the memory of what could be - it's strange what we choose to forget and get to remember
Winston closed his laptop and slipped into the stacks while the crowd at the library panicked - some were bolting for the exits and others were clamoring for light, looking for employees. It was a mess. He was navigating by the light of his cell phone and starting to regret not carrying a flashlight. Rosalind would be disappointed.
Someone shouted for everyone to calm down. The uproar didn't die down. Then there was a crash--a table being upturned--and silence settled over the library. After some further shuffling, some lights were set up--a few flashlights and a handful of candles.
"We need you to please be calm," said a very frazzled-sounding young man. "We've got emergency supplies to last and I'm sure the storm will pass soon. We'll be alerted by radio as soon as we know when the power will be back. In the meantime, if anyone has any flashlights or anything else that could be helpful, please help us out."
The man kept talking for a while, but Winston tuned him out. Everything he took with him for camping was in his car, which was currently being buffeted by hailstones which, according to a woman at the window, were the size of her head.
There was some more commotion at the window. He looked over to see a red glow on the horizon. Then the radio crackled at about the same time as someone shouted that the forest was on fire.
Nicole remembered when her and Rosalind had been in a used clothing store once. There was no food, and neither of them spoke at all. Nicole paced restlessly, and Rosalind sat quietly by the entrance, watching the outside.
Eventually, Rosalind said something, but Nicole didn't make out what it was...as if it meant anything. Nicole stopped pacing and sat down against the counter. And then...
Oh, why bother with these memories? Why bother with Rosalind? Why bother with this world, that leaves her in an alley to fend for herself? That abandons her with a litter of vicious, kitten-shaped piranhas, devouring everything, starving Nicole half to death?
Have you ever killed someone to save a life? Nicole had. The life she saved was her own. Does that make it better? Does that make it worse? You'd say it doesn't matter, it's the way of the world, but I know you think less of her for doing it. I know you rip the miscarried kitten from the mother's mouth as she tries to make use of her stillborn offspring. Are you really okay with the way of the world?
It's no secret Nicole hated the world and its ways, yet it's no secret Nicole would still lie and cheat to get anywhere she wanted. In truth, she was honest by nature, but it was her sad and wretched life that twisted her into mendacity. It was her sad and wretched life that was keeping her alive right now, cold and beaten, while weak Rosalind lay dead. Yes, Nicole deserved to live. She had earned that right.
Back at the house, the phone rang again and Winston left another message on the machine.
"The forest is on fire." There was a pause and a commotion like chaos sounding through the machine. "I'm trying to get out of here. I'm coming for you Rosalind, and for Nicole, too. I won't leave you two behind. I'll never abandon you."
Saturday, August 7, 2010
The storm had started letting up when Nicole finally opened her eyes, staring at the darkened skyline as the lightning flashed against it. She thought she heard a voice asking her if she was okay, but it was someone outside the store.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah." Nicole heard her sigh and slump against their storefront. "Just needed a smoke, is all. You know me." Her words were completely flat.
"Yeah, that's you."
They were unimportant. Nicole, meanwhile, was cold and bruised and bleeding and the world was ending. But she was strong. It might've gotten to Rosalind, but it wouldn't get to her. Nicole didn't need anyone or anything.
There was a long silence as Nicole kept staring outside. The lightning was still flashing, sounding off like the siren call of armageddon, but the flashes were growing farther apart. Still, one flashed long enough and close enough to illuminate the street and for Nicole to realize there were bodies lying out there.
After that there wasn't a single siren the whole rest of the night. There was just the wind screaming and the burning building and the bodies in the street. The whole city was shut down. Nicole shivered. She wished there was a jacket to crawl into. No, that wouldn't have helped. She needed real heat. She thought about heating up by the burning building, by a real fire, but you know what? It was warm and dry enough here.
For some reason, Nicole wished Rosalind was here; she wished they could be warm together. She imagined warm clothes draped over a counter and the two of them snuggled together underneath, sharing their body heat. But Rosalind was just a means to an end, and she was dead now. Why bother with a broken tool?
