They had been picking
through the remains of the residential area for a few
hours when they took a break under a large pin oak tree.
Morey looked at the outlines of brick walls in the tall
grass. "This probably was a school," he said.
"Look where the old outline
of the road is, and the way the walls run. This may have
been a small tree planted in front of the school."
Morey looked up at the
spreading branches. "Youíre probably right; the tree is
old enough." He cleared his throat. "I hope you donít
think Iím just using you like a servant."
"No, not at all," she said.
"I am your betrothed. We will marry later. I am glad to
be with you."
She smiled. "When I was a
little girl, I noticed how dull the boys in Waiting for
Zion were, how silly the girls were. It was because we
donít really get an education."
She turned to face him. "I
have my own ideas, you know. Thanks to the attention
youíve paid me, I know more, Iím better educated."
"I was always a dangerous
free thinker," said Morey. "I always felt small families
and one man and one woman made people more civilized."
"Thatís the way the
Americans lived?" asked Kim.
"Yes, the Americans shunned
Waiting for Zion," said Morey. "That way of life was
"Polygamy. Yes, our
ancestors followed the Old Testament ways," said Morey.
"The Americans, their religion was of the New
He stood up. "The isolation
of Waiting for Zion has been a double-edged sword. On
the one hand, it preserved us from the plague that
destroyed the Americans. America had over 400 million
people, the number is almost impossible to grasp." He
looked around. "Weíve been on our own for over a year
and half, and we have found no one since we left Waiting
He looked at Kim. "In the
long run, we have to find other people, because
eventually because of inbreeding our people will die
"Maybe we should travel to
Sancho, then," she said. "They say it was a large
city. Maybe there are people there."
"Yes, it was called San
Angelo by the old people. It had tens of thousands of
people." He smiled at her. "When we have enough food and
supplies stored up, maybe you and I will set off towards
the great city."
"Speaking of supplies, letís
begin to go through this ruin," she said. "Weíve always
had great luck in the ruins of schools."
The brush was fairly thin --
black patches showed that a grass fire had burned over
the area a few years earlier -- but they poked around
for two hours without finding anything significant.
Morey walked over to the girl.
"Iím puzzled. I agree, it
looks like the site was a school, but weíre not finding
anything. Was the building picked clean?"
Kim had been poking at patch
of dark soil with her stave. She tapped Ė hard -- and a
metal sound rang out. Morey cocked his head. "We are not
in the school," she said. "Recognize that? Itís one of
the pieces of metal used to hold a roof across a room."
"Itís a metal beam," said
"We are standing on what was
the roof," she said. "It must have come down all at
once, in one piece."
"The whole school is beneath
us," he said.
They spent a week digging
into the ruins of the school, finding glass, plastic and
even books that had been buried deep and were
well-preserved. The building had been neither burned nor
looted before the roof apparently came down and sealed
"I have an idea," said Morey
one afternoon. "I think I can build a pair of handcarts.
We have enough tools and containers now. After we take
in the corn, we can move on to Sancho."
"And move away further from
Waiting for Zion?" asked Kim.
"Yes. I think they have not
come after us only because they expect us to die out
here on our own," said Morey.
"Youíre right, as always,
wise old man," she said with a smile. She pointed. "Did
you notice this? It looks like there is a door here,"
she said, gesturing to a rise in the earth. "There may
be a small room in here, almost intact."
"Youíre the small and agile
one," he said. "If you want, wriggle down into the
She sat down. "Iíll slip in,
He helped her by holding her
under her arms. "Iíll need the lantern," she called
Morey used a flint to light
the wick and then passed it down to her. She held it in
front and waved it back and forth. She could see
glittering, like frost, even though the space was hot
"Oh, my. Iíve never seen
"What is it?" He called
through the door.
"Itís a sign with a symbol
Iíve never seen before," she called back. "I donít
"Is there any writing?"
"Yes, it says...
Ďbiohazard.í What does that mean?"
She took a few steps
forward, screamed and dropped the lantern. Flames shot
across the ancient tiled floor.
