THE BIRTH OF MOUNTAINS

by

Michael Edwards

A pall as white as the snow outside covered Joey's face as he stood staring in disbelief at the most wondrous sight imaginable. For a single moment infinity seemed to have opened before him. Then he threw back his head and let out a piercing cry. It took all his strength to keep from cursing God.

He had felt himself being drawn to this place; and, though he somehow knew it was a place that would mock everything he cherished and obscure everything he believed, he let himself be drawn to it. He had gone ahead of the others as they sought a new place to live - something he had not done in the time since he led his people from Clingman's Dome. They had stayed together the whole time, testing one mountain pass after another. No one had gone off alone, Joey's first and foremost rule being that they must all decide where they would live; and since they must all decide, they should all come upon the place together.

"Our chances are better if we break into groups," Joey was told again and again. "While we're all clumped together, looking here, the very place we're seeking may be just beyond the next hill."

"God will guide us," Joey assured his people. "When He's ready to show us our new home, nothing will stand in His way."

They traveled in an arc, with Clingman's Dome at its apex and a twenty-seven mile zenith extending as far west as Thunderhead Mountain, then northeastward past Blanket Mountain, past the Elkmont Ranger Station, across the Little River, the Little Pidgeon River, old US Route 441, past Mount LeConte, and across Porter's Creek to Mount Kephart at its easternmost terminus.

"We must return to Indiana," Alice constantly advised. "This child's home is there: he cannot rebuild the world from anyplace else."

"No," Joey rejected the advice. "We're weary of traveling. It's time to settle in one place."

"But we haven't settled," Alice reminded him. "We travel every day: we should have something to show for it. Our travels should take us somewhere."

"I realize it seems we're only going in circles, and that if there were something here for us we'd have found it by now," Joey admitted. "But there's safety here, and the security of being on familiar ground once again. There are any number of spots here we could settle in if we needed to - and we will; we'll decide on one if we haven't come upon the right place soon."

Alice laid her hand on Joey's shoulder and looked deep into his eyes. "You still believe in your heart God will save him," she gently said.

Joey shook his head. "If I did, I wouldn't have left our camp," he answered. "God allowed him to go where his path took him - and no farther. He won't come after us. I know that. Nothing on earth could take him from that mountain. His eternity will be spent beneath that tree, with his brother by his side. I'm not keeping us here so I can be near him. If it were just me, I'd go as far from here as I could - back to Donner's Pass, no matter how long it took. But my first responsibility is to the rest of you; and, for now, we desperately need stability. We've been nomads long enough."

Dozens of times, each of the hills and peaks in this small swatch of the Great Smoky Mountains had been visited and studied, each time Joey and his people moving on to the next site.  A day never went by that someone didn't suggest going southeast, into North Carolina, where the mountains were more numerous; but Joey refused even to consider it.  The thought of being on the eastern side of Clingman's Dome, with its giant oak looking down on their camp, filled him with such dread that he ignored his own democratic imperative.  The wishes of the majority were nothing compared to the sacrilege of building a home in the shadow of what had happened beneath that tree.

One day in early November of the year 2072, as camp was being struck at the base of Mount Kephart, Joey looked off into the distance.  For nearly an hour, as everyone slowly gathered around him, he stared toward the northeast.

"What do you see, Joseph?" Carol Carter came beside him to ask.

"We've always stopped here," Joey replied; "and it was right to do so.  Now we must continue past this boundary."

"How far?" Carol asked.

"I don't know," said Joey.  "But I think not far.  Something is out there for us.  But I'm afraid of it.  It'll destroy as much as it saves.  Everything I am may end.  But it offers something we won't find anyplace else on earth.  So my own loss is of no consequence."

"It is to me," said Carol.  "I love you, Joseph.  I'm not sure I can put our well-being above yours.  Perhaps we shouldn't go beyond this point."

"It's not our choice," Joey told her.  "God wants us there, not here.  We must go."

The air, as always, was cold; nothing the sun did could warm it more than a few degrees during the day - which it lost when the sun began disappearing into the plain of white behind the mountains.  Slowly at first, then more rapidly as they kept pace with their new leader, the people moved northeastward along the Tennessee-North Carolina border, beyond the arc Joey had drawn in the snow.

They traveled all day, stopping only twice.  By evening, they had covered nearly ten miles.  Joey had moved ahead of the others almost from the start, as if he were no longer aware of their presence.  Finally, they caught up to him, just as the sun was beginning to set - not because he had slowed his pace, but because he had stopped altogether to stand in the shadow of a mountain nearly as high as Clingman's Dome.

At the border of Sevier County, where the Appalachian Trail jutted due north, stood Mount Guyot, at 6621 feet tall the second highest point in Tennessee.  Joey stood staring up at the mountain which, from a distance, had nearly blended into the landscape; but which, from less than a mile away, towered over everything.  When the others reached him, they found him shivering as if he had been standing there naked beneath the mountain.

"Are you alright?" he was asked again and again, but made no reply - as if he had not even heard the questions.

"Is it evil?" Joey's second in command, Mount Everest, came up to ask.

Joey shook his head.  "No," he whispered.  "It's beyond evil: not in what it is, but in what it let happen."

"What do you mean?" Mount Everest asked.

"I'm not even sure," Joey admitted.  "Only that it stood watching while something horrible took place back there, and did nothing to draw us to it till now."

"Are we to turn around, then, and go back?"

"No.  This will be our home," Joey told his lieutenant.  "I'm going up there - alone.  The rest of you set up camp here.  When I return, I'll show you the way."

Joey's resolve calmed his trembling body.  He took a deep breath and started up the mountain.  His path took him to its southwestern face, the gradual slope of the land itself bringing him a third of the way to its summit.  Though Mount Guyot was snow covered and lifeless, its trees withered and shrunken, something about it reminded Joey of the Sierras - of the eastern ridge of Monitor pass, where he had knelt before the tornado that, instead of taking him, wrapped itself around the mountain to take another in his place.

Joey felt as if he had been here before.  There was a cave on the same side of Monitor Pass that this side of Mount Guyot  resembled, about a quarter of the way from the top; he had come upon it after rounding a jagged promontory.  It was just to his left; he had meant to investigate it on his way back down, but never did.  Now here was the same configuration before him, only scaled back to the Appalachians.  Three quarters of the way up Mount Guyot a massive cut of rock jutted into his path, just like the promontory.  A hundred feet up, and to the left, was an opening in the mountain, enveloped in a kind of haze.  Joey made for it, half expecting a tornado to suddenly loom overhead.

When he reached it, he was amazed, yet not totally surprised, to find this haze surrounding it to be fog - an odd looking fog, denser and more compact than the cloud like drifts that used to rise out of the Mississippi when he was a boy.  More like steam than fog.  Joey walked through it, into the cave; it felt warm on his face.

The entrance, barely big enough to fit a man's body through, continued as a long, narrow corridor for another three hundred feet.  The light of his lantern cast his shadow everywhere, as if he led an army.  The walls of the cave were moist.  Joey felt a tightness in his chest which, at first, he took for dread; then realized it was simply that he had trouble breathing - which seemed odd to him because the air even in so confined a space as this was neither musty nor heavy.  Finally the mystery was solved when he became aware of another phenomenon - one he had not experienced in almost two years: he was sweating.  The air was hard to breathe for the simplest of reasons: it was hot.

Joey had not encountered heat since leaving the Sierras.  He removed his coat, scarf, hat and gloves; but he was still hot, and still sweated.  "I'm not used to heat," he reminded himself.  "Even warmth feels like scalding heat.  Take it slow," he cautioned himself.  "Otherwise you'll end up with pneumonia - and they'll lose their second leader in less than a year."

The corridor ended abruptly.  If not for his lantern, Joey would have fallen into the pit of a huge cavern - so large that his light barely penetrated its depth.  He stood on a ledge; as his eyes gradually adjusted to the darkness surrounding his lantern, he saw the ledge continue to his left and to his right.  For a moment he debated which way to go: unable to see any distance into the cavern, either way seemed correct.

He turned to the right and followed the ledge until it came to a dead end; then he retraced his steps back to the corridor and continued around to the left, coming to what seemed like another dead end.  In turning to once again retrace his steps, he caught sight of something just below the ledge.  It was a pathway leading from the ledge into the pit.  He followed it down almost a  hundred feet before reaching a plateau; as he descended, a noise he first heard while still in the corridor that became gradually louder as he rounded the ledge and began his descent finally assumed the character of a definite sound.

There was water.  Not just the kind of trickle indigenous to caves and other places of seepage from above; but the rush of a substantial flow of water, like a stream.  Joey made for the source of the sound, which seemed to be just beyond the back wall of the cavern.  His lantern pierced the darkness to reveal another narrow opening, which he cautiously negotiated.

When he stepped through, a blinding flash of light leaped out at him.  He jumped back, into the opening; the light disappeared.

"How can that be?" he wondered.  Again he stepped through, again the same blinding flash.  Then it dawned on him: his own lantern was the source of the flash.  Momentarily, his eyes adjusted to the sudden brilliance.  He walked ahead a few more feet.  The air in this room was almost stifling; he could barely breath.  He saw more steam; he walked toward it, and when he reached the source of the steam he reached as well the source of the sound of rushing water.

A few feet ahead was an underground stream, not just rushing but gurgling as well.  All around him was pure white; the walls and ceiling of this room had caught the light of his lantern and reflected it back at him with the brilliance of a giant chandelier.

Joey's face became almost as white as this rock nature had somehow quarried to create this chamber.  He stood, dumbfounded, till he felt his eyes lifting heavenward.  When he could look no higher, he opened his mouth as wide as he could and let the bleeding core of his soul escape as a cry of anguish that drowned out everything around him: the water, the air, the rock, the earth, the searing heat of the earth's core.  He made no other sound.  He simply stood there, unmoving as a statue, till the sheer weight of his body shifted his stance.  Then he fell to the ground and wept, begging himself to give in to his rage and curse God for letting this happen.  But he wouldn't, no matter how desperately he longed for it.

"To let them perish - to let him perish - and not lift a finger to stop it!" he muttered into the ground.  "Don't I have the right to curse you - don't I!!"  But he didn't.  He wept, unaided by vengeance against the God who had forced him to this moment.  Till the moment was finally over and he arose to go get his people and bring them to their new home.

Joey looked twenty years older as he broke camp and, under the light of a raging sunset, led his people from Clingman's Dome.  His eyes, in the space of an hour, took on the vacant, sunken stare of a drug addict; the exposed skin of his face drained to the sallow lifelessness of poured wax; tufts of hair protruding from under his cap hung like lusterless clumps of burnished straw.  His orders to his people were stilted and mechanical, as if he were following a poorly rehearsed script - but the people obeyed , they understood that he was their leader now, so they packed their belongings and left the half finished compound reconstructed from the burned out remains of their former home.

They wandered long into the night as the setting sun gave way to a myriad of flickering stars in a moonless sky, till Joey decided they were far enough away.  Then he ordered a halt just to the east of Blanket Mountain.  They had come more than seven miles.  They set up camp in the foothills of this mountain that was, itself, little more than a foothill; and huddled in a grove of what used to be trees.  Nothing was what it was supposed to be anymore.  Just as the eons had worn the Appalachians down to a heap of boulders, the endless cold had worn the trees down to stumps; only the stars were unchanged.

Several of the people, thinking that, now the leadership had changed, so too would the rules, tried building a campfire, as they had done outside Louisville.  The moment Joey saw it he came over and extinguished it by kicking snow onto the little pyre until the last spark had died.

"There will be no fires tonight," Joey told the ones who had worked so hard to get the fire started.  When everyone else had retreated to their tents and fallen asleep, Joey returned to the burned out fire.  He sat down and remained there till daybreak, staring off into the distance.

Each day seemed to age him far more than a simple day.  Carol became alarmed.  She knew not to say anything to him, but voiced her concern to Andrea, who was six months pregnant.

"He'll die if he keeps grieving," Carol expressed her worst fear.  "I don't know if I can survive his loss, too.  First my husband, then my sons.  Now Joseph.  I don't know what to say to him, Andrea.  I thought women were the ones who perished inside when they lost their loved ones."

"Maybe it's because we carry so much of our loved ones with us when they're alive that we never lose them entirely when they die," Andrea answered back.  "I miss the physical presence of my husband," she said.  "But that part of him that made him who he was: it's still with me, it hasn't left.  I think that's why, deep down, women are never as deeply religious as men: we don't really, truly, think in terms of an afterlife because we don't see death as absolute and final.  For us, no one ever completely dies, to where only in death can we ever hope to experience them again.  But men seem unable to absorb the essence of those they love; it's always just beyond their reach.  Men don't grieve, Carol: they annihilate themselves.  You can only grieve for what you still have.  When it's absolutely gone, all you can do is go after it and try to bring it back.  The search for God is really nothing more than the search for those who were lost."

"You'll make a good mother, Andrea: you'll be able to teach your child so much," Carol said.

"Or a bad mother," Andrea replied, "who has nothing but teaching to offer her child."

Joey devoted as much time and energy as he could to the child his leader had given him.  Paris was walking now; his exact age was unknown, as was his birthday, but he seemed to be around three years old.  He had small brown eyes and hair almost the exact color of Joey's: a deep chestnut with highlights of copper.  He rarely spoke but listened with great attention when anyone around him spoke, as if it were something beyond speech itself he was after.

Joey tried his best to understand the boy, but never quite succeeded.  Only Alice seemed to know him well; yet whenever Joey asked her advice or her opinion, all she would say was that when it was time for him to do what was needed, the boy would let him know.

"He's known since the day I baptized him what he was put here to do," Alice told Joey.  "Don't feel that because you can't fathom him you cannot raise him: you can, and will, raise him.  You will help him bring his soul to the surface, where it can act upon the world around him.  Not many men ever succeed in freeing their souls from themselves; he has that potential - and, because he does, he already knows everything he must do.  All he needs is someone to give him the tools with which to get started: you alone can do that."

"But I know nothing, Alice," Joey protested.  "I know nothing."

"Knowing nothing is as close as anyone can ever come to absolute wisdom," Alice replied.

"Everything you say is a riddle: why?" asked Joey.

"Because everything I see, I see from behind a veil," Alice answered.  "I speak the way I do to convey what I see the way I see it.  The ambiguity that infuses all my visions can't be expressed, only hinted at.  It's like looking through a telescope: I see something there, but it's too far away to assume a definite shape.  A riddle is like a sketch, or an outline: it's up to you to fill in the detail."

On one of their many loops through the arc they traveled, on a night when Joey allowed a bonfire, he spoke to Carol after the others had gone to their tents and the fire had nearly died.

"I know you're concerned about me," he said.  "I know I've changed since we left the mountain.  It isn't just that I lost my leader, in the sense that you lost your son: in that sense, your loss is far greater than mine.  But my life was all laid out before me: I would devote all my energies to serving him.  Now that's gone.  I have no path to follow.  Maybe, in time, Paris."

"Joseph: you have it in you to lead," said Carol.

"Not in my heart, I don't," Joey responded.  "I yearn, with every fiber of my being, to be someone's second in command, or someone's assistant, or even someone's servant."

"You can do more," Carol assured him.

"But I can only be happy doing less."

"Then maybe God doesn't mean for you to be happy," Carol said - and, as she spoke, tears began streaming down her face as the implication of her statement hit her: if Joey were not meant for happiness, then her love was useless to him."

"What is it?" Joey asked.

"Nothing," Carol replied.  "Just a thought.  We can't make a difference in someone's life just because we want to, can we?"

"You're thinking of your son?" Joey asked.

Carol shook her head.  "No," she said.  "I'm thinking of you."

The dying embers looked like some kind of ancient divination - the runes of a druid, or the bloody entrails of a calf, spread into a casual pattern that held the answers to all the questions being sought.  Carol knelt beside the campfire and ran her hand just above the embers, as if she were trying to draw forth their message.

"Are you cold?" Joey asked.

Carol looked up at him.  "Alice would look, as I'm looking, and something of the future would open before her, if only for a split-second," she mused.  "I see nothing."

"You want to see the future?" Joey asked.

"I just want there to be a future," Carol replied.  "I don't want to know what it is, only that it is.  I want to be reassured that you'll be there, even if it's not beside me.  I just wish that love meant as much to you as devotion."

"Aren't they the same?"

"No, they're not," said Carol.  "Devotion is absolute, it's complete in itself, it needs nothing outside itself.  The object of devotion need not even exist.  Love cannot exist in a vacuum, it has to have an object that's real and that's attainable, and capable of returning it in kind.  You've given devotion a higher place in your life than love."

"If I have, it's because love - as you define it - is selfish," said Joey.  "It seeks its object so it can possess it."

"Is that so wrong?" Carol asked.

"No, not always," Joey admitted.  "But devotion is higher.  It turns what might otherwise be wrong into something pure, and acceptable to God."

"Devotion born of love may not be as innocent as you think," Carol proposed.  Joey looked puzzled.  "Not if it turns its object into something other than itself," Carol explained.

"Things are always something other than themselves," Joey said.  And, as he said it, he seemed once again to have grown a little older.

Mount Everest formed a search party.  Joey had been gone two full days.  "I'll give him till morning," he told the others, "then we go after him."

"No," objected Carol.  "He isn't lost."

"How do you know?" asked Mount Everest.

As she spoke, Carol saw before her the embers she had sought so desperately to decipher.  Now their message seemed perfectly clear to her.  "I just know he isn't," she said.  "He wasn't summoned to find us a place to live, but to give him a reason to live.  He'll return when whatever it is he was called for has happened.  Give it time to work itself out."

Alice and Andrea stared in disbelief - not because of what Carol said but simply that she said anything at all, after telling them both, time and again, that everything in her life seemed a mystery to her, that she alone seemed to have been denied not only any kind of second sight or sixth sense, but even that most rudimentary characteristic people referred to a "woman's intuition."

"I knew my son the moment I saw him," she had told them.  "That was the only time in my life I was  ever absolutely certain of anything.  But even that wasn't really me; all I was doing was assimilating Joseph's certainty.  His belief became my recognition.  Had I seen my son through my eyes alone, I'm not sure I would have recognized him."

Mount Everest accepted Carol's insight and agreed to wait - but only two more days.  "My duty requires me to put the good of these people ahead of their leader's peace of mind," he told her.  "Right now their need for a leader is greater than his need to free himself from the past.  I'm sorry.  I can only give you two more days."

The morning of the third day a faint shadow could be seen moving against the snow crusted terraces of Mount Guyot.  The child Joey was to raise saw it first.  He ran ahead and leaped upon a big rock just beyond their camp, and stood pointing.  Alice came up behind him and, following the line of his tiny finger, saw the same shadow.

"Your father returns," she said to the boy, who nodded in agreement.

Slowly the shadow lengthened as Joey descended the mountain and the morning sun caught him at an ever widening angle.  The path down, gentle enough to let him walk rather than climb, so that his full shadow was cast behind him, was steep enough to slow his descent almost to a crawl.  Nearly three hours passed before he reached the mountain's base; from there, less than half an hour stood between him and his camp.

As he drew closer, the same morning sun that portrayed his image in darkness on Mount Guyot wrapped him in brilliant light before his people.  Everyone stared in awe as he entered their field of vision.

Upon his return from Mount Guyot, Joey looked twenty years younger than when he made his ascent.  And, along with the years, the sorrow and bitterness that had etched those years into his soul were gone.  More than simply younger looking, he was a different man from the one he had carried up the mountain as if on his back - different even from the man who had been chosen second in command three years ago.  The dynamic that had always characterized him - his absolute certainty who he was and what his capabilities were - had not changed; but the parameters setting that dynamic in motion had.

For several minutes no one spoke, as if waiting for him to speak first.  Then, all of a sudden, the child - who had never spoken before - came up to Joey and addressed him as "mine."  Joey reached out to take the hand the child extended.  Smiling down at him, Joey said to him "I'm now worthy to be your father.  We have a lot to learn."

Then he turned from his son to address his people.  "We will go now to our new home," he told them.  "There's much we need to do to prepare it.  We'll need to take as much of the cold with us as we can."

"You would have us carry snow into our new home?" Mount Everest asked.

"Snow levels as well as obstructs," Joey replied cryptically.

Alice came over to him.  "You're catching on," she said.           

The climb was easy.  Joey led his people three quarters of the way up Mount Guyot, along the trail he had already tested.  The snow, as it was everywhere else, was packed solid, and topped with a crust the texture of sandpaper.  Along the way Alice stopped and bent down, as if to look at flowers, except there were neither flowers nor the dead stalks of flowers, only snow and, to either side of the trail, the dried-up trunks, sagging branches and cracked bark that marked the end of a once flourishing forest.

"What are you looking for?" Mount Everest asked her.

Alice shook her head.  "Something that hasn't materialized yet," she replied.  "Something is happening beneath the snow, something that may not show itself for a long time, but when it does it'll be all at once and with a force that will turn this snow to dust."

"You think we're in danger here?" Mount Everest asked.

Alice arose and studied the horizon.  "No more so than anywhere else here," she answered.  "This place will lull us into thinking we've found paradise.  We won't want to leave, ever - not even when our very lives hang in the balance.  These mountains are tired of looking up at their siblings across the continent.  As someone wrote over a hundred years ago, 'Everything old is new again....'  We must work our way to Indiana, and the town the child has claimed."

When they reached the opening to the cavern, Joey explained how they must proceed once inside.  "You must follow single file behind me every step of the way.  There's a corridor just beyond this entrance: as you enter it, remove your outer garments: you won't need them again."  With this advice, Joey led the way into the cavern; one by one his people followed, until they were all inside the corridor.  At the end of the corridor Joey stopped.

"Follow me around to the left," he ordered.  "No one is to take so much as one step beyond the point where I turn."

Joey led his people to the path that descended from the ledge to the cavern floor; then down the path.  When they were all assembled at the bottom of the path, he had them put down the supplies they carried.  When everyone had stopped rustling about, the faint sound of the underground stream became audible.  People began looking around for its source.

"There's more to see beyond here," he said.  "But this is where we'll set ourselves up.  For now, we won't go beyond where I've already explored.  We have much to do to make even this warmth hospitable."

"What is this place?" Mount Everest asked.

"It's a hot spring," Joey replied.  "It must have always been here, just waiting.  No one would have ever thought to look for such a place in these mountains.  It must surely be the only one like it in the entire Appalachians."

Alice knelt down and felt the cavern floor, first with her hands then with her tongue, all the while sniffing the hot heavy air.  "There are more where this came from," she announced as she got up.

"What do you mean?" asked Carol.

"This was not put here by time," Alice said.  "It's part of something that's happening now.  It tried to happen back there, but couldn't - and burned the whole mountain trying."

"But what is this thing that's happening?"

"I don't know.  I know only that snow won't stop it."  Alice turned to Joey.  "We remain here at our own peril," she told him.

"I accept your judgment," Joey acknowledged.  "If necessary, we'll stand guard around the clock - not against intruders but against the cave itself.  We'll monitor it for signs of change.  But we will stay here, for as long as we can, and find a way to moderate the temperature.  We've been cold long enough.  If it's selfish of us to enjoy warmth while any others who survive endure the cold, may God forgive us.  We've been through too much to walk away from this place."

"How will we moderate the temperature?" Mount Everest asked.  "If we bring snow - even a mountain of snow - it'll all melt in time and flood the cave."

Joey motioned Mount Everest to follow him as he made for the opening at the rear of the cavern.  "Shield your eyes from the light when we enter this chamber," he told his second in command.

Mount Everest barely fit through the opening.  When he finally maneuvered his nearly seven foot tall frame to the other side, he shut his eyes as Joey instructed, keeping them shut until he felt them adjust to the brilliance that shone through his eyelids.  All at once the reflected glare of the walls hit him, momentarily obscuring everything else.  Then his eyes finally focused on the central feature of the cave - the underwater stream.

"We need only cool this stream to reduce the temperature of the entire cave," Joey explained.

Mount Everest nodded a hesitant agreement.  "Possibly," he said.  "We may still end up flooding the cave, though.  Everything depends on how the stream is fed.  We need to trace it to its source, if we can.  If it's fed from a great depth, nothing we do will cool it more than a little.  If the water is heated from directly below, we can cool it by adding snow - but there may not be anyplace for the excess water to drain.  Everything has to be in an almost perfect equilibrium for your plan to work."

"It will work," Joey assured his lieutenant.  "What we need to do is devise a system for moving great quantities of snow down here."

"Without having it melt along the way," Mount Everest added.

For the first time since leaving Kansas over a year ago, Joey unpacked his maps of the system of tunnels the T-Men had built - not to study them, or reflect on their meaning, but simply to turn them over and use the blank sides to work out the details of the project he had proposed.

While everyone else slowly settled in and began adapting to their new environment, Joey, Mount Everest and Alice devoted their every waking hour to the engineering, design and logistics of cooling their new home.  They spent most of their time either beside the stream or at the entrance to the cavern.  The only mapping Joey did was to situate the cavern's placement within the mountain, to determine if any part of it reached the mountain's face and if the face could be breached to create a new opening; for this he had to constantly move back and forth from inside to outside the cavern.  The only time taken from the project was the few stolen moments every few hours marveling at the brilliant white walls surrounding the stream.

"I've studied geology," Mount Everest told his fellow workers: "to blow up bridges and buildings you have to know something about the materials they're made from.  I've never encountered a substance like this.  To be this luminescent something has to be polished, or have a high concentration of gemstones - except that only human engineering polishes stone, and no rock contains exposed gemstones.  It's something no one's ever discovered or catalogued before - it must be unique to this one place."

"Or else a new substance," Alice speculated.

"No," Mount Everest countered.  "The forces that metamorphosize rocks are very basic, very well documented.  They cannot produce something like this."

"If you assume this came from another piece of stone," Alice pointed out.

Again, Mount Everest disagreed.  "We know all the elements nature uses to build with," he said.

"The changes we've seen above ground," said Alice, "may only reflect the changes inside the earth.  What was, had to be swept aside to make way for what is coming.  New elements to create a new world."

"A fanciful idea," Mount Everest considered Alice's conclusion.  "But after all we've seen, maybe I shouldn't dismiss it."

No ideal design offered itself, given the limited technology available.  What Mount Everest proposed, and Joey accepted, was an aqueduct adapted to the materials and tools available.  Joey at first rejected the concept as inadequate to their situation; but finally settled upon it when everything else proved even less amenable to their central concern: keeping the snow cold enough in transit to actually lower the temperature of the stream.

Once again a team was sent out to gather timber - to find and bring back to the cavern, not just any timber, but the trunks of young trees, sturdy enough to have withstood the cold but supple enough to be easily hollowed out into a conduit through which the slowly melting snow could flow.

The provisions they had gathered were running low, so that soon it would have been necessary to go in search of food.  Joey desperately wanted to cool the cavern before sending any of his people on an extended mission: despite their years in the cold, they had grown accustomed to the almost searing heat of the cavern in the six weeks they had been here; to return to the cold for any length of time now would be to invite sickness.  Even going out long enough to gather timber put everyone at risk; but it was a risk they had to take.  The heat would soon begin to sap everyone's energy, and would eventually drive them back out into the cold.

Most of the trees of Mount Guyot were unsuitable for Joey's project.  Enough were found, however, to keep from having to search beyond the mountain.  Two dozen young trees were cut down and dragged to the entrance of the cavern where, slowly and painstakingly, they were hollowed out; then, one by one, brought through the corridor and lowered to the cavern floor, except for twelve, four of which were reserved for the vertical climb from the ledge down to the floor, the other eight left to run from the entrance to the ledge.

The hollowed out trunks were attached to one another with a makeshift rope of bark interwoven with twigs.  A kind of paste composed of mud and sawdust was used to seal the joints between the trunks.

On Thursday, December 15th of the year 2072, at eight A.M., the first load of snow was piled into the outermost end of the conduit.  It took nearly half an hour for it to melt enough to begin its downward flow toward the stream.  All the while, more snow was being driven into the opening, so that a constant flow could be maintained.  As this was being done, Joey and Mount Everest stood in wait at the other end, beside the stream, to test the temperature of the water.

Mount Everest had already studied the stream and tentatively concluded that its waters did not flow up from deep within the earth; that its source of heat seemed to be a chamber of magma close to the surface; and that it drained through a narrow opening at its westernmost point.  Everything seemed to be in the exact equilibrium needed to make the project work - just as Mount Everest had said it would be.

Both Mount Everest and Joey felt of the water as it ran from the conduit into the stream.  It felt cold - not icy, as they would have liked, but cold enough to begin the process of cooling the stream.

For six hours straight the snow ran from the entrance to the stream, the flow stopping only long enough to allow the level to adjust before being resumed again.  Then for another three hours more, snow was packed into the conduit to work its way down to the stream.  Then another halt.  Then a final three hours worth of snow.  It was almost ten o'clock at night when Joey, at Mount Everest's suggestion, called a halt to the operation.

The opening to the chamber had been widened to allow for the conduit, as well as to make it easier to pass through.  Joey and Mount Everest led everyone to the stream.  The entire cavern, this small chamber in particular, was noticeably cooler; the air was easier to breath, drier, more like the normal air inside a cave.

Mount Everest addressed the gathering.  "We will do no more tonight," he told the people.  "We know we can cool the stream.  What we must now learn is how long it takes to heat back up.  If, by morning, it's still like this, then there's a chance we can permanently regulate the temperature by using the snow outside.  But if it heats up again in a few hours or less, we have to find another way - or else spend every hour of the day filling the conduit with snow.  We need to decide how many hours and how much manpower we can afford to devote to this one task.  Our supplies are running low: replenishing them has to be our primary objective.  There can be no contest between survival and comfort.  If we have to leave this place, we will."

Everyone balked at the idea of going back out into the cold to live; but, at the same time, everyone acknowledged that if it were necessary, they would.  Joey tried to reassure them that everything would work out for the best - that God would not have led them here only to turn them away.

Later, before going to bed, Alice spoke to Joey in private.  "This God of yours," she said, "starts to wear thin.  Your faith does much to inspire your people.  But, as time goes on, if you have nothing but that faith to offer them, they will cease to listen to you.  Even if everything - down to the fall of the tiniest sparrow - can be ascribed to God, it should also be rendered in worldly terms.  The time has come for you to stop assuring your people that God is attending to their needs and start letting them know that you are doing what needs to be done."

Joey slowly shook his head as he considered her proposition.  "I can't," he answered.  "I have no vision other than seeing all our lives completely in God's hands."

"Always remember," Alice told him before returning to her corner of the cave, "you were put in this position by a man - not by a god."

The night grew hotter with each passing hour; until, by morning, the temperature inside the cavern had risen to what it was before the twelve hours' work to lower it.  Where normally the heat did not awaken everyone from their sleep as they gradually grew used to it, this time it did; this time it was unexpected.  This time it reached inside them to disrupt their acclimation.

Joey was first to awaken - even before the heat became oppressive.  When the others awoke, and assembled, they found him beside the stream, enveloped in a shimmering mist.  He turned to them.

"I'm sorry I've given you false hope," he said.  "I led you here thinking we could end our days and weeks and months in the cold - only to lead you back out again.  I was wrong to ascribe a chance discovery to the intervention of God.  I must ask you to bear with me as I learn how to lead - how to tell what's truly in your best interest from what I merely hope is.  We won't go right away; we'll give ourselves one more week to work out a plan for cooling this chamber.  If we haven't found one, we will assemble in the outer chamber next Friday, pack up our things, and leave."

Everyone reluctantly agreed that this was the only course open to them.  They all turned to re-enter the main part of the cavern, where all their things were kept, when, suddenly, a strange noise issued from somewhere within.  They rushed through the opening to see what it was, their first thought that someone had found their cave and was stalking them.  Seeing no one coming around the ledge above them, or down the terraced pathway, they decided it was nature again - the earth, having found them still living after all this time, was here for them.  They half expected the walls of the cavern to come tumbling down and bury them.  People shielded one another.

In a flash, Alice realized the boy she had called a magic child was missing.  Paris, the son given to Joey to raise, barely old enough to walk, had wandered off.  Again came the sound that had driven everyone from the chamber where the stream gurgled a fine spray from the remnants of Mount Guyot's snow.  Alice alone looked up.  The cavern itself had created the sound from something that would have otherwise been barely audible.  Her sharp eye caught what it was.

"Behold," she pointed to a place suspended in mid-air, where the conduit of tree trunks extended beyond the ledge above to the cavern floor.  "A child shall open a path."

Standing precariously on the conduit at the point of its greatest distance from the floor - a thirty foot drop - was the boy who had disappeared.  He stood a moment, looking down at the curved wooden aqueduct, as if estimating its strength.  Then, as he had done a moment earlier, he began jumping up and down as if on a trampoline.

Everyone but Alice gasped when they saw his tiny frame leave its perch for a second to stand suspended more than two feet above it.  Joey began working his way toward the front of the cave, to where the boy was standing - to be there when he fell.  Alice went after him.

"It's you who'll need saving," she said as she took hold of Joey's arm to stop him, "not the boy."

"My God, Alice!" cried Joey.  "What can you be thinking of?"  He pulled loose and began running toward the overhanging ledge.

As he reached it, Alice again reached him, and pulled him aside just as the conduit broke where two trunks were joined together and came crashing down, barely missing his head.  So quickly that no one had seen it, the boy ceased his jumping and leaped back onto the trunk left balanced on the ledge.

The momentum of the crash began a movement of the broken conduit that increased in intensity as the reverberating energy raced forward toward the stream.  The end of the conduit, laid into the stream to let its cargo of snow merge with the bubbling water, rammed into the far bank with such a jolt that the final piece of trunk broke loose from where it joined the others and was up-ended.  For an instant it stood there, like a dragon rising from the mist; then it fell backward with a deafening roar, cracking a hole into the glittering white stone of the chamber wall.

From this hole came another sound, for a split-second like raindrops beating on a roof; then deeper, more muffled, like rainwater flowing through a rainspout.  Then a third sound, that of water onto water.

Everyone watched as the boy made his way around the ledge.  Joey ran to meet him along the terrace, grabbing him up and holding him close.

"You'll be okay," the boy said.  Joey was unable to respond.  All he could do was cling to the boy.

When Paris was safely reunited with his father, everyone hurried back to the stream to see what had happened.

The conduit they had built and filled with snow and watched tear apart once again carried water to the stream.  Water from somewhere behind the wall of the chamber, separated by the stream from the bank where everyone gathered.

"He knew it was there," said Alice.  "He would point across the stream to the wall; but I couldn't understand his knowledge.  He knew - and he found a way to get to it."

As the people stared in wonder at the boy's handiwork, the thought uppermost in all their minds was whether the water was cold enough to dilute the stream, and bountiful enough to continue diluting it.  No one could get to the water to feel it without wading through the gurgling stream; they could only wait, and watch.

They stood for an hour beside the stream as the water from behind the wall continued flowing.  Finally Joey suggested they return to the main chamber and continue their regular morning activities.

"A watched pot never stops boiling," quipped Mount Everest, who led the way.  It was he, also, who was first back into the chamber that afternoon - not to assess the stream but to try and understand the structure of the walls.  Carol accompanied him.

"Alice may be right," he said as he studied the parts of the wall he could get to.  "This truly may be an entirely new substance.  But if it is, and the earth is already starting to build with it, what does that say about the structures around us?  Is everything changing?  Being redesigned from the inside out?"

"You think these mountains are being re-built?" asked Carol.

"It may be," Mount Everest answered.  "Nature may have created a better building material.  Behind the wall its cold, yet on this side it's hot.  A material impervious to both heat and cold, capable of maintaining a perfect equilibrium.  Pliable enough to crack under the impact of a rampart, but durable enough to maintain its structural integrity.  If a body of cold water lies behind it, the cracks it endured should already have begun to widen, setting more cracks in motion."

"You think the wall could give way?"

"Any normal wall would.  We can only wait and see.  Until I'm able to get to that part of the wall and examine it close up, I'm going to ask Joey to move our camp farther to the front of the cave," Mount Everest told Carol.

Joey readily agreed: he had already decided to do just that, in case the wall gave way and flooded the cave, even though one of the main reasons for having the camp so deep inside the cave was the security that being removed from the entrance afforded.  Only a minimal guard was required each night; now there would have to be greater vigilance.

"The old ways are starting to creep back in," Joey told his lieutenant.

"In more than six months we haven't seen another soul in this region," Mount Everest reminded Joey.  "The old ways were for a different time."

"Perhaps," Joey agreed.  "But I have no choice.  Our security takes precedence over every other consideration.  I didn't always understand that; now I do.  Human survival still builds its safest haven out of fear and mistrust.  If it were just me, I'd fall asleep with the enemy all around: whatever God willed would be.  But with others' lives at stake, I can't place all my trust in God.  Leadership corrupts those who assume it.  I knew it would slowly turn me from what I believe - that's why I resisted it.  But I have no choice."

When their camp was re-located, and the process of monitoring the temperature began again, Joey and his lieutenant began mapping their strategy for replenishing supplies.  Except for occasional forays into the remnants of small towns and hamlets dotting the arc along which Joey had led his people back and forth for four months, everyone still subsisted on the supplies gathered along the way to Clingman's Dome; now those supplies were exhausted, and more than the meager store the Smoky's offered had to be obtained.

"How far do we dare go?" Joey asked rhetorically as he studied his maps of the region.

"It's forty miles to Knoxville," Mount Everest mused.  "There's an old Indian Reservation fifteen miles into North Carolina," He then observed.

"No," Joey dismissed both locations outright.  "Knoxville is too big.  And after everything we've taken from the Indians, we have no right to go to them - if there are any more - when we've run out of food.  If I had something of value to offer them, I might consider it."

"Is it that, Joey?" Mount Everest asked.  "Or is it that you still refuse to position us downwind of Clingman's Dome?"

Joey considered the question a moment.  "It's both," he admitted.

As Joey and his lieutenant worked, and talked, in a little alcove sandwiched between the terrace descending from the ledge and the wall concealing the stream, Carol and Andrea approached from across the way.  There were two questions Carol swore she would never ask; but when she overheard Joey's response to Mount Everest's question - even though it was an admission he had freely made before - one of the two came forth, as if of its own volition.

"Do you believe my son shot himself after we left?" she asked, startled by the sound of her own words.

Joey turned to her.  There was no trace of anguish on his face or in his voice.  "No," he replied.  Then he came over to her, as if to reassure her.  "I don't have Alice's sixth sense about things," he explained, "but I know - even when my heart was torn apart I knew - that he didn't take his own life.  He couldn't have.  But I also know that he never left that mountain, or that tree.  He would have died of exposure, or starved, watching over his brother's body.  It was his final - and his most solemn - duty.  To have taken his life would have been to abandon that duty - and all of us know that nothing on earth could have induced him to do that.  His duty was absolute."

A moment passed, as if they were silently honoring the dead.  Then Andrea spoke.  "Have you decided where to look for supplies?" she asked.

"Not yet," Joey answered.  "I know we need medical supplies as well as food - especially with the birth of your child not far off.  If I have to, I'll go to Knoxville," he resolved.

"Women have given birth for thousands of years without medicine," Andrea pointed out.  "Mother and child either live or die.  There's no reason it should be different for me.  Don't jeopardize everyone else for my sake.  The end of the world was neither the time nor the place to conceive a child.  If my husband were alive, he'd go to the ends of the earth to get help - not realizing that it isn't possible to save everyone's life, or right every wrong, or always make the world a better place.  It only looks to us as if we've accomplished these tasks, when in truth it was done for us by the world - if it happened at all."

Despite Andrea's protest and his own resolve, Joey did venture to Knoxville to get medical supplies.  He, Mount Everest, and two others set out early the morning of December 23rd, leaving Alice in charge.

"If all goes well," Joey told her, "we'll return in five days, at the outside.  And if we don't," he echoed the caveat that had been the one absolute of every mission ever undertaken by his people as far back as anyone could remember, "you will presume us dead and elect a new leader.  No one is to risk their lives coming after us."

They made their way down the mountain and around its western face, heading northwest back into the arc that had once been their boundary, crossing that arc diagonally to exit both it and the Great Smoky Mountains at Gatlinburg.  From there, they assumed a north-northwest trajectory halfway between and roughly parallel to Tennessee State Road 73 and US Route 441, through Sevier and the northeast tip of Blount into Knox County, eventually merging their route into US 441 where a series of ice draped road signs noted the proximity of Knoxville.

They had been on the road a day and a half when they came to the city line, and a confluence of named highways - Chapman, Magazine, Redbud, Martin Mill, Moody - which told them to head due west, to the University of Tennessee Hospital between Edington Road, Alcoa Highway and the frozen Tennessee River.  Something seemed odd about the landscape; few buildings were still standing, and the ones that were did not look quite right.  It was not until they reached University Hospital, with the University of Tennessee complex across the river, that it hit them what was wrong.  Starting with the very first road sign they encountered, on through the entire southeastern section of Knoxville, everything they saw was scorched beneath the crust of ice covering it.

The hospital had burned almost to the ground; there was nothing to be salvaged here: no medicine, no food, no linens or equipment.  They followed the path of Alcoa Highway to its snow covered bridge across the Tennessee River.  The bridge, too, was scorched but looked essentially intact.  Remembering their experience at Louisville, they hesitated to cross the bridge.

"The same mentality that booby trapped that bridge might have been at work here," Mount Everest cautioned.  "Is it worth the risk?"

Joey stared across to the University of Tennessee campus; there were buildings still standing; though, in the distance, behind the campus, where there should have been the suggestion of a skyline, there was almost nothing.

"I'll go first," he said.  "I don't think what happened here was man-made, or that anyone ever had time to plant a bomb."

Joey started across, but stopped dead in his tracks as he neared the halfway mark.

"What is it?" Mount Everest called to him.

"There's something buried in the snow," Joey called back.  He knelt down and began digging his way toward the pavement.  His hand touched something curved and solid but with holes in it.  All he could think of was a bowling ball - or a bomb of some sort that had decayed.  Slowly, as carefully as he could, he took hold of it and lifted it from the snow.  He stood up, holding it, almost afraid to look at it.

In the time it took him to rise, even before glancing at the object or shaking it free of snow, he realized what it was - and heaved it, as hard as he could, over the railing onto the frozen river.

Mount Everest and the other two men half expected to see an explosion where the object landed; but there was none.  Joey motioned for them to join him.  When they reached him, he told them it was safe: there would be no bombs.

"What was that?" Mount Everest asked as he looked over the railing.

"A human skull," Joey answered.  "It was wrong of me to throw it - it was wrong to disturb it at all."                                                    

Mount Everest finally fixed on the object, which, at first, he took for a boulder sticking out of the ice, till he suddenly realized why it looked so unlike a skull.  It was blackened - charred, like everything else they had seen here so far.  He began rummaging through the snow where Joey had found it.  A few seconds later he pulled another human remain from the snow, charred like the first; then another, and another - enough to establish that the skull had not been placed here, but had been part of a body consumed by fire.

As they continued across the bridge, they encountered still more human remains buried in the snow, all of them charred.  When they were on the other side, Mount Everest turned back abruptly to look at the bridge.

"There are no cars," he said.  "Only bodies.  Where are the cars?"

"Maybe everyone was fleeing the fire and only the people on foot got trapped," Joey speculated - a speculation almost immediately disproved by mound after mound of charred automobiles strewn around the campus and along Kingston Pike, which ran behind it.

"A marathon," one of the other two men suggested.  "They'd have closed the bridge to traffic for the runners."

"That could explain no cars on the bridge," Mount Everest agreed.  "But not the fire.  Even a brushfire doesn't spread so rapidly that no one sees it in time to escape.  This is not that high of a bridge: all the runners had to do was leap into the water."

"You think some kind of volcanic eruption, like Yellowstone?" Joey asked.

Mount Everest shook his head.  "No," he replied.  "Those bodies would be covered with sediment if they'd been killed by lava, or hot ash, and the bones wouldn't be charred like that.  No, this was no volcano.  This was a fire, that happened so fast everyone was killed where they stood."

"Nuclear holocaust?" one of the men asked.

"No," said Mount Everest.  "They wouldn't be charred, they'd be dust."

"Do you think what happened here was like whatever burned the compound at Clingman's Dome?" Joey asked.

"Very likely," Mount Everest agreed.

They wandered though the campus, finding more cars and bones, but no evidence of anything salvageable.  Cautiously, they tried a couple buildings, but found only the gutted aftermath of the same conflagration.  They decided to make a quick sweep of downtown Knoxville before leaving.  Not really sure which way was downtown, however, and with no skyline to guide them, they simply chose a path and followed it, heading in a west-northwest direction across Interstate 40 buried deep in the snow; through Knoxville's railroad yard, where burned out freight cars stood like a convoy of skeletons; past burned out shops and businesses and charred houses fallen into ruin; until, a couple miles later, coming to a sign indicating the intersection of Western Avenue and Sanderson Road.

Joey stared at the road sign and its charred lettering that looked as if it had been emblazoned onto the sign.  "We won't go any farther," he said.  "I'd like us to follow where this road takes us, then we'll return to the cave."

"Which direction: left or right?" asked Mount Everest.

"Left should bring us closer to where we started," Joey replied.

An occasional gutted shop still standing on either side of Sanderson Road was all that marked the street's boundaries.  After following these ghoulish markers several city blocks, they came to a crook in the road, which veered left; at its apex stood a one story stone building buried almost to its roof in drifted snow.  When he first saw it, Joey shivered, it seemed so out of place.  Then he realized why: its roof, and eaves, and whatever else was visible above the snow line gave the appearance of a normal building, in any normal town or city.  He ran to it.

Mount Everest and the others followed his lead as he reached it and began digging away at the snow surrounding it, until, half an hour later, enough of the windows had been exposed to allow them entry.  Joey took his flashlight and smashed four small panes, then climbed through the window.

Though it was daylight, the snow kept the interior in almost total darkness, save only for the windows exposed to the mid-day sun.  Joey moved carefully through the building, coming to what seemed to be a lobby.  He shined his light on the walls until fixing on a plaque that read "Kingston Medical Supply."  Joey smiled as he read the sign: it seemed so natural to him that this was what they had come to Knoxville for and this was what his mentor's name had led them to.  He retraced his steps and motioned for the others to join him inside the building.  In less than an hour they had found all the medical supplies they needed, plus canned goods stored in a dietary lock-up.

When they had gotten all they could carry, they left the building and started back to Mount Guyot.  Along the way, Joey asked Mount Everest to speculate on the building's integrity.

"It didn't appear to be any more fire resistant than any other building we saw," Joey noted.  "Yet it alone was spared.  Why?"

"I doubt if it was the only building spared," Mount Everest answered.  "Had we covered the entire city, we would have undoubtedly seen more.  Whatever caused the devastation - whether it was from above, or below - probably struck at random."

"But there was no evidence of anyone still alive," Joey pointed out.

"They would have left - anyone would have, for fear that whatever happened might happen again," Mount Everest concluded.

When they arrived back at the cavern a day and a half later, Andrea had already gone into labor.  Alice and Carol took her down by the stream and set up a tent to insulate her from everyone else; the young boy named Paris trailed behind them, anxious to see the "babies," as he referred to the child Andrea was carrying.  Paris seemed to understand what the concept of birth meant.  For days before Andrea's labor began, the boy talked of nothing else.

"Babies love," he told everyone, following up a while later with "babies hate."  No one had the slightest idea where he had gotten either concept - especially the latter of the two.

"Babies love," Paris said to Carol and Alice as they worked on the tent.

"That's right," said Carol, "babies love."

Then he offered his other view.  "Babies hate," he said.

"Oh no," Carol quickly replied, "babies don't hate - they don't even know how.  They only love."

Paris went over to Alice, tugged on her skirt and, when he had gotten her full attention, looked up into her face and repeated "Babies hate."

A light gleamed in Alice's eyes.  "Of course," she mused, as if what the boy said had opened an entire world of possibilities before her.  She turned to Carol.

"This will be a difficult birth," she said.  "A struggle for power right from the start.  Andrea will need all our help to bring her babies into the world."

The labor was long and painful.  Joey's party arrived in the middle of it.  Alice at once examined the supplies they brought, going through each separate item till she found all she needed.

At first Andrea refused to take anything for the pain.  "My husband gave his life for me - for all of us," she said.  "The least I can do is bear his child in pain."

"You will be bearing more than his child," Alice retorted.  "He gave you more than he meant to.  You've already suffered for his child - you need not suffer for the rest."

Carol looked at Alice as if this strange woman had gone completely mad.  Before she could say anything, Alice looked back at her.

"Remember: I'm a trained nurse," Alice said.  "My way with words does not interfere with my medical knowledge.  Trust me to deliver Andrea's babies as skillfully as any physician."

An almost unbearable stab of pain convinced Andrea to trust Alice's judgment completely.  She willingly took the medicine Alice had prepared and slowly injected into the base of her spine.  In a matter of minutes she felt much less pain; and what she did feel seemed to her to be happening to someone else, somewhere far away, and only to her empathically.

Several hours more passed before the final phases of the birth process transpired.  Andrea was in and out of consciousness, but the drug Alice had given her was beginning to wear off, and Alice did not wish to inject more into her spine.

"Despite all our efforts to help her," Alice told Carol, "in the end she must do it alone.  All we can do is stand and watch."

Fifteen minutes later Andrea cried out as if she were attacking a beast, and a head full of coal black hair came forth.  Alice reached and began gently maneuvering the rest of the body from the womb.  When the child was free, she performed what was needed to start him breathing on his own and placed drops in his eyes.  She hastily cut the umbilical and handed the newborn to Carol.

"Tend to him," she said.  "I will await the other."

Andrea had fainted after her son's birth.  A few moments later she awoke with a piercing cry, gasping for air as if drowning.  As she struggled, a second head appeared, this one with hair so blonde it almost looked white.  Again, Alice gently worked the body free of the womb.  Again she cut the umbilical cord.  Again she started the child breathing and tended to his eyes.  She gently laid the child on his mother's breast and cleaned up the afterbirth; then took the child in her arms and gave him to Mount Everest, who was just outside the tent with Joey and Paris.

"Babies love," Paris refrained his earlier observation.  "Babies hate," he added after a pause.

"Which is which?" Alice mused almost inaudibly.

When the newborns had been washed and wrapped in blankets, and Alice recorded the date and times of their births - seven and seven ten P.M., respectively, on Thursday, December 29, 2072 - she brought them to Andrea, who was beginning to recover from her ordeal.  Though the second born had been brought to her immediately after his birth, she had no recollection of him, or of the earlier birth.  She looked at the two babies as if somehow one were a reflection of the other.  In reaching, however, her hands brushed against the one she took for a reflection; she drew her hands back and looked to Alice for an explanation.

"You bore twins," Alice said to her.

Andrea studied the two babies.  "Which came first?" she asked.

"This one," Alice indicated the one with black hair.

"Are both boys?"

Alice nodded that they were.  Andrea again studied the babies.

"The first born will be called Brad, after his father," she told Alice.

"And this one?" Alice asked.

Andrea could not help thinking of her husband's killer as she stared at the soft blonde hair of the second-born.  "Is it wrong to name him?" she mused.  "I don't hate Kirk for what he did," she said.  "I'm not sure what to do."

"Then speak to Joey," Alice advised.  "No one knew Kirk better than he did."

Andrea finally took the babies and let them lie on her breast.  "Can you ask Joey to come in?"

Alice nodded and went to get him.  When Joey entered the tent and came close enough to get a good look at the babies, he turned pale and stood, speechless, before them for several moments until, finally, Andrea spoke.

"This one I've named Brad," she said as she pointed out the first-born.  "I need to know if I do my husband an injustice to name his other son Kirk," she said of the second-born.

"Not your husband," Joey replied in a broken voice.  "But Kirk wanted his name forgotten.  His killing Brad made him anonymous.  It may be wrong - and completely selfish - of me to ask you to honor your husband's killer by honoring his wish and not naming your child after him, but I have to.  Please don't.  Let his name die.  Let no one speak it ever again."

Andrea smiled, remembering her talks with Carol about how differently men and women love.  Only a man would love so much as to bury all trace of the one he loved.  She nodded her acceptance of Joey's request.

"Now I'm without a name," she said.  "I would call him Jerome except I want that for his brother's middle name.  I can't name him Reggie: not after all my brother did; or Goreham: my father name also has too much villainy attached to it.  I won't name him after your friend, the weatherman, either: perhaps some day you'll want that name yourself.  Not that a child has to bear the name of someone you know.  I believe he was conceived - both were conceived - at Cade's Cove, the night before we reached Clingman's Dome.  How does the name Cade sound?  Is it right for this child?"

Joey looked at the child again, and smiled down at him.  "It is right," he said.

"Then Cade shall be his name," Andrea decided.  "Cade...and Brad.  Two versions of the same story."

The cavern inside Mount Guyot became not only hospitable in the wake of Paris' re-engineering, but as close to an ideal human environment as possible without sunlight or rainfall to temper the seasons and nourish the soil.  The constant flow of cold water from behind the wall kept the stream cool enough to permit bathing yet warm enough to radiate heat throughout the cavern.  The people went about their daily lives in shirtsleeves; all the heavy winter gear was stored in one place and used only when it became necessary to replenish their supplies.  Plans were even drawn up for growing food inside the cave.

First, everything they could not do was ruled out.  The cave was still too warm for growing mushrooms, and any artificial lighting adequate to creating a hot house required generators and gasoline, neither of which could be found.  The cave itself was too deep inside the mountain to simply pierce a hole overhead for sunlight the way a hole in the wall had been pierced to obtain water.  Nothing anyone could come up with seemed feasible; the project was about to be abandoned when something the child Paris did opened up another possibility.

Joey, leading a scavenging party to the town of Newport, some twenty miles northeast of Mt. Guyot - a town abandoned but not completely ravaged by fire like so many others in southeastern Tennessee - had been drawn to a schoolyard, one of the few places not completely covered in snow.  Something about it made him think of his childhood.  He went inside the school, wandering through the deserted halls and into several classrooms, where the small desks were still lined up in neat rows.  Rummaging around, he came upon some crayons, paper and children's readers; he filled a small sack and left.  When the party returned to the cave, Joey displayed the school supplies to his son, explaining to him what each was and what it did.                

Paris quickly grasped the concepts circumscribing each item's use and interaction with the others.  He taught himself to draw - not merely scribble or set lines to paper at random but actually form recognizable objects.  Some of these objects were from the world around him, some represented what he saw in the books Joey read to him.  He seemed proudest of a tomato on the vine he drew one afternoon; he took it around and showed everyone - even Andrea's newborn twins.

"See," he said first to Cade then to Brad - he always put them in that order, the reverse of their birth order, when he spoke to them.  "Food."

One morning, when the sun had risen high enough to warm the air, he took his drawing outside and set it in the snow.  Throughout the course of the day, as either Joey or Alice watched, he returned to move the drawing so that it would always be directly in the sun's path.  Then, toward evening, when the sun began slipping over the mountain toward the western horizon, he carried his drawing back inside.

The next day he did the same thing, and the day after that.  Each time he relocated the drawing, he would point to the sun, then to the tomato on the vine, and say "Food."

Alice had asked Mount Everest to join her on the third day as she watched Paris.  "He's telling us something," she said, "but I'm too dull-witted to get it.  Perhaps you can understand him."

All day long the two of them watched the child's comings and goings, and his ritual of moving his drawing whenever the sun moved.  Mount Everest was about to conclude himself also too dull-witted to comprehend the boy's message when evening drew near and the drawing was brought inside.  Then it hit him.

"Food," he said to Paris, who nodded and continued on.  Mount Everest turned to Alice and repeated Paris' word.  "Food," he told her.  "It may work, just the way he's telling us: plant the seeds, take the planters out into the sun, keep moving them so they remain in the sun's direct rays, then return them to the cave when it starts growing dark.  It may work."

"Of course it will work," Alice said.  "Otherwise he wouldn't have shown us - even if I couldn't see it."

"How did you miss it?" Mount Everest asked.

"I can't see the visions of others - only my own," Alice replied.

When they told Joey of the plan, he questioned whether the plants would freeze outside the cave.

"Not in direct sunlight," Mount Everest answered.  "And not if we protect them from wind.  It just may work.  Of course, there's still a very big obstacle ahead - an obstacle that still may wreck the plan entirely."

"What's that?" Joey asked.

"The plants - or seeds - or something we can begin growing: where do we get them?" Mount Everest asked.  "There can't be plants living anywhere - least of all edible plants.  Not in this cold."

"There have to be garden stores in this area," Joey suggested; "in some of the towns.  They'd still have packets of seeds.  And maybe soil - although we could use the soil inside the cave if we had to."

"No," said Alice as she bent down to dig a clump of soil out of the cavern floor.  "This soil will scorch the plants it nourishes," she told Joey.  "Not from its temperature, but from its composition.  Its nutrients have been seared by the same forces that heated the stream and built the walls around it.  You must look elsewhere.  And - this time - I must accompany you."

Joey shook his head.  "I need you here more," he told her.

"No," she replied, "you need me there more than here."

"Why?" Joey asked.  "Do you see danger?"

"Not there, not yet.  But I must go with you - to map our escape route."

"You still don't think it's safe here, do you?" Mount Everest asked.

Alice nodded.  "No," she said.  "The earth has not finished what it began."

Mount Everest was left in charge - reluctantly, now that Joey had come to depend so much on his judgment, but with the clear understanding that no one else had the experience or the skill to lead his people in case of danger.  Besides Alice, Joey included five others in the search party - a greater number than usual, but justified, in his eyes, by the sheer bulk of the goods they sought.

Joey had carefully mapped out the route.  They would head through the center of Cocke County to the town of Newport, some twenty miles to the northeast.  If they found nothing there, they would proceed to Bridgeport, eight miles to the east.  If they still had nothing to show for their effort, they would begin an arc through Cocke County and the southwestern tip of Jefferson County, going first due north to Parrottsville then back on a westward sweep through the towns of Fowler Grove, Bybee, Chestnut Hill and Sardis before returning to Mount Guyot.  There were other towns in the vicinity - Hartford, Denton, Catons Grove, Grassy Fork, Cosby, Nough, Midway, Del Rio and Wolf Creek - some much closer than the towns on Joey's route.  But each had already been visited and found to be a burned out ruin like Knoxville.

"If the rest of the towns are burned out too," Joey told Alice when they set out, "I don't know where we'll look."

"They won't all be," Alice assured him.

The trip was expected to cover nearly a hundred miles and take up to two weeks - by far the longest foray since Joey assumed leadership of this remnant of the old para-military force founded a hundred years ago to combat what was perceived as tyranny and to preserve what was perceived as freedom: the T-Men, the same group that had exiled him and would have killed him barely five years earlier, now under his command, by the will of the God he prayed to and obeyed without question.

Alice began falling behind barely halfway to Newport.  "You may have to go ahead without me," she told Joey.  "I'll catch up.  There's something here, along this entire trail - something that happened just before the snow covered everything.  Something that's waiting to happen again.  There's evidence of it here."

"We could take the time to dig through the snow," Joey suggested.  "That would be quicker."

"No," Alice objected.  "It isn't something you can look for in the old ways: you can't make it reveal itself with manmade tools.  All you can do is wait for it to show itself to you."

"We don't have time to sit and wait," said Joey.  "I'm sorry, but we have to move on - and you with us.  There can be no stragglers.  What you're looking for may save our lives one day - but right now we need food.  God will show us what we need to save ourselves when the time comes."

"If He wants us saved," Alice added.

"True," Joey acknowledged.  "But if He decides not to save us, we must accept His will."

Though Alice acceded to Joey's authority, she kept on the lookout for the elusive something she was seeking.  She could almost feel it along the way, as if it were traveling a tunnel just beneath the crust of ice underfoot.  By evening, the party reached Newport to find the entire southern end of town a zig-zag of charred timbers sticking out of the snow like spent matchsticks.  Alice began running through this miniature forest toward a shadow extending the width of the town.  When she got to it she knelt down in the snow and began running her hands back and forth over it.  It was not a shadow, as it had appeared in the twilight, but a gully, a tear in the snow crust.  When Joey and the others caught up to Alice, she beckoned them to come kneel beside her.       

"Do you mean us to pray?" Joey asked with a touch of irony in his voice.

"We're in my church now," Alice responded in kind.  "Rub your hands across this rift," she said.  "The snow itself has parted to show us what the earth is contemplating.  Can you feel the future in this rift?"

"I feel something," said Joey.  "But I have no power to comprehend it."

"This line marks a boundary," Alice explained.  "The northern end of town was spared: if you strain you can see buildings buried in the snow up ahead.  The earth will stop here and turn both east and west.  Wolf Creek to the east is destroyed, Knoxville to the west.  It's making a path around this area."

"For what reason?" Joey asked.

"To get to the main body of the Appalachians," said Alice."

"Then why go around, or come this way at all, when all it needs is to follow the Smokys?"

"Something blocks its path," Alice proposed.  "Something diverted it around Mount Guyot, sending it this way.  The earth is vengeful; it will repay our mountain some day for the trouble it caused.  When it does, you must lead your people here: they'll be safe here, and wherever the earth was turned back.

"And you?" asked Joey.

Alice shook her head.  "I'm long overdue somewhere else.  I stayed for the sake of Brad, so as not to hasten what was destined to be, by leaving when Brad was compelled to stay.  I remain here only till your son is ready for all you have to give him."

"I can give him nothing," said Joey.

"You will open his eyes wider than they are already," Alice promised.

What was left of Newport, as Joey had discovered on his previous trip, was buried too deeply in the snow to try and retrieve anything from any of the buildings.  They stayed the night in the schoolhouse where Joey had found the crayons and set out at daybreak for Bridgeport.  It, too, had been spared from the conflagration that destroyed so many towns of eastern Tennessee; but, like Newport, it was too deep beneath the snow to dig out.  Midday, they headed north to Parrottsville, arriving just as the sun was setting.  Silhouetted at an angle against the fading crimson sky were the shapes of buildings and houses rising out of the snow.  Rising also from the snow was something that captured the attention of the entire party - something almost impossibly out of place here.

"Have you come for me?" Alice spoke in a low voice.  "Have you saved me a trip?"

Camp was hastily set up before the light faded back into the eastern sky.  Joey debated building a campfire - not to sit around this time, but to enhance the night's vigil.

"He won't still be in these parts," Alice told Joey.  "He's moved on."

"I can't take that chance," Joey replied.  "If he comes at us, we'll shoot."

"If he decides to come at you," Alice countered, "you won't have time to even lift your gun.  He's not the enemy."

Joey decided against the campfire, but not against the vigil itself.  An impromptu schedule was drawn up, rotating a two man guard every two hours till daybreak.  Joey arose with the first light of day to relieve the final guard.  Alice was already up, inspecting the footprints in the snow outside Parrottsville.  They were not the prints of a human but those of a mountain lion - the one silhouetted against the western horizon the evening before.

"Do you understand what an omen of good fortune this is?" Alice asked.  "It means at least one creature has been able to survive in this cold.  He's been able to find food."

"Did it occur to you," Joey, in turn, asked, "that the food he's found might be the people who survived whatever happened here?"

Both questions went unanswered as the party began excavating the half buried town.  Parrottsville, like all the towns of the Smokys, was small; its population had remained constant over the past hundred years - until it suddenly plummeted to zero.

No markings identified the buildings: whatever signs or house numbers had been there were either stripped away or buried on the lower level.  Even so, the buildings were so archetypical that nothing beyond their own form was necessary to alert the scavengers to their contents.

This one was a church; this a school; over there the jailhouse; farther on, city hall; at the other end, a restaurant, a bank and a general store; beyond the store, a library.  Joey sent his men to the general store, to look for seeds and soil or at least canned goods they could take back to the cavern; he and Alice made for the library.

The windows were high enough to admit light far into the library's interior.  Joey dug his way to an entrance and managed to pry it open.  He and Alice went in.  Rows of books stood opposite the entrance.  Joey moved among the rows as if they were the aisles of a great cathedral, stopping occasionally to read a title or draw a particular book from its shelf, look at it a moment, then return it.

"I don't know which are important for teaching a child," Joey admitted.  "Help me find a few to take back," he asked Alice.

"Only Paris can show you which are the ones he'll need," said Alice.  "Rather than trying to bring the library to him, bring him here.  Let him look.  He'll know."

"When he's bigger, maybe," Joey tentatively agreed.  "For now, I want something to show him, if only one.  Which one?"

Joey searched until he came to a book about the United States; it told something of each of the fifty states, it had pictures of each state's bird and emblem and flower.  He tucked it under his arm.  "This one," he said.

The rest of the search party found very little in the way of supplies: no seeds, no soil, only a few canned goods.  But they found something else instead, something they were not seeking and had no way of anticipating - something that drove them from the store when they saw it.

Unlike the big windows of the library, the narrow windows of the general store admitted almost no light into the interior, necessitating the use of flashlights to determine the store's contents.  All five lights carried by the search party were trained on the merchandise displayed, mostly waist high, on stands or at eye level on shelves built into the rear wall.  Only a few bigger items were on the floor; when one of the men bumped against something, he merely stepped around it or over it, not even bothering to focus his light on it.  All five worked their way throughout the store until they met at the counter where the cash register sat.  As before, they bumped into things cluttered about the floor; but it seemed odd to them to encounter clutter in the one place there should be none.  So all five, almost in unison, shifted their lights to the floor.

Slowly, they panned their searchlights back into the store's interior, slowly illuminating, one by one, the objects they had taken for merchandise and stepped over or around, all five lights flowing separately to reveal the entire floor.  Before them was an eerie expanse of shadowy corpses, all frozen in the same stage of decomposition.

The men of the search party did not panic, nor did they release the goods they had scavenged.  They slowly made their way to the door they had forced their way through and back up the snow embankment which half buried the store.  When they reached the top, they caught sight of Joey and Alice coming from the library.  They hurried to meet them.

One of the men, the oldest of the five, a man who had been a member of the T-Men since a teenager, addressed Joey.

"What do you make of it?" he asked.

Joey and Alice exchanged puzzled looks - not so much over the question as over the strange looks on all the men's faces.  "I don't know what you mean," Joey answered.

"The bodies," the man said in a tone that barely concealed his surprise at how quickly authority seemed to have hardened his leader.

"What bodies?" Joey asked.  "There's been no fire here.  What bodies?"

"There were no bodies anywhere else?" the man asked.

"No.  None.  You saw bodies?  Show me!" Joey demanded.

"They're in there," the man pointed to the store.

Joey looked a moment until he saw where the door had been forced open.  Motioning for Alice to follow, he descended the embankment and worked his way inside.  From just inside the entrance, he and Alice shined their flashlights deep into the store.  In a matter of seconds the first body appeared, like a huge blob of Swiss cheese covered with mold and shaped to resemble a human form.  Then another, and another, until, from just that one spot, eight had been sighted.

"They're decomposed," said Alice.  "They died before the cold took over this valley."

"But they weren't burned - nothing here was burned," Joey interjected.  "It's nothing like what we saw at Knoxville."

"Just because the fire didn't reach here doesn't mean people couldn't die," Alice pointed out.  "Maybe they were ambushed - but I don't think so.  Look at their hands - at what's left of them.  Almost all of them died clutching their throats.  They choked.  Yet there's nothing around their necks."

"They couldn't breathe?" Joey half asked, half observed.

"More violent than that," Alice replied.  "They didn't simply stop breathing - they breathed in something that killed them, some poisonous gas."

"Someone poisoned them?" Joey observed with a growing sense of outrage.  "Someone deliberately released something into the air to kill them?"

A sardonic smile played about Alice's lips.  "With all due respect to your beliefs," she said, "I doubt if this 'someone' is other than that God you ascribe every good deed to.  I suspect they were killed by the same phenomenon that burned the others you found.  The earth, in trying to reform itself, used fire and gas and whatever else it had locked away inside.  Where the fire was blocked, the gas was released.  Now I understand why no one ever returned to this region: they never left.  They all died, untold thousands, either burned or gassed.  Nature abhors a vacuum not nearly so much as it does an obstruction."

"You must understand, Alice," Joey tried to explain, "this was not God's doing.  He would not have allowed something like this without first warning people of His intention."

"People are good at heeding warnings," Alice countered, "but very bad at understanding them.  Do not consign the citizens of Parrottsville to a common grave with those of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Accept that there are such things as innocent victims, even in God's noble plan.  Remember: I saw babies whose heads had been cut off in the cave in Nebraska.  There are holy innocents, Joey - and always will be, so long as there are plans, divine or not, to be carried out.  Plans draw blood: your son will know this and will rebuild the world accordingly."

It was still early in the day when they broke camp and set out for the next destination, Fowler Grove, ten miles to the northwest, a small town with small buildings, most of them one story houses buried up to their roofs in blown snow.  The only odd feature was the snow itself; it had a yellow tinge to it, as if lemonade had been spilled or ground mustard spread all over it.

Alice picked up a handful and sniffed it.  "Sulphur," she reported to Joey, who likewise scooped up a handful and sniffed it.

"I smell nothing," he said.

"Nor do I," Alice admitted.  "It wasn't my nose but my fingers that named it.  There's a feel of fire and brimstone to it.  Some kind of sulphurous gas that destroyed people's lungs and left its print in the snow."

"But not at Parrottsville," Joey reminded her.

"The earth came back for a second look here," Alice concluded.  "When the snow ended.  Which means it's readying itself for another move.  We remain in this region at our own peril," Alice warned.

"When the time is right," Joey promised, "we'll move on.  For now, we have a home that lets us live our lives the way we used to.  We'll stay there as long as we can."

Not wanting to pitch camp atop poison gas, Joey decided to push on to the next town.  This time one of his men objected - the one who, earlier in the day, reported the decomposed bodies to him.

"I say we wait till morning," the man proposed.  "We can brush the top layer of snow aside.  I know this place doesn't look promising, but I have a feeling it holds what we're seeking."

Joey agreed, noting that there may well be the same yellow dust covering the snow at the next town as well.  In the morning, after striking camp, the search party wandered through the town's remains until coming to a small building almost completely submerged in snow.  The man who asked to remain in Fowler Grove - a man whose chosen pseudonym upon becoming a T-Man was Stone Creek - led the others to the southern end of the building and began digging through the snow, the others quickly joining in.  Half an hour later an entrance was uncovered; its low clearance - barely five feet - together with the steel siding the digging revealed marked the building as a storage shed.  Stone Creek was first to go in.

Just as he predicted, the shed yielded exactly what they had come in search of.  Piled against one wall, almost to the ceiling, were several dozen bags of potting soil.

In a way, Joey had hoped they would find nothing here.  Now that they had, the logistics of claiming their bounty presented itself.  They were much closer to the beginning than the end of their foray; either the bags of soil would have to be carted to the other towns along the way or else the itinerary itself would have to change.  Joey decided on a compromise: half the soil would be taken - enough to get the project started but not so much to bog them down - and the other half would be left behind.

Since the whole idea was to find soil and seeds, and since the soil was anticipated to be heavy and bulky, a device similar to a sled only more compact and lightweight had been brought along.  A tarp was placed on its flat surface; the bags of soil were carefully arranged on the sled; then the tarp was folded over and secured.

They left Fowler Grove before noon for Bybee, five miles to the southwest.  The sled slowed them down; but, even so, they reached the tiny hamlet in under two hours.  There were no buildings, only houses, in Bybee, and these were buried to their chimneys in snow.  It was immediately clear that there would not likely be anything of any use to them; yet the next town on the venue, Chestnut Hill, was fifteen miles away.  It would be dark when they reached it, so they decided to stay the night in Bybee before heading south.

They secured the sled and went to investigate the town's remains.  The thing they had noticed almost immediately was that there was no yellow residue covering the snow, as there had been in Fowler Grove, barely five miles distant.

"The earth didn't take a second look here," Joey observed to Alice, who was busy looking around.

"Don't be so sure," she said.

"There's no residue - no fire and brimstone," Joey pointed out.

"It took another route," Alice replied.  "I just haven't found it yet."

The party wandered among the houses, more to kill time than to try and evaluate anything about them; no attempt was made to get inside any of them.

"Let them remain as nature left them," Joey advised.

"Do you notice something odd about them?" Stone Creek asked.

Joey looked around at the houses.  "Not really," he answered.

"The snow's deep again," Stone Creek pointed out; "more like the first two towns instead of the two nearest towns."

"Remember," Joey pointed out, "these are houses, not buildings.  A one-story house would have been covered anywhere in this valley."

At the word "valley" Alice started, as if awaken from a deep sleep; she began looking all around, especially toward the horizon.

"These are not one story houses," Stone Creek explained to Joey.  "Look at the way the snow is lying: you can almost see the outline of the roof.  The shapes of these roofs are not the shapes of one story houses.  These are all two story houses, almost entirely buried."

"Of course!" Alice exclaimed.  "Of course!  I was looking down when I should have been looking up all along!  Look around you!" she demanded.  "We're in the Appalachians, yet from here you see no ascent - no mountains rising up anywhere to mark this as a valley!  The snow is no deeper here than at the last town.  The houses aren't buried in the snow - they've sunk into it!  The earth has reached up to pull them down.  Come!" she insisted.  "I'll show you!"

Alice led the others to one of the houses, one showing nothing but the very tip of its chimney through the snow, yet the outline of its entire roof just beneath the surface.  "Give me something heavy to drop," she said.

Everyone looked around a moment for some object she could use.  One of the men spotted a loose brick on a nearby chimney and went to get it.  Just as he got to the house, Alice saw him and cried out "No!  Don't go near there!"

But her cry went unheeded.  The man stepped to where he could reach the brick; and as he did, he suddenly disappeared beneath the snow.  In a flash, his whole body vanished.  The others ran to him, Alice cautioning them not to get too close.

"We've got to get him," Joey countered her caution.

"Go easy," Alice insisted.  "The snow surrounding these houses is not packed tightly enough to walk on.  Their descent has loosened it.  Dig your way to him - or you join him in the same pit!"

Slowly the four remaining men dug a path downward through the snow as if carving a tunnel into a hillside, gradually coming to the base of the mound where it touched against the side of the house.  From there, they dug their way straight down to where their comrade had fallen, this last part of the dig much easier than the first, the snow softer, more loosely packed - just as Alice had predicted.

The man was unconscious, but still breathing.  Carefully, they brought him out of the pit he had fallen into and revived him.  When he awoke, he at once tried to get up, but the others restrained him.

"We've got to get out of here!" he cried.  The others tried to calm him, to reassure him he had simply fallen through the snow.

"You don't understand!" he grew increasingly agitated as he explained.  "I saw someone!  Someone looking at me through the window!  A man's eyes, looking out the window as I fell past.  We've got to get out of here!"

"We saw nothing - no one - when we dug you out," Joey assured him.  "I was as close to the window as I am to you now.  I saw nothing at that window."

A strange look came over Joey's face as he recounted what he saw.  "Literally nothing," he said in an incredulous tone.  "I saw absolutely nothing inside that house.  There was no interior."

Joey moved away from his men and made his way back down the hillside to the house - the man who had fallen pleading with him all the while not to go near that window.  He looked in, and confirmed his earlier observation.  The room inside - walls, floor, ceiling, furnishings - had completely disappeared.  He debated whether to break the window and climb inside to try and determine what had happened, or to simply walk away from the house.  While he pondered the mystery, Alice descended the hill and came up behind him; he saw her reflection in the window.

"Do not enter," she advised, "unless you're prepared to kill."

He stared at her image.  "I'm not here to kill," he said.

"There's death here," she warned.  "You may be forced to defend your life."

"There will be no killing," he assured her.  "Nor is there a reason to violate this house just to satisfy my curiosity.  Let it remain a mystery."

Joey turned and motioned for Alice to follow him up the hill.  Before he had taken a single step, a sound issued from inside the house. He turned back, throwing Alice a questioning glance.  This time Joey debated nothing; he took his flashlight and smashed the window, then crawled halfway through, keeping hold of the window frame as he let his right foot dangle inside, searching for something along the wall to support his weight.  Finding nothing, he withdrew to the outside.  Then he and Alice heard the noise again, more clearly this time; they were able to pinpoint it to the other end of the house.

"We'll go around," he told Alice.  "We'll dig our way in from that side."

Together, they climbed the hill and, summoning the others, worked their way to the rear of the house, where all six began digging through the snow until they had cleared a mound like the one out front.  Joey descended the hill, broke the nearest window and climbed in, this time securing a foothold.  He shined his flashlight into the interior of this room, and gasped at what he saw.

"Don't move!" he called out.  "Stay right where you are!  Don't move!"

"Help me!" a tiny voice called back.  "Where's my daddy?  He went to look.  Help me!"

"I promise - I swear - I'll get you!" he answered back.  "Just don't move.  Please. Stay perfectly still."

Joey swung around to the others outside the window.  "Go get the sled!" he ordered.  "And hurry!"  Then he turned back to the child who was stranded on a narrow ledge at the far end of the room, some fifteen feet away.

"They've gone to get help," he said.  "I'll stay right here till they return.  Then we'll come get you."

"I'm scared," the child said.

"I know," said Joey.  "So am I.  But God won't let anything happen to you.  He loves you."

"Daddy went to look," the child reported.  "He heard something out front.  He went to look.  I heard something.  Like something broke.  Where's my daddy?"

"We'll find him," Joey promised.

The men returned with the sled.  Joey had only the faintest idea what he was going to do with it.  "If only Mount Everest were here," he said.

"If only Paris were," Alice corrected him.

The sled wasn't long enough to span the room; it lacked a good three feet reaching the ledge where the child was.  Even so, Joey had his men slide it through the window.  It extended almost twelve feet into the room, balanced solely by the weight of his men holding it down onto the window ledge.

"Hold as firmly as you can," Joey told his men.  Then he climbed onto the sled and began inching his way toward the other end, which dangled precariously over a pit at the center of the room.  The strain of Joey's weight made it almost impossible for his men to keep the sled secured to the window ledge; it bobbed like a diving board.  When Joey had reached almost to the end of the sled, and dared go no farther, he spoke, as calmly as he could, to the child.

"I want you to very slowly stand up," he said.

"I'm afraid," the child moaned.  "I'll fall."

"No," said Joey.  "You won't fall.  Just lean your back against the wall and slowly get up, keeping your back straight against the wall,"

After a few false starts, the child finally did as Joey instructed and stood there, poised on the ledge, leaning against the wall.

"I bet you used to jump a lot," Joey speculated.  "I bet you could really jump good," he encouraged the child, who nodded an affirmation.  "Pretend you're in your front yard - the way it used to be, before the snow.  Pretend you're leaping across the sidewalk to the other side."

"We didn't have a sidewalk," the child confessed.  "But my cousin did, when we went to see him."

"Then pretend you're at your cousin's house," Joey said.  "In his yard.  And you're ready to jump all the way across his sidewalk."

All the while Joey coaxed the child to jump, the sled was growing more unsteady.  It was all he could do to keep his own balance - let alone that of the child as well.

"When I count to three," he said, "I want you to jump into my arms."

"I'm scared," the child said.

"I'll catch you," Joey promised.

"What if you don't?" the child asked.

"I will," Joey replied in a voice of absolute confidence.  "One," he began counting.  "Two," he lifted his arms to catch the child.  "Three," he beckoned.

The child jumped.  Joey caught her and pulled her to his chest, turning in the same instant and running for the window so quickly he did not have time to lose his balance until the child was at the window being transferred to Alice's outstretched arms.  Just as Joey fell from the sled, it too fell, opening a space barely big enough for his hands to grab hold of the thin stubble of ledge beneath the window, all that remained of the floorboard.

As he hung there, he heard the sled hit bottom and smash to bits against the jagged rocks below.  Stone Creek and another of his men took hold of Joey's wrists and hoisted him up through the window.  When he was safely outside the house, the child he had saved ran to him and stood clinging to his legs, her whole body trembling.  He bent down and took her in his arms.

"You're safe now," he said.

"Where's my daddy?" she against asked.

"We'll find him," Joey promised, glancing at Alice as if to ask if there were any way to keep his promise.  She shook her head.  "Where was your daddy?" Joey asked the girl.

"He went to look," was all she knew to say.

"To look at what?"

"He heard someone out front.  He went to look.  I couldn't see him."

Joey was beginning to put the pieces together.  The face seen at the window must have been her father's.  He must have gone to investigate the noise outside and fallen into the open pit where the front room used to be; his body must be somewhere down in the pit.  The question was: how deep was the pit and how could anyone get down to where the girl's father was.

"I've got to go find your daddy," Joey told the girl as he handed her to Alice.

"Where is he?" the girl asked.

"I think I know," Joey answered.  "But he might be hurt.  I have to hurry and find him."

Joey summoned the rest of his party and plotted a strategy for retrieving the girl's father from below.

"I know it's deep," he told them.  "When the sled fell, it took several seconds to hit bottom.  I heard it smash to pieces.  If the front is the same as the back, there's no chance he survived.  But we've got to get to him."

They had rope - the rope they had used to secure their load of soil to the sled.  By itself it was not long enough; but when fastened to the tarp it allowed a piece of wood from the rear window frame to reach the bottom of the pit.

"Will it hold a man?" Stone Creek asked.  "Let alone two."

"It'll have to," said Joey, who tied the rope around his waist and fastened a flashlight to his belt to illuminate his descent.  Then he had his men lower him through the frame of the house down into the pit.  He could tell it was narrow - almost like an elevator shaft; and that its walls were luminescent, like the walls surrounding the underground stream inside Mount Guyot.  He couldn't yet see the bottom, which meant it was not the same substance as the walls.  Inch by inch he drew nearer the bottom, until finally faint images came into focus, which, together, shaped the floor of the pit.  Suddenly the whirling ray of his flashlight hit something pale lying in relief against the jagged rocks, then moved on to illuminate another part of the blackened grid beneath him.

Several more minutes passed before Joey reached solid ground.  He was able to get a foothold amongst the rocks protruding like stalagmites from the floor.  Slowly he began moving, turning first to let his light reveal his surroundings.  Then he shone it to where he had earlier seen something lying on the rocks.  A few feet ahead of him was the body of a man, its head wedged between two large black rocks.  Joey worked his way to the body, bent down, took hold of its wrist to feel for a pulse.  He no sooner touched the wrist than the man moved, pulling away from him.

The man's eyes opened and fixed on Joey.  "What have you done with her?" he managed to say in a voice barely above a whisper.

Joey took the man's hand again and held it firmly in his.  "Your daughter's safe," he assured the man.  "We won't hurt her - I swear it!"  Then he asked the man what happened.

"The ledge gave way," the man replied.  "I went to look," he added.  Then his eyes closed again.  Joey felt his wrist; there was still a pulse.  He lifted the man from the rocks and braced him against his own body.  Then he tugged twice on the rope to signal his men to raise him from the pit.  Slowly he ascended the shaft with the injured man, their combined weight straining the joint fastening the rope to the tarp.  The thought crossed his mind that he should plan how best to position himself should the joint give way; but he quickly put the thought out of his mind: he could not put his life in God's hands then make contingency plans in case God failed him.

"Please let this man's daughter see him, if only to bury him," he silently prayed.

Several minutes passed before the empty room came into view.  A couple more minutes brought him to within inches of the window ledge when, suddenly, the end of the rope Joey had tied around his waist began to come loose.  In a split-second he knew he would fall.  With a sudden burst of energy, he hurled the man he carried toward the outstretched arms of his men.  They managed to catch him, and pull him through the window to safety.

Joey felt himself falling; then, as suddenly as he had begun falling, he stopped.  His belt, which he had loosened to accommodate his flashlight, caught over a nail protruding where the floor had been ripped from the wall.  His men immediately threw him the rope, which he caught; then they lifted him to the window and pulled him through.

Joey was unharmed.  Without a word, he hurried to where Alice was comforting the child he had rescued and brought the child back to her father.  The man opened his eyes and smiled up at his daughter, then motioned for her to come closer.  She knelt beside him.  He managed to reach her hand and take hold of it.

"I'm hurt," he whispered to her.

"Like the others?" she asked.

"No," he replied.

"You won't die, will you, like them?" she then asked.

"I think so," he said.

"No," the child pleaded.  "You can't.  Please.  Don't die."

"God brought these people to you," the man told his daughter.  "I heard Him call to me - like He did to your mother.  I can't disobey Him.  I'm so sorry to leave you, but God wants you to go with these people; and He wants me to be with your mother.  Tell them what happened - everything you remember, just like we used to talk about it.  I'm so sorry to leave you..."

The man's voice trailed off; his eyes shut.  The child knew what it meant.  Though she had never seen anyone die before, she knew what death was and how it made someone look.  She remained kneeling beside her father a moment, then stood up and turned to Joey.                            

"Will you leave him here, like we had to the others - or bury him like we did mommy?" she asked.

"We'll bury him," said Joey.  "And we'll say prayers.  And we'll ask God to watch over him, and us."

After the funeral, Joey told the other members of his party that he had decided to return to Mount Guyot rather than continue searching for supplies.

"I could take the child myself," Alice suggested.

"No," said Joey. "We all stay together.  Not even one of us will leave her side till she's safely back home.  Besides, without the sled we have no way to carry as much as we'll need."

The little girl, despite her preoccupation, had heard every word of their conversation.  "I know where there's a sled," she offered to help.

Joey debated between declining her offer, for the sake of safety and efficiency, and accepting it, for the sake of involving her in some activity to help heal her wounds.  He knew, as surely as if the debate were raging outside instead of within, which course his leader would have taken, and which course Kirk's brother would have fought for.  He had always felt that Brad's way was right, but he almost always sided with Kirk - an irony that never failed to haunt him.

Joey took the child by the hand.  "Show me this sled," he asked her.

She led him to a place behind her house where a small opening had been cut into what looked like a snow bank.  "You have to stay here while I get it," she said.

"Is it safe in there?" Joey asked.

"Yes," she said.  "Daddy made this for me," she went on to explain.  "It's like an igloo.  Whenever he went to look for food, he had me get in here so I'd be safe."

"Didn't he think you'd be safe in the house?"

"He was afraid it would fall, like the other houses."

"But you were in it when I found you," Joey reminded the girl.

"We slept in there, to keep warmer," she explained.

"You sleep in the daytime?" Joey asked.

"We only slept a couple hours at a time, so we wouldn't be in the house too long," the girl replied.  With this explanation, she disappeared through the opening into the igloo, momentarily reappearing with a sled - a single child's sled, which she pulled with a rope.  On it were blankets and a pillow.

"Here it is," she said.

"Did you sleep on it?" Joey asked.

"When daddy was away, I did," the girl explained as she handed Joey the rope.

"I wish it could have been me instead of him who died," Joey said as they walked back around to where the others were.

"You wish you were dead?" she asked.

"No, but I wish your daddy were alive."

"I wish both of you could be alive - and mommy too," the girl said.  "She didn't fall into the ground, like our neighbors.  She went to see her sister.  Something came up from the ground, I think.  And no one could breathe so they all died.  But daddy wouldn't bury everyone, only mommy.  So he brought her back home on my cousin's sled.  That's when he built the igloo for me, right over where mommy was buried.  He said she would watch over me, and I'd always be safe there."

"I'm sorry to take you away from your home," Joey told the child.

The bags of potting soil were stacked on the sled and secured with the blankets.  A second decision had to be made: to set out for the next town on the way back to Mount Guyot or remain here for the night.  Before Joey had time to consider what each option entailed, he was challenged with an even greater decision.

"We have a sled now," Stone Creek reminded him.  "We don't have to abandon the mission."

"I can't put the child at risk," Joey pointed out.

"The distance is the same whether we continue on the route you mapped or go back the way we came."

"Except the one way's familiar, the other unknown," Joey countered.

"There are six of us to watch after her," Stone Creek argued.  "We have only half of what we came for.  If we don't start growing our own food - and soon - we may all die.  Every day we lose brings us closer to the time when all our supplies are exhausted."

"You're right," Joey finally agreed.  "We have to keep looking.  It's at least ten miles to Chestnut Hill.  I don't want to stay the night here if it can be avoided: I don't trust this place.  Whatever caused the houses to sink could sink the ground our tents are on as well."

"It could all be sinking," Stone Creek interjected.  "Or there could be worse things lying in wait.  We stood guard at Fowler Grove, we can do the same here."

Reluctantly, Joey agreed to remain in Bybee till morning, then head south to Chestnut Hill.  The child asked if they would be staying in her house; Joey told her it was too dangerous.  Then she asked if she could stay in her igloo.  Joey agreed to this.  He had his men unwrap the soil so that the sled and blankets could be used for bedding.  As she was getting into the igloo, she asked Joey if he could read to her, like her father did.

"What book did he read from?" Joey asked.

"I don't know," the child answered.  "He just had some books."

"All I have is a book about the United States," Joey told her.

"That'll be good," she said.

Joey began reading, turning first to the state of Tennessee.  "The state flower of Tennessee is the Iris.  The state bird is the Mockingbird.  The state tree is the Tulip Poplar."

"What about Montana?" the girl asked.

"Why Montana?" Joey, in turn, asked.

"Daddy said we would move there when the snow melts.  He was born there.  But mommy was born here, and so was I," she explained.

"The state flower of Montana," Joey read, "is the Bitterroot.  The state bird is the Western Meadowlark.  The state tree is the Ponderosa Pine."

"What's your name?" the girl asked.

"Joey.   And your name?"

"Felicia," she replied, followed by a pause then "good night."

Early the next morning they broke camp and set out for Chestnut Hill.  They had only gone a short distance when Felicia asked where they were going.  When told they were headed for Chestnut Hill, she asked why.

"To try and find seeds to plant in the soil we're carrying on your sled," Joey explained.

"I know where you can find lots of seeds," Felicia said.

"Where?" asked Joey.

"White Pine.  We used to go there all the time - all the people did.  Before it got cold and everyone died."

"They may not still have seeds," Joey speculated.

"Yes they do," said Felicia.  "We saw them when we went there and got canned food.  Daddy said if we had to we could eat the seeds.  Is that what you're going to do if they don't grow?" she asked.

"We might have to," Joey admitted.

