Apophis: Extended Ending

I woke up the next morning to a sound that had become foreign to my ears. I opened just one eye and then the next and tried to identify the noise. There was only one window in the loft – a small hexagonal stain glass window that allowed in the briefest kaleidoscope of colors.  But it didn't open, and I was loath to leave the warmth of my bed or the beautiful, half-naked woman who slept beside me in order to investigate.

Nora stirred awake as I continued to wonder at the sound. It was an itch on my memories, and I had nothing with which to scratch my brain.

"Morning." She gave me a sweet, sleepy smile and I felt my pulse quicken.

If I ever had doubts about my decision to leave the comforts of West Genesis, all I needed to do was look at that smile and be assured it was all worth it. Nora and I had chosen to stay on at the little cottage where we’d found each other. Neither of us had any desire to return to our hometowns, and it wasn’t as though we had family to go back to. Yes, there was the realization that our food and other resources here in this cabin wouldn't last, but we'd made it this far and for this long on our own; we'd find a way to continue to survive.

I rolled onto my back and stared up at the wooden boards that made up the ceiling in the loft.  The roof was hale and no sunlight crept through the gaps in the wood planks.  

Nora rested her head on my breastplate and my fingers immediately went to stroke her hair.  The blonde strands were tangled from travel, sleep, and other more pleasant activities. "I keep thinking this is a bad dream and that I'll wake up."

"No such luck," I murmured.

She rolled onto her stomach; her chin dug into my chest, but I kept the complaint to myself. "Although this part isn't so bad."

I gave her nose an affectionate tweak and she crossed her eyes and stuck her tongue out.

I wasn't able to fully relax, knowing that there might be people after me for stealing one of the snowmobiles. I tried to give Nora my undivided attention, but every foreign noise gave me a start, thinking I’d been found. But unlike when we'd escaped Hot Springs, it seemed like the residents of West Genesis had other things to worry about than to go on a cross-country hunt for me.

She stretched her arms above her head. "I feel like coffee," she announced.

I let out a groan at the word. "God, I miss coffee." I was just starting to get accustomed to the comforts of West Genesis when I'd run away.

There was something mischievous about the grin she gave me. "How about coffee and oatmeal with fresh-cut fruit for breakfast?"

I made an approving noise. "That would be nice."  Fresh fruit. I should have lined my pockets with strawberries and blueberries when I'd left West Genesis. "It's too bad I used up that pancake mix earlier. That would have been nice this morning."

The covers were pulled down and Nora hopped light-footed out of bed.

"Where are you going?" I pouted.

I saw no reason for us to leave the shared heat of the bed. If I had my way, we would only leave the upstairs bedroom long enough to keep the woodpile stacked and to replenish lost electrolytes and calories. It was easy to pretend that we were the only ones left on the planet, like this cottage was our own deserted island.

"To make you breakfast, of course," she said as if it were the most obvious reason in the world.

I couldn't imagine what she'd be able to scrounge together for food. When we'd left the cabin before, we'd stripped it of everything edible we could shove in our backpacks. I'd have to set up some small animal snares around the property when I got out of bed. Maybe I'd stumble across something useful that I'd overlooked the first time around.

It didn't evade my notice that both my father and grandmother's fates were unknown. My grandmother had left our camp somewhere in this state in the early morning hours weeks ago, and we'd been separated from my dad in the chaos of running away from Hot Springs.  At least with my mother and Nora's father we knew for sure what had happened to them. I didn't know if the not knowing was worse than the knowing because it left me with one of life's most precious resources – Hope.  I didn't really expect either my dad or grandma to stumble upon us in this remote Montana cottage, but whenever I’d go out to gather more wood for the fire, I knew I’d daydream about what a reunion like that might be like.

Nora pulled on a sweatshirt that had been thrown over the rocking chair in the corner of the loft and the tights she usually wore under her snowpants.  The clothing made me frown.  Why did we have to be slowly freezing to death? Why couldn't we be hurling closer to the sun so she would find covering up that beautiful body unnecessary?

Her footsteps practically skipped down the stairs to the lower level, but her good mood this morning was hardly contagious.  I rubbed roughly at my face before leaving the warmth of the bed to follow.  I hobbled noisily down the steps. Each footstep sounded heavier than the one before it. My body ached from the multi-state snowmobile trip and Nora's golf club attack.  The general cold weather had stiffened my joints as well.

Nora was banging around in the kitchen area, pulling various cooking utensils and pots and pans from the pine cabinetry.  The knotty pine cabinet doors would make nice kindling if it came down to it.

"What are you doing?" I asked her.

“I don’t suppose when you left West Genesis you had the foresight to fill your pockets with food?” she posed.

Her question pulled a guilty frown to my face. “I wasn’t really thinking when I left," I admitted.

