now feeling very sore.
Roderick was sitting on the ground looking dazed, and I saw Kevin helping him stand. At least I hadn’t needed Kevin’s help yet. I copied what I had seen Kevin do, and offered water to a grateful Kingston.
“You seem to be doing well,” Kevin commented while grabbing the grain bag and bringing it to me.
I didn’t need his help, “I’m not completely useless!”
“Never said you were. Your quite good at a number of things. You just don’t seem in shape for this.” Kevin’s kindness hurt. His help hurt. But he was right. I hadn’t done anything while in the Wall to be in shape for this.
New world, new life. If he saw me as a sister, I would be his sister. “You might be right, but it doesn’t mean you have to look down on me.”
He sighed and raised is hands up, “You win. I won’t help you. I’ll go back to helping the wallite whose never ridden a horse in his life before and didn’t think about that before volunteering to go on an adventure.
Kevin walked back toward Roderick, and my sore legs protested me turning down his help. Roderick needed his help more than me anyway. I pulled the water away from an unhappy Kingston who wanted more. Kevin had said not to let him drink too much.
I dug my hands into the grain bag and held out a handful of grain for him, which he happily ate before diving for the grain bag, “Oh no you don’t. We have to ration the grain as well and you would happily eat all of this. One more handful.” I offered a little more that he happily ate.
He was such a sweet horse. What did he think about being forced into a dark space for a while and then suddenly being brought out into this world of light. Had he been sitting in the Wall the entire time we were there? His whiskers brushed against my face and his soft lips tickled my nose making me laugh. “You win horse. Just a little more,” and I held out a touch more for him to lick of my hands before putting away his grain bag.
Kevin and Roderick were sitting on the ground in front of us munching on some of the dried meat bar from their rations. I grabbed my own rations and went to sit next to them as the sun faded from view with the last traces of red sinking behind and a dark blue absorbing the world above. Small lights peaked through, and a large white blob that almost look like a wall person’s face rose into the sky.
“The little lights are stars, which are very far away suns.” Roderick said while looking straight up at the sky.
“And what is the round white thing?” I asked. I had read a little about stars and using them for navigation. None of it made sense at the time, and it was making even less sense and innumerable white lights slowly filled the sky. How could one person tell the difference for the difference between any pattern in this mass of little lights.
“That’s probably the moon. It’s a big rock that circles the Earth.”
I nodded. I remembered reading about the moon, but I had thought it would look more rock like and less - less - bright.
“You two should rest,” Kevin’s voice broke through our joint fascination with the night sky. “I ’m not really good at navigating, so I will take watch when we give the horses a break and sleep when you are leading.”
It made sense. “Alright.” I finished my meat bar, and drank a little of my water. The touch of water against my mouth made me want to guzzle the who bag of water, but I had to stop myself just as I’d stopped Kingston. I laid out on the dirt, as I would if I were in a cell, and attempted to sleep.
I’d finally gotten used to the soft bed, and now the hard dirt hurt. It made my hips ache, and then my back felt stiff, and my legs were cramping. Sleeping on my back hurt my poor seat bones. Pain. Non stop pain. I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep with how sore my body was feeling.
Kevin shook me awake, “I think the horses have rested well. We should offer them some more water and then keep moving.”
I nodded in pretend understanding. Too many words for a waking mind. I slowly pulled myself into a sitting position. Kevin held out his hand, and for a moment I thought about not grabbing it, but I was too sore and stiff.
In the moon’s light I could see Roderick was already next to his horse offering it water.
I had to do the same. That was what Kevin said to me. I offered Kingston his water, and gratefully drank some more before I stopped him and tied it back up. Still had to conserve water.
I needed to mount back up. His huge height loomed over me. There was no way I was getting back on that.
“Bend your knee.” Kevin’s voice came from behind me.
“Bend your knee so I can give you a boost.” His voice spoke again as he leaned down next to me, and I understood.
I bent my knee, and before I could think about protesting I was lifted up and found myself sitting in the saddle. My seat bones protested touching the saddle. I stood using the stirrups to hold my weight up.
“I’ll take the first turn leading, and then you can lead for a while Elizabeth.” Roderick said from next to me, and then his horse began to walk leaving a clear view of Kevin effortlessly swing up onto his horse. I envied Kevin for his honored life that allowed him to know so much about horses and riding.
