Thunder rolled in the distance. Lightning streaked the sky. A forked bolt touched the ground and lit the horizon for a moment. Eric marked the distance and pulled the collar of his duster up around his neck. Cold drops reached between his Stetson and collar to prick his neck. Was that it? There was something in the shadow and light. One mile, maybe two. But, was it the Ark?
“I can’t do it. I just can’t.” Jim’s weak voice broke Eric from his thoughts.
Eric turned and found Jim slumped down on his knees in the mud. His hat laid next to him and his duster fell from his shoulders. His face was turned up and the rain ran over his open eyes and open mouth.
“Get up. It’s just over the horizon.” Eric gazed back toward the spot he marked. It was hidden in the darkness, but the brief flash was enough for him to remember its location.
Jim laughed. Weak and quiet. “That’s what you’ve said for near’on a week. We ain’ any closer to findin’ yer blasted Ark than when we started.”
Eric sighed. Jim was right. They’ve chased the story of the Ark for over a week now without any sign that they’d ever find it. But it had to be there. Somewhere up ahead. Maggie wouldn’t lie. Not to him.
“Get up. Time we get movin’.” Eric took a few steps forward, but stopped when Jim made no motion to follow. “I said get up, Jim. We’ll rest in a few hours.”
“I’m done, Eric. Did you not hear me? I can’t do it. Not no more.” Jim lay back in the mud.
“Now you listen to me, you lazy…” Eric bit his lip to quell the fear and anger rising inside him. “We ain’ givin’ in like that. Not like the others. You promised me.”
“Promised you? What did I promise you? Promised to follow you. Thought maybe you was onto somethin’. Hope. Yeah, thought there was some hope in that bull you was peddlin’ when you came by. Whole town thought you was a fool. Thought I was a fool fer followin’ ya. But the way you spoke.” Jim wiped the water off his face, but the rain beat down on him more.
“And what did I say?”
“That there was a place that wasn’t drowning in this rain, that wasn’t choked by this darkness.”
“And there is.”
“How do you know?” Jim slapped the ground and splashed the puddles all around. “Have you ever seen it? Have you ever seen anythin’ but this blasted darkness and rain? Anywhere? I’ve not seen it. My whole life has been dark and rain and misery. That’s just how it is. Ain’ nothin’ out there different. Ain’ nothin’ out there but this.”
“But the old stories…”
“The old stories? Wake up, Eric! You’re lookin’ for a place because of stories written by dreamers. People who wanted to escape and so they made up stories. Are you tellin’ me we’ve been troddin’ through mud and storms because of stories?”
“Maggie told me…”
“Yeah, if she knew this place, why’d she ever leave?”
“She left so others would know.” Eric closed his eyes and saw Maggie’s face. Those dark brown eyes held a light that pierced his soul. He would have followed her anywhere.
“And where did that get her?”
Eric’s shoulders slumped, his eyes still closed. In his mind, Maggie lay in his arms. The sickness took her and she touched his face while the light left those eyes. Her dark brown hand unlike his or anyone else he knew, smooth. Not wrinkled and waterlogged. It was her hand, as much as the light in her eyes and her words, that convinced him. She was not from the rain and darkness. Hers was another place, a better place.
And he would find it.
“I’m goin’. I want you to come with me, Jim, but I’m goin’ either way.” Eric looked toward the marked spot again.
“Why? Why do you keep goin’ when everythin’ around you says you’re a fool. The world itself says it.”
“Hope.” Eric took two steps forward, but stopped when he heard splashing behind him. He turned to see Jim rise up to his knees.
“Well, don’ just stand there gawkin’. Give me a hand up, unless you plan on draggin’ me the whole way.”
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