Saturday, August 7, 2010

bitter milk, pt. 15 & 16

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 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."

bitter milk, pt. 14

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

bitter milk, pt. 13

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.

bitter milk, pt. 12

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.

bitter milk, pt. 11

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.

bitter milk, pt. 10

"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."