Meet Me at the Elephant Ears | A Short Story

Most of the time mom’s snores are a source of aggravation for me and my younger brothers. The sound oscillates between dry wheezes and wet aggressive snorts. Siam thinks she does it on purpose and Theil worries it’s a sign she will die early. I don’t know about either of those things, but tonight I’m grateful for the sounds. When you want to do some sneaking, being able to hear if your mom is asleep is quite useful.

Rolling off the corner of our shared mattress and standing, I pause by the back door and look at my sleeping family through the dim light of the lantern mom always keeps lit. They’re huddled together in the center of the empty room under a thin paisley afghan we found in a wooden trunk in one of the upstairs bedrooms. It smelled like rot and mold, but mom washed it over and over in the small sink until it smelled like nothing at all.

Theil looks like a baby holding a ratty stuffed lion and sucking on one of his long, slender thumbs. Mom’s got her arms around him and his mass of curly brown hair is pressed into her chest. Siam has rolled away from them both into the spot I just left. He looks sweaty and he’s frowning. He’s probably hungry. After all, he’s always hungry.

Mom shaved her hair off when we arrived a few days ago and I’m still not used to seeing the scars on her bald head. If I was a bit more creative I might think they formed the shape of something, but I find them unnerving to look at. They are reminders of what we’ve been through and I want so hard to forget for a moment. Tonight is a time of new things, not old. A time for me, not mom and my brothers.

Pressing open the back door as slowly as I can, Siam opens his eyes and spots me. I’m worried he might scream, but he doesn’t even flinch. There’s a kind of “be careful” look in his deep brown eyes and I silently mouth, “I’ll be back, promise.” He gives me a little thumbs up and my heart breaks. What if I don’t come back? I’m tough, but the world is unpredictable and he’s lost so much already. It’s almost enough to stop me, but then I think about the softness in Remi’s golden-green eyes. I grab my backpack and close the door softly behind me.

In the orange light of a huge harvest moon, the overgrown backyard looks wild and inviting. Elongated and exaggerated shadows dance merrily across the broken fence—huge fractured flashes of dark and light. I’m suddenly excited to be on my own with only myself to protect. It’s alluring to be selfish.

There it is though—selfish. A battle rages within my chest, thudding uneven and fierce. Guilt. I’ve never snuck away from my family before, not even when the world was right-sided. Am I wrong for leaving my family to meet this boy? Don’t I deserve a moment of being a teenager?

“Meet me at the elephant ears tonight,” Remi whispered when I’d passed him in the street today with my brothers. He’d winked and smiled at me from beneath his black cowboy hat and touched my bare arm with his warm, strong hand. Since that moment all I can think about is what will happen if I do. Does he like me in the way I like him? Will I have my first kiss? What if this is some trick to humiliate me?

For the past two years, we’ve been on the run. I’ve not had time to really think about how I look, but now I feel self-conscious and dirty. Letting my curly black hair down from the messy bun it’s almost always in, I run my fingers through the tangles but they immediately get stuck. It’s too late now. Either I go as myself and risk being wrong about his feelings for me, or I go back inside and wonder forever what tonight could have been. I make the quick decision to pull my hair back up.

Inching around the side of the house, barefoot in jeans and a t-shirt, I stop beside an old rabbit hutch covered with thorny vines and open my backpack. Pulling on my favorite olive green sweater and my brown cowboy boots, I strap the leather-sheathed hunting knife to my thigh. There’s no reason to be stupid and walk around unarmed.

Looking at the empty hutch it occurs to me we’ve not seen any animals in town since we arrived. Usually, animals know when the monsters are coming and run far away from them. We’ve taken our cues from nature, running from place to place hiding as they do, until now. Is it a mistake to stay in the false sense of comfort this town affords?

For a split second, I picture myself bolting back inside to wake everyone and insist we run before the monsters attack, but the feeling passes. No fight or flight decision is necessary at this moment. Everything is okay. Mom’s got my brothers and I can take care of myself.

Mom says she wants to try living in town for the boys. They are small and all the running has made them skinny and weak. Although we both carry them on our backs as much as we can, they aren’t growing enough and they barely speak. It’s as if the fear of the last two years has pressed pause and they are stuck at age three.

The truth is, mom and I need this place too. Even if I’m right about the animals, I don’t want to leave. We all deserve a shot at something more normal.

