Everyday Fiction published my flash story: Wherever We End Up
“Get out of the car, Bridget.”
When she didn’t move, he pounded a fist on the roof and pulled open the door. She stumbled to where he pointed with the shovel and stopped short before the pit. The trees behind him obstructed the view from the road. If you could still call it a road out here.
He asked for her jewellery first. She handed it over, thinking surely he would let her go. Then he made her take her shoes off. The ground in the pit was damp beneath her feet.
When Bridget broke his heart, he vowed he’d get revenge. He wouldn’t stop until the pain stopped. He clenched her bracelet so hard, it poked dimples in his hands.
She spun around in the dirt. “Please! You’re making a mistake.”
When it was over, he tucked the gun in his pocket and patted the mound. He ambled to the hood of the car and lit a cigarette. He was no fool. He knew Bridget was gone. But it still hurt. Maybe it would hurt for the rest of his life.
He contemplated the dead woman in the grave, thumbing the inscription on her bracelet: “Joanna”.
This story came to me in a creepy dream. I wanted to try telling it as briefly as possible. Img via pony_up (cco)
The creases of my body were still damp from the tank, muscles still sluggish from hypersleep. Our foreman read from the roster. Ninety of our mob were grouped by occupation; sensible choices for mankind’s sequel. Of the remaining ten, eight were listed alongside their lifetime achievements. They too were sensible choices.
That left Mike and me. Mike had made coffee in a swank café back on Earth. One of the engineers said he could whip up an espresso machine if a botanist could grow the beans. Everyone agreed Mike belonged. As for me, the foreman checked his list again to make sure there wasn’t some mistake. But there I was, at the very bottom with a blank space by my name. No achievements. No special skills.
We divvied up the food. I overheard the accountant remark to the herdsman that I should have gotten a smaller share. The herdsman nodded quietly, but said nothing. Mike put his arm around me. “Don’t mind them,” he said. “Some qualities can’t be measured.”
By the time my first child was born, Earth II had a basic infrastructure and sufficient comforts for an enjoyable life. Two farmers sustained the whole colony, and taught each household how to grow food to supplement their stocks. The craftsman and the designer supplied clothes and furnishings. The writer and the actor produced plays and songs, which they performed live for a crowd or broadcasted over the small communications network constructed by our three engineers. In the clearing of the botanists’ forest, Mike set up shop. I took orders and waited on tables.
One day, as I served his coffee, the accountant patted my hand and looked me in the eye. “Don’t worry, girly, I know how you feel.” He went on to tell me that the more our cashless society flourished, the more he felt like he didn’t belong.
Mike and I had four children together. He had another seven with other women, and I had another eight with other men. Our mandate was to fill the next generation with as much diversity as we could. Every child in the colony was skilled at something by the time they were nine. They started their own families as soon as their bodies were ready. Girls as young as ten were bringing children of their own to term. It would have been horrifying by old Earth standards, but in this new world, we did what was needed to survive.
Half of our tribe were sent away to start a settlement in the east. Mike died of old age just after our youngest left, and from then on, my life became very quiet. I spent my days making coffee the way he had taught me. I could go for weeks without speaking a word.
Then it happened. When he was thirty, my son by the accountant watched his father succumb to the virus that took Earth. So it had followed us here after all. My granddaughter sat on my lap as I combed her hair; we listened to their final moments from another room. In the years that followed, more from the first fleet fell ill and passed away. Children from our first generation were taken. Then children from the second. Then from the third. The biologists who remained, young and old, raced to find a vaccine, but many of them succumbed too. Our population dwindled.
We received a message from the eastern settlement. The virus had ravaged their populations. Their mission was a failure. They were coming home.
The survivors of their camp reached us as the sun set low over the horizon. We huddled in the chilly evening air and exchanged greetings with warmth and open arms. My heart hung heavy with our losses, but in that fog of sorrow, I couldn’t help but feel a spark of joy at embracing loved ones I thought I’d never see again. My children. Their children.