The search party halted while Joey consulted his maps of the area - maps he had brought with him from Nebraska to help guide the T-Men to their old compound on Cllingman's Dome.  He estimated the town of White Pine to be approximately seven miles northeast of Bybee, in the northeastern corner of Jefferson County.

"I don't like adding miles to our route," he admitted to Alice and Stone Creek.  "We have to cross water to get to it, also.  It's almost certain we could find seeds either at Chestnut Hill or Sardis.  I'm just not sure."

"Any other time you'd see this as a sign from God," Alice reminded Joey.  "He sent us the girl to give us seeds.  What's different this time?" she asked.  Joey admitted he didn't know.  "Kirk would not have altered his itinerary a single step to accommodate this new plan.  Don't slip your feet into his shoes - or they'll end up taking you where they took him," Alice warned.

"You're right," said Joey.  "I am trying to think like him.  Alright: we'll turn back and make for White Pine."

Two small lakes lay between Bybee and White Pine.  One was frozen solid - as all shallow bodies of water between Kansas and Tennessee had been; the other, however, flowed free beneath a thin sheath of ice which did not seem substantial enough to support even the weight of a child.

"My instincts are getting better all the time," Joey informed Alice.  "Something told me not to come this way.  I should have given it greater weight.  We'll have to turn back."

"There's something worth more than time here," Alice rejoined.  "There's a mystery - and a clue, perhaps, to everything that's happened in this area.  Something has thawed this one lake.  We must find out what."  Alice walked to the very edge of the lake and knelt down to peer into it.  She motioned for Joey to join her.

"There it is again," she pointed to a section of the lake bed.  "That same white crystalline rock: wherever there's heat, it appears."

"You really do believe it's an entirely new substance?" Joey reprised Alice's earlier assessment.

"It is," she answered.  "It's only man's geology that says otherwise.  Nature's geology allows for anything the earth chooses to create."

"We can cross a little way up," the girl, Felicia, came up behind Joey to say.

"It's frozen there?" Joey asked.

"No, but the water's all dried up.  Come on, I'll show you," Felicia led the way upstream a few hundred yards.  "See," she pointed, "right here there's no water."

The party crossed the dried lake bed; then, a few hundred yards later, crossed the frozen lake and proceeded the rest of the way to White Pine, where Felicia led them to a big, deserted building.  She took them to a counter at the rear of the building, where an array of seed packets lay spread before them.  The members of the party took as many packets as they could handle; then they all left.

There were no bodies at White Pine, no burned out buildings, no yellow dust covering the snow, no sunken houses.  Yet it was as deserted as every other town they had visited.

"Where did the people go?" Joey asked Felicia.

"I don't know," she said.  "They've been gone a long time."

The seeds blossomed exactly as Paris predicted.  The soil from Fowler Grove was spread into hollowed out logs a foot wide, three feet long, half a foot deep; the seeds from White Pine were scattered across the topsoil.  Each morning the plants were taken outside and placed in the sun, then moved during the course of the day as the sun shifted its position.  At sunset the planters were brought inside, watered, and lined up against the wall till morning.  By carefully attending the seedlings, sprouts and plants, Joey and his people began growing their own food.

Paris celebrated his fourth birthday Tuesday, March 21st, 2073.  Everyone accepted it as a fanciful notion but no one gave it any credence, since the time, even the place, of his birth was shrouded in mystery.  All anyone knew of him was that he had been found, and saved, by Paris Commune, who at that time was leader of the T-Men.

"I would not take his claim lightly," Alice told Mount Everest.  "The boy is magical - you've seen ample evidence of that yourself.  He would not simply pick a date out of the blue and call it his birthday: he doesn't have to rely on chance, something in him already knows everything that will ever touch him.

"Then you think today actually is his birthday?" Mount Everest asked.

"Yes, I know it is," Alice answered.

"Perhaps," Mount Everest reluctantly agreed.  "Or perhaps he misses not having what Brad and Cade and now the girl have.

"Why today?" Carol asked Paris.  "What makes you so sure today's your birthday?"

Paris took a sheet of crumpled paper from his pocket and handed it to Carol.  She carefully unfolded it.  On it was a flower, drawn with crayon in a child's unsteady hand.  Its petals were pink, nestled against a deep green stem.

"This is lovely," Carol complimented the boy.

"It's my flower," Paris told her.  "Joey showed it to me in a book about where I was born.  I want to grow one when I get big, so he can put it on my grave."

Paris' words startled Carol.  She didn't know whether to pursue his strange statement or simply ignore it.  She decided to discuss it with Joey after the birthday celebration.

"And this flower means today's your birthday?" she asked.

Paris nodded.  "Uh huh," he answered.  "When I woke up I went and got the paper, and the crayons Felicia said I could use.  I knew what I was going to draw.  When I got it finished, I knew this was my birthday."

"What do you want for your birthday?" Carol asked.

"No," Paris shook his head.  "Birthdays should be giving gifts, not getting them.  Only I don't have anything to give."

"You've already given us more than we could ever give you," Carol told the boy.  "First you showed us how to cool the cavern, then you showed us how to grow food."

"Those weren't gifts," Paris corrected Carol.  "They were things I knew.  I mean the kind of gifts I don't already know.  That's what I wish I could give to the babies and to Felicia."

Everyone joined in the celebration, even Andrea's twins, three months old.  A special meal was prepared, followed by a small makeshift cake of potato meal, sugar, carrots and tomatoes cooked in a air-tight bag over an open flame.  Only the children were given a piece of cake.

When the celebration was over, and everyone returned to their own area of the cave, Carol told Joey of her conversation with Paris.  He listened attentively, but showed no reaction.

"It doesn't worry you that he would say something like that?" Carol asked.

"He's known death since he was born," Joey reminded her.  "Is it so unusual for a child who's seen so many of those close to him die to envision his own death some day?  And remember: he is still a child.  It wouldn't occur to him that I might not be there to put a flower on his grave.  Anyone can see he's not obsessed with death, so I wouldn't make too much of it."

"Alice would," Carol pointed out.

Joey thought a moment.  "True," he agreed, "she would.  She'd say he knows exactly when - and maybe even how - he'll die.  Carol: don't say anything to her about this.  It was just a child stringing together words and ideas that really have nothing in common - that's all it was."

"Maybe you're right," Carol half-heartedly agreed.

She did as Joey suggested and said nothing to Alice; but she voiced her concern to Andrea the next time they were alone.  "It just bothers me that he would think something like that," Carol said.  "I can't help wondering how an idea like that might affect his thinking - not only when he's grown but now as well.  Would he be capable of doing something to hurt someone else?"

"Carol, there's nobody alive who's not capable of that," Andrea replied.  "But I don't think his knowing he'll die some day would cause him to do anything harmful.  I've seen him around Brad and Cade, I've watched how he tries to teach them things.  He wouldn't hurt them - I know that."

"Maybe not intentionally," Carol suggested.  "Maybe he'd think he was doing something for them - doing them a favor by saving them some terrible fate when they were grown.  And with that 'Babies love, babies hate' that he's always saying: it's just odd."

"I can't get him to explain that," Andrea admitted.  "He seems to know what it means, but he can't convey it.  Babies do both love and hate, even if we don't like to admit it.  He seems more intrigued with Brad, even if he does always go to Cade and speak to him first.  Maybe it's his idea of treating them equally.  They are so different.  You'd think I would be partial to Brad, since he looks so much like his father; but I'm not.  There's something about Cade - I don't understand it, I don't even know who he takes after: he doesn't have either Brad's features or mine - but if it were possible to feel a stronger bond to one than the other, then it would be Cade and not Brad.  If it were possible, which it isn't."

Paris visited the twins frequently, but less frequently than before Joey brought Felicia to live in the cave.  Though she was three years older than Paris, he became almost totally absorbed with her.  At first, she remained aloof from him, the difference in their ages far more significant in her eyes than his; but, eventually, she began drawing closer, as much because there were no other children her age as anything else.  By the time the twins were a year old, Paris and Felicia were practically inseparable.

They played together, studied, read stories to each other, told one another of their dreams and plans, their hopes and fears, likes and dislikes.  In the time Felicia had been there, Joey made several more trips to the library he had discovered at Parrottsville, to get more books for Paris - and now for Felicia as well.  He was still reluctant to allow Paris to accompany him, notwithstanding Alice's initial observation and constant reminder that Paris would show him which books he needed.

"In time," Joey promised.  "Like you, I still have a funny feeling about this whole area."

"Then don't leave him here," Alice rejoined.  "Take him along.  Better still, take us all from this place while there's still time.  Though it's beautiful, and our life here is peaceful and fruitful, it's better for us to be out there, in the cold, as far away from here as we can get.  The earth did not make this cave for us, but for it's own purpose."

"God made it for us," said Joey.  "But He may also decide to take us from it.  If He does, He'll let us know where He wants us."

"We belong in Indiana," Alice again insisted.  "The rest of you, anyway," she added.

"And you?" Joey asked.

"I belong wherever he is, whose tracks we saw in the snow," Alice replied.

"You still believe it's the same mountain lion? and that he's followed you here from Colorado?"

Alice nodded.  "I do," she said.

"Why?" asked Joey.

"His food has run out," Alice answered.  "We made a pact.  He's come to see I keep my end of it."

"Then who'll lead us to Indiana, if you run off with your cougar?" Joey quipped.

"As your good book says," Alice quipped back, "'A child shall lead.'  Blindfolded, with his hands tied behind him, Paris will still find his destiny."

Joey decided to leave it up to Paris whether or not to make a trip to Parrotsville with him.  "The next time I go," he promised Alice, "I'll ask him if he wants to see the place where all the books come from."

On his fifth birthday, Paris set out with Joey for the library.  He knew without asking that Felicia would not be allowed to go.  He called her down to the stream, where they spent so much of their time together.  As they sat along its bank with their bare feet dangling in the warm water, Paris broke the news.

"Joey is taking me to a place where he gets books," Paris said.  "I haven't asked if you can go because he'll say no.  I wish you could go.  One day we will.  One day we'll build our own library, and we'll gather books from everywhere.  What book do you want me to get you?" he asked.

Felicia thought a moment as she stared down into the water.  Then she turned to Paris and her face lit up.  "Get me a book about boats," she said.  "I'll build a boat some day and live on it for the rest of my life, so there won't be any hole to fall in and die.  I hate the ground.  I only love the water.  The ground is bad, it kills people, it lets them fall into the pit.  Will you live with me on the water?"

Paris shook his head.  "I wish I could," he said.  "But it won't let me."

"What won't let you?" Felicia asked.

"I don't know," Paris admitted.  "Just, whatever will happen won't let me."

"Why won't it let you?"

Paris shrugged and said "Babies love, babies hate" - his cryptic observation from when Andrea's twins were born, which he had never said to Felicia before.  Felicia looked at him as if she understood perfectly what was meant by it.  She bent over and kissed him on the cheek.

"So I will go to sea all alone," she said.

Again Paris shook his head.  "He'll go with you," he said.  "The little boy who worships him will put pink flowers all around me, then he'll take you away."

Stone Creek and one other man accompanied Joey and Paris as they retraced the original party's route to Parrottsville, some twenty-five miles to the northeast - the same route Joey had taken on four previous occasions, but with only one man along.  He insisted on the third member of the party for extra security.

"There's a mountain lion loose in these parts," he explained.  "I don't want him carrying my son off."  Paris gave Joey a strange, puzzled look.  "Is it okay if I call you my son?" Joey asked.  Paris smiled at him, as if relieved, and nodded.

"Will he get Sandy?" the boy asked.

This time is was Joey who garnered a strange, puzzled look.  Then he, too, smiled.  "I guess I've told you more than I realized," he said.  "No," he answered the boy's question, "he won't get Sandy.  I promise you he won't."

Each time Joey had gone to Parrottsville, he took a slightly different route, to try and discover some new clue to the strange events that had left every town in eastern Tennessee either deserted or destroyed.  He occasionally encountered something unusual about the landscape - something that would give him an uneasy feeling but no insight into what happened.  With each discovery he always ended up wishing he had Alice with him to uncover its hidden significance; but, each time, he decided her presence at the cave was more valuable than her interpretation of these anomalies.

This time, however, he took a familiar path, through Newport and Bridgeport then on to Parrottsville: this was not an expedition of discovery, but of safety.  The only discovery would be educational, not geological, and it would take place in a world of books, not a world of fire and wind and strange new materials.

They made it to the library without incident.  It was mid-morning, and the sun was streaming in through the big eastern windows.  Joey pried open the door he had used to enter the library each time he had visited; then he led Paris into the big room full of bookshelves and books.

"I have to pee," Paris announced almost the instant he was inside.  Joey started to take him back outside but he shook his head and resisted.

"Not in here," said Joey, "not on the floor: you know better than that."

Paris pointed to a door off to the left in a little alcove barely visible from the entrance.  "In there," he said.  Sensing that it was probably a public restroom, Joey relented and escorted the boy to the alcove.  The sign on the door read "Men."

"How could you know this was a bathroom?" Joey asked as he pushed the door open.

Instead of proceeding, Paris stood in the doorway and unzipped his pants.  "Not there," said Joey, who started to take a step but was stopped by Paris.

"No!" Paris cried as he pointed to the floor, drawing Joey's gaze downward.

"Oh my God!" Joey exclaimed, pulling the boy back from the doorway.  Though the light from the east did not make it this far into the building, it illuminated the high white ceiling and reflected back into this half hidden alcove just enough to reveal that the floor of the men's bathroom was gone.  Joey took out his flashlight and aimed it down into the darkness where the floor should have been.  The light shot back at him, as it had when he first encountered the stream at Mount Guyot, and the pit Felicia's father had fallen into beneath their home.

"It was here all along," Joey muttered.  Then a sudden thought made him grab Paris and run from the building.

They no sooner leapt from the entrance than a wrenching shriek arose from deep within the building as the flooring was pulled from the walls, followed a few seconds later by the shattering burst of floorboards ripping apart and bookshelves tumbling to the floor.  Then a moment of silence, broken first by a howl of wind then the crack of wood, stone and tile against the jagged rocks below.  The whole building shook, as if it sat on a fault line at the moment of an earthquake; the high windows shattered, throwing jagged shards through the air; pieces of roofing pummeled the grounds surrounding the library.

Joey kept running till he knew he was well beyond the danger.  When he stopped running he set Paris down then turned to look at the building.

"You knew," he said as he took Paris' hand in his.  "Why didn't you say something before we went in?  You might have been hurt."

"I didn't know how to say it," Paris tried to explain.  "I could only show you."

"It seems Alice was wrong this time," Joey mused.  "Now you can never show me which book you need."

Stone Creek came running the moment he heard the rumbling; but he had been on the other side of town, in the general store, so it took him several minutes to get there. 

"The floor gave way," Joey explained, "just as the floor in Felicia's house did.  All of a sudden, all at once, without warning.  Paris knew it was happening.  I just pray God keeps us safe until he's old enough to take his rightful place as our leader."

"You speak as if it's ordained that he should lead us," Stone Creek observed as he gave the boy a cold look.

"It is," Joey assured him.  Paris drew closer to Joey but continued to hold the look Stone Creek gave him.  "We won't look further," Joey decided.  "We'll start back now."

"There's much to be learned from what happened here," Stone Creek reminded his leader.

"It'll have to keep," said Joey.

Upon their return, Joey told his council what had happened at Parrottsville - an informal, mostly impromptu, council, nothing like the elaborate structure Kirk's father had presided over, with its representatives from the major militias and its rigid hierarchy from within the ranks of the T-Men.

"I'm afraid there will be no more books for Paris," Joey finished by saying, glancing at Alice as he spoke.

"He's shown you which one he wants," Alice replied.

"He has?" asked Joey.

"There's a book on early childhood education that's become a classic in its field," Alice explained.  "It dwarfs everything that went before it.  Its title is 'School Days.'  Its author is Goreham Kirkus.  The whole purpose of the book is helping children conceptualize their experiences.  It's the one book Paris needs, then he'll need no other ever again."

"But where do I find it?" Joey asked.

"I'm surprised you don't reject out of hand the very idea of bringing one of his books into our new home," observed Andrea, who had been sitting, quietly attending her two children, in the rear of the assembly place.

"Your father did nothing to warrant banning his books," Joey said.  "If his ideas can help Paris put all the things he sees into words, then his book is a Godsend.  If only I can find a copy."

"If it hasn't been burned," Andrea speculated.  "I doubt if you were looking for books at Knoxville, so you wouldn't have entered the University of Tennessee libraries.  I don't know if it's worth another trip there to look for something that might be no more than a pile of ashes."

"Of course," Joey at once saw the logic in Andrea's suggestion.  "They'd have to have a copy.

Andrea smiled ironically.  "More than one," she said.  "Father was teaching there when he wrote it.  They had a whole room devoted to his works.  That's the greatest irony of all.  He could have taught anywhere: Harvard, Yale, Princeton - they all offered him tenure.  But he chose Tennessee.  It was where he met mother; she loved the Smokys.  He wanted her to be near the mountains.  So they went hiking all the time, even after they moved to St. Louis.  That's how he found out the T-Men had built their compound on Clingman's Dome: not through his network of spies but because he and mother returned to the mountains each autumn to go hiking; and he just happened upon it one morning."

"We'll go back to Knoxville," Joey decided.  "Even if we don't find your father's book, it's a trip we have to make, to see if what's happening at Parrottsville and Bybee is happening at Knoxville too.  If it is, we have to do as Alice says and abandon this place while we still can."

There was a great deal of grumbling among Joey's followers when it became generally known that their days at Mount Guyot might be numbered.  One after another protested any such decision; yet each was told that if the conditions warranted leaving - if there came to be clear signs that staying in this cavern was dangerous - the decision would be absolute and final.

"Not one person will be allowed to remain," Joey stated categorically to everyone who confronted him.

Two days later a party led by Joey set out for Knoxville.  This time Alice had been invited along, while Mount Everest stayed behind.

"Are you afraid he loved your son as more than simply his leader?" Andrea asked Carol during Joey absence.  They had talked before about Carol's love for Joey and his reluctance to commit himself to her.

"If it were indifference," Carol always concluded, "or a lack of any feeling for me, I could understand and accept it.  Even if it were a fear of bringing a child into such a world as we've inherited, I could accept that.  But I know it's neither of these.  It can only be because I'm Kirk's mother, and maybe he sees something of Kirk in me."

Andrea's question forced Carol to face the thing she had deliberately tried to avoid - the other question she had vowed never to ask Joey.   "I don't know," Carol admitted.

"Then ask him," Andrea suggested.

"No, I can't," said Carol.  "Although I did finally ask him if he thought Kirk had taken his own life - which I also swore I would never ask."

"Was he upset by the question?"

"No.  He said he knew Kirk wouldn't have done that.  He said watching over Brad was the greatest responsibility he had ever undertaken, and nothing could have ever forced him to abandon his post.  I believe him, too."

"Then give him the chance to answer this other question," Andrea insisted.  "Why should both of you go through your lives with this barrier between you?  I asked Brad if he loved Kirk and if that was why he opposed him at every turn."

"Why would you ever think that?" Carol asked.

"Men are terrified of one another for no better reason than that they're afraid they might be drawn to each other," Andrea said.  "I knew Brad didn't feel that way about Kirk, but I just wanted to try and jolt some sense into him - and I knew that once the question was asked he would start to examine his motives, just to reassure himself it wasn't anything like that.  I thought maybe in examining his motives he would realize that there was something irrational between them.  What I really thought was that Brad was defying his father through Kirk - only it was pointless to ask that when Brad absolutely rejected the idea that Kirk was his father's son.  I suppose Brad died without ever recognizing Kirk for who he was."

"But if Joey did feel that way about Kirk," Carol inferred from the dynamic Andrea proposed, "then asking him wouldn't make him examine his motives for following Kirk so blindly, because he would know reassurance was impossible."

"Carol, you know better than to underestimate Joey," Andrea pointed out.  "He's afraid of nothing.  He would turn his back on God and damn his own soul if he truly believed it was the right thing to do."

"Do you think he felt that way about Kirk?" Carol asked.

"I think he's considered it," Andrea answered.

"I love Joey so much," said Carol.  "But if he thought for a moment that in making Kirk a barrier between us he might turn me against my own son, I truly believe he would go away and never return.  That's why I dare not ask him: not to protect him from something but to keep from losing him altogether."

"Of course," Andrea mused; "men and their honor: it'll be the death of the human race yet."

Knowing what was on the Alcoa Highway bridge crossing the Tennessee River into Knoxville, Joey decided to try another way.  He led his party along a slightly more northerly route; this brought them parallel to old US 441, which merged with State Highway 71 to eventually cross the Tennessee River to the east of the University.  There were no bones or skulls on that bridge.  When they were safely across, they took a sharp left turn to Nexland Drive, which followed the river's western shoreline along the southeastern fringes of the University.

They could see Nexland Stadium from the other side of the river, but could not tell till they crossed and began following the shoreline what state it was in, only that it was still standing, still largely intact.  It loomed ever larger before them like a ruin from some ancient public event, its walls broken and charred.  When they reached its western wall, they turned to the right to head north along Stadium Drive which, before being buried under five feet of snow and ice, used to run through the heart of the University, becoming 5th Street after intersecting Andy Holt Drive.  At the northeastern corner of that intersection stood the remains of the old Hoskins Library, the building Andrea had identified as housing her father's papers.

Like every other building on campus, the Library was charred, but appeared to be intact.  The party worked its way to the main entrance on White Avenue.  Joey told the others to wait outside while he determined if it was safe inside.

"Let me go with you," Alice asked.  "I can sniff danger before you can see it."

But Joey refused to allow even Alice to accompany him as he made his way through the foyer into the main lobby.  The floors had not given way, though much of the interior was gutted, and in places the flooring was visibly weakened by the fire.  Against the far wall of the lobby was a plaque identifying the building; though charred, it was still legible.  "The Hoskins Library," the plaque read in large bold lettering; below it, in smaller type, "The University of Tennessee Map Library."

Joey stared at the designation, wondering now if perhaps he had misunderstood Andrea.  "It's not at the Hodges Library," he distinctly remembered her saying; "it's at the Hoskins Library."  Yet how could that be: the Hoskins housed maps?

"This is not the time to doubt my own senses," Joey told himself.  "Logic says this can't be the place.  Yet it must be."

Joey slowly and carefully made his way to the third floor, where Andrea said her father's collection was housed in a room off to the left of the main stairway.  The stairs were charred, like the rest of the building, but less noticeably so the higher they rose.  When Joey reached the third floor landing, he was astonished by what he saw.

The fire had not reached this high.  Everything seemed to be exactly as it must always have been.  He turned to the left, traversing a narrow corridor which led to a closed door.  On the door was a small plaque; on it, the words "Little Red Schoolhouse."  Joey opened the door and went in.

The room was roughly the size of a small classroom and designed to look like a one room schoolhouse of the kind seen in photographs of late nineteenth century rural America.  The desks and chairs were small and wooden, of an old grammar school type, the desks having compartments beneath the desk top.  Up front was the teacher's much larger desk; the blackboard behind it was an old fashioned chalkboard of the kind not seen in classrooms since the mid twentieth century.  There was even a replica of an old wood burning stove at the back of the room.

Joey was beginning to think all the books and papers of Professor Kirkus had been removed when he happened to notice something sticking out of one of the student's desks.  On his way to see what it was, he noticed that all the desks seemed to contain something.  On closer inspection, he discovered a small stack of books in each desk compartment: the books of Professor Kirkus.

He rummaged through a few of the desks until finding the book he was looking for: a slender cloth bound book entitled "School Days."  He picked it out of the stack and retreated from the room.

On a sudden impulse Alice darted into the Library and ran to the stairway.  She stood at the landing a moment, listening for sounds of footsteps.  Hearing none, she rushed up the first flight of stairs to stand once again and listen.  This time she heard the faint, muffled sound of steps overhead.  She started up the second flight of stairs when the steps overhead grew suddenly louder.  She stopped halfway up and turned around to glance back down; she stood there, suspended between the second and third floors, listening.

Joey appeared at the top of the stairs and started down.  "I didn't mean to take so long," he said.

"Don't move!" Alice cried.  "And don't speak."  She continued listening.  Then she whirled around, motioned for Joey to head back up the stairs, and started up herself.  "Go back the way you came!" she ordered as she reached the landing.

Joey obeyed without question.  Together they retreated to the Little Red Schoolhouse.  As they entered, Alice spat on the plaque identifying the room.  Then a wrenching sound issued from below - a sound Joey at once recognized: the same sound he had heard in the library at Parrottsville.  Following quickly was the sound of the stairway leading from the first to the second floor ripping apart.  Then silence, then a howl of wind, then the crash of the whole first floor onto jagged rocks.  And with the crash came the sound of the second floor beginning to give way.

Joey and Alice headed to the window.  "The snow's not soft," he reminded her.  "We may be hurt if we jump."

"We may be killed if we don't," Alice rejoined.

Joey took one of the student's chairs and smashed the largest of the three sets of windows in the classroom.  When the other members of the party heard the windows smashing, they ran to the far end of the building.  Looking up, they saw Joey and Alice readying to jump.  They hastily spread as much on the ground as they could to try and soften the impact - coats, blankets, even their hats, gloves and scarves.  Then Alice jumped.  Joey waited a moment for her to be helped out of the way before jumping himself.  Just as he leapt from the window ledge the entire third floor gave way.  The whole classroom went crashing three floors onto the same jagged rocks that had claimed the first two floors of the Hoskins Library.  The walls shook on their foundation as if they, too, would cave in; then grew quiet again.

Joey got up and walked over to see if Alice was alright.  She was limping as she tested both legs.  "Just a sprain," she concluded.  "I'll wrap it in ice and let it rest a couple hours - that is, if you can spare a couple hours."

"We'll make time," Joey said.  "You saw this coming?" he asked Alice.

"Only at the last minute," Alice responded.  "I knew you'd get trapped if you started out the way you came in."

"Why is our timing suddenly so bad?" Joey asked.  "First Parrottsville, just as it gave way; now Knoxville.  Why?"

"You didn't just happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time any more than Felicia's father," Alice told him.  "I'm afraid, Joey, you were not an innocent passer-by who got caught up in some catastrophe: you were the cause of the catastrophe."

"What?" Joey asked, as if he had not heard Alice correctly.  "The cause?  I was the cause?  How?"

"By being there," Alice answered.  "I see it so clearly now.  These buildings sit precariously atop the mountains being forged beneath this ground.  All it took was the weight of one man's steps to precipitate their giving way.  They will all give way in time whether anyone sets foot inside or not."

"Then we will no longer visit any of the towns or cities in this area," Joey resolved.  "There will be no turning back.  When we leave Knoxville, we leave everything man has built.  Whatever we don't already have, we will do without.  It's too dangerous."

"Remember, Joey: you are Mohammed," Alice observed.  "The mountains will come to you, whether you go to them or not.  There is no safe place in the Appalachians."                                                        

On the way back from Knoxville, Joey avoided all the places he had used as guideposts along the way - the towns and villages that reassured him his path was leading where it was mapped to go.  But, as he and the others discovered during what seemed to them a nearly endless journey to Mount Guyot, these places were far more than simply markers along their route: though burned out and abandoned, they were reminders of man's presence, reminders that the travelers were not alone on this planet, that somewhere other people survived, and that one day they would be re-admitted into the fold of human civilization.  The trip home felt not only longer for the absence of man's creations but lonelier as well, as if a traveling companion had suddenly disappeared.

Shooks, Kimberlin Heights, Boyds Creek, Sevierville, Pine Grove, Middle Creek, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg - all the towns they expected to see on the way home they went miles out of their way to avoid, for no other reason than that, now, Joey was convinced the entire area had been affected by whatever Alice sensed fast at work beneath the ground, making their return from Knoxville a day and a half longer than their journey to the city.

Paris was waiting for them at the mouth of the cave.  Before going inside, Joey took out the book he had gotten at Knoxville and handed it to the boy.  "I can read it with you," Joey told him, "but I have to depend on you to learn it.  I'm not a teacher.  I may not even understand all of it.  I'm sorry that's all I can give you.  Alice says you already know everything you'll ever need to know; you just don't yet have the words to express it.  I know that God will give you the right words, even if I had never found this book.  God loves you."

"God loves, God hates," Paris replied.

"No," said Joey, "God cannot hate, only love."

Paris looked up at Joey and smiled.  "Joey can only love," he said.

"I would like only to love," Joey corrected the boy, "but I can hate also.  Only God is without flaws."

"To hate is not a flaw," Paris answered.  "Babies love, babies hate.  God loves, God hates.  It's not a flaw."

The boy quickly learned the basic concepts Professor Kirkus had put forth in his book.  Joey's role, as he discovered, did not need to be that of a teacher; it was enough simply to read the pages together with Paris and to help the boy understand terms which were beyond his experience.  Joey recalled a passage from an old book he had seen as a child; the book was Through The Looking Glass; the passage read "Take care of the words and the sense will take care of itself."  He had no idea - neither then nor now - if the words were intended ironically or not, only that they perfectly expressed the dynamic he witnessed as Paris gleaned from Kirkus' written words the concepts they were meant to convey.

"When it's time, I'll teach the babies," Paris told Joey.  "Felicia already knows."

"You've read that book?" Joey asked the girl, who was with Paris at the time.

"My father taught it to me," she said.  "But I don't like it."

"Why not?" Joey asked.

"It puts everything in little boxes and lines them all up by size," Felicia explained.  "I don't want my thoughts inside boxes.  I don't want to take my dreams apart and see what they're made of.  I want them to be bigger than the sum of their parts."

"But how can they be?" Joey asked.

"Because they have something special that you can't put a name to," Felicia said, adding "Paris understands.  He knows I'll go on the ocean one day and stay there forever.  That book would try and tell me it can't happen - but it can, and it will.  And Paris knows it."

"Will you go with Felicia?" Joey asked Paris.

He shook his head somberly and said "No," as he looked up into Felicia's big green eyes.

"Why not?" Joey asked the boy.

"I'll teach the babies," Paris repeated.

"But the babies will be grown then," Joey reminded him.

"They already know what they have to do," said Paris.  "I'll teach them how."

This time it was Joey who expressed his concern about Paris to Carol.  "I should have paid more attention," he confessed.  "I don't know where he gets these ideas.  He thinks Andrea's babies are somehow going to keep him from being with Felicia."

"She is an unusually beautiful child," Carol pointed out.  "And, even now, she has a dreamy, almost sublime air about her.  She isn't that much older than Brad and Cade; they'll be as taken with her as Paris is.  Unless they just don't like girls," she added, almost as an afterthought.

Joey looked Carol straight in the eye.  "I know you've wondered if I felt more for your son than I should have," he said to her.  "There were times when I wondered too.  When I was lost in the cave in Wyoming, I questioned everything.  Only I never got an answer - that's the irony.  God saved me; and I believed that only if I had reached the point of death would I have known for certain.  I know the way I loved Kirk was wrong - but not in that way I don't think.  I loved Kirk exactly as a megalomaniac loves himself.  It's wrong to have that level of self-love, wrong to put yourself so much higher than everyone else.  I could never do that.  But I have it in me to.  And, instead of fighting it, and defeating it, I let it transfer itself from me to him.  I allowed him to become the object of my megalomania.  Only I never saw it for what it was till after he made us leave him beside that tree and I stumbled into this cave.  Then I knew - all at once.  I knew what I had done.  Carol: it would have been less wrong to have seduced him and loved him that way than to have done what I did to him.  Instead of making him a lover, I made him a god.  I offered him as a false god before the one true God.  God took him when He should have taken me.  My love helped destroy your son.  Now do you see why I have no earthly right to your love?"

Carol reached up and held Joey's face in her hands, and said to him softly "No."  For a moment they stared into each other's eyes.  Joey felt himself being drawn to her.  For an instant he thought he was reaching out to her to cry in her arms; then he realized he had no more tears to shed.  "So what am I doing?" he asked himself.  And before he could answer, he was holding Carol in his arms, thinking to himself "We're alone, no one can find us."  He had never kissed before.  He realized he had never even wondered what it would be like to kiss - and the realization took hold of him with a violence he had never experienced.  In his mind was the half formed accusation, "How dare you never have wondered - how dare you!"  It was as if it were her fault he had never wondered - her fault, for which she had to be punished, by making her experience the same anguish he was experiencing.  He couldn't stop kissing her.  Even as his hands worked their way across her body, loosening her clothes and grasping at everything beneath them, he continued to kiss her.  Even as he felt his own clothes coming loose from his body, and felt the touches of exploration everywhere on him, he kept his mouth locked to hers.  Even as he felt his body slowly descend to the ground, felt the soft rounded form beneath him yielding to his every demand, felt the controlled movements throughout him driving every muscle toward a single point of contact - even as he felt a cry welling up in his throat that he desperately wanted, needed to expel, through a sound or through some other way, his mouth never left hers.  His throat shuddered and gagged till his cry had been driven down his chest and through his belly into his groin.  Only then did he release his kiss and let his mouth go limp.

He could hear the stream on the other side of the small recess he had led Carol to.  All he wanted to do was sleep and be lulled by the endless flow of water; but he made himself focus on the flow itself, on the water just a few feet away, without at first realizing why.  Then it struck him, as suddenly and as violently as his passion had overtaken him.

"My God!" he exclaimed.  "It's starting to bubble again!"

Joey got up, hastily got dressed, and ran from the recess around to the rear chamber.  Before he even got to the stream, he saw what was wrong.  The cold water flowing from the gash in the wall had diminished to little more than a trickle - no longer enough to keep the heat from gurgling to the surface.  Steam was beginning to arise from the shallower waters nearest the shoreline, across from where the cold water entered the stream.  Joey tested the water.  Though hot, it was not scalding.  He waded across the stream to examine the wall.  The material around the hole Paris had knocked in the wall was brittle; he broke slabs of it loose in an effort to widen the conduit, knowing full well that even if he succeeded in channeling more water into the stream the result would only be temporary.  Clearly the pool of cold water was nearing exhaustion.

"Is there more, behind yet another wall?" Joey wondered aloud.  "Or is there another heated pool beyond?  More to the point, must a grown man seek the advice of a five year old boy to help provide for the people he leads?  And, if so, is he fit to lead?"

Joey had not noticed the two figures standing on the bank, watching.  Paris and Felicia had come to the stream to sit with their feet in the water, as they did almost every day.  They had overheard him.  In turning to see if his efforts had made any difference, Joey saw the two children.

"Don't get in the water!" he called to them.

"I have to!" Paris called back.  "You wait here," he told Felicia as he started across.

Joey ran to him, grabbed him up, and angrily set him back on the bank.  "I told you to stay!" Joey scolded as he climbed up the bank himself.  "I will not have you disobey me where your safety is concerned," Joey said in a firm but less scolding tone.

"Only where your safety is concerned," Paris answered, pointing to the stream.  Joey turned around.  The water was becoming a seething cauldron, exactly as it was when he found it.  Steam was beginning to rise up from the water's entire surface.

"Alice was right," Joey muttered.  "We'll have to leave."  Then he turned back to Paris.  "You disobeyed me to get me out of there; if I'd stayed any longer I'd have been trapped.  For that I'm grateful.  But that wasn't the way to do it."

Paris nodded.  "It was," he admitted.  "If I said it was getting hot, you wouldn't have come across till you were done.  But we don't have to leave," Paris said after a moment.  "There's more cold water.  I know where it is."

"More cold water?" Joey asked.  "Behind the same wall?"

Paris shook his head.  We can't punch a hole in the wall," he said.  "We have to dig under the wall."

"More cold water?" Joey repeated himself.  "It'll give us time to plan, and not have to leave all at once.  Show me where it is, so we can get started."

Again the boy shook his head.  "I can't show you," he told Joey.

"But you said you know where it is?" Joey prompted.

"I do," Paris replied.  "But only you can show where it is," he added.  "It's where your son was born."

Joey was more puzzled by Paris' response than anything else - not because of the particular words the boy spoke; he knew the words were not to be taken literally; nor because he thought Paris had witnessed what happened between him and Carol; but, rather, because of the profound irony that drew him to that exact spot at that particular time.  Then he smiled at his own amazement: it was as if he had momentarily forgotten the one absolute in his life, or else he would never have thought what happened and where it happened ironic.  God had led him to that alcove; God had married he and Carol and determined that a child should issue from that union.  Now he understood how he could perform an act he thought himself incapable of: God had removed the barrier standing between man and wife.

"Follow me," Joey told Paris and Felicia.  "I'll lead you to the water."

When they reached the spot, Paris stopped and pointed to a place along the wall separating the cavern from the smaller chamber which housed the stream.  "There," the boy said.  "You have to dig there."

Joey marked the spot by digging in the soft ground beside the wall.  "And the water?" he asked.

"When you dig deep enough you'll release it," said Paris.

After marking the spot, they returned to the others.  Along the way, Joey asked Paris if he would help teach his son when the child was born.

"For a while," Paris said.

The boy's response sent a chill down Joey's spine.  He wanted to ask what Paris meant, but was afraid to.  He knew it meant one of the two would not be there fore long; but he couldn't bear knowing which one it would be.

As quickly as he could, Joey assembled a team to begin releasing the waters stored beneath his marriage bed.

They had managed, on their trips to the surrounding towns, to acquire a meager store of tools and implements needed to maintain the way of life they had established.  All the shovels, hoes and picks were assembled and carried to the alcove.  Mount Everest worked out an impromptu scheme for digging their way down to the water.

"No matter where the water is," he explained to Joey, "we have to make sure we find a way through the wall.  Even if we could tunnel beneath it, we'd be too far down for the water to run into the stream.  We can construct a rudimentary aqueduct - something like the one Paris knocked down; but only if we're able to use gravity to at least start the water flowing.  We don't have the technology to run it uphill.  Above all, we want to keep the channel small to regulate flow and pressure."

The work crew, following Mount Everest's direction, began digging with shovels; then advanced to hoes as they worked their way deeper into the ground; finally abandoning everything but picks when they reached a point too far down to trust the bigger, more cumbersome tools.  At each stage of the work Mount Everest and Joey consulted Paris to try and get a sense of how close they were to the water.

"Tell them to stop," Paris finally brought a halt to the slow, laborious progress being made with the picks.  The work stopped immediately.  "A few more feet," the boy told Joey.

Mount Everest relayed the message to his crew, who dug the rest of the way one slow, careful inch at a time until finally tapping into the pool of water Paris had led them to.

At first nothing happened.  The water just sat there, a tiny pool at the bottom of a tiny shaft, neither spurting to the surface nor even gurgling beneath the surface.  Mount Everest surveyed the dig, but could get no idea of the extent or depth of the water.  He shook his head resignedly.

"We'll have to pump it out," he advised Joey.  "And there's no way we can do that with any of the equipment we have.  To get the water, we've got to find the right equipment.  That means returning to the towns and cities."

"No," said Joey.  "We will not set foot in those places again; it's too dangerous.  We'll have to move."  He turned to Paris.  "I'm sorry," he told the boy.  "We can dig the hole wider and use it for drinking, bathing and cooking," he told Mount Everest.  "But it's just a matter of time till the heat forces us out."

As Joey spoke, a rumbling began deep beneath the surface. The pool of water, calm and quiet a moment earlier, began moving, at first without any discernible pattern, then with the rippling motion characteristic of tidal waters.  The ground above the pool, where the crew was stationed, trembled as if caught in the vortex of an earthquake.

"We've got to get out of here!" Joey ordered his men.  "Warn the others and leave!"

Paris looked up at him and shook his head; but it was Mount Everest who spoke.

"I don't think so," he said.  "This is not what it appears.  Now I understand what Paris meant.  By digging, we opened a channel - not for water to come out but for air to get in.  Just enough air to set the water in motion.  The ground isn't quaking; the water's starting to flow now.  It's resuming its course.  It's going directly to the stream, beneath the surface.  It must have been part of the same stream then gotten sealed off by whatever created the cavern.  It remained cold, behind the wall; while the flow on the other side became hot.  Now Paris has made them one again."

The rumbling of the water, the quaking of the ground began dissipating as the water broke free of its dam to resume its natural flow.  Joey and his men could hear, on the other side of the wall, the muffled splash of water colliding below the surface.  All at once, as if responding to the same cue, all the men took off running toward the entrance to the chamber behind the wall.  By the time they arrived, the mating of the two streams had already begun.  A spray of water arose from the stream to replace the steam that had billowed up to the ceiling almost constantly since the flow of water from behind the far wall had stopped.  The churning bubbles of waters mixing at impact replaced the boiling gurgle of a scalding pool.

As Joey and his men stood watching the waters cooling before their very eyes, another manifestation of the stream's metamorphosis summoned their attention.  The water level was rising.  The stream was already beginning to spill over its banks.  What had been an awesome spectacle suddenly became an ominous threat.

"Now, thanks to that kid, we'll all drown - or be forced out of here once and for all!" Stone Creek angrily exclaimed.

Joey had no argument in defense of Paris' plan.  All he could do was take full responsibility for the plan's execution.  "I should have foreseen this," he acknowledged.  He ordered his men away from the stream.  "It may not flood the entire cave," he said.  "But we'd better prepare for it."

Everyone left the chamber to gather their belongings in case they were forced out.  Stone Creek walked beside Joey.

"It may be time for a change of leadership," he told Joey.

Joey carefully considered the proposition before responding.  "I led us here," he said.  "I will lead us out of here, when the time comes.  Then, if the people wish it, a new leader will be chosen."

"Truthfully," said Stone Creek, "I don't think the boy will ever be fit to lead.  There's nothing pre-ordained - especially not now, after all that's happened.  No one has a claim on anything - least of all on leadership."

Stone Creek's words frightened Joey, not for himself, not even for Paris; but because they told him the old ways were still there, lingering beneath the surface, just waiting for an opportunity to come forth - exactly as the water dammed beneath the cavern floor had been released with nothing but a puff of air.  Joey looked around to Paris, as if to reassure himself that the boy was alright.  He stopped cold in his tracks.

"Paris?" he called as he looked all around.

"Maybe he went ahead of us," Stone Creek suggested.  "He doesn't wait for anyone else before doing something."

"I would have seen him," Joey pointed out.

"He's probably with that girl."

Joey thought a moment.  It made sense to him.  "Maybe so," he agreed.

He and Stone Creek resumed their walk.  Then, a second time, he stopped cold.  Up ahead was Felicia, standing alone, as if waiting for someone.  Joey turned.  "He can't be there," he muttered, "he can't."  Before he even finished speaking, he took off running toward the stream.  A few minutes later he was standing in the doorway, watching the water rise.  At first, he saw nothing; then, on a second sweep of the watery vista, he noticed something in the water, just beyond the bank.  He took it for a rock and started to leave the chamber when, all of a sudden, he cried out, "Oh God!"

What he took for a rock was the head of a boy, completely surrounded by rising waters.  They were up to his chin.  Joey started toward him.  As he did, a strong hand reached out and grabbed his arm, halting his progress.  He turned to see who dared hamper Paris' rescue.

"Will you never learn?" asked Alice as she released Joey's arm.        

Joey stood for an instant, poised between Alice's question and the drowning boy.  Then he looked at her as if she had lost her mind and took off running through the waist high water toward Paris.

By the time Joey reached him, the water had already begun receding.  No longer at his chin, it was now at his throat.  As Joey stood staring in amazement, the water receded still farther, till it was down to the boy's shoulders.  Paris reached up to take Joey's hand.

"It's safe now," he told the leader of his people.  "We can go home."

Joey held tightly to the little hand, as much for his own reassurance as for the boy's safety.  They started back, Joey looking the whole time toward Alice.

"You should be our leader," he said when they reached the entrance.

Alice shook her head.  "My time here is coming to an end," she said.  "I don't know how, or when, but I know it is.  Only you can prepare a path for this magic child - who you keep forgetting is magic.  But be aware: that path grows more perilous with each triumph.  The boy is magic, yes, but has not attained the age of wisdom.  He can show how to thwart nature, but it is you who must decide whether to do so.  Remember: the earth is watching.  Once again, you've diverted it, you've set it back in whatever it's planning to accomplish.  Your God may not be a vengeful God, but this planet He created is a vengeful planet.  Be careful.  It knows you.  It will come and carry off your most precious possession.  Do not continue interfering with its plan.  This boy will always show you how to do it.  He doesn't yet understand.  You must be strong enough to resist his magic - and make no mistake: his magic, like everything wondrous, is a double-edged sword.  As it cuts a path to your goal, it silently cuts off your path of retreat.  Leave this place.  Gather your people and leave.  Do not tell them the waters have receded.  They're resigned to leave: let them.  The chance to steal away silently may never come again."

"No," Joey replied.  "To leave now is to turn them against Paris.  They'll blame him for the rest of their lives for driving them from their paradise.  I can't let that happen.  I can't.  I'm sorry, but I can't."

"Then resign yourself to a life of loss," Alice warned.

Joey smiled.  "Just as you have to keep reminding me of Paris' magic," he told her, "so, too, do I have to constantly remind you of God's power.  This earth He created - vengeful as you say it is - cannot do anything He does not allow it to do.  I realize it looks as if He's abandoned humanity - but He hasn't.  It's humanity that's abandoned Him.  It spent so much time and energy going through the motions of honoring Him that it had none left to examine its motives for doing so.  Mankind didn't deliberately turn its back on God; it abandoned Him for the image of Him it created.  They made a very big, and very fateful mistake when they said you must accept God as your creator and Jesus as your savior.  We are not worthy of such presumption.  It's up to God to accept us as His creations and Jesus to accept us as his father's children.  I know you could turn around what I've said and accuse me of presuming to know God without any more evidence than they had.  I have no defense - and because I have none, I can never ask others to accept my beliefs.  Even my own son, when he's born: I'll tell him about God but I won't try and convert him."

A strange, almost unnatural look came over Alice's face when Joey mentioned his unborn son, as if something she herself had set in motion, something wandering aimlessly, had suddenly found its direction.

"What is it?" Joey asked.

"I have no words for it yet, "Alice answered.  "All I know is that I must ask your forgiveness now, when it's still possible."

"There's nothing you could - or would - do that needs my forgiveness," Joey assured her.

Paris, who had been walking beside Joey, taking in the whole conversation, now turned to Alice and said, softly, "I forgive you."

"No," Alice told the boy, "you can't forgive in someone else's place.  The deed will not involve you."

"I'm not afraid of the big cat," said Paris.

Alice paled at Paris' words.  From them arose an outline of what she, herself, was beginning to see but had no words for.  "I gave the earth its instrument of retribution," she said.  "I took so many lives," she tried to explain the dynamic taking control of her destiny; "now I'm being punished - in the only way possible: by forging the weapon to be used against you.  The boy sees it while I'm still looking for it.  Be on your guard, Joey.  And leave this place while there's still time."

"I intend to prepare us for that," Joey assured her.  "This new water will not keep us here, but it will give us time."

"Time is not given freely," Alice countered.  "It carries a high price."

The people quickly settled back into their normal routine once the stream cooled down.  Everyday Joey reminded them that they would soon be leaving; everyday he asked them to start preparing their things for when they leave; everyday they assured him they would begin right away.  Three months, six months, nine months, then a year passed and no preparations were made.  Even Joey kept putting it off - partly because of the responsibilities of his office; partly because he had very few possessions; but mostly because of his wife's pregnancy, then, three quarters of the way through the year, the birth of their son.

Carol went into labor late Tuesday evening.  She had felt it coming since early morning, so she spent the day gathering everything she would need, as well as getting herself ready for the delivery. She sent for Alice early in the evening, when the first signs of labor appeared.  When Alice arrived, she asked Carol if she wanted Andrea there to help with the delivery.

"She needs to be with her sons more than to help me bring mine into the world," Carol replied.  "I don't remember how it was with Kirk - whether it was difficult or not.  But I feel that this child is so eager to come into the world it'll go quickly."

Carol's labor was as easy as Andrea's had been difficult.  When her water broke, her labor began almost immediately.  An hour and a half later, at the stroke of midnight Wednesday, August 7, 2075, she gave birth to a boy who Alice weighed in at eight pounds seven ounces on a makeshift scale Paris had helped Mount Everest make. 

"You won't even know he's gone," Paris had whispered into Mount Everest's ear when the scale was done.  Mount Everest showed no reaction to Paris' words.

Joey saw the boy first, at the exact instant his head emerged from his mother's womb.  His eyes were wide open and sparkling; his head covered in waves of chestnut blonde hair; his mouth poised almost in a smile.  Alice reached down and helped him the rest of the way out, barely pulling on his little arms, just as Carol barely pushed on his legs to release him.  Alice quickly performed the necessary tasks to get the boy on his own; everything she did, he moved with her instead of resisting her movements.

"He has his father's will," Alice quipped.  "And his father's hair.  And his mother's mouth and nose.  But his eyes are his own."

Then she returned the baby to his mother and departed the tent.  Carol looked at him then looked up at Joey and smiled.  Joey smiled back.

"What shall we name him?" Joey asked.

"You've already named him," Carol answered.  "No matter what we called him, in your heart he would always be Sandy.  So let's name him that."

"How did you know?" Joey asked.  "I've never said -"

"There's nothing you haven't said - don't you know that?" Carol told him.  "You don't need words - if you never spoke again, everyone would still know everything you mean to say, and almost everything you're thinking.  No one alive - probably no one who ever lived - is any more honest or sincere.  That's why I loved you so much.  To be with someone you never have to wonder about, never have to be braced for the unexpected, never have to fear losing.  I know that isn't every woman's ideal, even if she says it is.  I know most women secretly long for a man of mystery, who they will never fathom no matter how long they're with him.  But not me.  I want tomorrow to be there, right up to my very last day.  I don't want it to slip away at the last minute and leave me stranded.  Remember that night on Eads Bridge, when we climbed up to keep from being washed away?  I know everyone thinks I deliberately fell so Kirk would save himself rescuing me.  But that wasn't it.  I didn't pretend.  When I thought of him down there, all alone, slipping away from me all over again, I couldn't bear it.  I started to climb back down, to be with him; but I lost my balance when I turned to look at him; and I fell.  As much as I loved you, even then, I couldn't bear losing another tomorrow.  I would rather have died with it than lose it.  That's the irony of it.  In choosing to perish with him I saved him.  If I hadn't turned to look at him I would have climbed all the way down - and there wouldn't have been enough time to climb back up.  There's nothing but irony.  I know you think it's God; but it isn't.  It's irony, controlling our every action."

Little Sandy was as happy and healthy as any baby anyone could remember ever having seen.  Everyone found some reason, no matter how trivial, to pay the proud parents a visit; not a day went by - and some days not an hour - without someone stopping by.  Even people who cared almost nothing for children found themselves drawn to this newborn who seemed genuinely pleased to see them, no matter if he had just awaken from a nap, or if he were sleepy, or hungry.  He rarely cried and rarely laughed either, greeting everyone with a quiet smile that radiated the same inner joy as the sparkle in his eyes.

The other children adored him.  Paris and Felicia came as often as they could.  Brad and Cade, though only two and a half years of age themselves, begged and pleaded with Andrea almost daily to go see the new baby; and, when they were there, invariably cried when it was time to leave.

Neither Joey nor Carol knew quite how to deal with the almost constant flow of traffic through their place in the cave - and the incessant intrusion into their lives it represented.  They were not particularly private individuals, but they were not used to this kind of attention.  After the first month and a half of non-stop visitation, they were both exhausted.  They decided they would have to do something to regain at least a measure of privacy.  Almost everyone in the community had been to see them a dozen times or more; Alice alone stayed away.  Her absence surprised Joey but not Carol.

"I thought she liked children," Joey said to Carol on one of the rare occasions when they were alone.  "She adores Paris."

"Because she thinks he's magic," Carol reminded Joey.  "She has very little interest in ordinary children.  She rarely visits Andrea any more either."

"I don't think that's it," said Joey.  "I think it has to do with Kirk and the other babies they tried to drown.  I'm going to pay her a visit and ask her why she hasn't come around."

"When you do," Carol asked her husband, "can you ask her how to keep everyone else from coming around?"

Alice's place within the cave was the most remote, a place no one needed to pass to get somewhere else.  Every time Joey came to see her, he thought of the old western movies he had seen as a boy - the ones where there was a hideout up in the hills which was always guarded by lookouts you couldn't see as you approached.  To get to Alice's, it was necessary to take a sharp turn to the left then proceed in almost total darkness down a long corridor, the faint light of her lantern, if it was turned on, the only thing to guide the way.

It was early evening; Alice's lantern was lit as Joey made his way down the corridor, her faint outline against the wall growing stronger the closer he got.

"I'd like to invite you to Sandy's christening," Joey greeted her.  "It'll be a week from tomorrow."

"I'll be there," Alice returned the greeting.  "Though I don't believe in giving God that much leeway with your child.  God isn't always in His heaven.  He sometimes looks at us from the underworld.  But if you're determined to offer Him your first-born, so be it."

"I am," Joey acknowledged.  "Alice, why haven't you come to visit?" he asked.

"My reason for not visiting gives you your plan to stop the others from visiting," Alice noted.  "If you wish to stop the visits," she added, knowing full well the answer.

"How would you go about it?" Joey asked.

"By putting them to work," Alice answered.

"I don't understand," said Joey.

"Make them plan their own escape.  Involve them in your own plan," Alice advised.  "Let their visits be a source of discomfort to their way of life.  The only thing is, you may keep them from ever visiting if you engage them in reality."

"This is what you'd do if you came to see Sandy?" Joey asked.

Alice acknowledged that she would.  "So I've stayed away," she explained.

"I don't know how even to get started - how to breach the subject," Joey admitted.

"You don't need to," Alice said.  "Just be working at all times, so that when they come you can explain away your distraction."

"It might work.  But I'm not sure that's the time or place to begin planning.  I need to summon everyone to a meeting to let them know," Joey concluded.

By the time of the christening the stream of visitors had slowed to a more normal flow.  Despite his reluctance, Joey took Alice's advice.  When he was not attending to his duties as leader or helping with household chores, his every spare moment was devoted to planning for the day his people would have to leave the comfort and security of Mount Guyot.  He had maps spread out on the floor, and a notebook and pen.  He would always greet his visitors first, and thank them for visiting; then excuse himself while he finished what he was doing, taking pains to involve them in his activities.

"What exactly are you working on?" Stone Creek, next to Alice the least frequent visitor, asked him one evening.

"The plans we'll need when we leave here," Joey answered.

"Why would we even consider leaving?" asked Stone Creek.

"I agree with Alice that this whole area is undergoing some geological change," Joey explained.  "Eventually we will be forced to leave."

"Then let's wait till then."

"No," said Joey.  "It may be too late if we wait till we're driven out.  Besides, the water will eventually run out."

"If it does, the boy can find some more," Stone Creek noted.

"There may not be any more," Joey pointed out.

"And where would you have us go?" Stone Creek asked.  "To some God-forsaken hole in Indiana to die in the snow waiting for something that may never happen?  Don't assume that the boy will succeed you as leader.  The people may have some plans of their own.  They may even reject your leadership if you try and force them out of here."

"They have that right," said Joey.  "The final say is theirs, not mine.  I can only trust God to guide them to their own safety."

Sandy was christened on a Thursday, November 7th, in the year 2075 - exactly three months after his birth.  Everyone was in attendance.  Joey had asked Alice to officiate, but she declined, saying it would not be proper for someone with the soul of a butcher to offer sacrifice to the Almighty.  His second choice was Mount Everest, who agreed, despite ill health and a distrust of the Almighty almost as great as Alice's.

"You ask the two greatest infidels among your people to commit your child to God," Mount Everest observed the irony of Joey's choice.

"I ask the two people I trust and respect the most," Joey responded.  "Brad didn't believe either - yet I'm as confident he's with God in heaven right now as I am that the sun will rise and set tomorrow."

"And Kirk?" Mount Everest asked softly.  "Is he with God?"

Joey looked off into the distance, as if trying to see the boy he had served so loyally.  "Kirk is where we left him," Joey answered.  "He has chosen to spend his eternity beneath the oak tree on the southern face of Clingman's Dome.  God loves him enough to honor his choice."

"The God you believe in is the most wondrous being imaginable," Mount Everest mused.

Joey smiled.  "Only an infidel could express His essence so perfectly," he said.

The christening was held beside the stream.  The prayers were short, the ceremony brief.  Water was passed over Sandy's forehead as Mount Everest pronounced the words.  "We who are present baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."  As the last drop of the font touched the child's forehead, a piercing cry sprang from the depths of the cave, startling everyone.  When the initial shock of the sound subsided, a panic began to set in.  Joey tried to calm his people.

"I'll lead a team to see what it is," he promised.  "I want six men to accompany me.  Everyone else stay here - this is the safest place in the cave."

"You don't even know where it came from," Stone Creek was quick to point out, further agitating the crowd.

"It came from the mouth of the cave," Alice answered for Joey.  She was one of only two who were not frightened by the cry.

Paris came over to stand beside Mount Everest, who was still holding the baby he had just christened.  Looking up into Mount Everest's arms, Paris pleaded with the child.

"No Sandy," he shook his head; "no, don't be happy now.  Please be afraid.  Please: be afraid."

But his pleas only intensified the child's eager excitement.  Sandy clapped his hands and babbled happily.  A tear ran down Paris' cheek.  "Sandy in the lion's den," he muttered in a choking voice.  Then he went over to Andrea, to stand beside the twins, Brad and Cade."

"When do baby's walk?" he asked.

"About a year and a half," Andrea replied.  "Sometimes sooner."

"Not sooner," Paris said as he sadly shook his head.

Alice accompanied Joey's team to the mouth of the cave.  "How can you be sure it came from there?" Joey asked her.

"The lion won't come in," Alice explained.

"Lion?" repeated Joey.  "Mountain lion?"

Alice nodded.

"The same one we saw at Parrottsville?" Joey asked.

"I think so," said Alice.

"And you really do think he's come for you?" Joey asked.

Alice turned away so as not to reveal her true thoughts.  "He's come," was all she would say.

"I know you don't want him killed," Joey began, but was cut off by Alice.

"I would kill him with my bare hands!" Alice exclaimed almost violently.  "If only I could."

"So he won't take you without a fight, eh!" Joey remarked, but Alice gave no reply.

When they arrived at the mouth of the cave, carrying torches and rifles, there was nothing to be found.  But, outside the cave, just as Alice had said, were the foot-prints of a wild animal.

"We must follow him," Alice insisted. "He must be killed."

Joey was finally beginning to piece together the separate and seemingly unrelated bits of conversation he had had with Alice over the past three months - ever since his son was born.  On a sudden impulse he grabbed Alice's arm and drew her closer.

"It isn't you he's after, is it?" Joey demanded to know.  "You'd never kill him to save yourself.  He's after Sandy, isn't he?  He's come for my son!"

Alice looked Joey squarely in the eyes.  "We must kill him," she echoed her earlier exclamation.  Joey turned pale and began trembling just as if Alice had come right out and said his son was marked for death.  He began shaking his head slowly back and forth, as if reacting to the unspoken words.

"No," he said, almost horrified at his own words.  "No - oh dear God help us - no - oh God, oh God help us - no...no...we will not track him down and kill him.  We will not murder this creature simply because he means to carry my son off.  It isn't right.  He's committed no crime, no sin.  We have no right to take his life.  We will stand vigil - as we always have.  If he comes among us, we will have no choice but to protect ourselves.  But we will not wantonly butcher one of God's creations in order to thwart its Creator's will.  We must trust in God.  All our lives are in His hands."

"Joey," Alice reminded her leader, "this is your son.  Look at him: already he has some of his half-brother's features.  You could do nothing to save Kirk; but you can help save Sandy."

"Alice," said Joey, "you forget: whatever God wills will come to pass.  For all we know there are more mountain lions -"

"Then kill them all!" Alice insisted.

"No," Joey repeated.  "We will not."  Joey released Alice's arm and turned to walk back into the cave when a sudden insight came to him.  He turned again.

"You're jealous," he said, not accusingly, but as a simply statement of fact.

Alice acknowledged Joey's observation with a nod.  "Very jealous," she admitted.  "I thought he came two thousand miles for me when in fact he had come for a child not even born yet.  But I wouldn't kill him for that.  I see wondrous adventures for your son.  Just as Paris will rebuild the earth, Sandy will re-live it.  He will bring Paris' new world to life long after the magic of the builder has passed away.  He must be given the chance to undertake those adventures - to re-kindle the human soul; he must be allowed to survive."

Again, Joey said "If God so wills it." 

Every night a guard was posted at the mouth of the cave.  This had been the way ever since they came to Mount Guyot, as it had been for as long as anyone could remember.  The only difference now was that wild animals had been added to the list of things to stand guard against.  Intruders, natural disasters, wild animals intent upon carrying off children: for each danger, a different set of instructions.  Detain intruders; sound the alarm when nature threatened; shoot to kill wild animals on sight.

"Why don't you simply go behind Joey's back and hunt the lion down?" Mount Everest asked Alice late one night when neither of them could sleep.

"No," she replied.  "I respect Joey's leadership.  I won't disobey him."

"Your allegiance is to no one," Mount Everest reminded her.

"It's to what I believe must happen for the world to be set right," Alice explained.  "As much as the world needs Sandy to re-kindle the spirit of adventure, it needs Joey's trust and faith even more.  His God may or may not be deserving of his devotion - it makes no difference.  Without the blind innocence of his faith the world Paris rebuilds will crumble as fast as it's built.  There is no one on this planet more needed right now than Joey.  I will not mock his worth by going behind his back to save his son."

"But look at all that's happened throughout history because of that blind innocence you find so necessary," Mount Everest countered.  "Perhaps, instead of being needed now more than ever, it needs to be driven from our world once and for all."

"It's not Joey's God we need, or even his faith," Alice restated her conclusion; "it's the blindness of his innocence.  He would turn on God in an instant if he truly believed God had abandoned us.  His is the blindness of absolute justice - something the world only needs once in a millennia.  And the time is now."

Alice and Mount Everest resumed their nightly stroll through the dark, uninhabited places within the cave - a ritual they had begun almost from the day they came to Mount Guyot.  Alice slept very little, and slept at odd hours; Mount Everest had difficulty sleeping, the illness that was slowly sapping his strength keeping him awake the entire night, sometimes several nights in a row.

"It goes without saying that I'm dying," he remarked matter of factly to Alice on one of their strolls.  "There's just no doctor in the house to make the official proclamation, that's all.  There was a time when you weren't allowed to die till your physician gave the go ahead - we've come a mighty long way, Alice.  There's no turning back now."

"What are you dying of?" Alice inquired.

"Death," Mount Everest replied.  "It's always lurking in the background - just like that lion who's come for...for him.  Gradually it works its way to the foreground.  I used to hate it when Paris - the original Paris: my friend John - when he took the life of someone he decided was a traitor.  He didn't just take their life - he took their death, too.  It was their death, and he took it: he ended it before it could make its move.  Macbeth murdered sleep; Paris Commune murdered death.  And his son murdered his death.  To anyone but you, Alice, this would sound like the ravings of a man who's losing his faculties.  But it's something I've always felt.  Our death lives in our shadow; it comes to know us as none other can; it knows our every weakness - even those we haven't yet discovered.  We have a right to see it face to face on the day it steps out of the shadow.  Kill a man, you substitute your death for his; you deny him his final visitation.  He can only taste of death through his killer.  How will death come for you, Alice?" Mount Everest asked.

"By mistake," Alice answered.

The twins adored Sandy.  Every day they begged Andrea to take them to see him; every couple days she agreed.  More than anyone else, she understood the dilemma Sandy's popularity created for his parents.  She didn't wait for Carol to mention the constant stream of visitors; she brought up the subject herself, on one of the rare occasions she and Carol were alone.

"You know I welcome your visits," Carol responded to her concerns.  "We've always visited each other.  I suppose it doesn't speak well of me that, even after all this time together, most of the people here are still almost anonymous - nameless, faceless people I see all the time but can't quite identify.  I know their names, I know their faces, but I've never come to know who they are, not really, not the way I know Joey, or you, or even Alice.  "Are they like that to you?" Carol asked.

"There was a time, perhaps, when I might have become gregarious enough to befriend everyone in the community," Andrea admitted.  "But the day I entered Pod City that ended.  That people could stand by while others died in their place, and not even so much as acknowledge their existence: no amount of pretence could ever remove that stain.  No matter how hard I try, I can't convince myself it was just them - that not everyone would be like that.  Because I know that under the right circumstances, everyone would.  I've told you before I don't hate Kirk for killing my husband.  Kirk bloodied his own hands, he committed the act openly, and directly, realizing he could never wash the stain from his hands.  He didn't let circumstances do his dirty work.  In my eyes Kirk was innocent of any wrongdoing.  He was not indifferent to Brad's death.  That alone atones for it."

The older of the twins, Brad, resembled his father, after whom he was named.  His hair and eyes were very dark, almost black.  He was active, aggressive, and generous with all his possessions.  Everyday the resemblance grew more pronounced.

The younger twin, Cade, was just the opposite.  His hair was light, his eyes blue; his manner was calm, quiet, reserved, and he was very protective of his possessions.  His resemblance also grew steadily more pronounced - but it was a troubling resemblance, a development totally inexplicable.  Just as Brad gradually assumed the image and likeness of his father, Cade assumed those of his father's killer.  He was the spitting image of Kirk.  Yet both had come from the same womb, from the same seed.

"It's as if I mated with both," Andrea told Carol.  "As if two seeds fertilized the same egg, or two separate eggs.  And they both grew at the same pace.  Yet I never made love to Kirk.  I shudder to think if Brad were still alive: he'd swear Cade was Kirk's son, and nothing I could say or do could ever convince him otherwise.  I don't know how Kirk's genes got inside my son."

"There's only one explanation," Carol said.  "My husband must have been your father as well as Kirk's.  He and your mother must have been together."

"I realize that's the inescapable conclusion," Andrea acknowledged.  "But knowing how much my mother and father loved each other, it's every bit as inconceivable as my having slept with Kirk and Brad both.  Yet that must be it.  I must be Kirk's half sister."

"There is a third explanation," a passing voice interjected into the conversation.  The voice was that of Alice.  "Please forgive my intrusion," she apologized.  "But I came to call and overheard you."

"A third explanation?" Carol asked incredulously.

"That's not possible," added Andrea.

"It is possible," Alice insisted.  "Kirk and Brad may have been brothers in more than name only.  You said Bradley Jerome Carter fathered Andrea.  I say he fathered Brad."

"But Alice," Carol pointed out, "it was pure chance that brought Brad to my husband."

"And that's the purity of chance," Alice, in turn, pointed out.  "It serves but one master: irony.  And what greater irony than to deliver to a man his own son disguised as the son or another.  The father of these twins carried both his and his brother's image within his seed.  The story of Cain and Able reversed; but the outcome is always the same, no matter who kills whom."

"It may be," said Andrea, as if speaking her own thoughts aloud.  "That, too, I would shudder if Brad had ever learned: he would have sworn his father had his parents - the ones he thought were his parents - killed.  But then, really, there's no end once you begin speculating.  Perhaps Carol wasn't Kirk's mother at all - perhaps Kirk and my brother were switched somehow, and Reggie was actually Carol's son, Kirk my brother.  Or perhaps Brad was actually Carol's son, who got switched with Reggie, who got switched with Kirk.  Or maybe Carol and I are sisters.  Maybe Carol was somehow switched for some other child.  Or my mother and Kirk's father brother and sister.  Not to make light of your suggestion, Alice; but it's just as likely that Cade grew according to my remembrance of Kirk as that his father was Kirk's brother.  The look on Kirk's face when he realized what he had done is as much a part of me as any memory of my husband.  Who's to say an image that's become so much a part of me didn't influence my son's development?  Who's to say Cade didn't take his features from my imagination as much as from mine and my husband's genes?  Hasn't the last decade shown how fragile all of man's activities and especially his certainties are?  The earth didn't behave as our geologists promised it would.  And, from what you say is happening right beneath the ground we're standing on, it's still disproving their theories and their laws.  Why shouldn't my son's face disprove the science of genetics as well?  You say a brand new material is being forged from the earth's image of its own rebirth - why shouldn't my son's face have come from my image of his father's death?"

The water was beginning to grow warm again.  Alice felt it again, and gave Joey a final warning.  "The earth has found your supply of cold water and is heating it up.  Not even Paris will find another supply this time.  You must begin your preparations at once."

Sandy had just celebrated his first birthday.  Three days later he began walking.  Carol spent every waking moment keeping him from wandering too far.  He seemed especially drawn to the chamber where the stream ran; every day he headed that way.  Carol took him to the stream occasionally, hoping to satisfy his curiosity; but it only seemed to make him more eager to get to it.

"He loves the water the way I do," Felicia told Carol.  "Maybe one day he and I will find a boat and sail the ocean for the rest of our lives."

"Have you ever seen the ocean?" asked Carol.

"In my dreams I see it every night," said Felicia.  "But I've never been closer to it than here.  I'll find my way, though."

"With Paris?"

"No, he won't be there.  He loves the earth too much."

Everyone called on Paris to find another source of cold water; but all he could do was stand there and shake his head slowly back and forth.  Most of the people believed him that he could find none; but a few saw a different explanation in his response.

Stone Creek became convinced that the boy wished to leave the warmth and security of the cave to begin laying the groundwork for his ascendancy to the leadership of the group - a notion everyone found utterly absurd.

"He's still a boy," came the inevitable response whenever Stone Creek offered his interpretation of Paris' inability to find more water.  "He found water twice.  Why all of a sudden refuse our request?"

"He wasn't ready to make his move," Stone Creek would reply.  "He was still absorbing all the nonsense Alice filled his head with - about rebuilding the world, about establishing his capital up north, about being the greatest builder the world's ever seen.  Now it's all inside his head, and he's ready to act on it."

"But we owe our entire way of life to him," Stone Creek was reminded.  "Not just finding the water; he showed us how to grow food.  Without him we'd have had to leave long ago."

"When we still could have!" Stone Creek delivered his argument's coup de gras.   "Without him, we would have had to move on.  We would have had to appoint another leader - one who wouldn't lead us in circles the way Joey did for six months.  We'd already be somewhere else, living a life there.  Instead, Paris gave us what was needed to keep us here - and keep Joey as our leader until he was ready to take over."

"He can't take over - he's still too young!" the counter argument ran.

"He's bought himself all the time he needs," Stone Creek rejoined.  "Leaving here now will completely disrupt our way of life.  No one will be willing to get rid of Joey until we've reestablished ourselves - and that won't be easy; it may take years.  Paris may be only a boy, but he's holding all the cards.  And, right now, there's no other game in town."

Joey had taken Alice's advice and began at once making preparations for his people's exodus.  He called meetings to discuss it, and went around to speak to everyone in private.  He carried a thermometer with him at all times; where once it had been used every night to determine how cold it was getting, now it was used to record the rise in temperature.  Every time he met with his people he displayed the thermometer.

"When it reaches 85," he would say, "we leave.  We should leave sooner than that - we should leave when it reaches 80.  But we may not be ready."

"Why not 90?" he was asked.  "We can stand 90.  Let's stay till it reaches 90!"

"No," he answered as often as it was proposed.  "Going from 90 degrees to sub-freezing: no, it's too great an adjustment.  Even 85 is risky."

"We've always gone on missions: no one ever died of exposure," he was reminded.  "Even at first when it was hotter than 90."

"They were missions," Joey pointed out.  "We always returned.  This time there will be no returning.  What we could survive for days, or even weeks, at a time, we may not survive month after month after month."

"The strong will survive," someone occasionally argued.

"We've started families here," Joey would try and counter that argument.  "We have a community.  We're no longer just a group of survivors who will die off one by one till none of us are left.  There's a chance for us to continue as a people.  And who are the weak and the vulnerable if not our children?  Especially the ones born here: they've never lived in the cold, as we have.  All they've know is warmth.  Some may be strong enough to withstand the outside world - but are you willing to risk all their lives to save a few?  We have to give them as much of a chance as possible.  The sooner we can leave the better their chance."

"The longer we can put it off the better," Stone Creek proposed his own scenario.  "Alice keeps saying the earth is rebuilding itself - that the Appalachians will rise like a new range of mountains.  Mountains are not born of ice but of fire.  This whole region will warm up.  Then we'll all survive - in an environment far more friendly than the one Paris wants to drag us to!"

While the debate raged, the cave grew warmer, the water became hotter, the earth began putting its own plan in motion.  The temperature, which had hovered around 80 for nearly a month, suddenly rose to 84 in a single afternoon.  By nightfall it had topped 87.

Joey summoned his people for one final meeting on Mount Guyot.  "We have no choice but to go," he told them.  "At daybreak we leave.  Gather everything you can.  We will assemble at the entrance before dawn and when we see the first light of day, we'll leave."

Joey's decision drew a storm of protest.  Many of his people questioned its wisdom; almost everyone considered it rash; a few refused flat out to follow his lead.

"Make no mistake," he told everyone, "this decision is final.  It is not open to compromise of any sort.  We will leave tomorrow morning.  Anyone who refuses will be forced to go.  There is no further discussion.  We will not stay here another day."

Arguments and counter-arguments were put forth, but Joey rejected all of them; and, in the end, the majority of his people accepted his decision.  They dispersed for the night to prepare their things and to get some sleep before setting out at daybreak.  The cave grew deathly quiet.

Carol awoke in the middle of the night and began groping in the dark.  The faint pressure of her son snuggled against her in sleep had gone, its absence tearing her from her dreams.  She fumbled for a lantern, fumbled to find the switch, fumbled to turn it on, pick it up as she arose from her bed, and flash it in every direction.  Even her voice fumbled as she called her son's name.

"Sandy!" she called in a series of echoes reverberating back at her.  "Sandy!  Where are you?"

She began running in the direction of the stream, still calling her son's name as she ran.

Others heard her and awoke too.  "What is it?" they called out to her.

"Sandy's gone!" she called back as she moved past them toward the rear of the cave.

Joey, too, heard his wife calling.  He had stationed himself near the mouth of the cave for the night, along with those standing guard.  He took off running, around the ledge to the left leading down to the cavern floor, listening for Carol's voice to try and pinpoint her location.

A child was making his way through the slender opening to the small chamber where the stream flowed as Carol was drawing near enough to see.  She cried out for him to come back; but he kept moving, toward the stream, drawing closer as Carol approached the chamber, standing poised on the shore as Carol dove through the opening.  Three seconds later she grabbed hold of the child and threw him back from the edge of the stream - but, in doing so, lost her balance and fell headlong into the stream herself.

A hand reached out to grab Carol's arm and pull her from the gurgling water.  The skin of her face, legs and right arm was blood red.  Joey pulled her back from the edge, took hold of the child she had saved with his free hand, and hurried back through the narrow opening.  He handed the child to the first person he encountered then began running, still holding his wife's arm.  She resisted.

"I've got to get you to the snow!" he cried to her.

"No," she answered back.  "Sandy's gone!  We've got to find him!"

Joey stopped in his tracks.  "Oh God," he moaned.  "Oh God, no.  Please dear God."  He turned to Carol.  "Was Cade trying to save him?" he asked.

"I don't know," Carol said.

Together they retreated back to the chamber, to the stream; but saw no sign of their son.

"If he's there," Joey said, "he's beyond our help.  I'm sorry.  But I've got to attend first to the living."

With this, he once again rushed Carol from the chamber toward the mouth of the cave, and out into the night, where he began packing snow around her scalded face and limbs.  Her skin had peeled, and was beginning to blister.  Beneath her burns her body began shivering in the cold night air; but Joey kept packing more snow around her, until he was satisfied he could do no more.

Alice had followed them out, carrying a lantern, and stood beneath the full moon watching Joey tending his wife's injuries.  Joey sensed someone's presence, but only looked up when he stopped.  Seeing it was Alice, he started to ask her advice; but she indicated with her raised hand that questions were irrelevant.

"Medical science has nothing to add to instinct," she said.  "Some say the world will end in ice," Alice paraphrased an old poem.  "If so, it's wounds will be healed in the process.  Keep your wife warm on the inside while you freeze her on the outside and she'll survive."

The words no sooner left Alice's mouth than Andrea emerged from the cave carrying blankets, which she handed to Joey to wrap around his wife.  Andrea's two sons were with her.  Carol and Joey both turned to Cade.  He began to cry.

"It chased him away," Cade looked up into his mother's face to say.  "I'm sorry I left without telling you.  I heard something.  And I saw Sandy.  I thought we would play.  I followed him.  Then it called him and he ran away.  And I heard the water.  I wanted to look at it.  I'm sorry."

Carol gathered all her strength to steady her trembling voice, and asked Cade were Sandy had gone.

"To that place," Cade answered.

"What place?" Carol asked.

"Where it calls him," said Cade.

"What calls him?"

"I don't know," Cade admitted.  "You can stand there and hear it.  It's a small place.  It's only big enough for Sandy.  When he hears it purr he goes in there." 

Joey's face turned as white as the snow he had packed around his wife.  Alice's warning rose up before him like a beast set to spring, only it wasn't him the beast was stalking.  He looked around, as if some answer lay there in the endless expanse of winter surrounding Mount Guyot.  Then he looked to Carol.  She nodded.

"Go," she said.  "I'll be alright.  Will you stay, Alice?" she asked.

Alice, too nodded.  Joey turned to Andrea.  "Is it alright?" he asked.

"Yes," she answered.  "Cade," she told her son, "will you go with Joey and show him the place Sandy went through?"

"I'm afraid," the child said.

As they talked, Paris and Felicia came from the cave and overheard them.  "We'll go with you," they told Cade.

"Alright," he reluctantly agreed.

Cade led Joey, Paris and Felicia back through the cave to the chamber where the stream ran.  When all four went through the narrow opening, Cade turned to the right and made his way almost to the end of the chamber, then turned abruptly to the right again and pointed to a slit in the wall which appeared to be nothing more than a large vertical crack in the stone.  Joey came and ran his hand down the slit, feeling his way through it.

"Not even Sandy could have gotten through this - it's too narrow," Joey concluded.  "And it leads nowhere but the other chamber."

Cade began to cry.  "He went through there," he said.

Paris came over and ran his hand along the opening.  He felt the faintest touch against his palm.  "Sandy didn't go through the wall," he said; "he went in it.  The wind is coming from out there.  The wall is hollow and leads outside.  I can go through there too, if someone breaks the rock."

"No," said Joey.  "No one else will go through there.  We'll go around, from the outside."  Joey went and got a compass and marked the exact location of this hollow wall.  Then he returned, with the three children, to the mouth of the cave.  He got a lantern and a gun and started off, alone, toward the point he had marked.

"Alice," said Carol, "please go with him."

"No," Alice replied.  "Only God accompanies him this time."

Joey made his way around the side of Mount Guyot.  When he reached the place his compass told him he was looking for, he began slowly examining the mountainside for an opening.  Half an hour later, he found it.

On the ground, in the snow, were tiny sets of prints.  He traced the prints along their nearly circular path to where they abruptly ended.  He looked up from the prints and there was the opening.  For another hour he searched, but found no trace of his son or the cougar.  The moon was setting.  In another couple hours it would be daylight.  Joey ended his search and headed back around the mountain.  The others were still waiting for him, watching him as he approached.  He held Carol's glance as he drew near.

"There were footprints," he said, "but no sign of our son."

"When it's light we'll follow the prints," Carol replied.

"There were two sets of prints," Joey told his wife.  "One set ended but the other kept going."

"Then we'll follow it!" said Carol.

"A decision has been made," Joey reminded her.  "We must leave at daybreak."

"I don't know if I'm up to it," Carol hesitated.

"We'll use Felicia's sled," said Joey.

"And our son?"

"We can't track a mountain lion - not in the mountains," Joey explained.  "It could have taken him anywhere.  I don't understand God's ways any more than you do - I don't know why He would take our son; but we have to accept His will.  In two hours we will leave this mountain forever."

Carol had stopped shivering.  Alice tended her wounds while Joey went in search of his son, changing the ice bandage every twenty minutes until, by the time Joey returned, the redness and swelling had all but vanished, and the blisters had begun healing.  The final layer of ice was removed and Carol was led back inside.  Alice covered her completely in a skein of silk she had carried away from one of the towns that was scavenged during their wanderings; and then wrapped her in blankets.

"This is how you will travel," Alice told her.  "The silk will keep your skin from overheating or being chafed by the blankets.  As long as you keep warm and don't go into shock - and I don't believe you will now - traveling in the cold is the best chance you have to heal."

"Will you accompany me?" Carol asked.

"You will not be alone," Alice replied.

While Joey sat on the ledge just to the right of the opening, awaiting the first rays of morning, which always crept a few feet into the cave, and went over his plans one last time in the final hours before leaving, other plans, from deeper within the cave, were being formulated.  Stone Creek assembled those who had expressed the strongest objections to leaving.                

"We have a decision to make," he addressed the five men who huddled in the half light of a distant torch, "and we have to make it here and now.  Do we give in to Joey's plan to abandon our home - or do we stand up and fight for our home?"

"How can we make a stand?" some asked.  "We're outnumbered.  Those who accept Joey's decision will force us to leave too."

"Not without a leader they won't," Stone Creek answered.  "No one wants to go, but they will because their leader orders it.  Eliminate the leader and they'll abandon his plan."

"You don't mean kill him?" someone asked.

"I respect and like Joey as much as any of you," Stone Creek carried the logic of his suggestion toward its inescapable conclusion.  "But the only way to save our home is to remove him.  The majority would never agree to end his leadership; so they only other choice is to end his life."

"And his successor?" someone else asked.  "Everyone understands that the child, Paris, will be our next leader.  What of him?"

"There can be no order of succession," Stone Creek answered.  "If they truly believe he's destined to lead them then he, too, must be eliminated."

"The others won't tolerate it!" it was pointed out.

"Then it'll have to look like an accident.  We still have a couple hours," Stone Creek reminded those he had gathered together.  "We'll make it look like Paris wandered off - the way Joey's son did.  And Joey went to find him.  But it was too late.  Paris had fallen into the stream; and Joey fell in trying to save him."

Everyone there objected to the cruelty of the plan, but Stone Creek refused to be swayed.  "We have no choice," he said.  "If we had more time, we could execute a more humane plan.  But there's only time for something quick and final - something that leaves nothing to chance.  As horrible as it seems, the stream is the only means we have of carrying out our plan.  Their suffering is the price of our freedom, and our home."

Objection after objection was raised and swept aside until, finally, everyone accepted the plan.  A little over an hour remained till the first light of day gave Joey the cue to commence his plan of exodus.  Stone Creek hastily worked out the details of his plan and set it into motion.  One of his followers sought out Joey near the mouth of the cave.

"You must come quickly!" the man said.  "It's Paris: he's gone in search of your son!  He's managed to get inside the wall, and can't get out!"

Joey hurried off with the man to the chamber at the rear of the cave.  Thrusting himself through the narrow opening, he turned abruptly to the right to head for the place where his son had disappeared.  But he was grabbed by five men waiting in ambush beside the wall of the chamber.  He struggled to free himself but could not overcome the resistance of five grown men holding him in place.

"Where's Paris?" Joey asked each of the men.  "Where is he?  What have you done with him?"

"He's safe," answered Stone Creek, who appeared through the opening leading the boy along.  "For now," Stone Creek added.  "What happens to him depends on you.  You can save him or execute him.  If you cry for help, he dies too."

"And if I don't?" Joey asked.

"Then only you need to die," Stone Creek answered.

Joey looked at Paris, at Stone Creek, then turned his head to the men holding him.  "Don't you understand?" he asked.  "You can't stay here!  This place will destroy all of you.  Kill me if you like - but leave this place!  Take your families and go!"

"We don't share your belief," Stone Creek told Joey. "We will not be forced to leave our home."

Joey started to speak out against their staying but was cut short by Stone Creek.

"We have no more time for discussion," he said.  "The time for action is now.  I'm sorry that we must do this, but you leave us no choice."

Stone Creek signaled his men, who began pulling Joey toward the stream.  Joey did not resist.  When they were only a few feet away, Joey looked back at Paris, meaning to let his eyes say farewell to this boy he had raised like a son; but as he stared into Paris' eyes a sudden realization struck him with the force of a lightening bolt.

"My God!" he cried out.  "You plan to kill him too!" 

Now Joey desperately tried to free himself from his captors as he was being pulled.  And as he struggled, Stone Creek slowly led Paris to the water's edge, readying the boy to plunge in behind him.  Joey was on the shoreline, one step from being thrown into the stream, Paris only a few feet behind him.  Joey felt himself losing his balance, felt himself falling backward into the steam arising from behind him.

When suddenly the cavern itself lurched, throwing everyone forward, loosening the grip Stone Creek's men had on Joey, freeing Paris from Stone Creek's grasp.  In a flash, while the others still reeled from the sudden motion of the cave, Joey reached out, grabbed Paris and leaped to safety.  As he did, he heard a sound, like that of a waterfall.  He kept going till he reached the narrow opening and pulled Paris through, then turned back to see what was happening.

Beneath the waterfall came the screams of Stone Creek's men.  The stream had risen up against those who would use it for murder.  Whatever force caused the cavern to lurch made the water surge like a tide.  It reached out to engulf the five men lying on the shoreline trying to get up.  Their leader, still standing and almost as quick to act as Joey, escaped the full force of the stream, only getting splashed as it hit the shoreline.

Joey sent Paris to rouse everyone, then ran back to try and help his captors, only to see them, one by one, wash back into the stream as the water receded, their fingers clutching at clumps of sediment around them, their faces bloated and locked in expressions of horror.  In a matter of seconds all five disappeared into the gurgling mass.  A few blistered hands reached up from the stream one last time then sank beneath it.  Joey turned and left the chamber.  Stone Creek had already disappeared into the recesses of the cave.  Joey made his way among his people, ordering anyone he saw to leave at once.

"Take only what you can carry!" he demanded.  "We must leave now!"

Everyone had been roused by the tremor that saved Joey and Paris.  No one questioned Joey's orders this time; they did exactly as he said.  Within minutes all his people had assembled in the central chamber.  One by one they began ascending the ramp leading to the ledge that worked its way around to the entrance, carrying only those parcels they had prepared ahead of time.

The floor of the cave began shaking; a few of the people lost their balance but managed to regain it.  Everyone quickened their pace.  The first few were nearing the entrance when the whole cavern lurched forward - not as violently as the smaller chamber had, but with enough force to crash the wall of the cave and send a shower of rocks onto the people working their way along the ledge.  Several were hit directly by the debris, but no one was seriously injured and no one was thrown from the ledge.

Suddenly jets of steam started pouring sporadically from cracks in the wall, beginning near the ceiling where the cracks were wider and working their way down to the hairline fractures nearest the base.  The first, unsuspected, spurts scalded a few of the people, but along so narrow a band that only superficial injuries resulted.  After that, everyone moved along more cautiously, their eyes darting constantly between the ledge they traversed and the cracks overhead so that, when a spray was spotted, they could quicken or slacken their pace to avoid it.

Deep inside the cave a fierce roar arose.  Everyone trembled as the vastness of the cavern magnified it to an eerie echo.  They thought it was the earth itself crying out, readying to wrench the entire cavern apart.  Only Alice, at the rear of the assemblage, as always, knew better.

"So it wasn't him you were after," she murmured.  "You wish to sup before dying.  So be it."

Alice slipped away from the others and moved toward the last vestiges of sound reverberating along the walls, following the dying echo down a darkened corridor only she had ever visited, unaware that she was being followed.  She had explored every inch of this vast cavern, and thought she knew every nuance of its structure; but the echo drew her to a spot she had overlooked.  The air grew perfectly still and quiet beside an indentation in the wall nearly at the end of the corridor.  She puzzled over it till, all of a sudden, a hand reached out and took hold of her wrist.  She pulled her knife out with her free hand and thrust it toward the pressure on her wrist, only to have it stop in mid-air as a second hand grasped her other wrist.

"You're fast, but I'm a trained soldier," the familiar voice of Mount Everest informed her.

"Why have you come?" Alice asked as she tried to pull away from his grip.

"To save you, in spite of yourself - or to perish with you," Mount Everest replied.

"What I must do must be done alone," Alice told him.  "He's called me.  I promised him a last supper.  You have not been summoned, only me."

"You said you would die by mistake," Mount Everest reminded her.

"And so it shall be: I mistook whose flesh he sought.  It wasn't the boy."

"Then why did he take the boy?" Mount Everest asked.

"Perhaps it wasn't to eat him," said Alice.

"Come back to the others," Mount Everest pleaded.  "Surely your powers will do more good in the service of Joey and his people than in the lion's belly."

"I am not here to do good but to make right things that have gone wrong," Alice told him.  "I was born of death - the deaths of the holy innocents, who I unwittingly helped murder."

"They've been avenged."

"It wasn't vengeance I sought," Alice tried to explain.  "I sought only to become the woman who inherited my remains, a woman obsessed with how things should be.  As that woman, I made a pact with the beast on Bald Mountain: nothing I've ever done, before or since, was so completely right.  My death as Alice, a nurse who spent her life helping others, would have been a gradual winding down until everything stopped.  By mistake, I lost that death - the mistake of giving children one batch of chemicals instead of another.  Now my death will be as Alice, a cold blooded killer who obeys no law but her own.  Only a stronger, more bloodthirsty creature has any right to carry out that sentence.  You must go."

Mount Everest released Alice and turned to go when, suddenly, the cavern floor opened up ahead of him, blocking his retreat.  The din of its crashing against the rocks below had barely stopped when a flame shot up from beneath the cave, illuminating the entire corridor and revealing what Alice had overlooked.

She reached into the wall where, a moment earlier, had merely been an indentation.  Her hand pushed through as if the wall were a thin layer of plaster.  She looked up into the wall and saw two green eyes staring out at her.

"Oh my God!" she cried out to Mount Everest.  "I've sent them to their deaths!  I couldn't see it before, but not it's so clear.  Seeing this beast has opened my eyes.  The places the earth spared - the ones we saw when we went in search of seeds and soil - the path we set for our escape route: these are the places the earth has now come to claim!  These are the very places we must avoid!  But I've sent them to those places - and now it's too late to warn them!  Now do you see?  Now, finally?  I die by mistake!  Now, above all, when I need to live, I must die!"

