Previously: Lyra and Alice are taking a road trip during the apocalypse. After a quick stop at the Mall of America, they continue their journey.
Lyra forgets sometimes, with how much time she spent living in the city, how empty some parts of the country are. There are the Parks, of course, but those are empty on purpose— A piece of nature set aside for preservation. There’s something different, though, about driving down a two-lane highway through the remaining Dakota with nothing manmade anywhere on the horizon. It amazes her how some places just get left untouched on accident, nothing but a strip of crumbling pavement slicing through the landscape like a knife.
She knows they’re getting closer when she sees mountains on the horizon. Wyoming’s even emptier, somehow, but she at least has more to look at until they reach the Park.
The last time Lyra went to Yellowstone was eight years ago when she went with Alice. They camped out, did a lot of hiking and even swung down to the Tetons to scale the cliffs. The environmental conditions now require a bit more in the way of shelter, but they figure it’s worth one last look around the country’s largest and oldest National Park.
When they get there, Alice has her stop the transport next to the Grand Prismatic Spring. They stand at the edge of the pool, steam billowing from the surface and winding around them, and Alice asks, “Would it melt the Envirosuit, do you think?”
“You’re probably right,” Alice sighs. “Damn, I wanted to swim through the rainbow. What makes it rainbow, anyway?”
“Bacteria. Extremophiles, I think they’re called. Different species like different conditions, so it makes the color gradient.”
“Good to know something’ll survive up here.”
“Life finds a way,” Lyra teases, and Alice kicks some pebbles at her. “I bet if we give it long enough, evolution will just happen all over again, and then, millions of years from now, humans will rise out of the bunkers and be met with sentient jellyfish or something.”
“I, for one, welcome our new jellyfish overlords.” Stepping away from the pool, Alice makes her way back to their transport. “Come on, I’ve got something else I want to check out.”
After a bit of driving, Lyra reaches a break in the trees and enters a clearing with a grouping of lodges. Alice’s eyes widen, and she points out the window. “Ly, pull over!”
The moment they come to a stop, Alice clambers out of the transport, running around to the Lyra’s side. Lyra hurries after her, just in time to see a geyser shoot off into the air.
“Perfect timing,” Alice laughs, clapping her hands together. “I guess they don’t call it Old Faithful for nothing, huh? Still going, even now.”
Preoccupied with the geothermal display before them, they don’t notice the woman approaching until they hear her say, “How do you do, strangers?”
Lyra jumps, spinning around. “The fu—”
Alice elbows Lyra before giving the woman a winning smile. “Hi, can we help you?”
“We don’t get many visitors out here.” The woman extends her hand for a shake. “I’m Mags.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Alice, this is Lyra.” Alice returns Mags’s shake and asks, “So, who’s ‘we’?”
Mags puffs out her chest with pride. “The Order of the Caldera.” Noticing the bewildered looks Lyra and Alice shoot each other, Mags gestures to one of the lodges. “Here, why don’t I show you?”
The entryway of the lodge opens up into a large room, at the center of which resides something Lyra can only describe as a shrine. Intricately piled stacks of rocks surround what appears to be an educational model of something Lyra can’t quite make out. Candles flicker and drip wax as people mill about, some chatting quietly with each other, others on their knees, deep in prayer.
“The Caldera is what powers the geothermal features of the Park,” Mags explains as she leads them inside. “It’s an underground pool of magma that some people call a ‘supervolcano,’ and she’s long overdue for an eruption. We here at the Order of the Caldera believe that the same force that created all of the miraculous features that surround us will also bring about the end of the world.”
Alice blinks, furrowing her brow. “Wait, you think the Caldera caused all of this?”
Laughing, Mags shakes her head. “A great many things lead to this moment, and I don’t presume to know where we should lay the blame. We care not how the world started ending, we only believe that the Caldera will be our final end.”
“So, more of a bang than a whimper situation, then?” Lyra asks, with a smirk.
“Precisely.” Mags spreads her arms wide. “And in that glorious blaze, we will be delivered to paradise. You may join us, if you wish.”
“I think we’re good, actually,” Alice says with a smile that comes out as more of a grimace. She links her arm with Lyra’s. “Still have a lot more places left to see before that final end. Thanks for the offer, though.”
“I see,” Mags frowns. “Well, we will be here if you change your minds.”
Alice gives her a two-fingered salute and tugs Lyra in the direction of the exit, but Lyra shrugs her off. “Hey, um.” Lyra clears her throat. “Whatever happens, I hope you find it. Paradise, I mean.”
Nodding sagely, Mags replies, “I hope you find it, too.”
Join us next week for another installment of this term’s apocalyptic roadtrip serial: Almost Heaven! Missed a chapter? Catch up on lawrentian.com.