The Ends

It wasn’t much, the new addition; just a bit of pipe and connector and some clever diverting on Jim’s part. Where he’d learnt that, she’d never know.

Still, when The End of Times came, Deb counted that bidet as a true asset.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels.com

©2020 Chelsea Owens

In answer to Deb’s 42-word prompt, apocalyptic.

Science Fiction?

And remember, shoppers, wearing masks helps everyone.

Kate hardly heard the announcement as she squatted on the fissured floor. It had played five minutes before; five minutes before that; five minutes before that; five years before that.

Don’t forget to stock up on hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies.

Her breath fogged her vision; cleared; fogged. She remembered when panic first hit; when people rushed to stores for cleaners, supplies, and even frozen pizza. Crazy to think, half a decade later, of running out of sanitizer. Everyone brewed his own, fumigating what remained of the landscape.

Are you immunocompromised?

“Then you’re dead,” Kate mumbled into her mask.

Try our grocery pickup: FoodCorp prides itself on offering grocery pickup, right outside the store!

“But not delivery,” Kate sighed. Too bad, really, about delivery. It’d been nice while it lasted. Groceries, radios, cars, the mail -all of it, brought right to where you lived by someone who didn’t take it for himself. Or, someone who didn’t get killed by raiders.

Associates: it’s the top of the hour.

Kate stiffened. More time had passed than she’d realized. Throwing caution to the winds, she lay on the grubby floor and scrabbled underneath the shelving.

Please ensure your areas are neat and tidy for our customers.

Her glasses scraped and scratched. Straining, she felt an edge of curved, sealed metal. It spun at her fingertips but moved closer. She grunted; pushed; spun; strained; shoved. A dust-grimed can of chili rolled in front of her floor-laid face.

Thank you for shopping at FoodCorp!

“Thank you,” she muttered, coughing into the fabric across her mouth. She clutched the can to herself, raised herself, glanced around herself. Shoppers’ shadows walked across her memory as she retraced her steps down the empty, broken aisle. Had it really only been a few years since sunlight? Shining linoleum? Aproned workers sweeping? Smiling customers that moved their shopping carts aside to let yours through?

Please, come again.

Kate shoved a molding display shelf against the wall and climbed. After peeking beneath it, she lifted the ragged Welcome to FoodCorp! banner and crawled though a hole in the brickwork.

Photo by Clément Falize on Unsplash

©2020 Chel Owens

Smells Like Reanimated Spirits

You’re at a burial, dressed in shoes you didn’t have time to polish or lace up correctly. It’s a grey sort of day, overcast with rain coming soon. They’re lowering the casket into the ground and all you can do is stare at the stubborn knot in your shoelaces.

Someone lights up a cigarette after the service is over and you move away to avoid the smoke. Your heels slip into the soft ground and you get mud on the hemline of your clothes. You stop to catch your breath after a long day and close your eyes. You smell rain in the air.

There’s a piano you can hear in the nearby chapel playing a soft tune. You think they’re playing “Amazing Grace” and then it changes. A sudden thought strikes you: “I must get back into the car before the last note. Once the last note plays, it’ll start raining.”

You’re heading back to the car when you see a man standing at the fence. He’s dressed in overhauls and a flannel shirt, looking directly at you. You glance away but are drawn back by the man’s intense stare. He’s holding something in his hand. A letter? A book? You can’t tell. You feel you must find out, before the last piano note…

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Dodging headstones and mushy half-buried plots alike, you walk to the fence. And the man. Conveniently, they are both in the same direction. As you walk, you wonder at the prevalence of recently-turned earth. Just how many people have died lately?

The eerie piano playing from the chapel plays background beat to your even tread. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” will do that to a person, even if it’s a piano cover version and therefore lacks that awesome bass guitar.

Your attention draws back to the overall man who is fascinated with staring. Some people clearly need a hobby, especially since there are a lot more interesting things to stare at than a muddy-hemmed, sneaker-clad burial-crasher like you. You get closer and closer, noting his lack of blinking; his lack of attention on a bird that poops on his shoulder or on a passing dog that relieves itself on his trouser leg.

Just before you call out to him, his image blips and reloads. He is a clean, staring man again, proferring a flat object that is meant to look like a book. Thunder rumbles nearby, and he finally glances to the grey and heavy clouds. His gaze returns to you, who have stopped just before the projection of him.

“244224,” he says, monotone. “42,” he adds. Then, “2442.” He beeps.

You roll your humanoid eyes, reminded of how your familial assigners could not be happy with a short sequence like all the others. “Yes?”

“Precipitation imminent. Nirvana ending. Accept reanimation.” *Beep*

Your eyebrows raise. “Reanimation??”