The ceiling caved in, bringing with it burning rubble from above - from the slopes of Mount Guyot, caught in the frenzied clutches of the earth and set ablaze.  Rubble that fed the fire below as it rose to engulf the entire corridor and everything in it.  Fire and brimstone.

No one saw the flames filling the remote corridor where the predator tried to lead his prey to safety.  Their eyes were fixed to the wall to their right, where steam played hide and seek, appearing suddenly, disappearing, re-appearing.  Across the expanse of cavern the opposite wall also spewed steam, but steam of a different quality, steam infused with sprays of fire that made it look like the wall was bleeding.

Everyone had made it to the ledge and was moving along, at a snail's pace, to avoid the jets of steam.  The first few had nearly made it to the entrance when a sound came at them from below, as if the floor of the cave had cried out.  Then came a series of sounds almost like the rattling of chains beneath the floor.  In places the floor grew translucent, revealing a trail of lights flickering like shadows in relief.  When the floor was still darkened movement began, at first slow and rhythmic then frantic and irregular, like a heart beating wildly.  Chunks of clay and rock broke loose from the flooring; some sank into the ground, some were thrust onto adjacent pieces, as if a fault had slipped forward.

Everyone kept moving, but no one dared quicken his pace, the whispers of steam inches away still a greater hazard than the bellowing floor thirty feet below.  One by one the people began entering the narrow corridor leading the final three hundred feet to safety.  The air inside the corridor was stifling and began enveloping the path in fog as it crept toward the icy morning outside; only the faintest echo of light stood at the end of the corridor.  For every one person who began the trek through the dim corridor ten still crept along the ledge.

A gentle rumbling overtook the ledge and in places it began to weaken, releasing streams of small rocks down the side.  Gradually, like a beach slowing washing away by the surf, the ledge narrowed as its base of rock and silt loosened.  Everyone now had to watch their step as closely as they watched the wall they walked along.

Suddenly a bright light appeared overhead.  Joey, at the rear of the stream of his followers and not yet on the ledge, looked up; the others dared not.  His first thought shamed him, because it was not of God and His divine guidance but of a helicopter hovering overhead, beaming its light over the stream of people.  The image of Sanderson Spears flashed across his mind.  Then he thought of God, showing his people the way to safety; but the light pointed nowhere, it just hung there like a giant lampshade, forcing its own dissociation from the Almighty.  He thought of fire next, as if the ceiling had become enflamed.  Finally he realized what it was and why it had seemed so bright.

Their sky was falling, revealing the real sky.  It was the first light of daybreak, and only appeared bright in contrast to the darkness of the cave, which he and his people had come to see as natural.  His eyes had tricked him into believing a tear in the ceiling of the cave was a sign from God or a rescue party.

He ascended the ledge, to join the stream fleeing their home, his eyes, like those of his followers, too occupied now by the steam spewing from the wall to watch the sky opening above him.  But he could sense the tear in the ceiling widening and feel the light intensifying, just as he could hear the floor ripping apart - as if the floor's disintegration were unraveling the dynamic holding the ceiling in place.  As if the floor would take the ceiling down with it when it caved in.

Paris carried a big blue bag which he clutched to his side as if it contained something absolutely crucial to his survival.  He had just made it to the narrow corridor leading the rest of the way out, in the company of Andrea, Felicia and the twins, when he suddenly turned, as if someone had called to him, and began working his way back from the corridor, moving against the stream of people fleeing the cave.  He traversed the outermost rim of the ledge, his feet precariously balanced between the flow of people and the crumbling rock at the very edge of the plateau.  No one tried to stop him, or ask why he was headed back into the cave, everyone's attention too narrowly focused on the escape route and its perils.

Andrea called to him, but he kept going.  She took hold of Felicia, who was about to turn and join him, and made her keep going the final three hundred feet to safety.  Among those already assembled outside was Carol.

"Where's Paris?" she asked.  She knew not to ask about Joey: he would be the last man out, no matter what.

"He went back in!" Felicia excitedly told Carol.  "I wanted to go to him but Andrea wouldn't let me!  He might need me!"

"He was so fast I couldn't stop him," Andrea explained.  "I can't imagine what prompted him to do it."

"Maybe to go to Joey," Carol speculated. 

"He went to save everyone," the younger of the twins, Cade, said.

"But they can save themselves," added the older twin, Brad, in a tone almost accusatory.

"And where's Alice?" Andrea asked.  "I thought she'd be with you."

Carol shook her head.  "No," she answered, "she'll be right there with Joey - maybe a step behind him.  Only not for the same reason."

They were momentarily distracted by a shadowy figure which suddenly emerged from a stand of trees straddling the mountainside and moved quickly down the mountain, disappearing into a clearing at its base.  No one could tell for certain who it was, or what it was doing.

Paris maneuvered himself along the ledge, weaving in and out among the people, not only with great dexterity but with an amazing rapidity, all the while clinging tightly to the pouch he carried.  In barely a tenth of the time it had taken him to reach the entrance he made his way back to the beginning of the stream of people, where Joey stood waiting as the last of his people began the perilous walk around the ledge.

At first Joey thought Paris had gotten separated from Andrea and the others and had returned to try and find them, or perhaps become frightened and disoriented.  Then it occurred to him that this was the same boy who had saved him at the library at Parrottsville; had found water buried within the walls; had showed the others how to grow food.

"Why are you here?" Joey demanded to know.

Instead of answering, Paris reached out and handed Joey the big blue bag.  At first Joey hesitated, then, on a sudden impulse, reached out and grabbed it.  At the exact moment the bag changed hands a loud rumble was heard, as of a building coming apart.  Seconds later, a large section of the ledge, some thirty feet across, gave way and tumbled down the side of the cave, carrying with it three screaming men and women - and bringing the stream of people fleeing the cave to a complete halt.

Joey started to set the bag aside and run to help his people; but Paris gently nudged Joey's hand back onto the bag and prompted him to open it.  What he found inside was a piece of thick rope some fifty feet in length - rope that had remained with them ever since Andrea's rescue from Pod City.

"If you knew why didn't you warn us?" Joey asked the boy.

"I didn't know what would happen, only that something would," Paris tried to explain.  "I didn't want to scare people into not leaving."

"Come along!" Joey said as he took Paris' hand and led him quickly past the stream of people toward the breach in the ledge, shielding the boy from the jets of steam with his own body.  When they reached the place, both Joey and Paris stared in disbelief at the gaping hole the accident had left in its wake.  Where normally the floor of the cave would have been thirty feet below the ledge, there was nothing - neither floor nor debris: absolutely nothing.  The quantity of rock forming the section that fell had disappeared completely, either taking the floor with it as it crashed or else falling into whatever pit the opening of the floor had uncovered.  There was no sign of the people who had been positioned along the fallen ledge.

The horror of the scene was quickly overshadowed by the need to cross the breach.  Joey turned to those of his people now stranded behind the breach - almost a third of them.  He knew he could never be heard above the din of creaking, hissing and rumbling that enveloped the cavern; all he could do was hold up the rope Paris had given him, as if its usage could be inferred by everyone from the simple fact of its existence.  But even those directly behind him, who were able to hear his plan, expressed doubts about its execution.

"Where will you tie it?" someone asked.

"You have to have something to tie it to!" another pointed out.

"We'll tie it to ourselves," Joey explained.  "We'll throw the other end to those on the other side, who'll tie it to themselves.  And we'll work our way across."

"Who'll hold it for the last ones to cross?" it was asked.

"I will," answered Joey.

"Then how will you get across?"

"I'll use it to swing across."

Joey began throwing the rope toward the other side of the chasm.  After several tries it landed on the ledge.  He called to the few people still gathered across the way to pick up the rope and secure it around themselves.  At first they backed off, as if retreating from a serpent; then slowly approached the rope, still hesitating to take it.

"You've got to do it!" Joey half ordered, half pleaded.  "It's the only way to save these people!"

The earth's screeching as it absorbed more and more of the cave into its plan for reforming the Appalachians grew louder by the moment; and, as it did, more of those who had gathered across the chasm began turning away and rushing toward the safety of the entrance, leaving only a few to carry out their leader's command.

They finally picked up the rope and began weaving it about themselves as their counterparts on the other side had done.  Joey signaled his people to begin crossing, but no one would come forward to make the first more.  Several minutes passed when all of a sudden Paris, who Joey had made move away from the edge, dashed ahead of the rest and leaped from the safety of solid rock to the perilous stretch of rope, his hands barely catching hold.

Joey's heart was pounding wildly as the small boy made his way to the other side, hand over hand, nearly losing his grip halfway across but managing to right himself and continue on, scampering up the jagged rocks even before before the hands awaiting him could reach out and take him.

When he was safely across, he turned and waved his arm to the others to follow his lead.  Reluctantly, and with far greater caution than Paris had exhibited, the next person began crossing, then the next, and the next, each heeding Joey's warning to wait till the one ahead was at least half way across, so that no more than two weighted the rope at any given time.  The crossing was slow, the din of the cave crumbling around them making it seem as if hours had passed when, in fact, it was barely an hour later than the last of Joey's people had crossed to the other side, leaving only him to be rescued.

Joey calmly walked to the edge and took a deep breath, reading himself to execute the movements he had plotted in his mind in the seconds since it became his turn to cross.  His plan was to leap as high and as far over the abyss as he could, letting the momentum of his ensuing fall propel his body to the other side, making sure he kept his legs ahead of his upper body to minimize the impact of the other ledge.

But just as he leaped, the cave again lurched, throwing those who held the other end of the rope off balance.  The thrust of Joey's momentum, instead of propelling him across, suddenly threatened to drag the three men holding the rope down with him into the chasm.  As they rolled toward the edge, the three desperately maneuvered to steady themselves and regain control over the rope tied around their waists.  In a matter of seconds the first man, nearest the edge, was halfway over, barely clinging to a couple slivers of jagged rock that began crumbling under his weight.  The other two men were sliding toward the first, attempting to resist the pull of his body.

Joey hung suspended in mid-air, forty feet below the ledge.  All that kept his body from slamming into the side of the ledge was a space hollowed out when the section gave way earlier - a space he had neither seen from fifty feet away nor calculated on being there.  But now that same space put a barrier between him and the ledge: an overhanging sheet of rock that jutted out ten feet above him.

Joey tried to move, to angle himself so he could be lifted around the outcropping; but the rope had gotten wedged in a crack in the rock and kept him from shifting his position no matter how much momentum he tried to exert.

Just then a cry rang out from above, as the first man lost his battle to remain on the ledge and plunged into the chasm, dragging the second and third man nearer the edge.  Joey looked around and saw the man dangling helplessly from the overhang and tried to get to him, to grab hold of him, but the distance was too great.  Then the cave lurched again, throwing the next man over the side; he hung suspended between the first man and the ledge, while the third man, still on solid ground, struggled to undo the rope so as to save himself from being drawn into the chasm by the other two.  But his struggle was futile; he, too, was pulled over the edge like the others, his fall shifting their relative positions - his longer stretch of rope putting him first, the first man over the side now nearest the ledge.

All three remained suspended by the same bit of rope wedged in the crack that kept Joey from falling into the chasm.  Yet nothing any of them could do could bring them closer to the ledge or free them from their suspension.

Suddenly the third man, the one now deepest into the chasm, let out a piercing cry.  His efforts to untie his rope and save himself had loosened it to where his weight unraveled it, hurling him down into the pit.  The force of the rope unfurling itself snapped the end like a whip being cracked; it flew several feet back under the overhang.  Joey reached out and grabbed it.  Holding it tightly in one hand, with his other hand he fumbled to untie his own end of rope.  It took him nearly ten minutes to free himself; then, with both hands, he grabbed the rope inadvertently thrown to him by a dying man and felt himself propelled forward to where the third man had dangled till he fell.

Having the advantage of no longer being restrained by the rope around his waist, Joey began climbing up, working his way past both of the men dangling in mid-air, until he managed to climb onto the overhang.  Then, one by one, he pulled the other two men to safety and helped them untie themselves.

Everyone else had already escaped the cave.  Joey and the two men began running along the ledge, oblivious to the jets of steam still spurting like blood from the wall.  All around them the noise of the cave disintegrating into some new arrangement of matter spread in an almost deafening roar that seemed to grow increasingly louder every moment.  Suddenly an even greater roar arose from somewhere behind them, coming at them as if some unearthly beast were chasing them.

The entire ledge back across the chasm crumbled, taking the whole wall with it, which, in turn, drug the ceiling down into the ever growing pit the earth was using like a cauldron to brew new matter.  Only the breach in the ledge kept the entire escape route from disappearing below.  And only a breach of seconds interrupted the roar's progress, then it resumed, as the rest of the ledge began giving way, inch by inch, then foot by foot, until it had nearly reached the last three escapees, who could feel the ground beneath them starting to give way.

One man stumbled.  Joey, still at the end of the line, stopped long enough to help him up, leaping with him to safety as the ground they were standing on buckled and pulled itself from the wall, then breached again and plummeted into oblivion.

The first man made it to the corridor leading the final three hundred feet from the cave, Joey and the other man still a couple hundred feet behind.  A hundred feet into the corridor the man came to a dead stop.  There, in front of him, just visible in the half light filtering in behind him from the rift in the ceiling, was a solid wall blocking his path.  In a matter of seconds Joey and the second man reached the same point that stopped the first.  All three stood there staring in disbelief.  Not only had the ceiling or sides caved in, or the floor been thrust upward, it had happened so smoothly and with such economy that the wall seemed almost the deliberate work of a stone mason, not the random action of inanimate matter.

"They'll come look for us," one of the men offered.  "They'll dig us out."

Joey shook his head.  The sheer absurdity of the supposition belied any other response: it would have taken hours to dig through this wall using the kind of tools his people had.

"Then how will we get through?" the other man asked.

Joey looked around, at the destruction closing in on them.  "Quick!" he ordered, pointing back toward the crumbling cave, "out there!"  Both men shook their heads.  "It's our only chance!"

Still they refused to leave the momentary shelter of the corridor.  Joey had no choice but to reverse his first rule and go out first instead of last.  The men hesitated a couple more seconds then followed his lead.  In those couple seconds Joey formulated a plan.  He led the other two men out of the corridor and turned to the right, hurrying along the only part of the ledge still standing - the part that led to a dead end.

The other men stared at Joey as if to ask why he had led them here when there was no way out.  They started to turn and go.

"No!" Joey stopped them.  "We stay here.  Any minute it'll be upon us - we wait right here for it, right beside this wall.  Our only hope of escape is to let the earth make a path for us.  If it tears through this wall, we jump - as far and as high as we can."

"If it doesn't?"

Joey had no time to answer.  The ledge they were standing on began to crumble as it was ripped loose from the sides of the cave.  Pieces of ceiling started to fall.  Just when it seemed that the men were doomed, that the cave would crumble around them, either crushing them or sucking them into the abyss, the piece of ledge they were on - the last thing in the cave still intact - suddenly buckled, nearly throwing them off balance, and lurched forward, the end of it striking the wall like a battering ramp.  A hole opened in the wall, inches from where the men stood.  In the split second they hung suspended in mid-air, before the ledge fell into the abyss, they leapt in tandem through the hole, landing outside the cave, in a mound of snow that nearly buried them alive.

Only their heads remained above the snow line - snow that even a day earlier would have held their weight - snow packed, like all the snow in America, so tightly and crusted over with so firm a layer of ice that not even a five hundred pound giant could have broken through - but snow that the forces destroying Mount Guyot had transformed into a powdery gel that held no one's weight.  They would have kept sinking until the snow swallowed them as completely as quicksand but their sheer weight started an avalanche down the northern slope of Mount Guyot.

All three rolled helplessly within this freakish flow of ice, snow and water until it reached the bottom of the mountain, spitting them out onto the still hardened snow at the base.  The three got up and made their way around to the eastern slope, where the others were still gathered, a team of men working frantically to pierce the solid wall within the corridor.

Paris spotted them first.  "They're here!" he announced in a majestically beaming voice that made everyone turn - the quality of his young voice commanding their attention as much as the words he spoke.  Even those attempting to dig through the barrier stopped what they were doing long enough to attend to his announcement.

Then the others saw Joey and the two men trapped with him inside the cave.  Everyone came running to meet them, everyone asking what had happened, how they had managed to escape, and if anyone was still trapped.  Joey raised his hand to signal an end to all questions.

"There's no one alive in there," he said.  "We've got to get out of here immediately - the snow's starting to melt."

"Which way do we go?" it was asked.

"First we head due south, until we're well beyond the mountain," Joey answered.  "Then we skirt it.  We'll go west, and work our way northeast along the route Alice mapped for us."

"Where is Alice?" Carol approached her husband to ask.  All the visible swelling of her burns had gone down and her blisters had already begun healing, with only a pronounced redness remaining.

Joey looked around.  "Isn't she here?" he asked.

"No," Carol replied.  "Neither is Mount Everest."

"I didn't see them," Joey admitted.  "Maybe they got out another way, like the three of us did."

"Should we wait for them when we're away from the mountain before we start north?" Carol asked.

"No," said Joey. "They know the way.  We can't delay, not for anyone.  We have to get away from this mountain range.  We have to."

Despite the cold, which seemed to dramatically increase the farther from Mount Guyot they went, they kept pushing on until they were well within the North Carolina border.  There, they re-oriented their position to the northwest, to go around Mount Guyot; then to the northeast, toward the corridor between Newport and Bridgeport.  When they had reached the southernmost point of that apex, just before heading north again, Joey turned to face south-southeastward, roughly toward the point along the Appalachian Trail where Clingman's Dome stood.  He removed his glove and gently kissed his index finger, holding it a moment to his lips.

"No matter where I spend the rest of my life," he whispered, "I won't die anyplace else.  Just as you kept guard over Brad, I'll spend my eternity keeping watch over you.  I swear it on...," Joey faltered as he fought back his tears, "on that which I love most."  He slowly released his finger from his mouth and turned away.

From the very first steps they took, Paris felt uneasy - but, having no clear idea what made him feel that way, and not wishing to upset anyone, he said nothing.  This feeling grew as they rounded Mount Guyot; grew still stronger as they headed north-northeast; and, by the time they reached the burned out remains of Cosby, a small town almost half way to Newport, where they planned to camp for the night, this feeling had grown to a sense of outright dread.  Yet still he said nothing.

"What's wrong?" asked Felicia, from whom Paris could hide nothing; for whom even the faintest flinch of his brow assumed almost supernatural proportions.

"It doesn't feel right, coming this way," Paris answered.

"Why?" she asked.

"I don't know, it just doesn't," he answered.

"It's the way Alice said to come," Felicia reminded Paris.

"I know," he acknowledged.  "I can't explain it, but I know we shouldn't be here."

"Are you going to tell Joey?"

"I have to."

Later in the day, when the tents had been pitched - tents the people had almost forgotten how to erect - and everyone began settling in before the sun went down, Paris went to Joey to tell him of his fears.  Joey sat with the boy and put his arm around him.

"After all we've been through today, I don't wonder that everything seems threatening to you," Joey said.  "It does to me too.  That's why we're this far from the ruins of that town.  Whatever destroyed our home happened here too; it destroyed the whole town and everyone in it.  It destroyed nearly all the towns in eastern Tennessee - you saw them yourself.  But it spared others - it was blocked or diverted somehow.  We'll be safe as long as we follow the route Alice mapped.  I admit we're taking a chance camping here, where the earth was not diverted; but I can't have my people freeze to death, so we dare not go one step farther.  God will watch over us while we sleep.  And by tomorrow evening we'll be on the northern boundary of Newport - and safe, at last, to resume our journey.  You'll see. God wouldn't deceive us."

"The earth would," Paris whispered as he leaned his head against Joey chest and dozed off to sleep.  Joey put his arm around the boy.

"I'll never be able to embrace my own son," he mused as he watched Paris sleeping peacefully against him.  "But I won't question God's judgment just because it was my son the lion took - not after all I've seen and never questioned Him.  But how many more must die to fulfill His plan?  It would be less painful to me if He took me next so I didn't have to keep watching others die.  But I know that's how God is testing me - I don't mean they're dying just so I can be tested; but my having to watch and be able to do nothing to save them and still believe in God's plan is His ultimate test of my worthiness.  And Paris too?" he wondered.  "Will you take him too?  Even him?"

The sun was just going down behind the burned out ruins of Cosby, its very last rays filtering through the charred buildings, making them appear to be some kind of ancient monolith built to mark some great celestial passage of time.  Everyone had either already bedded down for the night or else was preparing for sleep.  They had forgotten how it was to sleep in a cold tent; but, even after four years, the ritual began coming back to them.                    

Andrea's twins, like the other children born in the cave, had never experienced the cold, except for occasional romps in the snow on Mount Guyot.  Neither Brad nor Cade were well disposed to getting into bed all bundled up, or having to cover their heads with heavy blankets, or breath air that made them shiver with each breath.  Cade seemed to take it in stride, though, as if it were simply a part of his life; Brad, however, seemed to resent being expelled from his home into the cold unknown wilderness.

"It's Paris' fault," Brad told his mother.

"No, Brad: think what you're saying," Andrea corrected him.  "He's a boy, like you.  How could it be his fault?"

"I just know it is," Brad answered.  "Just like it's his fault the cat ate Sandy."

"We don't know what happened to Sandy," Andrea pointed out.

"I do," said Cade.  "The big cat led him away to her cave.  It wouldn't eat him.  It couldn't be that hungry.  It'll watch over him."

Andrea smiled.  "I'd rather believe that," she said.

"But I don't," said Brad.  "The cat ate him."

"No he didn't!" cried Cade.

"Yes he did!  The big cat ate him and spit out the bones!"

"I know you're lying!  Cats eat the bones too!"

"They spit out baby's bones!"

"Boys," Andrea interjected before a fight broke out, "it's bedtime.  No fighting."  She came over, tucked them in, and kissed each good night.  In a matter of minutes they were asleep.  Andrea watched over them a while, then lay down in her own sleeping bag, wondering what was next.  She accepted whatever came her way, and made it somehow work; but she couldn't help wishing she had a greater say in what went on around her. 

"I miss the sky," she mused as she lay waiting for sleep to overtake her.  "I gave it up at Pod City, expecting to see it again some day, with Brad.  But the earth changed, and Brad died, and I found myself in a cave again.  Now a tent again till God knows when.  I wonder if I'll ever see the sky again at night, without risking death.  Life offers you everything except what you want most.  How absurd a past-time!"

Paris awoke in a panic.  He raised up from Joey's side and sat staring as if a beast had entered the tent.  "The house is on fire!" he cried out.  "All the houses are on fire!"

Joey tried to reassure him.  "It's only a dream," he told the boy.  "Or a memory.  You just escaped a horrible, horrible experience.  It's no wonder you see everything on fire."

"Not everything," Paris tried to explain.  "Just the houses."

"Almost all the houses we've seen had been on fire not long before we got here," Joey again pointed out.  "They're all charred and blackened.  That's the houses you see: the ones already burned."

"No," said Paris.  "I see the ones waiting to burn - the ones all around us!  Trapping us!  That's what I see!"

"Where?  Where are those houses?" Joey asked, no longer dismissing Paris' fears as the product of a dream or an overwrought imagination.

"I don't know," Paris answered.  "I don't know where they are.  Near here, maybe."

"We'll be very careful - I promise you," said Joey.  "We won't let ourselves be surrounded by houses - we'll go around them.  I promise you."

Only the young children needed to be awakened in the morning.  Everyone else remembered and understood the absolute necessity of rising with the very first rays of the sun; the instant the faintest whisper of light crept into their tents their eyes opened and they arose from their sleeping bags to prepare for the day's journey.  In less than an hour all the tents had been struck, folded and carefully arranged for travel, along with the sleeping bags and other night ware.

Everyone gathered in an area just beyond the town limits, but nearer than the burned out fringes of Cherokee National Forest, where they had camped for the night.  Joey explained what their route would be - although it had all been mapped and, in some cases, actually surveyed already.

"It's almost exactly twelve and a half miles to Newport, then another five beyond that to Bridgeport," Joey told his people.  "Some of us have made this trip before; we already know what kind of pace the terrain allows.  We can make it to the northern fringes of Bridgeport before sundown.  This will be the easiest part of our journey, because it is familiar territory.  It's doubtful if we'll again make as many miles in a single day as we need to today.  But we must be beyond Bridgeport by nightfall.  Once we are, we'll be out of the area of greatest risk."

"How do you know that?" it was asked.

"The signs of destruction are far greater in these seventeen miles than they are beyond Bridgeport," Joey answered.  "Even the few more miles I've been - to Parrottsville and Bybee - convinced me we'll be safe beyond Bridgeport..  Whatever is happening is this area - whether it's the Appalachians getting ready to change, as Alice said, or something else - it's centered right here, in the Smokys.  That's why the danger is greater here."

"But isn't Bybee where Felicia's father died?" Carol asked her husband.

"It is," Joey admitted.  "The ground caved in.  But not everywhere; and there was no fire.  It's just like Alice said: the earth was stopped dead in its tracks."

On the way from Cosby to Newport, a trek primarily along state road 32, only several feet aloft because of the snow that had fallen almost constantly for six months, Joey and his people began noticing something they had not experienced in the entire journey from western Kansas to eastern Tennessee: they found themselves sweating.  Not the profuse sweat of those who perform hard physical labor; but the subtler sweat of workers in a too warm office.  Not everyone became aware of it at once; but, by the time they reached Sardis, approximately two-thirds of the way to Newport, it was the sole topic of conversation among the travelers.  When they halted for a rest just north of Sardis, one after another began telling Joey of their experience, almost all of them concluding, as did Joey, that it was their four years in the warmth of Mount Guyot that had somehow predisposed them to sweat more easily.  Andrea and Carol both took exception to this conclusion.

"Our years in the cave should have produced just the opposite effect," Andrea observed.  "We're far more sensitive to the cold than ever.  Can you remember a time in your lives when you shivered and sweated at the same time?" she asked.  "Feel the twins' hair: it's moist where they've sweated under their hoods - yet they keep telling me they're freezing!"

"But the air's cold!" Andrea was reminded.  "Look at all our breath when we talk.  It's as cold as it ever was."

"The air is, yes," Andrea agreed.  "We stopped for a moment back a ways," she related.  "Cade's boot had come untied.  When I knelt down to tie it, the ground - the snow covered ground! - felt warmer than the air I was breathing!  Then I noticed my feet were sweating - I realize they do even in the snow, just from the action of walking; but they never sweated like that before.  Bend down: feel the ground. It's almost warm to the touch."

"Then why isn't the snow melting?" someone asked.

"Why aren't we sinking down?" asked the man who had fallen through the snow at Bybee.

"This isn't ordinary snow," said Andrea; "it's packed like ice.  The sun beats down on it all day, but doesn't melt it - or make it warm to the touch."

"What do you think it is?" Joey asked.

"It think it's being warmed from beneath the snow," Andrea offered her opinion.  "I think the snow is melting from underneath.  Not enough to weaken the surface just yet; but enough to radiate to the surface."

Andrea's explanation brought a look of grave concern to Joey's normally stoic face.  "It's following us," he whispered to himself.  Then he remembered Alice's observations, and felt reassured; Alice had never been wrong before.

"Whatever it is, we'll soon be beyond it's reach," Joey told his people.  "We'll be safe," he assured them.  He felt a pressure at his left side and, at the exact second he looked down and saw Paris staring up at him, remembered their conversation of the previous night.  The look on Paris' face told him not to rely on Alice's judgment this time.

"The houses are burning," was all Paris said.  Then he left Joey to resume his place alongside Felicia, turning suddenly to Andrea just as the travelers were resuming their journey.  "Promise not to let the twins go near any of the houses," he insisted in an agitated tone.

"They wouldn't anyway," Andrea told him.  "They're afraid of houses.  They've never seen them.  Remember?  When you showed them pictures of houses and said people used to live inside them, they cried."

"Something will make the houses look safe," Paris rejoined.  "Promise you'll watch them!"

"I promise," Andrea answered.

They reached the town of Sardis, almost totally obliterated and roughly two thirds of the way to Newport, just after four in the afternoon.  Everyone seemed vaguely aware of something that Joey was keenly - almost painfully - aware of: how long it had taken them to travel no more than eight miles - barely half the distance he intended to cover that day.

They had stopped less frequently than they normally would have on a journey of this distance - less frequently even than when Kirk was in command and pushed his people to their limits.  Yet they had not covered the distance in the ten hours since commencing the journey at daybreak that they would normally have covered in four or five hours.  At first Joey concluded it was because they had not trekked through the snow in so long and had lost the pace they developed over time.  He attributed the soreness in his own legs and feet to the same circumstance.  Then he happened to glance down at his feet and, in a flash, abandoned that conclusion to another - one far more troubling.

"What is it?" asked Carol, who saw him staring, almost transfixed, at his feet.

"They're wet," Joey replied as if revealing a terrible secret.

"But we already know our feet are sweating," Carol reminded him.

"Not my feet - my boots," Joey explained.  "They're wet."

"Has it been that long since you've traveled?" Carol asked. "They're always wet when we travel: the sun melts the snow that sticks to our boots."

Joey shook his head, then shifted his gaze to Carol's feet.  "See," he pointed to her boots, "they're dripping wet - just as if you'd been walking through a puddle of water, or -"  He stopped in mid-sentence and looked up into Carol's face, a look of panic flitting across him before vanishing in the sparkle of a sudden realization.  "- or melting snow," he completed his sentence.  "Andrea was right: it is warming up, right under our feet - only it's been so long since we've gone so far we've forgotten how packed snow looks and what it feels like under foot.  That explains why it's taken so long to reach this point: we're no longer walking on tightly packed snow but on soft snow that resists our progress and slows us down - and tires us out to where we're losing ground without even realizing it.  My God, Carol: we'll never reach Bridgeport before sundown.  We'll be lucky to reach Newport."

Joey hastily assembled his people.  "We've lost our momentum," he told them.  "Not through our doing," he explained, "but because the cold is finally going away.  All we have left is time.  What we lose in distance we have to make up in time.  We haven't traveled past dark, let alone into the night, since crossing the Mississippi; but we have to once again.  We have to reach our destination - especially now that the ground is growing warmer - just as Andrea said it was.  We've got to move as far beyond the pull of this place as quickly as we can.  We've got to be beyond Bridgeport before the sun rises, even if it means traveling all night through."

Nearly everyone resisted their leader's instructions, each presenting his own version of the same two propositions: they were too tired to continue through the night; and there was no assurance beyond the prediction of someone who was not among them any more that whatever they were fleeing would only pursue them as far as the town of Bridgeport.

Joey tried to reassure them, and to convince them to continue on, all the while feeling the same slight pressure against him he had felt on two similar occasions.  Finally everyone reluctantly agreed, and moved away from him to ready themselves for travel.  When they were gone, Joey looked down to find Paris staring up at him.

"I know," Joey said before Paris could speak, "houses are burning."

"Babies are watching them burn," Paris added in a gentle but sad voice.

"Babies who love or babies who hate?" Joey then asked, certain that Paris was referring to Andrea's twins.

"They learn both," Paris replied in a voice that sent a shiver down Joey's spine.

"Andrea will watch over them," Joey assured the boy.  "She won't let them wander.  They'll be safe."

Paris repeated to Joey what he had told Andrea.  "Something will make the houses look safe," he said, then moved to rejoin Felicia.

Night came early; but the moon was so bright that the travelers felt they were journeying beneath a full moon; but it was only a half moon, surrounded by thin layers of strata-cirrus clouds that amplified every photon of light a hundred-fold to give the effect of fluorescent lighting across the sky.  Clouds were again a new phenomenon in the night sky, having disappeared five years ago when the snow finally stopped falling and the sky cleared for good.  Now they had returned - one more indication that the cycle of cold was ending and a cycle of warmth commencing.

Everyone noticed the layers of clouds spilling across the sky to surround and eventually cover the moon - first enhancing then, two hours later, obscuring the light that guided them along this path.  The children born at Mount Guyot had never seen clouds before, and were frightened and clung to their parents, which further impeded the travelers' progress.  Paris and Felicia, being older than the other children, retained vague memories of a sky filled with clouds, so they were not frightened by them as the others were; but, even so, they grew uneasy as the moon was slowly swallowed up in their embrace.

As the travelers moved in the darkness away from Sardis on the way to Newport, the figure of a man fell unnoticed into place among them.  He had followed them - not by tracking them but by marking their progress along a line drawn by their leader on a map months earlier, when their escape route was first planned.  He hadn't come after them, this silent figure fitting like a shadow against their momentum: they had come to him.  He merely waited where he knew they would pass.  He had an hour's head start, and no one to slow him down; so he reached Sardis long before the others, leisurely awaiting their arrival, hiding among the blackened ruins till they resumed their trek, then starting out far enough behind them to avoid detection, finally catching up to them when the clouds covered the moon and no one noticed him.  Slowly he worked his way along the line of travelers until he came to the little group led by Andrea, keeping a discreet distance until the right moment.

The twins - Cade and Brad - insisted on walking along with the others, which Andrea agreed to only because she knew they could not hold out long enough to seriously impede everyone's progress.  In a very short time they grew too tired to continue - a dynamic played out after every rest stop.

"We'll wait here," they informed their mother.  "You can get us on the way back."

"We won't be coming back this way," she would remind them each time, at which they would either begin crying or else hold up their arms to be picked up.  Andrea attempted at first to carry both, plus all their provisions; but the other travelers - the men without families in particular - immediately offered their assistance, taking turns helping her with her burden.  In this way, the twins passed from one to another traveler during the journey to Newport.  No one - not even Andrea - thought anything about seeing one or another of the twins snuggled against someone completely different from the person they had been with only a short time earlier.  These were all people known to her, and trusted by her.  They had all gone through too much together to doubt one another's trustworthiness.                                        

Andrea almost always preceded whomever was carrying the twins, looking back often - not to satisfy herself that her sons were safe, but simply to let them know they were never out of her thoughts.  The terrain between Sardis and Newport was for the most part an easy trek, affording her the opportunity to maintain this measure of contact with Brad and Cade; but it grew more difficult the nearer it approached Newport, taking the travelers along the northwestern fringe of Cherokee National Forest, between Interstate 40 and US Route 411, a desolate plain full of fallen branches and jagged tree stumps.  Here, Andrea left off looking at her sons to concentrate fully on maneuvering her way through the forest.

It was here, also, in the thick of this burned out forest, that the stranger had originally intended to join the travelers, meaning to follow them at a distance until their full attention was taken over by the landscape, then move into their midst and make his way through the ranks until he reached Andrea's group.  But the clouds that rolled across the moon allowed him to reach this point two and a half miles and almost as many hours sooner.  As he approached, he carefully observed the ritual of passing the twins from one traveler to another, taking note of how long each child was carried by any one traveler.  When they were almost to the outskirts of Newport, he noticed the man carrying the child nearest at hand - the one he had his sights on - begin to show signs of growing tired.  He made his move.

"You've been carrying him awhile, haven't you?" he began a conversation.

"Yeah, I guess I have," the man agreed.

"Which boy is this: Brad or Cade?" he asked.

The man shrugged his shoulders.  "Don't really know," he admitted.

The woman who walked beside him joined the conversation.  "I think it's Brad," she said.

"Here," the stranger said as he reached out, "I'll take him for awhile, if you want."

"Hey, that'd be great," the man said.  "I am getting kind of tired.  Here you go: one sack of potatoes coming at you!" the man quipped as he handed the child to the stranger.

The transition complete, the stranger began discreetly falling back in line, as if his burden had sowed his pace somewhat.  When he was out of earshot of Andrea and those immediately around her, he whispered to the child in his arms "I know where Sandy is."

Two tiny blue eyes lit up like a Christmas tree in the dark.

"When we get to Newport I'll take you to him," the stranger promised.  "But you mustn't say anything to anyone, or else Sandy'll run away.  Do we have a deal?"

The child nodded eagerly and whispered back "Uh huh."

"Good," said the stranger, who began slowly falling back to the end of the line where he first joined the travelers - an action that went largely unnoticed by this stream of people nearing Newport; but not unnoticed by the boy in his arms, who began whimpering the instant he lost sight of his mother.

"Where's mommy?" he asked in a pitiful attempt at keeping his voice down.

"She'll join us soon," the stranger assured him.  The boy seemed satisfied at this and said nothing more till they had almost reached the end of the line.  Here he began to cry.

"I want mommy!" he insisted.  "I want mommy!"

"Okay," said the stranger, "we'll go to your mommy.  It was wrong to take you to Sandy.  I'm sorry.  We'll go back to your mommy.  We'll just...never be able to see Sandy again, that's all.  But he'll understand - you know how much he loves you and your brother."

They started back through the line again; the child stopped crying, and began thinking about the stranger's words.  "Sandy won't wait for us to get mommy?" he asked.

"No, I'm afraid he won't," said the stranger.  "He has to go somewhere."

"Where?" the boy asked.

"Far away - across the sea," came the answer.

"We can go see him," the boy decided.

"No: you're afraid," the stranger reminded him.

"No, I won't be - I promise!  I won't be afraid!" the boy insisted.

"But if you start crying and calling for your mommy, someone'll think I'm kidnapping you," the stranger pointed out.

"I won't cry - I promise!  I won't call for mommy either!  Please: I want to see Sandy!  I won't be afraid - I promise!"

'Alright," the stranger relented and started falling back toward the end of the line all over again.  "We're almost home free," he mused, mostly to himself.

Only Joey would have been able to identify the stranger as someone whose motives were suspect - but Joey was at the head of the line.  He alternated between the front of the line and the rear of the line, according to where he perceived the greater danger to be: if it lay ahead, he led his people; if it lay behind, he followed them.  Stone Creek knew this - and knew as well as Joey where the danger lay; he knew also that Joey had probably told no one about his insurrection, focusing all his energies on getting his people safely beyond Bridgeport.  Besides which, he would not wish to distract his people from their goal, or from the dangers nature posed by reminding them of the more insidious dangers their own kind posed.

At the head of the line, Joey was just crossing the boundary Alice had marked - the line where the earth had been turned back.  The place of safety.  Yet - even without the persistence of Paris - he had an uneasy feeling about this place, this line, this whole notion of the earth being stopped in its tracks, which was why he saw the greater danger here - in the place of safety - than at the end of the line, with its greater vulnerability to whatever was pursuing them.

"It'll reach them first," he told Carol, whom he could not convince to travel farther behind, "but it'll attack up here first.  It's underground, like a serpent that can spring as easily from one place as another.  We'll see it first."

As he stood there poised on Alice's boundary, he felt the same nudge against his leg that he had felt almost every time he stood still for more than a moment.  Looking down, he saw Paris nodding this time in agreement.  Then Paris abruptly turned to the south and let out a moan almost as loud as a wail.

"Babies in burning houses," he muttered in the parabolic kind of baby talk he always reverted to when agitated by something he saw which no one around him could see.

Joey tried to follow the line of the boy's vision, as if somehow there were something back there to help bring that vision into focus; but he saw nothing.  He started to turn back and move on when a cloud broke open and the huge moon directly overhead suddenly shone down on the open plain separating the burned out forest to the southeast from the town of Newport to the northwest.  He caught a glimpse of a long shadow disappearing into the stand of charred trees just beyond this plain, a shadow carrying a bundle in its raised arms.  He looked down at Paris, who was looking up at him, nodding.  He nodded back.

"I'll go to them," he told Paris.  Then, inexplicably, he added "I'm leaving you in charge."

He turned to go; but, before he could move, a blinding flash of light seared his line of vision. Screams rang out all around him.  He turned back, toward Newport, to face a ten foot high wall of flame coming at him from just beyond Alice's boundary - a wall that ran the length of the entire gully that separated the burned out part of town from the part that had been spared.

"It's come for us," he muttered as he looked around for some avenue of escape.  His eyes fixed upon a narrow valley between this plain and a plateau to the west.  He began directing his people to that valley.

"No!" cried Paris in a commanding voice, though still a child's voice.  "I am in charge now!" the boy pronounced.  "We must hide in the forest.  Come!  This way!"

Behind the boy's back, Joey nodded to his people to obey their new leader.  Without looking to see if anyone followed, Paris made for the burned out northwestern corner of Cherokee National Forest, as the wall of flame inched its way ever nearer the travelers, its heat growing more intense with each passing second.

Though the roar of the flames drowned out the boy's words to all but those closest to him, everyone understood the command and obeyed without question, following Paris and Joey to the edge of the woods.  As the last of Joey's people made it to the forest, the flames shot straight ahead along the path they had been following, then spread, as if a smoldering amoeba splitting into two of itself, down into the valley Joey had first chosen for refuge.

From the edge of this forest, where Joey remained until all his people had disappeared amongst a stand of charred trees, the glow of the receding flames lighted all the houses of Newport left standing when the earth had last sent its fiery scouts.  He saw the same long shadow he had seen entering the woods disappear into one of the houses.  Paris saw it too, and pointed.

"I'll go to him, whoever he is," Joey told the boy.  "He's got to be warned."   With this, Joey took off running toward the house, his feet being drawn deeper into the melting snow with every step.  But he moved so quickly he almost seemed to be walking on water as the warmth of the departing flames followed him, turning the ice and snow of the plain into a small lake.

Just as he reached the house, it burst into flame, along with all the others houses in Newport; and drove him back.  He stood as close as he could, looking for a way in or for some sign of the shadow that had led him to this house.  All of a sudden, he found himself in a pool of water that had risen to his waist.  He waded to where there was still enough snow and ice to sustain his weight and made his way back to his people in the forest.

Andrea came up to him, carrying her son.  "Who has Cade?" she asked him in a voice that sent a shiver up his spine greater than the icy waters enveloping him had.  He began asking around, until he came to the man who had given Andrea's child to the stranger.

"Stone Creek took him from me," this man told Joey, who walked back to Andrea with a look of such guilt on his face that everyone who saw him turned away.

"I have sent your son to his death," Joey looked Andrea in the eye to say.  She looked puzzled.  "In not warning my people about Stone Creek I sentenced Cade to die in a burning building.  I don't know why he stole your son - maybe to hold him hostage.  But it was I who cleared the path before him."

Andrea handed her other son, Brad, to Joey.  "I know you have to move on," she said; "but I'll stay here until I can recover his body.  If I don't return, give my son to Carol to raise."

"No," a child's voice called to her.  "You may not abandon your son."  Paris came to Andrea, reached up, and took her hand.  "Cade was taken by mistake," Paris told her as he led her away.  "He will be returned the same way."

This time it was Joey who said "No," as he slowly shook his head.  "I saw him enter the burning house."

"But you didn't see him leave," answered Paris.

"You think he's alive?" Andrea asked.  Paris nodded.  "Then I have to stay, and find him."

Again Paris said "No."

"If you stay," he told her, "you'll never find him.  Come," he commanded, "we must leave, now, or all of us will die."

He no sooner said this than the faint light from the retreating wall of flame began growing brighter again.  The flames had picked up their scent and were coming for them.

"There's a stream that way," Paris said as he pointed to the southeast.  He took his friend Felicia by the hand and, without looking around to see if anyone followed, started moving in the direction he had pointed.

For a moment no one else moved.  Then Joey motioned for his people to follow; but they protested, saying that they dare not go back - they had to go on, to go north, just like Alice had told them, or they'd be consumed by the fire.

In a commanding voice, Joey silenced all protest.  "We will follow our new leader," he said as he turned and began moving to the southeast, with Carol, Andrea and her son Brad by his side.  Everyone turned once more, to see the advancing wall of flame growing nearer every second; then turned to the southeast and hurried deeper and deeper into the burned out forest, as the boy, who in the space of a single moment had become their leader, moved past charred stumps and branches and half burned trunks, surrounded by an eerie red glow that made everything in the forest look like the crayon stick figures of a tormented child, with the wall of flame following faster and growing closer every second.

Everyone was running for their lives now; no one had time to despair of their decision to follow the boy into the woods, where the remains of the forest impeded their progress and hastened their doom.  Trees that had escaped the full fury of the earth when it last came this way now burst into flame and toppled onto the blackened limbs of trees that had not escaped the earth's first advance.  The searing heat almost at their heels sent Joey people - now Paris' people - careening like a train out of control ever deeper into the forest, the  snow and ice beneath their feet turning so quickly to water that they waded as much as ran southeastward along the path Paris created as he went, the flames behind them grabbing up the water they splashed in their wake and turning it to steam, as if to cover their escape route in fog.

The wall of flame was no more than fifteen feet away - almost near enough to ignite the clothes on their backs - when Paris and Felicia came to Big Creek, the stream Paris had seen in his mind's eye, a stream that over the past century had slowly inched its way to the northwest until it now sat halfway between Newport and where it used to be.  It was still frozen over in ice and snow.  Paris led his people across Big Creek and half a mile beyond its eastern bank; then he halted and turned to make sure everyone had made it across.

"Why did he stop?" the travelers began asking Joey, who turned to the boy for an answer.  Paris simply pointed to the west in response.  The wall of flame had stopped dead in its tracks and, incredibly, seemed to be retreating.

"This creek can't be that deep," Joey mused half to himself.

"It is now," said Paris, who then turned to Felicia for an explanation, as if designating her as his spokesman.

"Remember when we got the seeds at White Pine?" Felicia asked.  Joey nodded.  "The lake we crossed - the one that was dried up: the Pigeon River flowed past Newport into it.  When the fire first came this way, it boiled the water away and changed the river's course.  It moved to the east."

"To right here," Paris interjected.  "The Pigeon sits beneath this stream.  Together, they're deeper than the Mississippi."

"So it's over now - we can move on now?" Joey asked.

"We can move on," Paris acknowledged.  "But it isn't over."  Again he turned to Felicia, who took over the explanation of his words.

"We have to reach the Cumberland Gap," she said, "or else keep going east."  She looked over at Paris.  "I would keep going east, till I came to the ocean.  But there's something out there standing in Paris' way.  He can't rebuild the world there, as Alice told him he must."

"Forget Alice!" several people protested.  "It was her that led us here, almost to our deaths!  And where is she now?  She's deserted us!"

Paris shook his head.  "She hasn't deserted us," he answered.  "She's been driven from us.  It isn't her fault that her time has passed."

"So why should we go where she said to?" people began asking.  "Let's go east - like the girl says: to the sea!"

Again Paris shook his head.  He looked up at his people as if he could see into every single person's eyes. "We will not go that way," he said in the manner of a judge passing a verdict.  "I cannot give you what you are promised if we go east.  You will all die in the great mounds if we do.  We must work our way through the mountain passes to the Cumberland Gap."

"Why there?" Joey asked.

"The earth made it," said Paris.  "The earth will honor a barrier of its own making."

"It made Mount Guyot," Carol reminded Paris.

"But not to be a barrier," the boy replied.  "We must follow the slope of the Bold Mountains."

"How far?" asked Joey, whose work with the maps of this region told him they were placing an even greater distance between themselves and their goal by following these mountains that extended to the northeast.

"Until we can go no farther," Paris answered.

Despite everyone's apprehension and distrust of Paris' judgment, they agreed to follow him to the Bold Mountains, which marked the southern boundary of Greene County, a huge wedge of territory extending almost halfway to the Cumberland Gap.

They followed Big Creek to the boundary of Cocke and Greene Counties, where it abruptly ended.  Off to the west, as they moved through the night, they could see what was left of Newport burning beneath the waning moon; then, as they looked back, smoldering against an endless sea of white under the first bands of morning.  The hamlets of Del Rio and Wolf Creek, off to the east, had already been left in ruin by the earth's earlier foray into the Appalachians.

The travelers had been on the move more than twenty-four hours, stopping only briefly for rest and food, when they reached the foothills of the Bold Mountains, a region of lesser mountains than those of Sevier and southeastern Cocke County.  Paris halted his people at the foot of a narrow valley lying between two hills.  He looked all around, then pointed to the western side of the valley, and began moving toward the hill on which the morning sun shone.  His people followed his lead, slowly ascending to a plateau atop the hill.

"We will stay here till it moves on," he said, indicating for his people to set up camp.

From the plateau the entire valley stretched before them, in a northeasterly line, for nearly six miles, before ending against the base of Allen Gap, at 2234 feet the first true prominence of the Bold Mountains.  Joey came to Paris and asked why they were stopping here when they could easily make the mountains in a couple hours.

"This valley offers no resistance to our progress," Joey pointed out.

"No safety either," Paris replied ominously.

The words barely escaped Paris' lips when a swirling black cloud appeared in the south, headed along the very path Paris had led his people.  Slowly it approached; and as it neared the foothills, this thick black cloud opened to reveal flames spiraling upward within it, grabbing like vultures' claws at everything before it.

In less than an hour it had reached the valley, shooting flames a hundred feet into the morning air.  Everyone ran to the far side of the plateau and, forgetting their camp and all their belongings, started down the western slope.

No!" cried Paris, running after his people to halt their escape.  Again he pointed to the south; again a cloud appeared, heading along the western ridge of these foothills - a white cloud, a cloud filled with swirling snow and the dust of the ground beneath the snow.  There were no flames within this cloud, only a bellowing roar that grew louder as it approached.

Everyone moved back from the edge, toward the center of the plateau, where they had set up camp.  "You'll be safe here - and nowhere else!" Paris told his people.

To the east of the plateau, the flames clawed their way along the valley floor, ripping apart everything in their path, turning snow to steam, ice to boiling water that became steam also in their wake; and turning the ground beneath the long winter to a gurgling cauldron of mud that sank beneath its own weight into a deepening chasm of white hot stone.

To the west, the ground slowly sank with a deafening roar that pushed layers of silt and snow high into the air to become part of the billowing cloud, as if a giant were stomping the soil and slate and limestone into a pulverized mass unable to hold itself together any longer.

For over an hour the clouds moved northward, the blackened cloud of burning trees through the valley, the white cloud of disappearing earth along the foothills.  Then it grew deathly still; not even the air made a sound.  The horizon of higher hills kept the clouds visible as they skirted Allen's Gap, six miles northward, the black cloud continuing to darken as the sparse vegetation along the mountain's eastern slope succumbed to its flames; the white cloud continuing to suck the disintegrating ground it pulled apart into its vortex - but the work of both clouds was now cloaked in absolute silence.

No one spoke, no one moved, as if the silence surrounding the plateau were a scout, seeking signs of life.  Then the faintest whisper of sound pierced the morning air, and everyone strained to catch it, though no one could tell exactly where it was coming from.  Paris walked ahead of the others, as if the sound were coming from that direction.  He stood listening, then returned to the others, and pointed to a spot halfway through the valley to a plateau almost like this one, only much smaller.  On it, in the center, was the same shadow of a man carrying a bundle they had seen disappearing into the burning house at Newport.

"Baby's love," Paris muttered; and, as he said this, the sound everyone was straining to hear came all at once into focus.  It was the sound of a child babbling - a sound Andrea recognized as that of her lost son.

Before anyone could say anything, the faint sound was absorbed into a much greater sound, like the wrenching of a building from its foundation.  The plateau supporting the shadow carrying the bundle split apart, both sides crumbling in an instant and falling into the chasm on either side, leaving only a sliver of rock along the entire length of plateau no wider than a footpath.  The shadow with its bundle reeled as if it would tumble with the rest of the plateau into the chasm; but regained its balance and hurried along the narrow spine of rock which, in the space of an hour, had grown from a hill barely a thousand feet above sea level to a crag several thousand feet above the floor of the earth.

Andrea started toward that plateau, followed by Joey, Carol and several others.  But Paris, who had situated himself at the head of the line, stood firm and raised his hand to stop them.

"We have to reach them!" Joey said as he prepared, this time, to ignore Paris and go around him.

"Not till it's time to," Paris replied.  If you take another step, we will all die."

Joey stood poised between the need to rescue Andrea's son and the imperative to obey his hand picked successor - obey him for the very reason he had been chosen to lead these people: obey him because he had so keen an insight into the physical world around him.  For several minutes Joey stood pondering the decision he must make.

"He's getting away!" said Carol as she watched the shadow deftly making its way along the crag.

"We will pursue him no farther," Joey turned to Paris to acknowledge his acquiescence of his leader's wishes.

Carol was about to protest her husband's decision - to accuse him of sacrificing yet another human life to yet another of his higher principles - when a noise from the ground beneath her feet silenced her.  It sounded like someone knocking on the rock from deep within the plateau.  Then it grew louder, and gradually expanded the entire length of the plateau, as if the hand knocking from below had become an army of hands.  The knocking beneath the ground continued several more minutes, until the entire plateau began vibrating as if, like a tuning fork shattering a glass, the sound had found just the right pitch to shatter the rock.

The people began to sway from side to side.  Some lost their balance and fell to the ground.  A few started running toward the edge of the plateau, seeking safety on the periphery of the vibration.  Paris tried to stop them, crying "Come back!"  But it was too late.

The knocking from within shattered the rock holding the plateau together.  The entire length of the plateau lurched upward, like a curtain rising before the opening of a play.  Everyone was thrown to the ground.  Then, all at once and with a bellowing screech that nearly shattered everyone's eardrums, the plateau fell apart, both of its sides falling away from the middle, exactly as the lesser plateau to the north had done a few minutes earlier.

Those who had run to the edge for safety were thrown into the same deep chasm, created in the wake of the white swirling cloud, into which the rock, earth, snow and trees the plateau had shed were hurled.  There was nothing anyone could do to save them; lying on the ground, the rest of the people could only watch their frantic grasping at flying debris and disappearing pieces of what used to be the plateau.  Then they vanished forever, leaving not even a drop of blood behind to mark their exit from existence.

For several more minutes the remaining spine of the plateau shook, as if it wanted to hurl those who were left after the ones it had already destroyed; but it couldn't.  Having knocked them down, it had provided them the ultimate shelter: itself.  It couldn't destroy them without destroying itself.  So it ceased shaking; and, slowly, the people got up from the ground.

When they arose, they stood six thousand feet taller than before they had fallen.  They stood at the summit of a mountain which ran a thousand feet to the north and a hundred feet east to west.

The entire valley below had dropped into a chasm; the plain along the western ridge had sunk even lower, so that not only did the plateau appear to stand out in relief against its surroundings, it truly was seven thousand feet above ground level.  The problem facing the people now was much simpler yet at the same time every bit as difficult as remaining atop the plateau.  It was getting down: how to climb down the almost sheer face of the mountain the earth had just created; where to climb down; and what to climb down to.  They couldn't continue onward to the next plateau - there was a gap of a thousand feet they could not possibly hope to breach.  They would have to climb down; somehow negotiate the space between the two; then climb up the next plateau - and perhaps repeat the same feat over and over as they made their way northward until, as Paris had said, they could go no farther.        

"This child brought us here to die on this jagged peak!" several people confronted Joey to decry their fate.  Instead of answering, Joey spread his arm and pointed toward the west, to the great plain reaching twenty miles, from the mountains, westward, to Cherokee Lake, a shimmering body of iced over water through which the Tennessee River flowed.  For a moment of absolute stillness everyone looked out over the broad terrain which spread before them like a great furrowed field.  One by one, the furrowed mounds came into slow focus beneath the mid-morning sun, revealing their shadowed depths to be huge gouges in the ground, as impenetrable as the chasm along the base of the mountain on which they stood, as if, in trying to replicate its metamorphosis of this hill into a mountain, the earth had created a hundred artificial peaks from the clay, sand and soil of the plain.

"We would have been somewhere out there," Joey finally said.  "How many of us would have survived?  Paris did not bring us here to die but to live.  God has given him a special gift so that he could lead us to safety.  We can't continue second-guessing God every time it looks to us like we've reached an impasse.  He has given us this child to serve as our guide.  We have to follow or risk losing our way."

Everyone turned to Paris for an answer.  He glanced all around, then went to stand before his people.  "We must go to sea," he told them; then he turned and began walking, straight ahead, along the jagged spire of this mountain.

"You should name it," Felicia said to Paris.

He shook his head.  "No," he answered.  "We sinned against the earth when we named every mountain, every river, every tree and field.  We have no right to name what we did not make."

"We have no other way to identify it," Andrea pointed out.  "Not every name is a claim laid upon the thing named."

"It is though," said Paris as he continued walking.  "Every name is a deed drawn up among ourselves.  If the earth wants it identified, it'll give it some special feature."

When Paris had gotten to the center of the mountain, he stopped and pointed to a configuration extending to the eastern side.  It looked almost like a chain in bas relief.

"The earth has marked it," he said, then moved on.  When he had almost reached the end of the peak, he again stopped.

"We must climb down," he turned back to his people and said.

Joey walked past Paris to the edge and looked down the sheer face of the mountain.  When he returned, all he said was "We'll need rope."

Paris shook his head and pointed to the eastern rim of the mountain.  "This is where we climb down," he said.  Again Joey walked past him to the edge and looked down.  This, the eastern face of the mountain, sloped and was almost terraced; but, below it, was a chasm so deep that not even the sun could penetrate its depths.  He turned to Paris, then turned back and began descending.  Paris followed him, as did Felicia, then Carol, Andrea and her son Brad.  The others hesitated.

"You will know it when you come to it," Paris told Joey as they both climbed down the gentle slope.

"Will I also know how to climb up the next peak, and down, then up the one after that?" Joey asked.

"You will only climb down once," Paris replied.  "Then we go to sea."

They were a third of the way down when the others started down.  By the time they reached a great scar in the eastern face two thirds of the way down there was no one left on top.

"What is this?" Joey turned to Paris to ask.  But the boy simply pointed by way of reply.

Everyone stopped to try and determine what was happening below.  From where they were, they could not see the opening in the side of the mountain; most assumed they had reached a point beyond which they could not go and would now be told to turn around and climb back to the top.  Instead, they saw Joey motion them down then disappear into the mountain.  They reluctantly obeyed; but the closer they got the more apprehensive they became.

The word spread, from those arriving first back to the others, that there was a cave and that Paris was beckoning everyone into it.  No one ventured any closer.  They had all seen what the earth did to caves when it advanced, and refused to enter this one.

Momentarily, Joey reappeared and joined Paris in beckoning them into the mountain.

"It isn't what you think," Joey told those closest at hand.  "It's a passageway the earth has made under the mountains - one we can follow."

"To the sea," Paris added.

"You keep saying that," Joey questioned the boy: "why?  Does it lead eastward?"

Paris shook his head.  "It leads west, to the sea."

"This time I'll lead the way," Joey told Paris and the others.  "That way, if we encounter something, it'll be me who suffers and not the rest of you.  Paris: you can guide me from behind, you can let me know if I start to take a wrong turn."

"There is no wrong turn," the boy answered.

"A word of caution," Joey offered one final piece of advice before beginning the journey through the passage, "as bright as the sun on the snow is, it's no match for the burst of light against the walls inside this mountain.  Shield your eyes until you get used to it."

Joey then turned and re-entered the passage, followed by Paris and eventually the rest of the travelers.  The first beam from the light Joey took out to help mark the passage leaped back at him like an explosion, nearly blinding him until he shielded his eyes.  The walls, ceiling and floor lit up as if they were pure light.  Everyone entering the passage hesitated to take the next step, for fear of slipping through what seemed to be no more than a horizontal ray of sunlight stretched between two vertical shafts of light.

The passage was narrow, but big enough for the people to traverse single file.  They moved very slowly, as much because their eyes could not adjust completely to the intense light as out of fear of where this passage would take them or what might befall them on their way.

They could feel themselves descending deeper into the mountain; for almost an hour they struggled against the pull of gravity, then their steps grew lighter as the passage finally leveled off.  For another hour they continued straight ahead into what still seemed like a beam of laser light enveloping the passage.  Then, suddenly, the light grew noticeably dimmer, to where they could almost stand to look directly at it.

"Is your light burning out?" Carol asked Joey.

"No," he replied.

For a moment a sense of dread overtook everyone, as the familiarity of even so uncomfortable a journey waned.  Then, as they began to feel themselves moving to the left, they realized it wasn't the material comprising the passage that had changed but rather its direction.  The passage was beginning to wind away from the mountains, toward the west - just as Paris had said it would.  Joey's light was not being thrown back at them from as great an expanse of this white iridescent matter as before.

In a very short while, however, the passage again straightened, and the same blinding light they started their journey with reappeared.  Once again they were forced to slow their pace, shielding their eyes and taking note of each step they took.

For another hour they trudged along the passage; then Joey stopped.  He turned to Paris, who seemed to know exactly why he had stopped.  Paris turned to his people.

"We will rest here," the boy said.

"We don't dare," some protested.  "We've got to get out of here as soon as possible."

"No," Paris countered.  "We will be safe here.  We have a long way to go - and a sea to cross."  Paris reached into his pocket and brought forth a small object, like a pen or a pencil.  He pressed the end of it and a light, barely visible, came on.  He then asked Joey to turn his light off.  Joey obeyed, and the passage went suddenly dim except for the tiny sliver of Paris' pocket light, which reflected against every particle of matter surrounding his people, creating the effect of a well lit parlor.

"We must rest our eyes too," the boy said as he sat down on the smooth white floor which now looked more like marble than the substance out of which the earth was recreating the Appalachians.  Reluctantly, everyone followed Paris' lead and sat down, resting their backs against the sides of the passage.

"We will stay here till everyone is rested," Paris explained.

The stillness the end of movement brought to the passage brought with it a myriad of sounds that had gone unheard until now.  From the depths surrounding the passage came a faint rumbling, which at first frightened the people.  Some arose, poised to leave, until, at Paris' insistence, they listened more attentively,

"It's going away," the boy pointed out the distinct cadence of retreat, "not coming toward us.  The earth is moving north again, and back to the main body of mountains."

Those who had arisen sat down again and, with the others, listened for more sounds.  At first they heard none; then, after a few minutes of resting, when they ceased listening, a kind of crackle became audible, like the hum of electricity through a high tension wire.  They instinctively pulled away from the walls, but remained seated.

"Is it within the walls somewhere?" it was asked of no one in particular.  This time it was Joey who responded, by rubbing his hand rapidly back and forth against the wall, until he generated a tiny spark.  He shook his head in amazement.

"It's the same material," he said, "yet the whole time we were in the cave I never once thought to do that."

"The stream drowned out the sound," Carol reminded him.

Then Joey shifted from a sitting to a kneeling position and rubbed his hand along the ground.  It, too, generated a spark.  Then he tried the ceiling, with the same result.

"The earth has made this using electricity," he concluded.

"It makes everything using electric currents," Andrea pointed out.  "Even him," she added as she gave her sleeping son a kiss.  "And his brother."

"We have to find Cade," Carol repeated a consistent refrain that had accompanied their journey from Newport.

"Cade will find us," Paris, half asleep, muttered.  "He'll cover me," he added after a pause.

"Maybe he'll go to sea with me," Felicia mused.

"He can't swim," Paris answered.  "And he won't know where to look for it," he added with great sadness.

"Then I'll go alone!" Felicia resolved.

Paris shook his head.  "The last person on your mind will go with you," he said.

Everyone grew quiet again; most fell asleep against the warm buzz emanating from the walls.  A host of other sounds occurred from time to time, most too faint to be heard by sleeping ears or else incorporated into the stuff of their dreams.  And, underneath it all, somewhere in the background - even beneath the hum of the passage - came the almost inaudible sound of water.  Not the dripping of water down a cavern wall, or the gurgling, running water of a stream, or even the whirling water of a drain; but the even, gentle flow of ripples across an open lake ruffled by a soft breeze.

Felicia, opening her eyes from a dream of sailing in a huge boat on an open sea, heard it first.  She got up and, as the others drifted in and out of sleep, began walking along the passage, toward the sound, which grew louder the farther down the passage she walked.

It was almost pitch dark by the time she drew near the source of the sound; only a few thin slivers of light had accompanied her through the passage.  She knelt down and reached out to run her hand through the water.  It felt unlike any other water she had ever touched.  It had a tingle, as if tiny needles were pricking her fingertips.  It didn't hurt to submerge her hand in the water; it just felt odd to her.

After awhile, she grew tired of kneeling, so she sat beside the water and drew her knees up to her chin, every once in a while letting her hand rest on the surface of the water, to let the current play against her palm.

"Who is the last person on my mind?" she wondered aloud.  "Is it Paris, because he said he would be covered and couldn't go with me?  It isn't my father, or my mother - even though they are no more; because they're always on my mind.  It isn't any of my friends from school, because they're all dead, or else gone away.  It isn't Brad, because I don't want him to go.  And it isn't Sandy, because the big cat ate him.  There's no one left.  There is no last person on my mind.  So it must mean I will go alone."

As she mused she became aware of footsteps approaching from within the passage.  Then the steps stopped.  She looked up at a form standing over her, but could not make out whose form it was.

"I was concerned about you," Joey's wife Carol spoke softly to Felicia.  "I saw you walk off.  But I kept a distance as I followed, so you wouldn't feel like you needed an adult's permission to go off by yourself.  I only heard the water after you got up and started off.  Is this the sea Paris told us about?  The one we must cross?"

"Yes," Felicia answered.  "We must find a way to cross over," she added; "but we must wait for Joey to shine his light across the water."

Carol sat down beside Felicia.  "I almost drowned in the Mississippi once," she said.  "But it wasn't the waters of the Mississippi.  I think it was Lake Superior, but I don't know.  My son saved me - the one Cade looks like.  My other son - who Brad looks like and whose name he bears - almost died trying to save the rest of us.  Don't be misled by the pull of the sea: it has no more concern with our lives than the ground beneath us."

"And no more than God," Felicia observed.

"Only Joey believes absolutely in God," Carol replied.  "He never doubts that God watches over us and cares what happens to us.  But I can never share his faith.  I don't blame God for my sons' deaths.  But I do blame Joey for so easily accepting the will of God."

"Are your burns going to heal?" Felicia asked.

"Not completely," Carol told her.  "There will always be scars.  I only wish the scars were from the cat's claws instead of the stream.  I wish I could have at least tried to save Sandy.  No one should die without someone there to fight for them."

"Who will fight for Paris?" Felicia asked.

"I can only say who will not," Carol replied.  "Joey will accept whatever happens as part of God's plan.  No one suffers more from the loss of another than Joey; but no one so willingly accepts the loss."

Felicia turned to Carol.  In the darkness at the water's edge a strange look came over her face.  She took Carol's hand.

"You're going away, aren't you?" she asked.

"Some day, yes," Carol answered.

"To the mounds?"

"I don't know where," Carol admitted.  "I can accept death, but not needless death."

"Will you try and kill the big cat?"

"I don't know.  I may."

"Do you think the cat ate Alice too?"

"No, I don't," Carol said.  "I think she and Mount Everest got trapped in the cave.  Andrea doesn't though.  She thinks they escaped."

"Then why haven't they come with us?"

"Andrea believes they found something that led them too far away to ever return."

"Then I'll meet Alice on my way to the sea one day," Felicia concluded.  "Maybe she's the last person on my mind - the one Paris says I'll go with.  I always thought I'd go with Sandy - that he'd be my husband one day."

"Not everything we envision comes to pass," Carol explained.  "At least, not in the form we see it."

As Carol and Felicia talked, they heard the sound of approaching footsteps, and knew that the others had also roused and were coming to join them at the water's edge.  As the steps drew nearer and the volume increased, the approaching light intensified until, by the time the shadow of the boy who led the people appeared before them, both Carol and Felicia had to shield their eyes from the sudden brilliance, making them - first to come upon the water - the last to see it.  They could only wonder at the gasps and exclamations all around them until, finally, their eyes adjusted to where they could stand to look upon the water.

"My God, where are we!" Carol exclaimed, rising up from the ground to get a better look.

Felicia arose also, but neither exclaimed nor gasped.  She merely looked out over the water.  When she felt the pressure of a body beside her, she asked, without turning, why the water was so clear.

"The earth cleaned it before bringing it here," Paris answered her.

Joey came and stood beside Carol at the water's edge.  He held his light up, as if he might be able to see better simply by raising the angle from which it illuminated the water.  But the shift changed nothing.

"I felt this kind of awe once before," he told Carol.  "When I returned to the Sierras with Sandy -" his voice stopped cold after pronouncing his son's name.  "Maybe I shouldn't have named him after a man who turned his back on God.  Maybe it was offensive to God to honor my mentor through my own son."

"But Brad also turned his back on God, and you said he was saved," Carol reminded him.

"Brad could never have done anything out of spite," Joey explained.  "But Sandy could.  When we returned to the Sierras, and I climbed the mountain pass, and there it was, the Pacific Ocean, at the foot of the Sierras.  And now this," he said as he gestured toward the water.

"I cried then," Joey said.  "It was the first time I'd ever seen the ocean.  And I knew in my heart that Kirk would never see it; that I'd never get the chance to bring him there; that he'd never get the chance to understand God's great purpose."

The passage opened at the water's edge.  No longer a narrow corridor admitting one person at a time, it became, in the space of a single sweep, a giant plain stretching almost as far as the eye could see and filled with a body of water the size of a small lake encased in walls, ceiling and bed of the same pure white crystalline rock that lined the interior of the mountains.

Joey turned back to Paris and echoed Carol's earlier question.  "Where are we?" he said.

"The headwaters of the Tennessee River," Paris answered.

"But it can't be," Joey objected.  "We saw it from the mountaintop, still slowing through Cherokee Lake."

"The rivers that form it have been reclaimed," Paris said.  "In time the Tennessee will dry up.  All of it will be here.  It'll fill this whole place.  That's why we have to cross now.  Soon no one will ever be able to get across."

"But can we now?" Carol asked.

"We can," Felicia answered for Paris.  "The water's not cold.  We can take off our shoes and wade across.  Or we can go around," she added, as if anticipating what Paris was about to say.  "This path beside the water goes all the way around."

Joey turned to Paris, as if to confirm what Felicia said.  Paris nodded.  "It could be miles to get around," Joey observed.

"But we'll be safer," Paris explained, "so we'll go around."

"Where will we come out?" Carol asked.

"In the middle of Cherokee Lake," said Paris.  "Where the earth put an igloo."

"The middle of the lake?" Carol repeated Paris' answer as a question.  But the boy said nothing further.  He took Felicia by the hand and started walking to the right, along the shoreline.  At first no one followed; then Joey started in the same direction, then Carol and Andrea; then the others fell in behind them.

So gradually that no one noticed the shift, the shoreline wound its way around the lake from due north, where they began, to almost due west.  In places the shore was barely wide enough for one person to pass; in other spots several people easily traversed in tandem.  The distance from the Bold Mountains to Cherokee Lake was twenty-five miles.  Paris had already led his people nearly ten miles through the passage before bringing them to the underground lake, whose meandering circumference added another five.

Everyone was already tired from the ordeal of escape - first the escape from Mount Guyot, then from Newport, then from the mountain top the earth had built around them.  They had never traveled so great a distance all at once, with so little rest.  Most of them were lulled by the quiet ripples of the lake into a sense of tranquility; they wanted only to sit along the shore and rest against the warm white walls.  But Paris refused every request, insisting that they could not rest until they had crossed Cherokee Lake.

"We must pass through the igloo first," he added in his cryptic manner of speech.

"What do you mean?  What igloo?" he was asked, but to no avail.

"I only know it's there and we must all pass through it or we'll never reach Cumberland Gap," was all he was able to say.

The light Joey carried made it seem like perpetual daylight along the shore, as the walls and ceiling reflected the rays back at the travelers and down into the water, to be reflected up again from the bed of the lake.  Only the shore, made of a fine salt almost the texture and feel of sand on a beach, failed to reflect the light.  The brightness of the chamber made the travelers look down at the ground as they moved along; but the soft shore gently going beneath their steps made them want all the more to sit down and rest.

They labored for hours skirting the lake, wondering if it went on forever, or if perhaps they continually retraced their own steps around it.  Everything looked the same; no single feature stood out as a landmark; nor was there anything to gauge their progress against.

"For all its sound and fury, the earth is a creature of habit at heart," Andrea observed.  "Monotony is still its primary building block.  It changed everything - just so it could hurry up and make it all alike again.  Being here - even more than any of the caves we lived in - is like being trapped inside Pod City.  If it weren't for Brad," she said of the child resting in her arms.  "I'd have gone after Cade.  I'd have climbed from one mountain to the next.  I'd have risked whatever is out there to keep out of this place.  Except for my rescue from our pod," she said to Carol, her traveling companion, "I missed all the adventure.  I resented you at first, having gone through everything you did, while all I could do was look out a window and watch the world disintegrating.  I wanted to be part of it.  By the time I was rescued, it was all but complete.  In a vain attempt to save me from the end of the world, my father removed me from the most wondrous thing that anyone's ever experienced."

"Andrea," Carol reminded her friend, "most of the world perished.  Think what you're saying.  There was nothing wondrous about it.  Yes, I lived through it; but I would have gladly changed places with you - except that, if I had, I might never have gotten to know my son."

"But you were part of it," said Andrea.  "You were able to make choices, and do things; whereas all I could choose was whether or not to watch; all I could do was stay indoors at night - and even that was taken from me when the walkways were destroyed.  Even my rescue was a forgone conclusion; I had no hand in it.  It was done to me, not by me.  It wasn't really my rescue at all, it was Brad's, and Kirk's, and -"

Andrea stopped in mid-sentence.  As she stopped speaking, she also stopped moving.  So did everyone else.  No longer did anyone despair that they were moving in circles.

A few hundred yards ahead was a shimmering light - not the reflected light that had guided their way around the lake, but a real light, the light of the sky, refracted as if through a prism.  Not white, or yellow, or the blue of a full moon on a lake, but a deep crimson: the light of morning, or evening - and it could be either, it could be from east or west, the effect through the filtering water would be the same.

Everyone turned to Paris for an explanation.  The boy studied the horizon.  "We crossed the sea," he told his people.  Then he turned back to where they had just come from.  Joey also turned; and, as he did, his light revealed a scene which sent a chill down everyone's spine.

The water was rising.  The shoreline was rapidly disappearing behind them.  Everyone was caught between the past and the future - both of which seemed suddenly impenetrable.  They could not return to where they came from, the lake was rising too rapidly; nor could they proceed toward the crimson horizon, which rose before them like a giant wave.

They began looking around for some hidden passage, some opening in the walls or the ceiling or even the ground; but there was nothing.

"Where do we go?" they began asking.

Paris pointed straight ahead.  "Cherokee Lake," he told them.

"I haven't doubted your insight," Joey said to his young leader; "and I won't now.  But look: the water's as high as this passage - I don't know what's kept it from drowning us already.  It should be pouring into this place like a flood.  How can we go through it?"

"The igloo," said Paris.

"What do you mean?" Joey asked.

Paris took Felicia by the hand and led her to the edge of the giant crimson pool, which stood suspended like water in an aquarium.  When they got to the very edge of the water, so near they could reach out and touch it, Paris beckoned his people to follow.  Reluctantly they obeyed.

What seemed from a distance like an aquarium glass holding the water at bay appeared even more amazing close at hand.  It gave off a chill which made everyone shiver.  Carol reached out to touch it.

"It's ice," she said in disbelief.  Somehow she thought it really was glass; incredible as it would have been finding a sheet of glass ten feet high and forty feet across in the middle of nowhere, it was even more incredible coming upon a solid piece of ice lodged between the body of a lake and a cavern holding a vast underground reservoir.

"It will melt when the sea rises," Paris said.  "We must find the igloo."

"This time tell us what the igloo is!" Andrea demanded.

"The earth heated the water when it made the cave," Paris tried to explain.  "Then the water cooled, leaving a film of ice behind.  An air bubble runs through the lake.  But it's fragile and if we're not careful we'll burst it and all of us drown.  We have to find it - but only with our fingertips."

"I see it," called Felicia, who had moved away from the others toward the left.  Paris went to her and carefully felt of the ice, then nodded in confirmation.

"It's here," he called to the others, who assembled where he indicated.

Joey came to inspect the opening, testing its height and width by running his fingertips up, across, and back down again.

"The opening's big enough," he reported.  "The only question is whether we dare carry our belongings with us."  He turned to Paris as if for guidance on how to proceed.

"It's cold beyond the lake," was all Paris said.

"Then we need everything we have," Joey concluded.  "Which makes our crossing all the more perilous.  We must carry our packs as if they contained the most delicate crystal.  We must be as aware of our belongings as of our own bodies - they must become extensions of ourselves.  Not one pack can be allowed to touch the sides of this tunnel.  The women and children should go first - and only carry the lightest packs.  Then the men, with the heaviest and bulkiest.  I'll go last."

"And I'll go first," said Paris.  "To lead the way."

Without another word, the people began shifting their backpacks among themselves, the biggest going to the men, the smallest to the women and children.  When they had rearranged their belongings, Paris stepped lightly into the ice passage and began making his way from one end of the lake to the other, followed, single file, by the others, with Joey the last to step from the safety of the shoreline onto the floor of ice.

One slow deliberate step at a time, the travelers made their way through the crimson igloo surrounded by the gently rocking waters of Cherokee Lake.  The passage reached three quarters of a mile, from the cavern at its eastern end to the western shore of the lake.  Paris was halfway across when he abruptly stopped and turned to his people.

"We must go faster now," he told them.  Then he turned back and resumed walking, doubling his pace.

What Paris, at the head of the line, only sensed, Joey, at the rear, encountered first hand.  The water in the cavern had risen beyond its shoreline and had started flowing into the ice passage.  It was already above Joey's shoes when he noticed everyone speeding up.  He, too, quickened his pace.  But it wasn't the rising water that alarmed him.

He stopped for an instant and felt the sides of the passage, letting his fingers confirm what his eyes suspected.  The tiny droplets forming inside the passage were not the condensation of warm water meeting frigid ice.  They were the ice itself beginning to melt; and as the water rose they began spreading along the walls, dripping down onto the floor.  By the time Joey was at the halfway mark, the walls were covered in droplets, which collectively distorted the waning crimson of sunset into a pock marked cavern that almost hid the waters of Lake Cherokee.

Paris was almost to the western end of the tunnel when his hat blew off.  He caught it in mid-air and stuck it in his pocket.  Presently, the others felt the same gust that almost carried their leader's hat away.  They could hear it whistling through the tunnel.  Then they heard the water around them growing more agitated, and felt the passage vibrating within the churning lake.  Again they quickened their pace.

The line extended a couple hundred yards back into the tunnel.  Those at the end did not yet feel the growing violence surrounding the igloo; but, at Joey's insistence, speeded up also.  Joey never took his eyes off the droplets multiplying along the walls like germs under a microscope.  He made no attempt to assess the time left till the igloo gave way; he merely kept tabs of how fast the ice was melting.

A couple hundred yards quickly collapsed to a couple hundred feet as those at the end of the line hurried toward the western shore of Cherokee Lake.  They could feel the wind on their faces now, and the turbulent waters surrounding them.  As they moved, they splashed their way through the waters seeping in streams from the walls and slowly piling up underfoot till, one by one, they cleared the disintegrating air pocket the earth had created in its haste to build new mountains.  Finally, only Joey and one other traveler remained in the tunnel.  Joey could sense the ice giving way around him.  In one motion he shoved the man in front of him the last few feet onto the shore, and hurled his own backpack after him.  Then the igloo shattered into a million pieces that sank in a sudden frenzy to the bottom of the lake before rising a moment later to the surface.

Joey felt himself descending into the frigid water of Cherokee Lake - water hot enough to melt ice but cold enough to freeze a man to death.  He had taken a deep breath in the last seconds before the igloo collapsed, his body carried by the impact of its collapse to the bottom with it.  He offered no resistance; but the second the falling ice loosened its grip on him, he swam toward the surface, his body battered and tossed about by the turbulence that now permeated the entire lake.

He felt the last of the air he had gulped down leaving his lungs.  He released one of his hands from its efforts to bring him to the surface to have it clamp his nose shut so he didn't unconsciously breathe; his other hand stroked twice as hard against the billowing eddies resisting his progress.  Just as he could almost feel himself passing out, his hand broke the surface.  Seconds later, his head was above the water and he was gasping for air.

He looked around, expecting to see the shoreline a few feet ahead.  Instead, he saw only gray, brackish water everywhere he turned.  The waters, churned by a westerly wind, had carried him back to the center of the lake, threatening to take him all the way to the other side.  He began swimming, without knowing for certain which way was west, which was east.  Then he heard a child call to him from somewhere ahead, at an angle to the direction he was headed.  He shifted his body and began swimming toward the sound of the child's voice.  He continued to swim against the rippling tide until he finally caught sight of the people gathered on the western shore.

When he reached the shore and was pulled from the water, he collapsed into a soggy heap onto the snow encrusted bank.  He lay there several moments with his eyes shut, his mouth gasping for air.  Then he opened his eyes and reached up to the hands extended to him.  He was helped to his feet.  He stood there, staring into the crowd.

"What child called to me?" he asked.

"We were all calling you," someone answered.

Joey shook his head.  "I only heard one child -" he said, then stopped cold as he realized what child he had heard.  "It was Sandy who called to me," he muttered in amazement.  "Of course," he added a moment later.  "God sent my son to guide me ashore."

The wind began to die down, but the sky remained gray and ominous.  At first, Joey thought it was raining; he started to say how odd it was to see rain - or even snow - falling after an absence of almost four years.  Then he realized it wasn't rain he saw but water dripping from his forehead; and he remembered that he was soaking wet.

"I'll have to change," he turned to say, only to find a blanket being unfurled in front of him.  Carol had already gotten a change of clothes for him and had asked two of the men to hold up the blanket to help block the wind while he undressed.

It wasn't until he stripped naked that he began shivering, and continued shivering as Carol handed him first a towel to dry off then one after another piece of clothing until he was fully dressed again.

Waiting behind the blanket was Paris, who approached Joey the instant the blanket was taken down and folded.  "We must move on," Paris advised.  Joey nodded in agreement.

"We can rest along the way," Joey said. 

Paris shook his head.  "We can't stop anywhere until we're safe," he said.

"It's a good twenty-five miles," Joey pointed out.  "We can't go that far without stopping - not after all we've come through."

"We can't stop," Paris repeated.  "The earth is coming."

"But there are no mountains here," Joey observed.

"There are over there," Paris pointed to the northwest.  "It wants them.  And look," he said as he opened the palm of his right hand, revealing the same yellow substance they had seen at Fowler's Grove.

"The death gas," Joey muttered.  Then he looked around and saw that the ground was covered in a yellow haze.

"We have no choice," Joey reluctantly accepted Paris' decree to keep moving until they reached the Cumberland Gap.

"Somehow we have to find the strength to keep going," Joey added after Paris revealed his plan to his people.                        

Everyone began backing away and shaking their heads "No" to Paris and Joey's revelation.  Even their staunchest supporters stepped away.  One after another the people began voicing their objections, even questioning their leader's worthiness to lead them.  Just when it seemed that, after years of blindly following their leaders' orders - first Kirk's then Joey's and now Paris' - these people who had made their way from Wyoming to Nebraska then across the frozen Mississippi to the Appalachians had finally rebelled - just as leadership itself seemed about to die, the wind shifted.  The gale that blew from the west gave way to the breeze from the southeast.  This new wind blew a mist across the lake - an almost invisible mist that, on closer inspection, became, not water but dust.  A fine yellow dust that hurt their eyes and burned their skin and made them choke for air.

No one said another word as they hurriedly retrieved their backpacks and began following Paris, who had already started his trek to the northwest.  They all remembered Joey's description of the tiny hamlets he had passed through in his search for food, and his tales of the yellow dust that had settled on the snow after killing the people of Fowler's Grove.  Rest no longer had any meaning for them; only escape mattered as they made their way toward the Cumberland Gap, pursued by a dust of death that had traveled the wind from Cocke County, through Hamblen County, across Cherokee Lake and into Grainger County, where Paris and his people tried desperately to outrun it.

The wind played a devil's game of hide and seek with the travelers as it sadistically swirled and shifted, driving them first one way then another to avoid its sulphurous dust; then died down altogether, only to start up again minutes later, coming at them now from yet another angle.  They could not avoid breathing in the deadly dust; but neither could the dust fill the entire plain, as it had the valleys folded like an accordion along the Appalachian foothills.  The air in Grainger County dissipated the poison the earth had sent in pursuit of Paris and his people.  They were able to breathe in enough clean air to keep from choking to death on the dust.

When, halfway through Grainger County, at the town of Thorn Hill, a second blast of cold air from the northwest drove back the dust, only one man continued to cough and gag on the air he breathed.  But it wasn't what he breathed in that made him stop every few steps to try and clear his lungs; it was what he could not breathe out.

Nearly drowning in the frigid water of Cherokee Lake then standing naked in an Arctic gale had covered Joey's body with a chill that had worked its way into his chest and lungs.  It was becoming more difficult for him to draw in the air around him.  He became dizzy, and he began shivering as he had shivered on the shore of the lake.  Carol walked beside him; but only noticed what was happening to him when the dust from the south finally cleared.

"We have to stop!" she cried out in a tone of alarm that made everyone slacken their pact.  "Joey's sick, he can't go on!" he added.

"No!" Joey insisted in a broken voice which he managed to make audible.  "We can't stop!"

"If we don't stop you'll die," Carol said to her husband.

"We can't all die to save me," Joey replied.  "My life is in God's hands."

Paris, at the head of the line, had stopped, and walked back to where Joey was.  "I love any God you love," he told Joey.  "But I love you more."  He turned to Carol.  "We can't stop," he told her.  "But we can carry Joey."

Joey protested, but to no avail.  A makeshift stretcher was hastily assembled; Joey was made to lie down upon it.  He tried to get up, but didn't have the strength to lift himself, so he lay back down and was lifted by the first two men who volunteered to carry him.  Carol covered him with blankets and the journey continued.

By the time they crossed from Grainger into Claiborne County - still not quite half way to their destination - six different teams of men had taken turns carrying Joey.  They had to descend a steep bank to cross the Clinch River, which formed the boundary between the two counties; then ascend another steep embankment on the other side.  The stream, like all the others they had encountered, was iced over, so they had no difficulty crossing.

Once across, the people let it be known that they would not continue on without stopping for rest.  It had become a familiar pattern, established almost from the start of their migration, to set up camp on the bank of a river they had just crossed; so it seemed natural to them to stop here, where they felt safe and somehow protected from the ravages of nature.

"There's no poison gas, no fire, no tremors, no hole opening in front of our eyes," Paris was told.  "We will stop here."

Paris just stood there shaking his head.  "There is no worse place," he told them.  "This stream has been diverted to the underground lake.  It no longer flows into the Tennessee.  The earth has its water, now it wants its bed.  Before you could even get your tents up we would all be dead."  With this explanation Paris turned and, taking Felicia once again by the hand, continued northward.  Reluctantly, the others followed.

They had not gone a mile when Joey, lying on the stretcher, half asleep, looking back toward the Clinch, saw a chunk of rock fly into the air.  He roused himself and, mumbling something about having to move on, leaped from the stretcher.  He lost his footing and fell to the ground, but got back up.  The two men who had been carrying him stopped to retrieve him, thinking he had fallen.  Instead, he tore the stretcher from their hands and heaved it to one side.  Just as he did, another rock flew into the air, followed by a streak of rocks.

"Move!" Joey ordered the men.  "There will be no free rides!"  The three of them rejoined the others, who had kept moving.  As if knowing instinctively what was happening, without looking back, Paris doubled his speed.  The others followed his lead.  Then he doubled his pace again, almost running.  The others hesitated, but Joey, at the rear of the line once again, cried out "Move!," this time loud enough for everyone to hear.

Minutes after the people took off running, the Clinch, now more than three miles behind, was rocked by a deafening explosion that shattered the cold northern air.  The river bed was torn to pieces, ripped apart by a burst of flaming gas that shot hundreds of feet into the air and sent rocks and dirt hurtling in every direction.  A shower of debris rained down on the people - chunks of rock; still smoldering cinders; and hard clumps of earth fused out of the loose sandy soil of the river bed.  They dodged the debris as best they could, shielding themselves with the packs they carried and seeking cover under the scrub brushes and trees half buried in the snow.  For nearly an hour debris kept falling on the open plain the snow drifts had created in southeastern Claiborne County.  Buried beneath the snow and ice was State Route 33, which ran from Knoxville, forty miles to the southwest, through Claiborne into Hancock County almost to the Kentucky border.  By the time the debris stopped falling, and the people were able to resume their journey, patches of roadway lay exposed beneath the melting snows, which ran in torrents away from them toward the mountain of fire spewing from the Clinch.

No one looked back, no one spoke again of needing rest, as they proceeded northward through Claiborne County.  Behind them, the flame was still visible on the horizon; off to their left, some five miles to the southwest, the town of Tazewell lay smoldering against the grayish brown haze of its burned out buildings.  Ten miles still separated them from the Cumberland Gap.

They wearily trudged along, each step not only an effort but almost a separate entity from every other step, as if their feet had lost the natural rhythm that makes walking an unconscious activity.  The age-old dictum to "pick up your feet when you walk" had become an existential imperative which they obeyed with a dogged determination.

They had gone nearly five miles in this trance-like state when, finally, Paris broke their concentration by announcing that they must now stop and rest.  This time it was his people who protested, citing how near they must be to their destination.

"Very shortly we come upon our last hurdle," Paris explained.

"Then let's hurry past it!" was the response.

"We cannot," Paris, in turn, responded.  "This time we must let the earth beat us to it."

Joey, still half dazed from his effort to breathe, vaguely recalled a second stream that fed the Tennessee River being in their path about halfway between the Clinch and Cumberland Gap.  He slowly approached Paris.

"There's a stream up ahead," he observed.  "The Powell River.  Is the earth coming for it too?"

Paris nodded that yes, it was.  "Then we must cross before it gets there," Joey concluded.

A handful of people, overhearing this discourse, determined that it was time to stop listening to Paris.  We're going on!" they declared.

Paris shook his head.  "No!  You must not!  Not till the earth reaches it first!"

"And be consumed in flames?  No!  We're going!  Anyone who's with us, come!  We leave now!"

This small group turned away and continued on, to the north, toward the Powell, a couple miles ahead.  The stream was not visible from where the people were, except as a slight depression in the landscape, like a gully.  The others watched their fellow travelers depart, watched them slowly sink into the horizon, eager to join them - the sight of the Clinch exploding in flame still fresh in their minds - but reluctant to leave the security of being led by someone who, through only a child, seemed to understand everything that was happening and sense things about to happen.