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
The storm hit the city while Nicole was in the alley, bunkered underneath some cardboard. There was nothing in the house - it had been stripped clean by who-knows-what. The sky went black and the rain started with only a sudden howling wind as warning that it had arrived. Within moments the rain soaked her through the cardboard. Nicole shivered and rose to her feet and, scared, hurried out the alley, then stopped when lightning struck a building two blocks away. She yelped and started running. The hail started a few seconds later. At first the hailstones were harmless and small, but they kept getting bigger - stinging at first, then bruising, then dangerously large hailstones - breaking car windows and badly injuring anyone still caught out in the open. Nicole jumped into a chained-up storefront, the windows pockmarked with hailstone holes, and huddled together, shivering, bleeding, and waiting for the storm to pass.
The building that got hit by the lightning was on fire now. People inside were running out the front doors; some of them ran out into the streets and tried the impossible task of dodging hailstones - some got lucky, and some just fell in the street and were pummeled as they crawled back for shelter. Others stayed in the shelter provided by the burning building, hoping the fire would burn out before it got so far, or perhaps that the storm would outpace the flames. And the lightning continued to flash overhead. With every strike another building seemed to get hit. Despite the wind, the storm seemed never to move - the thunder was always right there, impossibly close and impossibly deafening. And the sky was completely black. The streetlights flickered on, then flickered off with all the lights in the city. Nicole had her eyes held shut and her paws over her head. The blood was still trickling down her face - she felt it touch her tongue - but she was so cold she didn't move at all, except to shiver.
Winston frequently wondered why Rosalind put up with him. He had no right to tell her to stay put like that. The news was trickling in and it was not good - there were earthquakes everywhere, and the house could collapse at any moment. But he had to do something.
Of course, on the other hand, the roads were closed. He thought that maybe it had something to do with assessing damage, but if that's what was going on, it seemed off. There were no road crews, as such - or rather, they had come and left. These were blockades manned by some police and some officials who didn't say much. And the police weren't being too friendly to questioning.
Winston always had a plan, though, and when he didn't he always did his research. In this particular situation he had a plan to get back to the city - that much, he was certain, would be easy. He did not know what was going on with the roads, though, and that was more important. Rosalind didn't do research - she was just a kitten. She could get herself in serious trouble.
He took up shelter in the library and started reading. It seemed to be the place where a lot of the townsfolk whose homes had been damaged were sheltering, as well. He didn't notice the storm outside; he had more important things to worry about. Before he could start worrying, though, the lights started flickering and the wind started howling, and he started trying to hurry. By the time he heard the first thunder, he made sure his laptop was plugged in and he was frantically trying to save everything. Then the lights went out and, even though it was early afternoon, the library was pitch black. Then someone screamed, then the panic began.
Nicole walked around the block, and saw a house that cut through the police blockade. The cops paid her no mind as she ducked into the backyard through the unlocked gate for the high wooden fence. The backyard was a fairly well-tended garden with cobblestones and a picnic table. It was empty, and a sliding glass door led into the house. It, too, was open. Nicole went inside.
Back at the house, Rosalind was still motionless. She was dead.
"I drove back into town after the quake. Thought I'd see if you died on my carpet or something. Nicole with you? Is she all right? Do you have all your supplies with you? Stay there. I'm going to try to get some supplies and get you out of the city. It, uh, may be some time. I need to find out where FEMA's made camp, too." Winston's voice on the machine paused. "We may need to do some climbing. And some running."
Saturday, July 24, 2010
The sun had been up for several hours when Nicole woke up, stretched, and looked out the window to see damaged buildings, emergency vehicles, and a police blockade holding back a crowd. Yes, indeed, the world was still safely ending. She nudged Rosalind in the ribs. Rosalind didn't move.
She looked up at the sky. There was a storm on the horizon - a literal storm, not just a metaphorical one. It looked pretty nasty. Nicole considered moving on, but there was still the smell of food here. The answering machine beeped and a man's voice blared over it, all pathetic and needy.
"Rosalind! It's Winston. Are you both okay?"
Nicole was fine. Rosalind still wasn't moving.
If there was a soundtrack for Nicole's existence it would be a guitar, broody and apocalyptic - but only partly by design. Nicole had learned, thus far in her kitten existence, to not care. She was very good at not caring. Rosalind acted oddly, but Nicole only really cared about two things - her food and herself. She told this to Rosalind a lot, every chance she got, especially at the wrong times. Yes, broody; yes, apocalyptic. She barely even tried.
In truth she was happy Rosalind was gone. She liked to be alone in dark places, and the thing is you really can't be alone with someone else there. Nicole snuggled into something soft and fell asleep. She slept right through the earthquake until the bookshelf came crashing down. She burrowed herself deep into some sheets with the world shaking around her, hoping it might make everything all right.
