Flash fiction prompt day 5! You know when you start a story based on the image of someone putting a can of deodorant up their sweater cause it’s too cold to get undressed and end up writing four thousand words of post-apocalyptic something-or-other? This is longer than flash fiction and it’s so totally not finished. There are details to work out, gaps to fill and connections to make. I think it may end up being a bigger project at some point but since these characters introduced themselves and told me small parts of their stories, I’m sharing what I’ve got so far.
Cause this is long as shit and I’m not going to make you scroll up and down, here’s a mild content warning for mentions of suicidal ideation, corpse looting, subversive sexual appetites and drug-related stuff. And the end of the world as we know it.
Sarah, ten months after the end
“They used to give out antibiotics for everything. Of course there were warnings about how they’d stop working eventually and then all hell would break loose but I don’t think anyone really believed it”.
“Because no-one ever really believed anything bad would happen. Even when bad things were already happening. People were too distracted. No-one listened”.
Her grandmother was born in a different time. Things were not perfect then, and worse for some than others, but she had lived to see the beginning of the end and Sarah was both blessed and cursed with a precision of memory that often left her languishing in conversations that reminded her how much she missed the people who no longer walked beside her.
No time for this, she scolded herself as a slight wisp of grey fur and delicate bones wound around her ankles, hopefully. She bent to scoop up Little Cat in her arms and bury her face in the animal’s soft body. “I’ll bring food with me tonight, when I come back. I will be back tonight. I promise”. She set Little Cat down gently on the rough wooden floor and reached the can of deodorant up under her sweater because it was a better option than getting washed in ice cold water. She tied back her long brown hair, wrapped herself in her battered old jacket and checked for the keys in her pocket.
As she walked across the yard, dusk was settling. She was headed straight for her baby, her lucky charm, the sleek silver sports car which gleamed in understated perfection along one side but was badly scraped and scorched on the other. “Just a scratch, my beautiful”, she said as she rested a hand on top of the car and wondered at what point she started talking to inanimate objects. Then she heard a whistle.
She turned around to see him tending to a gigantic red SUV with one headlight missing. Richie was tall with broad shoulders but as he reached up to close the boot of the vehicle she noticed how loosely his trousers hung on the bones protruding from his hips. She ran over and launched on him, wrapping her arms around his waist and resting her forehead against the worn wool of the sweater that covered his back. “Shit, man, when did you get so skinny?”.
He closed his hands around her forearms and squeezed gently, his fingers easily encircling them. “Same time you did”. He was right. Sarah stood a little over five feet tall and had always been slender but lately she had been reduced to something more resembling gaunt. She looked considerably younger than her twenty-seven years.
“Yeah . . . I keep trying to forget about that but you keep reminding me”, she said to Richie, not wanting to let go of him just yet. He slid around in her arms until they were facing each other, then he grabbed her and lifted her right off the ground. She hugged him even tighter and laughed. Because you had to laugh, didn’t you?
“It’s OK, I love you anyway”, she said.
“I know. Now let’s go rock this!”
Richie was all about the bravado and mind over matter, the way people who have been forcibly pulled back from the brink sometimes are. She looked up at him, all jet black hair and dark blue eyes and sharp angles, and remembered when they’d first met. He’d been on the road with Evan, who was pretty much just a blonde version of himself. He’d made light of his apparent narcissistic streak more than once. They’d been travelling for about a month in Evan’s car which, for a week now, had been unattended. Neither of them had wanted to drive it since Evan had gone. Maybe one day, but not yet.
She forced a smile. Be strong. They started their engines sputtering and screeching then springing to life. Tonight they were on a mission. Tonight they would drive. And tomorrow, they would eat.
– – – – – – – – – –
Richie, seven and a half months after the end
On the rare occasion that Richie fell in love, it happened hard and fast, even harder and faster when it felt like he was looking in a mirror. And Evan was such a mirror. A mirror with a vicious streak, he discovered, but that only made it better. The first time they’d kissed, Evan had bit his lip so hard that he drew blood and from that moment on, Richie was lost in him.
They drove and fucked and took advantage of abandoned places and abandoned things. The world was cold but Richie was oddly content. Evan’s growing willingness to rifle through the pockets of the recently deceased only bothered him for the first few days and then he accepted that it was necessary. This is just the way things are now, he reminded himself.
He got used to moving by night instead of by day, and to the long silences that filled their waking hours. Evan was perfect company. He didn’t ask too many questions. I don’t care if I never meet another living person, Richie thought to himself one evening as they set off from the field where they’d been sleeping in the car. But as it happened, another living person was just around the corner.
“Shit, Evan, stop! There’s a girl!”.
