Breadcrumbs

Prompt: The world is in ruins, and humans are very, very scarce. Two friends become separated. One friend follows breadcrumb-like messages to the other telling them their new location. The messages become progressively more chilling.

Fromr/writingprompts

“at the library”

“left @ 5, check old main”

“something was here. i’m @ blue house, red door, 4th and G”

“don’t knock. i hear breathing. go to back”

“couldn’t stay. they came. creek”

“be careful. they are watching. don’t let them see you. cross over.”

“they’re everywhere. in the trees. crawl. hands and knees. don’t look at them. meet me @ old fort. safe there.”

“don’t turn around. i was hungry. i’m so sorry.”


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He Stood

Prompt: Write a story that starts and ends the same way.

Fromr/writingprompts

He stood.

His legs tingled from the hard, cold wood of the chair and he stomped his feet for feeling to return. Making his way, haltingly, carefully, over the ice-covered floor, he cursed under his breath and raised a middle finger toward the sky where his roof had once been, letting it linger there until a small pile of snow had formed on the tip, then blew hot breath on it and shoved it back into his thin pocket.

“I’m too fucking old for this,” he said to himself as he scooted toward what once had been a kitchen and rustled in the pantry for a can of something that had once resembled food. A shard of glass was taped haphazardly to the wall and he glanced in it. A single grey hair peaked out from behind his unkempt bangs. He grunted. He remembered before, the ads they used to place on all the screens and apps and sites, the popup ones you couldn’t make go away, urging young men to fight the epic battle of their lives. Made it sound like a damn video game. Kids don’t respawn in real life, assholes. But even then, even at its most dire, they always said war was a young man’s game. Now? Now it was just life. Life was a young man’s game. Forty five? “I’m definitely too old for this shit,” he muttered again as he shoved aside a can of pork and beans and grabbed the salted green peas behind it.

He shuffled to the only drawer that hadn’t been ripped from its place and stuck his hand into his sleeve to grasp the freezing metal handle. He pulled gently so he wouldn’t risk breaking anything and grabbed the can opener. He banged the can against the countertop a few times to crush some of the ice and give it a grip, then set it down, put the can opener on the edge, tilted it hard so the dull blades would have something to grasp, and turned the handle. He was careful, and slow, and deliberate. He had just popped the top off and was running his finger gently along the inside to check for sharp edges when he heard breathing behind him. His head turned.

“You’re up.” He smiled.

“Hi, Papa.” The boy smiled back.

“Hi, Jack,” the man said. “Breakfast?”

“Is it breakfast day?” The boy’s eyes got big and his smile got bigger. “What are we having?”

“Salted green peas,” the man said, trying to make his smile as big as the boy’s, and trying not to let his gut ache with wishing he could feed the boy fried bacon and scrambled eggs and grilled cheese toast.

“I love salted green peas!” the boy cried, and jumped up and down and clapped and slipped on a patch of floor ice and caught himself with his hands and laughed.

“Be careful,” the man warned, but the boy just stood back up and grinned and stuck his hands in his pockets to warm them.

The man took the can of peas and put it down the neck of his sweater, outside his shirt, and buttoned his jacket up over the top. He shivered and breathed downward into the slush to help heat it.

“When will it be ready?” the boy asked.

“Later,” the man said, his teeth chattering. He made his way carefully back to the frozen chair and sat, wrapping his arms around the can, directing his breath downward, letting the cold air come back to chill his face. He kept his eyes closed. He could hear the boy skating around the room, crashing into the wall.

“Woah, Papa, did you see that? I did a flip did you see?”

“Yep,” he lied.

“Wasn’t it amazing?”

“Yep.” That was the truth.

“Hey, Papa, can we have a fire tonight?”

“No.”

“Why not?” Jack was starting to whine. The sound was intolerable.

“You know why.”

“But we haven’t seen them in ages!” the boy groaned. He slid over to where the man sat, still breathing into the peas which were slowly becoming liquid. “I want hot peas!”

