Bill got up from the controls of the 787. "Any preferences on where we set down? " he asked. Charlie took his place.
The others looked at one another. Ugly-Bugly shrugged. "God, who ever thought about it? "
"Come on, we're all futurists, " Heather said. "You must know where you want to live. "
"Two thousand years from now, " Ugly-Bugly said. "I want to live in the world the way it'll be two thousand years from now. "
"Ugly-Bugly opts for resurrection, " Bill said. "I, however, long for the bosom of Abraham. "
"Virginia, " said Elouise. They turned to face her. Heather laughed.
"Resurrection, " Bill intoned, "the bosom of Abraham, and Virginia. You have no poetry, Elouise. "
"I've written down the coordinates of the place where we are supposed to land, " Elouise said. She handed them to Charlie. He did not avoid her gaze. She watched him read the paper. He showed no sign of recognition. For a moment she hoped that it had all been a mistake, but no. She would not let herself be misled by her desires.
"Why Virginia? " Heather asked.
Charlie looked up. "It's central. "
"It's east coast, " Heather said.
"It's central in the high survival area. There isn't much of a living to be had in the western mountains or on the plains. It's not so far south as to be in hunter-gatherer country and not so far north as to be unsurvivable for a high proportion of the people. Barring a hard winter. "
"All very good reasons, " Elouise said. "Fly us there, Charlie. "
Did his hands tremble as he touched the controls? Elouise watched very carefully, but he did not tremble. Indeed, he was the only one who did not. Ugly-Bugly suddenly began to cry, tears coming from her good eye and streaming down her good cheek. Thank God she doesn't cry out of the other side, Elouise thought; then she was angry at herself, for she had thought Ugly-Bugly's deformed face didn't bother her anymore. Elouise was angry at herself, but it only made her cold inside, determined that there would be no failure. Her mission would be complete. No allowances made for personal cost.
Elouise suddenly started out of her contemplative mood to find that the two other women had left the cockpit-- their sleep shift, though it was doubtful they would sleep. Charlie silently flew the plane, while Bill sat in the copilot's seat, pouring himself the last drop from the bottle. He was looking at Elouise.
"Cheers, " Elouise said to him.
He smiled sadly back at her. "Amen, " he said. Then he leaned back and sang softly:
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow. Praise him, ye creatures here below. Praise him, who slew the wicked host. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Then he reached for Elouise's hand. She was surprised, but let him take it. He bent to her and kissed her palm tenderly. "For many have entertained angels unaware, " he said to her.
A few moments later he was asleep. Charlie and Elouise sat in silence. The plane flew on south as darkness overtook them from the east. At first their silence was almost affectionate. But as Elouise sat and sat, saying nothing, she felt the silence grow cold and terrible, and for the first time she realized that when the airplane landed, Charlie would be her-- Charlie, who had been half her life for these last few years, whom she had never lied to and who had never lied to her-- would be her enemy.
I have watched the little children do a dance called Charlie-El. They sing a little song to it, and if I remember the words, it goes like this:
I am made of bones and glass. Let me pass, let me pass. I am made of brick and steel. Take my heel, take my heel. I was killed just yesterday. Kneel and pray, kneel and pray. Dig a hole where I can sleep. Dig it deep, dig it deep. Will I go to heaven or hell? Charlie-El. Charlie-El.
I think they are already nonsense words to the children. But the poem first got passed word of mouth around Richmond when I was little, and living in Father Michael's house. The children do not try to answer their song. They just sing it and do a very clever little dance while they sing. They always end the song with all the children falling down on the ground, laughing. That is the best way for the song to end.
Charlie brought the airplane straight down into a field, great hot winds pushing against the ground as if to shove it back from the plane. The field caught fire, but when the plane had settled upon its three wheels, foam streaked out from the belly of the machine and overtook the flames. Elouise watched from the cockpit, thinking, Wherever the foam has touched, nothing will grow for years. It seemed symmetrical to her. Even in the last moments of the last machine, it must poison the earth. Elouise held Amy on her lap and thought of trying to explain it to the child. But Elouise knew Amy would not understand or remember.
"Last one dressed is a sissy-wissy, " said Ugly-Bugly in her husky, ancient-sounding voice. They had dressed and undressed in front of each other for years now, but today as the old plastic-polluted clothing came off and the homespun went on, they felt and acted like school kids on their first day in coed gym. Amy caught the spirit of it and kept yelling at the top of her lungs. No one thought to quiet her. There was no need. This was a celebration.
But Elouise, long accustomed to self-examination, forced herself to realize that there was a strain to her frolicking. She did not believe it, not really. Today was not a happy day, and it was not just from knowing the confrontation that lay ahead. There was something so final about the death of the last of the engines of mankind. Surely something could be-- but she forced the thought from her, forced the coldness in her to overtake that sentiment. Surely, she could not be seduced by the beauty of the airplane. Surely she must remember that it was not the machines but what they inevitably did to mankind that was evil.
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