As I looked through the crowd, I saw in it hints of faces I remembered from our ship all those years ago; the engineers, the botanists, the accountant, my beloved Mike. And so many more. We were one family by proximity and by blood, all carrying the genetic immunity my father planted in me before securing me a place among the fleet. He alone guessed it was only a matter of time before the virus struck again. For my own safety, we told no one. He knew what man was capable of. Yet still, he wanted to give us a chance against the disease. A chance to start over.
So, I was a sensible choice too.
Amy stared into the glass, mouth twisted the way the bartender had wrung the lime. Dark pink slivers faded into view then disappeared back into the fog of red. But there was no mistaking it. There was bacon in this Bloody Mary.
In an instant, she was eleven again, sitting at the table while her mother and auntie gossiped: “It’s just a phase, she’ll get over it.” Then years of fish fingers and steak waved in her face just for kicks. Her chest was dark pit of battery hens and grain-fed cattle, draining the excitement from the evening.
Cheery faces and a sea of balloons toasted her. The spirits she willed back surfaced in a droopy half-smile. She raised her glass, but did not drink. The waitress announced they would take orders soon. Today’s special was a gluten-free nice girls don’t complain.
“Oh, Ames, they put meat in your cocktail,” Cherie cried. “Let me get you another one.”
No chance to protest. Her friend flagged down a waiter who apologised even though it was no one’s fault. It was like that time at the school cafeteria. Cherie was always a good egg. The din in the restaurant softened. A new drink replaced the old.
Cherie tilted her glass. Tête-à-tête: “Let’s try this again. Happy 30th.”
Fresh tomato feelings flushed away her mother and auntie and fish fingers and steak. Amy smiled and ordered the vegetarian lasagna.
Practising narrative style. Img via Viewminder.
Of course he would sit there, thought Mittens. The seat had barely ceased to smell like her, but humans had no idea about such things as etiquette. Their smells lingered worse than anything’s.
Her eyes widened as he approached with outstretched hand. She knew this game. It was the dog who delighted in this sort of unhygienic exchange. Not her. Couldn’t the human understand?
She whipped her tail in disapproval, then again in obvious warning. But to no avail. He cooed. She froze. He advanced. This was too much! As he reached down, she slashed. Grumbling, as she left the room.
Practising 3-act structure in a 101-word story. Img via Didgeman.
“What you gonna do
– shoot me?”
Your broken record in my ears, intermingled
with pounding in my chest.
Like that song we used to grind to
before things mattered.
My heart still hurts from when I fell down the stairs.
But the neighbours weren’t born yesterday and
the cops will be here soon.
The gun is loaded
(I wish I was too)
to make this headache
But then I remember
that first headache we had
We’re not perfect, or even great. Yet I still want to go back there.
I pop the safety on and say: “Not today.”
I laughed, but then remembered. Those years ago. I used to donate. How long has it been now? Is there a shelf life on those things? I put it out of my mind. There’s no way he would find me anyway; they keep that shit locked down. But still, it makes me think. I sip the whiskey in silence and watch the shadows move across the face of the Virgin’s statue.
* * *
We’re in the museum. People have begun to leave and pretty soon, it’s just him and me. I recognise the nose. It took me a while to find him, but my contacts came through. My gun is heavy in the holster, just one of many things weighing on me.
Once I knew where to look, it was easy to track him down. He seemed like a good kid. Good record til he dropped out of school. Fell in with an enterprising crowd. A little too enterprising. All it took was one venture to get him kicked out. But my boy cleaned up and picked up this gig to tide him through til next semester. Reminded me of myself at his age. But then again, they all did.
I screw on the silencer and follow him round the corner.
* * *
When I’m alone, their faces come back to me. The phone rings. I’m not alone now. I grab my coat and rush to the hospital where you are by now. As I enter the room, Nadine smiles. She holds you. I can’t take my eyes off you. “It’s a boy,” she says, and passes you to me. She excuses herself to go to the bathroom.
We’re in the room. It’s just you and me. I look into your face, your eyes. I recognise the nose. It’s my nose. You’re so small, so vulnerable. At the end, the other six, they were too. Tears fill my eyes. It’s killing me.
He sits beside me scribbling, looking up once in a while, afraid he’ll miss a moment. Or afraid he was being watched. Does he know I’m looking, concealing my glances at his paper behind large sunglasses? A literature student, I guess, judging by the shoes, and the textbook in his bag.
