Excerpt from Short Fiction Piece “Aftermath”

“…and then after Calvin left, or well didn’t leave exactly, but you know. After that I was alone. So I put a day’s worth of gas in the Chevy and just drove until I got here. Found these other ladies along the way too. Guess we all just missed the cut-off, huh?”

Jerrie laughs nervously, twisting her ring, and the other newcomers join in. The rest of us sit in silence, trying not to fidget our ruined limbs or cough too much. A young survivor, Cara, clears her throat, charred face fixed in a grimace. She’s been here even longer than me, having returned just two months after it happened. Cara serves as an unofficial moderator, as everyone likes her soft voice and kind way of speaking to people.

“Thanks for sharing Jerrie. We’re all glad you guys found us.”

Cara turns to me, and I straighten in my chair.

“Miss Johnson, since you were late would you mind maybe sharing an experience of yours?”

I nod, then make a show of leaning forward, looking everyone in the circle right in the eye.

“Alright then. I’m sure some of you have already heard the story, but I don’t mind re-hashing it for some of you newcomers.”

I clear my throat dramatically and Katherine shoots me a glance. Jerrie looks at me eagerly, as do most of the newcomers. I gesture grandly to my plastic leg.

“Most of you know I was right in the middle of it all when it happened. I was at our house in OB, giving my dog a bath in the driveway. Mom was doing some yard work while my little sister Grace pretended to help. Mostly she was just waving at cars, as if she were friends with everyone that happened to drive by. She’d always been a nosy little thing, trying to make friends with strangers in restaurants, you know. That kind of kid. It was a nice day, the June gloom hadn’t set in yet and there was a breeze ruffling Grace’s curly hair, making it dance.”

I reach up and almost subconsciously start to twist one of my own curls around my finger. Next to me, Katherine is barely breathing.

“My mother called my name and I looked up at her just in time to see the sky split open. The noise was unbelievable. Like, the loudest, most insane headache of a sound. The dog ran away– I have no idea if he’s ok. I like to think there’s a colony of dogs now, living on the beach, making homes out of the shattered pieces of sky. That would be cool. So anyway, I stood up, my hands still covered in soapy water. The breeze was gone, and Grace turned around to stare at me. She was about to say something, right as the sound stopped. That’s when they started to disappear. First my mom, her gardening trough falling to the ground as she dissolved. My sister started screaming then, still sitting on the brown grass of our front lawn. Cars were careening down the street as their drivers vanished, tires screaming like feral cats.”

The little circle is full of tension now, all the newcomers avoiding my eyes. Katherine is clutching her burned and nerveless right arm with the other, as if in pain. All the women who have heard my story before stare back at me steadily, some nodding and others emotionless.

“I started to run towards Grace, screaming at the top of my lungs. And it’s almost like, like this slowing down of time, you know? I could see the car, a gray Jeep, coming at my little sister. She was so small in front of it. I think she was yelling about mom, trying to understand where she went. I still want to know too, why mom hasn’t come back. But anyway, I was sprinting at her, I was almost there. I held my arms out to her and she reached for me. Her little face was drowned with tears and her nose was running like crazy. I almost had her, and then my vision went white and blue. It was like my eyeballs had been replaced with pure electricity; I knew then that I wasn’t with my sister anymore. I wasn’t anywhere at all.”

I blink and look at Cara, who is nodding solemnly. I lean back in my chair, slow and deflated. The newcomers still avoid my eyes, but they seem grounded in the way they plant their feet. Here at the center we like to cement ourselves in reality, keep each other strong against what might come back to claim us one day. It’s good that these new women are learning this already– it will save them in the long run.

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