Roses in the Trash

A bouquet of roses in a black trash can.

Fromr/promptoftheday

I sit on the hard plastic chair, the blue one with shiny legs that was clearly designed by someone who had never sat before in their lives, the front plastic digging uncomfortably into my bouncing thighs, the cold metal chilling my arms with an impersonal touch. I can’t stop shaking my legs, my heart is pounding and has no sign of slowing, my palms are damp. In my right hand I hold a bouquet of roses; in my left, a first edition Winnie the Pooh.

God, I hope I don’t throw up.

She’s pacing, she can’t sit even as still as me, her hands tight around each other, ringing, flapping, rubbing her head. She paces up and down the well worn carpet that has endured millions of such paces and will endure millions more. She hasn’t cried yet. She won’t, until she knows.

Then she will cry, regardless.

She turns to pace toward the opposite wall and the sunlight from the window bounces off her blonde hair, dirty and disheveled, and she reaches and rubs her head again and her messy hair falls in front of her face and she’s more beautiful than the day I met her and I can’t let myself think of what will happen to us if–

I shake my head and squeeze the book tighter.

I glance down to the roses, still bright, still happy, still alive, and my heart hurts and I don’t read the note I’ve written inside, the sloppy tear stained card, I always loved you, because I can’t, I can’t cry again, I’m going to run out of water soon. But I have to keep them. I have to remind myself of this possibility because if I hope too much and it’s taken away I will collapse and I will never get back up.

I blink and wipe away the single tear that slides down my cheek.

The small waiting room is filled with twelve other chairs but they are all empty at three o’clock in the morning. It smells like lemons and bleach and the walls are too bright, too cheery, for the number of terrible things that have happened here.

And good things, too. Good things too.

I close my eyes and try to remember what her little fingers felt like when they wrapped around mine. I don’t remember. I need to remember.

She’s sitting now, my wife, in the chair in the opposite side of the room. She looks at me and her eyes are red but dry and there’s desperation there, a begging, a plea that I can’t answer, and she glances at the flowers in my hand and stands and begins to pace again.

I always loved you, I’ll whisper to her, and I’ll lay the roses beside her tiny body, and they will be as long as she is, and I’ll hold her and sing to her and they will unplug everything and she will fall asleep and will never know anything but happiness in her entire life.

I always wanted to give my daughter roses on Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day is two months away.

My left thumb rubs the hardcover spine of the book in my left hand and I’m going to vomit up my heart with desperation.

Jesus, I’m gonna pass out.

The door slides open and in walks her doctor, still scrubbed from surgery though he’s wearing a clean smock so it won’t be covered with her blood. His mask is hanging around his neck and he calls us over.

My wife stands in front of him, stands tall, with dry eyes, and holds my hand.

“Mr. and Mrs. Pierce, your daughter’s heart valve has been successfully replaced. The attack left her without oxygen for an indeterminate amount of time so we don’t yet know…well, we don’t know how much higher level function she’s maintained, but we remain hopeful, tiny brains are surprisingly resilient.”

I can’t hear him. Why can’t I hear him? Why can’t I make the words go into my brain?

“But we’ve taken her off all the machines. Her heart is doing fine, her lungs are doing fine, everything is fine and will continue to do fine. She’s going to live.”

I can’t feel my face.

My wife is sobbing. I knew she would.

She’s going to live.

I don’t hear another word the doctor says as he leads us down a hallway and through a set of double glass doors to a walkway that leads to pediatric surgery. Some bullshit about quality of life and they don’t know yet and bla bla bla and I don’t care. My wife is squeezing my hand so hard I’ve never been so glad to not be able to feel my fingers.

She’s going to live.

On the walkway is a black trash can, right before the sliding doors to her unit. I toss the roses in.

She can wait until Valentine’s Day.


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The Diamond Sky

Prompt: It has been five days and they still haven’t arrived.

Fromr/writingprompts

It has been five days and they still haven’t arrived.

I sit on the wraparound porch, weathered by decades of storms, spiral winds from the south and icy blasts from the north wreaking havoc on the flimsy shelter we call our home. I watch the horizon, past the fields of our farm that haven’t yielded a full crop in a decade, past the barn that collapsed into a pile of smoked and rotten wood after the fire, and am amazed at the shimmering beauty of the sunset as the warm light glides and dances through the diamond dust that has destroyed our atmosphere. The mines in the east have long since failed, the miners dead, the equipment buried in the collapse of the earth, but still the glistening dust from their ravaging of the planet suffocates the air and the people breathing it.

I watch the horizon in the direction they retreated, remembering them melting into the sunset, promising to return immediately with medicine far more capable and advanced than anything we have ever seen.

