We watch Trent disappear for a few moments until The Geek breaks the silence.
“Jeez, what was that freak show?”
“What do you mean?” Eve asks, sounding hurt.
“I mean, those guys are throwing a huge bash for you two like you’re some big heroes. I might understand it if you had actually completed the job, but as of yet, you’re lucky you’re even alive.”
“For some, that is more than enough reason to celebrate,” Eve says solemnly.
“That’s depressing,” I frown.
“Maybe, but that’s how it is.”
“Fine,” The Geek says shortly. “So, enough of the sob stories. You two ready to run?”
“Yeah, just need to dig through these supplies to see what we can keep and what we can toss.”
“What?” Eve asks. “You can’t toss any of it. Everything they gave us is the result of their hard work. We can’t let any of it go to waste.”
“Eve,” I say, “there’s no way we can carry all of this with us. It won’t fit in my bag and I have yet to find a paper bag that can hold up, especially when running.”
“But nothing,” I say, glad I can finally interrupt her. “We need to keep ourselves as light as possible if we’re going to make it.” I dig through the bag, trying to find items which will fit easily into my pack, making sure they’ll actually be useful. The Tupperware dishes with casseroles in them, gone. The apples and bottles of water, in my bag. All in all, a pretty good haul. I hope it will last us long enough until we find our next refill.
“Fine,” she says reluctantly. “But, we’ll have to make sure to stop back here and repay them for everything.”
“When we get done with this job, you can feel free to do whatever you want,” I reply. “So, Geek, where are we heading?”
“Well, like Trent said, this trail should do you pretty good for the next ten miles. After that, you’re heading directly east to Lake Michigan.”
“Okay, and you’ve got the ferry guy all lined up?”
“Yeah, should be good to go, depending on when you get there.”
“What does that mean?”
“Well, although there might not be much of an SP presence here, the waterways are still heavily monitored, seeing as it’s a direct shot up into Canada. The SPs are on guard to keep anyone from crossing the border. That means my guy has to keep to a pretty strict schedule.”
“Okay, so, I guess we’ll work that out as we get closer,” Eve says. “How far?”
“A little over 200 miles.”
“Perfect, we’ve got time.”
“Well,” I say, “shall we?”
“We shall,” Eve responds jokingly. “You wanna lead for once?”
I sling my pack over my back and press play on my music player. Chicago by Sufjan Stevens comes on. A nice quiet way to start our trek. I take off; Eve is right on my heels, smiling at the dulcet tones hitting our ears. My leg isn’t so bad once we start running, but each step causes a shooting pain up through the cut in my side. I attempt to land several different ways to see if it will make things better. Nothing does. I run through the pain, knowing I don’t have much of a choice.
It seems every few steps we’re finding our path filled with deer or groups of rabbits or other wildlife. A smile overtakes my face, even as the pain causes me to wince with each footfall. I couldn’t think of a better place for Charlie to end up. Here, he’s free to enjoy the world as it should be enjoyed. And from the sounds of it, he’ll be free from the tyranny of the SPs. As long as they don’t find out we were here.
The miles seem to fly by and the running is easy, outside of the constant reminder of my injury. Although the path is rather overgrown from years of no use, there’s still a nice soft pavement beneath our feet. My feet almost bounce off the ground as I run, moving me forward at a quick pace. The pain in my side isn’t even that bad now that I’m putting most of the work into my left leg. It may make me limp more than I would like, but it seems to be working. Of course, I can’t favor one leg for too long or I’ll be stuck with two injured limbs, but for now things seem to be looking up.
I glance behind me and see Eve is keeping up pretty well, although further away than I would have expected.
The fact that she’s falling behind at all has me concerned. She has been leading us at a fast pace for most of this run. To have her fall behind like this must mean that she’s hurting more than the doctors had thought, or that she didn’t tell me the truth when she said she was given a clean bill of health.