Kingston walked forward following Roderick’s horse without me having to tell him too. So hard to keep my eyes open. Was I dreaming? No, my butt hurt too much for this to be a dream.
Roderick shook my shoulder, and I was realized I must have zoned out or fallen asleep. “Your turn,” His voice whispered.
I pushed Kingston to the lead and pulled out my compass. In the dim light I could just barely see the think line pointing toward North. We just had to keep going left of the north pointer. Please God, let this be the way out of the radiation.
Time passed. How long was I supposed to go in this strange landscape before switching off? The sky seemed to be getting lighter. Was that a good signal? I slowed Kingston down and leaned over to tap Roderick.
“It looks like its almost morning. Let’s take another break.” He reached over and woke Kevin. We followed the same motions as the the evenings routine, but I didn’t feel like sleeping now. A pink glow lit where the wall was and blended in with the pink dome. Light beams radiated into the sky like water splashed against a wall. The sun lit peeked above the wall, and for a moment it was bearable before forcing it bright rays against my eyes and dimming my sight making me look away. Blue filled the sky dome again.
“Let’s keep riding,” Kevin’s voice came from near his horse.
I wasn’t feeling that tired other than my body aching, “Yes. Let’s continue. The more we ride, the more chance we have at reaching safety.”
Roderick pulled out his device, bit at his lip, and silently pulled up his black hood. Kevin helped him mount first, then me, and then mounted his own horse.
“I’ve got the lead for right now. Feel free to fall asleep again if you can,” Roderick called out to us as he kick his horse forward into a walk.
I still didn’t feel tired. I didn’t feel refreshed either, but a strange sort of clarity to my exhaustion. I pushed Kingston up next to Roderick’s horse.
“Why did you chose to leave the Wall?” I couldn’t stand my own curiosity anymore.
Roderick’s hooded head looked toward me, “I felt trapped and stifled there. I had wanted to work in the repair division like my father, but the elders worried that I was too obsessed with city culture and banned me from entering the City.
I remember Lisa telling me it was his obsession with me. Had she told me wrong or misinterpreted it?
“Lisa told me you kept to yourself in the Wall,” that wasn’t quite what she had said, but close enough.
“Yeah. Everyone is required to be emotionless, and I hated it. In the library there were volumes of unread stories about emotional people living life, and I wanted that. I would rather read my books than hang out and use quiet pleasantries to discuss scientific advances that no one cares about.” His voice sounded rough.
I wished I could do something to comfort him, but it wasn’t my place.
Instead he reached out and touched my arm for a second, “Contrary to what Lisa probably told you; I’m not stupidly following you out of some misplaced um...” His hooded head turned away clearly uncomfortable with what he was saying, “desire for you. I mean, you are beautiful, and interesting, and emotional, but I’m not doing this because - I’m putting my foot in my mouth. I’m sorry. I’m not trying to make this into some confession or anything. I simply wanted to make sure you understand I’ve been feeling crazy and confined in the Wall, and leaving with you was my opportunity to escape.”
He looked back at me, and I could see his face was the red of bricks underneath his hood. He said it wasn’t a confession, but it partially sounded like one. Was he just trying to compliment me to not anger me?
Did I want him to like me? I thought of how I viewed him in the wall. Had I seen him the same way Kevin saw me? If he did like me, should I give him the chance Kevin never gave me? Kevin had just pushed me away. Was I ready to actually move on?
Start fresh. That was what I had told myself. If he did like me, I should try being in a relationship. I had never been in one, and he seemed quite nice and open which was quite different from how he’s become while we were staying in the Wall. I thought about what Lisa had said again.
“Lisa mentioned you had liked me since you saw me on a trip to the City.”
“Of course my brat of a sister would say something like that!” He exclaimed making his horse jump. He was almost unseated, but held on, and I grabbed his arm helping pull him back into his saddle.
“Sorry about that.”
“No need to apologize,” He had surprised all of us with his exclamation, but it wan’t anything worth apologizing over.
“Yeah, just Lisa makes me so upset sometimes. She’s been running around forever talking about how I saw this girl in the City and I became obsessed with her. I mean- ” He looked over at me again, “It was you, which is slightly weird, but I wasn’t obsessed with you.”
So it was me in the story? I waited for him to continue wanting to here more of this story.