I rock, slowly, the creak from the old, wooden chair on the old, wooden porch making a slow, sleepy rhythm in my mind, and I remembered when they first came, first descended from the stars in their glowing machine, tall and pale and strong. They were peaceful, and took out a small box and when they spoke I could understand them, and I told them of her sickness, of her cough, and they looked sad and promised they could help. They said they had medicine. They said they could heal her. They said they would be right back.

That was five days ago.

There are so few of us left. We had resigned ourselves to die, here, in our homes, scattered, desolate, destroyed, the fading light of a smothered candle. But they came. They came with their spaceship and their medicine and their promises and they made me hope and if she dies I will kill every single one of them.

I wipe my face and stand and walk, my steps labored but not as labored as my breath, inside. She is lying on the couch where I have brought her to rest and to read. She is so tiny. Was she always so tiny?

“Papa,” she smiles, and coughs, and red stuff comes out of her mouth and she’s dying and I’m scared and being scared makes me angry but I smile and sit on the floor next to her and stroke her head.

“Did they come back?” she asks. I keep smiling, my heart on fire in my chest, their promises in my head.

“Not yet, love,” I say. “You can wait a little longer, you’re doing fine.”

“I don’t think I am,” she says, and smiles that little smile of children who know they are smarter than you think they are.

“Nonsense,” I say, and want to tickle her, but it will make her laugh, which will make her cough, and she’s lost half a lung already.

I don’t know why I blame them. I don’t know why I am more angry at them than the diamond miners who ruined the world, or the people who demanded the diamonds and encouraged the diamond miners to ruin the world, but I am. Perhaps it is because they are still alive. Perhaps it is because I was okay with dying and they took that away.

She only has one small, grey, limp antenna left, the one right in the middle of her forehead. It rises and waves a weak little wave and I laugh and it makes me sad because I know I will never laugh again.

“Tell me the story of the humans,” she says, and buries her face deeper into the pillow.

Humans, I think, and I know she is dying, and I know I am going to kill them.

“They came from a long, long ways away,” I say, stroking the one antenna down, down, letting it rest, as she closes her eyes and rests on my voice, “with their giant spaceship.”

“What did it look like?” she asks, and coughs again, and it’s violent and bloody and I cry but I don’t wipe away the tear or the blood.

“It was beautiful,” I say.

“Like me?” She grins.

“Oh, no, nothing like you,” I tease, and she whispers a little laugh. “You are far, far more beautiful.”

Her breathing is shallow and they still haven’t come back.

“It was big and shiny and glowing and….”

I can’t continue. Her breathing is so small. She is asleep.

I kiss her forehead and hold her hand for several minutes before the last antenna falls to the ground. I grit my teeth and kiss her again and pick it up and stand and walk outside to wait.

It has been five days.

When they return, I am going to kill them.


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The Hungry Ocean

Three old fishing boats on the shore of a beach.

Fromr/promptoftheday

Image Credit: Unknown

I like the lapping sound the water makes as it swishes around the boats, stuck in the sand, paint crumbling like icing off a stale cake. I crouch next to it, put my ear close, listen.

Lap, lap, lap, like that. The sea is licking the boats clean. She’s hungry.

Lap, lap, lap.

“Brandon, where are you?”

I hear my name but don’t answer for a moment. I want to hear the hungry ocean.

Lap. Lap. Lap.

“Brandon?”

“Here, Papa,” I say, and stand so he can see me over the old wreckage. I wave. He smiles.

“How is the sea today?” he asks.

“Good,” I say.

“Is she hungry?”

“Only a little.”

“Well then, I’ll warn the fishermen.”

“She wants something old,” I say.

“Something old?”

“Yes. She doesn’t like this paint. It makes her upset.”

“Hm. Okay. Come with me, son.”

I grab his hand and we walk up the beach. My feet are bare and my toes sink into the sand and the foamy water finds them and tickles them and I smile at the ocean and wish I could tickle her back.

Papa says I can’t remember back when I was a baby, but I do. He says I’m making it up. He says I’ve heard the stories so many times I think I remember, that I was too little.

I wasn’t too little. I do remember. I remember the boat, and the sun, hot. I remember the water flashing, warm on top, and I remember touching it. I remember falling over the side, and I remember the water being colder underneath than it had felt with my hand, and I remember trying to breathe and I breathed deep and the water was cold in my lungs and I kept breathing. I remember being scared, but I wasn’t scared of dying because I didn’t even know I was alive. I was scared because I wanted my father and he was on the boat and I wasn’t anymore.

