Love is not the last room: there are others after it, the whole length of the corridor that has no end. -Yehuda Amichai
Antimony, Utah, February 2013
We hid in the bunker for two weeks without even thinking about looking outside. We feasted on the perishables, prayed, read books and sang songs. But when the radio broadcasts stopped and we realized no one was coming, it got lonely fast. We waited for word to come – a week, two, three.
They don't tell you what it's going to be like when they sell you the giant cans of soup mix and the hand-cranked radios. We talked about what might be going on outside, keeping our voices down so that we didn't scare the kids. We didn't know if it was safe outside, we didn't know exactly how much had collapsed.
The kids could tell something was wrong anyway. Emma wouldn't stop crying no matter how much Ruth held her, and Micah screamed to go outside until I thought we would all be deaf. Joseph complained of headaches and wouldn't stop hitting the others. Sariah talked to her dolls, but grew quiet when we spoke to her. I started to think that we couldn't just stay here.
With even the radio out, our husband argued, there was every reason to believe most of humanity was dead. That the plague still raged, maybe even airborne…
In the end we took a vote. My sister-wives and I argued that the risk of dying was better than the risk of outliving the human race. He didn't agree, and wearing him down was hard. In the end he conceded that one of us should go out first, and the rest would wait.
As the youngest wife, I was volunteered. It made sense, since I didn't have any children yet, but there was still cold fear in my spine as I went to the door.
I stepped outside, and my husband slammed the door shut behind me. I didn't know yet that I would never see them again.
Outside Antimony, Utah, March 2013
He wouldn't let me back in. At first I thought he was just waiting some arbitrary period – 24 hours, 48, 72. Until he decided it was safe. I investigated the houses we'd left above ground; I looked for the neighbors.
If the neighbors were still alive, they didn't seem to be answering any more than my husband was. I spent the first night in my old bed. The second day, I was hungry and I knew all the pantries had been cleaned out in the houses I had access to. There was still no answer when I knocked on any of the other houses.
Maybe we were the only survivors. Maybe my husband had been right, and everyone else was damned.
I grabbed my bike and rode toward Main Street. I ignored the long-cold car crash, resisting the temptation to stop and look at the bodies.
There was nobody visible in the Minit Mart or the grocery or the hardware store. The sliding doors of the grocery store had already been broken, and I stepped inside gingerly, looking out for large pieces of glass. I started toward the canned goods.
"There ain't much left, but you really ought to ask before you take it."
I panicked and froze as the barrel of a shotgun came around the endcap of the aisle, followed by its owner. I recognized him – Saul was one of the few who spoke to me kindly when my husband brought me back – but I wasn't sure whether that was cause to relax.
"Lacey! Lord almighty, Lacey, I didn't figure to see you here. I know your husband always bought plenty of bulk." The end of the gun dropped toward the floor and he rushed toward her. "Did something happen? Are the kids sick?"
"As far as I know they're fine. Lonely, I guess."
"As far as you know?"
"They- he put me out. We wanted to see if anyone was left alive, but he won't let me back in." I didn't understand why my voice was shaking so much. Saul put his arms around me, and I realized my hands were shaking along with it.
"Do you need company?"
"No," I sighed. "I'm sure they'll let me in sooner or later. They just want to wait and make sure I don't have the plague. For the safety of the kids."
Saul helped me pack up some cans and crackers and fruit juice so I'd be okay back at the house, and he told me to be careful and come get him if I needed anything else.
Back at the house, I checked the gun locker. I thought my husband had taken all the guns, but there was an older hunting rifle and some ammunition for it. I wondered if he planned to use it once it was safe, if it was ever safe.
I kept circling back around to the bunker, but I was waiting longer and longer between check-ins. The solitude had become a relief, though I couldn't quite bring myself to admit it. I read books. I drank juice and grilled canned veggies on the charcoal grill until I ran out of charcoal.
I yelled for Saul first thing when I went back to the store. He didn't answer right away, and I went to see if there was any charcoal left.
"Lacey, just the woman I wanted to see," he said when he finally turned up.
"I'm leaving town," he said, and gestured to his ancient pickup in the parking lot. "I rounded up enough gas to get to Provo, maybe even Salt Lake City. Come with me. I could use someone to ride shotgun."
I thought I was standing still, unsure what I wanted, but my body was moving and before I knew it I was at the edge of town, and then I was outside it. I felt like I could breathe again, in the passenger seat with the hunting rifle at the ready. I'd never driven so fast and I'd never felt so dangerous.