"Please," Paris pleaded with his people, "someone stop them before it's too late."

Joey started after them.  "My God, no!" cried Carol, taking hold of his arm.  "You're in no condition to stop anyone!"

"I must," he said as he removed her arm and started out.  Carol followed him.

"If you must, then I must," she said.  She took his arm again, but this time to help steady him as they followed those who had gone ahead of the others.

"You should be on a stretcher," she told him.  "You'd be the first one to help carry someone else who was as ill as you are - why must you deny yourself the same help you'd offer others?  It's because of Kirk isn't it?  It's what he would do - except he'd refuse to jeopardize his people by helping anyone, not just himself!"

Tears filled Joey's eyes.  "He wasn't heartless," he protested.

"Of course he wasn't," Carol agreed.  "He was like his father - both his fathers.  All that mattered was his objective.  Alice always said he was the last champion of the old ways.  But the old ways never really die, they just lie in wait for a new champion to come along."

There was no possibility of Joey and Carol catching up to the ones they were following.  They were near enough only to watch as the travelers descended the bank of the Powell and disappeared into the horizon.  A moment later they heard a series of cries for help, followed by screams of terror.

Joey and Carol arrived on the southern bank of the Powell just in time to see the last of the travelers sinking into the river bed.  Joey instinctively started down the bank to try and take hold of the few hands that were still reaching up for help.  But Carol held him back, this time with enough force to keep him from pulling himself free before the travelers disappeared beneath the surface.

Joey stood there trembling, with one hand still reaching out.  "You shouldn't have stopped me," he said - not in judgment but merely as a statement of fact.

"You would have given your life for no other reason than that you couldn't save them," Carol replied.

"If God -" Joey started to say.

"Not even God could have pulled you from quicksand," Carol cut him short.  "The only way He could have saved you was having me hold you back."

Joey stood for a moment with his head bowed, silently praying for the souls of those who had perished almost at his feet.  Then he raised his head and started to go but stopped and reached out as a hand broke the surface of the quicksand.  Joey started down the bank but Carol grabbed his arm and stopped him.  Then another hand arose from the river bed, and another.

"Let go!" Joey demanded.  "I've got to save them!"

"No!" Carol cried out, trying desperately to restrain him.  "It isn't what you think!  Come away from here - now!"

The river bed began to rumble; the quicksand gurgled; a sudden quake rocked the embankment, throwing both Carol and Joey to the ground.  Carol got up first, then helped Joey to his feet.  Twelve more pairs of hands surfaced, followed by half a dozen faces contorted in terror and nearly stripped of skin.  The hair on their heads began to smolder.

Carol had already managed to pull Joey back from the embankment and was leading him away from the stream when a jet of quicksand shot into the air.  Together, they began running toward the others, camped out a couple miles to the south.  They never looked back to the river again; they never saw the fire and brimstone raining down around them, or the wall of flame rising from the river bed, consuming the bodies of the dead as it came to tower over the landscape.  But they could sense from the searing heat at their backs everything that was happening behind them.

The moment they reached within a few hundred feet of camp, the air cooled as if they had just entered an ice house on a scorching summer's day.  They slowed their pace.  Joey lurched forward, almost losing his balance.  He was drenched with sweat, and shivering from the sudden temperature change.

Carol grabbed the first blanket she saw and threw it around him, then led him to the center of the encampment, where the collective body heat of the people was greatest.  She threw another blanket onto the ground and forced Joey to sit down.  After a moment, he got back up, and went to Paris to tell him what happened to those who had tried to cross the stream.

Paris bowed his head, as if Joey had accused him of sending them to their deaths.  "I don't always see what the danger is," the boy explained in a voice of remorse.  "I only knew we couldn't cross till the earth had changed what was dangerous."

"I know it wasn't your fault," Joey tried to comfort the boy who, in the span of a couple days, had become his leader.  "I'm sorry if I made it sound that way."

"We must go now," Paris announced after staring several minutes at the wall of flame filling the river bed of the Powell and rising forty feet into the air.

Everyone stared in disbelief at the same flames that had prompted Paris to break camp and begin moving again.  Before anyone could protest the decision, however, Carol stepped forward to tell Paris that Joey could not continue without first resting.

"He must," was all Paris said as he turned and, taking Felicia's hand, started toward the stream.

Everyone hesitated, as they always did; but, after a few moments, when it was clear their leader was not going to abandon his plan, they began falling in line behind him.  The closer they got to the stream, the more impossible getting beyond the mountain of fire seemed.  No matter how far east or how far west they looked, they could see no break in the fire, no possible way around it.

Paris and Felicia headed directly for the fire, never veering the slightest to the left or right.  When they reached a point some five hundred feet from the fire, they stopped.  Paris turned back to his people.

"We must dig here," he told them.

"We're going under the flames?" Joey asked.

Paris shook his head.  "We're going through them," he announced.  "This is the only spot that will take us to the other side."

"Then we could have gone before the flames - before the others were killed?" Carol asked.

Again Paris shook his head.  "You'll see when we get there," he said.

The shovels that had been packed, along with what other provisions had been deemed necessary to their survival, were taken out and the digging began.  At first, the soil was still frozen and difficult to dig; but, as the digging progressed, the layers became softer, the task easier.

"How long must we dig?" Paris was constantly asked.  All he would say is that they would know when they were done.

For almost an hour the digging continued, as the fire in the river bed raged with no sign of stopping.  Then, all of a sudden, as one last spade of dirt was upturned, the ground over the hole Paris had directed his people to dig gave way and an underground chamber was revealed.

First Paris, then Felicia, then, in turn, each of the others descended into the chamber through the narrow opening.  Surrounding them was the same white crystalline substance they had found first at Mount Guyot then at the underground lake; but it had a different quality to it, which, at first, they were unable to identify.  As they moved along, drawing nearer the river bed, the heat intensified.  By the time they reached the stream, not only could they feel the heat of the flames burning in the river bed, they could almost see the flames.

They walked a long, narrow corridor, its walls glowing with the radiated heat surrounding it.  Then it finally hit them what was different.  The light of their lamps did not reflect back at them in a blinding glare; instead, it was absorbed by the walls and dissipated into a gentle glow encompassing every inch of the corridor.  The walls, ceiling and floor were translucent, not opaque.  The glow from without was the flames being absorbed by the walls just as their lamplight had been absorbed.

Exactly as Paris had predicted, they were moving through the flames, which the earth drew from two distinct veins of heat to cast upon the waters of the Powell.  It was only above the surface that the flames met to form one unbroken wall.  Below the stream, they were two separate jets of fire, from two separate pools of magma, still striving to join; this slender opening was all that stood between them.

Its glowing walls exerted an almost hypnotic pull on the people as they moved along the corridor, beckoning them to slow their pace and watch the flickering flames on the other side.  They felt as if they had entered through the eyepiece into the heart of a kaleidoscope to become part of its pattern.  Paris, too, felt this pull, but resisted, and tried to counter its effect on his people with a vision more powerful than that of the glowing walls.

"This too will melt," he recalled the corridor of ice which had led his people through Cherokee Lake.  "We must hurry."

The image of that corridor disappearing behind them as they barely made the shoreline transposed onto the present setting to break the lure of these walls.  They diverted their gaze from the walls and began moving faster, following Paris' lead.

For once Joey was not at the end of the line.  He would have been; he waited patiently as one after another went ahead of him; until, on a sudden impulse, Carol grabbed him and began pulling him along.  He was too weak to put up any resistance, nor could he even question her action until he managed to catch his breath.

"I should go last," he finally managed to say as they were halfway through the corridor.  "If there's danger -"

"If there's danger, you're the least likely to make it!" Carol completed his thought.

"That's why I should go last," said Joey.  "Instead of risking someone who has a better chance."

Carol made no effort to accommodate Joey's wishes.  She neither slackened her pace nor allowed Joey to fall back.  They were three quarters of the way through the corridor, and three quarters of the way to the end of the line, when Joey began to notice something odd about the walls - something reminiscent  of the melting of the ice at Cherokee Lake.  Spots congealed along the outer membrane as if the flames were splattering the walls with cinders; except that these spots acted like prisms, angling rays of light against the wall, just as droplets of melting ice had stretched the appearance of water irregularly along the air pocket that let them cross Cherokee Lake.

"My God," Joey muttered, "it's starting to melt."  Then he called back to those behind him in a weakened voice which only the magnification of the narrow corridor allowed to be heard.  "We've got to run for it!" he warned.

He and Carol picked up their pace, prompting both those in front of him and those behind him to follow suit, until everyone, from Paris on back, was moving almost at a steady jog.

It grew hotter by the second, as the structure the earth had built to hold its two sources of heat at bay began to disintegrate.  The spots Joey discovered on the walls became holes through which tiny jets of flame wormed their way into the corridor to stab at those fleeing the heat.  Hair-like circles opened in the ceiling, admitting droplets of a hissing red plasma which collected like dew along the white overhead translucence.

The corridor ended abruptly a hundred feet beyond the northern bank of the Powell, at the base of a burned out knoll, opening onto a vast plain filling the entire northeastern corner of Claiborne County, from the border with Hancock County in the east to the Cumberland Mountains in the west.  Nothing stood between the knoll through which the corridor ran and the Cumberland Gap - no stream, no lake, no hill, no valley.  All that was needed to reach their destination was to reach the end of the corridor.

Paris and Felicia reached it first, followed by Andrea and her son Brad; then, one by one, the rest of Paris' people, leaving only the last dozen or so to reach the safety of the knoll.

Joey and Carol were exactly in the middle of this final group in the corridor.  They could vaguely see a stream of daylight filtering into the corridor ahead, its translucent shell darkened by the surrounding knoll.  They could barely breathe for the flames coiling like snakes throughout the corridor.  The cracks in the ceiling kept expanding, the holes covering the walls widening until, just as it became Joey and Carol's turn to leap to safety, the entire structure ruptured, unleashing a torrent of fire through the corridor which completely inundated the last four travelers and turned the two directly ahead of them into blazing torches.  Joey reached behind him to take a hand reaching out from a smoldering sleeve.  As Carol pulled him from the corridor, he managed to pull the burning body to the opening; but the hand was pulled away from him by the suction of the vortex created by the exploding fire.  He could only watch helplessly as the body was drawn back into the flames and disappeared in a sea of red, its hand the last thing to disappear.

His own hand was scorched by the hand he briefly held trying to save his fellow traveler.  The skin was peeling, the palm blood red.  When Carol had led him beyond the knoll to where the others were, she began tending his hand, as Alice had tended her injuries at Mount Guyot.  But Joey refused to have his hand treated. 

"Let this serve as a reminder of the man I let die in my place," he told his wife.

Carol did not argue with him.  "At least let me try and keep it from getting infected," was all she said.  He agreed to let her wrap his hand in a crude bandage which had been soaked in disinfectant.

"We can reach our destination by nightfall," Paris came over to tell him.  He nodded his acceptance, arose, once again shivering and coughing, and gathered his things to begin the final trek to the Cumberland Gap.

Five miles of open land lay between the knoll beyond the Powell and the Cumberland Gap.  No towns stood in their path, no large stands of timber: nothing to indicate whether the earth, in its efforts to recreate the Appalachians, had visited this plain before.  The snow was solidly packed, the air rising from it cold, as the air everywhere beyond Mount Guyot had been cold before Paris and his people were driven from their home.  This final trek to safety, void of resistance, should have been the easiest part of the journey; instead, it proved the most difficult.  Without the constant barrage of fire and ice, of rising mountains, flooding caverns and disintegrating passageways; without having to remain alert to sudden dangers and unexpected barriers; without the soul numbing terror a world in constant turmoil instilled in them, the travelers became painfully, almost excruciatingly, aware of their own bodies and minds, and of how weary they were.

Each step across this open plain mirrored an almost superhuman effort, an act of pure will power - something beyond even mind over matter, since their minds ached as much as their bodies.  Five miles became as close to five eons as it was possible for distance to transpose itself to a temporal plane.

Of all the people, ironically, Joey had the least difficulty making the journey.  The illness that had been with him since nearly drowning in Cherokee Lake demanded his full attention; the simple acts of coughing, sneezing, gagging, and of breathing itself displaced that of walking.  The movements within his body, that should have been automatic and unconscious, supplanted those of his arms, legs and trunk.  While it was all he could do to remain upright, he was not aware of his efforts; so that, compared to the others, he moved effortlessly toward the border of Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia.

The last mile, the terrain gradually inclined toward the mountain pass.  It took the travelers an hour of sheer agony to traverse that mile.  It was almost dark when they stood looking up at the cliff walls of the Cumberland Mountains.  From their perspective, the Gap was barely a sliver between these cliffs; only when Paris led them another quarter mile to the west did it open up before them.  Only then did they begin cheering.  Only then did they find the burst of energy to climb the pass leading into the Gap.

It was as it always was - when the ancient buffalo herded across to the pastures of southeastern Kentucky; when the Indians migrated each year to different parts of their territory; when Dr. Thomas Walker first came upon it; when Daniel Boone led the early settlers westward; when twenty thousand acres were set aside as a National park; when US Route 25 was built to accommodate the nation's transportation needs; when the snow began falling in the year 2070; and when it stopped snowing two years later.  One thousand feet wide, half a mile deep, bordered by the sheer cliffs of the Cumberland Mountains, where the state of Tennessee and Claiborne County ended and Bell County, Kentucky began.  Unchanged by time and space, untouched by man and nature.  As it always was.                    

"We will camp here," Paris told his people when they reached the farthest point and stood beneath the western face of the mountains.

When the tents had been pitched, the people gathered around their leader, as if waiting for some final word before retiring for the night.  The wind had picked up, descending with a blustery chill into this narrow opening between the mountains.  Overhead, a crescent moon let the full compliment of stars dominate the night sky, but offered no illumination to the gathering within the Gap.

"We will be safe here," Paris assured his people.  "The earth is all around us, but will ignore us.  Let it go about its business."

Momentarily, everyone disappeared into their tents; most fell asleep as soon as they spread out their sleeping bags and lay down.  Of all the people, Joey was most in need of sleep, but when he laid down he was unable to breathe, so he remained seated on his sleeping bag, surrounded by blankets to help hold the night chill at bay.  At first Carol sat up with him, but he persuaded her to lie down.

As he coughed and gagged, and brought up blood, he attempted to explain, or perhaps just to examine, the strange circumstances surrounding the passing of the mantle of leadership.

"Do you see now why God chose Paris?" he asked his wife.  "I may not be able soon to lead.  In His wisdom and His love for His people He gave Paris the insight to guide them through perils I could only have attempted to overcome."

"I won't let you die," Carol muttered in a sleepy voice.

"If God wills it, then I must," Joey told her.

"These people need you," she said.  "Don't you see?  The boy only leads because you're there to back him up.  You give his leadership the legitimacy it needs.  Without you, they'll turn away from him the first time things go wrong.  Don't you see?  God can't give Paris their loyalty - only you can.  Leadership is not something you can give to another; it has to be earned over time.  Kirk didn't make you their leader - you became their leader.  You can't turn it over to a boy simply because you think God wishes him to lead.  Not everyone centers their decisions around the will of God."

"If only they would," Joey mused.  "Then everything in their lives would have purpose."

Carol fell asleep after making Joey promise he would wake her if he needed anything.  Then Joey leaned against the corner post of the tent and closed his eyes.  He drifted in and out of sleep, his mind visiting the places that had become milestones in his life.

"Joseph Pierson Matthews," he heard a voice call a name that was vaguely familiar.  A schoolroom opened before him; a boy with thick chestnut hair, big hazel eyes and a gentle expression looked up at him and answered "Here."  Then the schoolroom flooded and froze solid.  And two boys climbed on top of the ice to look at a magazine filled with naked women.  One of the boys unzipped his pants to show the other what he could do to make the pictures real; the other tried to follow his lead but couldn't, so the first boy took hold of him to see what was wrong, and he took hold of the other boy.  Then the sky went black and huge clouds filled the night; it began snowing until the boys were covered and fell asleep.

When the boy awoke, his friend was gone, the ice had melted, and he climbed into a crawlspace above the living room.  His father shut a sliding door behind him.  "Don't make a sound, don't move - no matter what happens!" his father ordered.  He heard someone ask "Where is he?"  A moment later the shots that killed the boy's father rang out, and two men laid the blame on the weatherman.  When it had been quiet for several minutes, and the outside door slammed shut, the boy climbed down to say goodbye to his father.  He sat down and tried to remember everything he had ever heard about this weatherman who killed his father.  He chased storms when he was young, so the boy went to look at maps that showed all the places that had storms.  But it was October, and the blizzard that buried St. Louis was over; so the boy concluded the weatherman must have gone west.

Then the boy began walking in the direction of the setting sun, a backpack filled with maps all that he carried.  When he had reached the Missouri River, almost twenty miles from his home near the Mound City Docks, he hitched a ride.  As he sat huddled in the cab of a huge truck, he pictured in his mind the falling bridge - Eads Bridge, which had collapsed into the Mississippi three nights earlier.  He played at the base of the bridge until, one afternoon, he stayed too late; it had grown dark.  His father had warned him never to be out after dark, and never to play near the bridge or else the thieves and muggers might get him.  In the darkness, he heard footsteps all around him, but could see no one.  Suddenly a hand reached out from nowhere and grabbed him.  He felt something cold and sharp at his throat.  He heard a chuckle.

"Nothing personal, boy," a man's gruff voice whispered, "just practice.  Then I'll dump you in the river and no one'll be the wiser.  Practice makes perfect."

In the boy's mind, nestled against shards of terror, were the words "Thy will be done."  He lifted his head to heaven.

"Please don't let me forget how to pray if I'm not worthy to be in heaven," the boy whispered as a flood of tears trickled down his face onto the blade.  Then it fell.  First it screeched.  Then the ground rumbled.  Then the bridge fell.  And a spray of water drowned the boy's tears.  And the blade dropped to the soft, moist ground.  And footsteps retreated back into the night.

The boy watched beams of light shooting everywhere; fires bursting where the beams began; cars and trucks flying toward each other then falling into the water.  He watched the bridge sink like a capsized ship.  He heard screams and saw flaming bodies descend into the river.  He saw a horse and wagon float for an instant then disappear beneath the churning eddies brought to the surface.  Then all was quiet.  He looked up at the great tower supporting the western end of the bridge, which was the only thing left standing.

"Dear God," the boy muttered through another, a greater, flood of tears than before, "I would pray for your children, but I'm not worthy.  Their deaths gave me life.  I have no right to pray.  I can never be forgiven for being saved at the cost of their lives.  You will damn me to hell for what I've done, and I'll never see you.  At least I can offer them that."

The boy turned from the bridge and walked home, only to find it buried in a sea of ice.  Then he awoke when the truck driver tapped his shoulder.  He got out of the truck and stood on the side of the road, next to a sign which read "Lamar, population 2500."  He watched the truck turn south, from Interstate 70 onto US 24, then headed into town, to ask the residents he encountered the same question he had asked at every stop between there and St. Louis: "Have there been any storms lately?" - the answer his one and only compass against which he plotted his course.

"They had a real bad one this side of Grand Junction, someone said," a cashier at a convenience store told him.  "We didn't hear nothing about it on TV, but a trucker said they had a tornado come through and tear up half of Mesa County."

The boy thanked her, got out his maps, and set out for western Colorado.  Then for the Humboldt National Forest, just across the Utah-Nevada line, where a freak autumn blizzard a week earlier had closed US 50 for five days and left three hundred people dead.  From there, to central Nevada, where the town of Austin had been buried in a mud slide three days earlier.  Then westward to Falton, at the junction of US 50 and US 95, where a hot dry wind had sparked a blaze that destroyed half the town.

But he could go no farther.  He had exhausted the supply of storms in the area; no one told him of any more.  He wandered the outskirts of Falton for several days, asking again and again if there had been storms in the area, until he happened upon an old derelict who advised him, first, to go to hell, then, as an afterthought, to try Donner's Pass, where he'd heard there was a weather station - "maybe the last one on earth!" the derelict said with a sinister chuckle.  The boy thanked him and set a course for the Sierras.

He walked most of the way along US 50 to Carson City, getting a ride occasionally, following 50 until it edged Lake Tahoe, where his maps told him to take State Route 28 northward around the lake until he came to Tahoe City and Route 89 heading north again.  He wanted to remain at Lake Tahoe, to see more of this exotic place he had heard about all his life; but he couldn't, and didn't: he was on a mission, to find and bring to justice the man who murdered his father.

He never looked back as he trudged along 89, the sparkling blue patches disappearing behind him in a tangle of pines, hills and hotels.  Ten miles later, Route 89 intersected 80 at Truckee.  There, he asked his last question designed to bring him before the weatherman he had tracked almost two thousand miles from St. Louis: "How do I get to Donner's Pass?"

He was given directions.  He started this final leg of his quest at once, reaching the peak just as the sun was setting.  He waited till nightfall to begin his ascent.

He climbed and climbed till he could climb no higher.  He stopped when he stood in the doorway of a small cabin in a clearing.  But the man who lay gasping for air in the Cumberland Gap, the man who had watched the boy make his journey, kept climbing, past the clearing, past the cabin, past the silhouette in the moonlight in the open doorway.  Past the summit, past the huge silver moon on the western horizon, past the pitch dark sky beyond the moon, past the tiny sparks of light dotting the sky in infinite patterns.  He climbed till he saw the immense white light of the morning sun coming round the arc of earth to the east.  Then he stood silent before the doorway to the sun, awaiting daybreak, when the light would part and he could step into an endless day.

A small hand lifted to him.  But not to beckon him.  It was as the hand of a traffic guard forbidding further movement.  A child, whose hand had blocked his passage, came to him to tell him he could not go through the light.  He must return to where he came from.  He asked the child if he would ever be allowed to enter the light.  The child nodded yes.  "But not yet," the child said, then turned and went back toward the light, disappearing into the morning sun.  Then the light became night, and he lay down in a tent in Kentucky sheltered by the western ridge of the Cumberland Gap.

Carol lay close to her husband trying to maintain a kind of vigil over him; but her exhaustion from the trek north overcame her attempts to remain awake.  The cadence of her drifting in and out of sleep coincided with her husband's periods of restlessness and calm.  Just before daybreak she awoke with a start, as if having heard a loud noise, and leaped from her sleeping bag.  She went at once to Joey and knelt down beside him.  He was absolutely still.  The thrashing about, that periodically awoke her during the night, had ceased; the sweat, that she had risen several times to mop with a towel, had dried up for good; the heaving of his blankets as he struggled for air had stopped; all the blood seemed to have drained from his face.  She reached out to touch his forehead; it was stone cold.  She tried to listen for a heartbeat but could hear nothing.

She arose to go tell the others, thinking they had to be told now - not later, when they awoke, but now.  She had barely taken a step when the flap of her tent flew open.  A child entered.  In the dim light, all of it focused on Joey, she could not tell who the child was.

"He isn't dead," the voice of Paris called to her from the darkness.

"I'm afraid he is," Carol answered back.

"No," the boy insisted.  "He's between life and death, seeking a way back.  We can't help him - he has to find it himself."

Paris went and sat down beside Joey, beckoning Carol to come join him.  "All we can do is call his name as we sit with him, and hope he hears us," the boy told Carol, then began calling Joey's name, over and over, as if reciting a chant.  Carol called his name also as she sat across from Paris looking down at her husband.

For fifteen minutes they repeated Joey's name, over and over, until, finally, he began to stir, and the color started rising up from his neck into his face.  He began breathing more freely.  Several minutes later he opened his eyes; they were clear, the fever that had glazed them over had dissipated.  He smiled up at Carol.

"I saw Sandy," he told her.  "I spoke to him.  He sent me back here.  He lives in God's kingdom, through a doorway into the sun.  I know now that I will be allowed into heaven.  God doesn't hold against me what happened at the bridge.  I had no right to presume so much importance."

"What bridge?" asked Carol, half afraid he was still hallucinating. 

"I was there, on the shore, the night Eads Bridge fell," Joey answered.  "I watched it.  It's falling saved my life.  A man held a knife to my throat.  The bridge made him run away.  I thought, because those people dying saved my life, that I was guilty somehow.  I never told anyone.  Now I know God doesn't hold me to blame."

"You thought you wouldn't go to heaven?" Paris asked.

"I thought that," Joey admitted, as if confessing a very great sin.

"But you still loved God," Paris pondered what Joey's guilt had meant.

"You don't have to be saved to love God," Joey explained to the boy.

Paris considered Joey's words then got up to leave his tent.  When he again stood in the doorway, he turned back.

"Sandy is somewhere else," he called to Joey then walked out.

Joey tried to rise, but Carol stopped him.  "He can't always be right," she said.  "Of course Sandy's in heaven - how could it be otherwise?  Where else could he possibly be?  What you need is to sleep.  Questions can wait."

The earth rumbled through the night; fires burned in the distance.  Occasionally, a roar of stone being shattered awoke the people sleeping in their tents; but they fell back to sleep once they determined what the sound was, that it was still far away, and that it was not growing nearer.  The fires, too, awoke them at intervals when the flames rose high enough to flicker in silhouette against the tents; then, when they died down, the people returned to sleep.

For two days and nights Paris and his people remained camped along the western end of the Cumberland Gap while, all around them, the earth continued revamping the Appalachians, restoring some measure of their former grandeur.  Most of the people slept most of the time they were there.  Andrea and her son slept, too; but slept less than the others, Andrea preoccupied with the loss of her other son, Brad upset with the sudden change to a routine he had known since birth.  He held his brother responsible for that change.

"He's always been here," Brad said accusingly, "now he's not.  He shouldn't have left."

Andrea tried her best to make her son understand that his brother had been kidnapped; but he steadfastly held to his belief that Cade was to blame for what happened.

"Why didn't he run away from that man?" asked Brad.  "I would have!"

This same question was a stumbling block for Andrea as well.  Though she pieced together what had happened from talking to those who were around Cade at the time it happened, that one crucial piece was missing; nothing anyone could remember about the incident could answer the fundamental question: why had Cade willingly gone with his kidnapper?  Had Cade been asleep when he was passed to Stone Creek, he might not have realized what was happening until it was too late - but everyone she talked with agreed that he had not been asleep.  He wouldn't have balked at being handed to Stone Creek, since everyone who had lived at Mount Guyot knew everyone else; he might not have detected the subtle maneuvering away from his mother and brother toward the end of the line; but once it occurred to him that he was being taken from the others altogether, as it must have, why he didn't cry out then was a mystery no one could fathom, least of all Andrea, who knew all too well that Cade was the more timid and more easily frightened of the twins - and the one most likely to cry out for his mother in an emergency.  Brad would have been the one to freeze in terror and not cry out, simply because he was the braver of the two and had not development defensive mechanisms to help him deal with fear; whereas Cade had established from his earliest childhood a pattern of crying out at the slightest hint of danger.  It was always Brad - always her son who could better take care of himself - she worried most about; always Cade she relied on to seek out help when he needed it.  So what had kept him from seeking help when he needed it most?

"We may never know," Carol offered the only realistic answer to Andrea's dilemma.  "He may already have forgotten."

Paris overheard the conversation and offered his own answer.  "It was Sandy," he told Andrea.

"But Sandy's dead," Carol reminded Paris.

"Not to Cade," Paris replied.

The other unanswered question was why Cade had been kidnapped in the first place.  In an almost eerie resignation, no one thought to question why Stone Creek had left the safety of the group to venture out alone; so although Joey and Paris both knew the answer, neither was asked and neither volunteered.  It was only when Paris assembled his people in the center of their campsite to let them know it was time to move on that the entire mystery seemed to resolve itself.

"We must continue our journey," Paris announced.  "Though the earth will not disturb this ground, it will continue rebuilding the surrounding mountains with such force that our lives are in jeopardy if we stay any longer.  As we enter Kentucky, we must now beat our plowshares into swords," he told his people.

Some among them smiled at his misquote, noting that, after all, he was still a child, with a child's imprecise understanding of the things he read and learned from others.  But his next words dashed their quaint notion to pieces.

"The most dangerous part of our journey is ahead of us," he advised everyone - advice that both alarmed and angered all who heard it.  Even Joey, his staunchest supporter, was taken back by the boy's words.

"I have stood by you," Joey told Paris, "and will continue to do so.  I didn't relinquish leadership for a time but for good.  Even so, I have to question your wisdom.  You said we would be past everything the earth was doing to rebuild itself once we reached this place.  Now you tell us it's just the beginning - that the danger ahead exceeds everything we just came through!  How can that be?  Did you not foresee it till now?"

"The danger ahead is not from the earth," Paris answered Joey, and everyone else.  "Not everyone perished in Tennessee.  Those who survived were driven to the east or to the north.  Those who went east became trapped in the mounds.  Those who came north, to Kentucky, fought the people who had already taken refuge, and were either killed or absorbed into their camps."

"We didn't encounter anyone on our way to Clingman's Dome," Joey told the boy, who was only a baby then.

"Alice told me why," answered Paris.  "Our leader then had an understanding of human nature as keen as her understanding of the earth.  He avoided the roving bands of people because he thought like them.  Alice said that no one else on earth could have gotten us through.  Now we don't have such a leader.  Only the man who kidnapped Cade could have led us safely through Kentucky.  But he's gone ahead of us.  He'll be there waiting for us, only we won't see him.  But he'll be all around us."

"Maybe we should have chosen him leader after all," someone suggested.  "Like he wanted."

"He wanted it so badly he tried to kill Paris," Joey admonished.

Everyone, at first, was silent in the face of so monstrous an accusation; then, gradually, everyone began asking what Joey meant, as if perhaps they had misunderstood him.

"That's why he left us," Joey explained.

"That doesn't explain why he took Cade!" Andrea stepped forward to ask.

"Maybe it does," Carol offered an explanation.  "A hostage - only not for ransom: for security, in case we catch up to him, or in case he needs us again.  Now it all makes sense."

Andrea's son Brad, listening by her side to everything being said, came forward.  He stared into Paris' face then said to him in an ice cold voice, "It's your fault.  I hate you.  I'll kill you one day!"

Everyone was unnerved by Brad's threat, but dismissed it as the product of a child too young to comprehend the gravity of the words he spoke. 

"He didn't really mean it," Andrea assured Paris.  "He's just upset."

Everyone was reassured by Andrea's apology and thought no more about it - everyone but Paris, who, alone, was neither surprised by the threat nor assuaged by its explanation.

"Mistaken identity took Cade," Paris whispered, so softly that only Felicia, standing by his side, heard.

"You think he was after someone else?" Felicia asked Paris as the others were striking their tents and readying to resume the trek north.

"He wanted Brad," Paris answered.

"But either one could be a hostage," Felicia pointed out.

"If he was after a hostage."

"You don't think he was?" Felicia asked.

"He's much more than he seems," Paris said.

Everyone gathered around Paris when they had broken camp.  The day was milder than either of the two they had spent at this site.  The sky was cloudless but hazy from the fires raging to the south and east; the sun's rays filtering through the haze were warmer than usual.  The wind was calm, allowing the sun its full measure of warmth.  The temperature hovered close to the freezing point - the warmest natural temperature the region had seen in the seven years since the cold took over.

They were headed west-northwest - a path that would take them through the extreme western tip of Virginia; along the southwestern end of the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park; and directly to the town of Middlesboro, Kentucky.  They had barely gone a mile when Joey, realizing their route, approached his new leader to issue what he considered an urgent warning.

"You spoke of Kirk's insight into human nature," Joey said as they traveled.  "His first rule was to avoid all cities and all large towns.  The town we're headed for is one he would have avoided."

"We'll find it deserted," Paris replied.  "Everyone left when the earth began re-building itself.  We'll be safe there, and we can find supplies.  I plan to stay the night there, even though it means only traveling a few miles today."

They reached Middlesboro in under three hours.  Just as Paris had predicted, they found it deserted.  Even so, they were reluctant to enter - mindful, as Joey had been, of their former leader's prime directive on their journey eastward.  But Paris assured them they would be safe there, and would find provisions sufficient to replenish their store of supplies.                    

"Surely they took everything with them," Carol suggested.  "They would have had time."

"They had time," Paris agreed.  "But this place was for visitors.  They had more here than they needed - and more than they could carry away.  Now we're the visitors they stored up for.  There will be fresh water and fresh food.  We'll stay the night then work out our plan before we leave tomorrow."

"Why not just move in permanently?" several people asked.

"This town will not be safe much longer," Paris tried to explain.  "It's too close to the mountains the earth is forging, and the roving bands come here to pillage.

Middlesboro was the first place any of these remnants of the old T-Men had seen in more than ten years that was virtually intact.  Neither natural phenomena nor human madness had touched the town as yet; even the snows had been lighter here, leaving block after block of buildings standing nearly their full height above ground level.  Everyone had almost forgotten what a normal American town looked like.

They fanned out, free for once to go anywhere they wanted.  None of the buildings threatened to cave in on them or drop beneath them or explode around them.  Each place afforded as much safety as the next; and since they had lived their lives for years as a collective unit, never straying beyond a couple hundred feet of one another during their long trek across the country or their sojourn at Mount Guyot, being able to be by themselves, if only for one night, was a luxury they imagined they would never see again. 

There were enough hotels and guest houses to accommodate all of them.  Words which had not been spoken for years - and for some of them, never spoken - were whispered aloud or silently, in some variation, all over the town that night - if only for that night - words which, for good or ill, had over the course of human history become the most important words humanity had ever conceived - words which forged nations from continents, cities from forests, houses from plots, and, ultimately, destroyed them all: the words "This is mine."

Andrea, leading her son Brad, had gone ahead of the others as they stood pondering the seemingly endless choices before them.  She continued up US Route 25 to a tiny road that hooked westward to a dead end just short of reentering 25.  At the end of the road was a moderate-sized Victorian cottage.  She stood several moments looking up at it, until Brad began to tug at her coat, impatient to move on.

"Are we going in?" he asked.

"Yes," she replied, "we're going in."

She walked the rest of the way to the front door, opened it, and took her son inside.  It was exactly as she remembered it, a quaint Victorian parlor with a pinkish velour sofa, a Persian rug, two arm chairs, a cherry wood armoire, two side tables, a tiffany lamp and an overhead light.  She had come here with her parents every fall, as part of their annual vacation to the Smokys.  Middlesboro was always their first stop; they entered the town just as Andrea had, via US Route 25 - except they always came from the north, from St. Louis, along Interstate 64 to Interstate 75 then southeast on 25 through the eastern end of town, down past Happy Hollow Road, past Hurst Road, then, paralleling Wilderness Road, on past Salisbury, Amesbury, Lothbury and Cumberland Avenues to the little hook attached to the bend taking 25 eastward out of town.  At night, with the windows open, she could hear the gentle rush of Yellow Creek to the east; and, from the west, the occasional whistle of a train heading either north along the Louisville-Nashville Railroad or west along the Southern Railroad.

At the far end of the parlor, off to the right, was a double door leading to the dining room.  The doors creaked when Andrea opened them to peek inside.  The curtains had been left open, the last light of day filtered through the front and side windows, marking the contents as if highlighting a museum display.  Against the wall nearest the kitchen was a cherry wood sideboard.  In the center of the room were eight round tables, each with four chairs; just beneath the side window was the table where Professor Kirkus and his family took breakfast and, if they stayed past morning, a light lunch before continuing on to the Smokys.

"Why are we coming here?" Brad asked his mother.

"We're going to stay the night," Andrea told him.

"Will we put our sleeping bags under those?" Brad pointed to the tables.

"No, we'll go upstairs," said Andrea.  "Are you hungry?"

"Yes."

Andrea led Brad to the kitchen to see what, if anything, had been left behind.  There were canned goods - she set aside what she would be able to carry when they left; there were stale loaves of bread, moldy even beneath the frost that had accumulated along the outside wall of the pantry; there were still frozen goods in a refrigerated unit - but no way to cook them; and there were candy bars and small cakes sealed in foil.  Everything was at least two years old.  She opened a cake, but it had petrified; then she opened a candy bar.  It was hard but it looked alright so she took a small bite.  The taste and texture satisfied her that the candy was edible, so she gave one to her son and took one for herself.  Then she and Brad went upstairs.

The boy had never climbed stairs before, so he watched and mimicked his mother very carefully as they ascended to the second floor, where a long hallway and a series of doors extended left and right of the landing.  Each door was closed.  Andrea turned right and led Brad to the end of the hallway, where she opened the last door and went in.  This was where her family stayed whenever they visited; it was a suite of three rooms - a bath and two bedrooms: the master bedroom, where her parents slept in a large canopy bed; and a smaller room off to the right, at the corner of the house, with two single beds.

"We'll sleep in there," Andrea said, pointing to the open doorway.

All three beds were made up, ready for the arrival of guests.  The spreads were a floral design, the large one predominantly shades of rose, the smaller two a mixture of blues and greens against a white background.  Andrea turned the covers down, making sure the sheets were free of dirt or other debris.  The beds seemed to be freshly made, so she coaxed Brad into one, covered him, kissed him goodnight; then got into the other bed.

"Good night," she said.

"Good night," Brad repeated.

They both fell asleep quickly.  Though Brad had never before been in a bed, he took right to it, and slept virtually undisturbed till morning.  Andrea had not slept in a bed since her last night at Pod City.  She intended to lie awake awhile simply to enjoy the experience, but the luxury of a soft mattress after nearly eight years of cold, hard ground and a sleeping bag put her to sleep almost immediately.  She dreamed, off and on during the night, of the past, and the events that had brought her to this place to recapture a piece of her childhood.

Her mother had shown her, over the course of their annual visits, all the places in eastern Tennessee that were important to her: Kingsport, where she was born; Johnson City, where she grew up; Knoxville, where she met and married Professor Kirkus; and all the towns clustered around the Smoky Mountains - places she had visited growing up, or else places where she had relatives.  She rarely spoke to Andrea of her family, though.  Her father had died when she was young and her mother remarried.  She had no natural siblings, but two half brothers and one step sister, none of whom Andrea had ever met.

Andrea remembered occasional visits with her grandmother, who lived and died in Johnson City and was buried in her second husband's plot.  She also remembered visiting her grandfather's grave, in the small hamlet where he was born - Bybee, the same place Joey had found Felicia.  She wondered, but in her conversations with Felicia had never been able to determine, if Felicia's family and hers were related.  She even remembered visiting Clingman's Dome with her parents, and, on the way there, Cade's Cove.

Professor Kirkus combined business and pleasure on these visits - ostensibly the business of education, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville being close by; but also his other business: the business of intrigue.  He always took side trips by himself, though never more than a few hours at a time; and he often had mysterious visitors, usually late at night and usually someone different each time.  Some looked to be educators or possibly government officials; others had a rough, uncouth look about them beneath a veneer of gentility.  Very few came to see him more than once, and only one visited regularly.  It was always at Middlesboro, at this guest house, always in the parlor, Professor Kirkus seated on the sofa, the visitor in one of the arm chairs.

Andrea asked her mother if the visitor were one of her half brothers, since he stopped by almost every time they were in town; but her mother said no.  Andrea never really got a good look at the man, since he always seemed to show up when the family was dining.  Her father would excuse himself, retire to the parlor for maybe half an hour, then return when the man left.  She only caught fleeting glimpses of him as he sat in the parlor or when he got up to go.  He was medium height, medium build, with black hair and a swarthy complexion, and a long scar on the left side of his neck.

Andrea awoke in the middle of the night, and sat straight up in her bed as she suddenly remembered where she had seen that scar before.  The mysterious visitor who met with her father every time he brought his family to Middlesboro was the same man who kidnapped her son Cade - Stone Creek.  One of the ruling council, and one of the most trusted, of the T-Men - third in command to three generations of leaders: to Paris Commune, his son Kirk, and Kirk's hand-picked successor, Joey.

Andrea would have gotten out of bed, gotten herself and her son ready, and gone to tell the others, but she had no idea where they were.  Everyone had been given leave to go anywhere in the city; and, although she might reasonably guess where to find some or most of the others, having gone ahead of them she saw no one moving toward any particular building.  So she had little choice but to wait till everyone met at noon at the intersection of US 25 and Hurst Road, near the northern fringe of town - the place Paris had selected for their rendezvous before resuming their journey north.

As apprehensive and excited as she was, when she lay back down she fell asleep after only a few minutes, and slept through till early morning, when her son Brad awoke her as he climbed out of his bed and into hers; then she drifted back to sleep.  An hour or so later they were both up and getting ready to go downstairs when Andrea thought she heard something downstairs, like the closing of a door.

"Stay here!" she told her son as she crept downstairs to look around.  Seeing nothing, she returned to finish getting ready, then took Brad down to the dining room to sit and wait while she fixed them something to eat.  When she returned to the dining room and was setting their breakfast on the table beneath the side window, she noticed Brad fidgeting with something.

"What is that?" she asked him.

"It was here," he answered.

"Where?"

"On the table - right here," he said.

She took it from him; it was a piece of paper he had crumpled up into a ball.  There had been no paper or anything else on that or any other table last night.  She unfurled it.  It was a handwritten note.  Andrea read it.

"Cade is safe as long as he's with me," the note read.

Andrea crushed the piece of paper in her hand and, muttering "My God," took Brad by the hand and ran back through the parlor and out the front door.  She looked all around but saw no sign of anyone - only tracks leading both to and from the front door.  Then she grabbed up her son and held him so tightly he tried to squirm free.

"He could have gotten you too - the one he wanted!" she cried out as the full impact of that piece of paper hit her.  "He could have walked right in and taken you."

By this time Brad had managed to free himself from his mother's grasp and slid out of her arms to stand beside her.  He asked who she was talking about.  "Was it Sandy?  Did Sandy come to see us last night?  Is that who it was?"

"No," Andrea told him as she led him back inside to finish breakfast, gather the supplies from the pantry she had set aside, and say goodbye, perhaps forever, to this place and moment from her childhood.  She made sure everything was as she found it before leaving.  Then she retraced her steps back around the loop to Route 25 and headed due north to the rendezvous point.

There were people already on their way to Hurst Avenue; she could see them moving through the snow, some as far as Salisbury Avenue, more than halfway there.  It occurred to her that in her youth she would never have been able to spot someone almost twenty blocks away; but the absence of traffic and all the other accoutrements of city life draws distances together and grants human eyes a ringside view of everything happening.

She noticed four figures approaching from a side street across the stream formed by the junction of Yellow Creek and Dead Horse Hollow.  She waited for them to reach Route 25 before continuing on.

"I see we're not the first ones on the road," Joey observed.  With him were his wife Carol and their two charges, Paris and Felicia.  He turned to Paris.

"That's my fault," he acknowledged.  "I overslept," he explained to Andrea.

"Were were you?" Brad asked.

Joey pointed to a large house which stood at the corner of Armadale Avenue and South 10th Street - the first house Carol spotted on their way into Middlesboro.

"What's over there?" Brad followed up his first question.

"A place where Joey could rest," Carol answered.

The six travelers fell into place alongside each other.  As they walked , Andrea told Joey of her discovery.

"Stone Creek met with Professor Kirkus?" Joey asked incredulously, as if he had not heard correctly.

"Every fall, here in Middlesboro," Andrea assured him.

"That can't be," Joey said.  "It can't be.  Not Stone Creek.  That means he was an informer - maybe the only informer: that can't be!  His loyalty was beyond question.  Kirk's father trusted him second only to Mount Everest.  And Kirk trusted him equally."

"What about you?" Andrea asked.

"I may have had some doubts, at first," Joey admitted.  "But Kirk convinced me I was wrong."

"Why was Kirk so sure?" Carol asked.

"Because his father trusted him," Joey explained.

"Maybe he was used to plant misinformation," Carol conjectured.

"My father would have seen through that their first meeting," Andrea countered.

"Not if he were allowed to give enough accurate information to make him seem legitimate," Carol offered.

"No," Joey discounted that notion, "Paris Commune would never have let him reveal any secrets, no matter how small the secret or how great the advantage.  No, if he met with Professor Kirkus it was without Paris' knowledge.  My God!" he exclaimed as the full weight of Andrea's revelation struck him.  "All those men Paris killed, thinking they were traitors!  He would have killed me, too, if Kirk hadn't made me leave.  All those lost souls, never given a chance to prove their innocence.  That may be why God allowed Kirk to kill his father: to keep any more innocents from dying.  It still doesn't explain why Stone Creek took your son," Joey said to Andrea.

She took out the note she held crumpled in her hand and gave it to Joey.  "He was here," she told him.

"With Cade?" Carol asked.

"I don't know," Andrea said.  "I missed him.  I saw only his tracks.  I don't know when he left the note."

"That means he knew you were there," Carol added.  "He's been watching us - stalking us, this whole time!"

Paris and Felicia had been following the conversation the whole way to Hurst Avenue, though neither offered any comment.  But now that they were almost to their destination, Paris broke his silence.

"He didn't know," the boy said.

"He didn't know I was there?" Andrea asked.

"No," Paris answered.  "He didn't know he was following us either.  He knew we'd come here, but he thought he was ahead of us.  We were all asleep.  He didn't know we got here first or he would have switched babies.  He won't hurt Cade - he needs him to cover me."

"No one is going to cover you!" Felicia insisted.  "I won't let them!"

"You'll go to sea, with Sandy," Paris told her.

Joey smiled at the child's innocence.  "Sandy will always watch over you - both of you, and Brad and Cade too - no matter where you go," he said.  "He's an angel now, helping God care for all of us."

Paris, in turn, smiled; but it was an ironic smile, the kind an adult sometimes bestows on a child's fanciful notions of reality, a smile that embraces yet understands the folly of those notions.

They had reached the rendezvous point.  A third of Paris' people were already there, waiting.  Within half an hour, the rest of his people arrived.  The time was 11:45 A.M., the day was Thursday, the date February 11, 2077.  Right away they began the same refrain the group had separated with the evening before.

"This is where our home should be," the refrain went up almost as if it were a chant, voiced in as many variations as there were people assembled.

"It will be our grave if we stay," Paris responded to each and every peal of the chant.  "It is too near the Appalachians.  The earth has great work yet to do - not all the mountains will rise as the one we were on did; some will explode into their new form.  Fire and brimstone will rain down on this place.  The renegades who come here will all die.  We cannot stay!"

"We can stay till all that happens," the people countered.  "We escaped the cave before it exploded around us: you warned us then when it was time to leave, you can warn us again!"

"We were not at war then," Paris reminded his people.  "We will be at war - with the renegades - when it happens.  No one will be able to heed the warning.  Once the war starts, we can't stop even long enough to escape."

"We can plan everything out - step by step!" some of them said.  "We can be ready for them.  We can have our escape routes ready."

"There will be no escape," Paris warned.  "We have lived in peace while these renegades lived in war.  We can't out smart them."

The people were slowly beginning to be won over by Paris' arguments, beginning to resign themselves to abandoning this oasis in the middle of an endless expanse of snow and ice to the north and west; and a region of fire and brimstone to the south and east.  It was already well past noon, the time Paris had set for their departure, and he was growing anxious to be gone from this town, as if he sensed something dangerous on the horizon.

Joey had kept silent during the debate, not wanting to intrude on Paris' authority; but now he felt he must speak up.

"All of us gathered what provisions we could," he said.  "That was part of our reason for stopping here.  But did you not notice how little was left after you took what you needed?  This was a tourist town as much as anything else.  The more a place relies on outsiders for its livelihood, the less self-sufficient it becomes.  We would have exhausted its supplies in a matter of weeks - then all our time would be taken up scavenging for supplies.  And if you'll look," Joey took out his map of the area and pointed to Middlesboro, "you'll see how isolated this town is.  We'd have to go farther than we did when we were in Nebraska to find food.  So many of us would be out scavenging, there wouldn't be enough of us left to defend our homes.  This town is too big for a group our size to defend.  Paris is right: we must leave now or risk destruction."

Even as Joey was speaking, something was coming their way from the northeast.  A faint blur stole across the snowline.  At first no one noticed; then, gradually, as the blur grew more distinct, one after another began pointing, asking what it was.

"You said the earth would come from the southeast!" Paris was accused.

The boy took a long, deep look toward the horizon, until the solid black line slowly broke into a series of dots before his eyes, each dot advancing in tandem with all the others.                        

"They're coming," was all he said to his people.  Then he took Felicia by the hand and turned, from the northern route along US 25 he had chosen, westward along Hurst Avenue, beckoning his people to follow.  When he had led them a quarter mile he again changed direction, this time heading south on Wilderness Road, parallel the old railroad tracks, stretches of ties still visible where the snow had blown clear.

Joey came alongside him.  "Where are we going?" he asked.

"We must go another way," Paris answered.  He stopped for a moment, looked around to the line looming larger on the horizon, then picked up his pace, as he had done when escaping the wall of flame at Newport.  The others followed his lead.  A short time later he again turned, at first due west then northwest to follow State Road 74 out of Middlesboro, toward its junction several roads later with Interstate 75, which ran almost due north from Knoxville to Lexington.

An hour later, and five miles beyond Middlesboro, Paris stopped on a large open plain full of snow banks and gentle hills.  There were no towns in sight, and no line of dots on the horizon.  He nodded approvingly then proceeded northward.

Joey again came alongside him.  "What happens the next time we see a band of renegades?" he asked.

"We change our course again," Paris answered.

"But we could end up criss-crossing the entire state," Joey pointed out.

Paris turned to Joey.  "It may take us a year to get there," he said.

Joey shook his head wearily.  "No," he told his leader, "these people won't stand for it.  They don't really want to go to Indiana - it isn't worth a year of their lives getting there!  We need to start preparing to fight instead of always running away.  Anyway, how do we know everyone we meet will be out to harm us?  Some may be just like us - it might even be better for us to join forces with another group."

This time it was Paris who shook his head.  "There are no others like us," he told Joey.

"Maybe no others who came from so far away," Joey acknowledged.  "No others led by a child.  No others who lived in a place like Mount Guyot.  But people are still more alike than they are different.  I can't accept a world where we're the only ones who want to live in peace - I can't accept it.  God wouldn't allow such a world.  He loves us too much."

"God gives us free reign to destroy ourselves," Paris observed before turning his full attention back to the task of leading his people to safety.

When Joey returned to Carol, Andrea and Brad, Carol asked him where Paris would have learned the concepts he espoused or even the words he used to frame those concepts.

"He's no more than seven years old," she remarked.  "No child of that age - even a prodigy - speaks or thinks the way he does."

"He doesn't learn things," Joey replied.  "He just knows - the same way he knows what the earth is doing.  No one told him any of it; he just knows.  He isn't alone though.  Someone, sometime, however many there might have been at however many ages, had to just know, without ever being taught, or else nothing would have ever changed since the first cave man.  Men might learn to build a fire or make a wheel purely by chance, but not to value one another or sacrifice themselves for the sake of others.  God gives us all a spark of His wisdom, but not every soul is lit by it.  Most of us just barely keep it glowing; some let it die altogether.  I didn't believe in evil till I saw those two guards at the worksite in Colorado when Pod City was being built aim their guns point blank at those two boys' faces and pull the triggers.  We're not often given a chance to help someone - but when we are blessed with that chance but choose instead to hurt them, we've let evil into the world.  And the more times we make such a choice, the more evil we let in.  I believe that's what caused the world as we knew it to end.  We allowed so much evil into our world that it took on a physical dimension and disrupted all the checks and balances the earth had in place.  It wasn't the world that turned against us - we turned against it!"

Paris and his people slowly, carefully made their way from Bell into Whitley County, skirting one after another small town - Chenoa, Pearl, Silver, Gatliff, Lot, Saxton, Pleasant View, Emyln and Savoy - as they sought Interstate 75's northward swath through central Kentucky - a corridor of relative isolation from populated areas, therefore the path of greatest safety.  Paris warned that they would be forced time and again to deviate from it; but promised to lead them back to it until they reached Lexington, where he planned to somehow get to Interstate 64 heading west to Louisville.

They took a long detour west of 75 to avoid Williamsburg, the largest town for the next forty miles.  They crossed Grassy Mountain to the west of Williamsburg; and, though barely nineteen hundred feet, it offered a view of the surrounding plain sufficient to detect several roving bands scurrying in and out of town.  Sounds reached them from below which they knew to be gunfire as two or more bands encountered one another, followed by the torching of buildings by the victor.

"They take, then destroy what they took from," Paris said to Joey as he stood watching the spectacle a moment before descending the mountain.  "It's better to give your greatest enemy an advantage than destroy something that fed you.  But the old ways are everywhere here.  That's why we'll go a hundred different ways before reaching our home in Indiana."

They made their way northward through Daniel Boone National Forest, easily skirting the few pockets of population within the Forest, as well as the two towns along the Laurel River Lake - Bark Camp at its southwestern tip and Baldrock at its northwestern terminus.  As they neared London, a town of 10,000 inhabitants before its abandonment, Paris again worked out a plan for avoiding the kind of encounter witnessed at Williamsburg; he led his people along Rockcastle River, which separated Laurel from Pulaski County, intending to bi-sect the five or so miles between Billows, to the east, and Acorn, to the west, both at the northwestern edge of the Forest.  But a renegade band heading along State Road 80 to London thwarted his plan.

This time they had been seen.  Paris led his people southward, deeper into the Forest, where the trees were thick enough that, even without foliage, they helped shield them from the volley of gunfire.  The renegades followed them into the forest, firing sporadically as they went.  Suddenly their shots were met by a second round, coming this time from the direction of London.  Both bands engaged one another's fire, each ignoring the group of travelers huddled against the trees.  For an hour their battle raged as one after another fell dead; till, finally, one band managed to put the other on the run, leaving a vacuum in the wake of their battle which Paris and his people filled, quickly moving northeast, to Wood Creek Lake, a couple miles outside London.

"We can enter the town now," some suggested.  "It'll be safe."

"No," said Paris.

"But we saw the renegades leaving!"

"We saw them escaping," Paris countered.

The debate was cut short by more sounds of gunfire coming from London, followed by an explosion that sent a flame fifty feet into the air and screams into the chill surrounding it.  Tiny flames came bounding from the town toward the Lake which, as they approached, grew into human size and shape before toppling into the snow in smoldering heaps.  Then all the fires died down and Paris led his people from the Lake due west from Laurel through the tip of Rockcastle back into Pulaski County, gradually shifting northwestward to work their way between two distinct lines of towns - Billows, Stab, Valleyoak, Bobtown and Eubank to the southwest; Luner, Level, Green, Woodstock and Bandy to the northeast.  This brought them to Lincoln County, and more towns to skirt, then a sudden shift southward into Casey County as roving bands tore the towns of Middlesburg and Yosemite apart in their quest for territory.  They slipped undetected through the center of Casey County, where they encountered no on, on into Taylor County, where they again shifted northward at the town of Merrimac, then into Marion County, following its border with Casey County to its border with Boyle County, then due west a couple miles to a town called Gravel Switch, where they stopped for the night.  The town had burned almost to the ground a few days earlier; in places it still smoldered.

"We'll be safe here," Paris told his people.  "But we can have no light - no matter what we hear, we cannot reveal ourselves by lighting so much as a candle.  Or making any sound louder than a human voice."

"Then where do we go?" Paris was asked.

"Wherever we have to," he replied.

"We need to settle this," he was told.  "We can't keep moving aimlessly."

"It can't be settled," Paris replied.  "There is no path free of danger."

"Kirk brought us all the way to our camp without once deviating from his course," several people reminded Paris, and Joey, who stood ready to defend his new leader's judgment.

"Kirk understood people; I don't," Paris admitted.  "He knew to avoid them.  And Tennessee had just burned before we passed this way - its people had not yet come to Kentucky to forage.  Right now our only task is setting up camp.  We must be ready when night falls.  And silent, and dark through the night.  No one will come here as long as they think the place is deserted."

The people reluctantly agreed to forgo discussion in order to make camp and settle in for the night, as Paris ordered, everyone careful not to situate his tent near enough to the burning embers to be seen.  When the last sliver of light dropped from the western horizon, the last flap of the last tent was closed, Paris satisfied that all his people were settled in for the night.


Danger will surround our camp," Paris whispered to Joey.  "We must listen as we sleep - not for the danger but for anyone among us who might give us away in fear."

Then Paris lay down, wrapped himself in his sleeping bag, and fell asleep as Felicia settled into her sleeping bag beside him and drifted off to sleep also.  Carol and Joey waited awhile longer before following their lead - long enough to hear the night come alive with sounds, at first too diffuse to identify, then gradually evolving into the rustling and shuffling characteristic of creatures moving about, then finally assuming the distinctive cadence of human speech.  Though neither Joey nor Carol could make out the words being spoken, the conversations taking place seemed very near and very threatening.  Joey started to get up and investigate but stopped cold when it suddenly hit him what was so odd about the sounds.  They were not coming from around him but from beneath him - which explained their being amplified and muffled at the same time.

"We're camped over a cavern," he whispered to Carol.  "Not a very deep one either.  If anyone so much as moves they'll hear."

"We can't warn anyone," Carol whispered back.

"No, we can't," Joey acknowledged.  "Once again our lives are in God's hands."

In the other tents the same sounds, following the same evolution, filtered their way to the surface.  Everyone who heard them started to get up then stopped, as Joey had, when their location crystallized.  No one moved at all during the night, drifting in and out of sleep to the rhythm of the sounds below, sleeping when the sounds ceased, awakening when they resumed; until, toward daybreak, silence once again overtook this territory.  Only Paris slept undisturbed through the night; only he was without fear for his safety.  He was also the first to arise.

He silently crept from his tent to survey the camp site.  Finding everything in order, he returned to his tent to sit quietly until the others awoke.  The sun began inching its way along the eastern horizon, as the hills slowly admitted more of its rays into central Kentucky.  Paris had left the flap just enough ajar to watch a small patch of snow outside the tent, resolving to awaken Joey when the first ray of light struck the snow.  Just as it did, Joey opened his eyes and got out of his sleeping bag.  Going immediately out of the tent, he failed to notice Paris seated in the corner.  Paris got up to follow him.

"They're alright," Paris said in a normal tone of voice.  Joey turned as if to admonish him for speaking out loud, but Paris shook his head.  "They're gone," he said.  "They don't live there - they just pass through.  Everyone hides from everyone else in Kentucky.  We must be on our way."

"To where?" Joey said.

"We'll try to head north," Paris told him.  "But we may not get far before we're turned back.  The closer we get to Lexington and Louisville the more renegades we'll run into.  I had hoped to go around Lexington to the east; instead we have to find a path between the two cities."

Within an hour camp had been broken and the travelers were on their way north.  They had barely gone five miles, to the border of Washington County, when Paris' prediction came true.  The town of Texas, along US Route 150, had been a raging battlefield all night and into the morning.  Several bands of renegades, coming from different directions, had met there and fought it out until what few were left scattered to the north, east and west - leaving Paris and his people nowhere to go but south, along the very path that had led them there.

They had gone only a couple miles when they spotted a much larger band, heading north from the town of Lebanon.  They made a quick turn westward, eventually cutting a diagonal across Marion County into Larue County, another county with relatively few towns for the renegades to fight over.  The ease with which they traversed Larue County, however, drove them farther off course.  They tried again and again along its thirty mile stretch to the west to reestablish their northern route, only to be turned back by one after another close encounter with renegades until, finally, at the most populous western end of Larue County, they were forced even farther south, at the town of Upton, just west of Interstate 65, by a renegade band which pursued them to the county line before being turned back by a second band which suddenly appeared as if from nowhere - as if they had sprung from the ground itself to do battle.  Paris managed to lead his people beyond the field of battle into Hart County, just east of a town called Cash; then through the county's northwestern corner, across Nolin River into Grayson County, southward until reaching Nolin River Lake at the border of Grayson and Edmonson Counties.  Paris had his people set up camp on the lake's northern bank, beside a rambling pile of ashes that used to be the town of Wax.  While there was still daylight, he and Joey tested the waters to see if the lake was frozen

"You mean to cross it?" Joey asked in a voice that questioned the wisdom of such a decision.

"We may have to," Paris answered.

Satisfied that the lake was safe to cross, they returned to camp, to find everyone already bedded down for the night.  Paris walked through the camp, stopping a moment before each tent, as if debating whether to go in or not, before finally returning to his own tent, the look of bewilderment he carried from tent to tent dissipating into one of understanding as his people's unusual behavior came more clearly into focus.

"They're hiding," he half whispered to Felicia.  This strange twisting odyssey through central Kentucky had given his people a feeling far more uneasy than having to constantly detour from their chosen path or even having to dodge the bullets of their enemies could have given rise to - a feeling almost of dread, as if they were vaguely aware of something terrible, forbidding, something ahead of them, toward which they were moving, being drawn irresistibly, away from the safety of their goal , to a place of unspeakable peril - the very wellspring from which all these renegade bands had arisen and to which they returned again and again to be renewed.  And it was almost at hand, this place of peril, though they still couldn't name it or picture it, only sense it.  Paris felt their dread but sensed nothing of its cause.  While he sat pondering this mystery, Joey came over to sit beside him.

"You know the earth as no one else does," Joey told the boy.  "But you don't know its geography - which is all of it the rest of us can ever know.  Look on your map.  See where we are and where we're headed.  It isn't a place that will explode around us.  But it may bury us.  Its image is carried in everyone's imagination who ever read a map, even if they don't realize how near to it we are.  All the signposts we've used to gauge our position are gone - there's nothing there to say how many miles to anywhere.  But still they know.  They feel it.  Look on your map.  Then reconsider your path."

"I don't choose our path," Paris reminded his second in command, "it chooses us.  We will go wherever we must, no matter what's there."

"It may not be a question of 'what' but of 'who,'" Joey replied.  "It's all starting to make sense," he said.  "It wasn't chance that brought these renegades to Kentucky - it was shelter.  Which explains our not having seen them when Kirk led us through here.  They were all still in hiding from the world that had driven them from their homes.  This place may house the only other people left on this continent for all we know."

Paris shook his head.  "The mounds hold as many," he said.

"You've mentioned these mounds before: what are they?" Joey asked.

"They're as old as the land itself," Paris tried to put into words what he only vaguely saw in his mind.  "The sea unearthed them.  Felicia will go there one day to find a husband."

"And you?" Joey asked.

"I will find another mound," Paris replied.  His words sent a chill up Joey's spine, but nothing further was said until Joey was sure Paris and Felicia had fallen asleep, then he spoke to Carol about it.

"He talks so freely about his grave," Joey said; "as if he sees his own death."

"Most of what he sees is of death," Carol replied.

"No," Joey disagreed.  "It only seems that way.  What he sees is life, but not ordinary life as everyone around him understands it.  He sees the earth being reborn; it's us who see it as death because we can't comprehend the magnitude of such an event.  To him the earth is a fellow being; and in a way his understanding is helping to re-shape it.  In an almost supernatural way, the mountains are being created from his vision.  And when they're all born, his mission on this planet will be completed.  He's not really here for us - his leading us is only to get him where the earth needs him to be.  When Alice said he would rebuild the world, she wasn't talking about our world, of ideas and laws and cities, but the real world, of mountains and seas and deserts and valleys and plains.  He's exactly what she said he was: a magic child.  My God!" Joey exclaimed as a sudden realization came to him.  "It's because he's our leader that he'll die.  And I'm the instrument used to bring about his death - I'm the one who turned the reins of leadership over to him."

"No," said Carol.  "You gave him his birthright, which you only held until he was ready for it.  You're much too independent to ever be a leader.  You would always sacrifice what was best for your people to what you believed God wanted you to do."

"You're right that I was never meant to lead," Joey agreed; "but wrong that God would ever ask anything of me that wasn't in my people's best interest."

The night turned colder, and a wind from the north howled through the camp, as if hurling a gauntlet before the earth's resolve to grow warm again.  Inside the tents the people huddled closer together; and when the morning broke they hesitated to leave the warmth of their sleeping bags.  But Paris had already arisen and, just as he had done the night before, went from tent to tent; only now he entered each and told its inhabitants it was time to break camp and continue their journey.

Reluctantly, they obeyed.  Within the hour, just as daylight was spreading deep into the horizon, they were crossing the frozen lake into Edmonson County, Kentucky, headed straight for Mammoth Cave, the most massive system of natural caves anywhere on earth, a system stretching hundreds of miles beneath central Kentucky - a system second only in magnitude to the man-made system created by the T-Men beneath the Great Plains over a period of a hundred years.

Paris meant to go around the lake then head northwest through a part of Edmonson County almost devoid of towns.  But when he reached its southernmost bank, a blinding snowstorm from the Great Lakes cut off his path and drove him south to Mammoth Cave National Park.  An old wooden signpost identifying the area had managed to survive the onslaught of weather that had destroyed much sturdier structures; but the blizzard obscured it.  Paris led his people right past it, still trying to shift his course westward but being driven farther to the southeast with every step, eventually coming to what he took to be a recess in an overhanging knoll, under which he hoped his people might huddle until the storm passed.

As they inched their way inside, the same swirling snow that obscured the depth of the recess blanketed their steps and confused their sense of time.  Though the world was packed knee deep in fallen snow, they had not encountered a snowstorm in almost ten years; so this sudden blizzard transported them back to their days wandering the plains.  And without an awareness of the present, the minutes of their descent into the cave seemed to them like seconds.  It wasn't until they moved beyond the snow's hypnotic trance that it finally struck them where they were and how far they had gone.

At first they were griped in panic as the realization that they had unwittingly stumbled into their worst nightmare set in: stumbled into a place not only reminiscent of their closest encounters with death but one filled with the very renegades they had been driven across Kentucky to try and elude - driven as if by design to the one place on earth where there was no escape from them.  A place where they would have to put up a resistance if they hoped to survive this time.  And once this second, and stronger, realization set in, their initial panic quickly dissipated into a resolve to fight and kill and, if need be, die to fend off the outlaws.  Slowly, inexorably, the instincts they had long since buried beneath years of domesticity re-awakened in them.  They were warriors - not all of them, but the majority.  They were T-Men.  They had fought trained soldiers, policemen, thugs and scavengers all their lives.  They would call forth the killers that lurked within them.

Most of them had retained their weapons during their stay at Mount Guyot and had kept them in working order against the day they might be needed; it was only their personal skills that had grown rusty.

As they moved deeper into the cave, they instinctively sought out a vantage point from which to defend an attack.  Paris sensed the subtle shift in their demeanor from panic to resolve; sensed also that he no longer led them - that it was they who led him.  He understood that they knew better than he what was needed, so he made no attempt to reassert his authority.  Joey, too, understood what was taking place; and, though he abhorred the idea of returning to the old ways, he knew there was no way out.  He, too, took out the weapon he had kept in his backpack, and joined the search for a fortress within this fortress.

A place was found.  Everyone was stationed within it according to their ability to fight - the original T-Men strategically positioned on the front line, newcomers behind them, women and children at the rear.  Only Carol and Andrea, among the women, joined those at the front.  Joey, who had again assumed leadership inside the bunker, objected to their decision.

"Brad needs a mother," he reminded Andrea.

"I can shoot a gun," she replied.  "If we're overtaken, his having a mother will be irrelevant."

"I, too, can shoot," said Carol.

Joey acquiesced.  But when he turned to find Paris stationing himself along the front, he ordered the boy to retreat.  Paris refused, and could not be persuaded back beyond the line of battle.

"I'm not a warrior," Paris acknowledged.  "But my place is here, defending my people.  If a child can lead, he can also die for those he leads."

Joey relented.  Though he could have physically compelled the boy, barely half his size, to do as he ordered, he knew it would spell the end of Paris' leadership - and, ultimately, the end of these people who God had guided through one after another catastrophe.

"May God protect and help us," Joey bowed his head and prayed.  Paris, in turn, bowed his head, and whispered "Amen."                

As Joey prayed for his people's protection, their activities were being observed by another set of eyes, from a different perspective.  A dark figure stood hidden in a recess flanked by massive pillars of sediment that had spent a million years working their way to the overhanging vault.  He watched the people's movements, marking each in his mind as either strengthening or weakening their defense, focusing in on their greatest vulnerabilities.  He heard a rustling from deeper within the cave.  Unseen he slipped to within a few feet of where Joey and Paris stood.  From there, he called out to them.

"Those men at your far left," he instructed, "must stand farther back and farther to the left.  Those to your right must close the gap between the line and what you think is a solid wall.  The second line must move forward in the middle, back at the ends and angled forty-five degrees."

Then, before anyone could react, the figure retreated back into the shadows from which it had come.

Joey looked at Paris, who nodded his assent.  "Do as he said!" Joey ordered his men.

"You would listen to him?" Carol asked incredulously; but, before either Joey or Paris could answer, Andrea stepped forward.

"He has no reason to misguide us," she told the others.

"He was second only to Paris Commune as a military strategist," one of the members of the old ruling council observed.  "He might stand and watch us all die with glee - but he would never compromise the art of warfare by giving false orders."

Everyone did exactly as Stone Creek advised.  The lines were hastily re-drawn just as the rustling that had prompted their advisor to come forward reached their ears.  One by one they extinguished the lights they had used to reach their command post and position themselves for battle, letting their eyes gradually adjust to the darkness of the cave.  When the last light went out they saw a tiny point of illumination in the distance, drawing nearer but remaining constant in strength and size as it first appeared then disappeared then reappeared against a series of growths along the cavern floor.

A group of seven men slowly and stealthfully advanced, plotting their attack as they closed in on their prey.  In their minds was a single thought: "these are people" - not "these are intruders" or "these are enemies" or anything else more specific than their being fellow humans.  No other reason was needed to attack and kill.  Even their own vulnerability was irrelevant.  They had gone beyond even the most primitive notions of territory and conquest, beyond concepts, ideas or motivation to the most rudimentary form of animate behavior.  They reacted, without any driving force behind or beyond the reaction.

Their weapons drawn, they signaled one another when they were in range.  Then, in unison, they lunged, firing their guns into the darkness, their fire met by a hail of bullets from the bunker.  In less than a minute all seven lay dead a few feet from the line of first defense.

Joey lit one dim lantern to assess the damage.  One of his men was dead, two others wounded.  The wounded were removed to the rear, where their wounds were treated.  Everyone kept his position several more minutes then started to relax, assuming it was safe to abandon their formation.  Before they could take their first step, a second rustling came at them, this time from a different direction, as another small band massed to their left.  Joey hastily extinguished his lantern, eight men coming at them from the almost pitch black of the cave, their footsteps on the soft, almost soundless, floor marking their progress.  On a sudden impulse, Joey re-lit his lantern, throwing its light from behind his left flank into the faces of the men charging with both guns and knives drawn.  The light blinded them for a split-second, giving Joey's men a chance to open fire, killing all eight before any of them engaged their weapons.

Joey handed his lantern to one of his men and breached his own line long enough to retrieve the weapons of both bands of renegades.  He barely got back into the bunker when a third group of men came at them, from the left again.  These, too, were killed.  Then a fourth lunged out of the darkness to the right, hacking their way through a growth of vegetation so thick it looked and felt like a wall.  Within seconds they were inside the bunker, swinging machetes at the men on the right flank, before a volley of gunfire cut them down.

One of Joey's men was hacked to death, three others wounded.  The dead man was covered, his body removed to the rear, as were the wounded, two of whom were able to return before the next band attacked.  In all, nine bands of renegades attacked, none of them with more than ten men.  Each band was either destroyed or sent scurrying back into the darkness.  An hour after the last attack was routed, Joey and his men fell out of formation, satisfied that they could rest awhile, taking turns sitting or lying down while others stood vigil.  When all of his men had had a turn away from the guard post, Joey sat down and leaned against a cold slab of stone.  He almost drifted off to sleep when he felt a tap on his shoulder and an almost imperceptible vibration at his ear.

"You must be gone before they return," a voice whispered to him.

In his drowsy state, he took the voice for that of one of his men, the words for a suggestion and answered accordingly.  "We can't risk leaving this shelter until we're sure the attacks have stopped," he pointed out.

"They won't be back till tomorrow," the voice told him.

"We can't be sure of that -" he stopped in mid-sentence and leaped from the ground as it finally registered who was addressing him.  "How did you get here?" he demanded to know.

Stone Creek, who had been crouching beside Joey, arose to reply "Unnoticed."

"No one saw you?" Joey asked in surprise and dismay that someone could move so easily through their ranks.

"You only see me when I choose to be seen," Stone Creek answered.  "But don't worry, the others here are not so adept at stalking, they won't duplicate my success.  Nor will they return tonight."

"How can you be sure?  They told you?" Joey asked, the second part of his question suggesting a third, and even more relevant, question.  "You're one of them, aren't you?"

"There is no 'them,'" Stone Creek explained.  "Those who have made these caves their home base are not aligned with each other - that should be obvious to you.  If they were aligned, you would have been overwhelmed by a force you couldn't hope to withstand.  There are any number of small bands located here - dozens, maybe hundreds for all anyone knows.  Because of the need to forage, there are never more than a handful in the caves at any one time.  Above ground, they seek each other out - knowing the supplies are limited.  Down here, they instinctively avoid one another."

"And you?" Joey asked.

"I do what I must," Stone Creek said.  "You can relax your guard and let your men rest tonight," he assured Joey.  "You'll be safe."  Suddenly, he shifted his glance from Joey's eyes to something over his shoulder.  Joey turned.  Behind him was Andrea, who had seen Stone Creek enter the bunker and kneel beside Joey and had come forward, unnoticed, to listen.

"You are your father's daughter," Stone Creek complimented Andrea.  "The country honored him as a great thinker - which he was; but he was an even greater spy.  He could move in and out of places and situations without leaving a trace.  He had no equal - least of all Paris Commune and his men."

"Is that why you betrayed them?" Andrea asked.

"Their own carelessness betrayed them," Stone Creek replied.  "To me, it mattered nothing who won, or if anyone did.  The sport was all that counted."

Andrea approached closer to Joey and, in a low voice just above a whisper, asked if she could speak to Stone Creek in private.  Joey nodded and walked away.

"What is it you want?" she asked when they were alone.

"I want the kind of work I had before," Stone Creek admitted.  "Your father would have understood the need to control the events around you by manipulating the lives of those whose actions create those events.  It's a skill given only to a few.  Doesn't the good book say it's a sin to bury one's talents?"

"The only good books are burned books," Andrea observed.  "I don't believe for a moment these bands of renegades are not aligned, on some level," she said.  "Through you, perhaps."

"I have extensive ties," Stone Creek acknowledged.  "I'm from these parts.  At least, on some level."

"And this is your empire," Andrea noted.  "What more do you need?"

"An empire above ground also," Stone Creek replied.  "A real empire, composed of normal people, doing ordinary, everyday things - not one filled with criminals whose only aim is pillaging and killing, whose only concept of territory is the mindlessly primitive impulse to destroy it in order to keep others out - the 'scorched earth' mentality.  But tell me," he abruptly changed the subject, "why have you asked what I want even before asking about your son?"

"Because his fate depends on what you want," Andrea answered.  "I know he's safe as long as you are.  I know also there's nothing I can do to get him back until your plan is realized.  Buy why Cade?  Why did you take him and not Brad?"

"Because men go about their lives only half aware of what they're doing," Stone Creek told her.  "The man who carried your son thought he was carrying the other twin.  In the darkness all sleeping babies look alike.  By the time I realized I had the wrong child it was too late.  It isn't too late to trade, however."

Andrea recoiled, as if from a serpent.  "It is too late," she said as she shook her head.  "I'm resigned to losing Cade.  To exchange him for Brad would be to go through it all over again."

"Or is it that you prefer the one who reminds you of his father?" Stone Creek suggested.

"No," Andrea said.  "I carry no ghosts - or corpses - in my cargo."

"Ah!" Stone Creek observed.  "You failed to burn Mr. Ibsen's book, I see!  You're more like your father than you imagine."

"And more unlike him than you imagine."

"Throughout our lives we came so close to forming a connection," Stone Creek said.  "Together you and I would rule the world!"

"A ruled world is not fit to live in," Andrea countered.

"There is no other kind," Stone Creek assured her.

"There will be, when Paris builds it," Andrea promised.

"He will never succeed," Stone Creek predicted.  "And, if he does, his world will fall apart.  Without rule, there is no center, nothing to hold it together.  Power isn't the result of man's quest for dominance, as history imagines; but the cause of his quest.  It isn't because he needs to rule but because societies need to be ruled that the exploits of great men fill the pages of history books.  The world doesn't belong to those who take it but to those who give it what it needs.  Paris' world will not outlive him; it will only shorten his life.  You will never be part of his world, no matter how much you want to.  Your feet are too firmly planted in the real world."

"When will I see Cade?" Andrea asked.

"When its time to restore order," said Stone Creek.

"Did you mean to exchange sons while I slept at Middlesboro?: Andrea then asked.

Stone Creek shook his head.  "No," he replied, "only to let you know Cade was safe.  I knew you'd stop there.  I didn't know you were already there."  He then turned to begin his retreat back into the darkness.  Before disappearing, he turned once more to Andrea.

"Some day I'll tell you where your husband really came from - and why he carried his murderer's image in his seed," he promised.  Then he was gone.

"What does he want from us?" Joey approached to ask when Stone Creek had once more disappeared into the darkness.

"It isn't what he wants from us," Andrea corrected Joey.  "It's what he wants for us."

"For us?" Joey asked.

"He wants us to continue exactly as we have," Andrea explained.  "He wants us to rebuild the world so he can take it over."

"Him?"

"Through Cade.  Or Brad."

Paris had been sitting quietly in a recess of the bunker, alongside Felicia.  He arose and began slowly moving about, as if trying to pick up the scent or the sound of something it was too dark to see. When he stopped moving, he reached down to take Felicia's hand, gently pulling her upright.

"We will leave now," he told her as he went to tell the others.

"Stone Creek said we'd be safe here till morning," Joey pointed out.  "We need to rest before returning to the outside world."

"The snow has stopped," Paris said. "We must go.  We can rest later."

Everyone gathered their things and followed Paris and Joey as they retraced the path that had brought them to this bunker.  When they reached the outside, the blizzard had ended and the sky was clearing.  Paris made for the open country of northwestern Edmonson County, where he was headed before being driven into the cave.  When he reached an open plain a couple miles west of State Road 259, he instructed his people to set up camp for the night.  They, in turn, looked to Joey to verify Paris' instruction; but Joey turned away from them to begin unwrapping his tent.  They followed his lead.

"Always before, you gave a sign that it was alright to do as Paris said," Carol observed when the tent was up and they had settled in for the night.

"I was forced to usurp his authority inside the bunker," Joey explained.  "They must realize it was only for that and nothing else.  I'm not here to authenticate his decisions but to accept them."

"But if you're needed again?" Carol asked.

"Then I'll do what I must," said Joey.

It was cold through the night and in the morning when they started out - colder in the wake of the blizzard than at any time since they had come to Tennessee; and, though the sun rose high in the sky and shone with a brilliance that warmed the air as the day wore on, the emptiness of the region made it seem much colder than it was.  Mile after mile they encountered nothing, not even the desolation of dead forests or towns buried in mounds of snow, as if the end of the world, which had brought utter destruction to the rest of the country, had passed this region by without so much as a glance - thinking, perhaps, it had been swallowed up by the caves beneath it.

The travelers encountered no one; but instead of speeding their journey, the absence of resistance slowed their pace almost to a crawl.  They barely moved ten miles in two days, passing from Edmonson County into Grayson County without so much as a ripple in their lethargy.  As they moved first northward then northwestward through Grayson County, they began encountering signs of human development again - broken down farm buildings and houses either burned out or half buried in snow - finally culminating in the first town they had seen since leaving the cave: Shrewsbury, on State Road 187, some five miles into Grayson County.  They hurried past, roughly tracing the path almost due north taken by 187.  This led them just east of Black Rock, in the center of the County.

They saw smoke coming from the town and, moving under cover of the smoke, a small band of men headed toward them.  Paris made a detour eastward; but no one followed.  He turned back to his people.

"We can escape if we go this way," he told them, but still they hesitated, until finally someone spoke the thought on their minds.

"We can't keep running," Paris was told.  "I say we stay and fight!"

Others spoke in favor of that course of action.  In a matter of minutes almost all had accepted it.

"We've proven we can fight!"

"We haven't lost our ability to take care of ourselves!"

"We don't need to avoid these renegades!"

Paris refused to sanction his people's decision to fight; but it was now too late to do anything but fight - the smoke was upon them, the renegades within the smoke began shooting at them.  They had already taken out their weapons, now they fired back.  In a matter of minutes the entire band lay dead in the snow as the smoke rolled over them and on past the travelers before dissipating into the horizon.

The people cheered their victory as they stood watching the smoke disappear; then they turned to their leader to await further orders.  At first Paris said nothing; he studied their faces to try and assess the change that had come over them, but found nothing.  Finally he spoke.

"This will destroy us," he said.  "Every victory brings us closer to our enemies, until eventually we'll become them."

"We won't run away from a fight," several of his people let it be known.

"Then we'll lose the fight," Paris replied.

"We won't keep shifting our course either," they said.  "We're headed north - we'll keep going that way, no matter what we encounter."

"Our safety comes first," said Paris.

"There is no safety as long as we're surrounded by outlaws!" he was told.

All through this interchange the people looked to Joey for reassurance; but he gave only a perfectly blank expression into which they could read nothing.  Paris, too, looked at Joey occasionally, but not for verification of his position: he looked for support, for a sign that when his position clashed with that of his people, as he knew it inevitably would, his second-in-command would stand behind him; but he could find no such sign.  All he could read on Joey's face was a resignation to whatever happened.

Paris turned to resume his journey to Indiana, heading due north.  They passed to within a couple miles of Leitchfield, a town which once had a population of five thousand.  There was neither smoke nor sounds of gunfire on the eastern horizon; but the travelers needed no supplies, so the town was skirted.  No other towns were seen as they moved through the center of Grayson County to the eastern bank of Rough River Lake and the border with Breckinridge County, a huge county stretching to the Indiana line.  They skirted the towns of Madrid, to the east, and McDaniels, to the west; then Centerview, Roff, Westview, Kingswood and Harned, their path taking them directly toward the town of Garfield at the junction of US 60 and Kentucky Route 86.

An unnatural calm hung over the small town, like the absolute quiet before a tornado touches down.  Paris sensed something and tried to divert his people before they reached the town; but they would not veer from their course, so he led them straight into an ambush.

They had been seen by a small band earlier in the day.  Noticing their unwavering course, the renegades made for Garfield to wait for them under cover of the few buildings at the center of town.  Almost at the exact instant Paris had sensed something in the town, his people came into view of the outlaws lying in wait.  Faces peered from abandoned windows, darkened from detection by the sun's position behind the town.  Paris and his people saw only the silhouettes of buildings.  Slowly the outlaws raised their rifles and aimed, awaiting only for their prey to come into range.

Felicia thought she saw something move.  She nudged Paris and pointed, but by then it was gone.  On a sudden impulse, she took out a small round case she carried in her pocket and, pointing it toward the town, opened it.  The mirrored side reached up to catch the evening sun, reflecting it into one of the windows of the building where she detected movement.  For a split-second, the barrel of a gun linked to the ray of light.  Everyone saw it and dashed for cover behind a series of snow banks that rose and fell like a terraced causeway leading to the town.  Shots rang out from the windows, striking exactly where the rifles had been aimed; but the targets had moved, sending the bullets astray.

Paris' people readied their weapons.  They were not yet in range, so a hastily formed contingent began crawling nearer, slowed by occasional shots but continuing toward the town until, finally within range, they arose and fired a round into the windows, their fire returned by the renegades.  Some of the attackers were hit by those barricaded in the building; but all the windows were shattered and half of the outlaws fell before the barrage of bullets.  Then the first contingent fell behind a line of snow banks and a second contingent crawled closer and began firing, hitting half of the outlaws who survived the first round.  Realizing they no longer had the advantage, the remaining renegades crouched away from the windows and retreated to the back of the buildings to escape.  Before taking flight, they set the buildings on fire, leaving their fallen comrades behind to burn.

The attackers worked their way around the buildings, only to catch sight of the outlaws making their escape.  The buildings had already begun smoldering, but the attackers simply shrugged and returned to the others, advising them that the outlaws had gotten away.

"They set the buildings on fire," they said.

"Let them burn," everyone agreed.  "There's nothing here we need."

Paris would have objected but had no basis for reprimanding his people: it wasn't them who torched the buildings.  They gathered their things and moved on past the town as the buildings went up in flames.  Only when they heard screams coming from within the flames did they realize that not all the outlaws had escaped.  Joey started back for the town to try and rescue the trapped men, but was stopped by his leader.

"I can't let you sacrifice yourself when it's already too late," Paris ordered him.  Joey hesitated; he could feel everyone's eyes on him.  Reluctantly, he acquiesced rather than be seen defying his leader's command.

Momentarily the screams died down, leaving only the crackling of timber and a rising black smoke in the flames' wake.  The people turned and headed north again, their course taking them east of Clifton Mills, the next town along the way; west of Irvington; east again of Lodiburg and Union Star; then, across the border from Brekinridge, trailing into Meade County, west of the town of Midway, bringing them halfway between the towns of Payneville, to the west, and Sirocco, to the east and, from there, on to the Ohio River, giving Rhodelia and Andyville, off to the west, a wide berth.

They had encountered no one since leaving Garfield.  The Indiana line, across the Ohio, was less than two miles due north.  They could see the river just east of Battletown in north central Meade County.  They could have skirted the town but decided to seek supplies before leaving Kentucky, uncertain what they would find in Indiana - whether it would be as different from Kentucky as that state had been from Tennessee, or merely an extension of the looting and pillaging they had traveled hundreds of miles to avoid.

They found Battletown deserted.  They made for its few public buildings to see what goods might have been left behind when it was abandoned, eventually gathering at a small general store.  There were indications of recent activity, but no signs of the destruction that usually followed gangs of rampaging outlaws.  Joey, Carol and a few others went inside to look around; but were drawn back out almost immediately by sounds of gunfire.  They found the rest of the people bunkered behind a snow drift surrounding the store.  Crouching to the ground to avoid shots being fired at the door they came through, they crept to the others, who had already started returning the fire.

All the bullets seemed to be coming from a small bluff just southeast of town.  Joey hastily assembled a small contingent of men to try and work their way behind the snipers by first crawling from the rear of the bunker, through the snow, one by one to a series of smaller buildings until coming to the northern end of town; then, using the snow banks surrounding a stand of barren trees, positioning themselves even with the outlaws.  They could not move behind the bluff without being detected; so they fixed on a plan to charge their attackers.  On a signal from Joey, they arose and, as they fired round after round, ran for the bluff.  The snipers hastily reoriented themselves to repel the attack; but, in doing so, left themselves open to a direct assault from the bunker, where a second contingent had been watching every move Joey and his men made and, when it saw them begin their attack, leaped from the bunker and ran for the bluff, firing their weapons as they ran.  The snipers were caught in the crossfire and tried to escape instead of returning the fire; but it was too late.  None of them made it; all thirteen were killed within a few feet of the bluff.

A cry of victory arose from the battlefield.  Even Joey joined in the celebration; even he felt a stab of pride looking down at the vanquished renegades.  Memories of the old esprit de corps that evolved during his early days as a member of the T-Men flooded his consciousness as completely as it did those of his fellow warriors; and, like them, he felt for an instant the desire to take a trophy in honor of their victory - to cut a piece of anatomy from the bodies of his victims.  He resisted the temptation; and intervened when he saw the others readying to fulfill the same wish, physically restraining any who refused to be swayed by his appeal to their higher natures.

"We can't let ourselves become like those who took the heads of our wives and children," he offered the most compelling testimony he knew.  All but a handful began putting away their drawn knives - even those few holdouts hesitated.  Then first one, then another, moved to sever a finger from a limp hand half buried in the snow.  Joey grabbed the wrist of each and held them in a vise-like grip.

"We must not violate even a corpse, or desecrate the sanctity of even our enemies," he told them.  "For all their sins, they are God's children as much as we are.  He did not put them here to satisfy our bloodlust.  Don't bring a curse on us for the sake of a moment's triumph.  No trophy you take bestows as great an honor on you as the one you refuse to take."

The men relented and put their knives away, as the others had, both contingents returning to the bunker.  Systematically, the people began going through the buildings of Battletown looking for supplies.  When they had gathered what they could, Paris assembled them once again at the bunker to plan the next phase of their journey: crossing the Ohio River into Indiana.  They could go due west and reach the Ohio within the hour; or they could keep their trek northward another five or six miles until a bend in the river put Indiana directly in their path.  Paris decided on the latter course, so that Indiana would come to them rather than have them change direction to go to it.  Once his decision was relayed to his people, he turned from the bunker and started walking northward.  He had gotten several hundred feet before he sensed that something was wrong.  He stopped and turned back to discover a large group of his people missing.

They had stayed behind while the others followed Paris.  It was not immediately apparent why they had done so; but in a few minutes they, too, started out, a sense of revelry about them, as if still celebrating their victory.

Paris noticed smoke coming from the buildings.  The men were boasting among themselves.

"They won't ambush anyone else in that town!" some were saying.

"Or use it for supplies!" others responded.

By the time they reached the main body of people, flames were already rising to engulf the building.  A look of anguish almost greater than a human could endure swept across Paris' face to fill his eyes and leap back out at his people as an accusation of betrayal.  Joey could not bear to look at his leader's suffering; he started to go to him, but Paris bounded ahead, straight for the town.  A moment later he was re-entering the bunker, which was already beginning to liquefy.  Then, as his people watched in horror, he bolted into the general store.  Joey ran ahead of the others to the bunker, ran into the building, and pulled Paris from it.

As the others neared, Paris tore loose from Joey's grasp and ran back inside.  Joey started in again.

"I order you to halt!" Paris commanded in a voice that stopped Joey in his tracks.

"Come out of there!" Joey cried.

Paris shook his head.  "I will come out when the fire is out," he told his second-in-command.

"You'll be killed!" Joey warned.

"Then I'll come out as ashes," Paris calmly replied.