I remember it getting colder and colder and colder and darker and darker and darker until it was warm again. And I was wet and warm and it was bright and I was breathing. And the sea gave me a hug, and a kiss, and told me it had missed me but that I had to go now and it would see me again, later, much later. And then I was on a beach, and the sand was hot and I was crying and I was there for a long time before someone found me.

Papa says I’m making it up, but I hear him talking sometimes. Hear him talking about how I need a real mother. That she’s not one. That she gave me up when I was born and so it doesn’t count.

“Biscuit!” Papa calls to his old friend, a dark skinned, wrinkled old man with white hair and big, rough hands.

Biscuit nods. “Boy say anything today?”

Papa nods back, and gently pushes me forward. Biscuit kneels down and leans in close. He smells like fish and salt and I like it. It smells familiar, and safe.

“Well, ocean boy?” he says, nudging me and smiling.

“She’s only a little hungry,” I say. “She was licking the paint off the boats but she doesn’t like it. She wants something old.”

Biscuit nodded. “Alright,” he says, and goes back into the little shack where he pretends to sell trinkets he makes from the presents she leaves me on the beach, refuse, they call it.

I hear him pick up the phone and rotate the dial four times and wait a minute. “Send out an old wreck,” he says, and then nods again as if the person on the other end can see it, and hangs up.

“Thanks, little man,” he says, and tousles my hair.

We go back to the beach. I think I’ll go swimming later. I lay on my belly in the cool water and let it hug me.

After a few minutes I look up and a derelict little fishing boat full of scrap wood and metal scrapings from the foundry is pushed off from a pier and drifts listlessly out to sea. I sit up and put my hand over my eyes to shield the glare so I can watch the tide grab it, pull it out, push it back, pull it out, push it back. And I watch as it glides toward freedom in the ocean, as she reaches up with a massive wave, as it capsizes and is ripped apart and slowly, quietly, sinks into her.

She laps at my feet and splashes me on the knees to say Thanks.

“You’re welcome, Mama,” I whisper, and lay back down in her tide.


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The Legend of The Lamppost

A lit post next to a path, the ground covered in snow.

Fromr/promptoftheday

Image CreditReddit User xeno_sapien

My mother used to tell me bedtime stories before I would fall asleep each night.

Sometimes they were good stories, about unicorns that flew over rainbows and sang songs made out of glitter. I liked those. They were good when I was sad or scared or lonely.

But sometimes I was happy, and content, and safe, and warm, and wanted a scary story. I wanted something to make my heart beat faster, to make the pulse race through my fingertips and turn my face warm. I wanted something to make me burrow deeper into the crook of her arm, to excite my imagination as I would drift off to worriless sleep.

It was then she would tell me stories of The Lamppost.

“Before the snow,” she would say, and I would draw my covers up tighter around my chin, and snuggle close, and pretend to be much braver than I was, for it was wonderful to be perfectly safe and yet feel terrified, there was something comforting in that, “there was the sun.”

“Tell me about the sun!” I would say, and she would laugh and say, “Hush, child, unless you want to tell the story.”

“No, no,” I would say. “You tell it.”

I could tell it by heart. But I did not want to.

“Before the snow,” she would continue, and pause a moment to watch me with a wary eye and raised eyebrows, but I would clasp my lips tight so she could continue, “there was the sun.

“The sun was a bright ball of yellow heat that lived in the sky. It burned and burned every day, and worked so hard that at night it was tired and would fall asleep. Then everything would get dark, and cold–”

“Like now?” I would say, and she would watch me with narrow eyes, and I would giggle, and she would say, “No, not like now. Not as cold. Not as dark.” Then she would kiss my forehead and sigh, but it wasn’t the sigh of someone remembering something they used to have, for the sun had died long before her, long before her parents and their parents; no, she was sighing like someone who wished for something she’d never seen.

“The sun would always wake up in the morning, and it would shine hot and hot and hot. But one day, it got sick.”

“What did it get sick with?” I would always ask, knowing the answer.

“No one knows,” she would say. “But it was very sick, and very sad, and lots of people tried to save the sun but they couldn’t. So instead, they tried to save her light. They took magic bottles and put them next to the sun and collected all the sun’s light.”

“But wouldn’t the sun want her light?”

“No, sweet child. She was dying. She didn’t need it anymore.”

I would nod, as if I understood, but I could not possibly have understood.

“Then one day, when the sun was dying, and almost dead, and it was dark and cold and snow piled high and crunched under people’s feet, your great-great-great grandfather was just a boy, and walked with his parents through the dark night, and he was cold, and hungry, and it was dark, and they didn’t know where they were going to go.”