Her arms reached out from
the darkness towards Morey. "Help, take me, now, get me
out of here, please!"
He reached down and grabbed
her elbows, yanking her straight up with all the
strength he had. She was sobbing. He clutched her to
comfort her, but she shoved him away.
She gasped through her sobs.
"Bones. All bones down there. Covered in plague!"
Smoke billowed up from the
hole as the contents ignited. "Oh, dear God, that must
have been a temporary morgue! No wonder the school was
Her legs folded and she
dropped to the ground like a marionette whose strings
had been cut. She threw her hands over her face and
sobbed. "We will die!"
Morey began to sweat as the
smoke came out of the hole in thick billows.
"It must take some time for
the disease to develop," he said the next day.
"I hope the fire killed the
plague that was there," Kim said as the sun stood high
in the sky. "Even if we get sick, it wonít spread, at
least no one else would die later." She wiped her brow.
"I feel hot."
"Itís noon." He picked up
another book and began to pick through more crumbling
newspaper clippings. "I think I may have an idea."
"From the old books?"
He pointed with a finger.
"It says here Americans tending to the sick resisted the
disease until they rested, and then they came down with
the plague and sickened faster than the people they were
taking care of."
He turned in his chair.
"Remember the story of what the Great Prophet had our
people do when the plague struck the heathen?"
"Yes, he said to build wells
and windmills and walls faster than ever, so we could
keep safe from the outside world, and that God would
protect the industrious."
"Yes, and the people worked
weeks without rest, many not really sleeping at all,
until news from the outside ended and everything was
silent," he said, flipping a page. "This other story
says the people with the plague were stricken with a
great hunger, but the faster they ate, the faster they
"Iím hot," she said, rubbing
her cheek. She saw how Morey looked at her.
"Itís begun, hasnít it?" she
He could see the faint
filigree on her face. "Yes, my love." He rose and walked
over to her. He could see the tracery of nanotech
bio-circuitry on her pale skin.
"Iím sure the plague is upon
me, also," he said. "But my skin is darker."
She looked at him, fear in
her eyes. "How much longer, then?"
"Never," he snarled. "You
know how we talked of going to Sancho. Itís time to go.
"No water or food. Itís
forty miles. We begin walking now, while the sun is high
in the sky and the hottest."
She looked at him in shock.
"Why? We will die!"
"We will die otherwise. I
think I know how we may have a chance. We will suffer,
but if we suffer enough, the plague in us will die
He took his stave from where
it leaned on the wall and walked out the door and into
the bright sunlight. "Come!" he called back.
She followed, barefoot.
He strode north through the
tall grass. Kim ran up behind him. "I understand," she
said. "The plague is like a living creatureÖ."
"Öthat feeds. It feeds off
He nodded again. "We need to
starve it," he said.
They walked through the
scrub and mesquite trees. "No water, no food, no
stopping," he said. "We need to starve the plague. Our
bodies will fight it for energy. If we strain our bodies
enough, our bodies will win that fight."
He looked forward. "Sancho
is straight ahead."
The walked along the surface
of an old highway, without exchanging a word, for hours.
In the distance, they saw wild horses stampeding.
"Theyíve probably never seen a person," said Kim.
As the blood-red semicircle
of the sun touched the horizon to their left, they saw a
aluminum highway sign that stuck up through the scrub:
"San Angelo 20 miles".
Birds flew overhead as they
headed for their roosts in the isolated clusters of
cottonwoods. Morey wheezed and Kim panted, but they kept
on steadily, putting one foot in front of the other
Because of the flatness of
the West Texas prairie, the sunset seemingly lasted for
hours. As shadows began to appear, Morey called out
behind himself to Kim, "Donít stop!"
After the moon came out
early in the morning, Morey spoke up. "Thereís something
on the horizon." Kim nodded in understanding.
"Buildings. We must be
coming to the city," said Morey.
Kim grunted as she fell to
the ground, face first. "Donít stop!" croaked Morey.
