The Sign

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Out on the road, Chrissy felt stronger than she ever had in her life.

She was actually stronger than she used to be. Eating only what she and her companions could find, catch, or kill, she had grown lean and muscular; she became able to climb trees and hop fences like she never could as a child.

But her heart was not growing as strong.

Her heart was weakening and giving in to what she knew it wanted, which was Jeff.

It was always Jeff.

They’d known each other their whole lives and had been together on the road since the collapse. From their original gang of twelve that walked out of the city alive, besides Chrissy, he was the only one left.

Incredible how much things could change, and how many people could die in only a few short weeks.

They were with new people now. Nice people who allowed Jeff and Chrissy to fold into their midst and walk on with them, walk on to where exactly, she didn’t know. Wherever the radiation would kill them more slowly than near the big cities.

The group walked all day and only stopped when the sun began its daily dip toward the horizon. Then, they would move off the road and into the woods to make camp. Some had the jobs of pitching the tents and building the fires, and others had the jobs of going to forage and hunt for dinner. This group didn’t raid houses or loot stores anymore – they had lost too many of their own fighting for what was not rightfully theirs.

Chrissy’s job was to forage. She looked for berries every day but hardly found any that were edible. She picked up acorns that they could boil and blanch to eat later, they were a great source of nutrients and protein. That night, she got lucky and found a clearing full of clover and dandelions and it took her almost until dark to pick the clearing clean of them all.

She heard shuffling in the woods around her and spun around to see a bunch of hunters, Jeff among them, passing by her as they made their way back to camp.

“Find any deer today?” she called out to them.

“Sorry, but it’s not on the menu,” Jeff answered, and held his arm up for her to see his spoils.

“Tonight, we’ve got squirrels. And more squirrels. And one raccoon.”

“Ooo,” she said. Raccoons were delicious, turns out.

She followed the hunters back to the camp. The tents were all erect, a few fires burning, and Chrissy went directly to the fire tended by her friend Julia.

“Water is already boiling,” Julia said, and Chrissy passed her the bag of acorns.

“Great, we’ll only have to boil these things five times before they’re ready,” Chrissy’s voice dripping with sarcasm.

It was full dark, and Chrissy wandered around the edges of the camp, looking for Jeff.

They had been friends for so long, she wondered if Jeff would ever think of her the way she thought of him. She wondered whether he missed sharing a tent with her now that they were with this group and he was sleeping in a tent with the single hunters and her among the single women. She had to know; she needed a sign.

She found him washing his hands in a bucket of water, scrubbing away the blood from whichever squirrel he just prepared for their dinner.

“Hey there,” he said to her and smiled.

“Hey,” she smiled back.

“I have a surprise for you,” he said. “Hold on.”

Chrissy waited and a moment after stepping into his tent, Jeff was before her again, holding something behind his back. He swung his arm around to show her with a flourish.

A bouquet of white and yellow daisies. Their stems were sagging and their petals drooped toward the ground, but Chrissy didn’t care, she took them when they were held out to her.

“Thank you,” she said, taking the mangled and wilting beautiful thing from his hands. “What are they for?”

“For eating!”

“Then let’s share,” she said.

They stole away into the woods.

“I have a surprise for you, too,” she said and led Jeff into the clearing where she’d picked all the clovers.

“So, what’s the surprise?”

Chrissy pointed up and looked with him at the magnificence of the constellations above them – Orion, the Pleiades, all the other stars shining brighter than they’d ever seen in their lives, ever since the power went out for good.

“Aren’t they beautiful?” she asked him.

He shrugged.

“I guess they’re okay, but they’ve got nothing on you.”


 

This piece was written for Yeah Write using the prompts Pleiades, and “Sorry, but it’s not on the menu.”

Photo by Daniel Weiss on Unsplash 

Switcharoo

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Huck took a drag from his cigarette and then another one, deeper this time as he watched the beat-up Chevy pickup pull up to the gas pump nearest him.

It was after three in the morning, there were hardly ever customers at this time of night, which is why he’d thought it was a good time go out and have a smoke.

Huck grunted and stamped out his half-finished cigarette with the heel of his boot as the driver of the Chevy got out of the cab and hustled to the door.