“Were they going to die, too, mama?” I’d ask, and my eyes would be wide, my heart pounding in my chest, even though I knew the answer, for I wanted her to say it, I wanted to hear how close to death we came.

“Yes, son,” she would say. “He was definitely going to die.”

I would nod solemnly, as if I understood this too. I did not.

“He was walking with his brothers and sister and mother and father and they were walking because they had heard the legend of The Lamppost.” And I would grin and snuggle closer and this was my favorite part.

“See,” she would continue, her voice lower, and more dramatic, “they had heard tell of a lamppost that would glow bright in the darkness to show people the way to the rest of the sun’s light. It was said that they had hidden the light somewhere, and were keeping it safe until they could decide how to use it. And in the darkness they would let just a little bit of it out, a tiny, tiny bit of the sun’s light, so that people could find it, and find them, and be safe.”

Sometimes, here, I would be biting my fingernails in anticipation, and might squirm or even giggle.

“And they were walking, your great-great-great grandfather and his sister and brothers and mother and father, and they were so cold, and so tired, but he saw the light first! He saw it and pointed and ran to it and his brothers and sister and mother and father ran to it and when they arrived a door opened in the ground near the snow and they climbed down a ladder and found where the sun had been hidden.”

Though I am a grown man now, and used to stories such as these, I always close my eyes at this part, always close my eyes to imagine their excitement, their fear, as they stepped down an old metal railing into a massive spaceship, as they found a small, cramped room, as they were given canned rations and a warm shower and told to wait one week before all of humanity would head for the stars.

What an adventure that must have been.

I tuck my daughter into bed, click on the fan above her bunk, press the noise suppressor so she won’t be awoken in the night to jolts and dings and clashes from the bruised hull of a spaceship that’s lasted far too many generations, and she pulls the blanket up, close, around her neck. She feels happy, and content, and safe, and warm, and she smiles as I tuck her in tight.

“Daddy,” she whispers when I lean down to kiss her forehead, “tell me the story about The Lamppost.”


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The Swing Still Sways

childhoodmemory

Fromr/promptoftheday

“Caden?” Her voice at first was only curious, a bit playful, as she jumped behind trees making funny faces and looked under bushes.

“Caaaaa-den?” She sung his name, enticing him. He can’t have got far, she thought, for the swing was still swaying with the memory of his presence, and the park stretched on for farther than his little legs could have carried him.

“Caden? Baby, it’s time to come out now.” Hide-And-Seek-That-Only-I-Know-About was his favorite game, as it is with every toddler at some stage, so she knew she shouldn’t worry, and besides, there was no one else there.

“Caden.” Her voice lost its singsong quality and she swallowed the panic that rose in her throat. She knew she was overreacting but she couldn’t stop that biological reaction, that desperation. A mother has to know where her child is.

“Caden!” She was screaming now. It had been four minutes. Four minutes was too long. The swing was slowing. “Caden!” She screamed and ran and watched and searched behind trees and under bushes, driven by more than playful curiosity now, driven by something much deeper, much more desperate.

In ten minutes she called her husband on her cell phone.

In thirty minutes he arrived.

In an hour the police were there, and still she wouldn’t stop screaming his name. Even when they told her they had a dozen men looking and he wasn’t in the park, she wouldn’t stop screaming his name. Even as the sun crept downward and her husband tried to drag her back to the car and the police needed her to sign a witness sheet, even then, she couldn’t stop screaming his name.

The swing was still.


“Caden?”

The boy looked up, and blinked, and shook his head. He put his hand over his eyes. They hurt. Well. Something hurt. He couldn’t see. He opened one eye. That’s better.

He was in a small room. It was dirty. There was wood. He blinked again, opened both eyes, squinted. A blurry shape. An old man. Like grampa. With hair on his face but not on his head. The old man was smiling. Caden reached out and touched his cheeks. They were wet. The old man hugged him.

“Caden,” he whispered, and squeezed so tight Caden thought he might burst.


“Honey? Why don’t…why don’t you come upstairs. It’s dinnertime.”

She ignored him.

“We’re having grilled ranch chicken.”

She ignored him again.

“Baby, you have to eat.”

“Caden has to eat.”

He sighed and sat down on the top step, buried his face in his hands. He was trying, he was trying so damn hard but this wasn’t working. He wanted to be out, but he couldn’t leave her. Not like this.

“He’s been gone five years, hon. We’ve got to move on.”