The flames were rising above the windows, like a veil set to drape about the boy inside.  Joey turned to the others.

"We've  got to put out the fire!" he screamed at them as it came to him all at once what Paris was doing and why.  He began grabbing up chunks of snow and hurling them at the building before they could seep between his fingers.  Without a word, everyone else followed his lead, feverishly hurling handful after handful of melting snow at the flames in a frantic effort to extinguish the fire that was about the entrap their leader.  They worked at a maddening pace for nearly half an hour, racing against not only the burning walls but the melting snow, gathering fresh still frozen snow from wherever they could when the bunker was depleted.

In time, they won out.  The flames vanished almost as suddenly as they had appeared.  The walls oozed smoke and hissed as water seeped into the wood to drive the last cinders from it.  No one made a move to go inside the building; they waited on the doorstep.  A few more minutes went by, then the door opened and Paris emerged, unscathed by the flames but covered in soot.  He stepped among his people, as if he had just assembled them.

"We will burn no towns," he told them.

Everyone eagerly accepted his command, taking pains to assure him of their loyalty and pledging their support for his leadership.  But he raised to stop them.

"It isn't me who needs your assurance," he told his people.  "Save it for yourselves.  The earth has made me your leader - not me, and not you; but the earth.  When it so decrees, my leadership will be over.  Now we must go to our home.  In three weeks, we begin rebuilding the world."

Paris again turned north and started walking for the Ohio.  Almost exactly five miles stood between his people and Indiana.  They covered the distance in a little over two hours.  The afternoon sun was just reaching the point where it would begin its descent to the other side of the world; its heat was at its peak.  Paris hesitated crossing the river, debating which course to take: waiting till sunup for the river to refreeze where its topsoil of ice may have started thawing - which meant remaining in Kentucky through the night; or crossing now, when the risk of being swallowed up in its frozen current was greatest - thereby reaching the safety of Indiana before another band of renegades caught their scent.

His debate was not really between the two courses: he knew which was right for him to choose; but between his understanding of reality and what another leader's - such as Kirk's or Stone Creek's - might be.  He knew the earth, he could read it, find its pathways, move with its rhythms; but he did not know man, he could not decipher human motives or anticipate human actions.  Should he jeopardize the lives of those who could not perceive subtle fluctuations in the earth's magnetic fields or synchronize themselves with the throes of its evolution simply because he could not fathom the human heart?  And yet, he could not put it to a vote - not now, when his leadership needed the strongest possible assertion.

"We cross the river in one hour," Paris told his people.  Then he unfurled a blanket and sat down on the river bank to sound the depth of its resistance to the sun.  Joey came and sat beside him.

"Wouldn't it be safer to cross after a night of cold has countered the sun's warmth?" Joey asked.

"The river would be safer," Paris acknowledged.  "But this bank would not."

A light came into Joey's eyes as he spoke out of context.  "'This bank and shoal of time,'" he quoted a line from Shakespeare, only vaguely apropos of the moment.  Paris looked up at him and smiled.

"You know that line?" Joey asked in some surprise.

Paris shook his head.  "No," he replied, "but I know it just opened a door for you."

"I never studied anything like that in school," Joey tried to explain.  "They never taught us anything they didn't think was useful to the economy, so I would never have heard that - or any other - line if Sandy - not my Sandy, but the man I worked for - hadn't quoted it to me.  I finally understand something he said to me once when he was trying to explain why there would never again be a great artist like Shakespeare.  He said 'Render unto God, or unto Caesar, or even unto Satan, but not unto the almighty dollar.  Put pennies on a dead man's eyes and dollars in a living man's pocket so neither will ever see beyond his own little world.  There can be no Shakespeare because there's no one left to look for him or to see him when he passes 'this bank and shoal of time.'"

When the hour was up, Paris rose and put away his blanket.  He signaled his people to follow him as he headed a few hundred yards downstream to the point he had chosen.

"This will be dangerous," he told his people before starting across.  "We can stand four across, but no more.  Do not panic no matter what happens.  If we stick to our course, the ice will ferry us across."

With this, Paris took Felicia by the hand and moved a few feet to his left, then summoned Joey and Carol to come stand beside he and the girl.  Everyone else began falling into place behind the four leaders, who began slowly moving across the frozen river.  It took several minutes for everyone to pass from the bank to the river, nearly an hour more for them to reach the halfway point.  From where they were, they could see a myriad of hairline cracks in the ice; and, beyond the cracks, places where whole chunks were missing, as if someone had cut fishing holes in the ice.  Almost everyone was starting to wonder if crossing the Ohio was a mistake; some were even thinking of turning back.

Suddenly the ice creaked beneath them; everyone came to a halt.  Then the river emitted a loud screech as of icebergs colliding, and the ice they were standing on began to sway.  Paris whirled around to his people and cried out to them not to move.  But it was too late; several had already turned and were running back to the bank.  Others were preparing to follow.  Paris ordered them to stand their ground.  They hesitated, then saw the ones who were making for the shore disappear into the frigid water.  They watched them bob up and down a few times.  Joey ran to the back of the line to form a rescue party, despite Paris' pleas to him to remain in place.  Just as the party was starting out, the ice that had opened to drop their fellow travelers into the water closed again, its two edges ramming tightly together with a force that crushed the skulls of those who happened to have surfaced at that split-second and trapped the others beneath its impenetrable expanse.  Joey hesitated a moment, silently praying to God to show him a way to save those still trapped beneath the ice.  Instead, the ice he and the others were on broke free and began floating away, eastward, toward Indiana.  He reached out, as if trying to hold the ice together.  His instinct was to jump in and swim beneath the sheet of ice, but he knew it was useless: he could not ask anyone else to take such a risk with him, and there was nothing one man alone could do to save so many.  He stood there, as if paralyzed, watching the sheet of ice swim away with his comrades, the crushed skulls above the water line growing smaller and smaller, as if they were melting, though it was actually the ice he was on swimming away from them.

When he could see the skulls no more, he turned and watched the east bank of the Ohio coming nearer until, at last, the raft of ice came to a gentle halt as if docking at a pier.  Everyone disembarked, leaving only Joey on board.  He bowed his head and silently prayed for the souls taken by the river; then he, too, stepped ashore.

For a long time no one said anything or made any move; they looked as if they were frozen solid to the shore and could only proceed when the snow finally melted.  Paris understood that his people saw what had happened on the river as an evil omen, a curse the forces of nature had put upon their arrival, dissolving their eagerness to begin life anew in Indiana into a murky foreboding of reprisal.  He wanted to reassure them that it was his fate, not theirs, being marked by the tragedy; that the lives claimed by the ice were on his hands alone; that it was he who would pay for what happened.  But he knew they would not believe him: he was a child, and though they accepted his leadership, they denied him responsibility for what happened under that leadership.  So when he finally addressed them on the eastern banks of the Ohio, he said nothing to ease their guilt.

"We've reached a land like no other we've been in," he stood before them to say.  "The earth is quiet here, for now; nor are there bands of outlaws: the same ice that brought us across holds them at bay.  They risk their lives every day in pursuit of one another, but they're afraid to cross the river - afraid of what we saw the ice do to our brothers.  We have no natural enemies in this state.  We will work our way to our new home in peace, set up our society in peace, rebuild our world in peace.  First, before we complete our journey, we will head west to look one more time at the rift in this country's middle.  Though I was carried in Alice's arms through most of it, I remember it.  We must see it again."

Everyone who had followed Kirk eastward shuddered as Paris' words re-awakened the horror of passing through that rift, which in turn rendered his wish to revisit it almost incomprehensible.  They seemed to be searching for some way to express this amalgam of horror and disbelief.  Several moments of silence went by as they stood there tongue tied till, finally, Joey found words to put to it.                                                

"We can't endure that again," he told Paris.  "That place hides its own depth.  You can't stand like we're standing now on this river bank and look out over the rift.  You can't see it for what it is, filled with the same snow that settled in the valleys and plains and foothills.  For all we know, we may already be amidst it and simply haven't come upon a bottomless pit yet.  We're already farther west than when we finally cleared it - so we must be in it."

"No," said Paris.  "It tore the country unevenly.  If we follow the Ohio westward, we'll come upon a frozen cataract where the river sank.  We won't go down inside the rift, only to its edge."

"But why go at all?" Joey asked.

"To remind us that what the earth destroys in one place, it creates in another.  What fell here will rise over there some day, as a mirror image; but not any time soon."

"Another rift?" asked Joey.

"No," said Paris.  "It's reverse: mountains."

"But you said the earth was rebuilding the Appalachians," Joey reminded the boy.  "There are no links to the Appalachians here - not even a single mountain."

"In time there will be," Paris answered.  "Almost on our doorstep."

"Then we shouldn't settle in Indians," Joey concluded.  "We should keep going."

"We have time to rebuild our world first," Paris answered his second-in-command.  "You'll know when it's time to move.  We must be here - we must.  It's the only place on earth we belong."

Joey said nothing farther.  He accepted Paris' words at face value and gathered his things for the journey to the edge of the rift.  The others, seeing Joey fall in place behind his leader, gathered their things and headed west as well, following the meandering Ohio first west then south, around the bend that jutted from west central Harrison County to southeastern Crawford County; then east again as the bend fashioned a hook out of the northernmost point of Kentucky's Meade County, bringing them to within half a mile of where they crossed the river into Indiana; then south a couple more miles before finally heading west into the Hosier National Forest, which, had Paris turned north instead of west, spanned nine counties to reach one hundred fifteen miles into Central Indiana.  The Ohio hovered at the southernmost base of the Forest, leading the travelers from Crawford County around another bend into Perry County.  Here the trail abruptly ended.

At the apex of this bend was the border of Perry County, a forest so deep and thick that not only had its trees withstood the years of bitter cold, many still had stands of brown leaves on their innermost branches.  The forest reached to the very banks of the river, together with it hiding what lay beyond the border.

Coming upon this point, a couple miles past the deserted town of Alton, the travelers saw the tree line and river both disappear.  Paris halted, turning back to his people.

"Behold your future in a mirror," he announced before turning west again to complete his journey.  A couple hundred yards brought him to the very edge of the visible forest.  His people hesitated at first then finally came forward to join him.  Together they looked out over a gorge so wide they could not see across, and so deep the trees carried to the bottom looked like twigs lying on a lawn after a storm.

The Ohio River fell four hundred feet straight down, creating the highest falls in America.  Beneath the frozen surface, which looked like a gigantic stalactite running down the side of a mountain, the river still ran in a torrent muffled by the topsoil of ice, its spray blanketed in frozen crystals.  Everyone stood absolutely still, transfixed by the spectacle.  Paris walked to within one step of the edge then knelt down and bowed his head.  When he arose, he turned and led his people from the rift, cutting a diagonal sixty miles through South Central Indiana to Interstate 65 and the little town where Alice had left a single drop of his blood on the ground as if to baptize it.

The sun had gone down when they arrived.  No one recognized the place; in the dark it looked like a hundred hamlets they had passed through, so everyone thought they were merely camping for the night.  Only Paris knew otherwise.

There were no visible means of identifying the town.  Though the morning sun revealed a place entirely different from the one illuminated by the half moon the night before - a place no longer a stopover but now a destination - it stood as anonymous and indistinct as when Kirk had first led his people through this town at the edge of the great rift.  Nothing remained of its name: no signpost in the ground, no nameplate on a building.  Nor did the maps Joey carried by day and, with Paris, studied each night, shed any light on the town's identify: somewhere around sixty years ago, when its population began to drop below its peak of twelve hundred, mapmakers, responding to the unstated dictum that all communities should meet minimum standards of growth and productivity, decided to let it drop from the face of their earth, though they kept US Route 31 and Indiana Route 160, which intersected it, and Interstate 65, which paralleled US 31 a couple miles to the west.  Like a thousand thousand other towns across the country, Henryville, Indiana ceased to exist when its residents could no longer keep pace with the rest of the country.

Even before the sun arose, Paris got up and quietly left his tent.  Carol happened to be awake.  A few moments later she, too, got up and left the tent.  She stood outside, watching as Paris made his way among the nearby buildings, slowly approaching each, standing a moment to look at it, reaching out to lay his hand upon it, as if touching a holy relic, then moving on to the next, until he had encountered all seven buildings clustered around what seemed to be the town square.  Then he returned to the tent.  Something in his solemn expression made Carol ask if he had baptized the town.

He shook his head.  "It baptized me," he replied, adding, "this is our home."

Only then did Carol look carefully at the buildings Paris had touched; and, in seeing them for their true worth, saw his act of touching them as something more than a curiosity.  Only then, too, did she begin to recall details of their first visit.  She remembered Alice holding Paris in her arms, whispering something to him as Kirk spoke to his people, then pricking his thumb with her knife to let a drop of his blood fall onto the snow.

"You already baptized it," she observed, as much to herself as to Paris.

Again Paris shook his head.  "It wasn't a baptism," he told Carol.

"You remember?" Carol asked.

"No," replied Paris.  "But I know my blood is on its grounds.  The buildings over there," he pointed to the seven he had touched, "will be our seat of government - except it won't be a government."

"What will it be?" Carol asked.

"There are no words for it," Paris answered.  "It's a way of holding a society together without a ruler."

"A true democracy -" Carol started to give the principle a name.

"No, not even that," Paris interjected.  "We will not have anything that resembles anything that came before us.  We will have no laws."

"But surely, the rule of law," Carol suggested.

"No, the law is as unjust a ruler as any despot," Paris explained.

"Where did you get these ideas?" Carol asked.  "From Alice?"

"No, not from anywhere," Paris admitted.  "The ideas got me - I didn't get them.  Alice spoke of the absence of power - but even its absence has too much of it.  We can't rebuild the world using the opposite of what was used to build it; if we try, it'll end up looking exactly as it did before it was destroyed."

"Then how will we rebuild it?" Carol asked.

"We won't," said Paris.  "It will rebuild us, and in doing so show us what it needs."

The sun, as they spoke, was beginning its first incursion of the day into these farthest reaches of the Eastern Time Zone, turning enough luminescence on the walls of the tents to signal its arrival - a signal as compelling to the people inside as a tripped alarm.  Everyone got up, as they had for as long as they had been traveling, the instant they saw the eastern wall of their tents turn into a pearlescent membrane.  They gathered their things and packed them to be carried on their backs, then retreated into the misty illumination outside to strike their tents.  They stopped short, however, to take note of something out of sequence.

Paris was standing in the center of the circle of tents forming the campsite.  His being up ahead of them wasn't unusual: he was always first to rise; but his being there, where he only stationed himself once the camp was broken and his people were ready for the day's instructions, was.  Everyone stood perfectly still, gazing intently at him in anticipation of some explanation for this deviation from his routine.

When he had everyone's attention, he spoke.  "We will not be traveling any more," he announced.  "We came so quietly upon our home, we failed to recognize it.  It surrounds us - and right from the start we must understand that it does.  It must never become surrounded by us or we'll be driven from it.  This is not the last chance earth will give man, but it may be the last chance to begin a new way of life.  Our home cannot be allowed to crumble into a mere possession of ours.  We must respect it as if we owe our lives to it.  If we had built it - or if we rebuild it a thousand times - it still stands as the center of our existence.  Nothing we accomplish can be set above it, or else our accomplishments will destroy it and we'll be homeless again.  Let this day - whatever day of the week it is: and it's better for us not to know what day it is - let it be our day of rest.  Tomorrow will be soon enough to begin the task of rebuilding the world.  For the first time ever, we will not strike camp.  We'll rest.  Tomorrow we can meet again to welcome our new home."

Everyone stood staring at Paris, as if dumbfounded by the most difficult task they had ever been called upon to perform - the almost incomprehensible task of doing nothing, if only for one day.  Their leader had summoned them for a day of rest? of absolute leisure?  What could such a day be like? what was there in their history to compare it with?  How did one do nothing?  They were always given tasks, however empty and meaningless, just to be kept busy, kept from thinking about their plight.  Now their only task was to get through the day entirely on their own.  They were like children sent to their rooms as punishment for some infraction of the rules - except here there were no rules, no infractions; only nothing.

Paris sensed their bewilderment, but not the source of it.  His mind was so filled with everything needed to recreate the world that he failed to allow for lesser minds, un-attuned  to the rhythms of a new world order, unaccustomed to devising processes for transforming ideals into working systems, or simply incapable of focusing on the abstract.  He understood the need for telling people what ought to be done, but was absolutely incapable of understanding the need to be told what to do.  He thought the dynamic of leadership rested solely on an axis of knowledge - that the leader led because his knowledge was greater; failing to grasp that the need to follow proceeded as much from people not understanding their own abilities as from their lack of information about the world around them - that two disparate beings dwelt inside most people: the one who imagines it can do anything, and the one who fears it can do nothing - and that each step they take is a deliberate, often desperate attempt to walk a path between the two, a path made easier by someone lighting the way for them.

Paris sensed that something more was needed from him, but had no idea what, so he simply turned and headed back to his tent.  The sight of him about to disappear into the tent jolted his people from their stupor.  They began addressing him, and even though no pre-arrangement existed, all of their comments stemmed from the same concern.

"Do we dare put off even a day building our defenses?" the essence of the people's address was stated by one of the men who had been a member of the old ruling council.

Paris turned back to his people, as bewildered by the question as everyone else had been by his declaring this day a day of rest.  The look on his face suggested that perhaps he had not heard correctly.

"Defenses?" he pinpointed the key term of their question for clarification.

"Our defenses," the term was thrown back at him as an irreducible primary.  "The town is vulnerable to attack.  If it's to be our home, we must make it safe."

"Our home is not a fort under siege," Paris calmly responded.  "It's being our home is our greatest defense - the only defense we need.  If we put up battlements and fortifications, the signal will go out that we wish to be attacked - and we will be.  This town has not taken us in that our lives might be more easily threatened.  The door it opened before us is not a trap door.  Anything we build to try and protect us from the rest of the world will dishonor it.  Our defenses would imprison us as much as keep others out.  We want our way of life to go out to others, not be hidden behind our own walls.  People turn away from what they can't see.  We must be seen, our way of life must.  Otherwise we can't rebuild the world; we can only watch through our peepholes as it disappears altogether.  There will be no defenses."

Again the people were stunned.  Of all the things they had witnessed since the world began crumbling almost a quarter century ago, all the seemingly impossible tasks they had been asked to perform, all their harrowing escapes from the jaws of death - nothing struck them with the force or the sheer incredibility of their new leader's latest proposition.  Build no defenses? leave themselves vulnerable to the violence and unpredictability surrounding them? banish safety and vigilance from the place they had come to live in?  Paris may as well have asked them to leave the floodgate open before an approaching tidal wave.

"There must be defenses!" they began insisting.  "We must be prepared for attack at all times - even on our day of rest!  Otherwise we cannot stay here, we have to keep moving until we find a place offering natural defenses."

Even Joey joined the ranks of dissension, taking up the people's case for establishing defenses.  "You yourself have said you don't understand the ways of people," he reminded his leader.

"This is not about people," Paris rejoined.  "It's about the earth."

"But it's people who would lead an assault on us," Joey protested.

"We're beyond the boundary of those who would attack us," Paris explained.  "It isn't chance that gathered them together in one place.  It's the caves - the endless expanse of hiding places - that summoned them to Kentucky and keeps them trapped in their own hideouts.  They will not venture beyond the safety of those caves until eventually they kill each other off in their endless attempts to secure kingdoms for themselves.  I wandered the state because I could not sense their moves; each band was a threat I couldn't anticipate.  But their being where they are is of the earth's doing, not theirs.  They didn't choose Kentucky - it chose them.  Indiana has not."

"There are caves, too, in Indiana," Joey pointed out.

"Not enough to support an underworld," Paris answered.

The people listened intently to this exchange between their leader and his second-in-command.  In the back of their minds was the thought that perhaps, at last, Joey would reclaim his rightful place as their chosen leader and throw out the claims of this usurper.  The longer Joey and Paris talked, however, the more the people's hopes for a return to the old ways were dashed, until, by the end of the conversation, they stood exactly where they started when it began.

Joey finally nodded his acceptance of Paris' decision to abandon the security of fortifications.  Seeing him give in to what they saw as madness, the people began pressing him for an explanation of his weakness.

"How will we survive?" they asked him.

"The same way we always have," Joey responded.  "By accepting the wisdom of the leader God has chosen for us.  All of us are alive today because we followed his directions.  Those of our brothers who did not are no longer with us.  Paris has never insisted on a course unless he was absolutely certain it was the right one.  We must have faith that he continues to see through God's eyes in times of crisis.  We must stop questioning his every decision."

Here Paris himself interceded.  "No," he told his lieutenant.  "They must never stop questioning me.  They must never accept my word as absolute.  They must always call upon me to justify my decisions.  The day I stop justifying myself is the day I cease being their leader; the day they start obeying me without question is the day they cease being my people.  Without their doubts any truth I put before them becomes a lie.  Only those truths they understand have any meaning for our world."

Paris' words sent a cold chill down Andrea's spine, as if he had just delivered a death sentence before a tribunal.  They reminded her that, no matter how profound his insight into the workings of the earth, Paris was still a child, filled with the naive wonder of innocence.  Brad, standing beside her, sensed her disquietude and asked what was wrong.

"He will never know peace," she told her son.

"Who?  Paris?" he asked.  "Why not?"

"He will never put away the things of childhood," she said.  "He's learned too much, too quickly, to ever be able to separate illusion from reality.  The only way to trust people completely is to keep as far away from them as possible."

"Are we moving away from here?" Brad took his mother's words literally.

"No," she reassured him, "we won't leave."

"Like Cade did," Brad said.

"Your brother didn't leave on his own," Andrea attempted once again to make Brad understand.  "Someone stole him."

"Like the big cat stole Sandy?" Brad asked.

"Exactly like that," Andrea assured him.

"Will they eat him, like the big cat ate Sandy?" Brad asked matter-of-factly.

Andrea was about to explain that no one knew for certain what had happened to Sandy when an image came to her, as clear as if she were watching it unfold before her.  She saw Sandy, in the lion's mouth - not being eaten but being carried off, as gently as if he were its cub.  She could almost hear the boy jabbering his endless baby talk that had endeared him to an entire population before his disappearance.

"He charmed the big cat as he charmed everyone else," she said with an almost self-satisfied smile on her lips, as if she were in possession of information known only to her.

"Will we find his bones one day?" Brad asked.

Strangely, particularly for someone who never had visions and never had any desire to have them, a second image came to Andrea.  This one also concerned Sandy, but was more indistinct, as if surrounded by fog.  She saw him waving good-bye to a beautiful young woman before vanishing into the fog.  She couldn't quite make out who the woman was, but the hair and eyes were both the color of Felicia's.

"No," she answered her son's question, "no one will ever find his bones."

Paris had led his people to Henryville from the southwest.  In the dark of the half moon they bisected the nearly one hundred degree angle Interstate 65 made with Indiana Route 160 just west of town.  Both roads, like all others in America, were snow-covered and, except for an occasional sign still standing, impossible to detect amidst the endless expanse of snow.  At the point of bisection, nothing marked 160, heading due east from the juncture.  Yet Paris could sense the road beneath him the moment his feet touched the snow covering it, could feel it pulling to the right even before he reached it, could lead his people as unerringly to the heart of Henryville as if following a mile long arrow.  The town Alice had made his birthright was calling to him along the buried pavement; he followed its call under the half moon of Tuesday, October 19, 2077.                        

Indiana 160 paralleled Main Street on its way to the center of town, crossing North Francke Road half a mile from its junction with I-65.  A few hundred yards ahead, past College Street, which ran diagonally from an obtuse angle with North Francke to an acute angle with Taylor, 160 paralleled Ash Street, closer to it than Main Street, between Taylor and Church Street, where Ash angled north to meet it just prior to its intersection with US Route 31 at the heart of Henryville.  It was just north and east of this intersection, in a little square bounded by seven buildings, that Paris and his people set up camp.

Even while the tents were going up, without so much as a hint of its dimensions or direction, Paris began mapping the town in his mind's eye.  Though he had passed this way before, he carried no memories of it; everything he knew about it came to him while he stood watching his people work, as if the town were carefully laying itself out for him in the dark, conveying its size and shape by means of some kind of extra-sensory transmission, like images coming through a line of cable to be reassembled upon their arrival.  He saw Main Street parallel 160 across the old Conrail tracks to end at Pennsylvania Street while 160 continued its southeastward course past Miller Fork, Rain Run and Silver Creek, past the junction with Indiana 203, to its terminus at Charlestown in east central Clark County, almost to the Ohio River.

This one road - Indiana State Road 160 - would be the hub of his new city as well as the focal point of the society he and his people would create.  He could feel it beneath his feet, already beginning to set things in motion, as surely as it was drawing the rest of the streets surrounding it into the town's grid.  To the southwest, paralleling Main Street and each other, were Cherry Street and Schaffer Street, the latter ending at a nameless street that joined Cherry Street before it, too, ended at US 31.  To the northwest, just below Wolf Run, was School Drive, which also ended at 31.  To the southeast, Mitchell Street and, running north to south, parallel the tracks, Railroad Street.  There were more streets, too, just beyond the town but soon to become part of it: Hazel Avenue and Prall Road to the north, Vest Road and Prall Hill Road to the south.  Paris saw them all, if only as unnamed, unmarked appendages joined by their common proximity to this nameless town the earth had bequeathed him, and the nameless road linking them all together.

When everyone else had gone inside for the night, Paris knelt in the frozen snow that covered 160 and asked for the road's blessing.

"Give me the strength to help fulfill your great scheme for rebuilding the world," he prayed.  "I know the mapmakers only see you as one of a million roads, a tiny piece of the whole, an insignificant stretch of road that reaches a short distance then disappears into oblivion.  But they don't feel you pulsing beneath their feet, don't sense the trade and commerce you beckon, or see the endless stream of people coming and going along the vista you open before them.  Nor will they see the place where one day my dearest friend will cover me.  I know that in carrying out your plan I risk offending the God Joey attributes everything to, and that Joey's God is a vengeful God, no matter how pure and forgiving His servant is.  But I know my life has no other purpose than to create the world that the earth, through you, has shown me."

Paris arose, wiped away the tears he had let fall, and went inside to lay down and sleep.  He looked at Joey, who was already lying in his sleeping bag; then looked at Carol, who was also asleep; then at Felicia, who looked up at him as if to say "The die is cast."  He nodded in response then got in his sleeping bag, which, with Felicia's, lay at the opposite end of the tent from Joey and Carol.

"Is it right for us to be here, in the same tent with Joey and Carol?" Felicia asked in a low voice.  "When my mother and father were both alive, I slept in a separate room.  A husband and wife should be alone."

"Soon there will be no more tents," Paris answered softly.  "There are enough buildings in this town for each family to have their own house."

"Won't they be afraid, to be all spread out?" Felicia then asked.

"At first," Paris admitted.  "But in time, as they begin to see that the earth protects us here, they'll stop being afraid."

"Why would the earth protect us now, when it tried to kill us before?"

"We're where it wants us to be now," said Pairs.

"I may always stay in a tent until I can finally get to the sea," Felicia speculated after a long pause.  "I will never trust the earth again."

The second day after their arrival, when they had rested a full day, Paris and his people began the work they had been brought here to complete.  No one had any idea what was expected of them, nor did anyone know where or how to begin.  They had been told they would rebuild the world, but no one knew what that meant; and Paris was unable to explain it any better the second day than he had the first day; so they continually asked questions to try and get a feel for this monumental task before them.

Paris listened intently but seemed unable to understand their questions.  He turned to Joey in hopes his lieutenant could express the essence of those questions, if not the reasons behind them also.

"The world around us is like a void," Joey tried to make clear to his leader.  "When you tell someone in a void to take a step, he has no point of reference.  All steps are the same.  They all lead nowhere."

Paris smiled up at his second-in-command.  "Now you understand," he said.  "We're not moving toward anything.  We have no goal that directs our steps.  We won't rebuild the world by going to it, but by letting it come to us.  Anything we do will begin the process.  Go to that building," Paris pointed to a structure half buried in a snow mound just to his right, "clear the snow and open the door - and you've started re-building the world.  Our work is to re-build our own lives, here, in this town; and in doing so to let the world know that someone, somewhere, has returned to the earth to take up residence.  The only act we can perform now which will not begin rebuilding the world is to walk away from this place.  Once we make this our home, people will start coming out of hiding to take their places again within their communities.  Maybe even the ones who lived here before us will return and join us.  That's all that people have been waiting for: someone to begin living in a town again."

"But aren't towns of the past, too, just the same as rulers and laws and fortifications?" Carol asked the boy.  "The first towns were fortifications."

"This time they won't be," Paris told her.  "They'll be homes."

The first few days were spent investigating the structures of Henryville, beginning with the seven buildings forming the town square; then, little by little, the remaining buildings until, by the end of the week, the entire town had been scoured.  Every structure appeared to be intact, inside as well as out.  As each one was tested and found inhabitable, Alice's words from their first passing rose up ghostlike as if to underscore the finding. "Where are the ruins?" she had demanded to know.  "Show me the ruins!"

Now, as then, there were none, neither crumbling walls nor bowed roofs, broken windows or sunken floors.  Nor were any of the buildings buried in snow - not even the modest one story houses that dotted the frozen white landscape.  Most were more exposed than when Kirk had led his people through the town five years earlier.  Everyone who examined the buildings imagined the snow mounds to have been deeper the first time, but dismissed these images as the products of faulty memory until something happened to convince them otherwise.                                    

Paris had already known the snow was beginning to recede, winter beginning to release its grip on the land.  Not the way it was happening in Tennessee, where the ground was heating from within as the earth re-shaped it; but in the slow, inexorable way a season or an age gradually gives way before shifting winds and intensifying light.

Paris knew where to look for signs of the coming change from ice dunes to green pastures; but he showed his people nothing.  He waited for them to discover the signs and show him: only then did the discovery have meaning.

Though the buildings - the houses, shops and the many non-descript buildings - showed no signs of structural damage, they had only been superficially examined, as if the people were responding in the most scrupulously literal manner to their leader's suggestion to look their new home over.  Even when they went inside and walked through the buildings, their attention extended no farther than walls, floors, ceilings, doors and windows - whatever they could clearly see as they toured the town.  At the end of the week, they stopped looking and settled back into their tents.  No one laid claim to any structure; everyone seemed resigned to remain as tourists, or nomads, camped out in the town square.

Another week had gone by when Paris again assembled his people to tell them they would soon have to strike camp.  They were stunned by the announcement.

"We're moving on again?" some asked in disbelief.

"You said this was to be our home," Paris was reminded.

"Why must we leave?" he was asked.

"We're only leaving our tents," Paris told them.  "It's time we settled here.  This is a town, not a camp site. We can never make this our home as long as we remain in one spot, all huddled together in tents."

"It's safer this way," the argument was put forth.

"You've forbidden fortifications: how are we to defend ourselves if we're all separated from one another?  We can't set up a common defense if we don't stay together."

"We have nothing to defend ourselves against," Paris reprised his remarks from their first assembly.  "We have no reason to remain in this square when there are enough houses for all of us.  It's a small town - at least for now it is.  We won't be more than a block or two from our neighbors.  We must take up residence in the houses that are here."

"How do we know they won't fall in on us, or the floor give way?" it was asked.

"You've examined them," Paris rejoined.  "You've said they're sound - and they are, and they'll stay that way for years to come.  It's time to begin moving into them.  The longer we wait the harder it'll be to leave our tents.  We must reclaim this town; every day it sits abandoned delays the work we were brought here to do.  We must begin rebuilding the world.  The world began when the first people sought shelter; it will begin again only when the first people again seek shelter.  We are the first people to seek shelter - not a hiding place, or a safe haven, or a fortress but a home.  Each of you must choose a home, and move in, and make it livable once you're moved in.  These houses can only become the foundation of a new world when they're ready to be lived in.  We must set our tents aside once and for all."

It took several more weeks for Paris' people to comply with his wishes as, little by little, they took the steps needed to make this town their home.  By the end of the second month, every family, every individual, had staked a claim to one of the dwellings and had begun the process of moving in.  By the middle of the third month, all the tents were gone; the town square stood as empty as the people had found it.  The process of rebuilding the world had begun.

Joey and Carol chose a house near the town square so that Paris, who, along with Felicia, was asked to move in with them, could be as close as possible to the center of town.  At first Paris objected, stating that he should live in City Hall, the center building among the group of seven.

"There's no reason to worry about my safety," the boy said.

"It isn't your safety," Joey replied; "it's your soul.  You're a good person, a wise and just leader, and you would never do anything wrong or turn bad even if you had no human contact at all.  But you're in danger of losing track of your own self.  You don't need God to help show you the way - and that's your greatest weakness.  To never need God is to never discover who you are."

"You want me to need God?" Paris asked.

"I want you to see what it is to need God," Joey tried to explain.  "But you can only do that by being around others who do need Him."

"You mean, like a preacher?"

"No," said Joey.  "I won't preach to you, nor to anyone.  My task is not to tell the Word but to try and live it.  Before we were driven from the cave, I felt that you were beginning to understand why God was so important to other people.  But now, in leading your people to safety, you've lost that.  You must come to understand human frailty or else everything you've done will be for nothing.  All of this, and all the world you're going to rebuild, will disappear without a trace if you follow the path you're on."

"What is that path?" Paris asked.

"The path to perfection," Joey answered.  "The most dangerous - and deadliest - path anyone can take.  You're incapable of imperfection - even the imperfection of being arrogant about your own perfection.  Because it isn't something you've chosen: it chose you.  Nature decided to create a perfect being - then set you in the midst of an imperfect world.  Nature is no more concerned with your survival or well-being than it is with anyone else's.  Others know to turn to God for help.  But being perfect you need no help, so there's nothing standing between you and nature's indifference.  Nothing protecting you."

"I was created to serve," Paris reminded Joey.  "And when I can no longer serve, the earth will have those I love cover me."

Joey said nothing further.  When his house was ready, and he struck his tent, he agreed to let Paris stay one night in City Hall before moving in with him.  Paris, in turn, agreed not to invoke his privileges as leader while under Joey's roof.

"I'm your guardian," Joey tried to work out the ambiguity of their relationship, "but I can't ignore that you're my leader.  I didn't mean for you to live with me as other than an equal."

Paris shook his head.  "I will obey you in your house," he promised.  "It's more than just you that I honor - it's your home, and the fact that it is yours.  To dishonor your home would be to undo everything I was sent here to do."

"You worry about his soul," Carol said to her husband the night they moved in.  "I worry about his obsession with death - particularly his own.  I see so much of Kirk in him -"

"Kirk?"

"And my husband," Carol added.  "They both lived for the sake of their code of honor - and both died for it.  You watched my husband die; you said how stoic he was, how honorably he met death.  I've had time and circumstance to think about that.  I find nothing worthwhile in that kind of nobility.  For them to do the things they set out to do, despite all opposition, knowing what the result would be, was a meaningless and empty gesture that ennobled no one.  My son murdered the man who raised him in cold blood - yet because there was an overriding purpose directing his act rather than some petty hatred or jealousy or meanness, he's seen as a hero instead of a villain.  Even by you, who of all people should know better."

"I can't see him as a murderer - I didn't then and I still don't.  Maybe my love for him blinded me to the truth," Joey admitted.

"Or maybe your respect for his motive blinds you," Carol offered.  "You would never let your emotions trick you into seeing murder as something noble.  For all your goodness, and kindness, and all the love you offer those around you, it isn't your heart that rules you but your head.  Your love for Kirk would have made you gladly sacrifice your life for him; but it could never make you see his sins as anything other than what they were.  Only your acceptance of his motives could do that."

Early the next morning, even before Paris awoke, Joey got ready and went out into the cold pre-dawn air.  He had already decided to visit each of the town's churches when no one else was around.  There were five churches in all, each of them small and prominently situated within the community.  He realized, the moment Paris had said this was to be their new home, that what he wanted most of all in life was to have a place to worship.  He couldn't remember ever belonging to a congregation or attending church services regularly.  It wasn't the service itself he missed but the idea of having one special place to go and be with others who wished to give thanks to their creator.  He knew that God was everywhere, not just in churches; that he could as easily pray and express his devotion in the middle of nowhere; that it was love that brought forth the Holy Spirit, not location.  But he was lonely praying by himself; he felt somehow that he was being aloof, even proud, by going off alone to worship God.  He wanted nothing more in life than for his worship to be indistinguishable from that of his peers.  He accepted that the circumstances of his life set him apart, made him stand out from others; but it was almost unbearable to him to have his devotion stand apart as if it were superior to others' devotion.

He went to each church, brushed away the snow and entered, walked to a point about halfway along the main aisle, and sat down in one of the pews.  He sat there, alone, for several moments before getting up and going to the next church.  He had no idea what he was looking for, or expecting; yet, by the time he had entered the last of the churches, he felt an overwhelming emptiness all around him - not the emptiness of being once again alone in worship, but the more immediate emptiness of not having found his special place.  None of the churches gave him a sense of belonging - again, not because they were empty, but because whatever it was he anticipated accompanying his arrival was not there.  He got up and started to go when an almost overpowering image came to him - an image from his past, that had no place in a house of God.

He felt too weak to move.  He stood there, half afraid he would lose his balance and fall; until, finally, he managed to sit back down again.  For a long time he just sat there, staring at the blank wall behind the pulpit, as the scene played out before him.

It was as if he had been transported through time and space from wherever this church was back to the compound at Recluse, from the present back to a time when he tutored Paris Commune's teenage son.  He could feel the awe he experienced the instant he first saw Kirk as if he were just now seeing the boy for the first time.  He had known there was something great about the boy, like an aura; but even more so, he was almost numb in the presence of the most beautiful being he had ever seen or could ever imagine.  He was struck now with the force of an explosion by what he had repressed then.  That even his image of God paled in comparison to Kirk's beauty.  In one split-second the young man who had been traded by his mentor for fuel and equipment had set a false god before the one true God.  He had broken the first commandment and not even allowed himself to know it.  He would have turned away from God to spend eternity with this boy.

Joey sat there trembling as the enormity of his sin spread over him like a hot tar.  He finally understood why he felt so physically attracted to Kirk.  The shame he bore at wanting to do the things he wanted to do concealed the infinitely greater shame of having turned his back on God.

Before him now, on the tiny altar beside the pulpit, was Kirk standing naked half submerged in a stream, doing his boy stuff, while he watched from the bank.  The boy looked up at him.

"You like to watch," he said.

"I know it's wrong," Joey answered.

"It's no more wrong for you to watch than for me to do it," the boy said, "- and it isn't wrong for me to do it.  It's no more wrong then urinating or defecating or falling asleep or eating or walking.  I can wait for my body to expel unused seed while I sleep, or I can expel it myself and, in doing so, free my thoughts for more important things.  I choose not to be burdened by bodily functions.  As often as I need to do this to clear my mind, I will.  You're free to watch as often as you want.  You think you love me, don't you?  But you actually hate me, for driving out your God.  You can't see it, but I do.  I've become your God.  Your lust for my body masks your lust for my blood.  You don't want to make love to me - what you want is to kill me and cut my body into a million pieces so you can have your God back.  But you can never have Him back - not as He once was.  You're like Peter.  You've denied your master and now must spent the rest of your life in atonement.  You'll always be dear to God, if God exists; but you'll never again be innocent.  I took that from you, as surely as if I had raped you.  I destroyed your innocence.  Do you understand why my beauty is of no value to me?  It took the innocence of the most pious man who ever lived.  And I don't even love you."

The door to the church opened so silently and the footsteps carried so softly along the old floorboards that Joey was unaware someone had entered while he sat watching his God retreat into a mist the images from his past had cast about his faith.  Paris had come seeking him; but seeing him occupied in something beyond the confines of this place, had gone to a wooden bench at the rear of the church to sit quietly until his lieutenant was released from whatever it was holding him here.

Joey realized for the first time ever that Kirk's words of ten years ago were as true as if they had been spoken by God Himself and that his relationship to God would never be the same; that his first sight of Kirk had changed God as much as it had changed him; that before that moment he was still a boy, with a boy's imperfect understanding of God; and that, in placing a false god before the one true God, he had become a man, with a deeper understanding of God.  His boyhood image had been torn in half by the realities of life in this world - because, in this world, day in and day out, it was possible to supplant God, if only for an instant, without realizing until it was too late that it was happening.  Before Kirk, Joey had never encountered anything or anyone in his twenty years of life that mattered as much to him as God did.  As much as he loved his father, and as much as he despaired over his father's death; as desperately as he needed his mentor's approval, and as desperately as he sought his mentor's love, nothing had ever shaken the pedestal upon which his God rested supreme until he laid eyes on Kirk.

"I had never seen greatness in a man before," Joey whispered as if in prayer.  "Nor the destruction it visits upon those it inhabits.  When I saw Kirk I saw all of it.  The greatness he was capable of and the destruction that was its legacy.  I knew the moment I saw him he would never survive.  That was the beauty I saw in him, not his physical body.  I wanted to touch and hold something that was doomed by its own truth to destroy itself.  I wanted to feel with my body the agony of living with one's own death, of choosing every action knowing that, because the choice was right, it was sealing one's own tomb.  I wanted to try and siphon some of his destiny from him - as if it were possible for one like me to save him from the fate he willingly accepted."

Joey arose all at once.  "Oh my God!" he exclaimed.  "Paris truly is his heir!  He truly is Kirk's son!  His fate, too, is sealed.  And, like Kirk, he lives with that knowledge every day of his life!  Oh God!  Please keep him a boy forever!  Don't make him grow up!  Please, dear God!  Don't make him grow up!  Please don't let him follow his father's path - please -"

He grew suddenly quiet as he became aware of another presence there in the church.  He stood listening a moment, still facing the altar.  Then he slowly turned.  At first he saw nothing.  A moment later, a small figure appeared at the back of the church, seated on a wooden bench just behind the last pew.  He began walking toward that figure, as if leading a procession out of the church.  When he was within a few feet, he lunged and grabbed the figure up in his arms, and held it to him like he would a baby.

"It isn't too late," he whispered in its ear.  "Turn away from what lies before you - turn away!  It isn't too late!"

Joey held him so tightly against his chest the boy could barely breathe.  Yet he managed to speak, to respond to Joey's plea. 

"It's already happened," Paris told him.  "What the earth has set in motion no one can stop."

"I can stop it," Joey protested.  "I can take back the leadership I passed to you.  Then none of it can happen."

"But you won't," said Paris.

A flood of tears streaming from Joey's eyes flowed over the boy as he answered.

"No," he said, "I won't."

A quarter million people crowded into the town square the 21st of March to celebrate Henry's twenty-first birthday.  They were emissaries sent by their communities to convey, collectively, the sentiments of the millions of people they represented, all sharing a common regard for this young man who had reopened a world everyone believed to have been lost forever.  Only the logistics of so massive a gathering kept all but those chosen few from attending the celebration.  It was Henry's right-hand man and best friend who had conceived the event and planned its execution.

The town square had expanded enough in the intervening years to accommodate this large a crowd; even so, it still consisted of the seven original buildings only, the enormous growth of the town taking place around this nucleus.  There was a chill in the air and a layer of low hanging clouds.  The square filled with the hum of hundreds of thousands of separate conversations all blending into a single noise.  For three days the emissaries had been arriving, the first ones fairly certain of being lodged either in guest houses or with friends they had made within the town, the later ones willing to spend a night or two in tents if need be - something no one had done in years but something second-nature to everyone old enough to remember a world frozen solid for almost two decades, a world in which a tent offered greater shelter than a palace.

In the basement of the town hall, at the apex of the town square, hidden away in a storeroom, was a plaque showing the name of the town.  The first order of business once the people had settled into their new homes was giving the town a name to replace the one that had been lost through decree and the careless disregard of time to things humans create.

"We must name the town after its founder," it was agreed.

"But we don't know who that was," Paris pointed out.

"You're its founder!" the boy was told.

"No: it was already here when I came upon it," he protested.

"It was lost, as surely as if it had been buried in the ground like an ancient city covered in a mound - until you found it.  You re-discovered it.  If not for you it would have been left to decay in the snow.  You're its founder.  It should be named for you.  It should be called Paris - the capital of a new world!"

"There is a Paris," the boy reminded his people.

"There are lots of Paris'," came the reply.  "And Romes, and Londons - hardly a city of the old world didn't give its name to some new town in America.  We don't even know if Paris, France exists any more - or if France does, or Europe, or anywhere beyond these borders!"

"When I go to the sea with my husband, I'll find out if anything exists," Felicia mused aloud.  Those who heard were stunned.  It made them think their leader planned to abandon them some day; but they said nothing.

"If you wish to name the town after me," Paris finally agreed, "I won't object.  I am of the town, so it's right for us to share a name.  Let it be called Paris."

The people set about making a sign, only to discover that something once taken for granted had become a major undertaking.  Signs had not been made by hand for two hundred years.  Not only did they lack the tools, they lacked the materials needed to identify their new home.  Even the old road signs still standing defied being used as a base for creating a new sign, there being no way to replace the route number with the town's new name.  It was decided, eventually, to secure a piece of wood, carve the name into it, and attach it to a signpost - a temporary solution at best, since there was no way to treat the wood to withstand the ravages of weather.

Two months later the people held a small, somber ceremony commemorating the town as Paris, Indiana.  At the end of the ceremony, the sign was driven through the snow into a mound at the western end of town, just before 160 crossed Interstate 65.  It was resolved to make three more signs, one for each of the remaining compass points; then to replace all four with better, more durable signs once the art of metalworking was reestablished.

By this time the supplies gathered in Kentucky had almost run out.  Paris' people began asking him when he was going to form scavenging parties to scour the surrounding area for new supplies.  They were told that there would be no more scavenging; that, now that they had a home, they would begin the process of growing their own food.  They stared in disbelief.

"How can we grow food?" they began to ask.

"We did at Mount Guyot," Paris answered.

"But it was warm there," they reminded him.

"We must make our own warmth," Paris told them.

"How?" they asked.

"By lighting fires," Paris said.  "Wherever there are fireplaces our food will sit at night.  Then, in the morning, be set out under the sun."

"And the wood for the fireplaces?"

"This town is surrounded by forests," Paris reminded his people.

"We have no place to store wood," they reminded him.

"Then we'll get a fresh supply each day until we have a place to store the wood."

"We'll never have a place to store it," the people concluded.  "Where will we get seeds anyway?" they asked.

"I've kept some in my backpack," Paris advised them.  "Only enough to get us started," he cautioned.  "So nothing we grow at first can be eaten.  Everything must be harvested for stock seed.  The sooner we start, the sooner we'll have enough seed to begin growing our own food."

As with everything else Paris proposed since becoming their leader, the people received this latest proposal with skepticism.  Though they accepted his plan, and went through the motions of carrying it out, behind their leader's back they grumbled and railed at the folly of trying to turn a frozen town into a network of hot houses.  Once again, they looked to Joey to validate the plan, but he refused to express an opinion.

"I can't keep undermining Paris' leadership in the name of reinforcing it," Joey told Carol and Andrea, who both questioned him about his silence.

"But do you realize that they take your silence to mean you, too, think the plan will fail?" Andrea pointed out.

"Perhaps they do," Joey admitted.  "But they see me carrying it out - and that's what matters.  They see me accepting his judgment and obeying his orders.  They can see through me that he's our leader and not merely a proxy for our real leader."

"Or else they'll come to question your judgment too," Andrea replied.

"You forgot," Joey countered, "Paris wants them to question everything he puts before them rather than blindly accepting things simply because their leader orders it.  He wants them to understand what they're being asked to do, even if there's a danger they'll refuse to do it."

"Paris is a boy," Andrea reminded Joey.  "His innocence is his greatest weakness.  Surely you know that."

"When the seeds start growing, they'll see - once again - that he was right," Joey predicted.

"How many times do they have to see that he's right before they accept his judgment?" Carol asked.  "Because my son led without regard to the opinions of others, they accepted both his leadership and his mis-judgment.  Yet Paris, who has never mis-led them, they refuse to accept as their leader.  They refuse to accept his judgment - not because he's a child but because he's not a tyrant in the name of doing what's best for them."

"They will, in time," Joey assured Carol and Andrea, though he could tell that both of them remained skeptical.                        

Each day began with a trip to Clark State Forest, west of Interstate 65, to gather wood.  The forest extended from just inside Scott County, southward, straddling the Scott-Clark County border until, north of its terminus at Deam Lake State Recreational Area, it entered Clark County completely.  Like almost every forest in America, its trees had stood dormant for so long that most of them had died - some fallen, some rotted, some with their interiors still intact.

Since coming to Clingman's Dome, the people had become adept at reading the condition of trees; they could wander through a stand and, just by sight, determine which would yield usable wood.  Even the fallen trees and broken branches sometimes yielded wood suitable for building.  On these trips to Clark State Forest, unlike their excursions into the forests of eastern Tennessee, it was not building material they sought but kindling; so they left the best trees alone and went after the driest, most brittle, even rotted, limbs, branches, trunks and stumps - all the ones they would have passed by previously.

Paris had his people make a huge sled for carrying the wood back home.  Joey watched this sled being build with a sense of panic, as the events surrounding the other sled they had built - the one used to haul wood up the face of Clingman's Dome to the T-Men's old compound - kept coming back to haunt him.  Had it not been for his greater fear of undermining Paris' leadership, he would have objected to its being built.  Instead, he continued watching this replica of a killer being built before him, his panic at times numbing him with its icy reminder of how deadly even the best of intentions can turn.

Paris noticed Joey's reluctance to help build the sled even before he noticed his lieutenant's almost wild-eyed fear.  Nothing short of a cruel attack on a fellow human being could have been more out of character than for Joey not to pitch in and help with whatever project was being undertaken.

"You oppose what we're doing," Paris stated as matter-of-factly as if saying "Good morning."

"We must grow food," Joey acknowledged.  "And getting wood is the only way right now of accomplishing that."

"Yet you oppose it," Paris persisted.

"It isn't like you to let others do the work," the boy pointed out.

"Carpentry is not among my skills," Joey evaded his leader's deeper observation.

Suddenly an image came to Paris, a memory from the days when he was still being carried by Alice.  He looked Joey in the eye and, as he did, Joey saw the same image and turned as pale as a ghost, his eyes growing big as the horror of that image engorged them.

"This sled will not run over anyone," Paris told his lieutenant, whose eyes grew even larger with a horror he could barely endure.

"Nor will it make one baby kill another," Paris said once the full impact of Joey's image reached him.

"I know," Joey answered in a voice almost too feeble to be heard.

"The other sled was flawed," Paris observed.  "It was designed to do something one wanted but the other didn't.  It was destined to kill both."

Joey managed to regain his voice.  "I understand all of this," he said; "and that this sled has not been cursed like the other.  Still, I can't have a hand in its building or its use."

Paris nodded his acceptance of Joey's distancing himself from it.  "Why didn't you make your thoughts known before we began?" he asked.

"Your leadership is still fragile," Joey replied.  "I can't be seen objecting to any decision you make.  It's harder than I imagined for them to accept you as their leader.  They still see you as a child."

Paris shook his head.  "It isn't that," he said.  "They don't see me as Kirk's heir.  You were hand picked to succeed him, not me."

"Then it's time I left," Joey concluded after a moment's reflection.   "As long as I'm here, the old line of succession remains.  Even though I chose you, just as Kirk chose me, they don't recognize my right to renounce the leadership that was bestowed upon me.  Had I died along the way here, they wouldn't question your leadership.  I have no choice but to leave - or else inadvertently become your nemesis."

Again, Paris shook his head.  "They would still question every decision I make.  As long as they do, our world is safe - because they'll be a partner in everything that touches it, not merely a participant.  If they ever stop questioning me, I will have failed them.  And the world we're building will end."

Slowly the seeds began taking root as, each day, they were set in the sun, each night returned to the rooms set apart for their storage and placed near the fireplaces.  Within a couple months enough plants attained maturity to begin harvesting the seeds.  The store of supplies was almost gone, though, and there was no way enough food could be grown in time to replenish it.  Once again the people's attention turned to scavenging for supplies.  But, once again, Paris told them it would not be necessary, or even possible,  to return to the old ways.  This time even Joey was skeptical.

"We must have food," he told the boy in private.  "We have no choice but to go find it."

"It will find us," Paris promised.

"We can wait no longer than three more days," Joey insisted.

"That will be long enough," Pairs answered.

Almost from the start, people could be seen on the horizon, from time to time, silently watching what was happening in the town.  At first, only one or two; than a couple days later one or two more; then a few more, more frequently, until eventually groups of people could be seen congregating not only on a daily basis but at every hour of the day, just standing, watching, then disappearing back into the horizon.

Each time they appeared, Paris' people again brought up the need for fortifications.  Each time, Paris assured them there was no danger.

"They're only watching," he would tell them, "not staking us out.  They're not here to harm us but to welcome us.  It's only because of the times that they haven't already come forward to greet us.  When they're satisfied we mean them no harm, they'll come to us."

"And if you're wrong?" Paris was asked.  "You've left us defenseless against them."

"The only thing they seek is the only thing we have to offer," Paris said.  "Knowledge - the only thing they can return to their own towns and rebuild their own world with.  We need no defenses against those who only want to go home again but don't yet know the way."

On the third day - the final day his people could wait before going in search of food - Paris left the town named for him.  He followed 160 eastward, past the railroad tracks, past Pine Drive, past Brownstown and Caney Roads, stopping at the point where Silver Creek crossed 160.  It was here a large group of people were assembled.  Paris walked to the center and addressed the group.

"It's time to begin," he told them as he stood looking at each person in turn.  They seemed to know what he was talking about; they nodded back at him in acceptance of his words.

Each was carrying a small parcel.  They brought them to him and opened them so he could see inside.  He looked in each, his look more that of someone verifying the presence of something expected than of someone curious as to the contents.

"Everyone who comes here to see what's going on carries the same things," someone explained to Paris.  "No matter where they're from, they all want to be a part of what you're doing back there; but they don't know how, so they bring supplies in case they get a chance to visit.  No one's ever settled in any of the towns since the earth sank.  Everyone's afraid it'll happen again, so they keep moving from place to place."

"The ground won't sink," Paris assured these visitors to his town's horizon.

"We want more than anything to return to our own towns," a second visitor admitted.  "But we know - because of the Federal agents who used to pillage right after the ground sank and our own scavenging for food - that the towns are mostly empty.  That's why we carry food when we come to watch: so, if we meet, you won't think we've come to take your supplies.  We've come to offer you our food - not take yours."

"Soon you'll have your own food, just as we will," Paris told them.  "We'll teach you how to grow food again.  We'll give you stock seeds in exchange for the supplies you can spare until we grow enough to sustain us."

"How can you grow food in the dead of winter?" it was asked.

"There is no time when death covers everything," Paris answered.  "Come with me.  Let me show you where we grow our food."

Paris turned and led the way back to town.  When the visitors had crossed the railroad tracks, they stopped and would not follow the rest of the way.  Some three hundred feet ahead of them, fanned out along Front Street, was a contingent of Paris' people, each holding a gun in an outstretched hand.  The visitors turned back, starting to retreat; but turned toward the town again, long enough to set their parcels in the snow.

"Lay your guns down," Paris gently ordered his people.  He said nothing further, but stood before them, looking each one in the eye.  Then he turned and walked back to the visitors, who stood waiting to see what the others would do.

He addressed the visitors in a gentle voice.  "If they don't lay their guns down, all of us will perish," he said.  "The earth will no longer allow us to be at war and survive.  If they raise their weapons against you, it's as if I did.  If they fire, I become a murderer."

Just behind the contingent on Broad Street stood Joey, waiting to see what the outcome of the standoff would be.  He resolved to do nothing, though he desperately wanted to cross the line to show his acceptance of these visitors.  He knew that this was the ultimate moment of truth; that the fate of the entire world hung in the balance; but that only if his comrades did as Paris asked could the world be saved.  For him to intervene was simply to put off the moment till another day.  They must lay their weapons down, not because a spark from the past rekindled their sense of duty, but because a light from the future inspired them.

For several moments, that seemed an eternity to Joey, mankind stood suspended between life and death, the contingent poised to shoot, the visitors ready to flee.  Paris had moved away from the visitors to stand halfway between them and his people.  He faced neither group; instead, he looked north, as if expecting someone or something to appear out of nowhere.  The afternoon sun blazed behind him, casting his shadow across a snow bank that transformed it into a wavy image that seemed to undulate before him.  For a quarter of an hour Paris stood watching his shadow inch its way eastward along the bank.

Finally, one by one, his people began laying their weapons in the snow at their feet until, a couple minutes later, they had all disarmed themselves.  At that point, Paris turned to the visitors, indicating for them to pick up their parcels.  They did.

"Come to where I am," he asked.  This they also did.  Then he turned to his people and asked them to come to him.  They hesitated at first; then they, too, came to him, leaving their weapons in the snow.

Without waiting for a sign from Paris, the visitors handed their parcels to the small contingent that, half an hour earlier, was prepared to kill them as trespassers.  When the parcels were opened and their contents inspected, the contingent motioned for the visitors to follow as they returned to the place where they had left their weapons.  Upon reaching it, they moved aside and, with a gesture so precisely synchronized it appeared choreographed, each member offered his weapon to the visitors.

Paris came up behind the visitors and asked them to take the weapons they were offered.  Each of the visitors bent down to retrieve one of the weapons.  Then, again without a sign, they returned them to their rightful owners.

Paris looked to the ground where the guns had lain, the imprint of each faintly outlined in the snow.

"A new world begins," he declared.

Henry stood on a raised dais only to be clearly visible to his guests, who ranged several hundred feet in every direction.  He was medium height, medium build, with thick reddish brown hair flawed only by a bald spot at the top of his head reminiscent of medieval monks in a monastery.  His eyes were small, green and widely spaced; his mouth was small but with full lips.  He looked more like a farmer or a laborer than a prince or a statesman, except for a powerful gleam in his eyes, which he unselfconsciously wore like a crown.

Beside him on the dais stood a blonde haired boy in his late teens, about the same height, with a bearing far more regal but eyes as gentle as a child's and as subtle as the distant patches of sky encircling frozen clouds.  This boy had been Henry's closest friend and most trusted advisor since his arrival three years earlier.

The first group of visitors quickly gave way to another, carrying the same parcels of food, then a third group, a fourth, and still more, as one after another nomadic community sent a party to represent it before the citizens of the new town.  Each group expressed an interest in joining this new community - as residents, if possible; if not, then some other alignment.  Paris gave the same answer to each.

"We welcome everyone," he told them; "but before anyone else moves here we must give the original residents an opportunity to reclaim their community.  Do any of you know where they've gone?" he would then ask, his question always garnering the same negative reply.  In the weeks and months after his people's arrival, as dozens of groups streamed into the town, first to offer food then to exchange it for stock seed and planting instructions, not one person claimed to be a former resident or even so much as to know of any.  Nor did anyone know the name of the town.  It had stood abandoned as long as anyone could remember; its residents had simply disappeared, as if they had all left at the same time. 

"We had a bad drought," one person remembered.  "That was before all the strange things began happening.  You couldn't grow anything; and, if your town hadn't kept pace with the gross national product, you had no money to buy anything.  A lot of people in Clark County and the surrounding counties just up and left.  Don't really know where they went, but you'd hear stories about better times in other parts of the country - the plains, the mountains out west, California, sometimes the east coast.  People just packed up and left - especially from small towns like this that were dying even before the drought.  You won't find a living soul in Indiana who knows where the people of this town ended up."

"Still, we owe it to them to give them first chance," Paris refused to yield his position.  Instead, he encouraged the groups of visitors to start their own communities in the hundreds of other abandoned towns in the area.

"We're afraid to," they admitted.  "We'd feel safe here, now that your people have started rebuilding the town.  But it's so hard to take the first step."

"We did it," Paris reminded them.

"But they had you," the visitors would counter.  "We have no one like you among us."

In the middle of the night, when Joey got up to check the room downstairs, which he always did, to make sure the fire still burned, he saw Paris sitting beside the planters carefully arranged in front of the fireplace.  He went to the boy and sat beside him, putting his arm around him so Paris could lean against him.

"I can't be in two places at once," Paris mused sadly.  "Maybe I've done wrong in showing people what was needed," he added after a moment's reflection.  "Maybe I shouldn't have become their leader."

"Why do you say that?" Joey asked.

"The others are afraid to start their own communities without me," he said.  "It's only the ideas I give them that matter - not me.  They can take the ideas away and begin using them."

"It isn't just the ideas," Joey explained.  "If it were, all anyone would need would be books.  But there's more to people than just putting ideas to use.  They need the security of someone they trust showing them how, watching to make sure they get it right."

"But when it all works out that'll be their proof," Paris objected.

"It isn't proof they want," Joey told his leader.  "They want acceptance; someone to pronounce judgment on their work.  That's as important to most people as the work itself or even its ultimate success."

"Then I must go to each new community and help the people get started," Paris concluded.

"But as you said," Joey reminded, "you can't be in two places at once.  And this is your home."

"I must make all the communities my home - and somehow find the time to be with each," Paris told his second-in-command.  "You must take my place here when I'm away."

"No," Joey refused flat out.  "To do that is to risk usurping your leadership - and I won't."

"Then I must find someone else to do it," Paris resolved.

"Why?" asked Joey.  "And where will you find this person."

Paris studied the matter at length, staring deep into the fire, following each cinder that flashed, rose then disappeared up the chimney.  Eventually, a smile took hold of his face.  He turned and looked up at Joey.

"He'll find me," the boy said.  "I need not look."

The next time a group of visitors appeared in the town square, Paris advised them of his plan to go among each new community and spend some time there while it was being established.  Each group that visited his town was given the same scenario to take back with it until, in the course of the next few weeks, all the groups in the area had learned of his plan.

"Where will you go first?" Paris was asked again and again, to which he always gave the same reply.

"Wherever the first community is started," he let everyone know.

Then, one day a couple months later, the first group of visitors willing to begin their own community stood before Paris in the town square, declaring their intention.

"There's a town twenty miles due east - on the Ohio River," they told him.  "It's called Bethlehem.  We want to reclaim it as our home."

"I will go with you," Paris told them.  "I'll stay as long as I'm needed."

"But what about your town?  Who will watch after it?" the visitors asked.

"The people who live here," Paris answered.

"But they need someone to guide them, to lead them, to answer their questions - just as we do," they insisted.

Paris shook his head.  "I'm not going with you for those reasons," he said.  "Nor would I stay here for those reasons.  You need someone to show you how to get started - just as they did.  Once I've done that, you no longer need me."

"Will Joey fill in for you?" the visitors then asked.

"No," replied Paris, "he will not."

"Then who?" Paris was asked.

A strange look came over the boy's face, part reflection from the past, part insight into the future.  He turned abruptly from the visitors and hurried through the square, east along 160, toward Front Street, where a group of his people appeared to be struggling with someone.  When he reached the place where his people had congregated, his eyes went at once to Joey, who was holding someone from behind, his left arm wedged beneath the man's chin, his right hand grasping the man's forearm.

"We've taken our first - and last - prisoner!" Joey called to his leader.

Paris studied the scene for a moment, as if a director rehearsing a scene from a play.  Then he called back to Joey.

"Release him."

Joey loosened his grip.  "He won't get away," said Joey.

"He saved our lives," Paris reminded his second-in-command.  "He's not our prisoner."

"Are you forgetting what he tried to do?" Joey asked.  "And that he kidnapped Cade?  We've got to hold him - it may be our only chance to get Cade back!"

"Cade will return when he's ready," Paris countered.  "This man is now his guardian."

"He's right, Joey," agreed Andrea, who, with Carol, had come to see what was going on.  "Whatever prompted him to take my son, it was not the wish to hurt him.  Cade is safe with him."

"But he isn't with him," Carol pointed out.  "Nor was he with him in Mammoth Cave.  That means he's either dead, or able to care for himself, or safe with others.  We can't let him get away."

"He won't get away," Paris assured them all.  "He's needed here - to take my place while I'm away."

Everyone turned to Paris as if he were an alien from another planet.  Nothing was said, nor needed to be; the looks on everyone's faces told what they were thinking.  None of them could have said which was the greater surprise: that Paris should choose Stone Creek to take his place or that he was leaving.

"I am going east, to help set up a community on the Ohio River," Paris told them.  "I must have someone take my place."

"How long will you be gone?" Stone Creek stepped forward to ask.

"I don't know," Paris answered.

"I must first make certain arrangements," Stone Creek told him.

"I can put off till tomorrow, but no longer," said Paris.

"I can return by then," Stone Creek promised.

"You're not afraid we'll follow you?" Carol asked.

"Would you allow it?" Stone Creek, in turn, asked Paris.

The boy shook his head.  "No," he addressed his answer as much to his people as to Stone Creek.

"Why don't you bring Cade with you?" Carol then asked.

"As the boy said," he replied, "Cade will return when he's ready."

The next day, as Paris was preparing to leave with the group of visitors, who had been asked to remain overnight, the figure of Stone Creek appeared in the distance, following the curve that led 160 toward the town.  Paris led the visitors out to meet him.  They merely exchanged glances then kept going, the one to the town of Bethlehem, the other to the town renamed Paris.

Joey had tried to warn Paris the night before not to follow through with his plan to have Stone Creek fill in for him.  "You know he meant to kill us both," he reminded the boy.

Paris looked up at his lieutenant and said, simply, "There is no other way to continue rebuilding the world."

"But he'll try to take over while you're gone," Joey warned.

Paris shook his head.  "He isn't ready," he told Joey.  "I can't see into men's hearts, only the world's soul," he confessed, "so I can't know what's keeping him, but something is.  The time is not right.  Our community is safe from his plans."

"Then if you're not afraid for yourself," Joey asked, "aren't you afraid he may lead your people back into their old ways?  He's a warrior - you saw how easily he fortified our defenses in Kentucky.  It took all your strength to keep them from building barricades here.  Aren't you afraid by the time you return your town might be an armed camp, and everything that's been gained will be lost?"

"Stone Creek is more a diplomat than a soldier," Paris replied.  "He has no more love for warfare than you do.  He won't undo what's been done.  Whatever he's after, he knows it can only be obtained in the kind of world being build here.  The world brought him here when he was needed.  He understands that.  He won't jeopardize his chance."

"Nor will he turn away from his plan," Joey observed.

"His plan isn't evil," Paris replied.  "It's wrong for the new world, but it isn't evil."

Paris was gone three weeks.  When he returned - to a town exactly as he left it - Stone Creek disappeared back into the horizon.  A month passed before another group ventured to establish a community.  They showed up on a Wednesday to ask Paris' help; the next day Stone Creek appeared in the town square, saving Paris the trouble of trying to find him.  The town this group wished to reclaim was called Nabb, on the border of Clark and Scott Counties some ten miles northeast of Henryville, now known as Paris, Indiana.

This time Paris was gone a month and a half.  During that period, Stone Creek made several trips, but was never away for more than a day at a time.  These was a sense of uneasiness each time he left, relief when he returned.  Joey was alarmed at how quickly and how completely the people accepted Stone Creek as their interim leader.  He noted also a subtle shift in their attitude toward Paris, a lessening of enthusiasm the second time he returned.  He prayed it would be a long time before a third group came seeking Paris' help - a prayer whose irony was not lost on him.  He realized that without those new communities Paris could not rebuild the world; yet without Paris' leadership of his own community the rebuilding would yield nothing but a replica of the world that had been destroyed.

Joey's prayer went unanswered.  Barely a week went by till a third group came to Paris, asking him to accompany them to a town called Solon in east central Clark County, less than ten miles from the first community, Bethlehem, and fifteen miles from Paris.  The same day, Stone Creek showed up.

When Paris returned a month later, a fourth group was waiting for him in the town square.  He turned right around and left with them for New Watson in southern Clark County.  Three weeks later, he returned, only to find yet another group on his doorstep, this time from Jefferson County and a town called Paynesville - the farthest he was asked to travel so far, but still within twenty miles.  It wasn't until the twelfth group of visitors that he was asked to go beyond the twenty mile mark - to the town of Cana in southern Jennings County; and not until the twentieth that he ventured past fifty.

Each time a new group arrived, Stone Creek was fast on their heels, occasionally even beating them to the town square.  Joey asked him how he was able to anticipate the movements of so many disparate groups of nomads.

"You're forgetting: my specialty was information gathering," Stone Creek explained.  "Just as Paris has a sixth sense about what the world's going to do, I have a sixth sense about what people are planning.  I understand how word travels from one group to another.  Soon, people will descend on this town from all over the state, then from outside the state, as word of Paris' achievements spreads."

"This can't continue," Joey resolved.  "No one can keep on the go like that.  It'll drain all his energy."

"His energy comes from the earth," Stone Creek observed.  "It's inexhaustible."

Joey shook his head in disagreement.  "Nothing is inexhaustible," he said.  "He has to slow down."

"You think I want him to keep going so he'll be destroyed and I can take over," Stone Creek speculated.  "But nothing could be further from the truth."

"Yet you once tried to kill him so you could take over," Joey reminded him.

"Things aren't always as they seem," Stone Creek replied.  "And never as simple as they appear."

"Nevertheless," countered Joey, "were it not for the earth lurching forward, he and I both would be dead and you would have all the power you wish for."

"As I said: things are not always as they seem," Stone Creek repeated.    

The maddening pace at which Paris moved continued unabated for the next three years, helping establish fifty new communities; and would have gone on indefinitely, as hundreds of groups sought his assistance, had not something happened in March of  2081 which changed the course of human history.  Andrea's son Brad, who turned nine years old three months earlier, first discovered it.  He had gone downstairs to play - and brought a miracle back upstairs with him.

"Mommy," he asked, "can you get my ball?"

"Where is it?" Andrea asked.

"In the basement," Brad told her.

"Behind something?" she asked.

"No," he replied.  "It's in the corner, in a big puddle."

"A puddle?" she wondered if her son knew what the word meant.  "Did you spill water?"

"No, it's just there."

Andrea went downstairs to find one entire corner of the basement flooded half an inch deep.  "There's been no water here," she mused.  "We've been down here a thousand times.  The ground's frozen solid.  There's no place for water to come from.  Unless there's an underground stream that not even Paris knew about.  Let's go see Joey and Carol!" she led her son upstairs and out of the house.

Joey's house sat on higher ground; but, even so, it too had water in the basement, along the front wall, about an eighth of an inch deep.  Several blocks separated his house from Andrea's, and the two were diagonally positioned along an east-northeast by west-southwest axis.

"It's not likely it's an underground stream," Joey concluded.  "Let's find out if any other houses have water."

Joey, Carol, Andrea and Brad went from house to house to ask if there was standing water in the basement.  No one had been in the basement yet that day; everyone who checked reported the same finding.  Every basement in town had inexplicably begun filling with water.  Joey summoned the people for an emergency meeting in the town square.  Stone Creek, working in the Town Hall, saw the people gathering and came outside to learn what was going on.  Joey told him of the extraordinary occurrence.

"Every house has water in the basement?" Stone Creek asked.

"Yes," Joey answered, "all of them."

"What do you make of it?" Stone Creek then asked.

"There must be an underground lake," said Joey.

"Why would it have risen all of a sudden?"

A round of speculation ensued as everyone tried to account for the suddenness as well as the coincidence of the entire town taking on water virtually overnight.  In the midst of one after another supposition hurling about, a boy of eleven ventured unnoticed through the crowd to where Stone Creek stood, in front of Town Hall.  In a calm voice that somehow managed to be heard amidst the noise of the assemblage, he spoke two words which rocked the town, the country, the world to its foundation.

"Winter thaw," were the words Paris gave his people - and, with those words, an end to a way of life that had gone on almost a decade.

A hush came over the crowd, not so much because of what was said but of who said it.  Their leader had spoken; but even more so, the boy who had brought them through a thousand perils to the safety of this town, a boy who seemed to know everything the earth was doing even before the first signs showed.

"How do you know it's not simply the ground beneath us heating up again?" asked Stone Creek, who had brought himself and the boy he kidnapped through those same perils without Paris' insight into the inner workings of the earth but with a lifetime of reading its every nuance.

"Because it isn't," Paris replied.

"Have you known this all along?" Joey asked.

"Yes, but I wanted each of you to see it with your own eyes," Paris explained.  "Then my telling it would mean something."

"Shouldn't you have warned your people?" Stone Creek asked.

"There was nothing to be done until the thaw started," said Paris.  "But there were signs of what was coming.  The crust on top of the snow is softening.  Like every thaw, the snow is melting from above and seeping down through its layers to the ground."

"What happens when it all melts?" Stone Creek persisted.  "Shouldn't you have at least warned us of that?  Every inch of ground will be flooded - not just our basements!"

"The snow will not melt so fast that the earth cannot take the runoff," Paris promised.  "There will be no flood.  Five feet of snow will not turn into a lake deep enough to drown us or destroy our homes.  The earth will return to spring slowly - a couple years will go by before the grass beneath the snow begins to show.  The only thing we have to contend with is the water in our basements - and there's no way to remove it except one bucket at a time."

This time Stone Creek did not disappear when Paris returned.  He remained in town several more days before leaving, still installed in City Hall alongside Paris as a kind of shadow government.  When he finally left, Joey attempted again to warn Paris about him.

"He openly questioned your judgment for the first time," Joey pointed out.

"Everyone is free to question my judgment," Paris replied.

"There's more to it than that," Joey tried to explain.  "He implied you were not acting with your people's best interest in mind - that you were deliberately deceiving them."

"I did what was right," Paris said.  "Truth must work its way from the people to their leader or else it's just another edict.  In letting them discover it for themselves it becomes part of their way of life.  They've seen the earth beginning to thaw; now they'll start preparing for the return to normal."

Joey still harbored a doubt.  "The first seeds have been planted," he warned.  "They've always been ready to abandon your leadership; it's only the absolute proof of your insight each step of our journey that kept them from turning away from you."

"They have the right to whomever they choose for their leader," Paris reminded Joey.

"But it's you they need," said Joey.

"Only as long as they choose to."

For the first time in more than three years no visitors came to elicit Paris' help in setting up a new community.  Weeks and months went by; and, though a constant stream of visitors passed through Paris' town, as one group after another sought either his advice or closer ties with his community, none of them asked him to accompany them to an abandoned town they were reclaiming.

Joey began to wonder if perhaps the process of rebuilding the world had reached its zenith and would extend no farther than southeastern Indiana.  Instead of asking some of the visitors what was happening beyond Paris, Indiana, or even asking Paris to explain the sudden shift from a pattern that had gone on unabated for three years, Joey decided to find out for himself.

"I'm leaving tomorrow to visit the new communities," Joey told Carol as they were getting ready for bed.  Like most of the homes now, theirs had benefited from the nightly fires burning to keep their plants from freezing.  Though their fireplace was downstairs, the warmth arising from it allowed Joey and Carol to wear pajamas to bed instead of coats, hats, gloves and boots.

For a split second, the first time he changed from his street clothes to his pajamas, Joey caught a glimpse of his nearly naked body in a mirror that sat on the dresser.  Its beauty startled him before he realized he was looking at himself; then he felt intensely guilty - first, for his reaction to what he had taken to be another man's body; then, even more so, for his vanity over his own appearance.  His first thought was to remove the mirror from his room; but he decided instead to keep it as a reminder of how human, how truly unworthy of God, he was - and as a challenge to him, an obstacle to overcome for the sake of his soul.  Every night after that, as he readied for bed by the light of his lantern, he took a moment to look at himself, each time hoping to view his reflection through indifferent - or at least modest - eyes; each time failing.

"Why does it bother you that you're so handsome?" Carol asked her husband one night in bed.

"What?" Joey, in turn, asked.

"I've seen you perform the same ritual too many times not to notice the despair in your eyes afterward," Carol answered.  "Someone else - almost anyone else - as attractive as you would be crowing each time he walked past the mirror.  What's wrong with that?"

"Everything we are is a gift from God," Joey explained.  "To be vain is to act as if we created ourselves.  We have no right to appropriate His work as our own."

"But aren't you simply admiring His handiwork when you look at yourself?  Aren't you honoring God?" Carol asked.

"We can see someone else as evidence of God's love for us," Joey admitted.  "But it's impossible to be detached enough from ourselves to truly see ourselves as God's creation.  We can't rise above our own identities.  I can't see my body as anything but me.  I wish I could, but I can't.  Just like anything I might accomplish in life: I can't see it as anything other than my accomplishment, even though I know I was only doing God's bidding."

"Is that why you gave up being our leader?" Carol asked.

"Partly, yes," Joey answered.  "But I also knew it was Paris God chose to lead us, not me."

Carol was surprised by Joey's decision to leave.  It seemed contrary to everything he had said and done since relinquishing leadership.  But even more than that was the timing of his departure.

"You yourself have warned Paris about Stone Creek," she reminded him.  "You've pointed out his vulnerability.  Why would you go now and jeopardize his position?" she asked.

"Now is the only time I can," said Joey.  "I don't think Stone Creek will make a move just yet.  He hasn't planted enough seeds of discontent among Paris' people.  He's not ready yet.  I have to go, Carol - if only in preparation for when I leave here for good.  I can't stay here without jeopardizing Paris' leadership.  The people have to stop seeing him as my protégé."

"You plan to return to California?" Carol asked, though she already knew the answer.

"Yes - to the Sierras," Joey told her.

"As badly as Spears treated you, you loved him more than anyone else, didn't you?" Carol asked.

Joey thought for a moment.  "It was beyond love," he said.  "I once implied that he wished me dead and he slapped me so hard I think it broke my jaw, only I never told him that.  He had never struck me, not before or since.  I carried the pain for months as a testament to how much I meant to him.  And when the tornado carried him off, I looked up and saw him, there in the cloud.  He tried to wave at me but the wind tore him arm off, but he still kept looking down at me, smiling - dear God, I had never seen him really smile before.  All that mattered to him was that the wind spared me and took him instead.  No greater love...than that he lay down his life for another."

"I want to come with you tomorrow," Carol said when they were both nearly asleep.

"Why?" asked Joey.

"I have my reasons," she answered.

Carol and Joey set out early the next morning, telling only Paris where they were going and why.  Joey wanted the others to hear it from their leader.  He knew that a general announcement of his departure would elevate him once again to a rival position - and he had spent too much time and effort effecting a low key to risk it all for the sake of something little more than social etiquette.  By the time the others had risen and began their day, he and Carol were almost to Memphis, a small town five miles due south along US Route 31.  This town had only recently been reclaimed, and was a good stopover on the way to Charlestown, some seven miles to the southeast, the largest town in Clark County to have been reclaimed.  The largest towns, by far, were Jeffersonville and Clarksville, just to the north of Louisville across the Ohio.  But no one had established a community there precisely because of their proximity to Louisville, which bore the double curse of being not only a large city but located in Kentucky as well.

The settlers of Memphis immediately recognized the two travelers and welcomed them to their community.  When Joey explained the purpose of their visit, he was asked if they planned to visit Speed and Sellersburg, both due south of Memphis along US 31 and about the same distance as Charlestown.

"No," he told the settlers, "we're just visiting the towns that have been re-settled."

"They have been - both of them!" he was assured.

Both he and Carol looked puzzled.  "I thought I was keeping good track of the towns Paris was asked to help re-build," he explained.  "I guess I missed a few."

The settler who had mentioned Speed and Sellersburg laughed good naturedly and, in a voice beaming with pride, informed Joey that the towns had been reclaimed with Paris' help."

"Not his direct help, anyway," the settler hastened to add.  "You see, once he showed us what we needed to do, he made us promise to show others, so that more towns could be settled.  We kind of intercepted some folks on their way to Paris who had their eye on the two towns I named; and convinced them to let us help them establish communities there.  Some of our townspeople even decided to move there; and others, who'd been watching us from a distance, finally got up enough nerve to come talk to us - and ended up moving in where our people moved out.  From what I hear, that's been going on all over the state - even into Ohio and Michigan, at least what's left of Michigan after the flood.  Paris got the ball rolling, now its up to us to keep it rolling!"

"So it continues - just like he envisioned," Joey mused.  "I should have known better than to doubt him."

They stayed a day longer than they intended.  Though they were on no schedule, neither Carol nor Joey wanted to remain in any one town longer than twenty-four hours; but the settlers of Memphis were so enthusiastic about their community, so eager to show it off, that they agreed to stay until they had seen everything.  When they left, they headed directly for the two towns established without Paris' help.  They found exactly what they expected to find: thriving communities as vigorous and efficient as the community they were patterned after; and something they had not expected to find: a regard for Paris as awesome and genuine as that of the people he had personally helped to establish their community.

The people of Speed and Sellersburg spoke of Paris as if he had been there the whole time, watching and advising as they went about the business of turning these abandoned towns into their homes.  When Carol asked why they spoke so glowingly of a boy they had never seen, they simply gestured to their town.

"If he hadn't shown our friends what to do, they couldn't have shown us - and we'd still be living in tents and caves and scavenging for food," Carol was told.  "Without him, none of this would have been possible."

They found the same response wherever they went, whether Paris had been there or not.  Every resident of every town reclaimed from the ruins of the old world looked upon him as the architect of their community - even as far away as Fort Recovery in Mercer County, Ohio, just across the Indiana line from Jay County, the farthest they traveled in the six months they were away.

"There's half a dozen more towns close by that have been settled," one of the residents of Fort Recovery told Joey; "and dozens more that are already spoken for.  And all of it because one little boy had the vision to lead the rest of us out of hiding and back into the world."

Joey and Carol visited close to a hundred towns.  They were welcomed in each; offered food, lodging or anything else they needed; and given a tour of the town.  In every town, the central focus was the system of growing food Paris had first taught his own people; but many of the communities appeared to have no access to a source of wood - which was the fuel driving the whole system.  Joey asked how they managed to keep the fires burning at night to keep the plants from freezing.  The answer was always the same: they got wood wherever they could find it, even if that meant dismantling any buildings without a fireplace.  And they shared the continual search for wood with nearby communities.

"It's a return to sanity," Joey was told in one or another variation in nearly every community.  "Instead of every group competing for what little there was, we all work together so that all of us have the resources to grow our own food."

"In a way it's scary," one of the settlers confided.  "Everyone working together for a common goal: it's like the Tower of Babel.  And I keep wondering if something's going to happen to split us all up again.  As good as it feels everyone helping each other, somehow it doesn't feel right, like it's just plain not supposed to be that way."

Later that night - one of the rare nights when they did not stay overnight in the town they visited that day - Carol commented to Joey on the settler's observation.

"There's something to what he said," she agreed with the sentiment expressed.  "It somehow doesn't feel right for so many people to live in perfect accord.  I know it's everyone's ideal - and for most of our history it has been; but something's always come along to keep it just beyond our reach.  I can't help thinking that God doesn't really want us to be at peace.  Maybe He's afraid we'll build another Tower of Babel - and this time succeed in reaching Him."

"It isn't that God does or doesn't want us to be at peace," Joey offered his own interpretation of human history.  "He wants us to want to be at peace.  If we fail, it isn't because He places too many obstacles in our path; it's because we don't want it badly enough to overcome the obstacles.  As you said, it's a human ideal - and ideals are not considered paramount in our scheme of things.  But this time the ideal will become reality."

"But it won't stay," Carol predicted.  "Reality - at least human reality - is more like this tent than our house back there.  Reality picks up and moves to the next stopover, then moves again, always on the move.  It isn't solid enough to hold an ideal for any length of time.  That's why this feels more like home to me than anyplace I've ever lived.  It feels so much more natural being a nomad.  I've never felt so secure as when we left the caves in Kansas and Nebraska and came east.  Every night in a tent in a new location.  I hated it when you found the cave on Mount Guyot.  I came so close to slipping away from the rest of you and moving on."

"When you lose loved ones, you lose your roots," Joey observed.

"No, it's more than that," Carol explained.  "Even before anything happened, before I lost my son, then my husband, then our way of life, then my other son, then our son - before any of it, when everything seemed perfect - I felt I was living in a strange place I could never acclimate myself to or fully understand its ways.  My husband's mansion in St. Louis always felt as if it would crumble around me - the same way the house I grew up in felt.  I've always lived in a happy home, full of the emotional and physical things people are supposed to need.  But I never felt at home till my first night in a tent, knowing that, come morning, it would be taken down and carried away till I found another place to set it up."

"Is that why you wanted to come with me to see these communities?" Joey asked.

"Only partly," Carol answered.

"Then why?  Because we're husband and wife?"

"Partly that, too," Carol acknowledged.  "But mostly to see what's out here for the day when I leave."

Joey took a moment to let Carol's words sink in; but even then they seemed too incredible to believe.  In the dim light within their tent Carol could see the confusion settling over Joey's face.

"Why should it surprise you that I plan to leave some day?" she asked.  "Haven't you said you would return to California?"

"Yes," Joey acknowledged; "but it isn't because I want to leave - it's because I must."

"And so, too, must I," said Carol.

"Will you go with me to California?" Joey asked.

"I don't know where I'll go," Carol admitted.  "But when the time comes I'll know."

It only occurred to Joey and Carol deep into the night, when something stirring outside their tent awoke them both, that they were alone in the middle of an  unfamiliar wilderness.  During all their wanderings, eastward from Kansas and northward from Tennessee, they had been part of a larger group, whose tents were always cordoned for maximum security.  Though they feared none of the settlers they had encountered, they had no way of knowing who or what still remained hidden away from the growing community of settlements.

Neither of them moved or spoke - more out of curiosity than fear.  They both had the same vague sense of recognition, but neither was able to identify the particular quality of the movement outside.  It was too silent for a person, yet too distinct for a rabbit or some other small animal - besides which, no animals had been seen or heard in the region by anyone in the four years since Paris and his people started the first community.

Then all at once Joey leaped from his sleeping bag and grabbed his lantern as he unfurled the flap and burst from the tent.  In the light of a half moon he saw it run off.

"Come back!" he called to it as it disappeared into a small stand of trees.  He stood watching the silent trees a moment then returned to his tent.  Had it not been for Carol he would have taken off after it.

"What was it?" Carol asked her husband - and in the instant of formulating her question the same spark of recognition that had driven Joey from the tent made her cry out.  "It was him, wasn't it?" she demanded to know.  "He took our son now he's come for us!  It was him, wasn't it?"  Joey nodded.

"Oh my God," Carol muttered. "Oh my God."

"He must have followed us from Mount Guyot," Joey speculated.  "Or somehow picked up our scent.  But he's shown himself before when all of us were camped out - he's not afraid.  Yet he waited till it was just the two of us alone, as if he knows it was our son he took."

"We have to go after him, when it gets light," Carol decided, "or else let him come after us again when we're alone.  We have to kill him, for what he did."

"No," Joey objected.  "I think I would have killed him had I seen him the night he took Sandy.  But if I killed him now it would be in cold blood - and it's wrong to kill any of God's creatures in cold blood."

"But not wrong for God's creature to kill our son?" Carol asked.

"God had His reasons for allowing it," was all Joey could answer.

Andrea had never dreamed of her husband a single time since his death nine years ago.  Yet she had dreamed of his killer many times.  It neither surprised nor troubled her that this should be the case: she had known Brad so well in life that his image in a dream was too pale a reflection to register in her memory.  But Kirk had no such reality for her in life; he never moved beyond the periphery of her world; he never became part of her life; she never found the essence of him.  Now, perhaps because her lost son carried his features, she sought to understand him, to experience him, to locate his soul.  But she could never catch him alone in her dreams; he was always surrounded by his people.  Then, on the night Carol and Joey were tracked by the mountain lion, she finally encountered Kirk by himself.

He was standing in front of the oak tree at the summit of Clingman's Dome, staring down at a bloodied knife in his outstretched hand.  When she approached him, he reached out to give her the knife.

"I did this for you," he told her as she took the knife.  "So I would never take you from him.  As long as he lived, I would be waiting for the day when he was no longer the center of your world.  But I couldn't bear the thought of watching you slip away from him, watching him slowly cease to exist.  I would give my life to experience for just one moment the fire in his soul.  But I would take his life before letting that fire go out.  I know you could never love me as you do him.  But it isn't your love I want.  There's a thing of evil inside me that keeps pushing toward Brad's destruction.  Only in killing him could I defeat it.  The evil is gone from me.  His blood freed me from it.  He gave his life for me.  I will watch over him for all eternity."

When he finished speaking, Kirk reached out to the lifeless body lying beneath the tree; and it arose, to stand beside him.  For the first time, Brad entered Andrea's dream world.  He and Kirk stood looking at her.  The thought in her mind, echoed through the words on their tongues, was not "You must choose" but, instead, "You cannot choose."  She nodded in acceptance of their ultimatum.  She knew that to choose either was to destroy both.

"I would kill Kirk if he ever tried to take you," Brad had told her in their tent at Cade's Cove the night her twins were conceived.  "Yet a part of me wishes he could...go inside you.  Then he'd feel what I feel, and we could never be enemies again."

He held onto her and leaned his head against her.  "I'm so tired of opposing him at every turn," he confessed.  "I'd give anything just to be free to obey him.  But it won't let me, this thing inside me.  I don't know what it is or where I got it, but it feels wrong, whatever it is.  And it drives me to always, always, oppose him; to always see things the opposite of the way he sees them.  But I want him to want you.  It's our bond.  I know mother says he's father's son, but I know he isn't.  Even if he were, that isn't a strong enough bond between us - only his wanting you the way I do is strong enough to break the chains holding us apart."

Andrea was not the kind of person who shares her dreams with others; yet she wished she had someone to share this dream with, but not just anyone.  Of all the people on earth - of all the people who had ever been on earth - there was only one person she wanted to share this with; and it amazed her - not that he should be the one, but that it seemed so perfectly natural.

The following morning she went to visit Paris, who, with Felicia, was staying with another couple while Joey and Carol were away.  She knew that he would already be up and, most likely, already be at City Hall, so she went directly there.  She knocked then entered, making her way to Paris' workstation in the town's courtroom.  He sat at the defendant's table, facing the judge's bench - where he always sat.

"Why do you choose that spot?" Andrea asked.

Paris looked up from his work.  "It's where I belong," he answered.

