Sarah tended her garden. Continue reading
Sarah tended her garden. Continue reading
There was a time when her world didn’t look like this, Sarah thinks. But those days seem so far away now it’s almost like she’s remembering something from a dream. Or a movie about someone else’s life. With a weary sigh, Sarah pushes an errant strand of hair out of her eyes and resumes scrubbing the pot in the sink.
She can hear her toddler, Sophie, squealing joyfully at something on the television, and Sarah wonders what it must be like to experience the world through the eyes of a toddler. Every moment full of possibility and wonder. And even the bad moments pass quickly, soothed by a mother’s kiss or the discovery of a forgotten toy beneath the sofa.
Sarah can’t remember the last time anything made her feel that joy. She tells herself that she must have felt that way when Sophie and her baby brother were born. After all, they are her whole world. But she can’t find that joy anywhere within herself, even if she digs. All there is now is unending darkness, tunnelling through her insides like a very hungry caterpillar. And every so often, it reaches up to whisper in her ear.
The pot is clean now. Sparkling in the glow from the track lighting above the sink. Sarah places the pot on top of the pile of clean dishes in the rack and slowly peels the rubber gloves from her hands. At least the kitchen will be clean when Josh gets home from work, even if she has no idea when that will be.
When the darkness first started to grow, Sarah had turned it outwards, snapping at Josh and reprimanding Sophie for all the little things. Gradually, it had turned inwards, but by then Josh had taken on extra projects at work, often working well past the kids’ bedtimes and into the weekends. Sarah couldn’t really blame him. If she could have found a way to escape the darkness she would have done the same. But sometimes she remembered how full of life she and Josh had been, all those years ago, and she wondered if there was a secret hidden away in those moments that could have slayed the darkness.
Sarah shakes her head. It doesn’t matter now. It’s too late.
As if on cue, the baby begins to cry.
“Mama!” Sophie calls. “Milo’s awake!”
The walk down the hall to the baby’s room takes all the energy Sarah can muster. Her feet feel like lead weights and the air in the house presses down on her with every step. She stops in the doorway and looks at the baby, who is sitting up in his crib, his big blue eyes bright with tears. Like Sophie, he has blonde hair and fair skin. And his father’s charming smile. He beams at her and reaches his arms out to be picked up.
Sarah carries the baby back down the hall and then down the stairs to the family room, where Sophie is still watching television.
“Milo!” Sophie dances over to plant a kiss on her brother’s cheek. Sarah lowers the baby into his playpen.
“Can you watch him for a minute, Sophie?” Sarah asks. “I’m going to go get your snacks.”
“Okay,” says Sophie, and she proceeds to entertain her baby brother with funny faces and ridiculous sounds.
With effort, Sarah drags herself back up the stairs to the kitchen. She has to fight the urge to stop and lie down on the floor—an urge that has been growing in frequency over the last two weeks.
Just a little further, she tells herself.
In the kitchen, she grabs the kids’ snacks, which she’d prepared before she washed the dishes. Then she opens the fridge and grabs three bottles of juice. She doesn’t normally let the kids drink juice, but today is special.
Back in the basement, she lays out the snacks on the table. Sophie and the baby are thrilled about the juice, draining their bottles in no time. Sarah puts her bottle on the end table, picks up the baby and persuades Sophie to come and sit with them, even though it’s not really in Sophie’s nature to sit still.
Only when Sophie and Milo have both stopped breathing does Sarah drink the juice in her own bottle. Then she lies down beside her children and waits for the darkness to take her away.
This is my submission for the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge. This week’s 1,000 Words challenge tasked us with the following: “use one of the images in this gallery as a starting point for a short story, poem, free-write, or musing on whatever you’d like.”
I apologize for how dark this story is, but the character of Sarah came to me earlier this week and insisted that her story be told.
Image credit: “Emptiness” by Cheri Lucas Rowlands
After the Ending
It was late afternoon. The sun dipping behind the tall buildings said it clearly. And so Coralie waited. Just like she’d done every day since the Ending had swallowed up all the normal in her life.
She remembered asking her mother if she could wait outside the grocery store. Coralie loved the strange little merry-go-round with its myriad of creatures, but her absolute favourite was the tiger. She would climb up on its back and imagine she was riding through wild tropical jungles, splashing through streams and chasing monkeys into the trees. Sometimes she would switch it up and climb on the horse instead, pretending to be one of those girls from the other side of town, with fancy matching clothes and shiny shoes.
On that fateful day, Coralie’s mother had smiled and ruffled her hair, and then nodded her consent.
“I won’t be long,” her mother had said as she headed inside the store.
Coralie had climbed up to play Queen of the Tigers, imagining herself thundering through the dense jungle foliage on the back of her fiercest tiger. She’d battled wild boars and saved the prince from a band of outlaws. And then the Ending had begun.
At first, Coralie had thought the low rumbling was just a loud garbage truck going by, but the rumbling had grown louder, like a chorus of angry giants descending on the city. As she’d scrambled down from the tiger, the sky above had gone black. Cars had screeched to a halt and grown-ups all around Coralie had started to scream.
With her tiny heart pounding in her ears, Coralie had run to find her mother, but by then the rumbling had transformed into a weird hum, and when she’d stopped to cover her ears, all the windows in the surrounding buildings had exploded. Glass had come crashing down on the streets like sheets of torrential rain. Terrified, Coralie had simply run for cover, squeezing her small frame through a gap in a chain-link fence and taking cover beneath some scraps of metal.
And then Coralie had waited.
The darkness and destruction had gone on for hours, maybe even days. Coralie had stayed hidden, trying not to notice how thirsty she’d become. At one point, she’d even fallen asleep, only to wake again in darkness. Eventually, the screams and the strange noises had subsided. But the darkness had lingered. On the one occasion Coralie had dared to peek outside her hiding place, she’d seen oddly shaped people moving through the rubble, collecting items in equally odd containers. Coralie did not peek again until the light came back.
When she had finally emerged, the streets were empty and the city was silent, much like it was all these years later.
Coralie had searched for her mother in the rubble, but there were no signs of any life and nor were there any bodies. Coralie had gone home, thankful that she remembered the way, but her apartment building was as empty as the streets. All alone, Coralie had tried to remember all the things her mother had taught her. Look before crossing the street. Never pet a strange dog without asking. Always eat your vegetables. Be kind to others.
Buffeted by thoughts of her mother, Coralie had managed. She’d found food and water and then found safe places to store it. She’d armed herself with iron pipes and pepper spray. She’d even trekked across town to equip herself with fancy clothes and nice shoes. And she’d survived so far.
In her travels she’d come across a dog, the only other living creature she’d seen since the Ending. She called him Max and now they travelled together, scavenging for food, books, and supplies in the daylight and cuddling close in the dark.
Coralie knew a lot of time had passed since the Ending. It was reflected daily by the changes to her height and her strength and her preference in reading materials. So even though she knew it was probably futile, every day Coralie walked back to the merry-go-round where it all began and waited for her mother to return.
This is my submission for the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge: 1,000 words. We were asked to write a story inspired by the following image:
Photo by Michelle Weber.