The sun will slink down beneath the skyline and be gone from view. Sophia will follow the instructions. She will come and she will wait.
As she waits, feeling the chill seep into her muscles and drain through to her bones, she will bunch a woollen rug thicker round her shoulders. Feet stomping heavy in the frosty mud, she will keep the feeling alive in them.
Michael’s message was waiting by the time Sophia returned from the final drill of the day.
“The river is changing colour.”
She smiled grimly. After all this time, he had still chosen to warn her. She turned the pebble over in her pocket for the rest of the day. At first she enjoyed the coldness brush against her thigh and then she would savour the warmth as she held it tightly. She woke just before dawn and reached under her bunk to find the pack prepared years before. She swung it up onto her back and slipped away.
Days spent tracing footsteps trod a decade before. Nights moving swiftly among the shadows, watching the Waders rise from the riverbeds and glide noiselessly through the reeds, across the common land, and into the nearby compounds. Heart in her mouth, she managed to look away and move on, knowing some would not now see the end.
She runs her hands over the great stone. She cracks the frozen pool formed in a hollow, plunges her hand in and leaves it til the pain feels like it’s crushing her. In spite of the stabbing on the back of her hand, the howl Sophia feels forming deep inside her gut turns instead into panicked gulps at air as the tears of half a lifetime finally come.
And this is when I will come to her. We will search for words and find none we can use until we finally lie together by the stone, where our paths uncrossed, and wait for the end of the world.