I was extraordinarily tired of not knowing who to rescue and when to try to rescue them. I seriously suspected that by “supplies,” Jaye had literally meant Trish. Jaye was planning to slice Trish into skewer-sized bits and roast her and sell her to unsuspecting innocents who were merely interested in seeing what rat tastes like.
This thought led me to the realization that I, myself, had probably not eaten rat when I gave Mike’s last five bucks to Jaye in exchange for a skewer of meat. Jaye might have been selling people, even then. It would certainly take a helluva tough cat to kill one New York City rat, much less kill enough rats to supply a business. Cats aren’t very interested in sharing their kills, either. Sure, they’ll leave you a head or something when they are done, but that’s when they are done.
I felt something rising from the pit of my stomach and bubbling toward my mouth. It should have been vomit, but it was…excitement. Without having to make any kind of horrendous decision, through no fault of my own, I’d maybe eaten PEOPLE. I longed for my friends, so I could tell them. I couldn’t wait for the world to return to normal so I could casually throw into party conversation, “oh, yeah, during all that bird horribleness, I ate PEOPLE without even knowing it.”
My reverie was interrupted by a chopping sound from the direction of Trish and Jaye. Decision made. I wasn’t going over there to find out what the noise was, because I could guess. Jaye was breaking down her supplies.
I didn’t really know what to do, then. I was alone. I didn’t have anyone to make a plan with. I didn’t have anyone to tell me what to do, or to agree with what I wanted to do, or to tell me I was full of shit. I did the only thing I could think of to do. I turned toward the Burning Pit. It was where we’d hoped to find Jill, so it was where I hoped to find the rest of my friends. It was a hopeless place, but it was my only hope, on this night.
I stuck to the shadows. I was a fugitive from whatever was passing for justice, these days. I’m a distinctive looking person, under the best of circumstances. If all the description you get is “she’s the little woman with glasses,” you’ll walk straight up to me. It’s not always good to be automatically conspicuous.
As I got closer to the Burning Pit, I saw that a crowd was gathering. I vaguely remembered Jaye saying something about a big show at the Burning Pit. It’s impossible to avoid shows in Manhattan. Everybody wants to put on a show. Robot metallic mimes on the street, homeless people singing “Lean On Me” on the subway, protesters chained to each other outside of the military recruiting station…Manhattan was a city of theatre, most of which didn’t take place in theatres. It wasn’t surprising that someone was putting on a big show as the world ended.
I saw that a lot of the people in the crowd weren’t spectators. They seemed to be participants. They had commandeered the body collection trucks. Specifically, they had commandeered the beds of the body collection trucks. They were piling up into the truck beds to gain access to the chutes that led to the dead end of the Burning Pit. They were sliding to their own immolations, and they were doing it like they were participating in a Girls Gone Wild video.
Nothing I’d seen that night had made me sick, but this did. I didn’t understand it. Death by fire had always been my idea of The Worst Way To Die. Here were people doing it merrily. The screams of the people who’d had the first places in line should have been enough to scatter the rest of the line, but nobody was discouraged. They were like lemmings, but even stupider.
I turned away from the sight and the heat, but I didn’t know where to go. Then, I spotted a figure sitting on an overturned bucket, drawing furiously. It was Lynn. I walked up to her and looked down at her drawing. From the light of the flames, I saw an amazingly complete drawing of the festivities in progress. I could even make out the features of some of the pit sliders. The truck was incredibly detailed, and at the front of the pencil truck stood a pencil Jill.
My head shot up from the drawing and sure enough, there was Jill. She was standing alone, like a lost waif. I skirted the lemming crowd, struggling with each other to climb into the truck bed. I walked right up to Jill and took her by the hand. She looked at me briefly with haunted eyes and then looked back down. And we just walked away from the Burning Pit together. That’s all it took to rescue Jill.