“You got a bathroom?” the man asked, his voice urgent.

Huck grunted and thumbed toward the door.

“Inside, to your right. Don’t make a mess.”

“Of course not, of course not. It’s just been a long ride.”

Huck followed the man inside and watched his tight-cheeked sprint to the bathroom, glad that he’d already signed off on cleaning for his shift and wouldn’t have to be responsible for whatever went on in there.

He went behind the counter and perched on his stool, arms crossed and wondering how long the man would be in the bathroom when someone else pulled into the station.

Rather than strain his neck to look outside, Huck watched on one of the camera monitors and squinted at pumps.

An identical blue Chevy pickup had parked at the pump and a man got out, hustling his way toward the building.

He pulled open the door and looked around, his posture stiff and voice frantic when he asked,

“You got a bathroom?”

Huck pointed. “Down there,” he said, “But it’s occupied at the moment.”

“Won’t be for long,” the man said, the man who looked very much like the one who was already in the bathroom.

Huck’s eyes shot to the video monitor, watching the camera at the end of the hall where the bathroom was located.

The man pounded on the outside of the door, and Huck saw it open and the man disappeared inside.

What the hell?

Huck pulled the small handgun from the shelf below the register and slid it into the back of his belt. This wasn’t the first time on the job he’d had to break up some funny business in the bathroom on third shift.

From what he’d heard from coworkers, it was a common occurrence in his line of work.

“Hey,” Huck said, tapping his fist on the bathroom door, hard enough for the men to know he meant business, but not hard enough to really scare them.

“Look, fellas, I don’t have a problem with you lovebirds hooking up, but you can’t do it in this bathroom. It’s against policy. If you don’t come out right now I’m going to call the police.”

He heard a shuffling inside the bathroom, and then the door opened and one of the men, the first man to go in, stepped out.

“Sorry I took so long, buddy,” the man said to Huck. “It was a long ride. I’m just going to grab myself a drink and I’ll be on my way. Meet you up at the counter.”

The man brushed past, and Huck pushed the bathroom door all the way open.

It was empty inside.

His heart flopped like a fish in his chest, and he turned and walked back to his stool behind the register before the man had picked out his beverage, a ninety-nine cent can of off-brand diet cola. He passed the drink across the counter to Huck and then took a fiver out of his pocket.

“Lost my wallet,” the man said. “Something’s always missing.”

“Bad luck,” Huck said.

“Nah, my luck is usually quite good.”

“Need gas?” Huck asked.

The man looked out at the pump, smiled at the identical Chevys parked on opposite sides.

“Not anymore,” he said. “Have a great night, now.”

Huck watched the first man to arrive get into the second Chevy and drive off.

Then he pulled the gun from his belt, and, clutching tight, rewound the security tapes.

Photo by: Maarten van den Heuvel

This piece was chosen as one of the weekly Editor’s Picks on Yeah Write – I’m very proud! Thank you to all who read, commented, and voted for this piece – your recognition and encouragement keeps me going.


Enchanting Escape

PHOTO PROMPT © Roger Bultot
PHOTO PROMPT © Roger Bultot

She stood in the courtyard watching as the winsome decorations were hung by the workers, keeping to the edges of the wall where she wouldn’t be seen.

Later, in the darkness, when the nets were filled with butterflies and the skies above glittered with stars, it was on the Web that she would cast her spell.

She closed her eyes and pictured it. Everyone thought she would be performing a Blessing ritual, but she was actually planning her escape.

It was but a small twist of words that would forsake her entire people for an enchanting disappearing act.

Worth it.

***

friday-fictioneersI think this is my first time foraying into Friday Fictioneers, because I’ve been a lazy bum in participation lately, a little itchy with stories to tell.

It’s been a while since I have participated regularly in writing challenges, which is a great way for me to flex my creative muscles and just make sure I am MAKING something every day.

Not to mention, you now, GOALS. Writing more this year is the most important one. Writing, writing, writing.

I’m doing it, but I’m not doing it enough because I’ve been trying to get a handle on my bad luck week.

But, big changes were put in motion today and things may (hopefully) be looking up.

Onward!