She cocked her head to one side. “You’re cute, Sammy. What happened to the pragmatic girl I used to know?”

I shrugged. “It’s hard to be practical when you’re in love, I guess.”

She beamed at me. “Well, it’s a good thing one of us was thinking about survival.” She opened up one of the cabinet doors like a game show prize model.

I gasped at what the open cabinet revealed. It was full of food – a rainbow of canned food labels, all perfectly lined up in a row; boxes of dried goods and other non-perishables.  My eyes landed on a familiar blue box. Mac and cheese. Oh, God.

Nora looked exceedingly proud of herself, still holding the cabinet door open. “I buried some fruits and vegetables in a container outside, too.  Guess our friend Lisa should have thought twice about assigning me to restaurant duty,” she snorted.

I walked closer to the stocked pantry like it was a mirage.  I stared at it, unblinking, as though afraid it might otherwise disappear.  I tentatively reached out until my fingertips made contact with the smooth, solid cardboard of an instant rice container.  “How did you get these here?” I openly wondered. I’d stolen an electric snowmobile in order to make the trip across state borders. I hadn’t thought about what she’d done to make it back here though.

“Those RVs and semi-trucks above ground outside of Hope still had some gas in them,” she revealed. “I was able to siphon off enough to make the trip back.”

“We have a car?” I blinked.

“We have an RV,” she corrected. “But it’s not going to do us any good; it ran out of gas out on Highway 28.”

"We should strip it of everything useful," I proposed.

"I thought that, too." She nodded in agreement. "And there might be some parts I can use to build something to help us. I don't know what exactly, but it's not like I have anything else to do all day."

I recognized this attitude – the girl who felt helpless and a burden on the people around her.  I gobbled her up in my arms.  We were lucky; surrounded by snow we would never want for water and as long as the woods held up, we would stay warm. It certainly wasn’t as convenient as turning on a faucet and it producing water as it had been in West Genesis or Hot Springs, but it worked for us for now until we could hook up something more convenient. I had my environmental sustainability engineer for that.

"Stop it," I chastised into sweet smelling hair. I swear, it was like this woman never sweat or got dirty. I couldn't imagine how rank I probably smelled.

"It's a lot of pressure, you know."

I held her at arms length, not sure to what she was referring.

"You left West Genesis for me, and I can’t forget that, Sam." Those dazzling eyes searched my face. "What if you change your mind? What if you discover I'm not worth it?"

I pulled her back close to me. "Don't think that way," I scolded. "Don't doubt how amazing you are, Nora."

It had been an unthinking, knee-jerk reaction to go after Nora when I'd discovered her missing.  For only the second time in my life I'd followed my heart and not my brain. The first, was kissing my childhood best friend. That hadn't turned out so well, but I had to have faith that this second decision of the heart would treat me more kindly.

I heard something, a low rumble off in the distance.  I immediately expected the worst.  Was that the sound of diesel engines?  Had the people of West Genesis tracked me down? Or worse, had the men from Hot Springs who'd killed my mother and Nora's father found our safe haven?

“Did you hear that?” I asked in a subdued tone. I didn’t want to alarm her.

She nodded and pulled away from my embrace.

The rumbling began up again, this time perceptively closer. I looked up at the ceiling. What was hitting the roof? Were we under attack?

“What is that?” I hissed. My alarm was now palpable. I looked to Nora who looked more curious than concerned. While my bewilderment continued, something resembling realization passed over her face.

“It can’t be,” she breathed. Her feet churned quickly beneath her as she raced toward the front door. She unfastened the flimsy bolt and threw open the door before scampering outside.  

“Nora!” I called. “Boots!” She’d run out into the snow-covered field outside of the cottage in just her stocking feet.

I ran after her and stopped on the covered porch.  

She threw her head up to the open sky and yelled. “Get out here!” she called to me.  She began laughing and spinning around in a circle.

I took a tentative step outside and lifted my face to the sky as she had done. Dark clouds sprawled across the sky and the wind had begun to pick up.  The hair that had worked its way free from my braid whipped around my head.

And then I felt it – a single drop of wetness on my face.

I stopped moving and looked up.  Again, something cool and wet struck against me.  I held my hands out, palms up.  After a few more moments, I could see them – small, wet spots on my skin. It wasn't snow. It was raining.

Nora continued to laugh. I watched her spin around as the rain picked up, arms open, head tilted towards the sky. Her beautiful face looked youthful and carefree.  “Do you know what this means, Sammy?”

I stared up at the sky as well, blinking into the falling rain. The skies opened and the light sprinkle turned into a downpour.  My sodden clothes clung to my skin, and my socks were soaked from the rain above and the packed snow below.

I let out a breath that I was sure I’d been holding onto since I had left my childhood home in Williston.  I knew what the rain meant.  We were going to be okay.