Very briefly she wondered if Rosalind might make it home. Very, very briefly.
Rosalind ran after the woman. She heard her footsteps, heard them plunk against stable ground. The catwalk fell to the theatre floor with a loud crash and the tinkling of glass, landing where Rosalind had just been. She went to where the footsteps should've been, but the woman was mysteriously gone and the shaking got more intense and everything was falling around her and the only option was to wait it out for the time being.
When everything was still once again, she sprinted outside into the street. It was too dark to see if the woman was around. Yes, yes, she should be thinking about getting home, but she had more important things on her mind. She yelped out for the woman, for anyone, yelped out for attention and care.
She was scared, so scared, and nobody would answer her calls. So she ran instead.
There were fires and damaged buildings along her path, and off in the distance, the sound of sirens. She kept running, clearing her mind of anything except the rhythm of her footsteps and her breathing, vaulting fences and cutting through back alleys to shave off distance. She fell once, tripping on a milk crate in an alley, opening that scrape on her forepaw back up, but the time saved was worth it. She got home safely and found Nicole, who looked up sleepily at Rosalind before turning away and falling back to sleep. The ground rumbled again and the lights flickered out, and soon Rosalind too found herself falling asleep to the endless sound of sirens in the distance.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
It was dark. Rosalind and Nicole were snuggling against each other. Rosalind stood up suddenly and snuck out. Nicole blinked her eyes, stretched out a paw towards Rosalind, but made no effort to stop her.
It was raining outside and Rosalind's fur was completely drenched by the time she made it past Winston's lawn. She was cold and shivering, but she had somewhere in mind that she wanted to be. All of her instincts screamed at her to go back inside to the warmth, but kittens, like humans, only listen to instinct when it's bad for them.
Rosalind found herself back in front of the theatre where Winston found her. Rosalind used to live with a woman, a gifted actress, a lesbian, a hipster, a post-rock jammer wannabe, but one day when the theatre shut down she was just the woman who abandoned Rosalind on the theatre's front steps. Winston walked by and saw her and scooped her up and the rest, as they say, is history. But then, they say a lot of things.
The door was open, interestingly, and Rosalind walked inside. She made her way through the darkness, down the sloped alleyway inbetween the rows of chairs. She made it to the stage, rolled around in the dirt and the strewn, torn fabrics. Then she heard footsteps and she turned around and there was the woman who had abandoned her. Rosalind was shocked for a moment, enough time for the woman to reach her and pick her up.
"My, you're a pretty kitty." Didn't she remember those nights they had together? Did they mean nothing? Rosalind felt like hissing, felt like clawing at her, but she couldn't bring herself to do it. Rosalind gave into instinct and snuggled into the woman's arms. She'd lay there forever, taking in the darkness and the memories for as long as the woman would stand it.
Or, at least, that was the plan.
But instead, at the moment, exactly seven minutes past three o'clock in the morning on the Thursday five days before the end of the world--or, depending on your perspective, very late on Wednesday--the ground started shaking and the woman dropped Rosalind and once again, she ran away.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Rosalind hopped up onto the island in the middle of the kitchen. Winston had left out a small saucer of milk and some kitty treats. She pecked at these while Nicole swung her paw and slapped at one of the boxes clumped around the trash can. As Nicole thought about climbing into one of them and thrashing around, Rosalind jumped down onto the pile, knocking it over and tumbling into her. The two rolled a couple feet and hit the wall next to the fridge. Nicole hissed at Rosalind and batted at her face.
"Meow." Rosalind said as she worked her way to her feet. Nicole leaned over and licked at Rosie's ears. She always knew the right things to say.
Friday, July 16, 2010
It was morning. Nicole nudged Rosalind awake, poking at Rosie's belly with her nose. Rosalind stood up, stretching out and yawning. Her paw patted a piece of paper placed next to her. That usually meant Winston would be gone for a while. The two kittens groomed each other and then went for a walk around the house. They smelled treats.
Outside, an SUV had rear-ended a minivan, there was a conspicuous fire on a front lawn, and a swarm of locusts was buzzing around.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
As Winston drove home later that evening, he saw Rosalind frolicking in a random yard with another kitten, thrashing on a piece of errant cardboard. He stopped, got out and picked her up.