Instantly he regretted saying it. Move on was the one thing she swore she would never do. She weighed 90 pounds and that only by force. He watched her in the dim light of her workshop, a brilliant mind, three doctorate degrees wasting away tinkering with blinking lights in a basement. She was under the machine now, a computer in her lap hooked up to the metal box, switches and dials covering its surface. She ignored him, and he was glad, because it was better than the alternative. She reached down and tapped a few keys on the keyboard, cursed under her breath, and wiggled a cord back into place.

He walked downstairs and grabbed her sandwich and apple from lunch, untouched on its plate, and turned to walk back upstairs. When he got to the landing he stopped, one hand on the railing, and sighed.

“I miss you,” he said.

She ignored him.


“Caden, come here, buddy,” the old man said. Caden took his hand and walked through a doorway into a bigger room. There were more people here, but Caden wasn’t afraid or shy. He smiled and waved and made a funny face that made the bigger people laugh. He liked making big people laugh. Sometimes they gave him candy.

The old man sat in a chair and brought Caden into his lap and gave him a little toy airplane to distract him. Caden flew it through the air and didn’t listen to a word the other people said.


The woman watched Caden from across the room, bouncing familiarly in a lap he couldn’t possibly recognize, and shook her head and smiled. A decade of planning was finally yielding some results.

“Gentlemen, gentlewomen,” she said formally, addressing the ragtag gathering around her. Not a single person in the room, save the toddler making buzzing noises in the corner, was a day below 68. The eldest was 92, but still sharp. She watched them all for moment, the twelve of them, and wondered if she had to pick from all the world if she would have chosen them to be the ones to survive. She shook her head. Definitely not. And yet, who better?

“I, Cherise Isling, call to order this meeting of the Council. All attending have documented their names, ages, and places of origin in the book.” She cleared her throat, and began.

“We won’t last much longer. You know that, all of you.” A few nodded. “Even with levels down below safety thresholds we’ve been far too exposed. A few of us will die within the year, a few more within the decade. Hopefully a handful will last long enough to raise this new generation into adulthood and send them out into the world on their own. We are here, as a formal council, to make a few decisions about how we are going to raise these children.

“I want you to look at Caden here. He has no idea what’s going on. He will remember nothing of his former life, of his mother, of technology. This is what we want. Any older than him, and we may have problems.”

An elderly man in the corner sat drinking a light brown liquid. He coughed and interrupted her. “What if none of us make it?” he asked. “What if there is no one left in ten years? Will they be able to safely navigate adolescence alone?”

She nodded. “We will leave books, videos, instructions as much as we can, and if there is only one of us left, we will show it to them, so that if we all die they will have as much knowledge as they can hold.”

“That’s an awful lot of risk.”

“The council is open to other suggestions.”

The room fell silent. There was no other option. Bringing in an older child was riskier than the chance they might have to raise themselves.

“All in favor, say aye.”

It was unanimous.


Even a hundred miles away he could see the flashes, feel the ground shake. The roar that had come after the first blast had never ended. It was continuous, the dull hum of death that monotonously droned closer.

With cautious steps, and two weathered hands clasping the rail, he made his way down the rickety steps toward the basement. She’d grown old, his wife, and he came down so rarely that each time he saw her now it was like greeting a new person. Where did all that white hair come from? The wrinkles? The plates of food he left were always picked at, just enough calories to sustain life and nothing more. She had no interest in food. She’d had no interest in food in over forty years.

“Hon,” he said, and the word sounded like it belonged to a different man, someone from a long time ago he kind of remembered if he closed his eyes and breathed really deep. “We really need to go. The bombs. They’re closer. Closer and closer.”

“Not leaving,” she said, fiddling with a cord and typing more into her computer.

How did he still love her? How was it even possible that he couldn’t walk out the door and save himself and let her die in a cloud of shadow and ash?

He came down the last two steps. The roar was louder. There were planes, and copters, and a ship headed toward deep space. They wouldn’t live long enough to last the journey, but at least they could start one more adventure together.

He was next to her now. He put his hand on hers. “Please. Let’s…”

She grabbed his hand, squeezed tight, pulled him close. He almost fought her. She hadn’t touched him in decades.

“It’s ready,” she said, and with a strength she shouldn’t have, dragged him toward the box in the corner.

“What’s ready? What are you talking about?” He became afraid but didn’t want to hurt her, somehow. He couldn’t pull away.

She pulled and pushed him into the box and pulled a strap over his lap. Still, he couldn’t fight. He wasn’t quite scared enough to hurt her. Not yet.

Would she kill him?

She’d never been aggressive before. Never tried to harm him. Never blamed anyone but herself.

She was mumbling as she fiddled with dials and switches and knobs he couldn’t understand. She took a big book and shoved it into his lap. “Manual. You’ll get it.”

