Previously: While everyone else fled underground, Lyra and Alice were on a road trip during the apocalypse. After Alice got hurt, Lyra tended to her wounds in a gas station.
Lyra wakes to light streaming in through the gas station windows. She blinks, shielding her eyes from the brightness, then looks down to see Alice staring up at her.
“Jesus,” Lyra says with a jolt. “Why didn’t you wake me up?”
Alice tries to shrug but winces. “You looked peaceful,” she rasps, then coughs weakly.
“Alice,” Lyra chides. Carefully, she helps Alice up to a sitting position, leaning her against the wall, before rummaging through her pack for some water. After Alice takes a few grateful sips, Lyra says, “I’ll need to change your bandages.”
Alice nods in assent, and Lyra begins the work of gently unravelling the wrappings. Some blood has soaked into the gauze but not enough to be worrisome. What concerns Lyra more is the red and inflamed skin around the stitches. She rests a hand on it, featherlight, though the slightest pressure still makes Alice grimace. The skin is hot to the touch.
“We don’t have any oral antibiotics on us, so we’ll have to make do with topical for now,” she informs Alice as she starts redressing the wound. “We might be able to find some in a pharmacy.” It’s wishful thinking. Lyra’s not sure how much of the medication stock people took with them down into the bunkers, but if she has to guess, there won’t be much left behind. “Plus, there’s the matter of finding you another Envirosuit—”
It’s only when Alice reaches out to grab her hand that Lyra realizes it’s been shaking. “Don’t worry about it,” Alice says. “Let’s just keep going.”
Lyra just looks at her for a moment. “Don’t worry about it?” she asks, incredulous. “Alice, you almost died!”
“We’re both going to, sooner rather than later, or have you forgotten?” At Lyra’s stricken expression, Alice softens. “Thank you for saving me, Ly, seriously. But I don’t want us to waste what limited time we have left trying to prolong the inevitable.”
Alice pats her hand with a watery smile. “There’s one last place I want to go, can we do that?”
Lyra’s never really been able to say no to her, has she? Not when it counts. And so, with the sort of churning dread in her stomach that always preempts grief, Lyra says, “Yes.”
Alice falls unconscious not long into the drive, after Lyra manages to convince her to take some pain meds. For a few hours, it’s just Lyra and their bad oldies playlist. Then Alice starts to make distressed sounds in her sleep. Lyra looks over to see sweat beading up on Alice’s brow, and then she can’t stop glancing away from the road periodically to make sure Alice is still breathing, with something between a scream or a sob caught in her throat.
She makes occasional stops to give Alice more medication and to get a few hours’ sleep for herself. When she checks Alice’s bandages, she tries not to think about how the wound festers and does her best to clean it.
After 30 long hours, Lyra sees the sign announcing the exit for Point Pleasant, West Virginia. She drives through empty streets, passing buildings with boarded up windows. The grass from the parkways, once overgrown and spreading through cracks in the pavement, has long since dried out.
When she parks next to the museum, she gently shakes Alice awake, then helps her from the transport. Alice’s clammy hands weakly grip Lyra’s suit as they slowly shuffle their way over to the statue. They come to a stop, Alice leaning into Lyra’s side, then look up at it in all its shiny silver glory: The Mothman.
Lyra opens her mouth to comment before she’s interrupted by a strange, gravelly voice behind them, which asks, “Why are you not yet underground?”
“Shit!” Lyra exclaims, as the owner of the voice walks around them and into view. It belongs to a creature, tall, with a pair of fluttering gray-brown wings folded in close to its back. Its face has a human mouth but giant, bulging red eyes. Its body, while similar to that of a human man, is covered in a fine layer of fuzz. Lyra looks at it, looks at the statue, and looks back again. “… Mothman?”
“Yes,” Mothman says. Mothman gestures with one remarkably human hand to the statue’s rippling metallic abs. “They over-exaggerated my physique.”
Alice raises a hand slightly, waving. “Hey, Mothman, what’s up?”
“The world is ending.” Mothman cocks its head. “Were you not told?”
“No, yeah, we know,” Lyra says.
Frowning, Mothman says, “Then, I suggest you retreat underground, before it is too late.” And with that last warning, Mothman flaps its wings and leaps up, flying towards the sky.
“So, Mothman’s real,” Lyra says after a long moment. Alice laughs, then gasps in pain, slumping more into Lyra’s side, head drooping forward. Swearing, Lyra half-carries her over to a bench and helps her sit, kneeling on the ground in front of her.
Breathing raggedly, Alice clutches her side and grits her teeth. “Mothman also had a point, Ly. You should get to a bunker.”
Lyra’s blood turns to ice. “What about you?”
Alice’s laugh is light, but it still looks like it pains her. “Me? No, I’d be too much of a burden now. They might still take you, though.”
“Alice, come on—”
“I’m serious.” Alice looks her dead in the eye. “It’s my fault we’re here, anyway. My idea. You’d be in a bunker right now, if it wasn’t for me.”
“This whole time, I never even asked you what you wanted, did I? I just did what I wanted and dragged you along. And look where that got us!” With damp eyes, she says, “I’m dying, Lyra. But you don’t have to.”
Lyra shakes her head. “I’m not just going to leave you.”
“Really, it’s fine—”
“No, it’s not!” Lyra shouts, startling Alice into silence. “Look, sure, maybe I would’ve been fine with the bunker. But do you honestly think I would’ve done this if I wasn’t …” Lyra sighs, reaching out to take Alice’s hand. “I would only be happy living in a bunker if it was with you, Alice. You never asked what I wanted? Well, that’s it. Whatever time we have left, I just want to spend it with you.”
Alice’s expression crumples, eyes pleading with Lyra. “Please, don’t do this for me.”
“That’s the whole point, dumbass,” Lyra says, fond. “I’m doing it for me, not you. Don’t feel guilty just because I’m selfish.” Standing, Lyra brushes the dirt off her knees. “Now, where to next?”
A smile twitches at the corners of Alice’s mouth. “I’m fresh out of ideas. Where do you want to go?”
“How far north do you think we’d have to go to see the northern lights?”
“Only one way to find out,” Alice says and lets Lyra help her back to the transport.
When Lyra starts the engine, the playlist picks up where it left off. As they drive out of town, a familiar song starts playing. They both turn to look at each other, smiling in awe of the serendipity. Then, they start to sing along:
“Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River
Life is old there, older than the trees
Younger than the mountains, growing like a breeze
Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain mama
Take me home, country roads.”
Thank you for reading this term’s apocalyptic road trip serial: Almost Heaven! Missed a chapter? Catch up on lawrentian.com.