Zip found him hours later. He was taking a break, his arms a useless mass of knots, his throat sore from the dryness.
“What are you doing?”
Ike looked up at the mountain of sand. He’d barely dented it. Every shovel removed caused more sand to drift in to replace it. The wind blew constantly here.
It was a lost cause. And it was death for Zip.
“Help me inside.”
He stripped down to his pants and went into the water. Zip slipped out of her dress and waded in beside him, kneading his arms, working at the soreness.
“Zip. I need to take you away.”
“No.” She kept working.
“Seriously. You and I need to fix the crawler and go away to another place.”
“This is our land. This is where we belong.” Her voice was flat.
Ike wondered who she meant by ‘we’, but that wasn’t important now.
“Zip. If you stay here, you’ll die.”
“Die? Like Daddy? Will you bury me on the hill?” She sounded no more concerned than if they had been discussing the carrots.
“No. Because if you die, I’ll die too. There’ll be no one to bury us.”
She paused and then resumed her massage. “I will live here and die here and be buried with my ancestors.”
Ike could almost hear the cadence of Old Man Reuel’s voice. The old miser would take his daughter to the grave with him.
Ike clamped his teeth and pulled away from her out of the pool. He grabbed her arm and pulled her out of the water too.
Frightened, she reached for her dress to cover herself, but he had no patience.
“Come with me!” He dragged her, wet and naked, along the path that circled around towards the storage area.
As they approached her bedroom, her eyes got frantic and she tugged harder but to no effect. He pulled her into the darkened storage room and pressed her hand into the falling sand.
“It’s coming, Zip. It’s coming in, and nothing you can do will stop it. I can’t stop it!”
She whimpered, kneeling in the sand. She understood what it meant, but he wanted to make sure she heard him.
“Bobby, Joe, and Mary will die when their pond dries up,” he said. “All their tadpoles will die. Your gardens will die. You will die.”
She was crying. “This is my land.”
He gripped her arm again and roughly hauled her through the airlock to the painfully bright sunlight outside. She fell down onto the sand. The blowing sand stung his calloused skin. He could only imagine what it felt like to her.
“Look at it, Zip!” He turned her head towards the huge dune that had been growing up against her dome. “It’ll get bigger, like a mouth that’ll swallow your home and chew it to little pieces. It’ll eat the dome. It’ll eat the house. It’ll eat the generator. Nothing can stop it!”
“Your land will kill you. It’s rejected you.”
Her wail was long and full of pain.
He knelt down beside her and pulled her into his arms.
Ike whispered into her ears. “The land is cruel, Zip. It hurts and it kills and it doesn’t care!
“In your father’s father’s father’s time, didn’t they live up on top of the cliffs?”
She nodded, her head buried against his chest.
“Back then, land grew crops in the open air. Rain fell and watered them. If they needed more water, more was there, just under the ground.
“But the land changed, and your family abandoned it. They moved down here, where there was a spring, and a deep well.”
She nodded again.
He pushed on, “Then the spring dried up. Even the cottonwood tree died. Your family abandoned their fields and grew crops inside the dome. Your deep well went bad and everything began to die.
“But you, dear Zip, you found a way to get more water. Your plants, your frogs, even you–all are alive because you found the cool water that brings life.”
He brushed the sand from her face, carefully flicking it away from her watery eyes.
“The land is ancient, and it doesn’t care about us. The sand wants to go to the streambed, and it will crush everything in its way.
“But you can find water again. You can save your life, save your plants, save your frogs. You can even save me. But, we’ll have to leave this place!”
After a moment she nodded. “Yes, I understand.”
He picked her up and took them back inside to wash off.
That night, he made her a bed beside his and ordered her to stay out of the dark side of the dome. He didn’t know how long until the collapse. He was taking no chances.
She snuggled next to him all night long and he slept poorly.
Next morning he quit making tiny changes to his generator and began the serious job of filling the first tank.
By the end of the week, the crawler’s wheels began to turn. Ike managed to walk the resilient vehicle out of its half-buried state while Zip watched from safety. He’d made just enough hydrogen left to get it back to Happy Canyon where he could begin final repairs.
“Do you want to say goodbye to your father?”
Zip tugged the strap tighter that secured the washtub to the inside of the cabin. Ike insisted they cover the top of the mobile frog pond with plastic sheeting, but he feared they’d have several spills and escapes before they made it back to Plainview.
“I’ve already said goodbye, to everything.”
Ike nodded. He’d done his best to protect the generator. Once the dome collapsed, it wouldn’t last another six months, but it was more important to secure their future than worry about the past.
“Zip, we are going to a town. Have you been to a town before?”
“No. Is it like a castle?”
He smiled. “It’s a place where many people live. You will have to smile and be nice to many, many people.”
She nodded. “And then we’ll be married and live happily ever after.”
He hadn’t told her that. Another piece of her fairy tales. But he had been thinking about that himself.
“Well, I was going to ask you first, but yes, that’s the idea.”
“Good.” She tapped the side of the washtub startling one of its inhabitants. She spoke to it, “And we’ll find you a fairy princess to kiss.”
Ike sighed and started the wheels turning. Old habits for two hermits would have to change. Life was going to be more interesting than just finding new cold spots and selling hydrogen.
He’d spent decades extacting the elements of life from the barrens. So had Zip. They were a good match.
She was awake now, and part of his life. He felt more alive than he had in years, too. A good match.
He could hear the water slosh. Zip held onto the tank with an enormous smile. She looked good in her Walker Hydrofuel shirt.
You know, I may want to change that logo. Drop the ‘fuel’. There’s more that we can provide than just ‘fuel’.
Whatever the future held, Zip would need her water.