When the doors opened for him, he walked in, those shoes crushing the carpet pile. Crush crush. The press of rubber on fibre. Crush crush. Like hands that press on a body. Crush crush. Eyes devour words like they devour the legs of the lady across from us.
In the corner of my eye, I see the bobbing of his curls as a clutched pen captures her features, her movements, her skin, her gaze. She looks up from her phone, her fingers paused. She smiles, but his head is pressed to his work. The corner of his lip trapped between his teeth. I hear him breathless, writing. She turns back to her device, fingers dancing. He looks up again and wonders what those fingers feel like on glass. He wonders how they feel on skin.
The train stops. The lady stands and leaves. His fingers grip the corner of his notebook. White knuckle for a moment. Crush crush. His story will emerge tonight on reams and reams of pages. Crush crush. I wonder what his fingerprints feel like on paper. I wonder what his hands feel like on skin.
He writes about her. I write about him.
She was younger than Michael by 4 minutes. Usually it’s the older one giving orders, but Laura had ‘milking it’ down to a T. She played up most around dad. After he left, she stopped.
At least that’s what Michael thought. Mum and Sally didn’t seem to notice, and anyway, it was 20 years ago, so get over it already.
Sally could get over anything, Mum said. Like when that big kid pushed her into the drink fountains. She waited till his back was turned, then dacked him in front of all the Year 7s. Michael heard his big sister, clear as a bell: “When you’re done being a dickhead, can I have my five bucks back?”
Sally was tough. Michael always wondered how they were related. But with Laura, he could tell. They had dad’s features. Mum’s smile, but Dad’s laugh, how he remembered it anyway.
Michael looked across the table at his dad’s eyes. Dad’s nose. Dad’s cheekbones.
“What you looking at, shithead?” Dad’s colourful vernacular.
Laura’s voice snapped him back to their greasy table, lingering taste of Whopper in his throat.
“So, what you gonna do?” he asked, pinching her last fry. He shrugged. No big deal, you know?
“Bit old to be asking that, don’t you think?” Laura sounded resolved, but her jiggling foot gave it away. “I’ll have it, but Jarrod can get fucked.”
“Does he know?” She didn’t have to answer. Secretly, Michael was pleased this would be a reason for them to break up. Better no dad than Jarrod.
“Let’s put this in perspective,” Sally had said, after the last family Christmas. “He showed up hungover, hadn’t showered, spews on Mum’s kalanchoe, and yells at poor old Michael for bumping into him. Never mind he still owes me money. He’s gotta go, Laur.”
Whatever happened to finally convince Laura now, in spite of the baby, must have been big. Michael suddenly felt guilty for being happy. He stood up.
“Hey, let’s go pub, play pool. I’ll get you a Virgin Mary.”
“Haha – dickhead!” But it was Laura’s first smile since they arrived.
Experimenting with style – integrating backstory with narrative.
One more week! He’ll miss New Year’s by a couple days, but we’ll get to see each other again. It’s been so long. I wonder if he grew his hair. I wonder if he still hates beans. MY LITTLE BOY!!!
His dad says he likes space now. Should I return the dinosaur sheets? If I leave in 10, I should make it before closing. Did they even have space sheets? Surely they have glow-in-the-dark planet stickers. I should ring first.
New Year’s Eve party tomorrow. Got the champers today. Wonder what I can do for food. Will called again. He just doesn’t get the message. I told him it’s just the girls, so I hope he doesn’t show. I’m glad they offered to stay the night. I was worried I’d be cleaning up by myself. So much to do before Benny arrives.
Happy new year, Benny! Tomorrow, anyway! So, Tracy’s cancelled and Meg has a virus. Beth will be here in soon, but won’t stay the night. It’s fine, I guess. Won’t be much mess with the two of us. Just pizza and movies. And lovely champers! Fuck it, Will’s on the phone. Again.
This isn’t so bad. Everything hurts, but they said I can get out tomorrow. Police came round this morning. I always knew Will wasn’t quite right. Oh well, he’s their problem now. Benny’s going to have a lot of questions. I’ll tell him I saved the world from an arch-villain, like in that comicbook we used to read.
In response to a Daily Post writing prompt.