"Tripped," she said,
grabbing a long, thin ribbon of rust. Morey squinted in
the moonlight. "An old railroad," he said as he gave her
Their clothes were covered
with white stains of salt from their perspiration. Morey
looked carefully at the back of her blouse as he helped
pull her up, and saw no glitter of the plagueís silicon.
A few more miles down the
road, the scrub thinned. The air was cool, and Morey
caught his breath. "Concrete road," he said. "We must be
near the city."
"Whatís that?" she asked,
pointing to a tall, empty shape blocking out the stars.
"A giant silo," he said,
"for grain. Careful."
Kim picked her way in bare
feet through the rusted remains of heavy trucks that had
been waiting to unload their grain for 200 years. "There
is the scale house there, on the side." said Morey as he
pointed. "Itís intact, itís solid concrete."
He walked to the doorway and
banged his stave. "No animals."
He gestured. "Go inside."
She walked through the door
and fell on the floor. "Water," she gasped.
"No water," he rasped. He
pulled a rusty door closed, and in the dark propped it
shut with his stave, then fell down on his knees and
There was a place where the
concrete roof had crumbled. The morning sun shone
through. Kim opened her eyes.
Her throat was hard and dry
and burning. "Water."
She sat up. She saw Moreyís
face was buried in the dirt, but his chest moved. She
staggered clumsily to her feet and kicked the stave away
from the door.
She saw fifty feet away, in
the middle of what had once been a parking lot, the
stump of a tree that had been struck by lightning. She
walked over and looked into the hollow. She pulled the
folding cup from the pocket of her dress, and reached
She drank the dirty water,
and gasped. She reached in again and then walked back to
the weigh house. She rolled Morey over and rubbed the
dirt from his lips.
His eyes fluttered as she
poured in a few drops of water. "Alive?"
"Yes, we are." She felt his
forehead. "No fever."
He raised his hand with his
wrist still on the floor. "Rub your face."
She rubbed her cheek with
the back of her hand. Her skin felt raw. She saw shiny
flakes on her hand. Morey smiled. "The plague is
scabbing off your face."
"We burned it away," she
said, and smiled just a little. "You were right. Iíll
get more stump water. Thereís just a little more."
"Itís enough," he said as he
lay on his back. "We rest. Tomorrow we find Sancho. It
must be nearby."
After a few more sips of
water, they slept until very late in the afternoon. Kim
went out and found a wild apple tree, and when Morey had
enough strength, he sat up and used his flint to start a
fire from the duff that had accumulated on the floor of
the building over the years.
Kim roasted the apples on a
stick, and they ate. She looked at him. "Youíre
He clutched his chest. "I
beat the plague," he gasped, "but not my age. TooÖ muchÖ
ofÖ aÖ strainÖ"
He fell over. Kim screamed
and lunged over to raise up his head. "No, please God,
"I love you, little one," he
whispered as he went limp. "Iíll go to Paradise and find
you another good husbandÖ."
She moaned and cradled his
head as he died, and sobbed as the red sun set below the
straight line that was the edge of the world.
In the ruins of Sancho --
San Angelo -- Kim found the remains of a hardware store,
and in the middle of a clump of rust, she discovered an
intact shovelhead. She brushed it off with her hand. Her
stave would make a good handle.
She heard a crunching sound,
and spun around. A young man with a wide-brimmed hat
stared at her in amazement from the edge of the ruin.
"Who are you?" he sputtered.
"Where did you come from?"
"From Drado, outside of
Waiting for Zion," she said, holding the shovel high.
The young man began to pick
his way through the debris. "Weíve heard the polygamists
were holed up there, but I never knew anyone had left."
"My husband was a heretic,
he wanted only one wife," she said. "We left Waiting for
Zion and lived in the ruins of Drado."
"Yes, it used to be called
Eldorado." The young man looked at her. "Where is your
"The trip killed him," she
said softly. "His heart."
The young man took off his
hat. "Iím sorry." He held out his hand. "My name is Rob.
Robert. Robert Andrews."
