We walked another three hours. The last hour was terrible. About two hours into the walk we had switched from wearing an in-toe thong style to a wrap-around toes style thong to avoid blisters, but my feet were still tired and sore. And an hour later the moon set. Before it had gone down the world looked like I was watching a black and white TV show -- it wasn't too hard to see things as long as you weren't looking at something black on something black. After the moon went down, it was a good thing this mudcake we were talking on was light colored. The starlight was just enough to keep me from stumbling, too much.
Jill, no surprise, was still following us. The man ignored her, and she stayed well out of his way.
The man stopped us for breaks frequently, and it turned out to be a good idea for our feet. Finally, a dark spot showed up on the mudcake in front of us. It transformed into a large tent as we got closer. We were there!
This place was much like the other: a big tent with tables, benches, cupboards and a platform. But it also had a large round thing in it that I could not identify. The round thing had two shiny metal ladders on it's side.
Our group was still leading, along with Suzanne, and once we were under the tent, Suzanne reached sort of sideways and undid my knots. Once I was free, I undid hers, and soon we were all undoing the others as they came up to the tent. Suzanne lit up some kind of lantern, and the tent was filled with a dim light. Nine of us dove into the food and drink, and discovered just how much our feet ached.
Jill came up slowly, and stood by the table. She looked terrible. There was mudcake dust on her face and all down the front of her. The dust on her face was streaked with tears. Her feet had broken, bleeding blisters. "Someone untie me, please!" she said. The tone was desperate without strength. None of us moved to help her.
The man came up last of all. She saw him, but this time she stood her ground. Here in the tent was what she needed to survive, she was like a moth circling a flame. The man grabbed her by the hair and tipped her head back so her neck was bared. He put a finger up to her neck, as if it were a knife. She just stood there.
"You are dead already, you know." he said, "Look at your feet. You can't walk tomorrow. Do you want me to put you out of your misery?"
"No... no...." she whispered, then sobbed -- her eyes were shut tight, but more tears streaked the dust on her face.
"What do you want?" the man asked again. When she said nothing, he shook her a bit.
Jill's mouth opened and shut. Her eyes stayed shut, no words came out.
The man sighed, "Have a last meal with your friends." He untied her bonds. She was in bad shape. He had to help her unkink her arms from behind her. He moistened a cloth and wiped her face. He helped her to sit on the bench seat, then he went off to fill his own plate.
Jill was ugly to have at the table. It wasn't so much that she looked terrible, which she did, but what can you say around a person who is going to die in the next twenty four hours, and die because of her own stubbornness and stupidity? It sort of dried up anything else we could think of to talk about, but we didn't want to talk about it, either.
The man came back with a small plate for Jill. He said to all of us, "I'm letting you see this, ladies, because, sadly, it's not the last death you will see. You've grown up in something of a fairy tale world. Modern mankind has made dying of old age the expected form of death. Where we are going, that won't be so for many generations.
"We have a world to build. It's going to be difficult, but what we will be creating is our world, and a world for our children. Let us pray that the process goes as smoothly as it can.
After we finished eating, we went to the platform, like we did the day before. Suzanne talked briefly, then said, "I think we are all pretty tired. I know I am. Lets sleep the rest of this night, and talk in the morning."
Anne Marie raised her hand, "What's that?" she asked.
Suzanne smiled, "You can take the cover off and find out for yourself."
Anne did. "Oh my gosh! A HOT TUB!"
Suzanne smiled some more, "Those of you who still have some energy can enjoy that now. It will be available until we leave tomorrow."
The man and Suzanne may have been tired, but the rest of us no longer were! They cuddled together on the far side of the platform and were soon asleep. The rest of us were up another hour or two having fun in the hot tub. It sure made my feet feel better!
I thought I would stay in the hot tub for hours, but it was less than an hour before I was drowsy. I got out and curled up on the pad away from the noise, close to Suzanne and the man -- he didn't scare me now.