West of Paradise, Galatia
“Now what?” Gideon asks weakly.
Sylvia looks up to him with red eyes that had long since run out of tears. She shrugs.
Between Gideon and Sylvia is the freshly filled grave where Meghan’s body lay. The rich smell of earth fills the air and is mingled with that of sweat. The sun bears down on Gideon and Sylvia with an impassive watchful gaze and Gideon notes that the skin on the back of his neck is beginning to burn under the direct light.
“I guess we could say a few words,” Gideon answers his own question with a feeling of dread. Everything that had happened over the past hour or so weighted down on him so heavily that he felt incapable of moving or thinking. In many ways, he felt like an engine that hadn’t had its oil changed in many years and was now seized and full of the thickest grime known to man. Grime so thick that it prevented the engine from performing its duty until it was cleared out.
“No,” Sylvia chokes as she shakes her head.
“Then what do we do?” Gideon whimpers as he lays on his side to watch the grave. He wasn’t sure why, but he felt like it was his duty to watch it.
“Just sit here,” Sylvia answers with another shrug.
As Gideon lays beside the grave, he feels a tear snake its way from the corner of his eye to his temple. There, it hangs precariously for a few short moments before the constant thud of his heartbeat shakes it loose. Just like Meghan’s life, this tear’s future is immediately ended, and it becomes part of the ground.
Gideon wakes up slowly and he can’t help but feel like everything that had happened before he fell asleep was just a dream. He never understood it, but something about sobbing himself to sleep always seemed to leave him a little dazed and disconnected when he woke up. He hadn’t mentioned it to anyone else, but a few of his friends had shared similar feelings on their own over the years.
Gideon wasn’t big on crying by any stretch of the imagination, he hated it. He hated it even more when people saw him do it.
But life in the Domes wasn’t easy. In the crumbling cities, accidents were all too common. Friends, families, and neighbors would leave one day and not come back. Buildings had a way of toppling, sinkholes had a propensity to open suddenly, and other pieces of infrastructure failed at inopportune times.
Long story short, Gideon was familiar with death.
Judging by what he had heard from the others about their Domes, things were very much the same in every walled city. It was clear to Gideon that the Coalition government was horribly inept at keeping things together. At the rate of decline that he was figuring, Gideon could see how any Dome could survive into the next century.
But Meghan’s death was different. It wasn’t the result of some accident. It wasn’t something that Gideon had no part in stopping. He could have stopped it. He could have been there for her.
Instead, he and Sylvia left her alone for far too long. They let her suffer with the guilt of leaving Tyson behind. They let her out of their sight and they left her to her own devices.
Instead of doing anything to prevent her death, Gideon and Sylvia fished Meghan’s body out of the river that they had buried her beside.
“Sylvia!” a voice calls from somewhere in the trees.
“Gideon!” another voice calls.
Hearing the voices, Gideon realizes that they were what had awoken him several moments before. Hearing the voices, he knew that the others had forgiven his and Sylvia’s sin of abandoning the team to come out here.
Now we just have to see if they forgive us for what happened to Meghan… Gideon thinks bleakly as his eyes fall back onto Meghan’s sad excuse for a grave. Thanks to the river, there was plenty of soft silt and gravel for them to dig through to dig the grave deep enough, but they couldn’t find a stone large enough to serve as a headstone. The impromptu piece of wood wouldn’t last, and Gideon knew it, it felt wrong to let her grave disappear after the wood rotted away.
Gideon reaches over to Sylvia, who had moved closer since he had nodded off, and he gives her a gentle shake. Doing his best to smile at her when she opened her eyes, Gideon tells her, “The others are coming for us.”
“What happened?” Rolland asks the moment that his eyes meet Gideon’s.
Frowning and shrugging, Gideon answers as honestly as he can, “I don’t know. Everything seemed to be fine and then… I don’t know.”
Gideon had his suspicions of what happened, sure, but that was a far cry short of knowing anything. Since he didn’t know Rolland or Meghan well enough, and since he didn’t know their relationship, he opted to error on the side of under sharing and saving his speculations to himself. There was no knowing how Rolland would respond to Gideon’s suspicions that Meghan might have intentionally drown herself.
“Sylvia?” Rolland prompts.
“Meghan’s dead,” Sylvia frowns, her voice cracking slightly. She looks away and finishes, “We don’t know what happened for sure, but we… we think… never mind.”
“Well, did you find what you were looking for, at least?” Rolland demands, Gideon can tell that he is getting angry.
Sylvia looks at Gideon helplessly and he offers her a sheepish shrug. He didn’t know what to say and he had a sneaking suspicion Sylvia didn’t either.
Pursing her lips, Sylvia stammers, “W—well, we found something, but we h—haven’t looked around just y—yet…”
Rolland scowls as he looks around the clearing where Gideon and Sylvia had buried Meghan. A few stiff moments pass before the features on Rolland’s face soften and he sighs. Looking between Gideon and Sylvia, he offers, “Why don’t we take a look around now, then?”