WE ARE UNDER CONSTRUCTION - DON'T MIND THE DUST!

Almost Heaven

Previously: Rather than join everyone else in a bunker, Lyra and Alice are taking a road trip during the apocalypse.

Content Warning: Descriptions of blood and surgical procedures. 

Ten miles east of the Grand Canyon, the wind starts to pick up. Lyra can feel it shake the body of their transport as she adjusts her grip on the steering wheel, trying to keep from drifting out of their lane.  

“Woah.” Alice picks her head up from where it rests on the window. Then, she turns to look out the back windshield, and her face blanches. “Shit.” 

Lyra glances in the rearview mirror and sees it — the rapidly advancing rusty cloud of dust billowing behind them. “Shit,” she agrees. “I should pull over.” 

Sitting up straighter, Alice says, “Wait, no—” 

“Alice—” 

“Listen, just put it on autopilot! I’d rather try to outrun this than get stuck in it.” 

Lyra hesitates, chewing on the inside of her cheek, but flips the switch anyway. She lets her hands slip from the wheel, and, after a few tense moments, the dust envelops them. 

“Are the droughts really this bad?” Alice wonders aloud.  

Lyra sighs, slouching down in her seat. “That and the meteors. I bet they kicked up a lot of dust.” 

“Well, now I’m bored,” Alice complains. “Want to play a game?” 

“Okay, Jigsaw,” Lyra teases. “How about I Spy?”  

Alice snorts. “I spy with my little eye something … dusty.” 

Lyra pretends to mull it over. “Is it the dust storm?” 

Before they can fully recover from the fit of giggles that sends them into, something in the front of the transport makes a worrying noise, and a warning light blinks on the dashboard. Lyra leans forward, squinting at it.  

“God damn it, I think the air filters got clogged with dust.” 

“It’s not like we need them, anyway, with our suits,” Alice points out. “Can we just keep going and look at it later?” 

Almost as soon as Alice finishes talking, the transport starts slowing down. “Apparently not,” Lyra says, gritting her teeth. She turns off the autopilot and pulls off to the side of the road. “Come on, let’s take a look.” 

Once Lyra steps outside, the howl of the wind drowns out everything else. The dust particles rushing past add another layer of sound on top of the whistling, something like white noise or old-timey television static. She struggles to slide the transport door shut, then feels her way around to the hood.  

Kneeling down next to the air filters, Lyra flicks on her head lamp. She sees movement out of the corner of her eye and can barely make out Alice’s hand reaching out for her through the haze of dust. She grabs it, then turns her attention back to the filters.  

After some digging around, she manages to dislodge enough rocks and plant debris that she thinks they could keep going. The wind seems quieter now, and she’s just about to try to shout at Alice over it when Alice’s hand slips from her grasp. 

“Alice?” she calls out, to no response. “Alice!” she screams, crawling towards where Alice was. 

The dust starts to clear as the wind dies down, allowing Lyra to see the outline of Alice’s body, slumped on her side. As she reaches over to her, Lyra’s hand brushes against something sharp, embedded in Alice’s abdomen. Her hand comes away red. 

“Shit,” she says, watching as Alice’s eyes flutter shut. Scrambling to her feet, Lyra swings open the doors to the trunk, grabbing their med bag and slinging it over her shoulder. She looks around, taking note of a gas station she can now see nearby.  

Standing over Alice, she tries to remember what her first aid classes said about moving the injured. Then, she looks behind them, at an advancing second wave of dust. “Screw it,” she says, sliding one arm under Alice’s knees and the other under her back, lifting her up with a grunt. 

As she struggles towards the gas station, Lyra thanks her past self for putting in the hours at the gym. She doubts even the herculean surge of adrenaline would be enough for her carry Alice, if not for the years she spent building up muscle. Still, she can feel the strain in her back as she kicks open the doors.  

Setting Alice as gently as she can on the floor, she closes the doors behind them and manages to barricade the entrance with a shelf just before the dust swirls past, obscuring her view of the transport.  

She rushes back over to Alice, kneeling beside her. After carefully removing Alice’s helmet, she tears off her own gloves, pressing two fingers to Alice’s neck and holding her breath until she can feel a weak and rapid pulse. Reaching into the med bag, she grabs a pair of safety shears and cuts away Alice’s suit around the wound, revealing what appears to be some sort of metal shard stabbed into Alice’s stomach. Lyra feels around underneath Alice, relieved to find that the shard has not gone clean through. 

She cuts through Alice’s blood-soaked tank top, then grabs a MediPack from the bag. She forgets what all is in the syringe she plunges into Alice’s chest, but she knows there is anesthetic in there. Alice’s body spasms as she presses the plunger down, and Lyra waits for her breathing to even out before she continues.  

Blood oozes out of the wound as Lyra extracts the shard. She puts pressure on it with some gauze as she rifles through the bag to find a bottle of rubbing alcohol and a suture kit. Alice does not so much as flinch when Lyra lifts the gauze and pours some of the alcohol on the wound. 

The sutures are uneven but sturdy, made with trembling and blood-stained fingers. Lyra covers them with antibiotic ointment and wraps bandages tightly around Alice’s stomach before wiping her hands off on the clean part of Alice’s ruined tank top. 

Letting out a sigh of relief, Lyra leans back and lets her head thump against the shelf, watching the gentle rise and fall of Alice’s chest until her eyes blur over. She blinks, letting the tears slip down her cheeks instead.  

She reaches for Alice’s wrist and feels for her pulse again, stronger and slower now. Shutting her eyes, she counts the beats until she loses track. 

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