Kim shook his hand rather
weakly. "My name is Kim, Kimberly Montgomery. Do you
live here, in Sancho?"
"Yes, people have begun to
resettle San Angelo," he said. "Some of us who grew up
"Itís an old American Air
Force Base. Some people have lived there ever since the
plague, behind high walls." He looked at her closely.
"How old are you, Kim?"
"Fifteen." She thought for a
moment. "Do you know what day it us?"
"September 15. Why?"
She narrowed her eyes. "Iím
16, then. Today is my 16th birthday."
Tears began streaming down
her face. Rob reached out and then hugged her. "Itís
okay, youíre safe now."
"I know I am," she said
between sobs. "I know."
"It stands for United States
Air Force," explained the Colonel. "The country called
America. Its full name is the United States of America."
"Morey taught me to read,
but I had never seen the word Ďusafí," said Kim.
"Youíd never seem a uniform,
either," said Rob. "Your eyes really bugged out."
"Why donít you wear a
uniform, also?" she asked.
"Iím a civilian," said Rob.
"Thatís why I was living in San Angelo."
The Colonel winked at Kim.
"We had breakfast together that morning at his cabin. I
asked him where he was going that morning. He said,
"Well, dad, maybe Iíll just go find me a wife in San
An Airman walked up and
spoke to Kim. "Weíve closed the grave, maíam."
"Thanks for bringing his
body back to Drado and burying it for me," said Kim.
"Itís what he would have wanted. This is where we made
our life together, as short as it was."
She knelt down and smoothed
the dirt on top of the mound with both hands. "Thanks,
old timer," she said softly. "You promised you would
look out for me."
She stood up. "On to Waiting
"Yes, we need to contact
them, and youíre the perfect person to come with us,"
said the Colonel. "Settlements are beginning to come
back. People only moved from Goodfellow into old San
Angelo last year."
"How long have people lived
in Goodfellow?" asked Kim.
"A handful of people have
lived there for over 200 years after the disaster. The
population has grown slowly, but thereís almost 2,000
"Thereís maybe 200 people
living at Waiting for Zion," she said. "Plus maybe two
dozen of the Lost Boys living outside the walls."
"Good, those are the people
we need the most, young men with nothing to do," said
the Colonel. "We can put them to work, canít we?" Nearby
airmen muttered agreement.
"Waiting for Zion wonít
welcome you," she said.
"No one cares about polygamy
any more," said the Colonel. "Things are finally coming
back; we all need each other."
"Then Iíll be happy to bring
you to Waiting for Zion," said Kim.
"We can come back here
later, if you like," said Rob. "If you want to stay in
Drado. Maybe we can resettle this city." He looked at
"Yes, I know the head man in
Fort Worth, and he said they have at least a dozen young
ladies who would be willing to help start a new
settlement, if we have husbands for them," said the
"Yes, if we resettle the
city." said Rob. "The people in Waiting for Zion can
live the way they want, too."
"What about any plague, in
the ruins?" asked Kim. "The people from Fort Worth or
Dallas wonít want to come out here."
"We can get vaccine from
Colorado Springs," said the Colonel. "That will make
them feel better."
"Vaccine?" asked Kim.
"Ah, yes,í said Bob. "A cure
for the plague was developed many years ago, by military
scientists." He grimaced. "By then it was too late, of
course. The population had been devastated."
"I had no idea," said Kim.
"I didnít want to say
anything," said Rob. "I didnít want you to feel bad,
"Died for nothing?" asked
Kim. "No. What he did, what we did, was what he wanted.
Someday this grave will be the center of a new city.
Didnít the American President Lincoln say at the
Gettysburg cemetery dedication that the graves of the
dead who died for what they believed in were symbolic of
Ďa new birth of freedomí?"
"My God, youíve read the
Gettysburg Address," said the Colonel.
"Morey taught me that," said
"He must have been quite a
man," said Bob.
"Someday, our children --
everyoneís children -- will be the better for his life,"
she said. "What more could anyone want for a legacy?"
She pointed south. "Waiting
for Zion is that way. Letís go."