Up ahead I see what appears to be the end of the trail. I decide this is a perfect place to stop and make sure Eve gets some rest. If she’s injured, I don’t want to risk her making it worse. And to be honest, it would probably be a good idea for me to check my wound and make sure I didn’t open any of the stitches.
“Hey,” I say through heavy panting, “trail’s ending up ahead. Ready to take a break?”
“Already?” she replies, seeming to struggle to catch her breath. “We just started.”
“My stitches are really bothering me,” I say, which isn’t entirely a lie. “I should probably make sure I didn’t make things worse down there.”
“Okay, if you think you need it,” she says calmly. She’s doing a pretty good job of hiding it, but I can see in her eyes that she’s happy to have the chance to get off her feet.
We sit for a few moments in silence, listening to the music. Goodnight by William Fitzsimmons is playing. Eve’s eyes are red. She refuses to look at me, so I figure she doesn’t want to talk about it. I’m not sure I want to either. As the song ends, she stands.
“Feeling better, wimp?” she asks.
“Yeah, thanks.” I want to quip back, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. Something’s up with her and I don’t want to risk her breaking down. Not now.
We resume running. I’m, again, in the lead. The path ends and we enter the trees. A few feet from the end of the trail, we come across a body of water with big rocks leading down into it. The river. We round the water line and continue east. A couple of miles later, we find ourselves in farmland again.
The running is easy across the farmland. Everything has been harvested, so we have large open fields to run across. The ground isn’t quite as nice under our feet, but at least we don’t have to dodge rocks and trees. The only obstacles out here are the few short fences we have to hop over every mile or so.
Eve is once again falling behind. Far behind. At least 20 paces now. Another few miles and off in the distance I see a clump of trees. I make for the tree line, hoping it might offer some reason for a rest.
Apples. As far as the eye can see. Trees covered in apples of all varieties. And it looks like we’ve made it at the perfect time, as the tree line is dotted with red balls all the way down to the unseen end of the orchard.
“Fancy a snack break?” I ask, trying to be coy. We haven’t spoken a word since we last stopped.
“Sure,” Eve says shortly. She’s really out of breath.
“You doing alright?”
“I’m fine. You’re the one who keeps asking for breaks.”
“Okay, just checking,” I say.
We each grab a few apples and find a tree to sit under. We eat in silence, choosing again to listen to our music instead of each other. Leaves in the River by Sea Wolf. The Geek is making some really depressing music choices.
She finishes her apple and stands. She’s struggling, straining, but tries her hardest to hide it.
“Okay,” she says, “let’s go.”
“Are you sure?”
“Seriously, Cyrus,” she snaps, “no more breaks. We need to keep moving.”
And she runs away.
I finish my apple quickly and run to catch up with her, which is much easier than it should be. I choose to keep pace with her, trying not to push her too hard since she is obviously hurting. She refuses to even look at me.
“Eve,” I say gently, “you can’t keep on like this.”
“I said I’m fine, okay. Let it go already,” she snaps as she pushes forward, struggling to increase her speed. I keep up easily.
“You’re obviously injured. You need to take it easy.”
“I don’t need to do anything. Don’t push your problems onto me.”
“Fine,” I reluctantly reply.
I speed up, confused and angry at the same time. Why won’t she talk to me? What could be going on in that head of hers that she doesn’t feel I can handle?
I push harder and run as fast as I feel I can do comfortably. I don’t even dare look back. I don’t want to give her the satisfaction.
The rage subsides after a few minutes and concern takes over. I give a quick glance over my shoulder, pretending I tripped so she wouldn’t know I was checking on her. Must be on the other side of the trees. I slow and hope she’ll catch up. Nothing. I take off my headphones. I don’t hear her at all. I stop in my tracks.
I look in all directions and find no sign of her anywhere. I run back, retracing my steps, cursing myself for being such a jerk. I don’t have to run long before I find her, on the ground, nursing her left ankle.
“I knew it!” I yell. “I knew you were hurt!”
