Frank and Jessie:
Even though there were very few stalled vehicles on the thruway, the going was still slow, and it was close to noon when they by-passed Buffalo, and began to skirt Lake Erie, heading for the Pennsylvania border.
As they drove, the destruction that had been wrought upon the Earth became more and more evident. The lake was much closer, and much higher than it should have been, lending credence to Gary’s postulation that the continent may have been split by the blast. The thruway was also becoming less passable, and late in the afternoon they were finally forced to stop.
It wasn’t the condition of the thruway that forced them to stop, but the absence of it. They were barely into Ohio when it had simply ended, dropping down a newly formed gravel strewn beach into the turbulent waters of the new river. Frank stopped long before the road crumbled away to nothing, and the others stopped behind him. They all walked as a group toward the raging waters, awed at the spectacle before them.
“It Looks as though you were right, Gary,” Frank said in a quiet voice.
“Well, we knew that from Jeremiah, but still… look at it, it’s unbelievable,” Gary responded equally awed.
No one spoke for a few minutes as they all gazed out over the water. Whole trees were swept easily along by the current, as though they were twigs. An occasional car bobbed by, and once as they watched, what seemed to be an entire house floated quickly by, hurried along by the swift current. Animal carcasses by the hundreds, bloated, and broken, floated by. There seemed to be no end to the water, it stretched as far as they could see, muddy brown; alive and powerful.
“Saw pictures of a flood once, looked like this,” Gary said staring out at the swift moving water, “only not as big. Not near as big as this is.”
“We’ll never get across this in a boat,” Jimmy said, “no way.”
“That’s for sure,” Frank agreed. “Looks like we’re walking from here, at least until we can find a place to cross.”
“If we can find a place to cross,” Jimmy said.
“Don’t start thinkin’ negative,” Jeremiah admonished, “we got this far and we can make it the rest of the way.”
The huge crowd that had been following the buses were now surrounding them. Many expressed similar doubts about crossing the river, either here or further along.
Listen,” Frank said, loud enough to be heard by most of them, “if we don’t cross it, we’ll die. It’s that simple. So we’ve got to go farther down and find a spot to cross it, and before we can actually cross, once we do find a place, we’ll have to find a boat somewhere.” he looked around at the crowd, “…A big boat at that.”
“I don’t think we need to do that,” Jeremiah broke in, “I think… No, I know, help’s on the way. We just got to reach it, is all, and we ain’t gonna get there ‘less we start walkin’.”
He looked around at them when he finished speaking. The same feeling that had come over Bess when she had begun to speak at the War Memorial, had come over Jeremiah. A strong feeling, or knowing, and he had not become aware of what he was going to say until he said it. Until the words actually left his mouth and he heard them, really for the first time, when everyone else did. It effectively ended the argument, as with Bess, once the words were spoken, they all knew them to be true.
It was still unsettling to most of them, Frank included. It was the biggest problem he had with the way things were. It felt to him as if they were merely being used, like pawns in a game of chess. Go here, go there, do this, stop that, know this, feel that, it drove him crazy, he admitted to himself. It was as if they had no actual control over their own future, but were instead entirely dependent on the feelings, or the knowing, they were given. He hoped that after this was finally over, the feelings, or whatever they were, would go away…