When Estavez Estralla finally saw the Cascades in the distance, he felt that odd sense of triumph mixed with disappointment. Washington State had assumed a life of its own as a promised land for so long, that his heart was weighed down with the certainty that the paradise would be lost.
He had travelled alone for many weeks. The faces of his wife and children and that parting image of them walking into the teeth of the tornado haunted him at night and fist thing in the morning. He tried to keep it at bay during the day by shouting at his feet. He was unrecognizable as the bright, young engineer of Mexico City. Very few people were recognizable as themselves these days.
In Oregon, he had come close to starvation. He had found a village before his legs gave way. For a few days, he had rested up with a widow before heading again into the wilderness. At Crater Lake, he viewed the top of a mountain pushing up from the waters where it had been blasted by a volcano. Today another disaster was going on as all the trees were pulled down and burned on the sides of the mountains. Crater Lake remained vast and impervious to the current troubles, dwarfing those who navigated its rim.
In Washington, Estralla found new lakes that had swallowed up great swathes of the land. The local people told him of the melting of the glaciers up in the Cascades and the night a town was swallowed up in the waters. The sounds of the inhabitants meeting a watery death haunted the hills around.
After trekking for two days, Estralla came across the Mexican camp he was searching for. Forbidding walls of wood, topped with spikes rose from the ground. There were watch towers, wire and men with guns. Within the huts were flimsy but at least the temperatures were cooler.
"We built the palisade after we were attacked under cover of nightfall," said Manuel, one of the members of the camp's council. "It was local people and feds and they wanted to drive the Mexicans out of the state." He played a guitar and sang mournful songs about the Nevado de Toluca, the mountains of his youth.
"Did many people die?" asked Estralla.
Manuel just shrugged. "They die. It's normal now. Dying is the new living."
"You sound so matter-of-fact."
"Look around my friend. The lakes are swallowing up the land. The trees are going. The people are swallowing up each other. Literally, my friend - they are talking about cannibalism further west."
"So what can we do?"
Manuel paused strumming for a while and pointed up to the evening sky. Already the impressions of stars and the other planets were appearing in the dense atmosphere.
"Well, maybe you can get me up there. There must be another place where everything is plentiful, and people still know how to smile."
Estralla was suddenly overcome with the long road behind him. He wanted to sink into the ground and float off into the sky. He felt his features crack and the smile of an idiot appear on his face.
"See you can do it too my friend. Those facial muscles must hurt. Give in and stop fighting. I think I know just the song."