“Let it go, Cyrus, it’s nothing.”
“Nothing? This doesn’t look like nothing.”
“I’m fine. I just twisted my ankle. Give me a second and I’ll be right as rain.”
“Right, twisted your ankle. Then why have you been keeping so far behind me since we left town?”
“Because,” Eve yells loudly, then after a long pause, whispers, “I’m scared.”
“Scared? But, I–”
“I know, right? The only possibility is that I must be physically hurt. Couldn’t be possible that I might actually be scared about what we’re doing, could it?”
“Well, no,” I stammer, “I couldn’t. . . I mean, well, you know, you just seem so well put together about all of this. I just. . .” I trail off.
“I was keeping it together, Cy,” Eve speaks quietly now, tears welling up in her eyes, “until I saw the people in Eau Claire.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, I believed everyone had it as bad as we did, if not worse. But, they’ve got it pretty good. And we could ruin it for them.”
“How? I thought the whole point of the rebellion was to make it so everyone could live like that.”
“Well, yeah, that’s the hope. But, honestly, Cy, it’s only going to get worse before it gets any better. And the areas that will see the most noticeable change right away will be people like those back in the city, especially if the SPs ever find out we were there.”
“Okay, so, that sucks. . . but why would that scare you?”
“Because,” she pauses, “because. . . “
“We will never be able to live like that, Cyrus. And what we’re going into now, well, it’s much worse than anything we’ve seen so far. Just because the SPs don’t know where we are now doesn’t mean they don’t know where we’re going.”
“Okay, so, we just call for another air raid from the rebels, right?”
“Yeah, right,” she laughs through her tears. “I can’t believe they even showed their cards in Cheyenne like that. It’s taken us years, decades even, to build up our weapon stores. And they used it all up in one little tiny battle to save us.”
“But they took out a bunch of government tanks and stuff, right?”
“That’s nothing. There are tons more where that came from.”
“I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“There’s nothing to say, Cyrus. We’re stuck on a mission we can’t possibly accomplish. And even if we do I’m starting to think it might not make the difference I thought it would.”
“Fine, then let’s just call it quits. We could head back to Eau Claire and spend the rest of our lives up here in Wisconsin. Couldn’t be that bad, could it? I could get used to snow, I think.”
“Because, Cyrus, we can’t, alright? People are depending on us. The whole nation is depending on us. We have to do this.”
“Okay, fine, then we’ll do it, whatever you want,” I say, feeling completely out of place here. “I just don’t know what you want me to say.”
“Of course you don’t. You’re an idiot.”
“I’m sorry. It’s just that, well, it’s a lot of pressure, you know?”
“What? To finish the run? But it’s not even your run.”
“But, it is, though. I said I’d help you get to the finish line. And, of course, here I am just sitting on my butt, crying to myself about how I wish I didn’t have to do this. It’s pathetic.”
“It’s not pathetic,” I say, sitting next to her. “Everyone gets scared sometimes. But, remember, you’re running with THE Cyrus Rhodes. We’re going to finish.”
“And what then? Watch as the nation destroys itself?”
“Jeez, Eve. What can I do to make this better?” I say, standing back up to look at her.
“Nothing. I’m sorry. Nothing.”
“Okay. . .” I sit down again and she buries her head in my chest. After a moment of contemplation, I cautiously stroke her hair.
I had assumed nothing could hurt her. Now, it seems like everything can. I want to hold her tight, let her know I can take care of everything. She moves in closer, pressing her face harder into my chest as though it will offer some protection. A smile falls across my face.
We sit this way for what feels like forever. Suddenly, Eve sits up, wipes the tears from her eyes and looks at me.
“Okay, Cyrus, I’m ready,” she says through a loud exhale. “Let’s go.”
She jumps to her feet and runs off. She’s back to her old self. After a moment of surprise at the sudden change in her attitude, I jump to my feet and push to keep up.
Go to Chapter Twenty-Three