Not that it was really dangerous– I kept telling myself that. There was no one on the road. There was no movement at all. It was just the apocalypse, right? How bad could it be?
I wasn't really expecting trouble on the drive. I hadn't seen anybody but Saul since my world ended, after all. But the road was blocked by ruined cars and impassible just before the junction to get on highway 50 and keep going north.
"Figures there was an accident at the one place on the whole highway you can't just drive around," I said, looking at the twisted guard rails and the drop on either side. It wasn't deep, exactly, and we could go around, but something about it bothered me.
"I feel like I'm being herded," Saul said as he threw the truck into reverse and looked for a good place to pull off. "You ready to use that rifle if you have to?"
The truck began bumping along the desert rock. I rolled down the window. "You think I'll have to? What do you think's out here?"
He didn't get to answer before the first shot came through the windshield.
It missed, thank God, and Saul slid down in his seat and punched the gas pedal. I looked around desperately, hoping to find the shooter, but nothing stood out against the blank scrub.
I saw a flash of movement moments before the second shot came through the windshield. Enough of the glass was broken out that I could fire forward, and I aimed at the movement I'd seen. I took all four shots, my shoulder screaming in pain from the recoil, but it wasn't until I went to reload that I realized it hurt more than it should.
"Grab my gun, it's faster," Saul yelled as I pulled the hunting rifle back. His was already loaded, so I swung it over his head and out toward the same spot. Nothing moved as we sped around and headed back toward the highway.
"Shouldn't we go look?" I asked him.
He shook his head. "It could be another trap, and if you got them then there's nothing we can do."
"I want to make sure," I told him. "If nothing else, I don't want to leave him to die slow."
"They would've left us," Saul shook his head. "But you're right." Again he put the truck in reverse. There still wasn't any motion, but as we pulled up, I could see that there was a rough shelter and an ATV carefully tucked behind the rock outcrop.
The shooter was dead- I'd only gotten two shots into him, but one went clean through the artery in his neck. There was a small array of luggage, presumably things he'd taken from the other people who'd tried to take the same path to Salt Lake City.
"I'm sorry," I told him as I shut his eyes.
"Are you bleeding?" Saul asked. "Dang, Lacey, why didn't you say something?"
I blinked at him, having almost forgotten the pain while I was distracted. "It's not that bad."
"Let me take a look at it," he insisted, and I offered him my shoulder. He pulled at the torn sleeve of my dress, tearing a large enough hole to see through.
"Looks like he just grazed you," Saul confirmed. He grabbed a shirt from one of the bags laying around and tore a strip from it to wrap my shoulder.
Just as he was finishing, I heard a buzzing noise in the distance. "More of them?"
"Let's go," Saul said. I raised his shotgun toward the sound, but they were far enough off that I didn't think they could see much of us yet. We got in the truck and Saul sped back onto the highway. I winced at the rough road but knew we had a ways to go yet.
"Still think we'll get there before dark?" I asked him.
"God willing, yeah. I'll get you there."
Provo, UT, March 2013
At first I thought it was just the sunset that made it look like Provo was on fire. Then again, I'd been trying to sleep through the pain the whole way up the highway and I was maybe a little drunk from the Jack Daniels Saul had given me when it was clear the two aspirin in the first aid kit weren't going to do much.
There was a small knot of people standing alongside a van with its hood up. Saul pulled to a stop beside them.
They stepped away as I rolled the window down with my good arm.
"Ma'am?" I called out. "Do you folks need some help?"
There was another silence before a single older woman turned toward us.
"We'll be fine. Juan says he can fix it," she said. "Where you folks headed?"
"We were thinking Provo or Salt Lake, but…"
"What's going on?" Saul yelled past me.
"Keep going." The woman shook her head. "Fire broke out this morning. Heard there were folks raiding from the south. They'd mostly kept everything peaceful here, but there ain't enough firemen left to stop this."
I studied the scene again, thinking about when I'd gone to BYU here. It seemed like a hundred years instead of just two since I'd left school to marry. I'd left a part of myself back in Antimony, and now another part was on fire here. Would I have any family left in Salt Lake?
Saul asked again if they needed any help, and the woman said no again. We decided to push on toward Salt Lake City, and she told us she'd heard there was more traffic in that direction.
I wasn't sure if that was a good or bad thing, but Saul seemed to think it was encouraging. We left them to their van and stayed on the 15, hoping we could bypass the whole town.