An image spread for a second before Andrea before dissipating.  She saw Kirk standing across from Paris' workstation.  She turned back to Paris.

"Are you on trial?" she asked, half teasingly.

"Not now," the boy looked up to reply.

"Paris, let me ask you something," Andrea proceeded with her reason for coming here.  "Will you be going to help set up another community?"

Paris nodded.  "No," he replied.  "They know how to do it without me now."

"You're never leaving again?" she asked.

"Not for that, no; and not for a long time," Paris told her.

"Then Stone Creek will never again just show up, out of nowhere?"

"Not the way he did each time I left," said Paris.  "But he'll be back, when it's time for your son to return."

"Is there no way you can get in touch with him?" Andrea asked, growing suddenly annoyed with Paris' detachment to what went on around him.

"I've never contacted him," Paris explained.  "It's always been him who came to me."

"You have no idea where he is?"

"No one does," said Paris.  "Your son is safe with him," he assured Andrea.

"I know he is," Andrea acknowledged.  "I miss him though - and so does Brad, even though he says he doesn't.  He's very self-disciplined, and very even tempered - the exact opposite of his father.  I guess he takes after me."

"Or his grandfather," Paris observed.

Andrea hadn't thought of her father since the night she stayed at the inn at Middlesboro.  She smiled down at Paris for bringing him to her awareness.  It made her forget her annoyance at not being able to locate Stone Creek.

"Or his grandfather," she repeated.

It was only much later that she realized Paris could not possibly have known or even seen her father.  What made it even stranger was the boy's own admission that, while he understood the earth so perfectly, he had little or no insight into human nature.  Yet he compared Brad to a man of whom he had neither knowledge nor intuition.   She made a mental note to ask him about it.

Before returning home, Joey and Carol decided to re-visit a couple of the towns they visited at the beginning of their journey.  First they stopped at Sellersburg and Speed, having followed the Ohio River southwestward along the Indiana Kentucky border from Lawrenceburg, almost at the point where Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky touch, to a town called Utica, perilously close to Louisville and the two Indiana towns on its outskirts.  They were within five miles of the northeastern corner of Louisville, directly across the river from Jeffersonville.  They could see fires burning beyond River Road and smoke rising from the downtown district.  On a sudden impulse, Joey decided to go to the outskirts of Jeffersonville.

He asked Carol to remain in Utica but she insisted on accompanying him as he proceeded along Utica Pike as far as Port Road at the easternmost boundary of Jeffersonville.  There was no sign of life as far into the town as either of them could see; but the fires and smoke of Louisville loomed ominously before them.

"Why did you come here?" Carol asked.

"Something made me want to," Joey answered.  "Maybe just to see for myself if anyone was here."

They both took one last look before turning to leave.  Joey had already taken a couple steps when Carol stopped him.

"What is it?" he asked.

"I'm not sure," she said.  "I thought I saw something move from behind that building," she pointed to an intersection just to the south of where they stood.

"I don't see anything," said Joey, who turned again to leave. But as he turned he caught something out of the corner of one eye - a figure emerging from within the building Carol had pointed to a moment earlier.  A figure now coming toward them, moving through a series of shadows cast by the morning sun, which shone behind Joey and Carol.

"I wondered when you'd show," a familiar voice addressed them.

"Is this your hideout?" Joey asked.

Stone Creek smiled sardonically.  "How quickly one slips back into the old ways," he observed.  "It wasn't so long ago that you yourself kept out of sight.  Now you're back to calling anyplace secret a hideout.  But no, this is not my hideout.  I just happen to be in the area.  When I saw you down the road I knew you wouldn't be able to resist the temptation to enter forbidden territory - the Sodom and Gomorrah of southeastern Indiana: Clarksville and Jeffersonville.  You're far more of a rebel than even you suspect.  But, as you see, there is nothing to fear.  There's no one here, nor has there been since it was abandoned ten years ago.  Still, it'll remain empty; your leader will never allow his people to re-settle a town so close to a city - the capital city of the badlands to boot!  You could be persuaded, but not Paris.  He's a visionary, yes - but not a rebel.  People often confuse the two, which may yet prove his downfall."

"With your help," Carol noted.

"Visionaries need no help to destroy themselves," Stone Creek countered.

"You're saying he'll be destroyed?" Joey asked.

"I'm saying that people only need a visionary, and will only tolerate one, for so long.  Eventually he'll have to choose between inspiring his people and ruling them."

"People may not be so eager to be ruled as you think," said Joey.

"You're quite right, they're not," Stone Creek agreed.  "They would never seek it or accept it.  It's something that simply evolves, so subtlely that no one sees it coming and almost everyone fails to recognize it until it's too late.  And by 'too late' I don't mean the emergence of a police state to terrorize the people into submission but the evolution of a comfortable way of life that comes to feel normal.  Freedom is rarely lost by force; the enslavement doesn't seem compelling enough to disturb their tranquility.  It's very difficult to rule a poor populace for very long, because it takes so much effort to keep them down; but an affluent populace polices itself - it's in their interest to do so."

"You're speaking of the old ways, in the old world," Joey pointed out.  "The ways are as different now as the world itself is."

"Don't be fooled by appearances," Stone Creek warned.  Then he exclaimed "God how I miss Kirkus!  I'd give almost anything if he could be alive to see the world now!  He'd understand, just as I do, that, as they used to say, 'everything old is new again.'"

"Is that why you were his informer?" Joey asked.

"You have it backwards," Stone Creek corrected Joey.  "He was my informer.  He just didn't know it.  Not entirely.  You see, my one and only loyalty was to the T-Men.  But I knew their only chance of surviving was as pawns in the Professor's grand scheme.  I knew also - which he didn't - that they would be here when his forces were long gone."

"You wanted them to survive so you could rule them," Joey observed.

"It doesn't matter what role I saw for myself.  It only matters that I kept them from being swallowed up by the madness that preceded the end of the 'old ways,' as you put it.  That which I believed in still lives while everything else is gone.  At the risk of sounding smug, not many men throughout history can boast as much."

"Then your taking Cade was part of your plan to rule Paris' people - and not just a bargaining chip to get back into the fold!" Carol interjected into the conversation.

Stone Creek neither confirmed nor denied her statement.  He simply said "I must go now.  We'll meet again soon.  In the meantime, reconsider these towns.  Their strategic importance is beyond measure.  Just remember: when the ice melts and the river flows again, the boundary between good and evil will be reduced to a smudge on the map.  The old ways are alive and well, my friends.  Trust me on that."

Stone Creek turned and made his way back through the same shadows that had marked his path to Joey and Carol, then disappeared into the same building he had emerged from earlier.  For several minutes Joey and Carol stood watching the building, as if they expected a band of outlaws to come storming out; then they, too, turned and retreated back along Utica Pike, eventually making their way to Sellersburg and Speed then Memphis for a re-visit before returning to Paris.

The people of Memphis were as warm in welcoming the travelers as they had been six months earlier, and as enthusiastic in their praises of the boy whose vision had made their new way of life possible.  Amidst the euphoria, however, Joey thought he detected the slightest shift in the settlers' attitude - a change so subtle he at first thought he was mis-reading it or else had simply failed to notice it the first time.  But, by the time he and Carol left Memphis, he was absolutely certain of his impression.

The town's basements, just like those of Paris, had started filling with water.  Everyone Joey talked to expressed a certain dismay over not having been forewarned of the approaching thaw.  No one came out and actually criticized Paris for keeping it to himself, which they all seemed certain he had done; and everyone freely acknowledged that there was nothing they could, or even would, have done had they been told; yet in everyone's acceptance of Paris' apparent decision to let the people discover it for themselves was the faintest undercurrent of resentment, drawn closest to the surface in such phrases as "Of course he could have let us know" or "Not that it means he doesn't trust us," or "I'm sure he had our best interest at heart."

Joey tried, without appearing to even notice the subtle expressions of disenchantment, to determine how they came to be so certain about Paris' deliberate withholding of knowledge from them - always with the same pat, and somewhat guarded, response.  "Word" had spread.

"Ah," Joey would, in turn, reply.  "I must have mentioned it when I was first here.  Hope I didn't give the wrong impression."

Almost to a man, the settlers leaped at Joey having been the bearer of that particular tale.  And, almost to a man, they assured him they had not read anything into to what he had told them.  When they parted, Joey and Carol both assured the settlers they would return again before long.

Almost the moment they were out of ear shot, Joey turned to Carol and said "It's already started."

Across the river a child watched the land of Indiana grow closer each day.  Not that the Ohio narrowed its banks to lessen the topography separating him from his brother; but that the time he must wait before being reunited slowly compacted, as if each grain of melting snow chipped away another second from the future.  The piece of ground he planted his feet on as he watched the river meander past the border between his life and the life he might have had had nearly blown away a century ago, when a monstrous tornado ripped through the town in north central Meade County where Stone Creek had brought him five years ago.

Brandenburg, Kentucky had been Cade's home since his fifth birthday.  He was its only full time resident, though he had never been left alone a single moment.  Stone Creek had assembled a small cadre of his most trusted allies to rotate their stay with the boy whenever he was away.

Cade never once questioned being left with strangers; he adapted to whatever came his way - a trait Stone Creek at first took for weakness and tried to change.  But as he came to know the boy better and began to understand that it was something so powerfully embedded in Cade's personality that nothing on earth could ever change it and that it endowed the boy with a self-sufficiency far greater than that of his more aggressive brother, he no longer despaired at having taken the wrong twin.  Even if his plan needed Brad for its ultimate realization, it was Cade who would set it in motion.  He realized, too, in retrospect, that Cade's adaptability had aided his flight from Mount Guyot whereas Brad's resistance would have hampered him, perhaps even destroyed the both of them.

The night he took Cade, just outside Newport, and managed to outmaneuver both Joey and the wall of flame by the simple act of going in the front door of a house and coming out the back, he realized how valuable an ally Cade's self-control would be, even if he was not yet ready to see its enormous value to his plan.  He passed through the house and beyond the flame's northern boundary just as the house, along with all the houses left standing in Newport, exploded.  His and Cade's outer garments were singed by the searing burst of fire, but the boy neither went limp in his arms nor struggled to get free.  When the wall of fire moved on, toward the forest where Joey had led his people, the only thing Cade asked was when they would see Sandy - a single-mindedness of purpose, in the face of so great a danger, that sent a chill down Stone Creek's spine. 

"Brad said the big cat ate Sandy," every once in a while Cade would reprise out loud, more to himself than to his captor, "but I know it didn't."

"How do you know that?" Stone Creek occasionally asked.

"Because I heard it call him," Cade would answer.  "It wasn't a mean call, or a trick call so it could eat Sandy.  It just wanted to play."

As long as Stone Creek held out the hope of seeing Sandy, Cade was willing to accept the temporary loss of his mother and brother, passively following this man who promised to take him to Sandy, through one peril after another, offering neither resistance nor complaint.  Huddled in Stone Creek's arms as the two of them straddled a sliver of rock that a moment earlier had been the top of a mountain gently eroded by time to a soft, blunt mound, Cade looked down at the floor of the valley dropping into a five thousand feet chasm and, instead of crying out, asked if Sandy could climb high enough to reach them. 

His childish question, instead of distracting Stone Creek, hung before him like a guy wire marking his path along the spine of this reconfigured peak to its northernmost boundary, where, after a moment's pause, they disappeared as if they had fallen into the abyss.

A sound made Stone Creek turn before descending to the valley floor - the sound of another mountain giving birth to another ziggurat.  He saw his pursuers reeling as he had reeled to regain his balance; saw the sides of their mountain crumble and fall; saw them hurled to the ground; saw a handful of them thrown from the mountain into the chasm below.  He turned away and had Cade climb onto his shoulders and hold tightly to his neck; then he started climbing down the face of the mountain until he reached a ledge a third of the way to the valley floor.  Once he established a foothold, he turned to see what the ledge was.  Stretched before him was another footpath, almost as slender as the summit of the mountain, leading to the next mountain, which had been spared the fate of the one he had just descended.  This footpath was all that remained of the original valley.  He hurried along it to the next mountain, and the next, and the next, climbing each - the ones unscathed as well as the ones whose summits had been chiseled to a rocky point, until he had crossed the highest and northernmost of the Bald Mountains, Big Butte, whose 4838 foot elevation had become, in a single afternoon, almost 10,000 feet, but whose summit retained a greater portion of its girth.

From the top of Big Butte he looked back toward the southwest before descending.  The entire valley spread before him, impenetrable in its depth in the twilight, though the last shafts of the sun highlighted the peaks of this solitary segment of the Appalachians in southeastern Greene County, marking each as if a spotlight on a performer taking a bow.  Allen's Gap, halfway back to where he left his pursuers, had neither risen nor been sheared in half and now stood dwarfed by its once smaller sisters.  Farther back was the peak his pursuers had clung to as it tried to shake free of them; there was no sign of anyone.

"They've gone another way," Stone Creek mused.

"To look for Sandy?" Cade put forth the axiom circumscribing every human action in yet another form.

"No," Stone Creek replied.  "They know he's where we're going and they've turned their backs on him."

"Then I don't miss them anymore," Cade resolved.

Slowly, as the sunlight slipped farther down the face of Big Butte, Stone Creek and Cade climbed toward the floor of the valley, which could not even be seen from above but which the waning light almost exposed for an instant before fading away entirely.  It was dark when they reached bottom, Stone Creek testing each step with his foot before taking the next, a series of carefully executed steps finally convincing him they could go no lower.  He set Cade down then took out the lantern he carried in his backpack and lit it, exposing an eerie twisted landscape that looked like the aftermath of a volcanic eruption.  He and the boy rested a while before continuing on, lantern in hand, the rest of the way through Greene and into Washington County, continuing on another twenty miles to Johnson City, after Knoxville the largest city in eastern Tennessee; but a city whose size, in the pitch dark of a moonless night, one had to already know.  There was no light anywhere in Johnson City, no sign of life, and only the faintest indication on the southwestern outskirts, where Stone Creek entered, of a city at all.

He had come to Johnson City along State Road 67.  Though it was buried in eight feet of snow packed as tightly as concrete, once Stone Creek got his bearings he followed the path of 67 as surely as if a signpost marked every foot of it from Route 81, some eight miles to the southwest, where it began, to US 321, which roughly paralleled the Cinchfield Railroad to bisect the city east to west just as Interstate 181 bisected it north to south - except that the path 181 cut through Johnson City no longer existed.  Neither did the center of the city.

A gap half a mile wide cut through Johnson City from Hillmont Heights in the south to Hillrise in the north, and beyond.  The clouds that accompanied the shearing of Bald Mountains - the black cloud of soot and cinders to the east of the mountains, the white cloud of dust and debris to the west - and the forces generating them had joined beyond Big Butte to cut a swath along the boundary of Washington and Unicoi Counties almost to their junction with Carter County then swerve from their northeast to a northwesterly direction, sparing the Holston and Iron Mountains in extreme northeastern Tennessee but ripping through Johnson City then continuing another fifteen miles to Kingsport before dissipating a few feet shy of the Virginia border.

In the dark, with only a lantern to guide him, Stone Creek saw nothing of the path of destruction that lay ahead of him.  He noticed only that the snow grew softer, therefore more difficult to walk through, the nearer he got to Johnson City; and that it seemed dirtier than any he had seen since the first flakes began falling ten years ago.  He decided to stop for the night at Forest Hills, one of the suburbs along 67.  He could smell burning wood from somewhere, but there was no sign of fire, no cinders, no falling ash - nothing to suggest that the scent in the air or the soot on the snow was of recent origin.  So he pitched his tent and bedded himself and his hostage down for the night beside a concrete building - a long abandoned gas station - just in case some of the wooden structures in the area flared up from something smoldering in their foundations.  Before going to sleep, Cade asked if Sandy lived in this place.

"No," Stone Creek told him, "he doesn't live here.  But some friends who'll help us find him do.  Tomorrow we'll go look for them."

This seemed to satisfy Cade.  He nodded a couple times in agreement them fell asleep.  Stone Creek bent over and kissed him on the forehead then law down in his sleeping bag and likewise fell asleep.

The morning light brought an unearthly landscape to life just to the east of 67.  Stepping from his tent, Stone Creek could see nothing of it, the distance between Forest Hills, where he was, and Hillmont Heights, where the clouds had passed, was too great to open the landscape to him.  He packed his gear, got Cade ready and set out again, continuing along 67 toward its junction with US 321, a few miles ahead.

By the time he reached 321 and started moving toward its intersection with US Route 19, he began noticing the unusual lay of the land.  There was a stretch of trail nearly pitch black coming closer as the space between 321 and 19 gradually narrowed; at first he took it for a shadow, but as the sun rose higher it remained constant while everything around it slowly shifted eastward.  When he reached Roan Hill and the distance separating him from it had nearly compacted to a right angle, he finally realized what it was, why it was crouched like a shadow, and why he had smelled burning wood the night before.

Still carrying Cade, he left his path to go toward the shadow.  A few minutes later he was standing at the edge of an embankment, looking down a narrow shaft no wider than a foot.  Beyond it were the charred remnants of trees and buildings twisted into an eerie display leaning westward toward the shaft, as if waiting to disintegrate so as to fall into the shaft piecemeal.  Portions of the roadway had been upended and stuck through the blackened snow like arms reaching for help.

This shadow extended half a mile eastward, to Milligan Highway and the suburb of Melrose, and as far northward as the eye could see.  Stone Creek let his sight map a path along the embankment, then began following the path's slight curve to the northwest toward the heart of Johnson City.

"Do your friends live down there?" Cade asked, pointing to the narrow shaft which paralleled their path.

"They may now," Stone Creek answered ominously.

When he reached the place where he expected to find the remnants of an old militia, long disbanded, its remaining members having staked out a twenty block area where Brush Creek flowed beneath Interstate 181 and, from that stronghold, driven all other stragglers from the city, he found no sign of them.  He knew they would never have willingly left the territory they laid claim to; and that no one else in the area had the might to drive them out - yet they were nowhere to be found.

Concluding they had evacuated when the earth itself invaded their territory, Stone Creek decided to move on, to Kingsport, fifteen miles farther north, where he knew of another armed camp allied with the T-Men at the time civilization began collapsing twenty-two years ago.  He kept close to the shadow of destruction, partly because it was headed the same way he was, but partly out of an almost hypnotic fascination with the constantly changing kaleidoscope of charred buildings and vegetation.

When he reached Hillrise, the shadow he was following narrowed almost to a few feet before widening again half a mile beyond.  At the point just before the shadow resumed its half mile wide path were a number of buildings blown apart but barely scorched.  Yet the debris surrounding them was a mass of smoldering cinders still giving off smoke, as if the clouds that wreaked such havoc had risen above these few buildings long enough to incinerate whatever flew from them when they exploded.  Cade began tugging at Stone Creek's collar to get his attention.  Then he pointed to a small pile half concealed in embers.

"See!" he said excitedly.  "I told Brad the big cat don't eat the bones!"

Stone Creek followed the line of Cade's finger until finally seeing what the boy saw.  He put Cade down and went over to inspect the pile.  He kicked at the embers until uncovering what lay beneath, then reached down to remove an object from the pile.  It was a human skull; he held it a moment by the eye sockets before setting it back down, to pick up a leg bone, which he used to poke through several other piles of debris scattered about the buildings.  Most of these piles also yielded bones.

"Did they try to outrun it?" he wondered aloud.  "Or maybe they moved their camp.  No, they wouldn't have moved.  They must have tried to outrun it and only got to here.  Or else got here and thought they were safe.  My God, this couldn't have happened more than a day ago!"

When he returned to Cade, the boy asked him if the big cat had eaten them.  "No," he replied, "the earth ate them."

"And spit out the bones," Cade conjectured.

"Kind of," Stone Creek agreed.

"Paris would have warned them if he'd been here," Cade observed.

"You like Paris?" the boy was asked.

"Mommy said he'll be a great leader some day."

"Perhaps I can persuade her otherwise," Stone Creek mused.

"You hate Paris?" Cade asked.

"No," Stone Creek answered.  "But he's not one of us, and that makes him an outsider."

"He knows how to grow food," Cade reminded his captor, as if that knowledge made up for his being an outsider.

"Yes - and now we all do," Cade was told.  "We no longer need him."    

Stone Creek collected his gear and, taking Cade by the hand so the boy could walk awhile, set out for Kingsport, where the next defunct militia was holed up.  He followed US Route 23's north-northwest course through Washington County into the northwestern part of Sullivan County, his path paralleling the path of destruction that had reduced his friends at Johnson City to their purest physical essence.  By the time he reached Kingsport, at mid-afternoon, and neared 23's intersection with US 11, just a couple blocks from the militia's stronghold on Union Street, he knew he would again be sifting through piles of debris in search of bones.  This time he didn't need Cade to point them out: they weren't covered in embers; they lay out in the open, between rows of burned out buildings, dozens of charred bones heaped across the blackened aftermath of the clouds' passage.  Even Cade realized this was not the work of the big cat.

"The earth ate them," the boy concluded.  "I don't like the earth," he said.  "Will it eat me?" he asked.

"No," replied Stone Creek.  "The earth only eats those who get in its way."

The two travelers rested a short while, at the end of Union Street, beside what used to be a small stream running through Kingsport till the clouds boiled it away.  Cade asked where they were going now.  Due north, to Virginia, he was told.

"Do you have friends there?" the boy asked.

"I have friends in all fifty states," Stone Creek answered.  "But only a handful I know I can count on.  That's why we'll just be passing through Virginia, until we can get to Kentucky.  Even before the snow, the floods, the earthquakes, Kentucky was unique.  There were too many groups for any one to dominate the whole territory.  There were hundreds of gangs, like the outlaws that roamed the Old West and robbed banks and stagecoaches, not like the gangs that took over the cities and tried to become model citizens and city fathers.  Real gangs - hundreds of gangs!  And hundreds of miles of caves to hide out in.  I would have made Kentucky my home if it hadn't already been.  Unlike my brother, who saw the gangs as obstacles to his ambitions.  A great man needs no one to help him - only his vision - and his faith in God: that's what my brother believed.  So he left Kentucky.  And realized his ambitions.  And got himself blown to bits for his effort."

"Will Brad get blown to bits?" Cade asked.

An ironic grin played at Stone Creek's mouth as he looked down on his little traveling companion.  "Only if a ghost steals his name back," he replied cryptically.

"I saw a ghost once," said Cade, "but mommy said it was only a dream.  She said it was her daddy, who fell out of a plane; and I only saw him because she told me a story about him.  So I dreamed it.  But I think it was a ghost.  He told me my grandpa was coming for me.  But mommy said the ghost was my grandpa."

Stone Creek paled at the boy's anecdote, but said nothing.  Cade asked him if he was afraid of ghosts.

"Not of ghosts," he said, "but of little boys who see things they shouldn't."

Cade considered this a moment before concluding that he was referring to Brad.

Stone Creek passed quickly through the southwestern tip of Virginia, cutting a diagonal from Gate City in Scott County, just across the border from Tennessee, to St. Charles in Lee County, at the Kentucky border, entering Kentucky just south of Kitts Knob, a mountain in Harlan County 3368 feet high -  a mountain, like every other mountain in Kentucky, that had kept its height and girth intact while those of Tennessee were being re-shaped from deep within the Appalachians.

From Kitts Knob, and nearby Kenvir, just north of the mountain, it was almost thirty miles to Middlesboro.  Although Stone Creek knew Joey and his people were headed for Indiana, he suspected they would try to get out of Tennessee as quickly as possible, which meant going through the Cumberland Gap - which, in turn, almost certainly meant a stopover in Middlesboro.  It was worth going out of his way, since he expected Andrea to visit the inn where she and her family vacationed each autumn - giving him the perfect opportunity to switch Cade for Brad, who he had meant to take in the first place.

He arrived in Middlesboro, without incident, a day and a half after entering Kentucky.  There was no sign of anyone, nor of anyone having passed through the city; yet he was so sure they would be there that he proceeded to the dead-end street that hooked off of US Route 25 and took a room at the inn.  He waited another twenty-four hours before they arrived.

He heard them before he saw them.  Ten feet of snow could not absorb the sound of a couple hundred travelers, all coming from the same direction.  From his bedroom window, while Cade napped, he watched them coming up US 25.  He saw them stop just to the southeast of the little hook of a road where the inn was; saw them break into groups; saw each group make its way around the bend in 25 and head north to a dozen different streets; and he saw a party of two approach the inn.

His plan was to confront Andrea and take Brad, leaving Cade in his place - a plan conceived upon the certainty that Cade would cry out once he knew someone else was present, especially if he realized who the visitors were.  His plan, however, was thwarted by his prisoner.

Cade woke up from his nap just as Andrea and Brad were coming upstairs.  Stone Creek saw the boy raise straight up and cock his head toward the sound of footsteps on the stairs.  He readied to grab Cade and run to make the exchange the second Cade cried out.  Instead, the boy motioned him to come closer.  When his head was within an inch of Cade's, a tiny voice whispered in his ear.

"If I cry out I'll never see Sandy," Cade said so softly Stone Creek barely heard him.  A shiver ran down Stone Creek's spine as he nodded his agreement.  Cade never spoke another word; he just sat there, tears streaming down his cheeks as he listened to his mother and brother getting ready for bed.  Then, when it was quiet, he lay back down and fell asleep, Stone Creek gently stroking his hair.

As he sat watching his little hostage sleep beneath the moonlight streaming in the window, Stone Creek began to reconsider his plan to switch brothers.  It was still Brad he wanted, still Brad he needed to fulfill his ambitions, still Brad who was destined to rule; but Brad would be difficult to mold away from his mother and from the security of his way of life, whereas Cade would be all the more easily molded in a new environment, surrounded by people he had never seen. 

Brad would have to be led indirectly to where he needed to be if this last chance to take him were missed - yet it occurred to Stone Creek as clearly as if he were looking back at things already accomplished that Brad was best dealt with indirectly, allowed to think it was his will dictating the events unfolding around him.  Brad was endowed with the darker human qualities and, because he was, could be reasoned with; whereas Cade, more enlightened by nature, responded intuitively to overtures made by others.  Appeals to Brad's self-interest had a greater chance of succeeding than appeals to his insight.

"Have patience," Stone Creek counseled his own ambition.  "Keep what irony has given you, and let what might have been become what is.  Let babies who love guide babies who hate to their throne."

Stone Creek silently searched his pack for paper and pen.  Then he wrote Andrea a note and lay down beside Cade for a couple hours' sleep, getting up in the middle of the night.  He collected his things and carefully picked up Cade.  He was out the door of the room, just above where Andrea and Brad slept and halfway down the stairs when Cade stirred.

The boy looked around then lowered his head onto Stone Creek's shoulder again. On a sudden impulse, when he reached the second floor landing and stood outside Andrea's room, he gently opened the door and, carrying Cade, stepped inside to stand a moment and let the boy see his mother and brother sleeping in the moonlight.  Cade's eyes grew big and he smiled.

Suddenly Brad sat straight up in bed and stared at the visitors to his room, his eyes becoming bigger in terror than his brother's in delight.  But he made no sound; he just sat there, frozen in fear. 

Stone Creek turned and left the room, convinced now beyond the shadow of a doubt that he had the right brother in his grasp.  He could hear Brad jumping out of bed then climbing into his mother's bed to huddle beside her, still without crying out.

He descended the stairs and made his way, in the dark, to the dining room, to leave the note for Andrea on the table, by the window, where her family always sat for breakfast.  Then he silently made his way back to the parlor, to a seat by the window.  It occurred to him that he had spent more time in this chair than almost any other piece of furniture in his life.  He sat down, realizing it was probably for the last time ever.  He meant to get right up but fell asleep instead.  A noise from the floor above woke him a couple hours later.

Carrying Cade, who was sleeping peacefully in his arms, he hurried to the front door to leave before Andrea came downstairs; but he didn't go.  He decided to remain, hidden in one of the small rooms off from the parlor.  He opened the front door and let it shut with a muffled thud, then ducked through a side door into the dark recess of a room used to store outdoor furniture for the winter.  He heard Andrea descend the stairs; then, after a few minutes, go back up to her room, get her son, and come back down again.  Momentarily, he heard her conversation with Brad concerning the piece of paper the boy found on the table; heard her rush through the parlor to open the door; then heard her returning to the dining room.  A short while later, the door opened again and Andrea left with her son, letting the door close softly behind her.

An unexpected stab of sadness gripped Stone Creek when the front door shut.  The finality of knowing that Andrea would never open that door again - that perhaps no one ever would - was the death knell, the final nail in the coffin, of everything that went before.  For him, the world had not ended with the natural disasters that rocked civilization to its core; nor with the year long snowfall; or the ten year winter covering the world in a white pall.  It ended with the closing of the front door of a little Victorian Inn in Middlesboro, Kentucky.  There was no going back now, and nothing to go back to.

"February 11, 2077 - the day the world came to a close," Stone Creek mused aloud just as Cade roused from his sleep.

"Will Sandy be in the next world?" Cade, still half asleep, asked.

Stone Creek hugged the boy and kissed him on the forehead.  "He won't just be there," he replied, "he'll help create it."

Kentucky was Stone Creek's territory; not only did he know it like the back of his hand, he had more contacts there than in any other part of the country - possibly more than in the entire rest of the country.  Partly from his association with the T-Men, partly from being a native Kentuckian; but, mostly, his contacts derived from his being an informer for Professor Kirkus - not that Kirkus introduced him or was even aware of these contacts.  They were made on his own, in an effort to keep one step ahead of the interests Kirkus represented.

Over time, from the earliest days of the social breakdown accompanying the ever escalating natural disasters, the state of Kentucky unwittingly nurtured a growing body of men and women who had chosen to live outside the law.  Their sole aim in life was to exist at the expense of others - a philosophy as much at odds with that of the T-Men as that of established society.  Though officially branded outlaws, the overriding purpose of the T-Men was to re-establish the law and order they believed had been overthrown by the ruling class; whereas the outlaws of Kentucky, who the rest of society didn't even know existed, wanted no part of any code, past, present or future.  Right from the start, they made plunder the center of their world, their only norm, the be all and end all of their existence.

Kentucky held more outlaws than any other place at any other time in the nation's history, the reason being the system of underground caverns offering an almost endless realm of hiding places.  There were no mountains and canyons, as the southwest; no uncharted forests, as the northwest; but in a world whose technology had reduced the nation's landscape to a giant grid against which anyone could be tracked, the greatest safety lay beneath the ground.  And though there were other caverns - the Black Hills system beneath South Dakota's Black Hills; New Mexico's Carlsbad Cavern; Missouri's Meramac Cavern; the vast system of tunnels created by the T-Men - none were ever used as extensively or offered so great an opportunity for escape as Kentucky's caves.

From all over the country, the cast-offs, misfits and drop-outs; the remnants of disintegrating bureaucracies; the displaced and forgotten; the homeless and abandoned - all those who had ceased to be part of statistical America gravitated to Kentucky to find shelter in the underworld.  And from this disparate assembly Stone Creek had forged an army of informers, spies and allies that neither his leaders in the T-Men nor his contacts in the government knew about as he silently went about the business of re-shaping the ever shrinking civilized world to better fit his master plan.

Kentucky held no fear for him.  Even now, with the once loosely organized bands of outlaws coalescing into hundreds of gangs virtually at war with one another, Stone Creek enjoyed an almost mystical preeminence in his home state - not as one of the leaders of the T-Men but in his own right.  The years he spent nurturing the trust and respect of those who he knew would eventually claim Kentucky as their territory had secured a unique place for him among the community of outlaws.  He could go anywhere with absolute impunity.  He could calmly walk between two gangs fighting over an abandoned town's booty and the shooting would cease.  He could just as easily have rallied all the gangs around him to attack Paris and his people and destroy them once and for all.  Except that he didn't want these remnants of the T-Men destroyed; he would have sooner had the gangs destroyed than those whose quest was to re-build the world, not pick clean its last remaining resources.  Neither destruction nor conquest was on his agenda; his plan depended as much on Paris' vision for his people as his own goal of securing a place for Andrea's son Brad.  Toward that end he would do anything, go anywhere, sacrifice anyone.  But he had no more intention of situating the boy's empire in Kentucky than Paris did of re-building the world from this kingdom of the underworld.  Like Paris, his sights were on Indiana; Kentucky was merely the fastest, safest way there.

From Middlesboro, he moved along the same northwesterly route Paris followed, taking the same southerly, northerly, even easterly detours Paris took.  He kept pace without falling too far behind or straying too far ahead, his one and only objective the safe delivery of Paris' people to their promised land.  He tried, whenever he could, to stave off the inevitable attack when their path crossed that of one of the gangs; and, where he couldn't intervene, to create a diversion to warn them away from an encounter.  He even confronted them directly in Mammoth Cave to restructure their defenses and warn them of an impending attack - all, so that they could get where they needed to be for the realization of his master plan.

He kept Cade by his side for most of the trek to the Ohio, leaving him alone only for short periods, and only when he knew the boy would be safe - his instruction always the same: "Be very still and keep out of sight and listen carefully - and don't let anyone know you're here except me or Sandy."

Only once in the entire journey did he miscalculate how events would unfold.  He had gone ahead of Paris and his people as they made their final run to the border.  He presumed they would avoid all towns close to the Ohio and attempt to cross the river somewhere between Brandenburg and Battletown in north central Meade County.  He intended to be nearby, to see them safely across the Ohio into Indiana.  He debated whether to leave Cade in Brandenburg or Battletown, reasonably sure that neither place, so near the river, would be looted by the outlaws; but, just as a precaution, he arranged for a small contingent to loot Battletown, leaving it intact but with signs unmistakable to any other gang that nothing remained to be looted.  This way, should any other group stray into the area, they would head for Brandenburg, leaving Battletown undisturbed.

It was there he left Cade, in a small room behind the counter of the general store, issuing his customary instruction to let no one but Sandy or himself know he was there.  Making sure the boy would be warm and safe, he left and proceeded to a lookout where he could observe the most likely place for their crossing, Kentucky Road 79, which, once across the Ohio, became Indiana 135 leading to Maukport in south central Harrison County.

He knew that Paris was no more than a few hours behind; so, when he reached his vantage point, he made himself comfortable and waited for the arrival.  He had already studied the bridge at 79 across the Ohio and found it both structurally sound and free of explosives.  Ironically, the explosives that had been placed at various bridges leading from Kentucky into Indiana, such as the Kennedy bridge between Louisville and Jeffersonville, which nearly claimed the lives of Kirk and his people, had not been placed by any of the outlaw gangs attempting to keep others out of their territory, but by those fleeing Kentucky, in an effort to keep outlaws from following them into Indiana. 

Stone Creek had no doubt that Paris would lead his people to the bridge at 79, even if he decided or was persuaded by Joey not to let them cross it.  So, even though more time had passed than he calculated they needed to reach the crossing, he still continued to wait.  Nor did the faint but distinctive sounds of gunfire coming from the northwest particularly concern him, since he knew Cade would be safe at Battletown.  But when he saw smoke rising in the distance, from the direction of Battletown, he abruptly abandoned his outpost and hurried off toward it, arriving just as the fire was put out and Paris emerged from the general store, covered in soot but unscathed.  He maneuvered his way behind the building and entered by the rear door, going immediately to the little room where he had left Cade, to find the boy sitting patiently where he had left him.

"Are you alright?" he asked the boy.  Cade nodded yes.  "Were you scared?" he asked, to which Cade shook his head no.

"I heard a boy come inside when the walls started to smoke.  But I knew it wasn't Sandy so I didn't call him," Cade explained.

"You did the right thing," Stone Creek told him, but in his heart he resolved to never again ask Cade to remain still.  Had things gone even a little differently, the boy would have been no more than a pile of charred bones right now.  Stone Creek waited till Paris and his people were gone, then emerged with Cade from the still smoldering building to try and piece together what went wrong.  The moment he saw the thirteen dead outlaws - the same ones he had had loot Battletown - he realized what had happened.  They had attacked Paris' people and been killed.  But their position made it clear they had attacked from outside, not inside, the buildings - which made the fire all the more puzzling: its extinguishment even more than its inception.

"Why was it set on fire?" he wondered out loud.  "And why was it put out?"

Cade had no answer, except to say that he heard the boy say he'd come out either when the fire was out or as ashes.

"Ah!" Stone Creek exclaimed as the last piece of the puzzle fell into place.  "So the old ways are not dead, I see!  They set the fire themselves, in retaliation; and their new leader held his own life hostage till they put it out!  Then you owe your life to him.  How tragic that you will one day repay him with his."

Maintaining his distance, Stone Creek, carrying Cade in his arms, followed Paris and his people to the Ohio and watched in amazement as they headed out across the ice beneath the midday sun when they could as easily have crossed a bridge barely five miles away.  He saw the ice beginning to crack even before they felt it stirring beneath them; saw a handful of people turn and bolt; saw the ice open and swallow them up then close and crush their skulls; saw Joey pondering how to save his doomed comrades trapped beneath the ice; then, finally, saw the ice floe canoe its way to the far shore to deliver the survivors to their chosen land.

When he was satisfied they were on safe ground, he turned south toward the bridge spanning the Ohio along Route 79.  He and Cade crossed from Kentucky into Indiana and headed northeast, unaware that Paris had taken a detour to the rift in the Ohio Valley.  He reached Henryville a day earlier than Paris.  He intended to be there first, to secure a vantage point for watching their procession into town; but, not knowing of their detour, had no way of knowing how much ahead of them he was.  When night was beginning to fall, he began to wonder if something had happened to them - if perhaps this final leg of their journey, which he presumed to be enough free of peril that he could abandon his vigil, had proven ironically to be the most perilous.  He resolved to set out to look for them when the half moon reached its zenith in the sky; the higher it rose, the more convinced he became that something completely unexpected had happened.  He was within minutes of abandoning his post when he detected some faint movement in the west, like a ripple on a lake, slowly advancing to a point where it finally revealed itself to him.

"Your leader," he mused aloud, "moves mountains more quickly than he moves his people."

Soon they were there, gathering in the little town square to set up camp.  Once they had settled in, Stone Creek collected his gear and his sleeping hostage and silently moved on, heading back the same way he had come.

He settled in Brandenburg, just across the Kentucky line and the closest town to the Route 79 bridge across the Ohio.  For the next eleven years he made countless trips back and forth to Henryville alone until September of 2087, three months shy of Cade's fifteenth birthday, when something happened which caused him to set his plan in motion ahead of schedule.

He had meant to wait until Cade's eighteenth birthday to reunite his hostage with his family.  His reason was neither Machiavellian nor clairvoyant, but the very essence of practicality: by eighteen, the turmoil of puberty would have waned sufficiently to let the boy focus on the goal he had been subtlely manipulated through the years into accepting as his own.  Until then, even a boy as self-possessed as Cade could not be trusted to respond predictably, let alone consistently, to outside stimuli.

Cade always seemed to know when it was time for Stone Creek to return from his trips into Indiana.  He waited in the same spot he had chosen the very first time he sensed his captor's return.  He watched across the river from its southwestern bank.  He never went to the bridge to greet Stone Creek; something about the bridge troubled him, though he had never been able to determine what it was.  Then one day he went to the bridge and crossed over, and finally understood why he had avoided it all those years.

Though the people who took turns staying with Cade were well known to and well trusted by Stone Creek, they were generally associated with separate, usually rival, gangs.  They were all outlaws, the women as well as the men, chosen as much for their attitude toward children as their loyalty to Stone Creek.  He made it clear that anyone who abused or mistreated the boy would pay dearly.  Occasionally there were altercations during the changing of the guard - as the ritual of rotating Cade's guardians came to be known; but it was understood that the town of Brandenburg was a sanctuary, off limits to the open warfare that went on everywhere else in Kentucky, and that any hostility between any rival gang members who chanced to meet there was to be minimal and couched as much in ritual as the intelligence of the participants allowed.

For eleven years this truce held.  Then, on a late summer day, it was shattered.  The changing of the guard coincided with Stone Creek's return from Indiana.  Cade noticed a few new faces among the ten who entered Brandenburg to replace the ten preparing to leave - not in itself unusual since the life span of gang members was considerably shorter than that of people with a more normal lifestyle.  But these new faces appeared somehow out of character, different from the faces he was used to seeing.  These new guardians did not seem like the kind Stone Creek would have chosen.

Cade retired to his room, under the pretext of wishing to study; then slipped out of his room, unnoticed, and made his way to a vantage point where he could observe the newcomers.  Just as the guardians being replaced turned to head out of town, the new guardians pulled out knives; and, so quickly that no one had time to react, grabbed them from behind and slit their throats, leaving them to silently bleed to death in the street.  Cade had never imagined that people could be killed so quickly or so easily; he would have warned them the instant he saw the knives being drawn but by the time he realized what was happening it was too late.  Now his only concern was warning Stone Creek - the violation of his captor's cardinal rule suggestive of something more sinister than simply the brutality of gang warfare.  He was about to retreat from his vantage point when he overheard his new guardians discussing their plan.

"We get the boy next then wait till Stone Creek returns," one told the others.  "This time he'll show us where these settlers are - or we'll slit the boy's throat right in front of him.  Go find the boy!  We didn't come all the way from Carolina just to babysit!"

Cade knew Brandenburg like the back of his hand; eleven years had shown him every inch of every main road, side street and back alley.  But a lifetime of preying on others had given these outlaws an ability to ferret out anyone from any environment.  So while Cade easily worked his way undetected around his pursuers to the edge of town, they just as easily picked up his trail before he was even a quarter of the way to the bridge.

Since neither the outlaws' speed nor their endurance was greater than Cade's, there was no chance of their catching up to him; but there was no place for Cade to go, no place to hide.  His only chance of escape was to encounter a group of people across the river who had the might and the will to hold his pursuers at bay.

As Cade approached the bridge, he caught sight of someone approaching from the other side.  He knew it was Stone Creek.  He braced himself, as if preparing to dive into the river below, and took off running across the bridge toward Indiana.  When he was barely halfway to the other side, he heard the collective thump of ten men leaping onto the bridge, and felt a tingle which, at first, he took for fear then, a split-second later, re-assessed as a ripple in the bridge itself.  Without precisely knowing why, he doubled his speed, though already to the point of exhaustion, just making it to the other side as Stone Creek was about to take his first step onto the bridge.  He grabbed Stone Creek's arm and let the momentum of his dash across carry both of them several feet back from the bridge.  Stone Creek drew his gun as they moved; and, the instant they stopped, took aim at the ten outlaws pursuing Cade.

Seeing Stone Creek's gun raised, they stopped and drew their guns.  They were in the middle of the bridge and within range.  They began firing at the man and boy on the other side; but they fired wildly, their bullets going in every direction but hitting nothing - not that their aim was off, but their bullets were being deflected by a barrier that had sprung up from nowhere.

The air itself kept them from hitting their targets - perfectly ordinary air, thin air, the very air they breathed.  The air had not changed, but their perspective had shifted; the air they aimed through was no longer the air in front of them.  They were no longer standing straight, facing northeast into Indiana, but being thrown about, their bullets hurtling in every direction.  The bridge had given way and was falling, cracking apart at its seams, the roadway crumbling around them before they could even release their triggers.  Each outlaw got off one full round before he was crushed in the tangled wreckage and pulled into the river, his weapon gurgling as it disappeared beneath the surface.

For a moment there was absolute silence on the far bank of the Ohio; then Stone Creek shook his head as if acknowledging something he should have seen long ago.

"So Paris saw it coming that many years ago," he mused aloud.

"Saw what?" asked Cade.

"I always wondered why he crossed the river on an ice flow instead of a nice safe bridge," Stone Creek explained.  "He knew it wouldn't support the weight of his people.  Cade, it's time for us to move on."

"To Indiana?" the boy asked.  Stone Creek nodded.  "To where Paris is?"   Again the boy's captor nodded.  Then Cade, too, nodded and acknowledged that he was ready.

He stood on the platform, next to his best friend.  Half a million people were crowded into the town square to witness the ceremony.  They had come from as far away as Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia; some had traveled as long as a week to get there.  The blonde haired young man looked out over the crowd, wondering what they were thinking and why it was so important to them to be here; but his face gave no indication of what he was thinking, nor his eyes any indication of what he beheld.  As he stood there, seeming to study the anonymous faces looking up at the platform, his friend was studying his face.  At a signal from the man to his left, he took a piece of black cloth from his back pocket and lifted it as high as he could.  His friend looked him in the eye and smiled, and whispered "Babies love"; then looked over his shoulder at a dark haired young man standing beside the man who had given the signal and whispered "Babies hate."

Cade held the hood suspended for a moment then gently slid it over his friend's head and let it drop to his shoulders, covering his face.  He looked once more toward the crowd.  "It was all a lie," he told himself.  "Everything that ever happened since time began: it was all a lie, all of it."  Slowly, he led his friend to the rear of the platform, where the final piece of the ceremony was waiting to drop in place.  He pressed his lips to the silken hood and whispered something in his friend's ear, the last words that would ever be spoken to him.  Two minutes later it was over.

Paris recognized Cade the moment he saw him approaching along 160 from the west.  A fleeting image from his earliest days passed in front of him, of a young man almost the same age, bearing the exact same features and hair the color and texture of corn silk.  He recognized Cade even before recognizing Stone Creek, whom he had spoken with less than a week ago.  He went to greet them, extending his hand first to Stone Creek then to this boy whom he immediately loved, like a son.  After studying Cade's face he turned to Stone Creek.

"The earth is on the move," he said.  "It's caused you to move your timetable up.  Things may or may not work out as you've planned; but they will work out as the earth would have them be."

Then he turned back to Cade and embraced the boy.  "Nothing you do from here on out will be wrong in my eyes," he whispered in Cade's ear. 

Paris led his guests back to the town square.  Though no one had accompanied him when he went to welcome them, word had already spread that there were visitors in town.

"Come," Andrea roused her son Brad from his studies.

"Where are we going?" Brad asked, slightly annoyed at being interrupted.

"I have a feeling," was all his mother would say.

The two of them were standing in the town square, waiting, when Paris and his guests arrived.  Andrea walked to Cade.

"I don't expect you to know me," she said.

Cade only dimly recognized her; but, looking beyond her to the young man a few steps away, realized who she was and embraced her.  When his mother released him, he took her hand and led her to her other son.

"I might have forgotten your name had Stone Creek not been there to remind me," he said to his brother.

"You must be Cade," said Brad in the tone of a formal introduction.

"And you're Brad," Cade replied in kind, though with a deeper sincerity.

"And did you find Sandy?" Brad asked in a faintly accusatory tone as it occurred to him all at once and with absolute clarity why his brother had gone away.

Cade nodded that he had not found him.

"Then we may consider him a closed chapter in our lives," Brad concluded as he turned to lead the way back to the house, his mother and brother following behind him, Paris and Stone Creek left standing in the square.  Cade looked back for a moment as if debating whether to continue or not; but Stone Creek motioned for him to keep going.

When they turned a corner and disappeared several minutes later, Paris and Stone Creek also turned and headed for City Hall.  Neither of them spoke until they had reached the stone steps leading up to the front door.

"I remember him when he was a child," Paris mused.

"He's still a child," Stone Creek pointed out.

All of a sudden Paris turned to him, a look of absolute certainty lighting up his face.

"What is the earth showing you now?" Stone Creek asked with a hint of contempt in his voice.

Paris nodded.  "It isn't what the earth is showing me," he answered, "it's what you're showing me.  I knew from the first that Cade was as safe with you as he would have been in his mother's arms.  Now I'm beginning to see why.  He isn't just a boy to you, he's special - and so is his brother."

Stone Creek did not pursue Paris' speculation.  He merely shrugged and proceeded up the steps.                            

The years had already given Stone Creek a place of honor and prestige within Paris' community - something he expected to have to attain through skillful manipulation of both people and events; and, even more so, something he had not anticipated happening until he returned Cade to his family.  His visits in the intervening years were meant only to clear a path for the time he would begin executing his plan; but, as it turned out, almost everything he expected to work hard for was virtually handed to him on a silver platter.

Joey continually advised Paris to proceed with great caution, but to no avail; each trait of Stone Creek's he highlighted was taken for something other than what it was.  Not that Paris was incapable of seeing someone's negative qualities, but that he could not imagine anyone putting his good qualities at their disposal.  He knew almost from the start that the abduction of Cade was far more than a simple kidnapping, and that it proceeded as much from noble as from base motives.  And his years of association with Stone Creek had convinced him that this man who once tried to kill him had as great a concern for the well-being of his people as he himself did.

"He may one day take the leadership of our community from me," Paris acknowledged over and over, in some variation, to Joey, "but he will never use that leadership to oppress it.  He genuinely cares for these people - and, like me, he accepts their absolute right to fix their own destiny."

"A destiny that - unlike you - he will shape to his own ends," Joey warned.

"If he does, it's only because he believes - like me - that their best chance for survival lies in some particular course," Paris explained. "You cannot lead without having a vision of where your people belong.  I led them here.  He may lead them elsewhere.  In time, they'll have to move on."

"And you honestly believe he'll know where to take them?" Joey asked.

"I believe they'll know where to let him take them," Paris answered.

The subject of Stone Creek, and Paris, and their inevitable clash, came up frequently between Joey and Carol, who lived together as husband and wife, but only rarely as man and woman.

"It isn't that I don't love you," Joey explained on many occasions, "it's just that I'm afraid to impregnate you again only to have what happened to Sandy happen all over again.  I seem to bring evil into the lives of those I love most.  Sometimes I wonder if it's because I don't love God as much as I think I do, or should."

"Or because you love Him too much," Carol observed.  "Maybe we weren't put here to serve God but simply to find a way to live our lives.  It isn't you bringing evil to those you love - it's your love of God, if anything.  The love of God has always brought evil to man - as much so with our benevolent God as with the ancient world's malevolent deities.  Being your brother's keeper ends up looking very little different from sacrificing him so your crops will grow.  Let him live his own life, and you live yours.  You worry too much about the mistakes others make.  You think Stone Creek means to destroy Paris -"

"I know he does!"

"Then either destroy Stone Creek or let it happen.  Paris refuses to see.  I've accepted that.  If he wishes to be a lamb led to the slaughter, there's nothing you can do to stop it."

Felicia slept in one room, Paris in another, in a small house on a narrow back street, a few blocks off the town square.  They had lived there three months when Cade arrived in town.  On his eighteenth birthday, Paris had announced to Joey and Carol that he and Felicia would be moving out once they found a place of their own.  Both Joey and Carol were surprised by the announcement but said nothing about the propriety of their living together or their youth, though it was clear by the look on Joey's face that he was troubled by the news.  Sensing his dismay, Paris attempted to explain his reasons for wishing to move.

"I know you would object to our leaving if I were someone other than your leader," Paris acknowledged.  "But it would be the right thing to do no matter who I happened to be.  Remember, Felicia is four years older than I am; she's already a woman.  We're not moving as man and wife.  What we've been given may or may not find a physical expression; but it binds us together in such a way that neither of us wishes to live apart from the other.  And yet both of us know we can't stay in your house any longer.  So there's nothing else for us but to live together.  Again, were I not your leader, I would ask your blessing."

"But where will you move to?" Carol asked.  "Every house in this town is taken; and I know you wouldn't ask anyone to give up his house.  Are you planning to move to another town?"

"No," Paris answered.  "But there's a great deal of talk among the people of moving to other communities.  I had already made up my mind not to oppose anyone's decision to leave even before Felicia and I decided to move."

"It may just be talk," Carol reminded Paris.  "They may all end up staying."

"If so, then I resolve to ask my people to help me build a house," Paris concluded.

The talk among the citizens of Paris, Indiana proved prophetic.  A handful of families, each having made strong ties to other communities, approached Paris asking his permission to leave their community.  He was profoundly embarrassed at being asked to allow something he felt he had no right to restrict, and tried his best to explain his position.  Stone Creek had been in town at the same time the families decided to move.  After speaking to Paris, they sought his counsel.

"Is he tired of being our leader?" they asked Stone Creek.  "When we asked if we could leave the community," they explained their concern, "he acted as if it were none of his concern - as if he didn't care one way or the other.  Do his community and his people no longer matter to him?"

Stone Creek tried to reassure the families that it must have been a misunderstanding; that Paris had never said a word to him - one of his closest advisors - about wishing to renounce his leadership; and that he cared as deeply for his people as ever.  And yet, something in his tone made the families think that he spoke more from a sense of duty than from actual conviction.  So when they left, three months later, they carried, along with their goods, the doubts they had harbored.

From the houses now vacant, Paris chose the one closest to City Hall, which was not merely his work station but the hub of the entire network of communities he had helped establish throughout the Ohio Valley.  The house was small, even by local standards, with two bedrooms, one bath, a living room, a kitchen-dining room combination, and a basement.  Though its proximity to his work was Paris' main consideration, he gave equal weight to Felicia's wishes.

"One house is the same as another to me," she assured him.  "I've told you all along I have no intention of spending the rest of my life on land.  I'll live on the sea, and die on the sea.  I just wish you would come with me."

"This is my home," Paris reminded her.  "In a sense, I was born here, just as the world was re-born here.  It's here I'll live out my life."

"And when you die, the town will die," Felicia observed.

"The earth only loaned it to us," Paris, in turn, observed.

The basements of Paris, Indiana slowly filled with water as the earth began to grow warm again.  So gradually did the metamorphosis take place that, if not for the basements, no one would have detected the thermal shift until it was well upon them.  And, just as its basements flooded, so, too, did those of the other communities in the Ohio Valley.  Everyone eventually accepted their leader's explanation of why he had not alerted them beforehand: that it was better for each of them to make the discovery in his own house and that there was nothing they could have done to hold back the seepage even if he had warned them.  Still, the faintest hint of resentment and mistrust hung like moss over the ambiguity of Paris' explanation, nurtured by the sense that no leader in living memory had ever encouraged them to experience the world independently of his interpretation and direction, and germinated by the unstated conviction that a leader must lead in every way and not just literally.  And just as the waters spread beyond Paris' basements, to too did the mistrust.

The temperature had risen an average of two degrees during each of the years since Paris brought his people to the town that now bore his name, each separate degree represented by an inch of rising water in the people's basements.  An anxiety, too, had crept upon the community to keep pace with the other yardsticks of its progress.  Time and again the people met with Paris to express their concerns over the water, time and again he reassured them that everything would work out for the best.  But Paris had not lived prior to the end of the old world; he had no memory of flooded basements - of the nearly total disruption of everyday life a pond beneath one's home produced.  Nor did he know anything of insects and pestilence and mold and mildew and the stench of decay, other than what he read in the books Joey had gotten him.

"The basements are concrete and cinder block," he reminded his people.  "They will not be harmed by water.  What the water will do, though, is moderate the temperature of your houses; it'll keep them warmer as the seasons begin returning to normal and the cold of winter sets in."

"And the mosquitoes?" the people asked.  "And all the other water borne pests?  What of them?"

"The earth will not release its frozen prisoners until it's prepared a place for them," Paris answered.

"And when will that be?" they asked.

"Your basements will point to the time," said Paris.  "The water will begin to recede before the earth is ready for its creatures to return."

"Do you understand nothing?" the people persisted.  "There are no predators left on earth - no birds, no rodents, no reptiles: nothing to feed on the insects.  They'll take over the world!"

"Do you think a mountain lion was the only beast on earth to survive?" Paris asked his people.  "There were always places of safety - and always will be.  The animals that belong here will begin to return.  As the earth returns to normal, so will its rhythms and cycles.  We will again be shown its benevolent face.  For a time at least."

The snow had melted completely and, except for pockets of standing water in low lying areas, had all disappeared into the ground.  The cycle of rain and snow had not started up yet, so the sun shone almost every single day for eleven years straight, providing enough warmth to free the soil's topmost layers from the ice choking it and blocking its porous middle layers.  As the snow melted, inch by inch over the years, the ground absorbed it inch by inch.

Ironically, it was only after the last of the snow disappeared and the air began to hold the sun's warmth and the world seemed to be returning to normal that Paris' people began to complain about their primitive way of life.  In their houses were lights and appliances and the gadgets they remembered as having brought them so much enjoyment - yet they could put none of these remnants of civilization to use; and it frustrated them, especially now that they began to have free time from the endless round of chores they had had to perform for so long simply to stay alive.  Survival having shifted from the dynamic of probability to that of certainty, it was no longer the focal point of their lives.  They were left with an enormous void in their lives, and no clear way to fill it.  They brought the elements of their dilemma to their leader in one form or another, hoping for a solution; but he was profoundly incapable of understanding its significance.

Joey tried explaining to him that people needed a sense of purpose to strengthen their ties to the world around them; but he couldn't quite grasp the concept.

"Their purpose is to rebuild the world," Paris reminded his second-in-command.  "No people in history have ever had a greater purpose.  There's no earthly reason for them to want for anything in the face of so great and noble an undertaking."

"People don't live their lives for the sake of so great an ideal," Joey pointed out.  "Nor do they want to live their lives in its shadow.  They want - and need - common, everyday things to help them find meaning in their lives.  Rebuilding the world: what does that do for them when they're unhappy, or scared, or simply bored; how does it make their today a little brighter than their yesterday; where in their lives does something that immense fit?  There used to be an expression, long ago - before any of us were even born: 'Is it bigger than a breadbox?' people would ask.  Sometimes something small gives life greater meaning than something the size of a billion breadboxes."

Paris nodded, but not in acceptance of Joey's idea, merely to indicate his willingness to consider it.  When Paris was gone, Joey shook his head sadly, knowing that his leader would never accept the notion that something trivial could have a greater power to influence human behavior than something profound.

"You said Paris wants to be a martyr," Joey noted in relating the incident to Carol.  "He doesn't.  But he may end up being one for not being able to think small.  Great men almost always end up as martyrs or tyrants - it's only when the conditions they work under and the time they live in are such that the world around them is in perfect balance that they're able to avoid those two burial mounds."

"Where did you read that?" asked Carol, impressed with the idea expressed.

"I didn't," answered Joey.  "Not exactly anyway, though I must have read something very much like it to bring me to that realization.  It's just that I've, in a way, devoted my life to understanding what destroyed Kirk."

"You see him as a martyr?" Carol asked, suspicious of such a conclusion.

"No," said Joey.  "As a tyrant.  But only at the start of his tyranny, before it corrupted him.  He died a martyr to his own tyranny.  I've come to the conclusion that if he had lived even one year beyond Brad's death, he would have succumbed to the pull of that tyranny.  I believe he knew there was no way out for him; he saw himself becoming a tyrant - and saw everything he cherished being turned against his people.  I believe as surely as if God Himself whispered it in my ear that Brad was all that stood between Kirk and his tyranny; not because Brad opposed him but because of their spiritual connection, which neither would acknowledge.  Brad was the force pulling him toward martyrdom - not strong enough a force to make him a martyr but strong enough to keep his greatness in equilibrium.  When Brad died, the balance was gone.  And Kirk realized his greatness died with him.  In a sense he killed his own greatness.  What man is strong enough to survive that?"

Cade gradually made his way among the people.  He remembered none of them, yet it was clear that almost all of them remembered him.  He felt a little like an amnesiac, whose entire store of memories resides in other people's minds; or like a character in a flashback, whose life story is revealed to its readers even before he lives it.  He felt no resentment toward anyone for having this advantage over him, nor for allowing him to be taken from them when he was a child.  But he did feel distant from them, for no other reason than that they were ordinary people, leading normal lives - and the people he had interacted with for the past eleven years were outlaws leading unsettled and unordered lives that seemed to have no center except the need to survive.

He would spend hours watching the citizens of Paris as they went about their business, his mind mapping the patterns emerging from their seemingly random activities.  Then he would contrast these patterns with the genuinely random activities of his caretakers, who seemed fundamentally incapable of organizing the elements of their lives.  It wasn't that he preferred the disorganized way of life he grew up around, only that he understood it better than the life surrounding him now.  He tried to explain it to his brother; but Brad dismissed his observations as evidence of misplaced values.

"This is the only way of life appropriate to decent people," Brad argued.  "You've been around the wrong kind too long.  You need to put all that behind you and accept our way of life, because one day we may decide to put those who don't accept it to death."

The idea Brad proposed seemed neither right nor wrong to Cade; he just didn't understand why Brad would entertain such an idea.  He's too young to be so rigid, Cade thought to himself.  These can't be his ideas; he's gotten them from someone else.  As he gets older he'll realize that things aren't so cut and dried as he thinks.

The only person in town Cade seemed to have anything in common with was Felicia.  The first time he saw her he couldn't believe he was looking at a real person.  Not only had he never seen anyone so beautiful, he had never imagined someone so beautiful could exist.  His mother had always been the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, but her beauty had a reality to it, a probability; it might be rare but it was not beyond the realm of possibility, as Felicia's beauty seemed to be.

She was walking beside Paris in the twilight; Cade happened to be looking out of his bedroom window.  His first thought when he saw her was that he was asleep, and dreaming.  "Please don't wake up!" he begged his subconscious.  Then it occurred to him that he couldn't possibly be asleep - because he couldn't possibly imagine so beautiful a woman.

She looked up at his window briefly as she and Paris walked past Andrea's house.  Cade watched until they had disappeared from view.  The next morning he tried to ask his mother about her but found no words to describe her.

"I saw someone walking last evening," he said over breakfast.  "I hadn't seen her before.  I'm wondering who she was."

"What did she look like?" asked Brad, who had just entered the dining room.

"I don't know," said Cade.

"What: did she have on a mask or something?" Brad persisted.

"No," Cade explained.  "I know what she looked like, but I can't describe her.  She was walking with Paris -"

"Ah!" said Andrea.  "That's Felicia.  You don't remember her, do you?"

"No."

"Except for Sandy, you were more fascinated with her than anyone else," Andrea told her son.  "You were so jealous of Paris, because the two of them were inseparable - and still are."

"Are they married?" Cade asked.

"No, but everyone assumes they will be."

"I don't!" protested Brad.  "He's not right for her.  He's a fool.  She deserves better."

"I'm curious about why your can't describe her.  Was it too dark to get a good look at her?" Andrea asked her son.

"No," replied Cade.  "I just can't put the right words with her."

"She's easy to describe," Brad interjected.  "She's tall, has reddish-brown hair, green eyes, fair skin.  What's so hard about that?"

Cade shrugged.  He chose not to say that his brother's description was as far off the mark as if he had described another woman altogether - that her physical characteristics were so small a part of her it was almost pointless to list them - that the only thing they accurately described was the soul of the one who saw them as the sum total of her being.

Almost a month went by before Cade actually met Felicia.  It seemed incomprehensible to him that, in so small a town with so few inhabitants, so much time could pass without casually encountering each and every inhabitant.  When he finally met her, it occurred to him that she was the only person he had not encountered along the street since his arrival.

He expected to feel awkward in her presence, to have to struggle for something to say; but it was exactly the reverse.  He felt more at ease with her, conversation came easier to him, than with anyone he had ever known.  His eyes met hers the instant he entered the town square.  She was standing on the first step of City Hall, Paris beside her.  All the townspeople were milling about and, like Cade, looking toward City Hall.  The date was October 19th, the year 2087 - the tenth anniversary of their arrival in Henryville.

Paris had never felt comfortable renaming the town after himself; but its real name was gone and the people insisted their city bear their leader's name.  For nearly ten years, ever since the formal ceremony on these same steps where Paris had stood, in this same square where his people had gathered, to officially rename the town, everyone referred to it as Paris.  Its leader, however, only called it by its official name at official functions; in private, he referred to it simply as "this town." 

"Do you expect to find the real name one day?" Joey had asked him.

"I may never know what it is," Paris acknowledged.  "But I'll honor it as best I can by leaving it anonymous whenever I can."

"But you love this town," Joey pointed out.  "Surely whoever named it originally couldn't have loved it any more than you do.  Why shouldn't it have your name?"

"It's no different than if it were an ancient city, long deserted, and re-discovered," Paris explained.  "It would have been wrong for the archeologist to have renamed the city after himself."

"But if he never found the real name," Joey suggested.

"Then it would have gone un-named," Paris said.  "I know how I would feel if someone came upon the town in Montana where I was born -" Paris started to speculate when a strange look came over his face, and he turned as white as a ghost.

"What is it?" asked Joey in some alarm.

Paris nodded his head as the color began to return to his face.  "I don't know," he said.  "Remember how Kirk told you I was found?  His father, Paris, saved me from the mist and traced my parents back to Homestead, Montana after they died in the mist?  And he found all the inhabitants of Homestead dead?  Remember how everyone concluded that that was our home and that I had been born there?  For just the flash of an instant as we talked I was absolutely certain that I wasn't born in Homestead."

"It could have been another town," Joey acknowledged.  "There were a few other towns around Medicine Lake, where Paris found you.  I'm not sure why he fixed on Homestead."

Paris shook his head.  "None of the towns were right," he said.

Each year since their arrival had been marked by a small celebration in the town square on October 19th, a quiet gathering during which everyone bowed their heads in silent thanks then returned to their normal activities.  This year was to be no different; Paris wanted the exact same kind of informal celebration.  But his people insisted on more.

"This is a special anniversary," Paris was reminded whenever he recommended a small, nondescript celebration.  "This is our tenth anniversary.  We have to plan something special."

Eventually, the whole town let it be known that something beyond the usual solemn get-together was in order to mark the occasion.  Paris reluctantly agreed.  Having no experience planning or even attending such an event, and with little insight into what people expect at such times, he turned to Joey and Stone Creek for help.  Both advised him to form a committee to oversee the project.

"Who should be on it?" asked Paris.  "The town council?"

"It might be better to include the general population," Stone Creek suggested.

"The oldest among the people?" Paris followed up the suggestion, reasoning that the oldest would have the greatest experience to draw from.

Joey was about to second Paris' idea when Stone Creek spoke up in opposition.

"All age groups should be represented," Stone Creek insisted.  "That way the activities can reach all the people."

"There's a danger of having it degenerate to the level of a carnival if the activities are tailored to a dozen or a hundred different preferences," Joey objected to Stone Creek's proposition.  "Whatever activities we plan must take a back seat to the central purpose.  It's a celebration of our triumph over a thousand adversities; and a thanksgiving for our deliverance from a thousand perils.  We can enjoy ourselves at the same time our spirits are being uplifted.  I say choose the wisest among us to plan the event."

Paris looked from Joey to Stone Creek.  "The wisest among us," he mused, "versus the most representative.  The greatest danger is not turning it into a carnival but turning it into my personal celebration, honoring me and my accomplishments.  I can't risk that.  So if we're going to have more than just a moment of silence together, Stone Creek's suggestion makes the greater sense. We can put it before the council, but I feel sure they'll go along with Stone Creek too."

A cross-section of the population, representative of each age group old enough to comprehend the purpose the the celebration, was chosen to plan the day's activities.  Among those selected was Brad Carter, whose contribution was a showcase of sporting contests patterned after the Olympic games that had been so popular for so many years - until the eruption of a volcano at the Mexico City Games killed all but a handful of the world's greatest athletes; the games were never held after that.

The actual ceremony lasted no more than ten minutes and consisted of the lighting of candles by all the townspeople and all the guests from the communities who had come at Stone Creek's invitation to join in the celebration.  The ceremony deeply troubled Paris; and, though he appreciated the good will the outsiders brought with them, he felt it would have meant more had it been limited to those who had arrived here ten years ago - a sentiment he expressed beforehand to the planning committee.

"Why doesn't he want the other settlers?" Brad asked Stone Creek.

"Oh, I'm sure he means well," Stone Creek responded.

"He always means well!" exclaimed Brad angrily.  "I'm tired of him meaning well every time he does something that goes against public sentiment!  It's time he stopped meaning well and started doing what's right!"

When the ceremony was over and the activities planned to mark the occasion began, Paris retreated to his office to fill in the final details of a few projects he meant to unveil when his people re-assembled toward evening to officially end the celebration.  Felicia made her way among the crowd to watch the various activities.  Cade, who had not taken his eyes off her since she and Paris first appeared on the City Hall steps, managed to encounter her despite what seemed to him like deliberate attempts to avoid him.

"Why has it taken a month for us to meet?" Cade asked.  "I've met everyone else in town but you."

"Now you've met the whole town," Felicia noted.  "Has it grown all that much for one more inhabitant?" she asked.

"For me it has," Cade answered.

"I haven't wanted to come between you and your brother," Felicia explained.  "And I knew meeting you would put me in that position.  Not because of you but because of him.  He has a crush on me.  And 'crush' here means as much to oppress and deform as it does puppy love.  Brad is incapable of empathizing with another human being.  Tyranny comes so naturally to him he doesn't even realize that's what his view of other people represents.  He's promised me an empire.  He can't imagine - and nothing I say can make him imagine - how little an empire means to me.  When we came north, through Tennessee, Paris led us through an ice tunnel in the middle of a lake: that's as close to giving me an empire as anyone will ever come.  Because on the open sea, where I intend to live my life, there are no empires."

"You think there are boats still seaworthy in the world?" Cade asked.

"I know there are," said Felicia.

"How do you know?"

"Because there are still houses left standing - and houses are far more fragile than boats.  Houses can be destroyed by the land they sit on much more easily than boats can be destroyed by the sea.  It's interesting: the difference between you and Brad.  When I told you my plan to live at sea, you asked if there were still boats.  When I told him, he assured me there were no seas left calm enough to sail on."

"Will Paris go with you?" Cade asked.

"No," Felicia replied in a resigned voice.  "To leave the land I'll have to leave him too."

"When are you leaving?"

"Paris says I'll know when the time is right.  He knows about such things - he led us through the most dangerous places on earth with nothing but his understanding of the earth and its ways for a guide.  I trust his judgment."

"Will he be able to survive without you?" Cade then asked.

"He says that everything will point the way to sea," Felicia related Paris' cryptic prophecy.

Cade shook his head.  "No," he promised," I won't let anything happen to him.  I won't let events destroy him - even if that's the only way you can ever leave here."

"You can't stop what's already begun," Felicia warned.

"I'll find a way."

As the day wore on, more and more of the celebrants became aware of their leader's absence.  At first, no one thought anything of it; they dismissed it simply as Paris' distaste for frivolity and merriment.  Any comments made merely voiced the people's concern that he worked too hard, their wish that he would take it easy and have fun once in a while.  But as the activities wound down, the talk became harsher, more critical of Paris' absence, promoting it as yet another instance of the distance he put between himself and his people.

"He's become almost like a king," it was even suggested; "too grand to be seen with his subjects except when it suits him."

No one knew how this notion got started, but it spread like wildfire until, by the time the activities had all come to an end and everyone began gathering again in the town square, people started referring to their leader as "Prince Paris."  Alarmed at this mockery, Joey hurried inside City Hall to summon Paris.

He found him in his office, at his desk, huddled over his papers, examining their contents by the light of a candle.  Joey was reluctant to interrupt him; but, feeling that what was transpiring outside needed his attention more than whatever he was working on here, called out to him.  He looked up to see what it was.

"It's time for the closing ceremony," Joey informed him.

"You may need to begin without me," Paris told him.  "I have a few more calculations to make."

Joey came over to his desk and discreetly removed his pen from his hand, saying "This can wait.  Your people need you."

"They need this more," he replied.  "I think I've found a way to restore power to some of the generators the town used for electricity.  If it works, my presence at the ceremony pales by comparison."

"Your presence at the ceremony," Joey countered, "is more important to the well-being of this community than all the electrical power on earth.  Put away your work and join your people."

Paris though a moment; then, nodding his assent, arose from his desk, collected his papers, and accompanied Joey back outside, where his people were assembled beneath the enfolding twilight.  He held his papers fast as he addressed them.

"I haven't meant to avoid the day's events," he assured his people.  "I've been working on a project I had hoped to have ready to present to you this evening.  It isn't finished yet, but I'm certain enough of my calculations that I want to go ahead and offer it to you.  I believe I can restore power to the generators that once brought electricity to your homes.  I want that to be my gift to you for the ten years you've devoted to this community.  I believe I've found a way to harness the power that's lying in your basements.  The water.  I know it's gone down over the past few years; it would have been better if I had devised this system earlier: the greater the volume of water, the more power there would be to tap.  But it only occurred to me recently how I might convert the latent power of standing water into a source of real power we can put to use.  If my idea works, this time next year we will be standing under street lamps celebrating our arrival in this promised land."

A cheer arose from the crowd when Paris finished speaking.  Everyone drew nearer the steps where Paris delivered his speech and began asking a host of questions which he tried his best to answer, always pointing out that his calculations were still incomplete and his project still untested.  By the time everyone left to return home, their earlier chants of "Prince Paris" had dissipated so completely that not even the echoes resided in their memories.

Within a month Paris' calculations were complete and he was ready to begin translating them into the schematics needed to convert the waters of his people's basements into a force strong enough to re-start the town's generators.

"Do you really think you can do it?" Cade asked on one of his many visits to Paris' home.

"Yes I do," Paris answered.  "The earth has as many secrets as there will ever be people to discover them.  But it only gives up one at a time, and only as the need arises - not our need, but its own."

"You sound as if it's using us," Cade observed.

"It is," Paris answered him.  "I don't know how my being able to convert pools of water into energy fits its plan; but I know it does."

"What is its plan?" Cade asked.

"To build a mountain range from Tennessee to the Great Lakes," said Paris.

"And water plays a part in that?" Felicia, who had been listening unnoticed from the hallway, asked.

"Somehow it does."

"The earth doesn't need us to help fulfill its plans," Felicia insisted.            

"It does though," Paris assured her.  "For all our history we've believed the earth was there for our use.  It never occurred to us that maybe we're there for its use.  It needs certain changes in its environment in order to proceed to the next phase of its evolution.  It created one after another creature until it found one that could alter the physical world.  Then it created the conditions that would require us to make the alterations it wanted in order for us to survive.  I know it sounds strange, but I also know its the way it is.  All the things - the great catastrophes - that happened during the past twenty years can be traced to changes we've made in the environment.  Changes we were led into making - just as we're now being led into making yet another change that the earth will use -"

"Against us?" Felicia completed Paris' thought with a question.

"Against us, and for us," Paris replied.  "Everything the earth does is for its own purpose, not ours.  That its plans disrupt our lives is irrelevant to it.  Yet everything it does advances us in one way or another."

"But we're farther behind than where we were twenty years ago," Cade reminded his host.  "How have we advanced?"

"Our technology is farther behind," Paris, in turn, reminded his guest.  "Not everything.  We had come to believe that technology was the only element of our existence that mattered or that could advance us.  But other elements have moved ahead while technology slept.  We haven't lost technology; we've been forced to re-discover it - and in doing so, to take paths we would never have taken before.  No one alive would have bothered with standing pools of water when we had the means of harnessing rivers and waterfalls and even the oceans.  Now all we have left of water is the water in our basements, so it's there our technology resides."

When Cade left to return home, he was both elated and disappointed: elated by his conversation with Paris, disappointed that he did not get to speak alone with Felicia.  He had come there, as he always did, hoping to see Felicia - which he always did; but also hoping to speak to her in private - which he never succeeded in doing.

"It's as if he knows I want to be alone with her," he told his mother one morning at breakfast, "and makes it a point to always be there."

"Or else she knows it and makes it a point to have him there," Andrea countered.  "A chaperone isn't always something forced on a young woman against her will.  Sometimes it suits her purpose to have one."

"But I know he loves her," Cade insisted.  "And they live together as if they were man and wife."

"And it troubles you that they may sleep together?" Andrea asked her son.

"They don't," said Brad, who had walked into the dining room during the conversation.

"How do you know that?" asked Cade.

"Because Felicia told me," Brad replied.  "I asked her flat out if they slept together and she said no, they didn't.  She knows he's not good enough for her - she knows."

"She told you that?" Cade reluctantly asked, half afraid to hear the answer.

"Not in so many words.  But I can tell that's how she feels.  She wants a certain kind of man: one who's exciting, and adventurous.  Not one who's buried in - and married to - his work.  You'll see.  She'll leave him soon enough."

Sunday, December 14th, 2087, a group of citizens vanished without a trace - vanished as completely as human beings possibly can, disappearing from the memories of those they left behind - disappearing precisely because no one knew they had vanished.

All communication between communities was still accomplished in person, on foot; so that all messages and all messengers were essentially one and the same.  Communication was active and constant but lacked any semblance of the kind of rapidity people had been used to before the world ended.  It wasn't unusual for a traveler or a group of travelers on their way to a nearby or even a distant community to meet half a dozen other travelers along the way, some perhaps on their way to the very community they had just left or else another community along the same route.  Consequently, if a group left Paris to visit, or even relocate to, another town, almost certainly and almost within a month, travelers from that community arrived in Paris carrying news of the visitors; this way the community could be reassured that the travelers arrived safely.

Not that safety was an overriding concern any longer, now that peace and tranquility had settled through the Ohio Valley.  The horrors of the past had begun to fade; the earth was quiet, the people who preyed on others seemed to have gone away or else killed one another off.  For the first time in almost forty years, life was predictable; human society had returned to normal.  If weeks, or months, or even years went by without word of someone who decided to move to another community, no one thought anything of it.  The old injunction to "write us sometime" or "give us a call when you get there" had given way to the single reminder to "send word with whomever comes this way."

Three whole families pulled up stakes on a cold Sunday in December and set out for the town of New Paris, just north of US Route 40's junction with Interstate 70 in Preble County, Ohio, some one hundred thirty miles northeast of Paris, Indiana.  They said they might stop along the way in Elizabethtown, just across the Ohio border and just east of Route 50's junction with I-74 where, despite Joey and Paris' advice, a new community had been set up perilously close to the Kentucky border.  The families had made friends with some of Elizabethtown's citizens.  When, three months later, a party from Elizabethtown, visiting Paris, carried no word of the three families, everyone concluded they had decided not to take the detour but to proceed directly to their new home - a thought as reassuring as if they had passed through Elizabethtown, since it meant they had avoided the proximity to Kentucky.  No one from New Paris, Ohio traveled to Paris, Indiana to bring word of the families; so, in time, they were forgotten.

Only one man in Indiana ever learned their fate; and only when travelers across the entire southeastern part of the state began disappearing  did he learn of it.

Stone Creek was awaken late one night by a tapping on his window, its rhythm and cadence a code known only to the outlaw bands he had been affiliated with in Kentucky.  Though surprised by the noise, he was neither alarmed, since no one with a malevolent intent would have given the signal, nor puzzled, since any of his former comrades would have been able to track and locate him without being detected.  He arose and opened the window to admit the visitor.

"We need you," came the desperate plea of a man who looked as if he had run all the way from the Kentucky border.  Then, after catching his breath, the man asked why Stone Creek had not returned, as he always had.

"When I become the object of pursuit, I keep my distance," Stone Creek answered.

The man stood dumbfounded before him, as if trying to interpret a foreign tongue.  Perceiving his guests perplexity, he elaborated.

"If you've sought me," he said, "then surely you've been to Brandenburg.  You saw what was left behind.  The same outlaws who killed Cade's guardians chased him to the bridge and tried to shoot both of us."

"My God," the man mumbled as he slowly shook his head from side to side, looking as if he would either scream or burst out crying.  "My God," he echoed his own despair.  Stone Creek gestured that he had no idea what the man meant.

"When we need you most," the man tried to gather his wits about him long enough to explain, "you think we'd try and kill you?  My God, can you think us such fools?  It wasn't us who attacked you - it was them!  Them!  They've nearly overrun us.  It's been a constant state of war for over a year.  All our energies go to fighting them - we have no time to gather supplies, let alone fight among ourselves.  We've had to band together, put our differences aside, just to stay alive.  We've even had to risk crossing the border, to gather slaves."

"What?" Stone Creek almost screamed, grabbing the man by his collar and drawing him closer.

"We had to!" the man explained.  "We have no one left to gather food.  All of us - even our women - spend our entire days fighting!  We had no choice but to come into your territory and take your people whenever we could!  Otherwise we'd have starved."

"This is not my territory," Stone Creek pointed out as he released his grip on the man's collar.  "Nor will it ever be.  It'll be Brad's one day.  All of it," he stressed, adding "and all its people."

"We only take what we absolutely need!" the man swore.

"For now," Stone Creek added sardonically.

"No, I swear," the man insisted, "we don't want to be a part of your world!  We just want to return to our own way of life - that's all we want - I swear it!"

"Of course it's all you want," Stone Creek agreed.  "It's all anyone's ever wanted.  But things have a way of getting out of hand.  People get caught up in their attempts to deal with a crisis.  Once you've changed even one thing in your life, you can never return to where you were.  The moment you set foot in Indiana seeking a way out of your crisis you sealed your own fate.  You will never leave Indiana alive."

The man recoiled.  Stone Creek smiled at his naiveté.  "I was speaking metaphorically," he assured his guest.  "I have no intention of killing you.  You can come and go as freely as you like; but you will never return to Kentucky - not the Kentucky you left.  Because you will have brought Indiana back with you.  It's no different than if some alien microbe infected the people of Indiana and you carried it back with you to Kentucky to infect your people.  But tell me: who are these invaders of your territory?  Where are they from?"

"From the Carolinas," the man said, almost shuddering as he spoke the words.

"Ah," Stone Creek mused.  "So the world did not end at our borders.  There is life beyond the Appalachians.  The equation has changed again.  And Paris imagines the dynamics of nature are complex: they're nothing compared to those of men.  Perhaps not in nature, but in the human environment the flap of a butterfly's wings in Japan really does set the entire world reeling.  So the Carolinians have chosen to be the instruments of fate - and, unwittingly, the means to my ends."

The man looked puzzled.  "Your ends?" he questioned.

"I told you: the boy named Brad will one day rule Indiana."

But I thought Cade -" the man started to ask.

"Cade is to be cherished in his own right," Stone Creek cut his visitor's question short.  "But he, too, is merely a means to an end.  Besides, he's not a ruler; he's much too wise to ever want to rule.  But Brad turned out exactly as I knew he would.  Aggressive, impulsive, insensitive to the needs of others, blind to everything but his own ambition, and totally incapable of comprehending the futility of power.  The perfect ruler.  Of the perfect kingdom."

"So will you help us?" the man asked.

Stone Creek nodded.  "Before the month is out, I'll return to Kentucky.  To Brandenburg.  Have a boat waiting for me where the bridge used to cross the Ohio into Indiana.  Well hidden.  One final word before you go: do not carry off so many of Paris' people as to call attention to what you're doing.  Better to flirt with starvation than risk the wrath of a pacifist."

Stone Creek kept his appointment.  When he arrived at the site of the bridge that once carried Indiana 135 across the river, waiting for him beneath the tangle of steel and concrete along the northern bank of the river was a small rowboat.  Nearly hidden in the tangled ruins were ten skeletons, the remains of the men who tried to kill Stone Creek having washed to Indiana to decay in the shallow water.  One was touching the boat, as if mooring it to the bridge.  Stone Creek got in and silently rowed to the other side.  It was dusk, on a Thursday, November 25th, of the year 2088 - almost a year after the first slaves were carried off to Kentucky.  Since then, hundreds of travelers had disappeared on their way from one community to another - a figure too great to pass unnoticed any longer.

For three days Stone Creek waited in Brandenburg for his comrades to show.  When they finally arrived late Sunday afternoon, they were preceded by a group of ten men Stone Creek did not recognize.  The ten took cover and waited.  Before his own men arrived, fifteen minutes later, Stone Creek had sized up the situation and was ready with a diversion.  When his men were within range of the ambush, and the strangers were readying their weapons, he fired a rapid round of ammunition aimed at ricocheting off a series of stone walls surrounding him, making it seem like a dozen men were firing.  The strangers, believing themselves surrounded, threw down their weapons and surrendered.

Before Stone Creek could get to the prisoners, his men were upon them, shooting them where they stood.  Stone Creek, in turn, fired his weapon, but not at the prisoners.  He shot in the air, to get his men's attention.  When they ceased shooting, all but two prisoners lay dying on the ground.

"We will kill no more prisoners," Stone Creek told his men.

"But they're murderers - butchers!" his men protested.  "They kill our people - even our women and children!"

"To paraphrase Jesus: let him who has no blood on his hands pull the next trigger," advised Stone Creek.  "You need slaves more than you need vengeance."

"These Carolinians will never stand for being slaves the way those Hoosiers do!" one of Stone Creek's men assured him.

"Then you'll need to keep them shackled at all times," Stone Creek rejoined.  "The point is, you can take no more Hoosiers.  Your activities have already become known.  The only thing they don't know is your motive, or that their friends and neighbors are still alive.  They assume all the missing persons have been murdered, their bodies buried, their possessions taken - otherwise they'd already be sending men across the border.  Even so, there's talk of forming an army to extract retribution.  But their leader opposes it, advising his people to stay put in their own communities.  He intends to send emissaries to every community in Indiana and Southern Ohio to warn them to stay off the roads.  I want no further incursions into Indiana, Ohio or anyplace else.  Paris must prevail - he absolutely, positively must!  If he fails to keep his people from arming themselves, you'll have enemies coming at you from every side.  No more slaves are to be taken from Paris' territory.  Spread the word immediately, to every single gang in Kentucky.  There will be no more slaves taken from across the Ohio."

"What about the ones we already have?" it was asked.

"Continue to use them - or, if need be, dispose of them," Stone Creek answered.  "Whatever you do, you cannot release them.  If even so much as one of them gets home, you can expect an army on your doorstep."

"I'll go," Joey told his leader.  "It makes the most sense for me to go."

"No," Paris countered, "you're too valuable.  I can't risk anything happening to you.  I'll go myself."

Joey almost burst out laughing despite his respect for his leader's intellect.  "If I'm too valuable," he posed the obvious question, "how in God's name can you be expendable?"

"If I die, you're still here to become leader," Paris explained the logic of his decision.  "You'll have time to pick a successor.  But if you die, I have no successor.  And anyone I pick will be suspect.  Whereas your successor will be accepted.  Remember, it's you they trust.  I have to earn their trust every day of my life."

"But you do have a successor if I die," Joey insisted.  "Stone Creek."

"No," said Paris.  "He can't be trusted to put the people's interest above his own.  Yet, without you, I would be forced to choose him as my second-in- command.  I can't allow you to jeopardize your life or the well-being of these people.  I'll go and warn the communities to stay at home."

"But for how long?" Joey asked.

"We'll know when it's safe again," Paris assured his second-in-command.

"But how will we know unless people again turn up missing?" Joey pressed his leader for something more tangible.  "It has to be the outlaws coming across the border to murder our people.  Once they've started why would they stop?  At least, without some kind of retribution."

"Something's driving them from their world," Paris speculated.  "When they restore it to the way it was, they'll stop crossing the border."

"Still," Joey breached a subject that had become virtually taboo in the society Paris created, "it may be time to consider arming ourselves."

"You're as opposed to that as I am," Paris reminded his lieutenant.

"I oppose it because it violates God's commandments," Joey acknowledged.  "But if it's a question of survival, I'd sooner violate them than see everyone perish."

"It won't come to that," Paris promised.

Paris did not disclose to his people his entire reason for journeying to the communities he helped establish in the Ohio Valley.  In the year since unveiling his project for extracting energy from standing water, he had nearly perfected it.  He told his people that he wished to share his discovery with the other communities.  When asked why he didn't wait until the system was up and running, he explained that it was crucial to get word to the others before they began draining their basements in anticipation of a spring likely to be warm enough for mosquitoes and other insects to return.  And while every word he said was true - he had already planned to visit these other communities before the arrival of spring - the words he didn't say cast an aura of falsehood about his truth.  He regretted this first and only lack of candor with his people, but was more afraid of the consequences of their learning how widespread the disappearances were and how concerned he was.  He knew that their wish to bear arms lay smoldering beneath the surface, ready to spring to the surface given the least provocation.

He set his departure for the same day Stone Creek had promised to return from Kentucky, where he told Paris he was going to try and learn if the outlaws knew anything about, or had a hand in, the disappearances.

As sure as clockwork, Stone Creek returned from Kentucky Tuesday, November 30, just as he said he would.  He headed straight for City Hall to report his findings.  Paris, Joey, Cade and Brad were already there - the appearance of Andrea's sons the only surprise awaiting him.

"I must speak to Joey in private about a separate matter," were his first words.  The two of them retreated to a small ante-chamber.

"Is it wise having those boys here?" he asked.  "I agree they should be groomed for public trust," he added.  "But I'm not sure they're ready to sit in on secret meetings."

"For once we agree," Joey acknowledged.  "But Paris insisted.  Remember: for him, nothing is entirely secret."

"Except his real reason for this journey of his," Stone Creek reminded.

"He wants to take Brad and Cade with him," Joey revealed.

"No!  They mustn't go - at least not both of them," Stone Creek insisted.  "Andrea should not be asked to risk losing both her sons."

"Which one should stay?" asked Joey, already certain of the answer.

"She's already lost Cade once," Stone Creek reasoned.  "His loss a second time would not be as devastating to her as Brad's loss."

Stone Creek's response shattered Joey's certainty.  He had fully expected Cade - the one personally groomed by him - to be the one left behind.  The choice of Brad reduced all his calculations regarding Stone Creek's motives to rubble - an effect not entirely lost on Stone Creek, who smiled in acknowledgement of his little victory.

"You always assume I'm up to something, don't you?" he asked Joey good-naturedly as they entered the council chamber.  He turned to Paris and thanked him for indulging his wish to meet privately with Joey.

"Now for my report," he began at once.  "I've been told that bands of renegades from across the Appalachians settled in Kentucky and, from there, strayed into Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio - possibly even as far as Indiana.  Remnants of federal agencies that were left behind when their leaders abandoned the nation's capital.  Their handiwork - like that of the Feds we encountered in Nebraska - was particularly grisly.  I've been assured they've all been killed; all their trophies buried in a common grave."

"There could be more," Joey speculated.

"We need to arm ourselves!" Brad insisted.  "Rediscover the art of warfare."

"No," Paris said calmly, but sternly.  "We will not rush to repeat our past mistakes.  As sure as night follows day, weapons made to defend us from our enemies will end up being used against ourselves."

"We can't accept the word of outlaws!" Brad argued.