She shut the door. He didn’t know what was going on, and tried to unstrap himself, but in his panic he couldn’t figure out how to work the buckle. She was still fiddling with things on the outside of the box, and, for a fleeting moment, he wondered if she was going to kill him.

But this was too complicated for murder right before the apocalypse.

After a minute she put her face up to the glass set into the metal frame.  He could hear her breathing. He could hear everything.

“Not enough power for two adults,” she said, and put her hand up to the glass. He raised his, and touched her through the pane. “But there’s enough for an adult and a child.”

“What are you doing?” he called, and he knew his face betrayed how terrified he was.

“You always were a better person than me,” she said, and took her hand away and let it rest on a single lever, large and heavy, behind a door on the side. “Caden deserves a father.”

She pulled it down.


His head hurt.

He rubbed his temples and tried to open his eyes, but the light was blinding. He was nauseated, and rolled over and threw up.

God, his head hurt.

He pushed against the floor and tried to open his eyes again, slowly, and the pain faded to a dull roar.

He leaned against a wall. The metal machine was in a corner, smoking, glowing. A woman stood next to it, unfamiliar, but wrinkled and grey. The book his wife had left in his lap was in her hands, and she flipped through it, a look of elation across her face. She was engrossed in the book, and he just watched her, still unable to stand up on his own, head still pounding.

Finally she glanced up from the book, saw him, rushed over. “Dr. Prent?” she asked.

“No,” he managed. “That was my wife.”

“Ah.” She tried to hide her disappointment, a fleeting look across her face, then forced the smile back. “No matter. We can work with this.” She extended her hand, and he took it and balanced himself.

“Come. Eat. What is your name?”

He leaned on her as he stumbled out of the room. “Gabriel,” he said, barely even remembering. “Gabriel Prent.”

“Good,” she said, and helped him into a wooden chair in a room that looked like it had been through a war. “My name is Cherise Isling.”


“As you know,” Cherise said, her voice heavy, and still the boy didn’t listen, but made puttering noises with his mouth as he landed the plane on his father’s face and made it take off down his arm, “our first test has been successful. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Dr. Prent,” she nodded in Gabriel’s direction, but he didn’t respond, “we have successfully relocated one male child. A dislocation of fifty years was a strain, and we can’t attempt anything further back than that. In fact, I suggest any further disruptions to be no further than one year before the War, to minimize damage to the engine. We cannot build another one if it breaks, we have neither knowledge nor parts. Does the Council have anything to say?”

No one said a word. This was an easy vote.

“All in favor, say aye.”

It was unanimous.

The meeting continued for several hours as they decided how many children to retrieve, what ages they should be, and what genders. Though the argument about what religion to teach the children became heated, they all eventually agreed on one thing–they must teach them, above all else, to value life, and work together, and to never crave what others had.

They also agreed to not tell them about the War.

They would put their history in a sealed vault which would open when the children turned thirty, long after the last adults who would remember the old days were dead, and long after the children would be able to grasp the enormity of what they were reading.

Gabriel barely listened to any of the proceedings. In his pocket was a picture of his dead wife and his son when he was only a year old. He hadn’t looked at it in decades, couldn’t bring himself to remember. Now he wrapped his arm tight around the boy’s chest, remembered his wife as she had been, and kissed the boy’s hair.

The boy didn’t respond.

Already the smell of the old man was becoming familiar.


He stood in the field as the children ran and tagged each other, hand gently wrapped around Freida’s, who would die soon, as he would. The children had grown along with their world, grown tall like the grass. He’d watched the memory of the lives they had been plucked from fade and crumble and melt into dust like the buildings in the cities that had become overgrown with weeds and mutated animal life. But they were safe here, and happy, and the world would live and humanity would live in it and Gabriel smiled as Caden, tall and tan and strong, sprinted toward him.

“Dad!” he called as he ran into the old man.

“Ooof, bud, careful,” Gabriel said, and tousled his hair.

“I’m hungry.”

Gabriel laughed. “Of course you are. When I was your age I think I ate a cow a day.”

“What’s a cow?”

“Never mind,” the old man laughed again. “Come on, son.” They called to the other children, who raced back to the sprawling complex of wooden houses they’d built on top of an old farm far from the visual disruption of the destruction of the city. Gabriel wrapped his arm around his son’s neck and squeezed.

“Let’s go eat.”


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Morning Maintenance

A silhouette of a tank with a man standing on it. It is in front of a sunrise.

Fromr/promptoftheday

Image CreditSgt. Emmanuel Ramos

“What’s that?”