We were past the north edge of town when Saul pulled off the highway.
"Gas station," he said as he drove down the exit ramp. "I want to make sure we can leave in a hurry if Salt Lake City's as bad as this."
I nodded, trying to focus as he drove toward the gas stations. He passed one, then another.
"What are you-"
"There." He pointed to the solar panels on the roof. "Short of an old-fashioned gravity pump, we need some kind of electricity to get gas out of these pumps."
The gas station wasn't totally empty. The one nearest the highway had all the windows broken, but this one was intact except for the door forced open and hanging there.
"I'm going to see if I can get the pumps turned on," he told me. "Do you want to wait in the car?"
I shook my head. "I want to find the bathroom and then see if I can clean this out. There has to be bottled water and maybe a fresh gauze or something." I headed into the gas station as Saul set the truck up to start fueling.
The shelves had been picked over, but the tiny first aid section was still there. I found a few gauze bandages and some disinfectant cream. It promised to eliminate scars but I didn't think that was likely considering I hadn't even gotten the bullet wound to close. Thinking about that, I grabbed a sewing kit as well and headed into the bathroom.
Peeling off the makeshift bandage hurt more than I thought – putting up with the pain for hours ought to count for something, right? I guess not. I ran the water until it looked clean and scooped it up with my good hand, hoping that I was actually succeeding in cleaning the wound.
On the other hand, once I got over the fact that I was sticking a needle into my skin, the stitching wasn't as bad as I expected. Then it was a thick layer of cream and the clean gauze.
"Hey, Saul, I'm done with-"
There were three guys crowded around Saul at the front counter. They were yelling and I could see that they had weapons – one had a baseball bat, and I saw something that caught the light, maybe a knife. I must have looked a sight in my ruined dress, blood stains over flowered print, missing a sleeve entirely. And of course I left my hunting rifle in the truck. I grabbed closest thing that looked like a weapon – the fire extinguisher – and hoped I looked menacing.
It slowed them down just long enough that I thought it might change their minds. When they rushed at me, I fired foam in the faces of the first two, then swung the extinguisher around and brought it down hard on the third one's head. I hadn't come this far just to die at a gas station outside Provo. With one unconscious and the other two spitting foam, I looked at Saul.
"Come on," I told him.
"Go get the guns," he answered. "I've almost got the pump on. We need it."
I looked at the two men still moving and almost argued with him, but there wasn't time. I ran to the truck and pulled out my hunting rifle. By the time I got back, one of them had gotten over the counter with a knife and I saw blood.
I thought about aiming for non-lethal areas, but that went out the window when the first recoil shot through my injured arm. Between the pain and the anger at seeing Saul bleeding, it was a lost cause. Instead I settled for praying as I fired.
The man with the knife went down with the second shot. I fired a third at the other man standing, but he was running away a minute later. I let him go.
"Go open the gas cap and get it ready, then I'll turn it on."
Once again I did as he said, seeing how it was the best option to get out of there. Once the pump was ready to fill the tank, I waved to Saul and the gas started flowing. I expected him to come out while it ran, but he must have needed to hang around to turn it off.
When the pump shut off because the tank was full, I waited another minute for Saul. He didn't come.
Cursing myself for not realizing something must be wrong, I made my way back inside. The man with the knife was still lying on the counter, now in a dark red puddle.
I didn't see Saul at first, walking past the counter to see if he was behind one of the racks. When I turned, though, I saw him crumpled on the floor. I rushed over to him and tried to turn him over.
Only then did I realize that he was crumpled over another body, probably the actual owner of the gas station – and by the look of it, that man had died of plague.
I started praying for the second time in twenty minutes as I pulled Saul's body away from the others. He had been stabbed deeply and there was plenty of blood soaked into his shirt but he was still breathing, so I assumed the knife hadn't hit anything too important. I couldn't do much if it had, so I had to hope for the best.
I had used up almost all the gauze on myself, but I used what I could find to bind him up, pressing paper napkins and hand towels from the automotive section into service. It wasn't perfect, but nothing would be.
Strength was never my strong point, even when I didn't have a hole in my shoulder. Dragging was the best I could do, and getting Saul back to the truck was slow going. I bundled him into the passenger seat and then scrambled into the driver's side. It didn't look like there was any hope of getting him a doctor here, but maybe if I could make it to Salt Lake City, maybe civilization still reigned there.