"Well now how'd you get out?" He asked her as he carried her into the car. She hopped out of his arms and onto the side seat where she promptly shook the water out of her coat. He drove the few blocks home and carried her inside. The meat and milk were both gone.
He heard some scratchings at the door; it was the kitten Rosalind was playing with. Winston let her in and she immediately found her way to Rosie. Winston got them a large saucer of milk to share and grabbed himself a bottle of booze and tossed the cap out into the middle of the floor. He didn't feel like caring right now.
"It's crazy out there, Rosie. The water in the Midwest just went bad. Killed off lots of people. They're rationing off the water and everyone's rioting. They're blaming terrorists."
The kittens ignored him, drinking up the milk like they knew the world was going to hell and they didn't need to be reminded of it every day.
"Well, at least they didn't say the water here was poisoned." Winston drank up. "I'm kinda tired of the news." He stared at the two kittens, having a grand old time just with themselves. "So, I wonder who your friend is, Rosie." He paused. "I think I'll call her Nicole." No response. They kept on lapping up the milk.
By the end of the evening the other kitten had fallen asleep and Rosie was rubbing her ear like she was strumming a bleak melody on a guitar. Winston sat, deep in thought, trying to force his eyes to focus.
"You ever feel like . . . like something's wrong?"
"I dunno, I feel like I've been in the city too long. You know? Like, I need to get out, enjoy the fresh air. You want to go camping? I might not be able to bring your kitten friend."
Rosie stopped playing.
"Yeah, yeah, I might as well go by myself, finish up that book, just me and the stars, yada yada yada." He staggered to his feet and pulled his jacket on. "It's nice out. I'm going to go walk and think." Rosalind gave him a weird look and he smiled tiredly. "Don't worry, Rosie, I won't do anything stupid. I know you'd hate to see me get hurt." He winked and ducked out the door. Rosie opted against giving chase.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
"You're so messy, Rosie." Winston gently rubbed down Rosalind with a hot towel, fresh from the dryer. The blood would stain the couch, but there were tons of other stains already. He'd get the couch reupholstered eventually. Meanwhile he had to get to work.
He scruffed at Rosie's ears. "You're such a good kitty, I really can't stay mad at you for ruining my couch." Rosie mewled in response, and he left.
The door closed and Rosalind licked at the saucer. The milk was bitter, but she liked it bitter, just as she liked licking at her wounds and tasting the iron as the blood seeped into her mouth. She smelled some meat on the coffee table, but for now she snuggled into the hot towel, closed her eyes, and fell asleep purring. She was going to sneak out and meet up with that kitten later, and she'd need her rest.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Exactly one week before the end of her world, Rosalind was wondering why patches of fur were falling off. She worried sometimes that she drank too much milk, mostly on mornings like these where she woke up on Winston's couch, hungover and injured in ways she'd probably never figure out. Most of the time she didn't think she really drank that often.
And one week before the end of his world, Winston Stewart was late for work again because he was tending to the hungry and injured kitten sprawled out on his couch, begging for attention again. She was always pulling something like this, and he was always giving in. He grabbed her a saucer and looked around for something to clean up the blood. There had been a lot over the past year. He always berated her or threatened to kick her out or call the catcher, but he never followed through and she never listened. She wasn't listening now, either; she was just licking at a rash on her right forepaw.
"You aren't listening to a word I'm saying, are you?"
"I'm late for work, Rosie." He sighed. "I suppose you'll want some actual food to go with that milk."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'll get a clean towel from the bathroom, too."
The grass and trees where I used to romp are blasted gaping pits and burning hellfire. And there's that whole burning sulfur smell. The fires retreat before my footsteps like I'm some sort of prince of hell--or maybe an avenging angel.
Some of the other kittens are red-skinned and have horns or whatever, and a few have the whole cloven hooves thing going on. Some are horrible slavering hell beasts. Mostly it doesn't matter what they are, except I try to get away from some of them faster than I normally would.
Some of the kittens give me weird looks. I don't know why. Are my actions that odd?
And then there was the kitten in the alley behind the shop, just wandering around, all white and shining and perfect. She came out of the alley, the hellscape bowing before her and the smoke and the flames crowning her like she was the master of this realm, and I just wondered which one of us was which.
"Meow," I said to her, and she looked at me like I was the worst thing she'd ever seen.