Evan screeched to a halt, upon seeing the slight figure at the side of the road, changing a wheel on a silver convertible. Another car thief. Another opportunist. The girl jumped back at the sound of screaming tyres and grabbed a knife from her belt. Richie climbed out of the car and started walking towards her but Evan stayed behind the wheel. He was curious but had developed a mistrust of the living.
“Oh my god, you’re the first person with a pulse we’ve seen in weeks! Where are you going?”
“Home”, replied the girl, sharply. She wasn’t as young as he’d first assumed based on her size, perhaps a little older than him, with a defensive air about her that Richie hoped his smile might melt.
“A few miles down the road”, she replied, not hinting at any direction. “Who are you? Where did you come from? Are there others?”.
“I’m Richie. I’m from . . . lots of places. There’s just me and Evan. Just us. For ages. Please, put down the knife”.
“I’m Sarah”, she said, not lowering the weapon. “Are you clean?”.
“Yes! If I wasn’t clean, I’d be dead. I’m not one of them, for fuck’s sake. We’re not. We’re trying to find . . . I don’t know. Somewhere. Something. Food”.
Sarah finally lowered the knife, but kept it in her hand. “Are you hungry?”, she asked.
“Yes, seriously hungry. Do you need help with the wheel?”.
“I can change a wheel by myself, thank you. And I have food”, she said, softening slightly. “Get back in the car, wait until I’m finished, then follow me”. She still held onto the knife.
She’ll offer me food but she might still stab me, Richie thought. “OK. Are you sure it’s . . .”
“Yes, it’s fine. Wait. And then follow me”.
Richie walked back to the car while Sarah finished changing the wheel. “She said to follow her”, he told Evan.
Evan shrugged. “Why not? At least she’s breathing”.
It made a pleasant change.
– – – – – – – – – – – –
Sarah, seven and a half months after the end
Half-asleep, half-dreaming, Sarah wandered through a curated collection of moments from her past when her mind was at peace. How utterly at one with the world she’d felt before all this. For a few brief moments, everything was right in her universe. It was like a drug, that feeling. She could sink into it, warm and content, blissfully drowning in calm, like afternoon sunlight streaming through the window. Like a spark of the divine.
Little Cat shifted and stretched against her side and Sarah suddenly became aware of how cold she was even though it was supposed to be summer. Her memory snapped shut and dropped her painfully in the present with a sharp jolt of a reminder that now there was only another lonely morning to face.
Little Cat looked at her expectantly.
“You never learn, do you? I don’t have any food. I wish I did, but I don’t. You need to go outside and hunt. You know, hunting? Where you behave like a cat and chase small animals so you can kill them and eat them?”.
Little Cat’s gaze never shifted. Sarah rolled her eyes, threw back her worn and patched blankets, climbed out of bed and ran over to the make-shift bathroom as quickly as possible so her feet didn’t have to touch the cold floor for any longer than was absolutely necessary.
– – – – – – – – – – – –
Evan, six months and sixteen days after the end
It was on the sixteenth day that Richie found him. Evan had awoken with a jolt, startled by a knock on the window, the knife in his hand instantly raised. He was taken aback to see the face outside the car, so like his own, maybe a year or two older. And stunning. Self-esteem had never been an issue for Evan. He wasn’t arrogant but he accepted that his face often made his life easier and was quick to see such qualities in others.
He wound down the window a crack and asked, “What do you want?”.
“Where are you going?”.
“Wherever you are. It’s either that or walk and I’m sick of walking”.
“Are you alone?”.
“Of course I’m fucking alone. Do you think I’d be approaching a sleeping stranger in a car parked in a field to ask for a lift if I had anyone with me?”.
“I don’t know. You might want to steal my car”.
“Oh please, we both know it isn’t your car. But it’s a nice car. And it has a passenger seat”.
“Fine. But hand over your weapons first”.
“I don’t have any . . .”, then after a second of hesitation the dark-haired traveller took a knife from his belt. And another from his back pocket. And a third from up his sleeve. One by one, Richie posted his knives through the crack at the top of the window, handing his only source of safety and security over to Evan and leaving himself unarmed. He shrugged and smiled and raised his eyebrows.
“Can I . . ?”
Evan had neither given a lift to a hitch-hiker before nor used an expensive car to pick up men. But then this wasn’t his car.
– – – – – – – – – – – –
Evan, six months after the end
It seems a shame to waste an opportunity like this, Evan thought, momentarily questioning his already rather questionable personal value system. He pulled the dead man from behind the wheel as respectfully and gently as a lean boy of twenty-four could pull the corpse of a bloated middle-aged man out of a thankfully undamaged car. Evan was never one to waste an opportunity and when you’re alone, you have to keep your eyes open for opportunities.
With his past life and everyone in it gone, Evan was most definitely alone. It affected him less now than it had in the beginning. In fact, he’d grown accustomed to it quickly enough that it almost worried him. He’d never felt a particularly strong emotional connection to anyone he knew but he had experienced a mild, dragging melancholy when they were no longer there, for a short time anyway. These things happened though. So it goes.