"To the contrary," countered Stone Creek.  "These renegades posed a far greater threat to them than to our people.  It is not in their interest to ignore that threat.  And, believe me, they have enough weapons to counter the threat.  We must remain vigilant, of course - and we must begin re-arming ourselves.  But I believe the immediate threat to us will soon be over, if it's not already.  I don't think there will be more disappearances along our trade routes.  But I would wait a week, or a month, before making your journey."

"No," Paris refused to put it off.  "We leave today - Cade, Brad, Felicia and myself."

"Then I won't try and talk you out of it," Stone Creek relented.

"But what about the twins?" Joey asked.  "Surely they shouldn't both go!"

"If that's their wish," Stone Creek acquiesced.  "All I can do is give my blessing."

"Then it's settled," Paris declared.  "The four of us will begin our journey one hour from now.  We'll meet out front, with our gear."

"I'll accompany you," Stone Creek said to Brad and Cade as they left the square for their mother's house.

"I'll have to start without you," he told Brad as they walked. 

"Start?  Start what?" Brad asked.

"Building an army," Stone Creek answered.

"But I though we were going to build it together," Brad expressed his disappointment.

"We will," he was assured.  "But it's too important to put off till you return.  It must be started now - this very day.  And started in our leader's absence.  You're not being left out, I promise you.  When you return I'll fill you in on what's been done."

An hour later, Paris, Felicia, Brad and Cade met in front of City Hall, each carrying a backpack full of the gear they would need to camp along the way.  A contingent of citizens lined the square to send them off.  As they started out, Brad suddenly threw down his gear and explained "I'm not going!  I've changed my mind.  I'm not going."

Paris came over to him, picked up his gear and handed it to him, saying "You and Cade will lead us one day.  You must go among the people of the other communities.  You must learn what their needs and expectations are.  You can't learn that except by being with them."

"When I become their leader," Brad replied coldly, "their needs and expectations will not be my primary concern.  Enforcing the law will be."

"The law is not what you think it is," Paris cautioned.

"Law is everything," said Brad.  "Without it there is anarchy.  The people must not dictate the terms under which their leaders govern.  And they will not when I become their leader.  I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I can't go with you - not this time.  Maybe next time.  Unless, as my leader, you're ordering me to accompany you."

Paris shook his head.  "No," he said.  "I wouldn't hesitate ordering you not to go if I thought your life was in danger.  But I can't order you to go."

With this, they parted company, Brad returning home; Paris, Felicia and Cade heading eastward along 160 - Paris' magical highway that paved the way from the ruins of the past to the world of the present.  No one spoke for the first ten miles of their journey until, at Charlestown, their first stop, 160 abruptly ended.  Both Paris and Felicia understood the significance of the road they traveled and remained silent in tribute to the awesome weight it bore.  Cade refrained from speaking out of respect for what his companions were experiencing.                                        

When the road ended, and he sensed a shift in his companions' attitude, Cade finally breached a subject he had been holding in reserve since they left Paris five hours ago.

"My brother puts great store in appearances," he addressed his leader.  "Wouldn't it have been better if you had ordered him to come with us?"

"It would have established my authority over him, yes," Paris admitted.  "And it would have made him easier to deal with.  But it would have violated everything our way of life is based on."

"Why?  How?" Cade asked.

"Each person's will is his by right," Paris said.  "For one to exert his will over another begins the process of shaping society to benefit some at the expense of others all over again.  It's a process of corruption and death.  It can't be allowed to creep back into our lives."

That night Cade cried alone in his tent.  They had met with the citizens of Charlestown that afternoon.  Paris relayed both his message and his warning, advising the people not to drain their basements, warning them not to travel.  After the meeting they spent a couple hours being entertained by the people of Charlestown; then, as the afternoon rapidly wore on toward dusk, they collected their things and left, heading northeast along Indiana Route 62 to Solon and New Washington.

Though he carried his own tent on his back, Cade assumed he would be asked to sleep in Paris' tent, along with Felicia - at least for this first night.  He had no way of knowing that Paris intended for him to join them; or that it was only at Felicia's insistence that he was not asked.  He wanted desperately to sleep in the same room with Felicia, and cried at not being able to.  Not that he held Paris to blame: he loved Paris and accepted his leader's decision to exclude him from his most intimate circle.  But he couldn't help wondering if perhaps Paris sensed his infatuation with Felicia and, for that reason, kept him at bay.

A strange sound in the middle of the night woke all three travelers.  Paris' first thought was the renegades who had been attacking his people.  Felicia thought perhaps the ground was rumbling.  Cade alone knew at once what the sound was; he leaped from his sleeping bag and ran from his tent, only to hear it disappearing into the night. 

A moment later Paris appeared at the door of his tent, carrying a knife.  He was surprised to see Cade outside his tent, relieved to see he was alright.  He told Cade to get his sleeping bag and join he and Felicia in his tent.

"It isn't necessary," said Cade.  "I'm not afraid of the lion."

"Of course," Paris acknowledged the reality of the noise.  "Joey and Carol heard it too when they traveled.  Nevertheless, I want you to join us," he ordered.  "It could just as easily have been the renegades."

When Cade had settled in Paris' tent for the remainder of the night, he asked about the knife.

"I've always carried it," Paris explained.  "Alice gave it to me after she cut my thumb and let a drop of my blood fall beside City Hall."

"But would you use it?" Cade asked.

"Yes," Paris answered.  "In self defense."

"But isn't that all my brother wants?  Just for your people to be able to defend themselves."

"No," said Paris, "he wants more.  He wants an army.  Defense is only a small part of an army's reason for being.  Having an army is more than acknowledging that we have enemies - it's confessing that we want - and need - enemies.  I haven't found a way to reconcile the need for defense with the need for enemies.  I know we're vulnerable; but an army will make us vulnerable for attack from within as well as without.  We have to resist that."

One after another, the communities Paris helped establish were visited by the three travelers.  One after another they received the same message and the same warning.  One after another balked at both.

"Our economy depends upon trading with other communities," Paris was continually told.  "We've moved beyond subsistence.  To stop traveling would be to return to the primitive ways we started with."

He was also told, again and again, that the time had come to start forming an army to protect the trade routes - an idea he argued against as often as it was put to him.  The force of his argument carried greater weight the farther from the Kentucky border he traveled; communities nearest the border, most vulnerable to attack, remained unmoved by his arguments against having an army.

But, ironically, it was the water in the basements that proved the greater barrier to his purpose.  While every community applauded his project, not one accepted his request to let the water stand in their basements.  It wasn't so much their fear of mosquitoes as it was their rejection of the limitations so many small, independent sources of water necessarily placed on the potential of his technology.

"Yes, we'll have a source of power," each community's town council recognized and accepted, "but we'll never have more than just enough to power each home.  We'll never be able to generate the kind of power needed for industry.  We'll never grow.  We'll spend our days stagnating at the level we're at now.  We have other sources of water your technology can be applied to - lakes, streams.  We can create bodies of water if we must.  Possibly even divert or dam the Ohio.  To use your project in our basements is to squander the great gift you've given us."

The irony of their rejection of Paris' request was lost on them - but not on him.  He came away from each community both discouraged and fearful for his people's future.

Cade sensed Paris' disappointment even if he failed to comprehend its source.  "You don't have to give them your system," he reminded Paris.  "You can always say you miscalculated, or that it's proven more difficult than you anticipated."

"No," Paris wearily replied.  "I can't withhold it from them simply because they wish to use it in ways that would harm their communities."

"How will it harm them to grow?" Cade asked.

"What they don't have will once again become more important than all they do have," Paris explained.  "For these few years they've been content to live in the world they re-built.  Now they want to exchange it for the world they lost.  The old idea that only by growing can they survive or be content is once again taking hold of them."

"Is that so wrong?"

"It's the core of the attitude that almost sealed their doom twenty years ago," Paris said.  "It's taken them this long to recover.  Their way of life is becoming rigid again, unyielding; again they're starting to see themselves as the masters of their environment.  The earth is not finished re-shaping itself.  They need to remain flexible, bending with it.  Not rigid, resisting its movements."

Outside of West Union, in south central Adams County, in south central Ohio, seven miles north of the Ohio River - one of the communities neither Joey nor Paris wanted re-established because of its proximity to the Kentucky border - a man was stabbed to death under a full moon surrounded by a ring of ice.

Paris and his fellow travelers left West Union heading northeast along Ohio Route 41.  They planned to stop in the communities of Dunkinsville and Peebles before turning westward for their return trip to Indiana.  There were communities farther east - some almost to the West Virginia border; but Paris had seen enough to understand that his mission was a failure, so he decided to spend no more time than absolutely necessary away from his home and his project for restoring electrical power to the Ohio Valley.  As it was, he expected the return trip to take at least a month, if not two, given the number of communities on his itinerary.

They left West Union just before dusk.  Though it was only five miles to Dunkinsville, it would be dark by the time they reached it - and out of respect for his people's need to feel secure, Paris had vowed never to enter any community under cover of darkness.  Halfway between the two communities, he selected a spot while there was still enough light to set up their tents for the night.

"I want to get an early start tomorrow," Paris informed Cade and Felicia.  "I'd like to reach Wilmington before dusk.  That means about fifty miles plus enough time to meet with two communities,"  With this explanation, the three travelers turned in for the night, long before the full moon arose in the southeast.

In the middle of the night the ground shook - a small tremor of the kind that periodically occurred outside major fault lines, barely noticeable and quickly forgotten.  Neither Paris nor Cade's sleep was disturbed; but Felicia, for whom the ground was an enemy never to be trusted, awoke in a state of panic.  Without a word, she arose from her sleeping bag and ran out of the tent into the twilight of a moonlit night.  She began pacing about, at first between the two tents, then around them; then moved beyond their perimeter, as if seeking a stand of solid ground amidst a crumbling terrain, her shadow thrown by the angle of the moon first behind her, then in front of her then to her side.  Suddenly another shadow made its way onto the plain, followed by a second then a third, the three of them slowly closing in on Felicia.  She seemed not to notice either the shadows stalking her or the forms throwing them around her until, all at once, all three were upon her.

They all three grabbed her and threw her to the ground and began loosening their pants.  She screamed - not because she was about to be raped but because, in her panic, she imagined she had fallen and was about to be swallowed up by the earth.

Cade was up and going to her, unarmed, even before Paris knew she was gone.  When Paris realized what the sound was, and where it had come from, he grabbed his knife and ran from the tent.  Cade reached the three men first and, with a flying leap, landed on the one nearest to where Felicia lay; but the other two pulled him off and wrestled him to the ground, all three managing to draw knives from inside their coats with one hand while holding Cade with their other hand.

Before they could plunge their knives into Cade's body, Paris was upon them, stabbing so violently at all three that they had to release Cade to keep from being killed.  Two immediately got up and ran while the third attempted to fight off the attack.  Within seconds he lay motionless on the ground, stabbed in the middle of his forehead; then his body began quivering as if the knife were sending an electrical current through his brain.  Blood began oozing from his eyes, ears, nose and mouth till, finally, he grew still and a noise like the pop of an overloaded circuit sprang from his mouth.

Cade went to Felicia and helped her up the instant he realized two of the men had fled while Paris subdued the third.  Sensing everything that was going on around him, Paris stood staring down at the dying man, feeling neither elated at his victory nor horrified at having killed a man so easily and so naturally.

For a long time the three of them stood there motionless.  Then Paris reached down and, shielding the dead man from the other two, pulled his knife from the man's forehead, a stream of blood trickling from the wound.

"Should we bury him?" Felicia asked.

"No," said Paris.  "We leave him exactly as he is."

Together, they walked back to their tents, Cade once again asked to spend the rest of the night in Paris' tent.  "I'll stand watch," said Paris as Cade and Felicia settled into their sleeping bags.

At the first light of day, Paris awoke his fellow travelers, both of whom had fallen asleep during the night.  When they arose and began folding their sleeping bags, Paris walked from the tent to the dead man lying some fifty yards away and began searching his pockets for some clue to his identity.  He found nothing.

"I don't know any more about him than I did last night," he told Cade, who had followed him to the dead man.  "I had hoped to find something to tell me where he's from."

"He's one of them - the renegades," Cade observed.

"How can you tell?" asked Paris.

"I can't really explain it," Cade admitted.  "I just know he is.  He's not from Kentucky.  Not an outlaw.  There's a certain look about them - not so much the clothes they wear but the way they're worn.  All the outlaws I've ever seen have the same style of wearing their clothes.  It's from spending so much time in the caves, I think.  Their clothes look disheveled, no matter what; and damp, like they've just been washed.  This man's clothes - and the other two also - are too well cared for to be the clothes of outlaws."

"Then Stone Creek's informants were right," Paris observed.  "The renegades have strayed as far as Ohio.  But haven't all been killed, as he said they were."

"Maybe these three were the last," Cade speculated.  "Maybe they escaped."  Then he turned to look full face at Paris.  "I'd give anything if I'd had a knife!" he exclaimed.  "I wish I could have been the one to kill him and save her."

Paris considered his friend's words, but shook his head.  "No," he concluded.  "It would have been a form of murder to have killed him because of your infatuation with Felicia.  A life should only be taken to preserve the world we've built - and only then when there's no other way.  I would have killed all three if I could have - but not in retaliation for their attack; not even in self-defense.  The two who escaped pose a threat to our way of life.  If not for the improbability of finding them, I would have gone after them.  As it is, there's nothing more we can do but alert the communities we visit next."

"You still plan to continue visiting the communities?" Cade asked incredulously.  Paris acknowledged that he did.  "Shouldn't Felicia return home after this?"

"No," said Paris.  "This attack makes our mission more important than ever.  If it weren't for the time involved, I'd go back to every community we've already visited.  But we have to stick to our schedule.  The others have been warned."

There were no further incidents.  Paris, Cade and Felicia continued on to Dunkinsville and Peebles, then began the westward trek back, making a northwesterly sweep through southwestern Ohio which took them between Cincinnati and Dayton, both of which they by-passed: the old taboo against large cities had not ended; and brought them to the Indiana border a few miles south of Richmond, another of many cities where US 40 and Interstate 70 crossed paths.

They visited dozens of communities in East Central Indiana as they slowly worked their way southwestward through Wayne, Union, Fayette, Franklin, Decatur, Ripley and Jennings Counties, leaving only Jefferson, Scott and Clark Counties to go.

On the border between Jennings and Jefferson Counties was a small town named Paris.  It had never been reclaimed, despite its strategic location and the excellent condition of its structures, out of respect for Paris and his capital city.  It was not on Paris' itinerary, since no community had been established there.  Instead, the town of Lancaster, five miles eastward, was visited, with the town of Deputy, nine miles to the southwest, next on the itinerary.

On a sudden impulse, after leaving Lancaster, Paris headed due west along Indiana route 250 instead of southwest through Jefferson County.  Although it was early afternoon when they arrived in the deserted town, Paris announced to his fellow travelers that they would spend the night there.  Cade looked around, saw the name of the town prominently displayed on a road sign, and smiled at his leader's sense of irony.

"Your capital's alter-ego," he observed.

But Paris just stood there shaking his head, as if in disbelief.  "It's all here," he muttered in the manner of someone discovering in his own back yard the treasure he spent half his life seeking.  "All the answers.  They were here all along; and all these years, because I allowed my name to be bestowed on another town, they lay unnoticed."

"What answers?" asked Felicia.

"To what my town is," replied Paris.  "And who I am.  It's all here.  Just waiting to be found."

For an hour they walked through the town, not looking for anything in particular, and not really looking at anything at all - just strolling along its streets, as if all three were deep in thought and moved entirely from habit.  Eventually Paris addressed the other two.

"We won't need our tents tonight," he said.  "We'll sleep in one of the houses."

Paris lacked the formal organization of larger towns; there was no definite center, characterized by the presence of public buildings, just a casual arrangement of buildings and houses marking the town's various stages of development.  Though the air had grown warmer here through the years as it had everywhere else, not all the snow had melted from the open fields and front yards; and, where it had melted, pools of water still covered stretches of roadway, there being no human commerce to help move nature along.

"And the answers you're seeking?" asked Cade.  "Where will you find them?"

"They're all around us," Paris replied cryptically.  "Something happened here long before the world ended, something that affects the town we live in and me as well.  But I was wrong about finding the answers here, at least in a form I can recognize.  They're somewhere else."

"Where?" asked Felicia.

"That's what this town will tell us," said Paris.  And, as he spoke, a house caught his eye - one no different from any other, except that it seemed to beckon him.

"We'll stay there tonight," he announced, pointing to a small brick house a few hundred yards away, along Route 120 heading north out of town.

The three of them made for it.  The front door was unlocked, so they went inside and looked around, not with the aim of finding something but simply to see what was there.  Everything was neat and orderly; and, allowing for the passage of perhaps as much as two decades since its occupation, reasonably clean.

The house had three bedrooms.  The beds in each had been stripped of their linens, so the travelers looked through dresser drawers until finding fresh linens with which to make up the beds.  Then they returned to the living room.  Against one wall was a small desk.  Paris walked to it, intending to look through its drawers; but, before he could, a piece of paper lying beneath a paperweight caught his attention.  He reached and picked it up, and read it.

"We're meeting them in Salem.  From there we'll head west," the note read.  "Don't say anything until we're long gone.  We wish you had chosen to come with us.  People can't take towns off the map without destroying them, you know that.  By the time you read this, Indiana will have two more ghost towns.  They're even taking the signs with them so nothing'll be left of their town.  As you saw, we left our signs.  Maybe someday someone will care that a place called Paris, Indiana once existed, even if it did fail to keep pace with the economy.  Wish us well, as we wish you."

Paris raised the note to his lips to gently kiss it; then he replaced it under the paperweight.

The next morning the travelers started out again, heading south along Indiana Route 3 to the last few towns on their itinerary before returning home.

"What about Salem?" Cade asked.  He too had read the note.

"I'll go there after we've returned," Paris told him.  "It's in 'No-Man's Land' - west of our town, on the eastern fringe of where the earth caved in."

"I'll go with you," Cade promised.

"No.  It's too dangerous," said Paris.  "I'll go alone.  It's not something I'm doing for the people so much as for myself.  I won't risk anyone else's life."

Four months after setting out, the travelers returned home.  From the moment they arrived, Paris was bombarded with questions - not questions about the other communities but about his project.  Everyone wanted to know when they would have power again.  He made one last attempt to convince his people only to use what could be generated from their basements; but was overwhelmed by their counter-argument that eventually their basements would return to normal and they would again be without power.  Reluctantly, he accepted their wish to employ his system on a much larger scale.

"Will you use the Ohio?" Joey asked at a strategy session which included Stone Creek, Brad, Cade and several other representatives from the community.

"No," answered Paris.

"Why not?" asked Brad, clearly annoyed by the response.

"This system is an adaptation of the principles behind hydroelectric power," Paris explained.  "But, unlike that kind - which uses the energy generated by moving water - this taps the latent energy within the water.  The greater the movement, the less energy will be available.  And though the river runs still and deep in places, it's too turbulent to be a reliable source of energy."

"Where will you find a big enough body of water?" asked Cade.

Paris smiled as he thought of Alice and of how she would respond.  "The water will find us," he prophesied. 

"Is there a timetable connected to this project?" asked Stone Creek.  "Or must the people wait till the water decides to reveal itself?"

"Or is the water underground?" asked Joey.

"All I can say is that when I return I'll know," Paris answered each question with the same response.

"Return from where?" said Brad.

"Tomorrow I leave for Salem," Paris explained.  "It's twenty miles from here."

"Who's going with you?" Stone Creek wanted to know.

"I go alone," said Paris.  "It's a personal mission, into dangerous territory."

Joey vaguely remembered seeing the name on one of his maps.  "It's west of here, isn't it?" he noted.  "It's where the rift if - no one's been there in almost twenty years.  You can't go alone," Joey insisted.  "It's too dangerous."

"I agree you shouldn't go alone," said Stone Creek.  "But I don't agree as to the danger.  Remember: when we were there, the landscape was hidden by snow.  The snow's gone.  The dangers will no longer be hidden."

"Whether they are or not, you can't go alone," Joey reiterated.  "We can't afford to lose our leader.  I'll accompany you."

"I'd like to go too," Cade offered.

"I think Brad and Cade both should go," Stone Creek suggested.  "It's important to be able to read all kinds of terrain," he added, looking pointedly at Brad.  "An enemy can approach from the west as well as from the east or the south."

"Let me think about it," said Paris.

When the meeting ended, and Joey was alone with Paris, he tried to dissuade him from letting the twins accompany them.

"It isn't just the danger," said Joey.  "Something's going on right under our noses, but I don't know what.  The whole time you were gone, I had the feeling there was some secret objective being carried out - like an underground movement.  You already know I don't trust Stone Creek.  He's up to something.  And it involves Brad.  If he wants Brad to go with you all of a sudden, when he was against it before, there's some hidden agenda."

"All the more reason for Brad to go with us," Paris concluded.

"Then it's already decided?" Joey asked, to which Paris nodded his affirmation.

The irony of the journey filled Paris' consciousness as they set out on Monday morning, April 6, 2089.  The road that led his people into the future was now leading him into the past.  His cherished 160, which led southeastward to Charlestown and the vast network of communities filling the Ohio Valley, led northwestward as well, to Salem, and no farther.  It ended on the map at Salem, in a confluence of three other highways; on the land itself it ended in the great rift that swallowed the entire eastern half of the Mississippi Valley.

Of the four travelers, only Joey had any memory of the rift, and only buried in snow.  He recalled the route Kirk had taken seventeen years go, but not the towns they had passed through, or the ones they skirted.  He did not know if he had been to Salem or not.

The ground began to sink into the rift at New Liberty, which was almost totally destroyed, leaving only piles of weather beaten timber and a few road signs to mark its place along 160.  Farther along, the town of South Boston lay sprawled across the roadway, its north end a mass of splinters and nails at the bottom of a hundred foot pit, its south end a row of broken roofs peeking up from a ten foot gully.  The road, as the ground surrounding it wherever it remained at ground level, grew increasingly wet the closer they got to their destination, making the are area look more like a marshland than an open plain.  They began their journey at a rate of five miles an hour, losing pace at New Liberty then again at South Boston, eventually slowing, because of the terrain and its condition, to a rate of barely a mile an hour.  The journey to Salem ended up taking eight hours.

Before any sign of Salem, they saw two of the three roads intersecting 160 approaching.  From the northeast, Route 56 worked its way westward; from the southeast, Route 60 climbed out of a swamp onto the sliver of ground holding 160 suspended like a bridge over the rift.  Then, as they caught their first glimpse of Salem in the distance, Route 135, the last of the roads intersecting 160, rose from the south like a roller coaster only to sink like a drain pipe beneath the horizon just north of town.

On the outskirts of town, Joey insisted they stop and rest before entering.  Paris countered that they could rest when they reached their destination.

"We're farther into the rift," Joey reminded his leader.  "And Salem is a bigger town than the others along the way.  From here, everything looks as it should; all the buildings visible from here look to be intact - and that, more than anything else, concerns me.  At least part of the town should be in ruins."

"But we know the rift is not simply one big sink hole," Paris pointed out.  "It's a series of holes scattered along a gradual decline.  And the rift fans westward at some point before the falls along the Ohio.  Salem may have been untouched by whatever caused the rift."

"Or its foundation may be barely clinging to the ground, and the slightest pressure could cave it in," Joey cautioned.

"I say we keep moving," Brad threw in his opinion.

"And what about you, Cade?" Paris asked.

"I agree with Joey," Cade answered.  "We should test each step as we go.  Look around: we have no reason to assume just this one piece of ground was spared.  I say we set up camp here, and wait till sunup to continue."

Paris considered each of the views expressed.  "If I had come alone," he said at length, "there's no question about it: I would have kept going till I found what I came for.  Though each of you had a reason for coming, none of you have anything personal to gain or lose from that town.  We'll camp here tonight and enter Salem in the morning, with the sun at our backs instead of our faces."

Two tents were set up in the middle of Indiana Route 160.  Brad and Cade took one, Paris and Joey the other.  Though it was not yet dark, all four got into their sleeping bags, each intending to rest awhile then get up.  But each fell asleep almost at once, and remained asleep until early morning, when they were awakened by the strangest sound any of them had ever heard - a sound not unfamiliar to Joey but, in the context of the time and place, every bit as strange to him as it was to the other three, two of whom had never heard it, while the third, who had, could barely locate its memory deep in his subconscious.

It was raining.  A rain had not fallen anyplace anyone had been since the day  the snow began falling.  The air was warm enough to generate clouds; but, although the snow had nearly all melted, no bodies of water large enough to support the kind of evaporation needed to produce rain clouds existed anywhere in the Ohio Valley.  Nor was the sun yet hot enough to coax enough moisture from the ground to make rain.  Yet here it was, at four A.M., outside the town of Salem, Indiana, on the outskirts of the great rift that had become the Mississippi Valley, raining.  Not a hard rain, but hard enough to awaken the four travelers.

"It can't be," said Joey, leaping from his sleeping bag to look out the tent's flap, holding his lantern to illuminate the sparkling drops falling outside.  The flap of the other tent opened, too; Brad and Cade peeked out into the night.  Only Paris remained in his sleeping bag, sitting up as if trying to discern some secret code the rain was tapping out.

"Come look!" Joey called to him, but he nodded and kept sitting, his attention riveted to the eerie sound beating against his tent.  Suddenly a light came into his eyes and he jumped from his sleeping bag and ran past Joey out into the night to stand beneath the cloud whose precious cargo had awakened something that had lain dormant for eighteen years.

Joey almost called to him to come back inside but caught a glimpse of his face in his lantern's rays and stopped his voice before the words could form.

For another half hour it rained, then the drops stopped falling and Paris returned to his tent, soaking wet.  He stripped naked outside the flap, laid his clothes on the road, and entered.  Joey had already taken a towel from his backpack and a change of clothes for Paris; he handed them to him.  In the light of Joey's lantern, Paris dried himself then slipped into his dry clothes and sat back down on his sleeping bag.

He looked up at Joey and smiled.  "I remember," he said.  "I remember rain.  Beside a lake.  And a man wrapping a big blanket around me.  Only it wasn't a rain like this.  It was like the cloud itself.  And I remember a real rain."

The smile vanished from Paris' face and he began to cry.  Joey went to him and knelt beside him.  "What is it?" Joey asked.

"The rain," Paris said through his tears.  "It wasn't where I thought it was, the real rain.  It was right here.  Right here."

He began trembling.  Joey put his arms around him to help steady him.  "It was here, right here," Paris kept repeating, as he let his head rest against Joey's chest.  "But how can that be?" he asked his second in command.  "It didn't rain when Kirk led us through here, did it?"

"No," said Joey, "it hasn't rained since the day Yellowstone exploded."

"So how could I remember rain in this place?"

"If you were someone else, I might say your memory was playing tricks on you," said Joey.  "But I don't think so."  Now tears came to Joey's eyes.  "God has brought you back home," Joey barely whispered.

Paris raised his head to look up into Joey's face.  "To die?" he asked.  A flood of tears ran down Joey's cheeks and fell onto his leader's head, as if a ritual of baptism had taken place.

"I raised you like a son," Joey told Paris.  "I loved you like a son.  Because even though you didn't seem to know you were a boy, I knew.  God may summon a child to lead, but even He cannot make the child a man.  My greatest sin is that I would rather have lost my own son than you.  So God took my son to punish me, as I deserved.  Please don't let Him take you from me too," Joey begged.

"This God of yours," said Paris, "is watching every move the earth is making.  If He's as wise as you say, then He'll stand aside when it's time for the earth to reclaim this valley.  The earth and I, both, cannot oversee the same kingdom."

The rain continued till sunup.  Of the four travelers, only Cade was awake to hear it stop.  He quietly got up and stepped from his tent just in time to catch an early morning mist evaporating into the gathering rays of sunlight.  Tiny beads of the spectrum played before his eyes, the reds and yellows chasing the blues and violets, as the greens looked on serenely.  Then everything was gone but the dew left behind by the retreating mist.  Half an hour later the others joined Cade.

"You're eager to start," Brad observed.  "What do you think we're going to find there?" he asked his brother.

"If Paris finds what he's looking for," answered Cade, "then maybe we'll know what to start looking for."

They broke camp, gathered what belongings they expected to need, then made for the town of Salem, leaving their gear in the middle of the road.  Joey laughed at the stuff strewn around.

"I wish I wasn't the only one of us able to appreciate the irony of leaving things sitting on the road," he told the others, who looked at him with puzzled faces.  "'Don't play in the road!' every kid who lived back then was told.  Now we can not only play in the road but leave our toys there too!  It's almost like being on another planet," he observed.  "That seems less incredible than for all the cars to have stopped running, and all the people to have disappeared."

"One day we'll have fuel again, and everything will be like it should," Brad pledged.

Paris shook his head.  "Cars ran as much on borrowed time as on fuel," he noted.  "People only disappeared because they forgot how to live without their tools to mark their way."

"We'll have tools again," said Brad.  "Why would you want us not to?"

"Only until we understand," said Paris.

"Understand what?" asked Cade.

"That tools should answer a need, not create their own need," Paris said.

"There's some truth to that," Joey agreed.  "We used to make things that we sometimes had to wait years to find a use for - and then restructure our way of life to make the use we invented seem essential to our survival.  Man's arrogance isn't just a platitude served up by religious zealots.  He's determined to put himself at the center of the universe no matter what."

"Why shouldn't he?" asked Brad.

"Because God belongs there," said Joey.

"How can you be so sure?"

"I can't," Joey admitted.  "I don't need to be sure where God is: He knows.  And knowing that He knows is as close to certainty as I can ever come."

"I wished I believed in something like that," said Cade.

"What do you believe in?" Paris turned to him as they walked.

Cade smiled.  "Green is at the center of everything," he answered whimsically.  "It stays its ground while everything else moves back and forth and all around it."

"Then you understand it's no accident the earth is covered in green," said Paris.

One more step brought them into Salem.  It had been a town of about six thousand before it was abandoned, the largest town and county seat of Washington County.  Its streets and buildings appeared, as they did in the distance, to be untouched by the forces that created the rift.  It even had grass growing on the laws and playgrounds - not the dead, scorched looking grass that lay everywhere east of the rift but a lush, vibrant new growth.  And the air was humid.

Indiana 160 became East Market Street upon its entry into Salem; then veered perpendicularly to the south; turned another corner to head west again, running parallel to a small stream, the West Fork Blue River; finally ending altogether at Route 135.

"Shouldn't we go this way?" asked Brad when Paris made the turn to the south.  "This road looks like it leads to the center of town.  Isn't that where you need to look?"

Paris acknowledged the logic of Brad's deduction but kept his course nonetheless, saying only that he must follow the road signs instead of the roads.

"There's something odd about this stream," Paris noted as they continued westward along 160, past St. Martinsburg Road, which cut diagonally into 160 from the south.  "It acts like it wants to go to sea instead of to another river."

"It probably works its way to the Ohio," said Joey.

Something about Joey's voice made Paris stop and stare into his face.  "I must find you to find me," he said.  "And then this stream will show us our future."

Three more roads intersected 160 before it ended at 135.  "What now?" asked Brad.  "Is this the place?"

"No," Paris answered.  "See over there, just beyond those trees?" he pointed to the west.  "The stream wants us to head south now."

"Until you find Joey," Cade recalled Paris' earlier remark.

Three blocks brought them to the junction of Routes 135 and 160.  "I can see you from here!" exclaimed Paris as he read a road sign two blocks farther south.  All four travelers made for it.  "Joseph Street," the sign read.

A few feet west of 135 was a stone building bearing an engraved inscription over the door which read "Washington County Sentinel."  The building was surrounded on three sides by trees, as were all the buildings on Joseph Street; there were trees lining the street on both sides, blocking the view both north and south; and a stand of trees at the end of the Street blocking the view from the west.

"How can these trees be so green when all the other trees in Indiana are just beginning to come back to life?" Cade wondered.

"And in April," added Joey - a comment that meant nothing to the others, who still had only the most rudimentary experience of seasons.

"What was that?" asked Brad.  "That noise."

The others listened but heard nothing.  "Now I don't hear it either," Brad admitted.  "But it reminded me of something, from when Cade and I were little.  Someplace we played."

Paris led the others into the building, taking slow careful steps over the threshold and through the foyer.  His experience in the library at Parrotsville taught him to be wary of public buildings, even though he had no premonition of danger here as he had there.  Slowly, he made his way around the reception desk to a stairway off to the left.  Testing each step, he descended to the basement which, unlike those beyond the rift, showed no sign of water.

"What are we looking for?" Brad asked.

"The archives," said Paris.                                

There were a number of rooms partitioned within the basement, none of which had signs on the doors.  The others looked to Paris, but he indicated that he didn't know which was the right room.

"We'll have to search each room," he advised.

"Even when we find what you're looking for," said Joey, "you may be no closer to it than you are now."

Everyone looked to Joey for an explanation.  "Newspapers stopped keeping the actual papers almost a century ago," he pointed out.  "Every copy in the archives was put on film or some other medium and needs a power source to be viewed.  You may have to wait till your project is complete to see what it is you're looking for."

Paris shook his head.  "No," he answered Joey.  "I believe we'll find it in one of these rooms."

There were seven rooms in all, three of them closets, two bathrooms, and only two - the largest rooms in the basement - used for storage.  Paris went to the door of the first and started to open it; then turned abruptly and headed for the other room, across from it, and went in, going at once to a small desk in the far corner, sitting beneath a small window near the ceiling.  He reached for the center drawer and opened it.  A piece of paper, eight by ten and a half, lay atop a pile of smaller papers.  He picked it up and began reading.

"The Town the Ghosts Missed" read the heading.  Below it was the draft of a news article.  "By now they're already there: the entire population of two Indiana towns, one in Clark County, the other in Jefferson County (some say Jennings County).  Paris is the town claimed by two counties.  Town X is the other.  That's right: town X.  Why?  Because when its citizens left, they removed all traces of their town's identity.  They wanted absolutely nothing left behind - not even the town itself.  So why didn't they just torch it?  You don't torch a piece of your life.  But neither do you leave it to the ghosts of the past: you pack it up and take it with you.

"I can't - and won't - tell you the name of this town, reporter though I am.  I'm committed to silence - not by oath: by duty - duty to respect the last request of an entire town.  I can tell you where they are now though: they're in Homestead, Montana.  Men, women, children - even a newborn, less than a month old.

"But apart from duty, I can't tell you the name of the town because in your minds - in the minds of all Hoosiers - it's already ceased to exist.  There's no map to retrieve it from: it was stricken from the map when it failed to grow.  It was you, gentle reader, who first took away that town's name.  Soon not even your memories will be able to pronounce it."

Paper clipped to the page was a small scrap of paper on which was scratched a note.  The note read "Goodbye Henryville.  See you in Limbo."

Paris removed the note and placed it in his shirt pocket then set the news article back inside the desk drawer and closed it.  Though he said nothing and showed no sign of emotion, the others knew from a light in his eyes that he had found what he was seeking.  When he rejoined them at the other end of the room, he renounced his assumed identity to assume his given identity.

"From this moment on, I am no longer Paris," he told them.  "The town I let my people name after me has renamed me after it.  For the rest of my life, I am Henry - and the town my people claimed is once again Henryville.  When we return, and tap the energy of the Ohio, I will send out a message telling everyone."

When they left the building to start back home, Brad heard the same noise he had heard earlier; only this time it was closer, and the others heard it also.  All four stopped to try and get a fix on it before it dissipated.  All four turned westward, toward the stand of trees at the end of Joseph Street.  Joey and Cade turned to Paris - Henry - to determine if he meant to pursue this rustling sound.  He pondered a moment; and, while he did, Brad had already started in the direction of the sound.

"Come on!" Brad called back to the others.  Henry nodded his assent and began moving in the same direction, followed by Cade and Joey.  The closer they got to the trees, the more distinct the sound became.  Before reaching the trees, they came to the stream they had followed to Joseph Street; but it wasn't the West Fork Blue River they had heard, it was something beyond the trees.

"The stream is broken," Henry observed.  "You can see where it used to flow south.  Now it flows around those trees to the west."

"Whatever caused the rift changed its flow," Joey surmised.

"Something beckoned to it," Henry mused as he bent down to test its waters.  Suddenly he leaped upright and took off running, over the creek, and into the stand of trees, disappearing within the thick growth.  The others followed, coming upon him again on the other side of the trees, where he stood as still as a statue.  The others froze too, enthralled by something that overwhelmed both speech and movement.  Something none of them had or even could have imagined.

Hidden by the trees from Joseph Street; hidden by the rift from the terrain approaching Salem; hidden behind the half submerged buildings of the westernmost part of town - hidden from view from every angle the travelers had made on their journey to Paris' discovery was an immense body of water, a lake whose distant shores could not be seen, a lake the breadth and width, and perhaps even the depth, of which rivaled anything else on the North American continent.  A lake whose irregular shoreline followed the uneven break in the nation's midsection.  A lake filling the great rift on the eastern side of the Mississippi Valley.  A lake that rose inch by inch as, over the decades, the snows filling the rift gradually melted, and more melting snows were carried from farther inland by the hundreds of streams created by the snow's slow eroding and reshaping of the landscape to also flow into the rift.  A lake whose only clue to its depth was the absolute calm of its brilliant blue surface.

Several minutes passed before anyone spoke.  Finally, the man called Henry lifted his head heavenward and cursed the odyssey of his own making which had brought him to this shore.  The others were as stunned by their leader's words as by the vision before them.

"Why?" was all Joey was able to mutter.

"My selfish quest has put all of us in peril," Henry replied.  "Now that this place has been seen, it must be acted upon.  Reluctantly, I agreed to take my project from the people's basements to the Ohio.  Now they'll insist it be brought here.  The raw power waiting to yield itself is almost inexhaustible.  And irresistible.  Our world will again become - almost overnight - what it took decades to become before it ended.  The slow, steady, careful rebuilding of our world will now give way to a mad rush toward oblivion.  The very power we extract from this lake will enable the earth to redesign this region before we're ready to move on.  Our world will drown in these waters."

"Then don't tell anyone of our discovery," Cade suggested.

Henry smiled at his friend's innocence.  "Even if I chose not to, others would."

"If you mean me," said Brad, with neither rancor nor arrogance but as a simple statement of fact, "you're right.  I will tell others."

"But it's still in your hands not to finish your project," Joey reminded his leader.

"No," Henry responded, "it isn't.  What I've offered the people cannot be withheld from them - my offer made it theirs, to do with as they please.  Nor could I withhold this lake from them.  It, too, is theirs.  Whatever I find, I find in their name.  Even if I had come alone, the people would hear of this place."

It was getting on toward mid-day.  The sun had already begun shimmering along the barely perceptible undulations running east to west within the lake.  It was only nearest the shore that the lake bed was highlighted by the sun; even a few feet out the depth was impenetrable, the bottom hidden.

"Let's spend the afternoon exploring the lake," Henry suggested.  "We may never know its true size, but at least we can get a feel for this part of it."

"We will know its true size," Joey corrected his leader.  "I intend to map it."

Henry shook his head.  "Everything about it will change when the earth moves through Indiana," he told his second in command.  "For now all that concerns us is the safety of our people when they begin tapping its energy.  We know already, from our trip down the Ohio, that its banks take a turn to the west before the falls.  We can assume that it fills most of the rift.  We know how far east to west that is; we just don't know how far north to south.  But none of that will matter when the mountains rise."

"What mountains?" asked Cade.

"The mountains the earth will build from Kentucky to the Great Lakes," replied Henry.  "Even now, as we speak, the earth is gathering the materials it needs to push through the Ohio Valley."

"And how are we helping it by generating power from this lake?" asked Brad.

"The energy we produce will far exceed our needs," Henry explained.  "Whatever we don't use will be siphoned off by the land and held in reserve."

They followed the shoreline's westward veer from Salem as it paralleled Route 56 until, ten miles out, the lake stole over the road and buried the town of Livonia to begin a southwesterly trek.  Then they made their way back to Salem, to set up camp on its outskirts, along 160, where they had camped the night before.

Again it rained in the middle of the night; again, the sound awoke the travelers.  As Joey and Henry sat up in their sleeping bags listening, Joey asked his leader if it was wise to change his name.

"Perhaps even the name of the town should stay the same," he speculated.  "There's no one left who belongs to that town.  Maybe the name should die, as the people seem to have wanted; they left no trace of its identity.  Aren't you in some way dishonoring their wishes to give it back its name?"

"The name wasn't theirs to take away," Henry answered.  "The town was there before them.  As to changing my name, I must.  You said no one from that town was left.  I am.  Its people moved to Homestead, Montana - where my parents lived.  The article I read mentioned a newborn a month old.  I know that was me.  It must have rained the night we passed through this town - that's why I remember it from this place."

"I don't question your right to change your name," said Joey, "or your reason for doing so.  But understand that people attach great significance not only to given names but to names they've known someone by all their lives.  To change that name - even if it's only a nickname - is to change a part of their past as well as your own - and people do not wish their past changed."

"You said Kirk didn't choose his name till his eighteenth year," Henry reminded him.

"He had no name till then," Joey, in turn, reminded his leader.  "Nothing was changed.  A nameless boy finally took a name."

Henry considered Kirk's unusual circumstance a moment.  "Why was he given no name?" he asked.

"His father - not his real father but the man who raised him - believed a leader should take his own name," Joey explained, cognizant of the parallel to what Henry had done.  "But there was more to it," he added.  "Paris Commune was as much a mystic as he was a warrior.  I think he knew his days were numbered the moment his son took a name.  I think that's why he wanted me killed: he knew his son would choose me as his second in command - and he knew, also, that without someone his son could trust absolutely, his place was secure.  Not that he was afraid of being overthrown - he knew it would happen, he probably knew he'd be murdered by his son when the time came; only that he wanted to put it off till he was sure his son was ready."

"And was Kirk ready?"

"I believe he was," said Joey.

"And Cade looks like him?" Henry asked.

"Exactly like him," Joey answered.

"And Brad looks exactly like the man Kirk killed?"  Joey nodded.

Henry smiled ironically.  "I know so many things," he observed.  "I can tell you what the earth will look like a hundred years from now; I can tell you what it will do six months, a year, three years from now.  But I can't begin to fathom how Kirk's double and Brad's double got inside the same womb."

"No one can," said Joey.

Stone Creek knew instinctively, from the moment of the twins' birth, that Brad would grow into the kind of man he could groom to assume leadership when the time was right.  And though he had formed an immense respect for Cade over the years of the boy's captivity, his original view of Cade as essentially incapable of the kind of leadership needed in the real world had been confirmed in a hundred subtle ways.  Seeing the two boys together, watching how each dealt with problems and issues that arose, he became more convinced than ever of his original assessment.

Cade looked at life, tackled its obstacles, made his decisions from a moral perspective; whereas Brad's base of operations was rational, practical, pragmatic.  Cade was the perfect adviser for a leader; he was also the perfect enforcer of laws - but only so long as he believed the process by which they came about was legitimate and benevolent.  Brad, on the other hand, would let no philosophical considerations get between the events facing him and the actions needed to deal with them; his decisions would be based entirely on what he wished to accomplish and how best to do it.

Stone Creek was more impressed with Brad's work establishing a secret army than with anything else the boy had ever done - so much so that, almost from the start, he left the job of selecting recruits to Brad alone.  The boy had an uncanny knack of knowing who could be trusted to keep the project secret; he unfailingly selected only those who shared his mentor's vision for the society Henry had created, only those who understood where that society must go, how it could get there, and what steps were needed to move it in that direction.  Brad's recruits, to a man or boy, believed that their present leader was taking them on a path of destruction and that he must be replaced before it was too late.

This invisible army had no weapons at present, and no permanent training ground.  They met whenever they could all get away from their daily activities without drawing suspicion to themselves, and wherever they could find an open space isolated from the rest of the town.  They existed as a militia, of the kind the old T-Men were affiliated with throughout the states - a subterranean society Stone Creek knew like the back of his hand; but one that he had no intention of letting his army become.

"They must be weaned of their taste for stealth and their identification with the underground," Stone Creek told Brad very early in their development.

"Why?  Isn't that the perfect cover?" Brad asked.

"Too perfect," Stone Creek admitted.  "They run the risk of equating legitimacy with weakness," he explained.  "The whole idea is to incorporate them into the rest of society.  They cannot function effectively as outcasts - that was the undoing of the T-Men.  At so many points Paris Commune could have moved to overthrow the government and establish his own; but for all his vision he could not see himself or his followers as legitimate heirs to the throne.  So he kept the T-Men on the outside, looking in - and in doing so kept them occupied on two fronts: the government on one side, and rival outlaws on the other.  The stamp of legitimacy, to him, was the kiss of death."

"But we have no choice," Brad protested.  "We must remain hidden away from the rest."

"Yes," Stone Creek.  "But we must never let that be our self image.  We must see ourselves as the rightful guardians of our society."

"For that we need weapons," observed Brad.

"We need weapons, yes, but we must first see ourselves as deserving them.  Otherwise we'll use them to terrorize rather than protect the others."

"Where will we get them when the time is right?" Brad asked.

"Weapons are the most abundant resource in the universe," Stone Creek assured his protégé.  "Infinitely more numerous than the fish in the sea or the stars in the sky.  In the history of man, getting weapons has never been at issue; only keeping them has.  They can be taken by a stronger force, or by a man of peace."

"Like Paris," Brad noted.

"Like Paris," Stone Creek echoed.

When the four travelers returned from Salem, and Paris announced to his people that his name would henceforth be Henry, Stone Creek alone greeted the news with enthusiasm; he alone gave his wholehearted support to his leader.  Everyone else greeted the news with trepidation, just as Joey predicted; everyone else either withheld their approval or, at the very least, gave it with reservation.  The other change - the name of the town from Paris to Henryville - they accepted outright, as if it were a perfectly natural occurrence, their acceptance more an acknowledgement of a faux pas than anything else, the equivalent of a collective "Oops, our mistake.  We've been calling it one thing when it's really another.  Sorry for the mix-up."  But their leader's name was not his to change: it was given to him by one of their most revered leaders; it was a link to their past glory; and his abandonment of it was an act of desecration.

None of this was grasped by the object and the cause of this silent upheaval in the social order.  Henry had not merely attempted to usher in a new way of life he had discovered: he was born of that way as much as it was born of him; he knew no other way of living.  He was incapable of comprehending the nuances of the old order.  That his people seemed disturbed was apparent to him; why they were was absolutely lost on him - and nothing Joey or anyone else could say could make him understand.

Stone Creek knew Henry better than anyone else did; he knew his leader would never come to understand the forces that determined social existence.  He knew that the old ways, instead of returning, had never left; that they were the fundamental ways of humanity and would never change, no matter what.  And he actively encouraged Henry to keep on his path of inevitable destruction.

"You hate him so much you would support his most disastrous decision?" Joey asked Stone Creek.

"I don't hate him at all," Stone Creek answered.  "I greatly admire him.  But he's leading these people down the wrong path - one that will prove their undoing.  I don't see his changing his name as his most disastrous decision.  Abandoning our defenses bears that distinction.  We must rebuild our defenses or we stand to lose everything we've worked for.  We still don't know what's out there, beyond our valley.  What we do know is that it can get to us now that the earth is returning to normal.  Can - and eventually will."        

Andrea paid a visit to Felicia when Henry was away at Salem overseeing his project.  A hundred men had been recruited to help build the machinery needed to generate power from the lake in the rift.  They were expected to be away for at least three and possibly as long as six months.  Stone Creek had been left in charge in Henry's absence.

"You don't get out much," Andrea observed as she and Felicia sat in the modest living room of Henry's house.  "You used to be out all the time.  I thought you might be ill," she expressed her concern.  "Or possibly pregnant."

"No," answered Felicia.  "I haven't wanted to go out since the snow melted.  I felt safer surrounded by snow.  I don't trust the land.  It scares me to walk on bare earth, unprotected by a layer of snow."

"Cade keeps saying you plan to go to sea some day," Andrea related.

"I will," Felicia confirmed.

"With Henry?"

"No, he would never leave his people," Felicia admitted with a note of sadness.

"Then you plan to go without him?" asked Andrea.

"I can't imagine being without him, yet neither can I imagine remaining on land forever," Felicia expressed her dilemma.  "He keeps saying things won't always be as they are now; that when it's time, the decision to go will be made for me."

"You know, don't you, that both my sons have a crush on you?" Andrea brought out the real purpose of her visit.

Felicia acknowledged that she knew.

"Neither of them believes that you and Henry live together as man and wife," Andrea noted.

"We don't," Felicia told her.

"Will you ever?"

"I don't think so," said Felicia.

"Yet you remain together," Andrea pointed out.  "Is it fair to either of you to remain together if you will never exist as man and wife?" she asked.

"Perhaps not to others," Felicia admitted.  "But to us, yes."

"But neither of you will ever know love," Andrea warned.

"The love we have is more important to us right now than anyone else's love.  Henry says that, too, will change one day."

"How easily you've accepted his new name," Andrea remarked.

"It's a measure of what we have together," said Felicia.  "I can't imagine calling him any name but his.  Nor can I imagine any name being his except the name he chooses.  If I called him Paris now, it would feel like blasphemy."

"Not everyone thinks as you do.  There are even those who regard his new name as blasphemous," warned Andrea.

"He can't be other than who he is.  I'm sorry they can't see that."

"Is there no chance for either of my sons with you?" Andrea asked.

"Either one might be willing to go with me to the sea," Felicia answered.  "But neither would take me there.  I could only love a man who devotes his life to the sea.  If he puts anything - even me - above it, then he's lost me.  Cade has devoted his life to truth; Brad to power.  Neither one fits my image of a husband."

Henry led his workforce along the same path to Salem he had taken a month earlier - Indiana Route 160.  They started out on a Monday, May 9, 2089.  Where it had taken Henry and his three fellow travelers eight hours to make the journey a month earlier, it now took three days, even though the pitfalls had been carefully mapped out before the trek began.  Henry knew that people were prone to carelessness - particularly when they were driven by excitement and by the possibility of a great return on their effort.  He constantly slowed his pace as he approached the points of greatest danger.  But despite all his precautions, two men were killed on the way to Salem.

Halfway there, the town of South Boston lay in ruin on either side of 160, its north end at the bottom of a hundred foot pit, its south end trapped inside a ten foot deep ravine.  They had been on the road the better part of a day, more than half that time spent going from New Liberty, where the first signs of the rift appeared, to South Boston.  Halfway between the two towns Henry announced that they would set up camp; it was early afternoon.  He knew that, if they continued, they would be forced to set up camp someplace less secure than the spot he selected, and at a time much closer to sunset.

Everyone balked at stopping with so much sunlight remaining and so much rough terrain ahead.  To a man, Henry's workforce pressed him to continue a few more hours.

"If necessary, we'll walk single file behind you," they offered a compromise.  "Nothing can possibly happen to anyone then."

Reluctantly, Henry agreed to continue until it began getting dark.  What he had not counted on was the ease and the speed of their progress from New Liberty to South Boston.  He fully expected to be somewhere between the two towns at twilight; but, before even he realized it, the ruins of South Boston appeared before them, beneath the last glow of sunset.  When he saw the half buried roofs to the south of 160, he immediately halted and ordered his workforce to begin setting up camp.

"A little farther," some of his men insisted.  "We can get in another mile or two."

"No!" Henry replied in a voice which left no room for compromise.  "We go no farther till sunup."

Despite a few half-hearted protests, the workers did a Henry ordered.  Within half an hour, three dozen tents had been set up end to end along the roadway.  By then, the roofs had disappeared into shadows making their way westward from the eastern horizon.

In their tents, some of the men reviewed the maps they carried, showing the route and the pitfalls along the route.  South Boston was labeled with warnings on either side of 160.  A few of the men saw these labels not as prohibitions but as challenges.

Not all the residents of Henryville were members of the original T-Men; many had joined after Kirk's people settled in Nebraska, invited by Brad Carter to accept sanctuary from both the elements and the outlaws.  Still others had settled among Henry's people from other parts of the Ohio Valley; and a large number, like Andrea's sons, were born at Mount Guyot or later.  But the original T-Men made up the nucleus of Henry's new world, though of all the people they were, ironically, least integrated into its way.  They were the ones who, more than any others, believed Henry to be leading them down a path of destruction.  They never gave up their distrust of outsiders, or entirely abandoned their weapons, nor had they lost their taste for adventure and intrigue.

Late at night, when the others were asleep, three men stole from one of the tents and silently made their way beyond Henry's camp toward the submerged ruins of South Boston.  When they were beyond earshot, they began speculating on their leader's reluctance to let them continue on.

"He's treating us like children," one man observed.

"Or like there's something there he doesn't want us to see," said another.

"Something, maybe, he means to keep for himself," the third offered.

"It's just lucky for us Brad was along when he came here before, or else we'd never know about any of this - especially the lake."

"Yeah, he wants us to power our homes from our basements when there's enough water out there to light up the whole country!"

As they neared the place where they had earlier seen the roofs, it began to rain, a very light, almost mist-like rain which suddenly grew heavier.  The men stood poised between heading back to their tent or seeking shelter here.  They chose the closer of the two.

Thinking the rift on either side of 160 was uniform in depth, they took to the north, even though they had seen no roofs protruding there.  The first man to start down the embankment lost his footing when the rain soaked earth shifted beneath him.  He grabbed at anything he could, getting hold of the roots of a tree that had sunk into the rift.  He cried out to his comrades as he clung to the roots, suspended over a hundred foot chasm littered with splinters, shards of glass and pieces of concrete. 

One had already started down; and almost at the exact spot the first had lost his footing, he too lost his, only he found no roots to grab hold of.  The only thing there to break his fall was the first man who, at the moment of collision, was ripped from his perch.  Together, just as the third man, still on the roadway, shined his light into the rift, the first two went hurtling down to the floor of the rift, landing on a pile of debris with a thud magnified into an echo that carried all the way back to camp.

Joey awoke almost the instant the echo reached him.  He knew, from Kirk's trek through the rift twenty years earlier, what had caused it.  He leaped from his sleeping bag and, grabbing his light, ran half naked through the rain toward the place the echo had come from.  When he reached the ruined town, the man who witnessed the fall was still standing over the chasm, still shining his light down on his mangled friends.  Joey approached and, following the man's lead, shined his light, too, into the chasm.  Even at a hundred feet, the smashed heads and twisted limbs of the men stood out in relief against the concrete and wood on which they landed.

Momentarily, several others reached the place, Henry among them.  He looked down at his workers then at the one who had not fallen.  He approached the man with such rage in his eyes that Joey stepped between them.

"Move aside!" Henry ordered his lieutenant.  Joey stood his ground, staring into Henry's eyes until the rage began to dissipate.

"Return to camp," Henry told his men, including the one he had been poised to attack.

On the way back, Joey tried to comprehend Henry's anger; he had never seen his leader display any emotion in public.  He asked Henry for an explanation.

"For almost forty years the world lived in uncertainty, not knowing from one day to the next - or one minute to the next - if it would survive," Henry tried to explain his almost uncontrollable rage.  "No warnings were possible as people went day by day into the unknown.  Now, at last, we've reached a time once again when we can warn one another of impending doom.  To ignore those warnings is to desecrate those who no one could save; these men spat on the graves of those whose sacrifices helped bring us back to a time of certainty and safety.  I wanted to kill that man - and would have, if you hadn't stopped me.  There is no greater duty than honoring those who gave their lives for us - and no greater sacrilege than dishonoring them."

Joey felt for a second as if his leader had slapped him, so closely did his sentiment mirror that of his predecessor, Kirk.  Yet Joey had never before detected even the slightest similarity in their thinking, their feeling, or their behavior.  Henry seemed to sense his bewilderment.

"Why are you so troubled by my words?" Henry asked.

"They're the words of Kirk," Joey answered.  "Yet the two of you are so different."

"Differences eventually meet, just as similarities eventually part," said Henry.

Early the next morning, Henry, against the advice of Joey, descended the rift and, with a makeshift shovel, buried the two workers.  Others volunteered to accompany him but he refused their assistance, telling them that since he was the one who led them to their deaths, he was the one who should bury them.

"It isn't necessary to bury them," Joey insisted, the image of so many fallen comrades who had to be left where they lay still clear in his mind.

"When the ground was frozen, it made no difference," Henry pointed out.  "Now it does."

"Then let me do it," Joey pleaded.  "You're too valuable.  Who will complete the project if you die?"

Henry looked his lieutenant in the eye.  "You already know my opinion of this project," he noted.  "They would be better off without it.  And, don't worry," he added with a smile, "I won't forget to say a prayer over their graves.  I would order you to go ahead without me, but I know you won't."

Henry studied the cliff a moment then, finding the right spot, maneuvered his way down.  Using a broken joist, he dug two graves; laid the workers in them; bowed his head a moment; covered over the graves; then climbed back up to the roadway an hour and a half later to lead his workers the rest of the way to Salem.

The first task was securing shelter.  Street after street was traversed, each house inspected for its structural integrity until enough housing for a hundred men was found.  Then Henry set up his headquarters, in the basement of the Washington County Sentinel, in the room where he had found the article about Henryville.  The next task was securing the right kind of equipment to begin the project.  In addition to whatever provisions Henry determined his men would need, a store of electrical supplies that had been obtained from the surrounding area had accompanied the workers.  It had been debated whether to make incursions into the large cities of south central Indiana to forage for equipment, but the people themselves vetoed the idea, choosing instead to begin the project as quickly as possible.  Henry acceded to their wishes only because almost everything they obtained would have to be redesigned and retooled to fit his specifications anyway.

They scoured the town in search of metal, rubber and plastic parts of any kind, particularly electrical components, eventually finding enough to begin adapting everything to Henry's design.  One week after arriving at Salem, Henry and his men turned their full attention to the task at hand.

Just as Henry's headquarters was in the newspaper's basement on Joseph Street, the production center, where parts were spread out and catalogued, to be assembled, reassembled and tested, was in a large warehouse on the first floor, where the paper's presses had once rolled.

A long, arduous process of trial and error ensued, as Henry and his men attempted to reproduce as precisely as possible from various combinations of spare parts the equipment needed to complete his project.  A month went by before the adaptations began to yield the desired results.  By the end of the second month everything Henry's specifications called for had been built.  They were ready to begin setting up equipment along the banks of the lake.

Eager questions of "How does it work?" were soon replaced by frustrated demands to know why it wasn't working as one attempt after another to pull energy from the lake proved fruitless.  Each time, Henry patiently explained that the system was originally designed to pull energy from a small confined body of water; and that it had to be completely redesigned to allow for a much larger, almost boundless, body of water.

By the end of the third month, many of the men were calling the project a "fool's errand," some even threatening to smash the equipment or dump it into the lake.  As the men grew more restless and resentful they became increasingly careless; what work they grudgingly performed to maintain the equipment was done with very little thought to safety - an attitude that spilled over into their leisure time as well.                        

Henry had warned repeatedly that this whole area was dangerous, and had established clear boundaries.  No one was to stray beyond Westfork Blue River and Brock Creek at the west end of town, beyond Route 56 to the north, beyond the southern limits of Salem, or anywhere east of town.  Partly out of defiance, partly because of sheer thoughtlessness, men began to explore beyond the boundaries Henry had drawn.  Neither their carelessness around the equipment nor their disregard of orders was noticed by Henry, who worked from sunup to sundown every day attempting to correct the problems preventing his system from working.  Then, on a Tuesday well into the fourth month of the project, all hell broke loose.

The last crucial adjustments were made the evening before.  The circuits that had not worked previously finally seemed to hold a charge.  The conduits sending impulses into the lake and those returning an arc of energy created within the water at last surpassed the innate resistance of inertia.  Henry tested his equipment first in a barrel of water before setting his generators to full power.  Everything worked.  The ionized jolt of electricity entering the barrel induced a spontaneous ionization which returned the jolt to a generator standing idle.  It was 7:10 P.M., Monday, September 19, 2089 when Henry quit work for the day and returned to the tent he had erected along the shoreline, next to his equipment. 

He slept soundly until early morning, when the mighty rain came.  The sound he had grown so accustomed to awoke him as if it were the rattling of a death bell.  He sat up, puzzled by his own reaction until he identified a second sound within the rain beating against his tent - a tiny, barely audible hiss, as of miniature peals of thunder.  He hastily got dressed and left his tent.  Going to his equipment, he saw a network of barely visible sparks, like bolts of phantom lightening.  Satisfied, and relieved that, though unexpected, the phenomenon was consistent with what his equipment was designed to elicit, he returned to his tent, making a mental note to alert his men that when he threw the switch for real tomorrow morning, the initial contact might be stronger than he had predicted.

He was up and at the site by six A.M., eager to begin this final phase of the project; but he held off until mid-morning, when the sun had dried the ground and his men had assembled.  Preoccupied with the task set to begin in a few minutes, he failed to notice that barely two thirds of his men were present.  He addressed them only long enough to let them know he was preparing to throw the switch and to alert them that the reaction within the lake's waters could be much greater than anticipated.

"The surge of power to the equipment must be carefully monitored," he told them.  "If any of the circuits anywhere in the equipment reaches a critical level, tell me immediately and I'll shut down the initial power.  Otherwise, the whole unit could blow.  "Joey!" Henry called to his second in command.  "I know it's important to invoke God's help, so, if you will, lead us in prayer."

Joey bowed his head; the others followed his lead.  "Our heavenly Father," he prayed, "we ask your blessing upon this project, your guidance as we take this step into the unknown, your help in using the fruits of our labors wisely and in ways that do not conflict with the path you have chosen for us.  Amen."

"Amen," the others repeated.

Each man went to his station along the periphery of circuits and conduits that reached three hundred feet along the shore; they stood at attention, awaiting their leader's cue.  Situated in the middle of the complex, Henry looked to the north then to the south; then he nodded his head and, taking hold of the master switch, slowly pulled it toward him, releasing the initial impulse into the lake.

An explosion followed.  Not one of flame, or smoke; not one that ripped the conduits to pieces or electrocuted the men standing at attention; nor one that so much as rippled the surface of the lake.  An explosion of sound that sent a wave of energy along the bottom of the lake but was muffled by the water to a mere echo reaching up into the surrounding air.  The men all strained to hear it, all the while making sure their gauges stayed within the levels of safety imposed by their creator.

Energy, controlled and contained, began surging through the complex of conduits and circuits, never exceeding what they could handle, store and disperse.  The project was a resounding success.  Then men all began cheering.  Henry breathed a sigh of great relief.  Then, in turning right and left to acknowledge his men, he saw the world surrounding them starting to crumble.

For a split-second Henry doubted what he was seeing.  The air grew wavy, as on a hot day.  The word "mirage" floated across his consciousness: the waves of heat were making the buildings only appear to shake.  Then a question shattered his doubt to pieces: where did the waves come from?  They were not heat waves, or else he and his men would have felt the heat.  They were shock waves.  Yet nothing had happened to cause them.

He turned toward the lake.  Nothing on the surface had happened.  And as he turned, he saw his men at the farthest line of conduits at the northern end, those standing closest in on the shoreline, being drawn into the lake, as if the water itself had reached up and grabbed them.  In an instant they were pulled beneath the surface, unable to swim or resist the pull.  Others ran to them but were nearly sucked into the lake with them.

A sudden cry for help somewhere behind him distracted Henry from his drowned men.  He turned back to see a dozen men reeling back and forth where they stood, unable to free themselves from their own footsteps.  He saw their hair stand on end and heard their skin crackling beneath their shirtsleeves.  He started to cry out for them to let go, then realized they were holding nothing.  He knew they were being electrocuted; but, until he got close, he had no knowledge of the medium conducting the charge.  He, and the others coming to their aid, stopped dead in their tracks.  The men were standing on a metal plate that had been used to breach a tear in the ground; and though the plate had no contact with any part of the conduits, it was conducting electricity up through their bodies.

"The ground itself," Henry muttered.  "The ground is charged."

The men on the plate reached out to be rescued but could not move toward their rescuers; nor could their rescuers approach them without engaging the metal plate.  By the time some wooden planks were secured, it was too late; the hands reaching out stopped jerking and began turning black as the charge continued racing through their bodies, freezing them in death poses where they stood.

Elsewhere, invisible to Henry and those of his men stationed beside the lake, others were being crushed by falling debris; thrown into pits opening in front of them; mangled by jagged rocks trapped inside caverns.  These were the men who had set out on their own to explore areas they were warned to avoid - areas the rift had already marked as dangerous now made to fulfill their deadly potential by a blinding flash of energy streaming from the lake into the ground, toppling buildings, opening caves, closing pits, redistributing dirt, stone, concrete, wood, steel, glass and flesh into an infinity of barely recognizable forms.

A dozen men at the extreme northern point of Salem discovered the entrance to a cave inside an open pit.  They shined searchlights into the opening; the light shined back at them, as if striking a mirror.  They were about to abandon it when one of them found a rock containing what appeared to be specks of a shiny metal.  The hope and possibility of riches loomed before them; they entered the cavern, following their searchlights to what they had taken at first to be merely the sunken furnishings of someone's home.  Just as they reached the source of the reflection, the ground crumbled around them, burying them beneath tons of rock, dirt and ore.

At the southern end of town, just two blocks from Henry's headquarters on Joseph Street, six men were thrown into a pit which closed in on them before they could regain their balance, catching them between the razor sharp edges of rocks ripped apart by the current.

On the east side, where the greatest visible damage from the rift had been, a handful of men, exploring several different areas of ruin, were caught wherever they were, whatever they were doing, by the silent force propelled from the lake in all directions.  Some were trapped inside falling buildings; some thrown in the path of falling debris; others carried so far down into the ground that no sign of them remained on the surface.

In all, forty-eight men perished in the space of a few minutes as the silent waters of the rift lake gave up their stored power to the citizens of Henry's world.  But it was only when he assembled his men that he realized he was more than a dozen short.

"Where are the others?" he asked those in attendance.  No one seemed to know.  "They were here when I threw the switch, weren't they?" he followed up his first question; but, again, no one could answer.  Then a look of almost panic stole across his face as he studied his men's faces for some clue to the others' disappearance.

"Where is Joey?" he asked in a voice barely above a whisper.

"He was with you," some of the men answered.  "He was standing right beside you when you threw the switch."

"Then where is he?" Henry demanded to know.  "Did he leave?  Did he fall into the lake?  Did anyone see what happened to him?"  No one had seen Joey leave the area.

"We've got to search - for him and the others!" Henry ordered.

"Is it safe to leave this alone?" some of the men asked, gesturing toward the conduits.

"This will continue drawing energy from the lake, with or without us," Henry explained.  "The power will keep the generators going, which will keep drawing more power until we're ready to tap into it."

Just as the first of several search parties was heading out, a figure approached from the east.  It was Joey.  When he reached his leader, he said only that he had found no sign of anyone beyond the shoreline.

"You knew they were elsewhere?" Henry asked.

"Not at first," Joey said.  "Like you, I was too busy to take a head count.  It wasn't until you threw the switch that I realized we were short about thirty men.  Just as I turned, I saw the whole town move.  I took off to try and find the missing men, to warn them.  I got as far as Joseph Street when the whole town started crumbling.  I saw some men a couple blocks away thrown into a pit.  When I reached them, the ground had almost closed around them.  They were impaled between two rows of jagged rocks.  Not just impaled though; they were sliced open as if someone had attacked them with swords.  I knew I couldn't find all the men, so I came back for help."

Some of the missing men were spotted beneath piles of rubble, a few discovered at the bottom of open pits; but most of the bodies were never recovered.  The town of Salem served as a mass grave.

Another six months went by before enough electric lines were restored to begin transmitting a current from Henry's equipment.  Ten months from the day Henry and a hundred men set out for Salem, electrical power once again extended throughout the Ohio Valley.  March 9, 2090, a Thursday, the new world order, established thirteen years earlier when an eight year old boy led a group of rag-tag refugees into a town without a name, had reached the point where the old world order ended forty years ago - a point greeted with so great an enthusiasm that it spilled over into the next week and the week beyond that.

The first thing the people did when power was restored was drain their basements.  Thursday they had electricity, Friday they drained the water originally intended to power their world.  Everyone did it, as if it had all been planned and coordinated ahead of time; as if, on a signal, every family in the Ohio Valley began clearing away the water that had stood for almost ten years as a reminder of their subservience to the earth around them.  In a matter of hours they had freed their homes from earth's domination, freed themselves from its intrusion.                            

The second thing they did was honor the man who had restored their world to its past glory by celebrating his twenty-first birthday.  Friday, March 21st of the year 2090 saw a mass exodus from the hundreds of communities reestablished within the Ohio Valley; and an advent of a quarter million people to the tiny capital of their world, the town their leader had restored to its rightful name and its rightful place in southeastern Indiana.  Henryville, for one afternoon in March, was the largest, most populous city on the face of the planet.

They came from as far away as the West Virginia border in the east and Lake Sue in the north.  Some traveled as long as a week to get there on time.  Some brought their entire families, some came alone.  A few of the nearby communities became ghost towns once again as the entire population came to Henryville.  The more distant communities were able to send only a handful of representatives.  By four o'clock in the afternoon the little square in front of City Hall was overflowing with a solid expanse of people.

Henry had been in the basement of his city's capitol earlier in the day, and found, hidden beneath a pile of old papers, the plaque his people had made when they named the town after him.  He had ordered the plaque destroyed.  The name Paris, leaping out at him as if a ghost from the past, filled him with a dread and a sorrow he was powerless to comprehend.  He lifted the plaque from beneath the papers, unsure what to do with it, it seemed so innocent, so vulnerable, yet so menacing.  As he stood trying to decipher its meaning, he heard footsteps approaching.  He turned.  It was Stone Creek, coming to get him for his celebration.

Seeing the look on Henry's face, and the plaque in his hand, Stone Creek at once understood his leader's dilemma.  He put his hand on Henry's shoulder - a gesture of friendship he had never accorded anyone before. 

"It's easy to give up a name that was never yours to start with," Stone Creek observed.  "The name only makes you yearn for your real name.  I know what it's like losing you name, or giving it up: I haven't thought of myself as the name I was born with in thirty years.  At least I have that buried somewhere though.  But to never know who you were meant to be.  I wish I could give you that.  But your father - not your real father but Paris Commune - had strayed so far from the truth of names that he never even bothered retaining your parents' names, if he ever discovered them.  I'm sorry.  I genuinely wish I could offer you your own name for your twenty-first birthday."

Cade had conceived, planned, orchestrated and overseen the entire ceremony.  Stone Creek was awestruck at the boy's organizational skills - yet one more example of the enormous talent of this boy he stole by mistake thirteen years ago, thinking he had gotten the lesser of the twins.  Yet with all the boy's potential, he lacked the crucial ingredient - the one, and only, talent his brother possessed: the lust for power, without which none of his other talents would ever come to fruition.  It occurred to Stone Creek, and saddened him, that, when Brad took over leadership, Cade would never be his right hand man as he was Henry's.  The day would come when Cade would have to be banished, or destroyed; otherwise, there was no hope for this world Henry had created.  Because Cade would continue trying to preserve it as it had been created so long as he drew breath.

A platform had been built around the steps leading up to City Hall, an extension of the little portico out front.  On the platform was a slightly raised dais, with a row of chairs extending to the right and left of it.  As the appointed hour drew near, guests of honor were escorted by Brad and Cade onto the platform, then led to their seats beside the dais: Joey, Carol, Andrea, and a dozen others accorded places of honor.

A moment later Stone Creek emerged from City Hall and discreetly made for the last remaining seat.  Then, as Brad and Cade stood at attention on either side of the platform, the door opened and the guest of honor stepped out, to a thunderous ovation from below.

Henry acknowledged their applause with a slight bow then proceeded to the dais to ascend its single step, a gesture raising him above everyone else in his world.  At any other place and time he would have resisted any motion which elevated him above his people; but here, and now, he accepted it gracefully as his tribute to them - his acquiescence to their wish to position him above them.  When the applause finally died down, he raised the microphone before him to the level Cade had determined during the walk through early that morning.

"It's I who should honor you," he addressed the assembly.  "Without the great gift of people to work for, I would have nothing to show for these twenty-one years on this earth.  Some can create without a point of reference; others - like me - need the guidance of others to bring their work to life.  We have power again in our world because of you, not me.  If you had never needed, or wanted it, I would never have learned how to restore it.  There is no other reason for a leader to exist than to serve those around him.  Making their lives better alone justifies the presumption of setting himself above them.  And as you grow - as your needs grow - as the conditions of your existence begin to alter your expectations - I must grow and change with you or else I am unworthy of this great honor you have bestowed upon me."

All eyes were upon the young man who spoke.  They were drawn to him by a radiance visible even to those a quarter million bodies away.  He had neither the beauty of Cade nor the sensuality of Brad, both of whom stood a step below him on either side of the dais.  Nor did he have the composure of Stone Creek or the compassion of Joey.  Nor was the quality he possessed an amalgam of these separate attributes.  More than anything else, Henry's people saw in him an otherworldly being who had come among them - not as an alien from another planet, but as an angel come directly from God to intercede on their behalf.

Not all eyes stayed on him during his entire speech.  One pair, from beside him, strayed from their sideward glance to a form in the crowd, standing close to the platform.  Brad looked away from his leader to his leader's companion.

Felicia refused to join the others in the place of honor.  Cade had asked her ahead of anyone else, though he felt certain she would decline his offer, even if he had no reason to believe she would.

"I can't be on something built over a pit," she told him.  "Especially not something that seems like a trap door."  She shuddered as she spoke those words.

"You won't even consider it?" Cade persisted.

"No," she said, "I'm sorry, but it can't be done."

Henry understood; and, especially, Joey, who had rescued her, understood.  But Brad, who, like Cade, was in love with her, saw it as indisputable evidence that she was not Henry's woman - and would never be.  He isn't man enough for her, Brad told himself as he watched her looking up at the man on the dais.  He's as powerless to satisfy her as he is to save this world.  She doesn't belong with him - and now she's said so to the entire world!  Se will be mine before the year is out - I swear it!  Before God and man I swear it!

Felicia seemed as much a part of the celebration as everyone else; she smiled, and laughed, and applauded, and reflected on everything happening around her.  But her thoughts were elsewhere.  Henry had told her that their time together was drawing to a close; and because she doubted nothing he told her, she was saddened, not elated, by the celebration.  Rather than marking his passage into manhood, his birthday brought him one step closer to the day when she would see him no longer.  She felt a certain resentment toward these people assembled to honor their leader: they were taking away one day of her time with him.

But March 21st was still early in the year, the days still short, the air still cold.  The celebration lasted only a couple hours, there being too many celebrants to retire together indoors when the sun began lowering toward the horizon.  A myriad of small gatherings had been arranged, as much to allow the visitors to meet with the citizens of Henryville and mingle amongst themselves as to extend the festivities.  At Cade's insistence, Henry made an appearance at as many of these gatherings as he could.  Then the day drew to a close , and Felicia breathed a sigh of relief that once again she had Henry to herself.

"Does it feel different, being a man now?" Brad asked at a reception hosted by his mother.  Henry smiled at the question.

"There's no line separating boyhood from manhood," he addressed the irony he saw in Brad's eyes more than the words on his lips.  "At eighteen you're already a man - though it would have been better for both of us if you had remained a boy a while longer."

"And why is that?" asked Brad, assuming the reference was to Felicia.

"We both know you'll be a great leader one day," Henry explained.  "Giving up your boyhood too soon hasn't brought that day any closer."

"We shall see," Brad replied as he moved away.

Andrea had overheard their conversation and, when her son was out of earshot, approached Henry.  "How can my son and you both be leaders at the same time?" she wondered.

"We can't," Henry acknowledged.  "Nevertheless, it will come about.  Brad is much closer to what the people are becoming."

"And what are they becoming?"

"More worldly," said Henry.  "And less earthly," he added, not in the manner of making a quip but simply as the acknowledgment of a truth.

"And why isn't that a good thing?" Andrea asked.

"It's neither good nor bad. We can choose to keep our ears to the ground - and our nose to the grindstone.  Or we can put the earth underfoot, and reach to the stars.  It seems so infinitely greater to choose the latter that no sane man would even consider the former.  Yet we could have endured till the end of time as servants of earth; but only for a very short time as its masters.  The people have chosen.  Your son has it in him to take them to the stars; with me, they will never reach beyond this valley.  But unless they get to the stars, they will never escape the earth; whereas, had they plodded along in the atrophied state I gave them, the earth itself would have shown them the escape route."

"Escape from what?" Andrea asked, as did Cade, who had overheard the last part of Henry's prophecy.

"The earth staked out this territory long before we laid claim to it," Henry proposed.  "It has plans for it, which will come to fruition before we can re-shape it according to our specifications.  Man's blueprints have shaped his tombstone many times throughout history."

"Leave him and come with me!" Brad encouraged Felicia.  "He can't give you what I can!"

Felicia considered Brad's proposition a moment.  "Neither can you give me what he can," she answered.  "When I find the man who can give me everything he can plus everything you can, I'll run away with him as far as he wishes to go - but only if he goes by sea.  I will not spend my life traveling over land, to be swallowed up by the earth.  Are you willing to give up all your ambitions to circumnavigate the globe?"

"In time, perhaps," was all Brad would allow.  "My destiny is to lead - even to rule.  I must be where my people are.  Being the captain of a ship wouldn't be enough for me."

"Then the life you have to offer wouldn't be enough for me," said Felicia.

"There may not be ships anymore," Brad pointed out.  "Nor sailors.  No one knows what lies beyond the Appalachians."

"Someone, somewhere knows," Felicia speculated.  "Man could give up breathing easier than he could give up the sea.  I'll find the man I'm looking for."

"And until then?" asked Brad.  "Be mine until you find that other man," he offered.

"You'd release me when I found him?" asked Felicia, knowing perfectly well the answer.

Brad said nothing further but merely shrugged and walked away - the absolute honesty of his not answering her question the most endearing quality she had ever seen in him.

"I could love Brad if I had to," she told Henry on their way home from Andrea's.  "He wouldn't sacrifice his integrity for the woman he loves, even if it means losing her.  I hadn't expected that of him."

"Brad is an honorable man," Henry noted.  "He'll make a good leader, his honor tempering his ambition."

"But not a great leader," Felicia prompted.

"No, not a great leader," Henry agreed.  "He has no vision of the kind of world his people need.  He accepts whatever they happen to want as his vision."

"Haven't you given your people to believe the same of you?" Felicia asked.

"I have," Henry acknowledged.  "I've been done in by my own vision.  I know the world we're building is the wrong world for them, but nothing overrules their right to choose their own path, even if, in choosing, they seal their fate.  It saddens me to think they won't be prepared when the earth reclaims this valley.  The more they have, the less able they'll be to adapt.  By not tyrannizing them, I'm sentencing them to death - at least, a large part of them.  And that's the greatest irony of all: a leader must set himself above his people if he's to save them from themselves."

Ten thousand people died on their way home from Henry's birthday.  They were not swallowed up by the earth or drowned in some hidden bog; nor were they crushed beneath falling debris or consumed by flames appearing out of nowhere; nor did poison gasses rise up from the ground to choke them.  Their deaths were not accidental deaths.  All ten thousand were murdered in their tracks - attacked; stabbed or beaten or shot; then left for dead.  The war had begun.  The war the return to normal made inevitable.

When the ground thawed and the snow and ice melted, the old rhythms slowly reestablished themselves.  The Ohio River again flowed predictably between Indiana and Kentucky, making it safe for masses of men to cross.

The war in Kentucky was over.  The invaders from the Carolinas had been defeated - either driven back to their own land or assimilated, after ten years of constant contact, into Kentucky's outlaw society.  Those same ten years had brought the hundreds of outlaw gangs together in one loosely aligned confederation which, without a common enemy, threatened to splinter back into its constituent parts.  Yet there was no longer an enemy at the border.  For nearly three years there had been no outside threat; the old ways were beginning to creep back into the outlaw community.  The bickering, the petty rivalries, the constant jostling for power had already taken a toll, as armed conflict broke out sporadically among the myriad gang members.  Bodies began appearing in alleyways and along deserted highways.  Stone Creek was summoned by the leaders of the community in a desperate attempt to keep the peace among their own people.  This time, however, he refused to meet them on their own turf.

There were too many threads being wound in too many directions for Stone Creek to risk a trip to Kentucky.  He had had no reason to go there - or anywhere - for several years.  To suddenly disappear, for even a few days, would draw too much attention, especially from Cade, who alone might manage to fit all the pieces together.  So when an emissary was sent to speak to him a couple months before Henry's birthday, he agreed to meet with a contingent of outlaws at an abandoned town names Wilson, a few miles southwest of Henryville - the very place where he and Brad's secret army was headquartered.

No one was there this time of year, but the army's cache of weapons was.  Stone Creek took Brad with him, under the pretext of securing additional weapons from dealers who foraged the large cities for guns and ammunition.  The ban on travel to these cities had never been lifted and, even more incredibly, the civilization reestablished in the Ohio Valley had never reached the great cities of Indiana, Ohio and lower Michigan.  For the most part they remained uninhabited wastelands torn apart by whatever remnants of humanity had stayed behind during the mass exodus forty years ago.  Most of the weapons stored at Wilson had come from just such places, bartered from vagabond gun runners.  So Brad saw nothing suspicious about his mentor's trip.

Half a dozen men were waiting at Wilson when Stone Creek and Brad arrived mid-day.  These were men Brad had never seen before but Cade would have recognized from his days at Brandenburg.  Stone Creek began at once dealing for the guns these men had brought - ten crates full of various kinds of weapons and ammunition: the price of doing business with Stone Creek, who had made it clear that he would only meet with them if they posed as legitimate weapons dealers, there to trade guns for whatever they could get in exchange.

The day wore on and still no deal had been struck.  They agreed to meet tomorrow to iron out their differences.  Stone Creek steered the men to a large house near the center of town where they could stay the night; then he and Brad went to the cottage they stayed at when their army was in training.

"I don't trust them," said Brad.  "They're not telling us the whole story."

"Of course they aren't," Stone Creek readily agreed.  "That's why I won't meet their offer till I've had a chance to test their weapons.  We do that first thing tomorrow.  They'll try to have us test only a few - the ones they know are good.  That's why we're going to switch them when they're asleep. We'll get a couple hours sleep first, then we're going over to pay them a little visit."

Around midnight, Stone Creek and Brad left their cottage and made for the house where the men were staying.  They slipped in, found the crates, and carefully rearranged the weapons, putting the ones at the top - the ones that would be tested tomorrow - on the bottom; and the ones at the bottom on top.  Then they returned to their cottage, no one the wiser for the ploy - least of all Brad, for whose benefit this elaborate maneuver had been staged.  In a matter of minutes Brad was sound asleep and Stone Creek slipped out to rendezvous with the outlaws, grateful that Brad did not have the insight or intelligence of his brother, who would have seen right through the ploy.

"Two and a half months from now - March 21st - there will be a huge gathering at Henryville," Stone Creek advised the outlaws.  "People are coming from all over the region to celebrate their leader's birthday."

"You brought us here to tell us that?" the outlaws asked incredulously.  "Are we to bring cupcakes and presents?"

"I had hoped you would bring your wits - but you seem to have misplaced them," Stone Creek observed.  The men stared at him helplessly.  "To keep from disintegrating, your society must have an enemy to unite against.  I've shown you that enemy.  And the enemy is us."

"You?" the men replied, even more incredulously. "We can't take on the whole Ohio Valley!  We dare not risk it!  Your people are strong, unified.  It's true we were able to take hundreds of slaves ten years ago, but even that we only dared attempt when a small number was isolated from the rest.  To take on everyone - that's suicide!  We'll be destroyed!  Better to split into a thousand gangs than be destroyed!"

"Our people are unarmed," said Stone Creek.

"Then why are you buying weapons?" they asked.

"We have a secret militia - Brad and I formed it and keep it going.  But there are no other defenses.  Our leader is a pacifist.  He has left his people defenseless.  The only resistance will come from the militia - and make no mistake, we will resist.  Brad and I will be leading the fight against you.  But we'll be outnumbered, so victory is assured you."

"But what's in it for you?" the outlaws asked.  "None of this makes sense.  Why would you willingly sacrifice your own militia?  And why do you need us?  If you have the only weapons, you can take over anytime you please!"

"A coup is the very last resort," Stone Creek explained.  "I don't just want power, I want legitimacy - without that, power is an empty scepter.  Power must come to us - to Brad and his followers - as a compromise, the best and only solution to a crisis.  He must be handed the scepter, not forced to steal it."

"You mean for him to be a king?" the outlaws asked.

A smile played at Stone Creek's lips.  "I'd forgotten how charming it is to be taken literally," he said.  "King of the Universe," he pronounced.  "Nothing less will do."

By sunrise all the details had been worked out, followed by a handshake.  Then Stone Creek returned to his cottage, to find Brad still fast asleep.  He let the boy sleep a couple hours more then woke him up to get ready for the meeting.  By mid-morning, the deal had been struck; the ten crates of weapons - all of which tested satisfactorily - were moved to the storeroom where the rest of the army's weapons were kept; and everyone left Wilson.

When the war began, and claimed its first ten thousand victims in a couple of days, it had Stone Creek's blessing - though even he was stunned by the magnitude of the massacre.  He envisioned a few hundred casualties in a few dozen skirmishes, repeated again and again at strategic points and times - not a full scale invasion leaving the Ohio Valley littered with thousands of bodies in a single week.  He expected, in response to the incursions, a steady crescendo of outrage culminating in a public outcry to loud to be ignored.  Within six months he expected his army to be called upon to retaliate - enough time to give it the appearance of having been formed in response to the people's demand for protection.  He was unprepared for an immediate call to action, wary about producing a ready made army overnight.  But the scope of the invasion left him no choice.

He and Brad roused the members of their militia; led them to Wilson a week after Henry's birthday to collect their weapons; then returned to Henryville ready to fight the invaders.  Dozens more joined on the spot but were held in reserve, to undergo at least a minimum of training before being sent into battle.  Meanwhile, plans were drawn, strategies mapped, men deployed to strategic sites.

Privately, Henry expressed to his second in command his despair over the turn events had taken.  "This army cannot have been raised solely in response to what has happened," he told Joey.  "What Stone Creek and Brad have done is treasonous to everything this society was built on and stands for.  Yet without their treason, we would have no means of defending ourselves or retaliating against those who attacked our people.  He insists he doesn't know who's behind the attack - "

"Do you believe him?" Joey asked.

"It doesn't matter what I believe," Henry concluded.

"We need to know who's behind it," Joey insisted.  "It must be the outlaw gangs out of Kentucky - yet that's impossible, as fragmented as they were."

"That was more than ten years ago," Henry pointed out.  "They may have banded together."

"Then why wait till now to attack?"

"They may have been under attack themselves," Henry speculated.  "Or it could be our newfound wealth that's drawn them.  Whatever the case, they must be driven back.  Every man and woman who can must join the fight.  Especially you - "

"That goes without saying," Joey answered his leader.  "And you?" he asked.

Henry shook his head.  "No," he answered.  "I'll give all the support I can behind the scenes, but I will not join an army created behind our backs."

"You must!" Joey insisted.  "You must join - and help lead it!"

"No," said Henry.  "Let those who raised the army get the glory."

"You can't remain aloof from this," Joey warned.  "If you do, there will be a price to pay!  It isn't enough to work behind the scenes: you must become a visible part of the effort!"

But nothing Joey could say could convince his leader to take an active - let alone a conspicuous - role in the campaign to save his world.  He worked tirelessly, day and night, giving as much support as he could without distracting from Stone Creek and Brad's leadership; but he never put himself before his people as a driving force behind the campaign.

"It appears to be the outlaws," Stone Creek acknowledged before the town council.  "I hold myself to blame," he admitted.  "I should have kept up my contact with them - I should have continued making trips back to Kentucky.  That way I could have monitored the outlaws' activities.  Instead, I settled into a comfortable routine here in your city.  I'll understand if, after this is over, you wish to censure me - or even try me for treason."

"There's nothing treasonous in losing contact with your old associates," everyone on the council hastened to reassure Stone Creek.  "You were never assigned the task of spying on the State of Kentucky.  If anyone's at fault, we are, for not considering the possibility - if not the inevitability - of something like this.  If there's any treason here, it isn't yours."            

Even the outlaws avoided Louisville.  They found other routes across the Ohio, bridges other than the two left standing along Louisville's shoreline.  Twenty years after Brad's father triggered the bombs that destroyed the Kennedy Bridge, Louisville was still a virtual booby trap, as one after another gang of outlaws had discovered over the years.  Roads, buildings, even trees and statues had been wired for dynamite and other explosives in the final days before its evacuation, some of it by competing gangs safeguarding their turf, some by fleeing citizens hoping to stop the bands of renegades from pursuing them into Indiana.  Dozens of outlaws had perished making incursions into Louisville to scavenge until, eventually, the entire city became off limits to all the gangs.

They crossed the Ohio into Indiana at Madison, in central Jefferson County, on US Route 421; and at Interstate 74 on the Indiana-Ohio border, just east of Lawrenceburg in Dearborn County.  They entered Ohio through the US 62-68 corridor, with Maysville in Mason County on the Kentucky side, Aberdeen in southeastern Brown County on the Ohio side; along US 23 at the northwestern tip of Greenup County into Portsmouth in south central Scioto County; and where US 23, 52 and 60 stretched across the river from Ashland on the border of Greenup and Boyd Counties at the extreme northeastern part of Kentucky to Sheridan, Forestdale, Coral Grove and Ironton in Lawrence County, Ohio.

From these five crossings they worked their way through the southern tier of Ohio and Indiana, moving slowly northward, a force of nearly five thousand men armed with guns, knives and explosives, a full scale invading army, deployed not merely to terrorize the inhabitants of the Ohio Valley, as Stone Creek had expected, but to conquer the entire region.