The old man looked down at the young girl, perhaps six, maybe seven, with dark curly hair haphazardly tied back with a blue ribbon that was coming loose. Her bike was pink, and dirty, and a pink balloon was tied to the handle. The man blinked, and she was still there.

“What’s that thing?”

The old man turned away from her and sighed. The most sophisticated technology in the entire world and they couldn’t keep a little girl out of the line. He stood tall on the massive machine, long brush in his hand, moving it up and down, toward himself, then toward the sky, as high as he could reach, as he wiped the glue paper down onto its panel, light pinks and oranges and yellows drifting across.

He didn’t answer her.

“Hey, mister!” she called, louder, as if she was sure he was just deaf and not ignoring her on purpose. That self centeredness of childhood, that assumption that children have that everything they do is always the thing everyone else will be interested in, is probably one of the main reasons humanity managed to propagate itself instead of eating their young. How do you kill something that self assured?

“What’s that?” she called again.

He sighed and finished the panel. Clouds drifted backward into the third dimension and merged with the other panels he’d already finished. He prepared the next sheet.

“What’s what?” he yelled down, not watching her.

“That thing you’re standing on.”

He touched a lever with his foot and the machine inched forward, then stopped. He applied the glue and began, again, for the millionth time, wiping the panel up, up, up, toward the sky, sticking it down.

“A tank,” he said, wishing she’d go away.

“What’s a tank?” she asked.

He could hear the wheels on her bike creaking forward, inch by inch. She wasn’t leaving. He glanced at his watch. He only had twenty minutes until sunrise, and still eight panels left to do.

“I’m busy,” he called.

“What’s a tank?” she asked, louder.

“It’s a big car they used to kill people,” he said. Maybe if he answered her questions, she’d go away.

“Why?”

“What do you mean, why?”

“Why’d they want to kill people?”

“Oh, who knows,” he said, cursing under his breath as a bit of glue squeezed out of a seam. He wrestled with the scraper and got it off before a cloud got stuck. “They wanted something, they were mad. People was always killin’ people.”

“Was?”

“Well, yes. Before the monsters came.”

She didn’t speak again for a minute, and the man was giddy with the thought that his story may have scared her off, but when he went to get another panel, and moved the tank forward another few inches, he saw her still standing there.

“What monsters?” she asked.

“Oh, you know the monsters, girl.” Now she was just being annoying, or stupid. Maybe she was stupid. You should never be mean to people who are stupid and can’t help it, he knew this at least. He sighed again, and resolved to explain.

“The monsters, child. The monsters that came and ate the sky.”

“What monsters?” she said again.

Yes. She was definitely stupid.

“A long, long time ago,” he said, grunting with every strained syllable as he pushed the broom higher and higher, made the panel stick as far up as he could reach, “before I was born, and before my father was born, and before his father was born, monsters came. They came and they were hungry and they ate the whole sky. Lots of people died, and that’s why I have to come, every morning, and put the sky back on. Because they ate it.”

“What do they look like?” she asked, pushing her bike closer to the massive machine. “Were they very big?”

“Oh, no, girl, no, not at all. They were very small. So small that you would never see them coming.”

“Did they have big teeth?”

“No, not particularly.”

“Were their teeth sharp?”

“I don’t believe they even had teeth at all.”

“Well…what did they look like?”

He stopped brushing for a moment, and cocked his head as if trying to remember. One stops paying attention to stories such as these when one is old. One forgets the details.

“I don’t know,” he finally admitted. “But I don’t think they were particularly scary. Just small, and very hungry. They ate the whole sky, and then they all left, and lots of people died.”

“But it’s better now,” the girl said.

“Oh, yes.” He finished the panel, and scooted forward, and grabbed the next one, and began to roll it out. He looked at his watch. Only eight minutes left, but only two panels. Plenty of time. “Much better now. Now we glue the morning sky on every morning, and the night sky on every night, and it’s better.”

“And they are all gone?”

“Yes.”

“If you don’t know what they look like, how do you know they are all gone?”

He glanced down at her. She was just below him now, almost too close to the tank. He didn’t like her questions. He didn’t care if she was stupid, he wanted her to go away. He finished his panel, and scooted forward, and began the next one.

“Because we just know,” he said. She didn’t say much for a minute, and he finished gluing the last strip onto his section of the sky. He stepped back and admired his work. The sunrise was beautiful, and clouds floated listlessly in and out of the treeline. He put his hands on his hips and smiled. He would get down from the tank and have a cup of coffee and watch the sunrise, then begin to prepare for the night maintenance, and the strips of sky that were deep and dark and sprinkled with the little white dots of burning gas far, far away.

“It’s beautiful,” the girl said, and he looked down, and she was smiling a little smile.