Evan threw his backpack onto the passenger seat and slid into the car, starting the engine quickly and moving off before he could be noticed. Once you were moving, it didn’t matter so much. It was only when you were standing still in a place like this that there was a risk of something . . . unwelcome happening. He had no idea where he was going other than away. As far away as possible. He didn’t hold out much hope of finding another city that would be safe, but there might be, somewhere, maybe.
So he drove, pulling off the road during the day and stopping to sleep while it was light, then travelling again under cover of darkness with his headlights dipped, the most light he would risk casting into the perhaps not so empty night.
– – – – – – – – – – – –
Richie, six months after the end
Until all this happened, until everything changed, Richie had never thought himself the potentially suicidal type. Life had always been so easy, so much fun. Until it wasn’t. Until everything went to shit. Upon realising it was the first day of January and nothing was likely to get any better, he decided to begin the new year by taking a literal long walk off a short pier and getting the hell away from this disaster of a world for good. He took his coat, shirt and shoes off for no reason other than it felt like the appropriate thing to do, tidied them into a neat pile and looked straight ahead at the bright blue winter sky as he inhaled a deep, cleansing breath before the end.
The first thing Richie noticed about the hands that reached over the splintered barrier at the end of the old pier to firmly grip his bare shoulders was that they were ice cold. Shortly after, he noticed other things. The scars on the man’s face. The one that ran through his top lip, neat, possibly surgical; the one that split his left eyebrow; the fresher looking one across the bridge of his nose. He noticed a yellowing bruise on the right side of the man’s face and how pale his eyes were, translucent, reflective, maybe grey but maybe not, just pale. His hair was silver-brown-blond, every colour and no colour all at once, dirty and pushed back from his face.
For a fleeting moment Richie thought that if the encounter had occurred in different circumstances, before all this, if he had passed this man on the street or met him in a bar, he would have given him that look, the one that said, “Take me home with you” or just “Take me”, the look that never failed. He was fine with rough and older, and he liked strong arms and a few interesting scars. In another life, before, he would have said something suggestive about knowing plenty of ways he could warm up those hands.
In this life though, now, he raged at the man, “Who the fuck are you? Where the fuck did you come from? Why the fuck did you stop me from jumping?”. The stranger let go of Richie and began to turn away, to leave him standing on the old pier instead of drowning or freezing to death in the sea below, as he had fully intended to be right now.
Quietly, steadily, the man replied, “I flipped a coin and it came up heads, so here you are”.
“And what? You were just going to walk away after you saved my pointless fucking life?”.
The stranger raised his eyebrows, shrugged his shoulders under the weight of his tattered clothes and said, “Yes”.
Richie cast a glance up and down his body, taking in his threadbare sweater and jeans, hanging loosely on a frame that might once have been athletic but was now just a little too thin to look healthy, much like everyone else these days.
“Not to be a terrible cliché”, Richie started, gathering his wits about him, “but are you just going to save my life and leave without telling me your name?”.
“I’m Chance”, the man replied, and walked away, limping slightly, flipping a coin in the air, catching it and looking to see how it fell before turning left where the pier met the silent, empty street.
– – – – – – – – – – – –
The whole world, the end
All hell broke loose, as per the warnings no-one really believed.
– – – – – – – – – – – –
Richie, a year before the end
Richie awoke with a start to the violent shriek of his alarm telling him it was time to get up and do nothing for another day. He didn’t know why he bothered to set the damned thing beyond feeling a strange sense of inherited guilt if he didn’t get out of bed before 2pm. He had meant to unset it last night, or this morning, or whatever time he got home, but he had been distracted.
He reached across the sleeping bodies in his bed and found his phone to silence the noise. The sleeping bodies remained asleep, breathing steadily, not so much as shifting or stirring in response to the alarm or to his movements. He squinted and stared at each of them in turn, trying to piece together the night before and remember their names, or anything about them. They looked pretty good. He had amazing taste in people, even when he was so high he couldn’t spell his own name.
He had hoped Aaron, his favourite delicious and damaged soul, would have been one of the occupants of his bed last night but Aaron had vanished from the club with some random drug dealer shortly after eleven, leaving Richie with his pick of the rest. He had picked well though.
– – – – – – – – – – – –
Evan, a year and a day before the end
Evan pushed a lock of blonde hair away from his eyes with a calculated elegance. He was fully aware of just how provocative a gesture that was and it never failed to have precisely the effect he desired.
He glanced casually in the direction of the beautiful boy who was pretending not to look at him but was looking anyway. Evan was pretending not to notice but was noticing anyway. He knew how this would play out as soon as he allowed eye contact to last for more than half a heartbeat. It always played out the same. There was no rush. This one would wait. This one was both interested and interesting.