“Affirmative.” He pauses, then remembers to *Beep!*

You look back and around at all the mounds of dirt, and swallow. It’s not easy considering the difficulties the body emulators had in transferring your normal shape to a humanoid form, but you manage. The sky growls again. A spot of earth near you seems to as well, but perhaps it’s the simulated imagination you’re equipped with.

Whipping back around to the hologram, you place your right forearm directly over the outstretched object in its hand image. The flat object glares a red light of warning. You realign. Still red. The growling from below ground is definitely not just your imagination now and you grit your teeth in frustration.

“Please align to shape,” the ‘man’ intones.

You try again and get the angry light again.

“Please align to shape,” he repeats.

Just as a very visible hand claws through the mud to your side and just as the final lingering notes of the piano are played, the tablet magically accepts your forearm’s outline and turns blue. “Code accepted.”

Your humanoid form releases a sigh of relief just before dematerializing. Your normal self, meanwhile, has a final, comforting thought. I am so glad that finally activated. Earth’s a real downer during a zombie apocalypse.

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From the story prompt beginning shared by the highly-imaginative, amazing, wonderful, and fantastic Peregrine Arc.

You can play, too! The submission window closes on April 12.

 

Photo Credits:
Daniel Jensen
Wendy Scofield

Let’s Stay in Bed Today

Snow1

“Snow! Snow-snow-snow-snow-snow! Mikey, snow!”

Small padding thumps descended the dirty stairs and crossed the short space to Mike’s sleeping head. Their accompanying arms pushed, insistently, at his body. Mike groaned and rolled from the thin camping cot. Cold, solid boards against his back completed his abrupt awakening.

He cracked open an eye to acknowledge the bouncing child. “No, Tommy, not snow,” he croaked, squinting.

“Yes, snow, Mikey!” Impatient toddler legs ran back across the room and up to the thick, semitransparent Plexiglas at the end of the tunnel. Mike turned his head against the floor. Tommy was pressing his face eagerly against the plastic, to see what he could never clearly see.

Good thing Dad has the access key to the door, Mike thought, then swallowed. Though, it hasn’t worked out with Dad not being here now. He pushed the thoughts away quickly, and groaned again. He stretched his hands up till they nearly brushed against the splintered boards just above his reaching arms.

“Mom! Mom-Mom-Mom-Mom!” Tommy stumbled down to push at the sleeping woman, instead.

“Mmm?” she queried.

“Mom, snow! Can we go play?” Mike sat up to watch from an obliging elbow, amused, as his brother leaned over her. Tommy’s tiny nose barely touched their mother’s. He breathed in her face expectantly.

“Mom, Mom! Mikey says it’s not snow, but it is. Can I go play?”

Her eyelids fluttered, opened. She made out the blurry, impatient face and sighed. “Oh Tommy, sweetheart. Come here.” Pulling her arms from their sleeping bag, she lifted them to either side of her crouching son.

“No, Mommy!” He pushed her arms; sat back. “I want to play in the snow! Open the door!”

“I can’t honey. I can’t.”

“Yes, you can! Make Daddy come back and open the door!” Tommy started crying, punching at her arms and bouncing on her body.

Mike quickly heaved off the floor, stooping; came over, stopped Tommy’s arms. He lifted his flailing, sobbing brother against the low ceiling.

“I’m so sorry, my Tom Thumb, we can’t. We can’t.” The tears ran slowly down their mother’s face. She sat up and reached out her arms still, wanting to hold her son.

Mike bumped against the roof boards, straining against the angry child. “Hey, Tommy,” he said, on inspiration, “Did you know snow is really cold?”

Tommy stopped resisting. “Cold?”

“Yes, very cold. Remember?” Mike saw he had Tommy’s attention. Tiny mental wheels were turning as Tommy’s face scrunched in the dim lighting. Mike loosened his grip and they sat together on the dirt-covered floorboards.

Mike continued. “Remember when we played in the snow and you got wet and your fingers hurt? They were red.” Tommy stuck a finger in his mouth, remembering.

“But I want to play,” he spoke, plaintively, around the finger. Tears ran down their mother’s face.

“I know,” Mike said. The muffled silence filled their ears as Tommy thought.

“I’m sorry, mommy,” he whispered, finally hugging her. She sniffed, wiping her nose against her shoulder, trying to smile.

“I love you, Tommy.” Together, they rocked. Their slow-moving forms slowly swept the shushing sleeping bag against the floor.

“Come help me make breakfast,” she offered. He nodded and moved to the side. Carefully, she peeled her legs free and hunched upright. They padded over to the wall of shelves.

Mike sat, watching them open the cache in the floor, pulling out the cans, hunting for the opener. Then he turned again to the end of the tunnel; the only source of natural light, watching the swirling, dancing storm of particulates drifting by.

 

Particular