Someone tapped Graham on the shoulder, startling him out of his nightmare. He jumped, gulped air, and looked around. Sunlight reflected harshly off the ocean. His uniform was drenched. Peggy Lee stood over him.
“Peggy Lee. Hello. Sorry. I was having quite a dream.”
“I was worried. The sun’s so intense out here.”
“Yes, you’re right. Thank you. We’ll be back in the fog in just a few minutes. I guess that’s where I belong, huh?”
“No, I think you’d do just fine in the real world. You just have to be careful. Come on, let’s sit in the shade.”
They walked over to the bench beneath the bridge and sat down. The fog curtain loomed on the horizon. Graham tried to ignore the heat and enjoy the bright light while it lasted. They sat without speaking for a few moments. Graham could have sat there in silence with her for the rest of the day, but he was also curious about her.
“So where are you from originally?” he asked, hoping that it did not sound too much like a pick-up line.
“My father was a soldier, so we lived all over. We spent time here in California, and then moved to the South before the drought and the wildfires. Out of all the places we lived, I liked Georgia the best. That’s where my family’s from. We moved back there in 2071, when I was thirteen, and stayed for four years. We lived in a big house in the county. We had family barbeques and spent a lot of time outdoors, camping, swimming, fishing, and just hanging out. Sometimes the air in the woods got perfectly still and the humidity climbed through the roof. Even after the Collapse of ’67, areas of the south remained wet for quite a few years. I remember breaking a sweat just by walking the few steps out to the pond. We slept in a screened-in porch on muggy nights. I would lie on my cot trying not to move, listening to the frogs and watching the fireflies. Some afternoons, the sky would just open up and rain would pour down from the heavens like a waterfall. Everybody was in a good mood then. It was like the entire area had been granted a reprieve from the thick heat. Did you ever live in a place like that?”
“No.” It sounded like a dream to Graham.
“‘Course, Georgia has changed so much since then,” Peggy Lee continued. “I read somewhere that it has not rained – you know, like a real rain – for over fifteen years. Everywhere else in the South is dry as a bone too. Everything that was lush and verdant and beautiful, well, it’s gone, just gone – dried up and disappeared.”
“Hard to believe,” Graham answered. He thought about telling her about his childhood home, but kept quiet instead. It was all too depressing. According to a news story he had seen recently, scientists had figured out that the entire dried-out state of South Dakota had sunk approximately 250 feet because of subsidence and that the Missouri River would never flow again – not a drop. The story focused on three abandoned towns along the river, tiny Chamberlain among them. The streets were crumbled and twisted and filled with tumbleweeds and trash. A picture of Main Street included a view of the old corner store where Graham used to buy candy. The store fronts were smashed. Sand drifts covered the display areas behind the broken glass. The sign above the front door had become unhinged on one side and hung diagonally over the doorway. It looked like a movie set of a ghost town, but Graham knew that it was all too real.
For a few days after seeing that story, he could not stop thinking about his father’s death. Why had he given up? He had been happily married, and Graham had never questioned that his father had loved him as well. But his father had not run away from his family or his responsibilities. No, he died of heartache – a sizzling, rainless, and unbearable heartache.
The boat slipped back under the fog curtain. And again they passed through Purgatory. The intense sun was replaced by intermittent sunbeams cutting through the gaps in the fog banks and lighting up slivers of the ocean’s gray surface. Ian was now standing toward the front of the boat. He changed the lenses on the three main cameras and filmed the lightshow as they continued into the fog.
Another ten minutes and the fog grew soupy once more. Ian had all but disappeared at the bow. The boat slowed to a cautious speed, and Graham went inside to retrieve a couple of raincoats. He pivoted to return outside, but stopped for a moment at the door. Peggy Lee had crossed the deck and stood at the railing again. She was now a mere outline in the dim grayness. He quickly stepped into the fog and headed over to her; he feared losing sight of her . . . lest she disappear forever.