“We haven’t seen them in ages because we haven’t built a fire.”

Jack sighed and plopped into the couch, wrapping his jacket around his knees. He stuck his face inside his little coat-cave and breathed hot breath onto himself.

Suddenly the man’s eyes popped opened and his head shot up, turning rapidly, trying to triangulate the sound he hoped he wasn’t hearing. He stood up too fast and slipped and fell to his knees and cussed as some of the pea-sludge sloshed out. Jack poked his head out like a turtle.

“You okay, Papa?”

“Hush,” he said, and he knew the code word would strike fear in the boy’s heart, would make him too terrified to move or speak or breathe too loud, and at the moment, that’s exactly what he wanted. He gripped the can under his jacket with his left hand and the chair with the other and carefully pulled himself to standing. He put one foot in front of the other, timidly making his way toward the front window to look outside.

The door crashed open.

The men were on them in seconds. Shouting, black and red, pulling his hair, grabbing the boy, dragging them outside, shoving them into the snow. The nearly thawed can of peas rolled out of the man’s jacket and down the steps of the front porch and into a bank of icy mud. Jack was screaming, was being torn away from him, and he reached out and his hand was crushed by something hard and warm and he cried out and pulled away.

“Jack!” It was the only word he could remember. He shouted it, over and over, trying to think of anything else to say, to beg, anything, but he didn’t know how to speak anymore. “Jack!”

The boy wasn’t calling for him, though. He wasn’t calling for anyone. He was screaming, the incoherent babblings of a child asked to handle too much fear. Then the man remembered other words.

“Please! Stop!”

“Shut the fuck up.” A uniformed book kicked him to the ground.

“I’ll go. Look, I’ll go, okay?” He was desperate. Anything. Anything.

“Too late for that.”

“No, it’s not! What’s he good for, huh? One bomb? That’s it? Done? I can fight. I’m fucking grown. Just let me go, I’ll go, I’ll go, okay? I’ll go now, please, please.”

The uniform stomped to where the man kneeled, wet and shivering in the cold, and leaned down.

“I’ll tell you what, old fucker,” he said. “If you can prove you can stand up, I’ll let you go.”

The man put his hands to the ground to raise himself from the ice, but the uniform kicked him to his belly.

“Not like that,” he said, and raised his weapon up, and brought it down, hard, on the man’s knee. The ice and bone crunched together as the man screamed and grabbed his knee and blood oozed onto the frozen ground.

The uniform stood back up, shouldered his rifle, and took a step back. “Didn’t think so.”

He turned, but the man stopped screaming, and just whimpered, “Wait.”

He propped himself up on his elbow and brought his good knee below his chest. Cold stinging every inch of him, he raised his eyes and looked at the boy, who was no longer screaming, or laughing, or even crying, but staring, watching, wondering, confused, scared. His eyes locked on the boy’s and he took a deep breath and smiled.

He stood.


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Are We There Yet?

Prompt: “Are we there yet?” “No, child. We’ll never be there.”

From: r/writingprompts

“Are we there yet?”

“Not yet.”

It had only been minutes since he last asked me that goddamn question. His little head rested on my shoulder, tilted against me, pinching my ear against my skull but I didn’t make him move away. His breath was shallow, the worn fabric of the sling that kept him pressed against my back too thin, holes in dangerous places. He slipped a little, and I jolted my body to shift him and keep him higher, where it was easier to carry. His little feet, one wearing a shoe, one covered in a dirty sock, big toe poking out, danced and kicked carelessly as only the unaware and restless feet of a child can. I touched his foot with my hand to still it. He made it hard to walk.

“Are we there yet?”

“Not yet.”

The remnant had almost made its way below the tree line. Its pale light was fading fast and night would come soon. Night and cold and hunger. This was as good a place as any. All places were as good a place as any. I began to untie the fabric that held him to my back.

“Are we there yet?”

“Not yet.”

