Chapter 13: Discovery
Note: This is another one that might need to be split in half. I will mark the possible divide point with a line of *****. The trick is whether two (very) short chapters would flow easier than one longer one…
We walked for nearly an hour before finding her. She was sitting alongside the road, beneath a large sign indicating Denver coming up ahead on this route. I would have missed her if not for the shock of pink hair standing out against the background. In fact, it almost seemed to glow in the sunlight compared to the drab grey and brown of the mountains. She simply sat there and seemed to be staring off into the distance.
As Rick and I approached she turned and smiled, though it was tinged with a hint of annoyance. “Hey, what happened to ten minutes?”
“We could ask you the same thing.” I looked her up and down, looking for signs of the strange malady that had struck Tom, but I couldn’t see anything that seemed amiss. If not for her staring and idle sitting, I would not have suspected anything but recent event had made me suspicious. I pushed my worries aside and tried to ignore them. “It’s been almost two hours since you left.”
“What? No it hasn’t.” She pointed upwards, towards the sun. “The sun’s barely moved.”
“Of course it has…” I looked up, seeking proof to back me up, and found that the sun seemed to have swung backwards to where it had hovered nearly two hours before. “Uh… Huhn…” I looked at Rick, who was staring back with a confused expression that surely mirrored my own. “That’s weird… How?”
“Well, we’ve already seen enough impossible things in the last day or so…” Rick responded with a shrug.
“But time travel?”
“Is it time travel? Are we sure?”
“Well, what else could it be?” I glanced towards Bobbi, who was now eying both Rick and myself with suspicion.
“Are you two alright?” She was looking us over, much in the way I had looked her over moments ago. She probably suspected something strange was happening to Rick and myself. “You two are acting kinda weird…” I took a deep breath and cleared my throat, trying to collect my thoughts. “Hookay, the issue here seems to be that we have experienced the last few hours differently. We,” I pointed to Rick and myself. “Figured it has been a few hours since we last saw you. Meanwhile, you,” I pointed at Bobbi. “And the sun, seem to support that it has only been a little while. Even though, only a few minutes ago, I could have sworn that the sun indicated that it had been hours. Clearly, something is messing with things around here, but I have no idea what.” I stopped, planting my feet firmly to express my annoyance. “And Bobbi, there isn’t anything wrong with us that getting back to people won’t help. I think that either something is messing with us and the way that time works around here, or we’re all just going a little stir crazy from everything that’s happened lately.”
Rick nodded. “Either way, it doesn’t matter right now. We need to get to Denver, the sooner the better. We should be able to figure out what’s going on once we get there.” He paused for a moment before adding, “I hope.”
Bobbi rolled her eyes and stood up. “Yeah, yeah, whatever. I still think you’re both a bit nutters.” She grinned to show the joke but her words showed she wasn’t exaggerating, at least in her mind. “Let’s shove off, then. Get this over with. Sign says its only a few more miles, can probably get there in a few hours. That is, unless something spins the clock ‘round for us again.” She grinned mischievously. “Who knows? At this rate, we might even get there before we’ve arrived.” She walked off, down the road, laughing at her own joke.
I glanced at Rick, who merely shrugged, and shot an annoyed glare at the back of Bobbi’s head. Without another word, we both followed behind knowing that she wasn’t wrong to criticize. Something strange was going on, and it seemed to have been centered on the two of us this time. Either way, crazy or manipulated, we had been affected by something. Whatever it was, it annoyed me with its mystery, but now wasn’t the time to complain. Instead I walked down that road, hoping against hope that we would find ourselves in a better situation once we reached Denver.
We walked for a little more than an hour with barely a word exchanged. Roughly halfway we took a quick lunch break, which did much to improve our spirits and we made it to the city limits of Denver after an entire solar cycle. What we found there was both shocking and terrifying.
Nothing. There was nothing. There stood a sign that read Denver and listed the population which should have been there, but now? Nothing at all. A wide, flat expanse spread out before us. Within a miles wide rough circle there was no grass, no buildings, no people, or anything at all. Just a wide and flat circle of solid, black rock remained where a city should have been. All along the edge, the buildings and roads of the surrounding cities and suburbs remained, largely untouched and unchanged. They were clearly visible across the empty expanse.
The three of us stood there, on the sudden edge of the highway, staring out at what we had expected to be salvation. Instead we had found a mute testament to the frustrations and impossibilities which had plagued us since our plane had grown feathers and flown away. I watced the wind play through the grass beside us alongside the road. Grass which stopped dead at the edge of this empty place. Tears clouded my vision as the enormity of what we were seeing finally struck home. An entire city was missing. This city that we had hung so many of our hopes upon. The city that was to be my way home. The city that was…
“Oh god, Rick. I’m so sorry.” My words tumbled out before my mind even caught up to their cause. In my shock, I had forgotten that Rick’s family should have been somewhere in that non-city. His entire purpose for traveling with us had been to find his wife and child. Now we found his city and his family gone to who knows where.
Rick just stood there staring. There was an emptiness in his eyes. Only his body remained with us. The rest of him had likely fled, trying to avoid what must have been countless haunting questions. I raised a hand. I was thinking to place it on his shoulder, but Bobbi beat me to it. His head twitched slightly when she made contact, but he otherwise did not react. With a sad sigh, I turned to look around the edges of the crater. There was nothing we could do for Rick’s family, at least not right now. We were injured and exhausted and maybe worse. We still needed to find a hospital, and with a bit of luck we could likely find one somewhere in the scattered suburbs surrounding that strange crater. And maybe, just maybe, there might be survivors. Survivors who might know what had happened to this place.
For the moment however, I knew that it would not be kind to put pressure on Rick. He was processing. Coping as best he could. I said nothing. I made no move to leave. Instead I sat. I crossed my legs beneath me, not wanting to allow my feet to land upon the blackened stone within the circle. I knew I had to watch Rick closely. Only a short time ago Tom had reacted in the same way. I had no idea if the shock was a symptom, a cause, or merely a strange coincidence of timing. Regardless, I wanted to take no chances. So we waited. I watched. Bobbi comforted. Rick stared.