Chapter 2: When An Immortal Woman Is Too Existential To Take An Apocalypse Seriously
Faye moved the baby to her other hip. Her first hip wasn’t tired. Her arms weren’t tired, either. It was the rhythm she wanted. A change in rhythm. To be reminded that there was a rhythm in the first place, she supposed.
“I can’t die,” Faye said to the baby, sighing. And the woman walking next to her. She would say they looked bedraggled. But they hadn’t slept in a bed in fifty-six days. So that was that.
“I can’t die. But I think I might be able to, if the world ended. It’s been bugging me.” The other woman said nothing. She was barely alive. She, and the hundred other people that had been walking together for what felt like ever. A train of refugees, walking up. Up a street, at first. A suburban street. A few families. Then up through downtown, where shops and cafes couldn’t decide whether or not they were open. More people joined. Young professionals, starving artists. A few snapped lawyers. Through the countryside, then. Through farms and ranches. The ranchers thought about shooting them, at first. But then the cowhands joined the train. And the rain started. And then they were just walking up. To the mountains. To the mountains that were only so tall.
Helicopters dropped food for them every few days. These were irregular drops. Everything was irregular. But it was enough food, and nobody was motivated enough to fight over anything.
The worn woman shook her head. Faye shrugged. She chewed on some for a moment, thinking. She stopped thinking. She didn’t like her thoughts.
“What about you?” She asked the baby. It wasn’t her baby. She couldn’t remember whose baby it was. But she had been carrying it for a week now, and thought maybe that made it her responsibility by default. Maybe.
“Babies can’t eat bread,” the woman said. Faye knew that. But Faye didn’t raise an eyebrow, or roll her eyes, or say something short and snippy. This woman was tired. And a little flat. She was hardly responsible for her words.
“Yes, but can they die?” Faye said, gently correcting the woman.
“If you feed them bread,” the woman said. The woman did roll her eyes. The woman had no grace.
“Very well,” Faye said, hardening a little. “Don’t engage. Leave me alone with my thoughts. I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
“My brother was like you,” the woman said. Her voice was flat, too. “Always talking at people. Didn’t really care who. Just wanted a warm body. Always trying to speak pretty. Thinking it was pretty. Thinking people liked his pretty words. Thinking people were everything other than what they were.”
But Faye did have grace. She had no problem playing along. And so she asked,
“Oh? And what were they?”
“A captive audience.”
Faye laughed. Clever, tired lady. Too tired to be angry anymore. Too tired to be sad. Too tired to be anything but dry, tired wit.
“Oh, trust me, lady. I am nothing like your brother.” And she wasn’t. Unless he, too, was an immortal Courier. Capital-C. And a little shaky on the immortality bit, of late.
“I never used to monologue,” Faye told the woman. “Only just started, actually. About five minutes ago. Did you like your brother?”
“I loved him. Didn’t always like him.”
“Well then, I’m gonna continue talking with you. Unless I wake up some deep repressed rage, I’m gonna just press on. I like you well enough. And you kind of look like you’re about to keel over, and aren’t listening to most of the things I say anyway. What I’m getting at, is you feel like a pretty safe confessor. And I figure I can pick you back up when you do fall. Which seems pretty inevitable. You look terrible. Tit for tat. Is that okay?”
“You don’t look any better than me.”
That wasn’t at all true, but Faye smiled dutifully.
“Right, right. Well, we can walk in silence again. For a while. Let me know when you want another story.”
Faye, the capital-C, questionably immortal Courier, marched on. For an hour. An entire 60 minute, 60-seconds-per-minute hour. Which was a long was time to be walking in despairing silence. But the woman eventually spoke.
“What did you do? Before?” She finally asked.
“I was a messenger,” she said. “You?”
“A biomechanical engineer. I made prosthetics. What sort of messenger?”
“Oh, all sorts, I suppose.”
“What does that mean?” The woman asked, brow raised. For a completely despondent person, she was incredibly expressive. Faye almost went with her usual “UPS” answer. But she was bored with it, and they had an awfully long way to walk. Well, sort of. She wondered if it counted as a “long way to walk” when they didn’t have anywhere to walk to.
“I’ve been around for almost ever. There was one, then there were two, then there was the first family. Then me and my kin. Then the first family’s children, and grandchildren, and all the rest. We were created to carry their words for them. And so we did. We carried their words for them. And for their children, and for their grandchildren, et cetera. it started pretty simple. I suppose it was always simple. But life grew longer and the world grew larger and the ladders grew taller and, well. I don’t know. People got bored. Living became complex. The children gave more words— different words—to the same thing. We had to carry more. And what we carried mattered more. Not in the sense that it meant more. Just that, people wanted what we had more. Anyway, bureaucracy happened. We were unionized as the Couriers in 542 CE. A terribly complicated year. So much paperwork. We’ve had our ups and downs. Downs and ups. And more downs. You know, we used to be enigmas. Revered, dangerous, whispers in the night. Everywhere and nowhere, trading in secrets that destroyed empires and birthed dynasties. Basically, we were badass ninjas. But then the twentieth-century happened, and honestly, I can’t even think about what we were–what we are–without rolling my eyes. I mean, we’re the primordial trope. It’s soooo bad. I couldn’t look myself in the mirror for a solid decade. On the one hand, I couldn’t not be me. But then, me was a Mary Sue. A literary crutch. The creature of lazy writers. Derivative, rote. You know, mystery used to mean something. But then, overnight, the only mystery was how I had ever managed to take meaning seriously. All because a few generations of pre-pubescent westerners got too into anime and post-structuralism. And martial arts. Stupid, reductive, belittl—“ Faye trailed off when she realized the woman was looking at her with a familiar—if misplaced—expression. Fear and incredulity.
“Fedex, lady. I worked for fedex. It was a joke. I thought I’d lighten the mood.”
“My name is Joss. Not ‘lady.’”
“Are you supposed to be on anything?”
Faye refrained from saying the first four things that came to mind.
“No, no. Why? You think I should be?”
Joss shrugged. She didn’t say anything else.
“When did you join this party?” Faye asked, looking around, doing another head count. Well, head estimation. They were at around a hundred and fifty people.
“Eight days ago.”
“You’re from a farm?”
“I was visiting my sister’s land.”
“She didn’t want to come with?”
“Said she’d rather die under her own roof with her dogs.”
“Can’t blame her.”
Faye looked at Joss and moved the baby to the other hip. The woman was still tired. Just, tired. Nothing else.
“Why’d you leave?”
Joss barely managed the shrug.
“I hate thunderstorms.”
“Makes sense to me.”
They walked on, saying nothing. Nothing about the bizarre caravan they travelled with. Nothing about the lives and loves they left behind. Nothing about the roiling grey clouds spreading out across the whole of the west.
“How long have you been walking?” Was Joss’s way of breaking another half hour’s silence.
“Since before the suburbs,” Faye said. “I was already heading to the mountains.”
“Because of the rain?”
“No. Well, maybe. I don’t know. I have business out this way.”
Joss made full use of the corners of her eyes. Packed them with skepticism and apathy.
“Oh? Doing what? Carrying a message?” Faye ignored the woman’s undertone.
“Yes. Sort of.”
“You’re sort of carrying a message? Since when does Fedex ‘sort of’ carry messages? Actually, no, don’t answer that.” And the silence again descended. Faye shrugged and ignored the other woman’s all but hostile incredulity. Because she liked having company. It was a nice change, and useful, besides. Truth be told, she wasn’t taking the earth’s impending demise very well. She just wasn’t sure how it was going to effect her job. She couldn’t remember the last time she had experienced uncertainly. Honestly, she wasn’t sure if she ever even had.