He paused, looking straight ahead and then back at the rising sun, and then straight ahead again, “I just thought you and your friends were really cool running the streets and being free of constraints. I talked too much about how cool city kids were, and got banned from entering the City. Lisa asked me why I was banned from the City, and I told her about the group of kids mentioning you since you were the only girl. My father had even recognized you and told me your name. Lisa wanted to know if you were still some wild hooligan, so I asked my father. He told me you were Dishonored now, and relayed that on to Lisa, and then Lisa started telling everyone I was obsessed with this Dishonored girl, and well, soon the whole Wall was convinced I was a weird obsessed lunatic which didn’t help my not wanting the hang out with other people my age, and -”
He buried his face in his hands, “I’m sorry. I’ve just blurted out my life story to you. Ugh, see? I’m a failure at being a good Wall person.” He peeked out from behind his hands, and I could see that his face was about the same color as the sun’s rays from the evening before.
He actually looked strangely cute with his face double partially hidden by cloak and hands.
I smiled at him to try and ease his obvious embarrassment, “Don’t worry, and it was an interesting story. Definitely quite different from the spin Lisa gave it.”
“Uggh. Even now she haunts me.” His hands moved to fiddling in his the hair on his horse’s neck.
“I guess there is one other reason I came,” his voice sounded distant as he spoke to the emptiness to his right. “Well, two more reasons.”
“What would that be?” He said one was because of the constricting Wall culture. Were the other reasons related.
“The second reason is that I’ve always wanted to see the world outside the Wall the books talked about.” He paused and didn’t continue.
“And the third?” I prompted.
“Well, see. You made me decide. Your resolution to leave. You were an opportunity to leave, and I took it. So I kind of am following you. And I wouldn’t be against- ” He stopped talking again, and this time I just waited.
The sun was nearing the top of the sky and behind us I could barely make out the Wall as a hazy existence beyond Kevin who was watching us, and probably listening to this whole conversation. Had Roderick heard Kevin and I the previous day?
Roderick’s pale hand reached out like moonlight pushing through the dark night to touch my hand and make me look back at him, “Over the time I’ve known you, I have come to like you. It’s a lot of fun to have someone to talk to about the things in the books, discuss navigating the world with, and look at the stars with.”
Was he confessing to me this time, or was he just calling me his friend? His actions and words felt like they were tying a knot beyond my understanding.
I didn’t quite know how to respond. Should I agree with him? It was nice to have someone as excited about everything outside the Wall.
“Umm, yeah.” I finally responded.
“Are you agreeing? Are you willing to date?” His voice sounded hopeful.
Date. What did that word even mean? I’d heard it used for people that liked each other that they went through a ‘dating’ phase in their relationship. So this was a confession. What a strange way to word it. Why hadn’t he said so from the start?
Was I up for moving on from Kevin, I looked back, and he smiled at me and nodded. Why had I looked to him encouragement, and why had he nodded. Shouldn’t this be my choice? He was probably hoping this dating thing would help me move past my feelings. I looked back Roderick who was watching me. I could see him looking back and forward between Kevin and I.
Ugh. I hated this. I didn’t want to be put in this position. I didn’t want to upset Roderick and leave him in the same position as I was in yesterday. And it wasn’t like I hated him. I did enjoy hanging out with him. And in his his strange pale looks he was sort of cute.
“I, umm, I’m not sure I’m quite ready for anything, but umm, I wouldn’t mind, uh, attempting to date.” My face felt really hot. It was probably the noon heat.
He looked at me with a beaming smile. “I’m glad.”
What an awkward exchange. We continued to ride next to each other and nothing else was said as if nothing had changed. Had it? I wasn’t even quite sure what I had agreed to.
I pulled out a meat bar and chewed on it while trying to figure out what had just happened and washed it down with another couple sips of water.
Roderick pulled his horse to a halt and checked his device thing again. “Time for another pill!” He called out as if it was something to be excited about. He handed out pills, and I could see there were only three pills left. We each only had one pill left though. We had to be out of the radiation by then or it would be the end of the journey for us.
The ache of the saddle against my body twisted the scarred scenery into knots of pain and the land screaming from the terror it once faced.
Behind us the Wall had been eaten by either the hazy air or the distance we had traveled. There was no safety net at our backs anymore.
According to the maps and the books that Roderick had me read, the further we rode away from the blast and from our city the more the landscape should change. The land would rise up in hills the way the Kings’ castle sat on a hill, but more. Hill after hill like a wrinkled blanket on a bed, and then eventually mountains which were giant hills that reached up to kiss the sky. But that could all be wrong. It was before the great bombs changed the world and sealed us into the City. Who knew what the bombs had done to the world?