I could hope, anyway, and I could pray. That was all I could do.
Outside Salt Lake City, UT, March 2013
Saul slept through most of the drive from Provo to Salt Lake City. I could hear him breathing, barely, but he was in no place to distract me from my thoughts.
If Provo looked like this, what was the point of going on to Salt Lake City? Would that be any better? I supposed that as long as it was standing, it couldn't be much worse. And Saul needed… a doctor, probably. To get out of the damn truck and washed up, for sure.
I wasn't sure what was going on in Salt Lake, but if my family was still alive, presumably they would. I figured the sooner I got Saul out of the truck, the better, so I took the earlier exit for their suburb instead of going straight into the city.
The town itself was eerie in the same way Antimony had been, silent and echoing. It looked almost the same as the last time I'd been here, when I told my parents I was dropping out of school to get married. That day it had been stiflingly hot, with the streets full of children and dogs and sprinklers.
I pulled up to my parents' house, fighting off the sick sense of deja vu. I parked and turned off the engine, but I couldn't bring myself to open the door for a long breath.
Saul coughed in his sleep, and I remembered that this was about more than just my issues. I opened the door and went up to the house, took a deep breath and knocked on the door.
"Who's there?" I thought it was my younger sister's voice, but I wasn't sure.
"Mailman," I answered, an old joke between us.
"Lacey?" she threw the door open. "Lacey! Is it really you? What are you doing here?"
"Long story," I told her. "Where's Mom and Dad?"
She got quiet.
"Oh, god, no… Janie, have you been here alone?"
"Some of the neighbors check on me. I'm not the only one, and a lot of the other kids are worse off. I've been okay. We have lots in the pantry for one person."
I bit my lip, thinking of the argument I'd had with my dad the last time I'd been here. He said I was abandoning God and abandoning my family. Maybe he'd been right, but there wasn't anything I could do to fix that now.
"I need your help, Janie. There's a guy in the truck, he helped me get here. We were attacked, and he got hurt pretty bad. Can I bring him inside? Is there still a doctor or a clinic working around here?"
"There'll be a doctor round tomorrow," Janie said as she started toward the truck. "What happened?"
"We were trying to get gas outside Provo."
"I heard Provo's pretty bad." She opened the door and Saul nearly fell out on top of her. She screamed, caught off guard, and I dove forward to catch him before he hit the ground.
The door across the street opened and a middle-aged woman looked out. "Jane, is that you? You okay?"
"I'm fine, thanks!" she called back. The woman didn't say anything else, but she didn't go back inside, either, just watched as the two of us did our best to carry Saul up to the house and inside.
We got him onto the couch and I pulled one of grandma's afghans over him. He was more pale than I'd thought. It didn't look good.
"I should start dinner," Janie said. "Can you get some firewood from out back? I've had to rough it for cooking, I ran out of charcoal and there's no stove." She pointed toward the kitchen. I passed through on my way to the back door and admired the BBQ grill she'd turned into a fire pit. There wouldn't be room for a lot of the wood, I figured I just needed to grab one or two pieces.
When I went out back, I noticed there wasn't much left in the wood pile. Good thing we didn't need much. What stopped me, though, was the pile of dirt in the far corner of the yard. Janie had rigged up two crosses at the far side of it.
"I should have warned you," she said quietly, coming up behind me.
I shook my head. "I shouldn't have left you all. Dad was right."
Janie put her arms around me. "Maybe you'd be dead too, if you'd been here."
"Maybe," I told her, but I didn't believe it.
When we got inside, Saul's breathing was ragged and he was shaking under the blanket. I suspected then that it was a lost cause. I got a fresh washcloth and started to clean the wound again, but by this point I could see the angry red lines of infection darting across his skin. I put a cold compress on his forehead and he calmed a little.
"He's not going to make it," Janie said, matter of fact.
"He saved my life," I told her. "The least I can do is sit with him." She nodded and disappeared into the kitchen. I heard the backdoor open. An hour later, she came through again, told me she was going to bed, wished me well.
I stayed with him through the night, changing out the cold compresses and trying to soothe him as much as I could. In the big picture, though, it didn't make a difference.
The sky outside the window was starting to lighten when I realized I couldn't hear him breathing anymore.
I went out the back door for some air and realized what she'd been doing out here last night. A second grave waited next to our parents. I went back inside, exhausted, but too wary of his infection to wait. Maybe I'd already been exposed, maybe it was a regular infection and not plague. But there was nothing to gain from waiting.
