So my TCE story remains at the same exact point it was on, like, Tuesday or Wednesday, I think, when I was sure I'd have plenty of time to finish. Phooey. I apologize for any typos and whatnot. *hangs head* And for the lateness... And for the whole being unfinished thing...
EDIT: I've finished, basically! Don't care for the title, but ahh well, I usually don't. This was my first foray into this genre, by the way. Happy to take crits!
Here was the prompt: "This could all be over in a matter of seconds... Should I or shouldn't I?"
I never had thought of myself as old, even through the last wars, when I lost my husband to the bombs. I didn’t even think myself old when, during the meteorite shower that killed half the western hemisphere and covered the rest with a winter of dustclouds, I noticed my skin was a wrinkled dead color that matched what little sky could be seen through the dirty window panes of "home." So far, I’d sheltered myself inside some strangers' house, now little more than a hovel, just off the the 101 on the way up to Santa Barbara where my daughter and her children lived, now dead, probably. Been there since the meteors began to fall.
As the first thundering sizzles of the meteors dropped into the ocean to my west, I wondered if maybe the kids were right and I shouldn’t be driving any more, since I couldn’t possibly be seeing clearly. But I was, and I got myself right out the car and wandered into the nearest house's unlocked front door. Who lives on the beach and doesn’t lock their doors, especially in this day and age, after the wars? There was no one home, and when the debris crushed the back half of the house and buried part of the front door, I stayed where I was.
The day I ate the last of the Cisneros’ canned goods—after it became clear I couldn’t leave, I tried to discover at least the name of the people who had lived in that house—was the day I decided to venture out of doors. When I finally managed to open the front door, the crack of light that fell through the opening wasn’t really light at all, it was merely air that wasn’t necessarily dark.
It was gray. Chilled, but acrid with the smell of salty burning, and thick. Who knew the sea could catch fire? I never; it had all been over in a matter of minutes, of seconds; the sea a roar of flames. There wasn’t much seeing to be done in it. I walked out into it, going slow, crawling over the burned bits of lawn furniture and metal car doors that had slammed into the thin yard. I moved even slower than I remembered as habit—I suppose all the months of moving so little had a greater impact on my body than I was willing to admit.
“Hello,” I called when I finally reached the other side of the 101 and stood on what should have been beach. No one answered. There wasn’t even the cry of seagulls.The air was thick, and gray, and utterly silent. The tides were wrong, and lapped near my feet. Should have been way out, unless I had my time all mixed up. Much of it is wrong; the muted tones, the acrid smell, the quietness of space between breaths. I paced up the shoreline, in search of someone alive, someone like me.
I am become a creature of the in-between.
Some time--though there really is no time, not anymore, not since the clocks stopped working--ago, when the weather had warmed, I crept my way into the sea, to try and clean the dust and dandruff from my graying wrinkles. There was daylight high above the dustclouds, but not enough for me to get a good enough look at the water. It bubbled my worn sandals and skirt away, and I had to hobble back home, for I thought of the Cisneros' house as mine now, hands covering my veiny, bowed thighs and my undergarments. It didn't hurt my skin, whatever was in the water, but I learned my lesson. Something in the water reacts to what little sunlight gets through the dustclouds. No matter; I've taken to walking the beach at dusk.
When the world is between day and night, the sky washes itself in more colors than I ever thought I'd know, and unlike when I was young, the dusk stretches to every horizon, not just the west. It is the difference between looking at a flame and being the match head it burns upon. I never swam in the ocean as a little girl; I come from a long line of farmers, people who rolled themselves in dirt, not saltwater, and their lives turned by the motions of the sun, not the tides. It is no great loss.
"Is somebody there?"
A voice. It was high, a chirrup really, like birds made, back when there were birds, and tree branches upon which they might live.
"Yes? Hello?" Perhaps I shouldn't have taken to wandering around naked--but my clothing had become so tattered and improper, and the chance of meeting someone lower with every day that passed alone, that I simply stopped bothering, especially this close to home. Trappings of my former life, I thought them. Now...
The little boy stood downwind on the beach from me, holding a peice of scrap metal in his hand. He too was naked, I saw.
"Are you real?"
"You can pinch me if you like." My husband had told me that, when I had trouble shaking the dreams from my head. Pinch me, dear, if you like. The meaning here was so different my chest tightened and I worried for my heart.
"Yeah I will," he said, head cocked to one shoulder, clearly thinking I said I would, but should I, or shouldn't I?
We walked towards each other. He was maybe five, maybe six. For the first time, looking at his pink, dirty flesh, and dull, dark brown hair sticking to his forehead, I felt old. Creature of the in-between, I was. Creature of shadows, of old bones and dusty flesh. I matched the world around us, save for the twilight. If I was of the in-between, what did that make this little one?
When he stood across from me and dropped the scrap metal. I held out my arm. He took my wrist with one of his small hands, and pinched with the other. Very formal. I watched a new handshake be born, and that made me feel older still.
"Hmm," he said. "You are real."
"Yes I am."
I felt the lines around my mouth sag a bit. "Yes," I agreed again, "I am."
"That's easy enough. I'm old for the same reason you're young."
"What's that?" His right hand fingertips tapped out the syllables on my arm.
"We didn't die."
The little boy nodded, and then let our hands swing loose together, like I was to walk him across a street. He smiled.
"Nope!" And he ran down the beach behind me, the direction I'd walked from, naked, like the saying once went, as a jaybird.