Evan had a preference for a specific kind of broken. He paid little attention to the people who purchased his wares, however well put together they may be, because what he sold was a tool for self-destruction and he viewed self-destruction as dull and unappealing. He liked the ones who needed someone else to do the destroying, the ones who would lean in to his touch as his hand slid around their neck or melt against his body as his teeth sunk into their lip. The ones who would close their eyes and breathe an ecstatic sigh as his fist connected with their jaw.
There was no grey area, no dubiousness of consent, as far as Evan was concerned. This mattered to him a great deal and he was nothing if not up-front and honest about his intentions. He always stopped when they asked him to. Or he would have, if they ever asked. Which they didn’t.
He had left plenty of them with bruises, some with split lips or blossoming contusions, even one with a couple of broken bones. Only small, comparatively unimportant bones though. They had always wanted it, welcomed it, occasionally begged for it. And none of them had ever, ever, asked him to stop.
Tonight’s potential was especially exquisite in his aesthetic appeal. The most delicious thing about him was how utterly dangerous he looked, so tempting, too tempting. It would be hard to hold back with one so artfully sculpted, to restrain himself from doing lasting damage. Evan recognised the thin ice under his feet but he couldn’t stop himself from walking on it when the opportunity presented itself.
This one had arrived with a group of people, all expensively dressed and casually wasted, and although he had spent all night standing with them, occasionally making a half-hearted attempt to engage in conversation, his attention had been focused on Evan in a series of subtle glances and gestures which said unmistakably, “I want to leave with you tonight”. The broken ones always found him. They always seemed to know how much more beautifully he could break them.
Once Evan had finished the evening’s round of handshakes, where product was exchanged for cash with such expert subtlety that the transactions went completely unnoticed, even to those standing within a few feet, he wandered towards the door of the back room to give Chance his cut of the takings. On his way, he paused momentarily in front of the boy who had spent all night watching him, leaned in close, carefully avoiding any actual physical contact, and breathed against his neck, “Wait here”.
– – – – – – – – – – – –
Evan, a year and two days before the end
“Repent, sinner, for the end is nigh! You never know when your time will come!”.
Evan stopped and lit a cigarette.
“The doctor gave me six months but I’m thinking of taking matters into my own hands”.
A stunned silence.
“Don’t worry, man, I’m fucking with you. But thanks for the cheerful thoughts. Consider my day happier because of you. Asshole”.
Evan loved to mess with the preachers. It was one of his favourite sports but it was getting too easy these days. There were just so many preachers, so much opportunity. He rounded the corner and almost collided with another one. This one was handing out pieces of paper covered in warnings and fear. He was young and looked nervous.
“Son”, he said, even though he was of an age with Evan, “I have something for you”.
Evan moved a little closer. Invading people’s personal space was another of his favourite sports. He arched an eyebrow suggestively.
“And what is it, this something that you have for me? Do you have secrets on your little bits of paper? Are you going to tell me something I’ve never heard before?”.
“S-s-son”, stammered the preacher, “I have . . .”.
Evan reached out to take the paper from the preacher’s hand and slid his fingers around the man’s wrist, pressing into the bones there just enough to hurt.
“Good luck thinking of something I’ve never heard before”.
He took the paper, crushed it in his hand and dropped it on the ground before sauntering away, taking a drag from his cigarette.
Fucking preachers. Fuck them and their warnings. Evan pushed his way through the door of the coffee house, leaving the dirty street behind, and made his way to the counter. He ordered a black coffee, took off his gloves and shoved them into the pocket of his jacket. He listened to the conversation going on behind him.
“Seriously, you need to come out tomorrow. Spend some money. Get fucked up. Get fucked”.
“Fuck you, Richie. That’s all you think about. It must be nice to have someone bankrolling your life for you”.
“Course it is. It means I can spend as long as I want getting high”, he grinned. “Don’t knock it. This shit doesn’t last forever. And what do you mean ‘it must be nice’? It’s not like you’ve worked more than a few hours a week since you finished your degree”.
“At least I work. At least I do something”.
“Oh god, this again. Look, are you going to be there or what?”.
“Fine, yes. Where?”.
“Revolver first. Then wherever”.
Assholes, thought Evan. Fucking assholes who get everything bought and paid for without having to lift a fucking finger. He wasn’t stupid though. He recognised the combination of affluence and decadence that paid his rent. It was a fucked up world though. Fucked up and getting more fucked up by the day. The funny thing was, he was well aware that the preachers were onto something with their warnings, not that anyone really believed them. Not that he cared.
About the photo
There’s not much to say about this. I wanted something would suggest wasteland without giving away too much about the actual look of the world at that point, mostly because I haven’t decided what the world this story happens in would look like.