Instead I brought him out into the lightening back yard and lowered him into the hole as gracefully as I could manage. Janie had left the shovel nearby, and I took my time filling the grave in, saying as many prayers as I could remember from funerals I'd gone to, and then reciting whatever came to mind.
By the time I was done, my hands were numb. I went back inside, exhausted, and went through the living room. My old bedroom was just as I'd left it aside from the thick layer of dust on everything. I didn't even bother to pull back the quilt, just fell on top of it and went to sleep almost instantly.
Salt Lake City and Beyond, April 2013
The banging on the door woke me up. It startled me, and I didn't remember where I was right away, or what I was doing there. The memories sorted into place, slowly, interrupted every few seconds by more banging.
Eventually Janie came out from the bedroom and walked past me to open the door.
"Good morning, Doctor."
Oh, right. She'd said the doctor would be around today. Little late, though.
"Good morning, Janie. Missus Morris across the street said you had some trouble yesterday."
That was a very genteel way to describe it. I thought about Saul, immediately forced it away. There was company. I knew how to act in front of company.
"My sister came; you remember Lacey, don't you?"
I looked over and smiled my best polite smile. I did remember him, now that I got a look. He'd been our pediatrician as long as I could remember, with a tiny office attached to his house. It didn't surprise me that he was taking care of everyone.
"Hello, Doctor," I said, walking over to the door. I didn't think I was shaking, though I was sure I still looked a mess. I hadn't had a chance to change out of the stained dress.
"Good to have you back, Lacey. Something you need me to take a look at there?" I told him I'd been shot and done my best to clean it. I didn't go into the exact circumstances; it felt like I'd been shedding parts of myself the whole way here, details left strung across the desert. All I had left was who I'd been before I left here.
He told me my stitches looked good. "What about the fellow Missus Morris saw you carry in?"
"He died." I was surprised how flat my voice was.
"We buried him right away, same as you had me do with Mom and Dad. He was hurt pretty bad, didn't even look like plague. And Lacey's not showing any signs."
The doctor nodded. "You know the rules, though, Janie."
"But…" She looked like she wanted to argue, but she didn't. The doctor gave me some more advice for looking after my shoulder, and he left. I heard banging again on the porch.
"Quarantine," she told me. "It'll be a couple of weeks. Nobody'll come around, and we can't go out."
It should have bothered me, but it was easy to stay put with Janie. I didn't have to explain anything to anyone, and she didn't care if I broke down crying. Sometimes she broke down too. There was food my parents had put up, and there was a semblance of order in Salt Lake. But I'd grown up in those halls, and after a couple of days I started to feel them closing in on me.
Janie and I had forgotten how to talk. What could we talk about?
"So what happened after I left?"
"Well, I made the varsity cheer squad at school, and dad told me I wasn't allowed to do it…" she trailed off. She always trailed off when she started talking about mom or dad, or everyday life.
I re-read all the old books in my bedroom – my horse books, Black Beauty and Misty and the others. The Little House books. Nancy Drew. Janie had her sketchbooks out all the time, and she drew people I recognized – not just mom and dad, but family friends, too. People I didn't know, who must have been from school. And once, Saul as he'd looked lying on the couch. She gave that one to me, and I hung it up in my bedroom.
We talked about everything except our past, but we were surrounded by it.
I thought I'd shed everything I didn't need in the desert, gotten down to my base self, but I was starting to think I'd just found another shell.
One morning I stood at the back door, staring into the yard. Waiting, and knowing nothing would happen. That's why I'd been in such a hurry to leave the first time.
"Lacey?" She was still bleary-eyed with sleep when she found me.
"I can't stay here anymore, Janie."
"But- the quarantine. We have to."
"They can't stop us if we just drive."
"I've never been further than Provo, Lacey. Where would we go?"
"Someplace nobody knows us. I want to see who I am when no one else is around. I think I met her in the desert. I think I liked her."
Janie looked around the kitchen. "Let me pack?"
An hour later, we were throwing her pristine pink luggage in the back of the truck. She grimaced at the dried blood in the passenger seat, but climbed in anyway.
I saw Missus Morris across the street, watching from behind her curtains. When she saw me look at her, she disappeared in a rustle of fabric.
The part of me that cared waited on the porch of my parents' house. The rest of me started the engine and drove away.
"Where do you want to start?" I asked Janie as we reached the main street.
"How about Las Vegas?"