He smiled back.

“Thank you, dear,” he said.

“No,” she said, and opened her mouth wide, and wider, and wider, and he saw that she had no teeth. “Thank you.”

And she took one delicious bite, and ate his sky.


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The Lightning War

lightningstorm

Fromr/promptoftheday

Image CreditReddit User Muziklover

“Storm’s comin,” I say.

“Yep,” says Oak.

We are cold, but we won’t build a fire. We are hungry, but we won’t hunt.

“How long?” I say.

“No tellin’,” says Oak.

He sits on a wet log in the middle of a field, as far from trees and what used to be utility poles as he can get. I sit next to him. He’s older than me, and more experienced, and higher ranking, but at this point, it doesn’t fucking matter.

He has taken his rifle apart six times.

He’s nervous. I don’t like it when he’s nervous. I’m supposed to be nervous. I’m supposed to be green and pissing in my boots and getting advice. He’s supposed to be salty and seasoned and spitting tobacco in the face of danger.

He doesn’t.

He cleans nonexistent dirt out of his rifle, scrubbing the inside until I’m afraid he might affect the integrity of the barrel.

As if it could possibly make any difference.

I watch him, cleaning endlessly, just needing something to do, and wonder how long it will take for us to die.

A year ago I didn’t wonder shit like this. I didn’t wonder how long it would take to die because I didn’t think I would. We had a squad then, and platoons and battalions and brigades and an army. We had weapons and uniforms and training centers and we were winning.

We were winning.

What the fuck happened.

He puts the rifle back together. Scopes it. Puts it down. Sighs. Picks it up. Begins to disassemble.

“What if they get here and your weapon’s in twenty pieces?”

He ignored me.

It’d be faster, is what he’s thinking.

I’ll never forget the first time the sky opened up. I was stationed with Charlie-Seven-Two-Delta down south of the fringe line. We were piloting drones built by engineers trained at RireTech and Yars. They had robots that looked like a seventh grader’s science project. They just knew they would win, like toddlers playing hide and seek with their parents, sure we would pretend not to see them until they could run out and touch base.

We were a defensive position, so we waited. That’s all we did. We weren’t scared or even a little nervous. We were highly trained and highly equipped and they wouldn’t attack us. It would have been suicide. We drank cold beer and ate warm meat and slept whenever we wanted.

The post cried out late one evening. We scrambled out of bed and went outside and he was on fire. He screamed as he burned and fled from the camp and fell down in a field and died.

It was raining, big, heavy, needle like drops that stung as they came down.  Lightning struck a mile away, then half a mile, then in our camp. It hit a soldier next to me who shook and smoldered and fell down and didn’t get back up.

We scattered.

Some ran into the fields and the lightning found them.

Some ran into the trees and the lightning found them.

I ran into a tunnel with half the squad and the captain. The lightning didn’t find us.

How they managed to make the storm, we never found out. Whether they made the lightning or simply controlled it, we never knew. All we knew was that it took them less than six months to completely obliterate our entire army, without losing a single drone, without us ever seeing a single soldier.

The burned our country to the ground.

All we wanted was to make people happy. We had medicines and literacy and progress. We had real food and technology. We weren’t trying to ruin their lives, we were trying to help them.

Fucking savages.

His gun is back together.

He sets it in his lap this time, arm resting on it gently, and looks up at the sky.

Drops of rain hit his face. Soft, warm drops, the kind that make you want to open your mouth and drink the pure heavens.

He closes his eyes and breathes deep and knows that it’s over, but he will try. He will fire his gun into the clouds as if he can stop the lightning.

We have come above ground to die.

Six months before the war a group of settlers died on Pantoa. They said we poisoned their food. We were trying to help them not poison them. Of course we’re going to test vaccines before we distribute them to the entire population.

Seven hundred and fifty-two children died.

Eleven million took up arms.

How could we lose? We were superior in every way.

All it took was one, I suppose. One to figure out how to control the sky. One to figure out how to defeat an empire.

There are two of us left, now. They are hunting us with a vengeance that goes far beyond the desire for freedom. They are already free. They need retribution. They probably have their children’s photographs taped next to the button that controls the lightning and the storm. We are payment for the debt.

The drops are falling harder now, growing colder, beginning to burn.

I stand and drop my rifle into the mud. I am tired of running. I am tired of being chased. I am tired of paying for something I didn’t do.

I walk out into the field as the rain burns into my skin and a bolt of lightning strikes ground a mile away. I stretch my arms to the side, close my eyes, and raise my face to the heavens.

They have won their freedom.

I can hear it charging. I can feel the heat.

The fire is coming.


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