We reached the ravine just before sunset.
The cliff dwellings were even more extensive than I'd remembered, and they looked beautiful as we approached them in the evening light. The low sun brought out the stone's natural orange hue, and the rock walls glowed.
I told all of the refugees they could take off their blindfolds.
It was a perfect place to hide away. The ravine was narrow, but formed on the north side by a large overhanging cliff. The dwellings, ancient buildings, most of them still intact, were formed by a series of sturdy sandstone walls. Some of the structures were three stories high, reaching all the way to the ceiling of the hanging cliff. Ever since exploring this place with my dad as a kid, I remembered walking through the complex's interconnected passageways and looking out the stone windows. There must have been thirty or forty rooms in all, plenty of space for everyone. There was even a freshwater spring at the base of the ravine.
I remembered that my dad told me the people who had built the dwellings, the Anasazi Native Americans, had been hiding out from an aggressively warlike rival group. We couldn't have hoped for a better hiding place. Because of the cliff, the structures weren't even visible from the air. And because my dad had kept the place a secret, it still hadn't ever appeared on any maps. We were the only ones who knew about it. As long as word didn't get out, the Home Guard would need to search for months, years even, before tracking us here.
"Well, here's our Hole in the Wall," Chris said, slipping off the saddle.
The refugees began exploring the dwellings. People were actually laughing with one another as they walked from room to room, sounding hopeful for once.
I took Kaypay and the rest of the horses to the spring and watered them in the last of the evening light.
There was a round dugout at the center of the dwelling complex that must have been for storing food once, but we used it as a place to light a fire and heat up our ration packs. Chris made the rounds passing out another dose of antibiotics.
But I didn't take any.
I'd decided to wait and see how my condition progressed. I tried not to think too much about it, but I couldn't help it.
I excused myself early from the fire and took my blanket to the small stone room I'd claimed for myself. I needed to be alone for a little while.
I was terrified at what it meant to be infected, and what it meant to be dead. And yet I felt alive. I even felt a little good about how things were going. I'd managed, with Chris's help, to get a group of refugees a supply of antibiotics and a safe place to stay, for now anyway. Of course, we still had a lot to do. More refugees would come, we had to figure out a way to get a steady supply of provisions, and winter was on its way. But I'd accomplished something. And if the pathogen that was nesting in my brain was busy turning on genes that were giving me the confidence to help all of these people, then what did it matter if I was dead or alive? What was the difference which of my genes were turned off or on, if they all belonged to me anyway? Maybe the pathogen was part of me now too.
The stars gleamed outside the stone window.
I couldn't help it. I started to think about Ian.
I couldn't help but hope that I'd see him again, somehow, somewhere, however naïve and unrealistic it was that he'd ever forgive me. I'd been trying so hard not to think about him all this time, and now not thinking about him was just too much to bear. It was impossible not to wish that he was with me as I lay there alone in the darkness. It wasn't right to wish for that. It wasn't fair to my sister, or even to Ian. I know it wasn't. But it's what I felt, and I couldn't change it.
However the pathogen may have been affecting my thoughts, they were still my thoughts. All of my yearning and regrets and actions were still me.
I may even have been dead, but I was still me.
And whatever I was about to think, or feel, or do next in my life, I was okay with that. I had to be.
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