A quarter million defenseless people, even if they had all traveled in tandem, were no match for five thousand heavily armed warriors seasoned by ten years of almost continual combat.  But the guests and emissaries who had gathered in Henryville for their leader's birthday neither arrived nor departed in unison; they returned home in small bands of no more than fifteen or twenty, headed a thousand different routes at various intervals throughout the days following the celebration.  In some cases the outlaws stood in wait till a group came within range, picking them off one by one before they even realized they were under attack.  Or they actively pursued the travelers, hunting them down as they fled, sometimes herding them to a point they had already chosen, their aim as much to hone their skills of pursuit as to kill them.  And anyone caught was killed.  Not one traveler of any band the outlaws set their sights on was left alive; their goal was to effect as many casualties as possible; the equation they labored under a simple subtraction: the more they killed, the easier the conquest - the result a simple displacement of territory, the victims yielding their allotted space within the Ohio Valley to their killers.

Many of the victims were not even missed till they had been dead more than a week, their fellow townspeople presuming they had either stayed in Henryville for an extended visit or else stopped somewhere along the way.  In some cases it was only upon receiving word of their departure and projected itinerary that their whereabouts became a cause for concern.  The only ones actively sought were those who had given a definite date for their return; but even those were not found for a couple days.  By the time enough bodies were discovered and the news communicated widely enough for people to start piecing it all together, the outlaws had already begun staking out the towns of the lower Ohio Valley.

Communication was still primitive, despite the restoration of power.  Telephone service had not been restored, and only a handful of places had working telegraph offices.  News still spread primarily by word of mouth - and was actively slowed down or stopped by outlaws posted along major highways to intercept couriers between communities.  When word finally reached Henryville that something not only tragic, as the disappearances of whole families several years earlier had been, but organized and imminently threatening to the entire region was happening, several smaller communities had already been attacked, pillaged and looted, the residents killed, captured or driven into hiding.  Though it took Brad's army only a few days to begin deploying, the outlaws already controlled most of the towns of southern Indiana along the Ohio River, from Jeffersonville, in Clark County, to Lawrenceburg, near the Ohio border - the towns most vulnerable to attack, the ones Henry had tried to discourage his people from settling.

These were also the towns, closest to Henryville, where the earliest reports of missing travelers had come from, followed by a lapse of silence.  Stone Creek marked each of the towns on a large map of the region, Brad watching his mentor place one after another flag next to them.

"We have to assume these have been taken," Stone Creek answered his apprentice's anticipated question, explaining that they had the smallest populations, were most vulnerable and, most importantly, were of great strategic importance.

"If they're so small, why are they important?" Brad asked, noting that it would be difficult to escape back across the Ohio at all but a few points.  "They're like a blind alley, or a boxed-in canyon, aren't they?"

"Their importance, like the old realtor's credo, lies in their location," Stone Creek explained.  "Being so close to Henryville - where any invading force would assume the center of our entire operations to be - they pose a constant threat to us.  Capture Henryville and you've won the war.  Therefore we can never deploy all our forces - and they know it: we've always got to leave a contingent here.  And deploy yet another contingent to try and flush them out of these towns: a blind alley is even more of a trap for those who attack than it is for those hold up in it.  So, right off the bat, they tie up two whole parts of our army, without so much as lifting a finger against us, while their main force proceeds inland to the rest of the communities."

"So all we can do is play into their hands?" Brad asked.

"Oh no," replied Stone Creek.  "The only way around a foolproof plan is just that: around it.  Every one of these towns is most vulnerable from the one place they won't be expecting an attack: from their old Kentucky home!  We go around them by rafting down the Ohio and coming at them from Kentucky."

"But where will we get rafts?" Brad asked.  "And on short notice?  We can't build them that quickly!"

"To paraphrase our leader: they will build us!" quipped Stone Creek, his quip met by a blank stare.

Stone Creek and Brad led the first contingent of men westward, along Henry's Route 160, straight for Salem.  When they reached it, they salvaged enough fallen walls, doors and roofs to accommodate a small flotilla, maneuvering the slabs of wood to Henry's lake, where they set them floating downstream, under the assumption that either the lake itself reached to the Ohio or else had tributaries that did - an assumption borne out by the diverted and widened Blue South Fork River, which emptied into the Ohio just above the falls Henry had led his people to see when the earth was still frozen.

The trip downstream, from Leavenworth, in Crawford County; around Harrison County and Floyd County; past Louisville and Jeffersonville; then upstream to Scott, Jefferson and Switzerland Counties - some one hundred twenty miles along the currents of the Ohio, took a fraction of the time the army feared it would.

None of the men - not even Brad - openly questioned Stone Creek's judgment in choosing to raft down the Ohio; yet all of them thought the strategy not only a major hurdle to the mission but a threat to the war effort itself.  Everyone knew the Ohio flowed east to west: they knew that from grade school; even a boat trip against its current was a formidable undertaking.  To attempt it on rafts, during the spring thaw, was almost beyond comprehension.

"You wonder if my military prowess has flown the coop!" Stone Creed observed to Brad on the side as they began their journey down the Ohio.  Brad made no reply, but the look on his face underscored the supposition.  "Bear with me a while longer," Stone Creek said.  "Once again, I play the part of our leader, letting you discover for yourselves what I simply could have told you to start with."

Before the flotilla had gone its first mile, the wisdom of Stone Creek's plan became evident to his men.  Instead of battling the river's current to get upstream to Louisville, the rafts glided along effortlessly, the labor his men expected to exert just to keep from being swept westward going instead toward speeding their journey eastward.

"Your brother and I came to know the Ohio very well," Stone Creek told Brad.  "I can't account for it, but something, sometime, has changed its course.  It no longer flows west to the Mississippi; it flows east.  At least from the point just north of the falls created by the rift.  Again, there's no accounting for the falls not pulling the river all the more forcefully westward.  It's as if it's now two rivers.  And its current is much stronger than when it flowed westward.  Our journey will not exceed one week.  Precious time lost, yes - time that the enemy will use to gain an even greater foothold.  But a loss justified by the subsequent gain.  We'll drive them out of the shore communities, cutting off their escape route.  They'll have no choice but to head north, where the resistance will be greater.  Round one was theirs; round two will be ours."

There were one hundred twenty rafts in the flotilla, carrying seven hundred men, the vast majority of rafts carrying fewer than ten men each.  Though they floated together as far as Louisville, they had already been divided into a number of units which began to re-group when the first signs of Louisville's skyline appeared on the horizon.  Each unit had been assigned a specific target along the river, the size of each unit determined by the vulnerability of the target.  The larger towns - Jeffersonville, Clarksville, Madison, Lawrenceburg - were to be by-passed, the units first securing the small, less guarded communities then rallying at a vantage point to attack the larger communities.

The first unit went ashore at Utica and quickly engaged the outlaws entrenched there, the skirmish heard downstream by the flotilla as it headed north to the next target, Solon.  Since Solon was farther inland, no volleys came within earshot of the advancing army as it made it way to the third target, Bethlehem.  These first three units allowed themselves twenty-four hours to capture the three towns, after which they planned to rally back at Utica to advance to Jeffersonville.  All three kept to their timetable, re-taking the towns after dispatching any resistance they encountered.  Together, the remaining members of the three units, now acting as one unit, marched into Jeffersonville and, after a lengthy maneuver along its city streets and back alleys, vanquished the outlaws and captured the town.  No prisoners were taken; any who did not escape were mowed down.

The next four units were deployed at Paynesville, Hanover, Brooksburg in Jefferson County and Lamb at the extreme southwestern tip of Switzerland County, after which they moved on Madison.  They found greater resistance and suffered heavier casualties than the first three units; but likewise prevailed, freeing the corridor from enemy control.

Five unites accomplished the next mission, taking Craig, Vervay, Mt. Sterling, Florence and Patriot, all in Switzerland County.  There were no large towns along this corridor, no need for the units to regroup; instead, they maintained their positions in this watershed area, where stragglers fleeing from the eastern and western fronts were likely to attempt either to regroup or else cross back into Kentucky.  This force held the largest part of the army, with fifty men in each unit, while the first three units each had thirty men, the next four units forty, and the final five units forty men apiece.

The last five targets - North Landing, Rising Sun, French in Ohio County and Aurora and Wilmington in Dearborn County - were subdued in the allotted time, their conquerors advancing to Lawrenceburg to recapture that gateway to the communities straddling the Indiana-Ohio border.

One week and three days after setting out from Leavenworth, the flotilla had reclaimed the entire shoreline of the river from Louisville to the Ohio border, and began advancing northward to meet the second wave of troops, which had made its way across land from Henryville to the old Jefferson Proving Ground along the borders of Jennings, Ripley and Jefferson Counties.  This land force, six hundred strong, carrying four times the supplies and ammunition of the flotilla, had set out northeastward through Clark, Scott and into Jefferson County toward Belleview along US 42 on the eastern rim of Jefferson Proving Ground two days after Stone Creek led his men westward to Salem.  They encountered only pockets of resistance along the thirty mile route; even so, they arrived one day ahead of the flotilla, whose original force of seven hundred had dwindled to six hundred twenty.

Brad had almost been a casualty in the bid to take Lawrenceburg.  He and Stone Creek had been among the final five units, Stone Creek leading the charge on Aurora, Brad commanding the unit attacking Wilmington - both campaigns successful and without casualties.  All five units met, as planned, at Aurora for the combined assault on Lawrenceburg, a town much smaller than either Madison or Jeffersonville farther upstream; but, because of its location, of great strategic importance and, therefore, likely to be heavily guarded; and, precisely because of its smaller size, much more difficult to advance on undetected, even by this unexpected route.

The units were held upstream of Lawrenceburg until just before dawn, allowing them to maneuver into position and come ashore under cover of darkness.  They were within five hundred yards before they were detected; but, once they were, they were met with a barrage of gunfire that left ten men dead before a single shot was returned.

The outlaws at Lawrenceburg were stationed along a small stream sandwiched between Indiana Route 1, to the east, and 48 to the west - a perfectly square compound bordered on the south by US Route 50 but open at its northern end, where both 48 and 1 fanned out.  No other target along the Ohio had its headquarters so near the river; no other was more vulnerable to attack by land nor better prepared for attack by sea.

Brad's unit led the attack; it was this unit that suffered the first casualties.  When Stone Creek, whose unit was in the rear, saw the men on the line go down, he immediately re-drew the plan of attack, sending two units of men around, to attack from above, while the other three continued the charge from below - knowing full well that the boy he had hand picked to succeed Henry was in the most vulnerable position and as likely to be killed as to survive.  But he also knew that Brad must rule as a warrior king, not a philosopher king; therefore his skill as a warrior was the measure of his worthiness to rule.  If he was to survive, it would have to be his own doing; no one could take the fall for him.

He ran straight for the compound, firing his weapon as he went in order to cover his comrades advancing behind him, just as he counted on their cover to keep his path clear, never looking one way or the other to make certain he was not alone in the charge.  He kept advancing until the units dispatched to the northern end of the compound reached their target and began firing from behind enemy lines.  A bullet aimed straight for his head was deflected by a shot that pierced the enemy soldier's heart from behind. 

Within a few minutes the shooting stopped and the outlaws surrendered - not outnumbered but outflanked.  When Stone Creek arrived at the compound, he ordered his men to carry out the command they had all been given at the start of the mission.  Without hesitation, they began systematically executing the prisoners, who were too stunned by the resolution to react.  In less than three minutes, three hundred men lay dead on the ground.

"You executed no one," Stone Creek observed to Brad in private.

"I win battles," Brad answered.  "Leave the cleanup to others" - an answer that struck a responsive chord in his mentor.  Brad had no qualms about executing those he vanquished; but saw the killing of unarmed men as beneath a leader, fit only for subordinates.

"You nearly died today," Stone Creek went on to point out.

"Had I faltered, I would have - and half my men with me!" came the reply Stone Creek was looking for.

When the flotilla reconnoitered with the land force at Belleview, Stone Creek set out with a small contingent for Henryville, to personally oversee the training of the newest recruits, which had commenced several days before the campaign to regain the shoreline.  He had left several of his best men in charge of training, in addition to the nearly two hundred left behind to guard Henryville.  There was a constant stream of new recruits joining the army at various stages of the on-going training.  At any one time no fewer than three hundred trainees were billeted at Wilson, still the headquarters of Stone Creek's army.  The first recruits were sent into battle three weeks after the training began - the war itself to be the final phase of their training.  Then, a week later, the next round of recruits were sent to join the line; and the third week another round - each week seeing an additional fifty to a hundred new soldiers added to the force engaging the enemy at a hundred points within the Ohio Valley.

Cade was one of the first recruits to volunteer.  Three weeks after joining, he was fighting to drive the enemy from central Indiana and regain the towns which skirted Indianapolis, which were taken by the outlaws in a bid to surround Henryville.  He fought his first battle at a town called Wilson Corner in Shelby County; then he fought at Marietta, eight miles west of Wilson; then at Smithland, a couple miles northeast of Marietta; and at Prescott, eight miles farther east; but it wasn't until the battle of Shelbyville, a month and a half after going into battle, that he made his first kill.

Shelbyville proved to be the bloodiest battle of the entire war.  The town, barely ten miles southeast of Indianapolis, had close to twenty thousand inhabitants before it was abandoned forty years earlier.  It had finally begun to grow again as the fear of big cities began to wane and the larger towns surrounding them were seen once again as desirable locations; by the time the outlaws from Kentucky took it, almost five thousand people lived there.  Most of the residents managed to escape, word of the invaders preceding their arrival; those left behind were butchered, the invaders using them to sharpen their hand to hand combat skills.

A contingent of nearly a thousand enemy troops had managed to establish a stronghold at Shelbyville in less than a week.  It was to be the headquarters of the entire Indiana operation; Interstate 65, fifteen miles to the west, became the perimeter of the western frontier, Indiana Route 9, running through the center of Shelbyville, the main supply line for the region.  They built their camp in the southeastern quadrant of town, in an area bounded on both its east and west by old Conrail Railroad tracks, these tracks meeting at the apex of their camp, along East Michigan Road; the camp's southern boundary was marked by West McKay Road;  Indiana 9 almost bi-sected their camp.  

Cade's unit was made up mostly of new recruits fresh out of training.  Their mission was seen as fairly routine, to clean out a few small towns and then re-capture Shelbyville, where it was known that a contingent was holed up.  The intelligence that had been gathered mistakenly pinpointed the focus of enemy operations in the region as Columbus, twenty-five miles to the southwest, adjacent to Interstate 65 in Bartholomew County.  Brad's unit, proceeding from Jefferson Proving Ground after re-taking the towns of Jennings, Ripley and Decatur Counties, intended to reconnoiter with Cade's unit in Greensburg, in Decatur County, and proceed together to Columbus, thirty miles west of Greensburg.

A handful of outlaws had managed to escape the raids on Wilson Corner, Marietta and Prescott; they made their way to Shelbyville to warn of the impending attack.  The massive contingent was ready.  Expecting the attack to come from either the I-74 or Indiana 9 corridor, they positioned the bulk of their men along West McKay Road in anticipation of a quick and total victory.

Two-thirds of the way there, Cade, though not the leader of his unit, called a halt.  When questioned, all he could say was that something was not right.  He asked to be allowed to scout the town before his unit attacked, justifying his request with his first hand knowledge of the outlaws and his better understanding of larger towns and cities.  His leader agreed to his request, allowing him six hours to do his scouting before the unit proceeded.

Coming up a street parallel to Route 9, keeping well hidden in the shadows along its western side, he noticed the railroad tracks, and how they seemed to form the apex of a triangle a couple miles ahead.  Though the area looked deserted, there were signs of encampment.  He remembered a section of Brandenburg, where High Street and Broadway Street formed just such an apex, with Bypass Road forming the base of the triangle.  He remembered that that triangle was where the men who murdered his guardian and chased him into Indiana had come from.  Quickly, he retraced his steps back to his unit, to announce, on the basis of a hunch, that there was a trap awaiting them - that they would have to circle around and attack from the north.

His commander accepted his advice and, instead of heading for Shelbyville, headed for the small, deserted town of Meltzer, a few miles to its east.  From there, the unit swung around a northwest arc to make its entry along Indiana Route 44, as far as the Walkerville neighborhood, where it cut another northwest arc to follow the Big Blue River to the junction of River Drive, Indiana 9 and the Conrail track.  Its final movement was due south along Indiana 9 to East Mechanic Street, then east to North Noble Street, just west of the compound's apex along East Hendricks Street, where the unit regrouped for an all out assault on the enemy compound five blocks away.

Before the charge, Cade made one more request of his commander: to leave five or six men at a row of buildings just east of North Noble Street, where the charge would be made, to provide cover in case a retreat became necessary.  This time his commander refused his request, stating that all the men would be needed.  At three minutes after two P.M. on Tuesday, May 2nd of the year 2090, Cade's unit charged the enemy compound at Shelbyville, making it as far as East Hendricks Street, at the apex of the compound, before the enemy met their charge.

Still expecting an attack from the south, the enemy troops were caught off guard and, though they quickly regrouped to repel the assault from the north, were without direction or a formal plan of attack.  Consequently, they fought as one thousand separate points of combat rather than as a unified force of a thousand.  Otherwise, they would have decimated Cade's unit in a matter of minutes.

In the first five minutes of battle, half of Cade's unit - seventy-five men - were taken out by the enemy, whose losses were four times as great.  Both sides had automatic weapons and single shot rifles and guns - any kind of weapon anyone had been able to secure and carry into battle.  Cade's unit came in shooting, advancing beyond the perimeter at Hendricks Street even though they knew they had been spotted and were about to be fired on.  A hundred of the enemy had been killed even before the unit's fire was returned.  Two hundred more were killed as the unit advanced their first two blocks into the compound.  This put them at South Street; from there, they advanced to Columbia Avenue, then Locust Street, then Bud Street, losing another twenty-five men while the enemy lost another hundred.

Cade's commander took a bullet at Howard Street, six blocks into the enemy compound.  His chest was ripped open, his heart and lungs pulsating in the open air in a futile attempt to stave off death; then he quit moving.  Cade, a few feet behind him, shot his way past his commander, killing ten men in rapid succession before also being hit in the chest, but on the left side and with a much smaller gauge bullet.  One of his ribs deflected the bullet, which lodged in his chest wall, millimeters from piercing his lung.

Realizing his unit could go no farther without being annihilated, Cade led the remaining fifty men in a hasty retreat to the west, past Center Street and Pike Street, across the tracks, to a row of old wooden buildings on Jefferson Street, just outside the compound.  Sensing that these buildings would be a death trap, Cade led his men around them, to follow Elm Street south past Second, Third and Fourth Streets to St. Joseph Street.  Though the maneuver bought some time, none of the buildings offered the kind of shelter his men needed to fight off the remaining five hundred enemy troops.  Then he noticed something, a gully running parallel to the railroad tracks.  He led his men to it and jumped down the abutment, landing in a shallow stream called Van Pelt Ditch.  The water was frigid, but the bank gave a vantage point from which the men could repel the enemy troops pursuing them.  Cade knew they could not remain knee deep in this nearly frozen stream for longer than a few minutes without jeopardizing not only the mission but their lives as well.

For ten minutes straight Cade and his men fired round after round on the advancing enemy - half his men firing from the western bank, half from the eastern bank.  Another twenty-five were hit, Cade among them, the bullet shattering his left shoulder.  He felt the hit, felt the bone fragmenting, felt the blood pouring down his arm; yet he still used his shoulder to help steady and aim his weapon, each shot he fired banging his gun against the mangled shoulder in a never ending volley of excruciating jolts.  Another five minutes left another seventy of the enemy dead, and another ten of Cade's men wounded or killed.

There was a momentary lull in the enemy's advance.  Cade took that moment to lead his remaining men from the ditch.  In a single mad dash, they raced from the ditch to one of the enemy's own buildings within the compound, on Goodrich Avenue just east of the tracks.  Once inside, they all knew it would be their last stand.  They could go no farther.  They would kill until they were all killed, then their part of the war would be over.

Cade stationed a man at each window, leaving two men free to search the building for ammunition.  Within five minutes the building had been completely surrounded; but within those same five minutes the two men sent to secure it came upon a stash of guns and, more importantly, something that was so rare it had almost never been used in any of the campaigns.  They brought Cade a small box containing half a dozen hand grenades.

All the men knew what they were, having seen pictures of them and read descriptions of their use and their lethal capacity; but no one in Stone Creek's army had ever handled one or been shown how to trigger it.  Cade, however, had seem them first hand as he was growing up, had been shown how to arm and deliver them, had even thrown one at a tree in an open field.  He calmly took the first grenade; watched the movements outside his window; and, when the time was right, had one of his men pull the pin for him.  Then he waited a couple seconds and heaved it from the window into the midst of an advancing force.  It exploded before they even realized what it was, killing nearly twenty of them.

Then Cade went to another window, took a second grenade, had the pin pulled, and threw that one into a second group of enemy soldiers.  He ran to a third window, only to witness the third group of soldiers retreating, along with all the others.  For the next two hours it was deathly quiet.  Not one enemy soldier was anywhere in sight.  The wounded in Cade's unit were finally attended to.

Of the six who had been wounded, Cade's injuries were by far the most severe.  One of his fellow recruits helped him remove his jacket, shirt and undershirt, revealing an expanse of congealed blood on his chest, abdomen and left arm so extensive it almost seemed like a second skin.  The wound in his chest had stopped bleeding but the hole at his shoulder had not clotted yet.  There was no antiseptic, only a roll of cotton bandage, which the recruit wrapped around both his chest and  shoulder; nor were there antibiotics or pain killers, only a bottle of long outdated aspirin, two of which Cade took.  As Cade sat there, looking out the window, he dozed off.  The recruit attending him let him sleep, meaning to awaken him within half an hour.  But a sudden noise awoke him barely ten minutes after falling asleep.  He identified it at once as an explosion; it took him a couple minutes longer to realize that the sound had been in his own mind, not outside the building.

He began at once getting dressed and gathering up his gear, ordering his men to do the same.  He told them they must leave this building before the enemy returned.  When they pointed out to him that they were better defended here than anywhere else, he took out one of the grenades and held it up.

"If they have these," he said, "they must also have explosives.  It's only because we have these that they haven't already come at us with whatever explosives they have.  They know they'd never get close enough to use them.  But it'll soon be dark.  They'll come back, and they'll try it then.  We can't stay here."

Though in the middle of the enemy camp, surrounded by a host of buildings used as barracks and storehouses, Cade and his men managed to exit the building and escape back the way they came, toward Van Pelt Ditch.  A second time they descended knee keep into the frigid water; only, this time, instead of making a stand, they tried to make their escape along the ditch, working their way southward past McKay Road, the southern boundary of the enemy compound.

They had barely gotten below McKay when the compound came to life again.  Unable to see what was happening, they knew the activity centered around the building they had just escaped from less than an hour ago.  Another fifteen minutes passed; then suddenly an explosion lit up the sky above and the entire compound below, making everything and everyone within visible for the few seconds before the initial blast settled down into a blazing inferno rising up from the exact spot where Cade's unit had been holed up.

When the darkness started reclaiming the night sky surrounding the enemy camp, Cade motioned for his men to resume their escape, telling them that when the fire cooled enough for the enemy to begin looking for bodies, and found no sign of any, the pursuit would begin again.  Cade continued leading his men southward along the ditch until they came to a kind of fork, where another stream appeared to branch off from this one.  After several moments without moving, Cade motioned for his men to come closer; then he offered them a choice.

"We can keep going south," he stated one option, "or we can follow this other stream," he stated the other option.  "Before you decide," he cautioned, "consider that they chased us already in this gully.  They may return to it to see if we came this way.  Besides which, they would assume our escape to be southward, toward our own lines.  But if we head north, it may buy us some time."

"What would you have us do?" the other recruits asked.

"Head north," Cade answered.

"Then that's what we'll do," the others agreed.

The stream which forked from Van Pelt Ditch was called Fortune Ditch.  And, just as Cade assumed, it took a northward and a slightly westward route, away from the tracks and the compound's western perimeter.  For the next two hours the unit made its way slowly, carefully along Fortune Ditch until it gradually dried up and sloped back into the landscape just beyond 8th Street.

They were three blocks beyond the compound's perimeter, but the fire had nearly gone out and they were able to move, undetected, up Meridian Street to its terminus at Indiana 44 on its way out of Shelbyville.  Still not wanting to be this far south, they took 44 eastward deeper into the city instead of westward through an area offering less cover; but only a couple blocks, before coming to Indiana Route 9, which they took northward in an effort to retrace their assault route of twelve hours earlier.  When Indiana 9 intersected Mechanic Street, they turned eastward again, proceeding two blocks to North Noble Street and the row of buildings Cade had earlier fixed upon as offering the best cover in the event of a retreat.

The buildings were industrial, with a brick facade, and all part of a single enterprise, therefore probably interconnected.  The windows were small and built high into the walls.  Cade led his unit around back, trying each of several doors before finding one that was unlocked.  His fellow recruits found it curious that he should be so fastidious about how they got inside; but he explained that a broken door was a door that offered no shelter, as well as a telltale sign of entry.  Once inside, the unit sought out, first, a vantage point from which to monitor outside activities; and a secure place deep within the building where they could leave a lantern burning and take turns resting.

Once again, the wounded were attended to.  Cade's makeshift bandages were changed; the wound at his shoulder had finally stopped bleeding, but the wound in his chest had started again, though the bleeding quickly stopped when he laid down on an old mat that was lying in the middle of the room.

"You need medical attention," the recruit attending him insisted.  "Your wounds are getting infected.  Someone has to go for help."

"No," Cade replied.  "No one goes for help - not for medical help.  We will not jeopardize the unit, or the mission, for one man.  I wouldn't allow it for anyone else, I won't allow it for me either."

"The mission?" the recruit repeated the word as if reciting a curse.  "The mission is over."

"You're wrong," Cade told him.  "The mission is not over till we have obtained our objective or died trying.  We have not recaptured this town yet."

"But, my God, surely no one could expect more of us!" came the rebuff.

"Don't forget: this is not just a battle for territory," Cade reminded his fellow recruits.  "We're fighting to save our way of life and the lives of our neighbors.  We can't stop so long as a single enemy soldier controls a single one of our communities.  We're not on foreign soil - this is our own back yard.  We have no choice but to keep fighting.  All we're doing now is resting, and seeking new strategies for completing our mission.  We can't give up.  If all we can do is take out even a dozen more of the enemy, it'll be worth whatever it costs us.  Do you see now why I can't even consider getting medical help?  I can't let the rest of you sacrifice your lives while I go off in search of a bandage, or, worse yet, allow one of you to go for me when you're needed here.  We'll wait only till we see our best chance, then we'll attack again."

Cade shut his eyes for a moment's rest, and fell into a sleep so deep that his fellow recruits were afraid he had slipped into a coma and would soon die.  He slept for two days straight, while the others took turns at sentry duty.  When he awoke, he thought he had only dozed off for a few minutes; and when the others told him how long he had been asleep, he expressed grave concern.

"We did our duty," his fellow recruits tried to assure him.  "We took turns standing guard.  We made sure no one attacked us without warning."  Their assurances deeply embarrassed Cade.

"I meant nothing disparaging or critical - I swear it," he answered, his eyes moist as he considered the implication of their comments.  "I only meant that I may have jeopardized all of our lives by sleeping instead of doing my duty.  You should have awaken me sooner."

"We tried," the recruit who had changed his bandages said.  "We thought you were dying.  So we weren't surprised when we couldn't wake you."

"Has the enemy been in this part of town looking for us?" Cade then asked.

"There's been no sign of any activity nearby," came the reply.

"They're bound to know we didn't die in the explosion," Cade speculated.  "They must have concluded we escaped.  So now, more than ever, they'll be expecting an attack from the south.  Once again, the element of surprise is with us.  We need to work out a plan; we can't charge their compound with only fifteen men as we did with a hundred fifty.  Nor can we rely on our guns alone to take out the enemy; fifteen of us can only shoot so many men in the few minutes we'll have before they overpower us.  We need much greater firepower."

"We have the grenades," Cade was reminded.

"Only four," Cade pointed out.  "What we need is what they used: we need a bomb.  But I don't know if we can make one."

"We can extract the gunpowder from our bullets," it was suggested.

"But we don't have enough to spare to make a real explosive," Cade noted.  "Unless," he speculated, pausing to follow the train of his own thought.  "If somehow we could rig the grenades to have all four explode at once, and surround them with enough powder to create a fire bomb.  We could take out a large chunk of the enemy, then go in shooting while they're distracted.  It might work.  It might be our only chance, too.  The trouble is, there's no way to test it and see if it works.  We have only one chance to make it work.  What does everyone say?  Do we go for it, or not?"

All fifteen men of the unit gave Cade's plan the thumb's up.  He immediately began working with the grenades to try and link their firing pins to a common triggering device, testing each trigger to the point of almost pulling the pins until he found one that he was satisfied with.  Once he had rigged the trigger, he looked for something he could fill with gunpowder and wrap around all four grenades to create a bomb.

He was right about the buildings being interconnected; he and his men scoured the entire row in search of what they needed without setting foot outside.  Eventually, a piece of canvas heavy enough to hold the components of the bomb together was found.  Additionally, an old container of a flammable liquid was discovered; its contents had not all evaporated over the years.  The canvas was saturated with it and left to dry before the grenades and powder were wrapped.

"It'll take two of us to set the mechanism," Cade reported to the others.  "One to pull the firing pins and hurl the bomb while the other ignites the outer casing.  The timing has to be perfect.  The two have to work absolutely in unison within no more than fifty feet of the enemy.  Getting that close undetected is the hard part.  And, once the bomb's thrown, the others go in shooting - right over the bodies of the first two.  I need a volunteer to help me with the bomb.  But know in advance it's a suicide mission; there's no coming back alive after getting that close.  We may all die in the assault, but one of you for sure."

The first man to volunteer was the recruit who had tended Cade's wounds.  Cade asked again if he understood there was no coming back for the two of them; he nodded that he did.  Cade, in turn, nodded his acceptance of the recruit's offer.

"When do we go?" the recruit asked.

"When we've scouted the area and determined when and where the enemy is most vulnerable," Cade answered.  "We have to make our sacrifice count.  We can only attack when they're all assembled.  It may take days to track their activities and see the pattern to their daily activities."

It did not take days, but only hours.  The first scout came back in less than two hours - and took even that long only because of the need to keep out of sight.

"They're leaving!" he reported in great excitement.  "They're all assembled - in full gear!  I overheard them say they're going to Columbus to secure the western front!"

Cade knew from the master plan Stone Creek had drawn up weeks ago that his unit was to rally with Brad's at Columbus for an attack on what they mistakenly believed to be the enemy's center of operations in Indiana.  He knew exactly what the enemy now meant to do.

"We move now!" he ordered.

He and the young recruit who volunteered for the suicide mission grabbed up the bomb and everything else they needed to detonate it while the other thirteen gathered their weapons, ammunition and gear.  In less than five minutes the unit was on its way back down Noble Street toward the enemy compound, following exactly the same route the unit took on its first assault.  They moved undetected as far as the perimeter at Hendricks Street.  The enemy troops were in formation in the center of the compound from Howard Street to its southern perimeter at McKay Street.  They were all facing south, ready to move out on their commander's signal.  Cade and his men tried to maneuver the three blocks to Howard Street as stealthfully as they had the previous four blocks, but there was no real cover along this stretch of South Noble Street.  They succeeded in getting to South Street, leaving only Bud Street between them and the enemy, before they were detected.  At first only a couple soldiers saw them; but before they could advance ten more yards the weapons of half the camp were trained on them.

Cade nodded to his fellow recruit - the signal to begin the charge.  He and his companion ran ahead of the others, who began firing at the enemy to provide enough cover for them to get within range.  When they reached Bud Street, the recruit holding the bomb pulled the trigger extracting all four pins from the grenades; and, as he did, Cade lit the outer casing.  The recruit was poised to hurl the bomb when a bullet struck his arm, knocking the bomb from his grasp, and a second bullet struck his chest, knocking him back.

Cade leaped to catch the bomb before it hit the ground.  In the split second before the bomb exploded, two options thundered across his mind.  He could attempt to hurl it with his good arm or he could run with it and leap bodily onto his target as it exploded.  He would have chosen the latter course, his body a more accurate projectile than his arm, but he could not be sure there was enough time to traverse the final block standing between him and the enemy.  Summoning all his strength, he took aim and hurled the bomb toward the enemy ranks.

For a couple seconds it hung suspended in mid-air as it completed its trajectory.  Then it hit and, as it did, burst with a deafening roar into a geyser of fire and shrapnel spewing over the entire northern end of the compound.  A couple hundred enemy soldiers, tightly packed to repel the attack, were thrown to the ground by flying shrapnel, while dozens more ran screaming in flames through the compound.  A piece of shrapnel flew back to where it came from, striking Cade in the forehead and knocking him unconscious.

The remaining thirteen recruits had already begun their charge, firing their weapons, at first at random, through the choking smoke; then pinpointing their bullets as the smoke began to clear and the enemy became visible again- the element of surprise once more on their side.  Dozens of enemy soldiers fell for every one of them brought down; until, finally and inevitably, the shooting stopped as the last man of the unit took a bullet between the eyes and fell in a heap on top of his gun.

The enemy line, three hundred men fewer than fifteen minutes earlier, slowly reestablished its command of the battlefield and began assessing its losses.  Only those who could get up, stand straight and move on their own were assimilated back into the ranks; the rest were left to die with their attackers on the battlefield as the enemy moved out, heading south.            

A day passed before signs of life returned to the battlefield.  The smoke from Cade's bomb still hovered in the cold spring air as if a cloud filled with pus had settled over the compound.  The ground from Howard Street southward to Goodrich Avenue and Foxborough Run, and from Noble Street eastward to the railroad tracks was littered with bodies, covered in blood.  The wounded left behind by the enemy to die fulfilled their comrades expectations before the afternoon sun began to wane, the last of them heaving a muffled sigh as his life left his body.  Neither did any of the fifteen remaining soldiers of Cade's unit exhibit any sign of movement as day passed to night and night into morning.

The sun had already risen as high in the sky as it could this time of the year when a body lying just outside the perimeter of destruction twitched for a brief second then began to slowly roll over on its side.  The eyes tried to open but were unable to focus on anything.  The hands groped for something to take hold of but, finding nothing, began pressing against the ground in tandem with the knees in an attempt to raise the body upright.  When the attempt failed, the body lowered itself again and took a deep breath to try again.  As it lay there gasping for air a second body began to rouse itself.  This one, too, opened its eyes; but, unlike the first, it saw nothing.  Yet when it tried to raise itself from the ground, it succeeded, standing upright but unable to orient itself or go anywhere.  Then the eyes the first body tried to see with cleared and a voice cried out.

"Cade!" the young recruit who had volunteered to carry out the suicide mission called out to the body standing a few feet farther south.  The body turned toward the sound of its name.

"Where are you?" Cade called back.

"Over here," the recruit answered.  "You're looking right at me."

"You must guide me," Cade told his fellow recruit, who at once understood what he meant.

"Take one step with your right foot, straight ahead," the recruit instructed.  "Now one step with your left foot.  Now slowly move your right arm - stop! that's far enough!  Now let the rest of your body follow to where your arm is.  Good.  Now take two more steps straight ahead.  Now two more.  And two more."

Taking two steps at a time, Cade was led twenty yards to where the recruit lay on the ground.

"I'm going to try to get up again," Cade was told.  "But don't reach out to help me.  I must get up on my own."

Slowly, the recruit managed to lift himself to his knees, then to his feet.  Sensing he was going to fall, he told Cade to stiffen his body and brace himself so that he could lean against him.

"Let me lean against you a moment more, till I steady myself," he asked Cade, who remained as stiff as a sentry on guard duty.  Then the recruit loosened his grip and began to move away from Cade.

"I need to stand alone a moment before I can move on my own," the recruit said.

"Has everyone gone but us?" Cade asked.

The recruit looked out over the battlefield.  "I see only bodies," he answered.

"Our men - or theirs?"

"Both," came the reply.  "I see mostly theirs, but some of ours too.  As soon as I'm able, I'll go and see if anyone else in our unit is alive."

After a few more minutes had passed and the recruit grew more steady on his feet, he returned to stand next to Cade.

"You still see nothing?" he asked.

"No, nothing at all," Cade replied.

"You have a wound on your forehead," the recruit told him.

"And you?" Cade asked.

"I was hit in the chest," he replied.

An hour passed before the recruit felt up to the task of identifying the dead.  He led Cade to a place where he could sit if he chose, and then began tallying his fellow recruits, checking each one for a pulse as he discovered the body amidst the carnage.  When he returned to Cade, two hours later, he reported, in a voice that threatened to break any second, all thirteen of their fellow recruits dead.

"We were the only ones who had to die," he said, with a look of horror in his eyes that Cade could sense but not see.  It was as if the irony of the two who had volunteered for the suicide mission surviving the others was more horrible than the deaths themselves.

"Once again," Cade quoted in reply, "'Man proposes, God disposes.'"

"What do we do next?" the recruit asked.

"The enemy has left their camp," Cade speculated.  "They must have gotten word that my brother's unit was poised to attack Columbus."   He reflected a moment on the strange turn of events.  "Everyone thought Columbus was their center of operations in Indiana.  We were going to clean this town out then join Brad to attack Columbus.  We've got to try and warn them.  They'll be attacked from behind when they attack Columbus.  And who knows?  Maybe this wasn't their main force - maybe there are even more stationed at Columbus.  We've got to try to get to them."

"But how?" the recruit asked, staring incredulously at the blind man standing before him.  "We don't even know how much of a head start they had."

"Lift your shirt," Cade told the recruit, who obeyed.  Cade reached out until his hand touched the recruit's chest then he slowly rubbed his hand back and forth across his chest, feeling the dried blood from his wound.

"It took the wound in my chest a day to crust over like that," Cade reported.  "That means they would have gotten a whole day on us.  You've got to get started immediately."

The young recruit started to cry.  "I don't know how to get us there," he confessed.  "I always assumed there'd be someone to lead me where I was supposed to go," he told Cade.  "I'm scared.  I'm not afraid to fight, or die; but I'm scared of not knowing what to do."

Cade reached out and put his hands on the recruit's shoulders.  "Then I'll have to come with you," he said.  "I was going to have you leave me here, so I wouldn't slow you up.  But I've got to go with you."

"Oh God," the recruit despaired.  "To need a blind man to lead me - oh God, forgive me, Cade - please forgive me for not being a better soldier!"  The recruit wept bitterly at his failure.

"No," said Cade, as tears flowed from his eyes too.  "No.  It's me who needs to be forgiven - for my arrogance!  For assuming that even without sight I can complete my mission!  I'm not a superman, just an arrogant fool insensitive to his friends."

The sight of the bravest, most honorable man the recruit had ever known shedding tears because his greatness shamed a fellow soldier snapped the young recruit out of his despair and gave him a sense of confidence in his ability to carry out his duty.  This time he reached out and laid his hands on Cade's shoulders.

"We'll get there," he assured his friend.  "I swear we will.  I'll tie us together with a rope or something, so that I don't have to lead you every step of the way.  You'll be able to feel my movement and keep pace without fear of stumbling.  When I pick up the pace, you'll know it's safe; and when I slow down, you'll know the terrain is treacherous.  And I'll report - every single step if I have to - what the conditions are: what signposts are out there, where the sun is, and what time of the day it is so that you can keep us on the right path.  I won't abandon the mission - I swear I won't!"

"Nor will I," Cade seconded his friend's resolve.

The recruit went about gathering supplies and ammunition for the trek southward to Columbus.  When he had gotten what they would need, he arranged a tether to keep Cade securely in place a step or two behind him; it was like a harness, fitting around his own shoulders then tied around Cade's waist so that he could hold the reins to help keep his balance.  As soon as the tether was in place, the recruit began leading Cade through the compound, at first slowly as they maneuvered their way around the bodies littering the ground, then more rapidly as they passed the southern perimeter and headed out of town, following Indiana Route 9.

"If we can stay on this route," Cade advised the recruit, "we can reach Columbus."

But like almost all roads - even the interstates - whole sections of Route 9 were missing, the roadway having simply disintegrated after forty years of disrepair or else having been torn apart by the forces of nature that had run amok for so long.  Stretches of road as much as a mile had been grown over to where no trace of the road bed showed through; but it was not until just south of the town of Hope that the road vanished so completely that nothing of it could be seen in the distance.  For the first time since leaving Shelbyville two days and fifteen miles earlier, the path the recruit had been following ended without a sign how or where to pick it up again.  With almost as many miles left to go as they had already gone, the travelers had to take it almost literally one step at a time the rest of the way.

Cade had some idea where Columbus was in relation to Hope - southwest of it, at a confluence of several highways; but, even if he had his sight restored, he wouldn't have attempted to reach it by traversing open country along a southwesterly diagonal.  He would have kept southward until coming to one of the west bound highways leading to it - which is precisely what he advised his traveling companion to do.

He had no ways of knowing that, at the last minute before Brad's unit left Jefferson Proving Ground, it had been given new orders to proceed due north to the town of Greensburg before heading west to Columbus.  Interstate 74 was a major east-west supply route for the enemy.  It led to Ohio, linking with Interstate 71 and 75 just outside Cincinnati; and it linked with Interstate 69 and 70 at Indianapolis, the former going, as did I-75, into Michigan, the latter to central Ohio.  I-74 ran less than a mile to the north of Greensburg.  Brad's orders were to capture that town and sabotage the supply route - a strategy, along with attacking Columbus, that the enemy had anticipated and established its center of operations at Shelbyville precisely to counter.

Brad's unit expected to encounter a much smaller force at Greensburg than at Columbus.  The original plan was to capture Columbus first; then, after the rendezvous with Cade's unit coming from Shelbyville, to branch out and take Greensburg - effectively destroying the enemy's supply lines in Indiana - then head north into Michigan.  But Stone Creek - as General of the entire Army - had decided that a victory at Greensburg, while weakening Brad's unit, would add to its morale more than enough to offset any losses, which would be minimal at worst.  The change in plans achieved Stone Creek's objective: Brad and his unit captured Greensburg with a minimum of resistance, coming away with a taste of victory which they carried with them all the way to Columbus.

Unforeseen by Stone Creek, however, was the turn of events in Shelbyville, which left Cade's unit decimated and brought the enemy survivors, some four hundred strong, to Columbus to help fend off the impending attack by Brad's unit - a turn of events which, ironically, worked to Stone Creek's advantage.  Columbus would have been an easy victory, given the limited force holding it; but it would have left Brad's unit vulnerable to the survivors from Shelbyville.  Had Stone Creek let Brad secure Columbus first, the attack from the north would have come on the heels of that battle, when no one would have been suspecting an attack.  But by sending Brad to Greensburg first, Stone Creek gave them just enough time to avoid being caught by surprise.

Cade and the recruit leading him left Hope a day after Brad's unit left Greensburg; and, though they traveled at barely half the pace of Brad's soldiers, they had less than half the distance to cover.  It was approximately four miles from Hope, southward along Indiana 9, to Indiana 46; and, from there, another four miles westward into the heart of Columbus.  Whereas it was twenty some miles from Greensburg to Columbus.

When the recruit informed Cade that they had reached an intersection with what appeared to be the road they were looking for, he was told to traverse it a ways to see if any road signs remained.  A couple hours went by before he returned with the news that the road was Indiana Route 46.

Cade's plan was to enter Columbus from the north, which meant leaving 46 before it got too close to the city and maneuvering a northwesterly trail through open country.  His plan was to create a diversion, to make the enemy think they were being attacked on two flanks - a plan that, in the absence of constant communication with his brother, depended entirely on chance to succeed.  If Brad's unit had already arrived, and had engaged the enemy, the diversion stood little chance of drawing the enemy away from the battle line; only if Cade and Brad arrived simultaneously would the distraction throw the enemy off-guard and leave them vulnerable to attack.

If Brad had arrived from the southeast, according to the original plan; and if Cade and the recruit had not been wounded in battle and exhausted almost beyond endurance by their march from Shelbyville, the impromptu plan to distract the enemy would have failed.  But when Stone Creek changed the plan, he altered Brad's point of entry into Columbus, bringing the unit along the exact same route taken by Cade.  And because of their weakened state, neither Cade nor the recruit were able to work their way around to the northernmost limits of Columbus as they intended; instead, they entered just north of 46.

Almost from the moment they set foot in Columbus, Cade and the recruit were aware of sustained activity nearby.  The recruit saw nothing, but both could hear soldiers talking and moving about.  They made their way along several deserted streets and alleyways to within a few hundred feet of a large contingent of soldiers bivouacked in a small park, near the center of Columbus, bordered on the north by Indiana 46 - Waycross Drive; on the east by Darlage Drive; and on the west by Hawcreek Avenue.

They could not tell if these were the survivors from Shelbyville, and dared not get close enough to find out; but they knew from the talk among the soldiers that the survivors were there and had been integrated into the contingent stationed at Columbus.  They learned also that the enemy was on full alert, and that an attack was imminent - but from the northeast, not the southeast.  Instead of Indiana 7, or US 31, the invading force would enter Columbus along Route 46, from Greensburg.

Cade and the recruit kept vigil for the next six hours, as one after another scout returned with the latest position of the approaching force, until the final scout reported that the invaders had just passed Petersville, a couple miles to the east.  Only then did Cade end the vigil and begin setting into motion his plan to divert the enemy.

He and the recruit moved away from their vantage point at the end of 23rd Street, across from the park, making their way back to Waycross Drive.  From there, they worked their way northward along Taylor Road five or six blocks, until they found a secluded spot where they could monitor any activity along Route 46.  Reprising their ploy at Shelbyville, though on a much smaller scale, they had fashioned several small bombs out of old bottles filled with gunpowder and pieces of torn cloth soaked in cigarette lighter fluid they had found that, miraculously, had not evaporated in the years since the lighter had been manufactured.  Then they waited, listening for sounds of an approaching army unit.

Another two and a half hours went by before they detected any sign of an advancing force.  Brad had slowed his unit to a virtual crawl in order to assess the terrain, step by step, for signs of an ambush.  He expected a much larger contingent than the one actually stationed at Columbus, with plenty of soldiers to place at key points of entry while still retaining a massive force at base camp, which would almost certainly be deep within the city.  So even though he did not expect to feel the brunt of the enemy until his unit advanced at least a mile inside city limits, he fully anticipated sporadic attacks along the way.

He likewise expected the unit from Shelbyville to already be in position, somewhere along the enemy's northern flank, awaiting the first shots to begin their attack - his estimate of their strength, as erroneous as his assessment of the enemy's strength, giving him a false sense of security.

As slowly as he advanced the last couple miles toward the city, he moved at an even slower pace once inside, each building within each block a potential ambush.  Eventually, he reached to within a few hundred yards of the enemy camp, surprised - and suspicious - at not being attacked along the way.  He concluded, not that the enemy had planned no ambush, but that whatever troops had been stationed beyond the base camp's perimeter would not open fire until his unit was completely surrounded - effecting an attack from all sides that would seal all avenues of escape.

He immediately began re-deploying his unit northward along Taylor Road, as if now leaving the city.  When the recruit watching their movement informed Cade of their shift away from the enemy camp, Cade ordered the diversion to begin at once, he and the recruit lighting several of their makeshift bombs and hurling them, one by one, toward the enemy camp.  This brought an immediate volley of gunfire from the park where the enemy was based - which, in turn, prompted an abrupt turnabout of Brad's unit back to its original westerly route.  Within a couple minutes Brad's men had fully engaged the enemy, one whole flank of which had been re-deployed to fend off an attack from the northern sector, where Cade and the recruit continued to hurl their remaining few bombs then commence firing several rounds of ammunition in an effort to keep the enemy distracted long enough for Brad to rout them.

By the time the soldiers along the northern flank realized the attack from the north was a diversion - the last bombs hurled, the remaining rounds of ammunition spent, yet no charge, no soldiers in sight, nothing but silence - it was too late to turn and help fend off Brad's attack.

The fighting was intense and the casualties heavy on both sides; but, as the day wore on, Brad's unit managed to get the upper hand, slowly but inexorably working its way westward and northward until surrounding the enemy camp completely.

Before nightfall, Columbus was captured.  Over four hundred enemy soldiers were taken prisoner; another hundred managed to escape; at least two hundred were killed.  The prisoners were rounded up.  Brad's men readied their weapons to complete their mission as they always did.  But the order to kill them never came.

Along with Stone Creek's orders sending Brad's unit to Greensburg before attacking Columbus had come an order to halt the killing of prisoners.  The process of negotiating a settlement had already begun; and, as a gesture of good faith, both sides had agreed to spare the lives of prisoners - thereby adding yet another burden to an already over-burdened army, the logistics of containment proving to be even greater than the logistics needed to maintain the war effort.  But Brad did as he was ordered and spared his prisoners, setting an armed guard around the clock to watch them until they could be secured.

To the northwest of Columbus was a long deactivated army facility, Camp Atterbury, just east of the rift in the center of the country.  Brad's prisoners were taken there for confinement; a small contingent was left behind to guard them when the unit moved northward to join the war effort in Michigan.

When the fighting was over, Cade and the recruit abandoned their post to join the victors in the enemy camp.  They were led to Brad, who asked where the rest of the unit was.

"They're dead," Cade informed him.

"They can't all be," Brad responded.

"They are," Cade assured him.

"A poorly led unit!" snapped Brad.  "We captured two towns - one of them the enemy's stronghold in the entire region - and suffered less than a fourth of our unit in casualties.  Your unit was wiped out trying to take one insignificant outpost!  Someone should be court-martialed!"

Brad stared pointedly at his brother, unaware that Cade could not see him.

The recruit, who had seen the look on Brad's face, attempted to address him, anxious to set the record straight.  "Permission to speak, sir!" he requested.

"Permission denied," said Brad.  "Anything you have to say can be said before a tribunal at the appropriate time."

Brad said nothing further to his brother or the other recruit.  When he led his unit out of Columbus, he instructed two of his men to escort them back to Henryville to stand trial.

"If they try to escape, shoot them!" he ordered.

"Sir, they appear to be wounded," the escort observed.

"You have your orders!" Brad repeated.

"Yes sir," the escort acknowledged.

Along the way to Henryville, Cade fell ill and had to be carried on a makeshift stretcher the remainder of the forty-five mile journey.  The recruit helped carry the stretcher as long as he could, but his strength gave out and the task fell completely to the armed escorts.  To satisfy the protocol of being escorted to prison by two soldiers occupied with a stretcher, he asked to have his hands tied behind him.  Reluctantly, the escorts agreed.  Several times along the way the recruit nearly blacked out and, losing his balance, stumbled and fell, struggling desperately to get up again without the aid of his hands.

"What really happened at Shelbyville?" the escorts asked their prisoner the last night before arriving at Henryville, as they sat around a fire they had built to keep warm for the night.

"I would answer you - and answer you proudly," replied the recruit; "but under the circumstances, anything I say might conflict with your orders.  I'll wait and speak at my court-martial."

The recruit had spoken stoically, as he believed he should; but his real reason for not wanting to tell what happened was that he feared he would break down and cry recounting the massacre of his fellow recruits.  He needed time before he would be able to speak about it without breaking.

With Indiana regained from enemy control, and a growing number of recruits trained and sent to the front lines - those along the Michigan border to the north and the Ohio border to the east - resources became available for the second phase of the war effort: the containment of prisoners.  In addition to Camp Atterbury, a second prison camp was established at Jefferson Proving Ground in southeastern Indiana, with plans for a third and perhaps a fourth, possibly Fort Jefferson in west central Ohio and Fort Defiance in northwestern Ohio.  Henry was in charge of all aspects of the containment process, working almost around the clock to coordinate and keep in constant balance everything relating to securing the prisoners, on the one hand, and providing for their needs on the other.  In this capacity, he made numerous trips to both Indiana facilities and several trips to Ohio in search of suitable prison sites.  But even this endeavor embroiled him in controversy.  Almost everyone else in the military hierarchy determined Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton to be the ideal place for a prison camp; but Henry steadfastly refused even to consider it because of its location within a major city, settling instead on Fort Jefferson and Fort Defiance, both historic sites.

Joey accompanied his leader each time he visited one of the facilities.  Besides Henry, Joey was the only member of the town council who had not openly joined the war effort.  His reason was simple: to help shield his leader from the stigma of not being an active part of the campaign.  While Joey himself risked being stigmatized, he believed his past actions would shield him from censure: no one who knew him would ever doubt his loyalty or his courage.  Somehow he imagined his reputation would shield Henry as well.

"It isn't right to withhold your expertise from the men who need you," Henry repeatedly warned his second in command.

"I choose to work in another capacity - the same as you," he always responded.

"The difference is, you do it for form," Henry pointed out; "you do it to make a statement.  Whereas I do it because I have no right to something someone else accomplished in my place."

"At least make it known among your people that you're working to contain the prisoners," Joey pleaded, but to no avail.  Henry steadfastly refused to be recognized for anything he did.  No argument Joey could put forth could override his conviction that it would be wrong for him to profit in any way from something he had actively worked against during the years he had helped his people rebuild their world.

He visited Cade as often as he could, when he wasn't away at the prison camps.  He would sit by Cade's bedside for hours at a time, talking to him if he were awake, just sitting there if he were sleeping.  He went to see Stone Creek just once, to ask that the charges against Cade be dropped; but, while Stone Creek agreed with him that Cade was incapable of anything dishonorable or cowardly, he refused to interfere with the process Brad had set in motion, assuring Henry that Cade would be cleared when all the facts were presented.

The recruit who survived Shelbyville along with Cade was being held in a cell in the town jail; his wounds were much less serious than Cade's and had healed with a minimum of medical attention.  Henry had spoken to him several times since his incarceration.  Their first meeting was painfully awkward because Henry had failed to allow for one of the most important components of human communication.  When he entered the hall outside the recruit's cell, it hit him all at once that he had no more idea who this young man was than if he had been an alien from another planet.  The boy was either born here or had been brought here as a very young child; and had grown up in this town, probably never left it until being sent off to war - yet Henry did not know his name, nor could he distinctly recall ever having seen the boy.  The prisoner picked up on Henry's embarrassment immediately and asked what was wrong, his greatest fear being that Cade had died.

Henry looked him in the eye.  "I came to ask you what happened in Shelbyville, and to assure you that you and Cade will be vindicated," he began by saying.

The recruit breathed a deep sigh of relief.  "Thank God," he said, briefly shutting his eyes before speaking again.  "I thought you were here to tell me Cade was dead."

"No," said Henry.  "Cade will live," he promised.  "His recovery will be slow, and he may never see again, but he will live.  If I seemed troubled, it was from something else.  Somehow," he awkwardly attempted to explain his state of mind," somehow I imagined I would know you.  I just assumed I would.  I'm supposed to be  a leader, and I don't even know the name of the man I've come to see.  Please forgive me."

"You couldn't get to know all of us," the recruit stated matter-of-factly.  "You had too many responsibilities.  I wouldn't have expected you to know me.  I was just an ordinary kid growing up in the town you brought us to, that's all."

"What is your name?" Henry asked.

"Darryl," the recruit answered.

"Was your father one of Paris Commune's T-Men?"

"No," came the answer.  "My folks and I just showed up one day kind of on their doorstop out in Nebraska, and Cade's father took us in.  I was just a few months old.  My folks had come from Carolina."

"So you and I came all the way across the country together, and lived together inside the cave, and traveled together through Kentucky, and grew up together in this town - and I never once saw you," Henry admitted shamefacedly.

"You were leading us here," Darryl pointed out.  "I was just following along."

"But we should have played together as kids," Henry told him.  "We should have shared experiences, talked about our dreams, about the girls we liked."

Darryl smiled.  "I liked the girl all the boys liked," he acknowledged.  "Felicia - your girl.  But I didn't have any dreams, or great plans.  I just wanted to live out my life.  That's all I ever wanted.  I sure never wanted to kill anyone, or watch my buddies die, or have Cade look right at me and not know where I was.  I know that's all part of becoming a man, and I guess it'll all be worth it some day; but right now, I swear to God, if it weren't for telling the court martial what a hero Cade was, I wish I could just hang myself and be done with it.  But I won't, no matter how sad I get.  I don't understand how they could put Cade on trial."

"You'll also be on trial," Henry reminded the prisoner.

"I don't care about that," said Darryl.  "I wasn't no hero, I wouldn't have even known what to do if I hadn't had Cade there to tell me.  He's the most special person I've ever seen in my life.  And I'm the only one alive who can set the record straight.  So that makes me kind of special too in a way, doesn't it?"

Henry nodded yes.  "But you don't need that to be special," he said, saddened by the realization that something so obvious and so much a part of his own philosophy had been a meaningless abstraction until he met this recruit face to face.

Cade lay in the hospital almost a month, then took another three months to get well enough to stand trial.  He was allowed to return to his mother's home while awaiting his court martial; but was placed under house arrest, forbidden to set foot outside the house.  Andrea complained of the cruel irony of forbidding a blind man from going beyond his front door to Stone Creek, who frequently visited.  But Cade saw nothing inappropriate in the restriction.

"I would go out if I could," he told them both.  "But only to learn how to get around.  I'll be blind for the rest of my life, but I won't always be confined to quarters.  I have to be able to get from one place to another.  And there are no seeing-eye dogs anymore.  Unless I'm found guilty, that is.  Then I won't need to get anywhere."

"It's unthinkable!" Andrea said angrily.  "How could anyone - his own brother especially - think Cade a coward or a deserter!  It's absurd!  And any tribunal that fails to acknowledge that runs the risk of being held in contempt by the people!  Have you spoken to the recruit who was arrested with Cade?"

"I have," Stone Creek answered Andrea.

"And what does he say?"

"You know I can't discuss that," Stone Creek told her.

"Even so, have you followed up on his leads?" Andrea asked.  "Have you sent investigators to Shelbyville?"

"I have," Stone Creek replied.  "And their report will be presented at the Court Martial."

Felicia and Carol came to see Cade several times, Felicia not wanting to walk the streets by herself.  Cade knew at once who it was paying him a visit; he could sense her presence, though he didn't know that Carol was with her.

"Is it like shutting your eyes?" Felicia asked when she and Cade were alone.

"No," he answered.  "When you shut your eyes, you still see an image of what you were looking at for an instant.  But I see no image in my mind's eye, even of these familiar surroundings.  It's as if I'm moving through a void, as if there's nothing around me.  Except that I can feel my surroundings.  This chair I'm standing next to: it feels as if it's touching me, yet I can't visualize it."

"Why did Brad have you arrested?" Felicia asked.  The story of Cade's arrest and return to Henryville was common knowledge.

"He couldn't believe that a whole unit could be wiped out by only a handful of men," Cade replied.  "He didn't know - maybe still doesn't know - how many men were there.  I don't know if anyone's ever taken a body count.  Not that I want credit for being part of so great  massacre; I just want them to know that my unit fought bravely and honorably but were outnumbered ten to one.  We did our best, only none of them are alive to say so.  Only the two of us.  It isn't just Darryl and me on trial - it's the whole unit.  We're on trial for desertion, but the unit's on trial for not fighting hard enough.  If Darryl and I lose, so does the unit.  I can't let that happen."

Brad's unit was joined by fresh recruits on its way to Michigan, bringing it back to its original strength.  He was to rendezvous with a unit that had already been deployed to seal the Michigan border east of Interstate 69, which was the eastern boundary of the great rift in the center of the country.  This unit was stationed at Angola, ten miles from both the Michigan border to the north and the Ohio border to the east, its sole purpose to keep the enemy from crossing state lines - an ironic throwback to the days when state boundaries possessed so great a power to hold people apart from one another that it still exercised considerable control over people's lives.  Neither the irony nor the power of suggestion was lost on Stone creek, who knew that securing these artificial boundaries, thereby confining the enemy to a fixed territory, would take as great a psychological toll as guns and bombs did a physical toll.

The enemy was determined to keep the borders open at all costs, so that its Ohio, Michigan and Indiana campaigns were never cut off from one another.  That simply being in all three states meant having those borders completely surrounded never entered into the enemy's strategy; keeping the borders open was all that mattered.  The energy exerted in maintaining the mythical illusion of statehood siphoned so much of the enemy's strength that the primary goal of conquering the region slipped ever farther from its grasp.

Brad took charge of both units at Angola, setting into motion the strategy mapped by Stone Creek before the first shot was even fired.  He was not to stretch his troops too thin in a vain effort to patrol the entire Michigan-Ohio-Indiana border; but to keep them essentially unified, making excursions along whichever border the enemy threatened.  Skirmishes were fought almost daily at various points along the borders during the next six months, interspersed with major battles every couple weeks, and culminating in a final assault at Nettle Lake, a small Williams County hamlet in extreme northwestern Ohio, close to the tri-state boundary.

The town surrounded a small lake.  It was off the beaten path; the nearest major highways were US Route 20, five miles to the south; Interstate 80 and 90, a mile or so farther south; Ohio Route 49, which ran from Dayton to the Michigan border and passed a couple miles west of town; and Ohio Route 15, which began at US 224 some sixty miles south, and ended at US 20, ten miles east of town.  Had the enemy not been driven from Dayton, nor Fort Defiance been chosen as a prison camp, the battle of Nettle Lake would not have taken place. 

A large contingent of enemy soldiers had taken Dayton in an effort to secure the entire southwestern quadrant of Ohio.  At about the same time, Stone Creek dispatched three units to the city.  He had no intelligence putting the enemy there - and needed none; all he did was consult a map and the logic of location revealed the enemy's strategy.  No sooner had the enemy established a base of operations at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base than the three units showed up to drive them out, cutting off their escape route to the east, to Columbus, where their Ohio campaign was headquartered, forcing them to head south, toward Cincinnati, which was still a no-man's land, like every other major city on the Ohio River, filled with booby traps and left over vandals; west, into the reclaimed Indiana territory; or, as their only realistic avenue of escape, north toward Michigan.  They headed north, taking the safe route, Ohio 49, even though it ran almost along the Indiana border, instead of Interstate 75, which would have taken them perilously close to Lima, which had become a major supply center for Stone Creek's army, stocked not only with food and medical supplies but also with heavy armaments well protected by a large force.

The enemy had known almost from its inception of the prison camp at Fort Jefferson, forty miles northwest of Dayton and less than five miles from Route 49.  They decided to sack it, freeing a couple hundred prisoners to re-join the campaign.  It was a costly decision, the number of soldiers lost in the battle almost as great as the number of prisoners set free.  From the prisoners, they learned of a second camp in western Ohio - Fort Defiance in the northwestern quadrant, where the enemy had made the least headway in Ohio.  They decided to sack that camp as well, freeing perhaps double the number of prisoners freed from Fort Jefferson.

This decision proved not only costly but fruitless.  Fort Defiance, along Ohio Route 15 at the town of Defiance, was heavily guarded.  After three days of skirmishes, the enemy was driven out of Defiance, heading north along 15 with the intention of working their way west to resume their northern trek along Route 49.  It wasn't until they had nearly reached the Michigan border that they veered west again, taking a small, practically unmarked county road which took them right through Nettle Lake.

Word of the enemy's rout at Fort Defiance preceded their arrival in Williams County, twenty miles distant.  Brad sent men to scout each of the possible routes the enemy might take once inside the County.  From a distance, they were tracked from the north, the west and even the east, until their path along Route 15 was clearly established.  Then Brad had to decide where his best chance of engaging them lay.  He chose the town of Pioneer, some five miles south of the Michigan border.  He stationed his troops a couple miles north of Pioneer, at a point he determined to be more advantageous for the attack.  It was only at the last possible minute that he realized the enemy's true strategy when, instead of continuing north along 15 toward his ambush, they headed west toward the Indiana border.

Brad reasoned that they would not be heading for Indiana, which meant they would resume their northward march at some point.  He would have liked to have split his force, sending half of his men along the County road after the enemy and the rest northward to cut them off; but, having no idea where along the fifteen miles separating Pioneer from Indiana they would turn to the north, he ordered all his men, all three units, to pursue the enemy and overrun them.

Between two county roads going north-south lay the town of Nettle Lake - 575 to its east, 475 to the west of it.  The road taken by the enemy ended at a lake around which the town was built, then picked up again on the other side of the lake.  Brad caught up to the enemy where the road ended and a road going south led to the way around the lake.  The first shots, fired at Brad's men from Vine Street, were met with a volley so fierce and rapid that the enemy retreated to the next block, Biscayne Boulevard, which cleared the southern end of the lake.  There, they dug in and began fighting in earnest.

Had Brad known this was where his men would engage the enemy, he would have sent one unit around the northern end of the lake to attack from the rear.  Now there was no way of outmaneuvering the enemy without alerting them to his plan; so he had no choice but to leave all his men at the front and depend on their superior fighting skills to overcome the enemy.

The two sides were evenly matched in both manpower and weaponry.  After the initial blitz, which took out two enemy soldiers for every one of Brad's men, the fighting settled down to a predictable pace, with casualties evenly distributed between the two sides.  This pace continued for another three to four hours when Brad, seeing now chance of victory, led a charge on the enemy line.  At first, his men were mowed down, he himself barely escaping enemy bullets; but as they grew nearer the enemy, the equation again shifted, one after another enemy soldier going down before the charge; until, barely fifteen minutes into the charge, the enemy was forced to attempt a retreat, Brad's men in full pursuit.

By the time they reached Ohio 49, their escape route into Michigan, the enemy force had suffered losses too great to continue on any longer.  They turned and surrendered.  A few more shots were fired before the signals were sent and received; then the fighting stopped, and the prisoners were led back to Fort Defiance to be locked up in the camp they had tried to set free.

Brad resented having to take time and resources away from the war effort to escort prisoners to their confinement instead of having his men simply mow them down as he had at the outset of hostilities; but he understood that the end of a war was sometimes far more costly than its beginning, so he accepted Stone Creed's orders not only without question but without the slightest show of resentment to his men.  Wanting desperately to move on to the next battle, he reluctantly turned away from the Michigan border to lead his prisoners forty miles south to Fort Defiance.

Both Henry and Joey were at the fort when Brad handed over his prisoners to the commandant.  Brad displayed every civility proper to encountering the leader of his people, exchanging greetings and rendering an account of his unit's progress.  He remained at Fort Defiance another two days before leading his men northward again to the border.  In private, at a chance meeting with Henry, he muttered to him "Your days are numbered."  Henry acknowledged the warning and moved on.

Joey had overheard the remark and, later, advised Henry to press Brad for its meaning, noting that it sounded not only threatening but treasonous as well, both of which interpretations Henry disputed.

"He merely stated what he believed would happen," Henry defended the remark.  "There's no treason in expressing certain consequences for certain actions.  We both know there will be a price to pay for not having foreseen this invasion."

"Everything you've done has worked to inflate that price," Joey reprised his constant advice to Henry during the war.

"I can't hold back human history - no matter which way its headed - any more than Brad can hold back the earth from reclaiming its territory," Henry responded.  "The people will make whatever judgments the events warrant; nothing can stop that.  They will either see beyond my failure to arm them or they'll see that failure as treason.  It's their right, no matter how they choose to see it."                                

Brad's unit engaged the enemy at Okemos, a suburb of Lansing that had been incorporated into the state capital around the turn of the century.  He had taken the intended route of the enemy he routed at Nettle Lake - Route 49 - across the border into Michigan as far as Litchfield in Hillsdale County, where the road ended.  From there he worked his way northeast into Jackson County as far as the town of Jackson and US Route 127, which took him the rest of the way to Lansing.  Though the enemy had not yet established a base of operations in Michigan, all the intelligence pointed to Lansing as being their first choice.  Everything to the west had been destroyed when the Great Lakes flooded the rift in the country' interior; everything to the east was within the orb of Detroit, another of the big cities that had never been entirely abandoned but, rather, had sat and festered in an endless series of gang wars until no one dared go anywhere near it.  The only reason the enemy wanted Michigan at all was to have a constant presence to the north of Indiana, as they had to its south in their home state of Kentucky.  It had no further value to them; but that was enough to justify a full scale battle.

They had not yet redeployed all their troops to Lansing; several units were still scattered throughout a ten county area ranging from the border up the center of the southern peninsula as far as Saginaw.  The largest contingent, however, had begun settling into East Lansing, just as the intelligence had reported; and, in particular, Michigan State University, halfway between East Lansing and Okemos.  They were anxiously anticipating the arrival of a large unit from Ohio to help strengthen their position; they were not expecting an attack by that unit's captors.

They were unaware of Brad's presence until scouts from a couple outposts arrived just ahead of his men to alert the troops stationed at Lansing.  Assuming that a surprise attack would come from the east rather than a direct assault from the south, they focused their attention on Okemos, the easternmost part of the metro area, stationing scouts at strategic points to monitor their progress while they prepared to repel the attack.  The only thing surprising about the attack was that it never came.

The battle, however, did arrive.  It officially began on Thursday, August 3rd, 2090, and raged for the next twelve weeks, threatening to surpass Shelbyville as the bloodiest battle of the war. 

Unlike Shelbyville, though, the blood took its time spilling at Okemos, the blood bath slower, more deliberate and carried out with far greater economy, the three days of blind raging destruction at Shelbyville stretching into almost twelve weeks of a carefully orchestrated campaign at Okemos, beginning with a single death and ending with a single death.

Brad mapped the area and set a course in motion before ever reaching the Michigan border; and never veered a single inch from his course.  Already guiding every detail of his strategy was his absolute certainty that the enemy would be waiting for him, that its scouts would have detected his advance long before he arrived, and that a surprise attack was, therefore, out of the question.  Neither was an ambush likely: a force large enough to effectively ambush his contingent would leave the enemy's headquarters vulnerable to attack.  This campaign could only be conducted as a textbook engagement of checks and balances between two armies, evenly matched, striking and counter-striking each other until one of them made a fatal miscalculation.

Brad veered from US Route 127 at the town of Mason, some five miles south of Okemos, but only a few hundred yards eastward, to Okemos Road, along which he then proceeded due north to his destination.  He had already determined that the key to victory was a series of parks and golf courses surrounding Michigan State University, where it was almost certain the enemy was headquartered.  Beginning southeast of Okemos was Ferguson Park; northeast of the city was Central North Park and Nancy L. Moore Park, with Lake of the Hills Golf Course a little farther north; then, northwest of Okemos, City Park, with Walnut Hills Country Club to its north; continuing northwest, George G. White Memorial Park with John M. Patriarche Park to the south and Robert Shaw Park, Henry Fine Park then, to the west, Slater Park; going southeast, Red Cedar Golf Course at the northwest corner of Michigan State, and John D. Emerson Park; then, at the southwest corner, Forest Akers Golf Course; and, ending due west of Okemos, the lynchpin of this campaign, the knot of this noose around the enemy's neck, Indian Hills Golf Course, which Brad was determined to take and hold at all costs.

All roads around Lansing led to that one objective; all buildings, trees, alleyways, knolls and gullies were means to the end of securing a ring around the army's compound at Michigan State.  No piece of ground, no matter how great its strategic placement, would be given precedence over taking and holding the parks and golf courses, nor would any of Brad's men be sacrificed to gain one inch of ground outside that ring.

Brad's first order of business was to deploy a small force of ten men each to Ferguson Park, Central North Park, Nancy L. Moore Park and Lake of the Hills Golf Course - the least likely to offer resistance, the least likely to be seen as threatening the enemy's position.  When these were secured - entirely without resistance - a force of twenty was dispatched to Walnut Hills Country Club; they, too, encountered no resistance.

All of this activity was noted by the enemy, but misinterpreted as positioning themselves to strike along the railroad tracks that ran to the north and south of Okemos, crisscrossing at the western end of Michigan State just east of I-496.  Based upon their assessment of Brad's strategy, they expected at some point a movement of troops south along Park Lake Road from Walnut Hills to the northern track and west along Mt. Hope Road from Ferguson Park to the southern track - an assessment not unanticipated by Brad.

He decided to create a diversion - to give the enemy what it expected while carrying out his real plan behind their backs.  For this objective, he was willing to sacrifice a small contingent because he knew he would never again have the advantage of surprise.  Once he moved beyond Ferguson Park toward Forest Akers, and beyond Walnut Hills toward Henry Fine and Robert Shaw, the enemy would become wise to his strategy.  He had to secure these points now, while he could still do so with a minimum of resistance.

Three days after arriving, Brad ordered fifty of his men to head south along Park Lake Road, fifty more to head west along Mt. Hope Road.  Known only to his lieutenants leading the two charges was the order to split each contingent into two smaller groups, with ten men in the vanguard, the other forty men pulling up the rear; and to sound the retreat at the first encounter with enemy fire.  This way, the enemy would be less likely to notice the parallel movement of troops along Lake Lansing Road to Henry Fine Park and Haslett Road to George G. White Park and Robert Shaw Park at the northern perimeter - both roads perpendicular to Park Lake Road; and along Bennett Road on the southern perimeter, running parallel to Mt. Hope Road toward Forest Akers Golf Course.  Twenty men, all tolled, were likely to be killed or captured; but the rest would almost certainly escape, leaving the enemy just enough casualties to maintain the illusion awhile longer that this had been the plan and avenue of attack.

A volley of shots rang out along the southern perimeter from a row of buildings where Mt. Hope Road intersected South Hagadorn Road, striking one of Brad's soldiers in the forehead; the soldier died on the spot.  When the retreat was sounded, not only the forty men stationed at the rear but the other nine in the vanguard escaped.  On the northern perimeter, a second volley rang out from a small park - City Park, the one park Brad had decided not to secure - a couple blocks west of Park Lake Road; this volley, however, missed the mark entirely, all fifty of Brad's men escaping.  Even so, the ploy achieved its objective: the movement of troops to Henry Fine, George White and Robert Shaw Parks in the north and to Forest Akers Golf Course in the south was accomplished without incident.

"It just barely worked," Brad chastised his two lieutenants.  "You both sounded the retreat too soon."

"But you said -" they both attempted to explain.

"I gave an order, yes," Brad acknowledged.  "But an order is only an outline of a plan.  It presumes a certain sequence of events.  A change in that sequence mandates a shift in the strategy.  When you saw there were almost no casualties, you should have maintained your momentum a little longer before retreating.  The sole purpose of your mission was to provide a cover for the others.  I realize our objective was obtained with minimum casualties, but a few more dead bodies would have been an acceptable loss in light of the time they would have bought us.  It's just a miracle the enemy didn't detect our movement along the perimeters.  I never want it cut that close again - is that clear?"

"Yes sir, it is," both lieutenants acknowledged.

The enemy still labored under the delusion, for another three days, that an attack would come from concrete; and maintained its greatest vigil along the roads leading from Okemos.  But on the fourth day after the initial encounter, they finally lifted the veil of subterfuge and saw the decoys sent to distract them for what they were.

Brad avoided Mt. Hope Road and Park Lake Road this time, choosing, instead, to send his decoys along the very roads he had used to deploy troops to the parks in the north and the golf course in the south - giving the appearance of doing exactly what any commander would after his first assault failed.  But in doing this he unwittingly tipped his hand. 

In order to move troops to his next objective - Slater Park to the northwest of Michigan State and John D. Emerson Park on its western fringe - he had to route them far enough north and south of his decoys to avoid detection, putting them squarely in the sights of the enemy's scouts, still stationed on the outskirts of town.

A contingent of fifty men moved west along Bennett Road to South Hagadorn Road, working their way diagonally from that intersection to Forest Road, coming to within a couple blocks of Forest Akers Golf Course before veering due north along a small stretch of road named Farm Lane, which brought them to the southern edge of the campus.  Paralleling their movement was that of a second fifty man contingent along Haslett Road on the northern perimeter; they, too, proceeded westward, almost to John M. Patriarche Park before veering due south where North Hagadorn Road became Lexington Avenue.  Like City Park, John M. Patriarche had been ignored because of the impossibility of securing it without detection; like City Park also, it held an enemy contingent, which sprang upon the decoys the moment they headed south.

Three of Brad's men were mowed down immediately - his lieutenant leading the decoys among those hit.  Left without leadership, with no one to sound the retreat, the men turned and fought their attackers, chasing them back to their hideout.  The battle raged for three hours before the tide finally turned against the enemy, who fled the park along the same route Brad's decoys had started down when they were ambushed.  When it was over, and Brad's men laid claim to John M. Patriarche Park - the piece of ground their commander had not intended to secure - thirty of the enemy and twelve of Brad's men lay dead.  At nightfall, however, the enemy returned to reclaim the park, leaving eight more of Brad's men and six of their own dead as the decoys made their way to Walnut Hills under cover of darkness.

The decoys along the southern perimeter encountered no resistance, no ambush, as they carried out their orders - an unexpected turn of events that unnerved the lieutenant leading the force, whose only instruction was to retreat at the first engagement with the enemy.  Reluctantly, he kept going, bringing his men eventually to the edge of the enemy's compound, where he stood poised between tipping his hand, not only to the enemy but to his own men if he ordered a retreat, and disobeying his commander's orders if he mounted an assault.  His men all turned to him, awaiting the go-ahead to proceed.  Reminding himself what his commander said about an order being only a plan, which circumstances could change, he moved to the front of the line and beckoned his men into the enemy's stronghold.

Farm Lane crossed both railroad tracks leading into the campus a couple miles east of where they crossed each other.  Brad's lieutenant led his men westward to that juncture, expecting every step of the way to be attacked.  Just beyond the juncture was Interstate 496, which ran along the western fringe of the campus, to within a mile of John D. Emerson Park - the real objective of this maneuver but not his objective.  Once he realized where he was, and how near the park he had unwittingly led his men, the lieutenant panicked and sounded a retreat, fearing that if he proceeded farther he would lead the enemy to the very spot he was deployed to draw their attention away from.  Just as he turned to go, a tremendous volley rang out.  He and his men all fell to the ground.  But not one soldier had been struck; they fell instinctively to shield themselves and to try and assess the situation before responding.  Till finally it dawned on the lieutenant that he and his men were not the intended targets, that the shots they heard came, not from the area immediately surrounding them, but from farther west - from the place he had been moving toward till he abruptly sounded the retreat.  Together, he and his men arose to continue their movement westward.

"They're attacking our men," the lieutenant informed his squad.  "Either they don't know we're here or don't care.  Whatever the case, we've got to help our men.  We've got to help them secure the park.  Let's go!"

Within minutes, they were within sight of the park, which was surrounded by enemy soldiers, the scouts having alerted their command post of the troop movement the decoys had been sent to obscure.  The lieutenant quickly assessed the situation, deploying his men along a fifty yard flank and leading the attack.  Their guns blazing, the decoys charged the enemy line surrounding the park, but were, in turn, surrounded by another line of enemy soldiers, who had waited till they reached the point of no return before opening fire.

Outnumbered ten to one, the decoys still managed to break through the enemy line and join their comrades trapped in John D. Emerson Park.  Fighting alongside them, twenty shy of their original force, the decoys helped bring the hostilities to a standstill as night drew near.  The park had been secured, but Brad's men knew they could not hold it for long.

Almost from the start, Brad sensed that the campaign had gone wrong.  He only half expected his strategy of sending decoys to work a second time; even so, he had no back-up plan.  He had deployed as many men as he could spare to secure the parks; should they fail, they were on their own to escape capture or death: he made it clear that no one would come after them.  But when night fell, and his decoys returned from their rout at John M. Patriarche Park, bringing with the report of their rout the implication that the mission on the northern perimeter - securing Slater Park - had been successful.  Brad was forced to reconsider his earlier resolve to deploy no more of his men.  It was clear that the mission on the southern perimeter had failed; but the logic of the battlefield qualified that failure.

It was almost inconceivable that none of his men - neither the fifty decoys nor the fifty sent to secure John D. Emerson Park - had escaped, prompting Brad to conclude that the mission had not been a total failure, that somewhere out there whatever remnant of his men had survived was holed up.  He hastily assembled fifty more men and, despite his top aides' advice and his own best judgment, personally led them along the same route his decoys had taken at the start of the mission.

"We'll work our way as far along Bennett Road as we can, then head straight for the enemy's camp," Brad told his men.  "Our objective is to reach Emerson Park.  Either that's where my men are or else it's there for the taking.  Either way, I intend to complete this mission."

The enemy controlled the power that reached from Henry's lake in the nation's rift to central Michigan, just as they either controlled or disrupted all the power within the Ohio Valley.  Without the aid of the kind of vast computerized system needed to monitor and phase in or phase out power to specific areas of the region, Henry had no choice but to leave the generators working while the war raged through the Ohio Valley - even though it meant putting this resource in the enemy's hands from time to time; otherwise, his own people would have been without power.  In Lansing, East Lansing and Okemos, the lights flickered according to the enemy's needs.  They kept it dark in Okemos, allowed street lamps to burn sporadically in East Lansing, and kept their compound at Michigan State flooded with light, to preclude a surprise attack.

The lamps lighting John Emerson Park shone brightly then, alternately, went pitch black to cover wave after wave of enemy troops sent to root out the invading force.  The first couple times, the lights almost blinded the soldiers holed up in the park - the force sent to secure it plus the decoys who had joined them; gradually, though, they forced their eyes to adjust to the almost explosive shift from black to white and back again, so that they could fend off their attackers.

When the unit Brad led reached the first set of railroad tracks intersecting Farm Lane and began working their way westward along the tracks, the strange light show to the northwest first caught their attention then drew them irresistibly toward it.  Just as they had encountered no one along the way to this point, they encountered no one the rest of the way to the source of these flickering lights.  Brad instantly sized up the situation, concluding that his men had succeeded in capturing Emerson Park and were under attack.

"We're going in," Brad told his men.  "But not this way.  We'll go in above the park."  Saying this, he began leading his men north, along Cherry Lane, at the western fringe of Michigan State, to South Shaw Lane, which bi-sected the campus, where he began a movement westward calculated to bring his men just north of the park.  He expected to encounter troops along this final leg of his mission, so he kept his men close to buildings and trees until he reached a point parallel to the park.  Then, cautioning his men to proceed as if they had eyes in the back of their heads, he led the charge.

The whole time he was maneuvering his troops into position, Brad was paying close attention to the cycle of lighting around the park, to try and discern a pattern.  At first it seemed totally random, as if a child were playing with a light switch; but as he drew closer to the park and was able to view the movement of enemy troops to and from the park, he realized these flickering lights were being used as signals to help coordinate the attacks.  When they came on, the troops stationed around the park, who otherwise would have had no means of communicating, all rushed together.

Brad and his men worked their way to within range of the park, yet still beyond enemy lines.  He directed his men's aim, not at the enemy, but at the street lamps that lit the park.

"When the lights come on again," he told his men, "shoot as many of them out as you can.  Then, on my order, attack."

The countdown began.  Brad could sense troops gathering a short distance behind his men, as if just waiting for the lights to come on to spring the trap.  He knew he was gambling with his men's lives having them spend their first rounds on inanimate objects; but he also knew that the success of the mission depended on severing the enemy's line of communication.

Five - four - three - two -one - then a sudden burst of light covered the entire perimeter.  The enemy readied to begin mowing down Brad and his men as they had the decoys who had been manipulated earlier into the same trap.  But before they could get off a single round the field of battle went black again as Brad's men extinguished every light that flooded the northern fringe of the park - which, in turn, prompted his men inside the park, as if responding to a carefully executed plan, to lift their weapons and shoot out the remaining lights.

Brad gave the order to his men to charge.  The enemy line behind him was in disarray, no one daring to fire in the dark for fear of hitting their own men.  The line before him was breached almost instantly - except that merely getting through the line was not Brad's aim.  The moment they were in front of the enemy, Brad and his men turned and began firing point blank into their ranks, mowing down almost half of them before the others could respond.

Even as the enemy began re-grouping and firing back, Brad's men stood their ground, firing round after round until, moments later, their comrades inside the park joined them, increasing the fire power three-fold until finally forcing the enemy to retreat back into the dimly lit recesses of their compound, their retreating figures like shadows against the horizon.  Brad quickly assessed the casualties before moving, with the others, back into the park to wait out the night.  Eleven of the men he had led on this rescue mission lay dead beside the sixty enemy soldiers his men had mowed down.

No other assaults came that night; and, at daybreak, leaving both his lieutenants to command the three units now joined as one, Brad, accompanied by two soldiers, started back to Okemos.

"Only a fool could fail to see now what our plan is," Brad assured his lieutenants, whom he hastily assembled the moment he arrived back at his headquarters.  "We have one final piece of ground to secure then we have them surrounded.  We move on Indian Hills within the hour.  Once we have it, all our efforts go into keeping our supply channels open so that we keep the ground we've gained.  As long as they don't try to drive us from all the parks at once - and I don't think they have the manpower for it - we can hit them sporadically from one after another point until we weaken them and exhaust their supplies to where we can mount a final assault on their compound.  We now have command of the surrounding area - whatever resources are here are ours for the taking.  We wait it out till they're desperate: and desperate men do foolish as well as desperate things."

Indians Hills Golf Course lay directly between, and almost equi-distant to, Brad's headquarters at Okemos and the enemy's at Michigan State.  It also lay most vulnerable to enemy assault, any movement of troops toward it undetectable till they were upon it; and stood the farthest from backup forces.  It would prove the most difficult to defend, but the most crucial to keeping the enemy imprisoned in his own compound.

While Brad prepared to take Indian Hills, the enemy was preparing to resist his advances.  Almost at the same moment he started out with a hundred of his best men, the enemy was assembling three hundred of its own men to take and hold the piece of ground.  Half an hour later, as Brad drew to within a few hundred feet of the golf course, he saw in the distance a massive force approaching from the west, highlighted by the risen sun.  Instead of rushing to secure the course before the enemy arrived, Brad decided to spread out, surround it, and let the enemy take it before attacking.  Certain he had not been spotted yet, he had some of his men crouch where they were while the rest crawled to points comprising an arc that reached from the northern side of the course, where Hamilton Road merged with West Grand River Avenue, around to the southern side, bounded by Ottawa Drive, leaving only its western side open and unguarded.  In another thirty minutes the last of the enemy troops had entered Indian Hills, thinking they had beaten Brad's men and had only to wait in hiding till their prey arrived.

The greatest threat now to the success of Brad's mission was the restoration of power within the Ohio Valley - a threat made ominous and immediate at Indian Hills.  As commander, Brad could deploy his troops to box the enemy within the target area; but he could not synchronize their actions once they were out of earshot.  All the efforts of all the people of Henry's world had gone toward restoring electricity on a grand scale; they could once again communicate over vast distances, via the telegraph, but had no means of communicating with someone a hundred yards away.  No one had been able to rebuild or reactivate the single most innovative and most underrated invention in the history of the world: the battery.  And without battery power, something as mundane as the walkie-talkie was as beyond man's reach as a walk on the sun.  Nor could Brad use flares, shots or any other visual or auditory signal to coordinate his attack: any signal his men stationed around the golf course could detect, the enemy could also detect.

Brad's men had only the most rudimentary instructions how to proceed once the enemy was within range.  They were to begin the slow, cautious process of tightening the arc around the enemy, every man moving closer and closer as much in unison with the others as chance would allow, each of them waiting till they had the enemy in their sights before charging - the overriding factor that would determine the success or failure of this mission the point in both time and space at which each man achieved visual contact with the enemy and acted upon it.  Given the irregularity of the golf course, chance dictated a sequence of sightings, depending upon each man's location, rather than a simultaneous sighting by all the men.  If those sighting the enemy first engaged him too soon or waited too long, the momentum would be lost.

Brad stationed himself at the center of the arc, where a small creek which followed the curve of the course then jutted across its northern tier flowed beneath Nakoma Drive, a narrow lane intersecting Hamilton Road northeast of the course then merging with Ottawa Drive along the course's perimeter.  From this vantage point, he was first to see the enemy; but he knew that the rest of his men would not be ready yet, so he waited - knowing also that he risked being spotted by the enemy while he waited.  Each passing minute brought more of his men to within range until, finally, realizing by a sudden flurry of activity within the enemy ranks that either he or one of his men had been sighted, he rose up and began firing his weapon as he made for the enemy line a few hundred feet ahead.  And, as he did, his men began arising, following his anonymous lead, firing their weapons as they, too, charged the enemy.

Coming at them from three sides at once, the attacking force assumed far greater proportions in the enemy's eyes than their numbers alone warranted, the shots from a hundred guns sounding and seeming like several hundred.  So while the enemy dug in to repel the advance, they did not dig in too deeply, every one of the three hundred soldiers slowly inching his way westward toward the only apparent opening in the burst of gunfire surrounding them.  Dozens of enemy troops fell for every half dozen of Brad's until, in less than half an hour after the first shot was fired, the enemy retreated from the course altogether, pursued by Brad and his men far enough to guarantee their successful retreat.  At a confluence of paths a few hundred yards west of the course - Saranac Lane, Tonepah Trail, Tekonsha Trail and Arapaho Trail - Brad signaled his men to halt and return to the golf course.  Indian Hills - the centerpiece of his strategy for defeating the enemy in Michigan - was now his, completing the ring around the enemy's compound.  The task before him now was holding the territory he had gained.

One after another skirmish was fought as Brad attempted to slowly tighten the ring he managed to slip in place around the enemy so as to cut off all supply routes.  His first order of business was to ferret out the scouts surrounding his perimeter - not because they posed a direct threat but because they could spy on his men and, even more importantly, could be sent for supplies.  He set this process in motion at the same time he was moving to secure Indians Hills, knowing that the enemy would not begin using its scouts as runners until they had either taken or been driven from the golf course.  By nightfall, more than thirty scouts had been tracked down and killed.

Then the real battle began, the slow, nerve-wracking waiting game between two enemies, the one outnumbered but having the advantage of position and, therefore, strategy, while the sheer size of the larger force made it increasingly desperate for supplies and increasingly vulnerable to poor judgment.

Time after time the enemy attempted to storm the parks surrounding their compound, only to be driven back, sometimes sending a large force against one single target, sometimes massing an attack on all targets simultaneously, each with the same result.  Dozens of men on each side died during each assault, but nothing could unseat the status quo, which held dominion over both armies for the next eleven weeks; until, just minutes after Brad's most trusted lieutenant was ripped apart by a barrage of gunfire as he fought back one final assault, a simple equation brought not only the war in Michigan but all hostilities in the Ohio Valley to an end.

Almost simultaneously, both sides realized they could not possibly wi