Flash Fiction Challenge! I’m taking last week’s “Song Shuffle, Part II” (that I missed) and smashing it together with this week’s “I’ve Chosen Your Words” challenge. Thanks as always go to Chuck Wendig for providing the challenges and for being awesome.
Escape From Gravity
John looked out over the desolate plain, the dead orange landscape that spread before him, and laughed. ‘Better to laugh than cry’ she always said, her jaw tight against the pain. He replayed his final memories of her – her rich brown eyes staring at him, staring through him, finally begging him for forgiveness and an end to the pain; the stink of her sweat as the convulsions rocked her body; the screams and then the peace as the fever took her.
‘Better to laugh’ she said, so he did. He didn’t understand why but it didn’t much matter. She was dead. He was alone. The whole damn world had gone to shit. Laughing made about as much sense as crying, which was none at all.
From his hilltop lookout he watched a caravan make its way across the emptiness. The long slogging journey to the gates of The City. If the rumors were true, the walled-off citadel known simply as The City was the only piece of civilization left on that lifeless rock. The stories made it sound like a paradise of plants and animals and people, survivors, in a world that was doing its best to die out. They weren’t sure what they had survived or why, and most didn’t care as long as they got to keep living. So the caravans trekked hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles, on the sliver of hope that they could reach The City and be one of the survivors as well.
John could see the gleam of sunlight shining off The City’s white stone wall as a flash of light on the horizon. For miles around dark lines of the caravans snaked through the desert toward the light. He understood the reasoning, but found it hard to share their hope. There were too many questions surrounding the fortified society: why did they survive when everyone else died, were they holding the secret to the fever, or worse, were they the cause? John watched the people flock to The City as they would an oasis, and he wondered if the prize for their hope was a poisoned spring. He shook his head and laughed again.
A week ago, before the grief of her death opened his eyes, they were making the trek, too. Rumor of a cure spread like the fever through the nomadic camps and he had accepted it as truth without question. Now John wondered where the rumor came from, who started it, and why. He saw the futility of the journey and hated himself for adding insult to injury by forcing her to come along when all she wanted to do was die in the familiarity of her own home. He laughed at the thought of her begging him, fighting him to let her stay, her thin fingers pulling the meager belongings from his hands until her strength gave out. When he finished packing he had carefully carried her, flea-infested mattress and all, to the cart. She didn’t say much as the miles and days dragged on, but she would laugh until tears rolled down her cheeks.
John wasn’t surprised when the caravan left them behind the morning the convulsions started. He laid with her in their small tent, his body curled around hers, and waited to die. He felt her last breath, a noiseless chuckle, soft as moth’s wings, and laughed with her. He clung to her lifeless body for a day, two days, expecting to die with her, hoping to die with her, yet living on. The stench of her decaying flesh forced him out of his apathy.
He carried her tiny body up the hill, the highest point for miles around, and laid her to rest under a mound of gathered rocks. He could still smell her as he stood at the edge of the cliff and looked out over the plain. He stared at The City, the gleam of light on the horizon, and laughed. He wondered if there was a seed of truth to the stories, if there really were survivors, if there really was a cure. He decided it didn’t matter as he carelessly nudged a stone over the cliff edge. Nothing matters now, he thought as he waited to hear the stone strike the hillside below. He took one last look at her burial mound, the tears streaming from his eyes, and jumped.
My words were fever, finger, flea, gate, insult, mattress, moth, paradise, scream, and seed. I couldn’t begin to tell you the tangential path my brain took from the phrase ‘Escape From Gravity’ to this story.