Coming around a bend in the narrow path, Dawn and Kara stop at the sight of hundreds of people walking along a wide road. Vehicles roll slowly along in the midst of the bodies, the drivers honking the horn in the hopes of getting more space. The black asphalt is cracked and covered in potholes that threaten to snap the ankles of those who stumble into them. Gulls sing like wrens as they fly above the crowd, the opportunistic birds diving at any food that catches their eyes. Children scream and cry as they lose their snacks to the animals, which causes small fights to break out within the tense herd. Gunshots ring out from time to time, but there is no way to locate the source of the noise. For five minutes, a large pack of people wearing matching robes walks along with outsiders forced to stay on the edges. A tall woman with short hair screams scripture that speaks of Addison and Ian being born from humanity’s sins and acting as divine punishments for the species. Her voice gets louder and deeper as those on the fringe shout their disagreements. Eventually, a brawl breaks out with the outsiders being either dragged into the robed pack or shoved off the road. Those captured reemerge minutes later chanting along with their new leader while their exiled friends remain curled in balls in the dirt. Nobody tries to help the fallen, who begin wailing and cursing humanity in general.
A sign saying that the people are almost there sits on the other side of the road from where Dawn and Kara have emerged. They are not sure what it is referring to, but they cautiously get closer to the mob in the hopes of asking someone for an explanation. Getting near a man who had been cast aside, they jump away when he suddenly shrieks and goes running away from the front of the crowd. His departure causes the others to follow, the children forced to run on their own as the adults focus entirely on their own fate. Dawn catches Kara by the arm before they go any further, her hand slowly rising to point at a large structure up ahead. Running into the distance is a massive bridge, which is polished to a shine and decorated with flower beds along the sides. The roar of the ocean sends a chill down their spines since they do not remember seeing it when they were on top of the nearby hills. Taking out their matching binoculars, they can barely see the spray of waves hitting the sides of the ground that abruptly cuts off to meet the bridge.
“This is the direction that we wanted to go in,” Dawn points out as they walk alongside the road. After ten feet, she hits an invisible wall and earns the angry glares of those passing by. “I guess we have to be on the path to continue. That might explain why those people froze up and freaked out when they were knocked off. There must be a starting point that you have to be on in order to use the bridge. I really hope we don’t have to travel for miles in the opposite direction to get across the ocean.”
“What if we wait for the end of the mob to come by?” Kara suggests while she looks around with her binoculars. For a second, she thinks she sees a puff of smoke in the distance, but the glare of the sun prevents her from being sure. “This could be a no cutting rule. Besides, my feet hurt, I’m thirsty, and both of us could use a nap. We should be fine since they can’t leave the road without going back to the beginning.”
“Guess we can rest for a few minutes,” the woman begrudgingly agrees. A tickle in the back of her head makes it difficult to relax, so she sits on a rock and nervously taps her foot. “This is a massive migration, which reminds me of the Grand Caravan. Only there seems to be a lot more people and there are strange rules to the path. They’re obviously being manipulated, so I’m not sure we should go this way. Last thing I want is to stumble into a trap after making it a week without incident. Have you ever heard of something like this?”
Finishing a bottle of water, Kara takes off her cap and scratches her head in thought. “I don’t remember anything like this. How would anybody know? Those on the road aren’t allowed to leave without going back to the start. If a person saw them and tried to join then they’d be stuck in the trap too. There are plenty of groups out there that don’t want to be discovered. I think because you wouldn’t know about them if they were keeping themselves hidden. Still, this is a lot of people for nobody to know anything. Hey! Where are all of you going? How long have you been traveling? My friend and I are going to the haven. If you’re doing the same then maybe we can join you for a bit.”
One man stops at the edge of the crowd and stares at the two travelers, his vivid eyes gradually glazing over. He is bumped into and shoved by those passing by, but he takes out a pitchfork to slam into asphalt. Puffs of steam burst from the holes as he wiggles the tool into the solid road. Once it is in enough to help him avoid getting knocked into the dirt, he squints and cocks his head to the side. He strokes his knotted beard while taking in the sight of the unfamiliar women. His attention repeatedly falls on Dawn, who meets his stare with a smile that she hopes is charming. A rumble in the ground breaks his concentration and he leaves the pitchfork behind to return to the herd. A few minutes later, a young woman tries to claim the abandoned tool, but stops to look at the travelers. Her expression is identical to the man, but there is a sparkle in her eyes that grows stronger as she leans forward.
“We are traveling to the haven,” she answers even though she never heard the questions. She reaches out for Kara, but her arm violently shakes until it flops to her side. “This is the promised path that tests our dedication. Travel it and be among the chosen ones. With all other roads being closed, this is the only path to salvation. Children such as yourself should not be left behind, so please come with me. Otherwise, the end may claim you. For you see, the end is not very far away. That is why we must move quickly.”
“What about me?” Dawn asks after noticing that she is being ignored. The instant they make eye contact, the woman falls back into a trance and stumbles into the crowd. “Guess I’m not invited to this party. Well, I saw a forest a few miles back. It isn’t the safest plan, but we can make a raft and get into the ocean away from this place. Then again, there’s a good chance that the water isn’t as widespread as we think. I vote that we find the coastline and make camp there before we decide on a final plan.”
“I really wonder what she meant by the other roads being closed and the end not being far away,” Kara says as they start climbing up the nearest hill. A shout erupts from the herd, but neither of them bother to look back and risk getting drawn into the trap. “What if the Grand Caravan wasn’t the only traveling group that was attacked? You said that things have changed with the monsters now that you’re wandering. Maybe they’re pushing the world closer to the end because you can stop them. There wouldn’t be any reason for you to fight if all of the humans were wiped out.”
Stopping on top of the blocky hill, the brown-haired woman considers the possibility, but quickly shakes her head. “Ian might go on a killing spree, but Addison would never give up all of her toys. She’d create a breeding program first because she fears being alone. They might be trying to eliminate our options to draw me to a specific spot. For all I know, it’s this road and bridge that I’m supposed to travel on. It would mean sacrificing you though, so this isn’t an option at all.”
“What if it was the only way out of danger?”
“Then, I’d leave it up to you and fight to get you back.”
“Maybe I can ride on your shoulders.”
“That is a strong poss . . . Why do you want to go on the road?”
“Because I don’t want to drown.”
Dawn takes out her own binoculars and follows Kara’s gaze, which is in the opposite direction of the bridge. She can barely make out what she thinks is a line of puffy cloud, which is gradually getting closer. With a shock to her senses, she realizes that it is really the white crest of an enormous tidal wave that spans the entire horizon. Looking at its base, Dawn sees that the land itself is being devoured by the water that shimmers in the sun. She takes a step away from the road with the intention of leading Kara through the wilderness, but knows that they are as good as dead if there really is an ocean in their path. Muttering a curse and a prayer under her breath, she puts the girl on her shoulders and runs down the hill. At the same time that she gets to the bottom, the migrating herd erupts into screams and the tidal wave appear no more than two miles away. Dawn feels a small push against her body as she rushes onto the road, but the invisible force shatters when she screams in rage. As if another control has been severed, the other humans charge forward and the crowd descends into fear-fueled madness.