Chapter 38: Chamberlain
As we pulled into the city it became clear that the world had not been kind since the world lost its mind. Most of the town was now underwater, river having claimed it for its own. Only the furthest edges of the city still stubbornly clung to land. Even the parts of the town which remained looked strange, as if it were ancient but preserved. The buildings had become petrified fossils of themselves. That wasn’t even the strangest thing about the town, but the cause of my unsettled feeling wasn’t immediately obvious. Then it clicked.
It was the sun. For the first time since we had landed in the Rocky Mountains, we had been under the bright light of day. Here it was strangely dark, as thick clouds blanketed the sky and hid the eternal glare of the sun. As I peered closer, I saw the never setting disc was still there but only visible as a faint outline behind the cloud cover.
There seemed no sign of any living soul anywhere in the town. It seemed as abandoned as most towns we had seen recently. I was about to give up hope that we would find anyone at all, when Bobbi pointed towards the far edge of town. Following her finger, I noticed a small plume of smoke rising from the north end of narrow band of surviving buildings.
I glanced to the others and cleared my throat to draw their attention. Both looked at me and recognized my expression. Bobbi nodded soundlessly and put the truck back in drive to start weaving through the flooded streets. It took about ten minutes to find our way through the streets and to the source of the smoke. Just past the last building, beside a small ridge which overlooked the river, we spotted a small and makeshift camp.
Bobbi brought the truck to a stop a few hundred yards from the edge of the camp and parked it. There was no road to the ridge. There was a footpath, but no way to safely drive the truck up, so we left it behind for a time. As I reached for the door handle, I felt Rick’s hand on my shoulder. I turned to look at him and I could see him doing the same to Bobbi, and in response she stared at him with annoyance.
“Are we sure about this?” His voice was even and controlled, but a hint of worry crept in at the corners of his words. “We have no idea who’s up there. No idea if they’re friendly or not. And so far, our track record has not been good in that department.”
Neither Bobbi nor I said anything in response, but we also made no move to leave.
“We’re here on a hunch, right? What if that hunch is wrong? Is it just random chance that brought us here at the same time that these people were here?”
“We can’t assume that everyone we meet is someone out to kill us, Rick. If we do that, we’ll never survive…” I paused. “I wouldn’t want to survive in that world…”
“I know, and I’m not saying that we shouldn’t. I just want us to think about this. Bad things happen when we don’t give these things enough thought…”
“True, but we have to try.”
He let out a deep sigh and glanced to Bobbi for support, support he knew wouldn’t come. “Fine. But I wanted you to know that I have some issues with the way we’ve been going about this whole thing.
“Noted. Now shut the hell up.” Bobbi grunted, pulling her door open.
I let out a deep sigh, looking at Rick with an apologetic expression. It was an expression that would’ve worked better if I hadn’t flinched as Bobbi’s door slammed. “Sorry. I’m sure it’ll just take some time for her to work everything out. I’m…”
He cut me off. “Don’t worry about it. I get it. I don’t like it, but I get it.” He sighed and gestured toward the door. “You going to let me out?”
“Sure.” I pushed the door open and climbed out of the passenger seat. Rick followed close behind me.
I walked a few paces before pausing to look out and up at the ridge and its plume of smoke. Bobbi was already at the edge of the road, and looked back to Rick and me with an impatient tapping of her feet. I waved her off with a gesture to convey a sense of relaxation and hoped that she would stop acting so coarse and annoyed. She nodded and seemed to relax a bit, but she didn’t stop tapping that foot.
I waited to hear Rick’s crunching steps before setting off without a word, trusting that he followed. Bobbi waited until we were a few yards away, before breaking off the road and heading for the ridge. She seemed anxious and jumpy. It took no real effort to notice why. She wanted to find what I was looking for and deal with it quickly. I couldn’t blame her. After all, each step along our journey so far had only proved to make things worse. It also reminded me how I was nearing home and how many unknowns still lay ahead. I had no idea what was coming in our future and could never be sure what waited at our final destination.
I knew it was likely something may have happened to Minneapolis too. Each step eastward seemed to prove this wasn’t a local problem, but rather one of national or even global scale. I tried to push those thoughts from my mind and replace it with the same confidence as Bobbi’s determined gait pretended.