And supposedly on the other side of the city was a super huge body of water that stretched farther than the eye could see. I thought of the round globe in the study room, and the how close the mountains had looked to the City on that globe. I didn’t see any mountains ahead of us though. All I saw was these endless brown landscape filled with the remnants of trees.
There had to be a place beyond this. I saw the same conviction in Roderick and in Kevin as we rode forward.
The sun made its descent, and we took a break to rest the horses again.
Kevin came over as I was watering Kingston. "I'm glad you chose to move on."
I shrugged, "You made your point, and this is a chance to start over."
"Would it be ok if I called you my sister to other people?" He asked.
As if we would ever run into other people. There was no one else here. "Sure. From now on I will be you sister."
He smiled and walked away to help Roderick. I guess if it made him happier here in this empty world.
Roderick came and sat next to me as we ate our meat sticks.
After a short nap, Kevin woke me, and we began riding again. Roderick lead while I zoned off in a haze of pain and tiredness.
Then Roderick woke me, and I lead us in a fuzzy haze. The compass was getting really blurry as the light filtered into the sky.
We took another break, and I barely managed to feed and water Kingston before laying down on the ground.
Roderick poked me and held out a pill. Our last pill. “The radiation is slightly less here. Maybe we are nearing the place where the radiation stops."
I nodded hoping it was true. I hoped it wasn’t just a small pocket in the radiation. I had to hope we could escape the radiation, but at the same time we were out of pills.
I took the pill and washed it down with water. My water bag was looking dangerously low and my stomach was demanding more food.
I stumbled over to Kingston, and Kevin heaved me on to him. the skin under his eyes looked baggy and a touch dark. Was he tired as well? Yesterday's energy was gone.
We rode on in a mixture of hope and defeat. Would we make it? Cold we make it?
The sun rose up high in the sky. Around us I could see there was scraggly green plants on the ground and small bushed. Maybe the radiation was less, or maybe the mysterious radiation poisoning would start affecting us soon.
My leather was exile outfit was stiff with sweat and the sun felt like the pain of a lash against the skin. I was burning under it.
I let myself rest against Kingston's neck, and he let me lay there as he walked on under the baking sun.
My back aching made me sit back up. When would we ever be free of this place. The sun was heading toward the edge of the world. Wouldn't this be about when we would have taken another pill?
I looked over at Roderick who was checking his radiation device. He looked over at me and smiled, “Don’t worry.”
How he could be so crazy as to say 'don’t worry' in this situation?
“The radiation is less here. We don’t actually need the pills yet,” He answered my unasked question.
It was heartening to hear that but at the same time it just prolonged the inevitable. We were going to die.
The sun left us in the dark, and I noticed the moon wasn't as large a circle today. Maybe it also was realizing we would die and mourning our passing. We took our evening break, but this time no one said anything. We had our routine now, and we followed it.
We started riding again, and I drifted along a land of sand. Roderick gently shook my arm, letting me know it was my turn to lead.
Where were we even going? Did it matter anymore?
Would my hair start to fall out right after the radiation poisoning started to take affect?
Light filtered up behind us lighting a bank of clouds in a bright red I had not seen in the morning before. I looked down and I could see Kingston was carefully stepping either over or around the brush. Here and there I could see larger bushes, and up ahead in the distance like a dream was what looked like trees rising out of the bushes.
Clip clop. Underneath Kingston was a cleared solid black surface very similar to the road we had ridden out on. On the other side was a sign facing away from us.
The sign woke me from my daze and I stopped Kingston. It was an actual sign. This wasn't a dream.
"Roderick! Kevin! Look! A sign!" I called out in excitement. A sign might mean people.
"Why are you so excited about a sign?" Kevin called back in a drawn out voice, but I ignored his question and pushed Kingston forward into a trot.
The sign looked old and faded. It was made of a thin metal, and there were holes in it. The sign read, “Beware, radiation zone beyond this. Do not ever pass.”
Did that mean…? Was there a whole culture out here, or was this left from the first bombs before everything was destroyed.
Roderick rode up next to me, "This decrepit sign looks like it came from the same age as the ruins next to the city."
The bushes in front of us rustled, and one of the pushed became the shape of a leaf covered person pointing the largest gun I had ever seen at us.