Almost Heaven

Previously: Lyra and Alice, best friends and outdoors enthusiasts, are taking a road trip during the apocalypse. 

“Did you make this playlist bad on purpose?” Lyra grumbles from the passenger seat. 

Alice bops her head along to the “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” tapping her thumbs on the steering wheel. “What about this is bad?” 

“Well, first of all, these are all old as hell.” 

Alice frowns. “They’re classics.” 

“And second of all, you totally picked obnoxious ones on purpose.” 

“Did not!” 

Lyra gestures at the speaker system, as if to say the loud Scottish crooning is an answer in itself. “Plus, how much Britney Spears could one playlist possibly need, Alice?” 

Gasping, Alice points a finger at her. “You take that back! Britney is a queen. Even when this civilization falls, Britney will remain. Britney is eternal.” 

“Now you’re just being dramatic.” 

“Well, excuse me for wanting to inject a little chaos and fun into this,” Alice says. 

Lyra turns to her, expecting to see her classic exaggerated pout. Instead, Alice has a more subtle expression, a crease in her brown and a downturn of her lips that convey a genuine hurt.  

Lyra immediately softens. “Look, I’m sorry, I—” 

“No, you’re right. I did pick bad ones on purpose,” Alice sighs. “I can change it.” 

As Alice reaches for the controls, Lyra grabs her wrist. “No, seriously, I don’t mind. I was just being a bitch. And it is kind of fun.” 

Alice smiles, nods and turns her attention back to the road, humming along to the music. Lyra shakes her head, exasperated yet fond, and joins her in belting along to the chorus. 

Lyra and Alice met their freshman year of college at a meeting for the outdoors club. Lyra wasn’t sure what to make of Alice, at first. She was far more outgoing than Lyra knew what to do with, having not yet gotten past her own adolescent social awkwardness. But, with Alice making persistent attempts at conversation during their first club trip, Lyra soon discovered just how much they had in common. 

There are some people, Lyra thinks, that are just meant to know each other. Everyone always talks about the idea of soulmates in a romantic sense, about finding that one person with whom you fall madly in love and marry, but she’s never understood why people don’t put the same standards on friendships. Why does your partner have to be the most important person in your life? Why does the person you never get tired of, the person who understands you better than anyone in the world, have to be the same as the person you sleep with? 

Lyra didn’t know friends could be more than casual acquaintances, than people you associate with out of convenience, until she met Alice. And once they found each other, they became inseparable. They were roommates all throughout college, even making sure they got jobs in the same city after graduation so they could keep living together. Her mother accused them of codependency, but Lyra didn’t think that was it. It was not that she couldn’t live without Alice, she argued, she just didn’t want to. 

And so, they stayed that way — the two of them, always together — even as the world began unraveling around them, even as the tides rose and the atmosphere burned away and the clock ticked down towards midnight. Where else would they go? 

“We can’t go much farther towards the coast in California,” Alice says as they drive up the winding mountain road. “It’s too unstable. Satellite’s showing another chunk that just fell into the ocean.” 

“That’s okay,” Lyra assures her. “Would’ve been nice to drop by San Francisco one last time, but this is all I really wanted to see, anyway.” 

“Not that there’s much to see,” Alice counters. 

She’s right. Lyra remembers how Sequoia National Park used to look from the last time they made it out here, every tree lush and green and towering around them, even aside from the giants. The greenery that surrounds them now is nothing more than shrubbery in comparison, growing in a field of ash, interspersed with blackened spikes reaching towards the sky.  

As they exit the transport in the parking lot, Lyra looks around with a sort of horrible awe. It was one thing to see the pictures after the fires, another thing entirely to stand among the burnt-out husks herself. It’s … desolate. Like trespassing in a graveyard.  

Alice must feel it, too, because she’s silent as they make their way down the path. It isn’t until they reach a particularly large fallen log that she speaks up. “I think that’s General Sherman. God, do you remember looking up at that? Even down here, it’s … Wow.” 

Even on its side, it’s still nearly seven times Lyra’s height. She reaches a hand out to touch it and her fingertips come away dusted with charcoal. She feels a prickling behind her eyes and the strange urge to apologize. To what, the tree? And what for? Is she sorry for a spark she didn’t even light? A drought she didn’t even cause? 

“We should go,” she says, instead, and Alice doesn’t argue. Still, she can’t chase away that guilt, acrid in the back of her throat, even as they leave the forest behind.  

Join us next week for another installment of this term’s apocalyptic road trip serial: Almost Heaven! Missed a chapter? Catch up on