Chapter 6: Interlude
Another full sun cycle passed by the time we reached the mouth of the valley. We had to stop a number of times for various reasons, so we did not maintain the speed that I had hoped, but we finally reached the end. I was growing worried that we would not be able to determine the better route to take when we no longer had a convenient path to follow. I was running over options in my head, wishing that there was some recognizable landmark, anything that would give me an idea of where we were. Normally, I could at least figure out which direction was north from the sun, but with it defying all logic, I could learn nothing from it. I could only hope that some sign would indicate where to go next. Fortunately for me, the gods were kind that day. As we crested a hill near the end of the valley I spotted what we had all been looking for ever since we landed in this bizarre stretch of mountains. Smoke.
“Is that what I think it is?” Rick was standing next to me, staring atop the hill and staring forward, silently mimicking what I had been doing in that long moment of silence.
“Looks like smoke, Sherlock.” Bobbi was standing right behind him, staring at him like he had just asked if up was actually up. Though there was enough strange things occurring around us, that I would not have been surprised if such were the case.
Where there was smoke, there was fire. Where there was fire, there might be people. Or at least, that was what I hoped. My eyes traced the smoke down to a small town at the base of nearby mountain. The chill of the air must have been enough that some soul in the town had lit their fireplace and provided us the first sign of life we had seen since our landing, and it gave us hope. It was still a ways away however, on the far side of the valley’s terminus. My guess was that it would take us slightly more than another full sun cycle before we would reach the town, but it was more than we had worked with for the previous few cycles.
I glanced behind, and I saw my companions were excited for the first time since I had met them. Except for Tom, who was still looking distant and listless. I had begun to wonder if there was something else going on with him. This seemed to be more than simple mental shock to have sunk so deep within him. While the others were far from comfortable with the insanity that surrounded us, it did not change the fact that they, like myself, were coping by finding small reassurances. Tom, however, only swung between breakdowns. I could only hope that someone in the town would know what was happening with him, or would at least have some clue of how to get him to a proper hospital.
Over the next four hours we walked across the small rolling hills of the valley, heading inextricably towards the town. Thanks to the gentle fields of grass and the relative lack of trees in the valley, it was hardly a challenge to reach the town without incident. It only took time, not effort. All the while I kept an eye on my companions, particularly on Tom, but said little as we walked. After all, Bobbi and Rick were doing plenty enough talking for all of us. Though I would never admit it, I appreciated the sound of their voices. They assured me that I was not alone.