Today’s short story was inspired while writing my science fiction novel,”Survivors’ Club” . I like to explore what other characters in my world would be doing both during and post-apocalypse. Hope you enjoy my free short stories. Please share, tweet, and talk about my work. I look forward to your feedback.
Today’s story, The Couple, goes along with the song “The Far Road” on The Road soundtrack by Nick Cave & Warren Ellis.
When she touches his face he has to close his eyes. It‘s too much. The feel of her fingers, cool and light. The half smile playing at the corner of her mouth, the way her eyes go soft and clear when she looks at him.
Che ro hai hyu nde. Te quiero. Ya tbya lublue. Je t‘aime. Ich liebe dich. Mám tě ráda.
Every moment of every day, someone says ‘I love you‘. Millions of people connecting to other millions, sharing a single emotion. Each time it‘s whispered, sighed, screamed, or sung, is unique and each time, it‘s identical to every other.
After all these years, he still thrills to her, vibrates in tune with her pitch. It hasn‘t been easy, these years. After the boys left, to join one army or another, after they lost touch with their daughter, after the Long Winter, after the evacuations and the camps, after the riots and the killings, after it all, somehow miraculously, they are still together. Still in love.
Around them the plastic siding of the hospital tent flaps, brushing the dust across the floor in waves. Outside the last of the flood lights sputters, blinks a few times then shines on. The shadow of the patrolling guard pauses, watching the light. When the light is gone…
He shakes his head. It‘s a worry for another time. Now he carries his cup back to the cot, back to her. With his limping gait, he risks spilling his ration, so he is careful and slow. It‘s important she get all the food. Her strength wanes. She is not long for this world, but then, none of them are.
Overhead, the muddy clouds roil. If the old man waits for the right moment, for the strong gust of wind to part the clouds, he might catch a glimpse of the steady orange–pink twinkle. Too bright to be a star, too close to be a planet, too slow to be a comet. Does he believe what the guards mutter?
“If we can‘t get off this rock, why the fux should they? Aren‘t they coming back?”
What the old man wonders, as he shoulders aside the tattered netting around her cot, is why do the guards stay? Why does anyone stay? Do they still hope for rescue? If we follow the instructions, we‘ll be saved. They won‘t abandon us if we‘re good.
The old man snorts. They might as well sacrifice a goat while they‘re at it. That has just as much a chance of success as their daily status reports. The careful list of the number, ever dwindling, of ‘survivors‘.
He snorts again. Survivors! As if they‘ve escaped. As if they‘ve been saved.
“What‘s the count?” the old woman asks. Considering her failing hearing, it startles him, but she can always tell it‘s him.
“Down another three, plus that tall guard went AWOL last night,” he says, lowering himself cautiously to the stool beside the cot.
“Hmph.” She pushes herself upright and trades him the precious faded photo of daughter and grandchildren for the bowl. The skin on her hands is delicate now, like paper. It would crinkle if pinched. She is careful to eat only half and he knows not to try to force his share on her. She‘s stubborn.
“When do you think-” Gunshots. They both turn toward the sound. Two screams: one short, a burst of pain cut off; the other a long wail of grief.
“I think, it‘s time now,” the old man says and the old woman nods. He helps her on with her shoes, her coat, then helps her up. She trembles, but smiles at him, eyes bright with mischief.
In a dramatic gesture, the old woman points.“To adventure!”
More shots. More screams and now the running begins.
The old man picks up the suitcase. Together, they creep out of the tent. A group of men are using chair legs to beat one of the guards. The old couple scuttles past. A woman howls as she‘s drug into a tent. The old couple shake their heads and continue. A lone child stares at a pair of onrushing headlights, uncomprehending.
Their eyes meet. They agree. This is the way it has to be. Somewhere they have their own grandchildren.
The old woman lets go of the old man‘s hand. He drops the suitcase and scoops up the child, turning his body protectively as the truck strikes him. As he lays dying, he sees the old woman hug the child, clutching the photo. He is so glad he will not have to leave her alone after all.