He slipped out of the bottom of the wrap and landed on his feet. He bounced a little, and dug in the mud, unable to contain the excitement of childhood but biologically incapable of expending too much energy.

“Mama! Look! Look at this!” I was rubbing the raw ache out of my breasts, letting the blood flow back into them after being constricted for the past several hours. “Mama, look!” He shoved a translucent, shimmering stone in my face and I backed up so I could actually see it.

“Yeah,” I said, and smiled. “It’s real pretty.”

“It’s magic!” he said, grinning, and plopped down on the ground.

“Oh?”

“Yeah! Magic! It’s one of those magic stones the sun made!”

“Mmm-hm.”

“The sun was hot because it had so much magic in it and then it got really hot one day-remember, Mama? Remember when the sun got all hot?-and then it got really cold-remember?-because it gave all its hot magic to the rocks!”

“Oh.” I began gathering a few bits of kindling, some dead leaves and branches, to pretend I had any idea how to start a fire without matches or flint. Rubbing sticks together? Sorry. Bullshit. For me, at least.

“Yeah! It’s magic! It’ll glow brighter when we get closer!”

“Ah.”

He sat for the next few minutes, pondering the beauty of his magic stone, rubbing his finger over the glistening surface.

“Poor sun,” he whispered to the rock. “I’m sorry you had to die.” He looked up at the sky for moment and watched the remnant easing its way below the horizon. “I wish I could remember what you used to feel like.”

I stopped listening, turned away, pulled the map out of my pocket and put my back to the remnant to let its insufficient light dimly illuminate the paper. I knew what I’d see. I knew what I’d been seeing for the past seven weeks. But I had to look, once again, to lie to myself for a moment that maybe I’d find something I hadn’t seen before.

But I didn’t. The paper was filled with nothing but giant Xs. Every city, every town, every flooded coastal village, gone. Atlanta, gone. Houston, gone. Florida, gone. Mexico, the whole damn country, gone. Canada, a solid block of uninhabitable ice. The warmest parts were water and everything else was frozen. I folded the map and put it back in my pocket and pretended I didn’t know what I knew: There was nowhere left to go.

I watched him playing in the dirt, digging with the magical rock, drawing a shape in the cold mud. It had been seven months, thirteen days since we last saw another human.

There was nothing left.

I dug around until I found a few frozen nuts and gave them to my son and let him eat. I raised his shirt under the guise of tickling him and counted his ribs. How long did he have? A day? Two? I hadn’t eaten in two weeks, but even I could outlast him. Fucking hell. Could I admit I’d considered feeding him my own arm, and that only the problematic logistics had kept me from doing so? I kissed him and pulled him onto my chest and stroked his hair and wrapped my body around his little, thin, shivering one.

He slept soundly, muttering to himself, but I never slept much anymore. I wasn’t scared of anything, there were no wild animals or raiding parties left on the surface of the planet. There was nothing left. I only stayed awake wondering why I made him stay alive.

In the morning I hitched him to my back and began walking again, breathing on his little bare toe to tickle it and warm it. His right hand gripped the magic stone, rubbing it smooth, watching it for the telltale glow that would lead us to safety. He looked thin, and sick, and blue. It would be soon. I pushed the thought from my mind.

“Where are we going?”

“Florida.”

“Are we there yet?”

“Not yet.”

Minutes passed. He fell asleep on my shoulder, his breath hot. My face spared a drop of moisture for a single tear. He woke up, but couldn’t lift his head.

“Are we there yet?” It was whispered, so quiet, so far away, so cold. His eyes closed. His breath was hot, and then warm, and then shallow, and then wasn’t. The magic stone slipped out of his fingers and fell to the ground.

I didn’t stop walking. My feet kept marching, obliviously, endlessly. My face kept waiting for the hot breath on my cheek, for the endless question that had no answer, but it never came.

“No, child,” I managed, and found I wanted nothing more in the world than to die. “We’ll never be there.”


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