Mom’s become friends with a woman we met on the road who led us here, Mer. She’s a tall, striking woman with rich brown skin, almond-shaped eyes, and jet black spiky hair. Dressed always in black leather pants, she has a pink smiling cat tattooed on her left bicep. She makes mom laugh, a sound I didn’t even know I missed until it shined around us all like a bright colorful rainbow. Maybe it signals the terrible scary storm has ended.

There are about 100 people here in the town of Amal, which mom says is an Arabic word meaning Hope. Surrounded by a makeshift wall with ten lookout towers, there’s limited electricity, a doctor, and rumors of a school starting for the little kids. It’s as close to a return to the old ways as we can get, but I’m not ready to lower my defenses. Not quite yet.

Climbing over the locked side gate, I walk along the cracked sidewalk, scanning all directions for any sign of movement. Most of the debris has been cleared away from the town, but there are still objects in the bushes and gutters. I pass a rusty French horn with dandelions growing around it, a reddish tricycle turned on its side, and a pile of shattered Christmas lights.

As I get nearer to the place with the elephant ear plants, my thoughts turn away from the town and toward Remi. What do I even know about him? Yes, he’s cute, everyone seems to like him, and he smiles a lot. However, those are superficial things. Nothing of substance. I’d been so worried he wouldn’t like me, what if I don’t like him? 

What if he’s a bad person and I’ve been swept up in this fantasy version of him because we happen to be the only two teenagers in the town? What if I’ve misread everything and he simply wants to be friends? What if he’s going to kill me?

“Qamari?” Remi says softly from behind a huge maple tree whose bright reddish-orange leaves almost match the moon’s intensity. He steps out and all my fears of him fade in an instant. I can’t stop a big grin from flashing across my face.

“These are for you. I grew them myself.”

I take the bundle of lavender flowers wrapped in yellow ribbon and put them up to my nose. They smell wonderfully fresh and I feel myself inflate with an intensity I’ve not experienced before. It’s not love, I don’t think, but something more primal. A feeling of deep desire or maybe it’s the sensation of being desired. Either way, I really like it.

“I’m glad you came. I was worried you wouldn’t…I mean you barely know me.”

He’s not wearing his cowboy hat tonight and I can see he’s got wavy black hair. Dressed in dark jeans and a blue t-shirt, he smiles at me and then kicks the ground like my brothers do when they are about to be scolded. He’s as nervous about this meeting as I am and it makes me like him even more.

“I’m glad I came too.”

For a few minutes, we just stand close to each other in silence. The elephant ear plants around us have drops of water inside them—little reflection pools containing the splendor of the starry night sky. It’s like walking in the galaxy, I think.

I can hear his heavy, even breathing and he smells of something like campfires or fresh-cut wood. He grabs my hand and squeezes it. My cheeks flush pink as I feel myself growing warm all over.

“Can I show you something?”

Nodding, I let him lead me through the quiet town. He shows me the flowers which bloom only for “night owls and teenagers.” Behind a pale blue house, we find a cluster of evening primroses, delicate yellow flowers which smell sweet and tangy. Along a back fence, we find three trumpet-shaped moon flowers with a strong lemony scent and he warns me they are poisonous and to not let my little brothers eat them.

Finally, we arrive at a wooden gazebo near the center of town almost entirely overgrown by a dark green bush covered in tiny white star-shaped flowers. There’s a strong, sweet smell in the air and he picks one of the flowers and hands it to me. I turn the long stem in my fingers watching the petals spin.

“Night-blooming jasmine,” he says. “My mother planted these all over our property when I was little. One year I pulled off all the flowers and soaked them in a bowl of water to make perfume to give to the girls at school. Almost every girl who used it got a rash and mom was called for a meeting.”

I laugh but he doesn’t join me.

“A lady’s man then?”

He shuffles his feet and swallows hard. Turning from me and looking up at the sky, he talks in a low hesitant voice. I can tell he’s not sure he should be sharing so much with me.

“No. I was kind of an outsider, actually. My mom was like a town joke…an outcast because our property was covered in wild plants and she dressed a bit…different. I was trying to get the girls to like me with the perfume, but it backfired and it just gave them new names to call me. ‘Witchy boy’ I think was their favorite, but it’s better than how the boys treated me…”

For a few minutes, we are silent again and I consider telling him about how my father used to beat my mother every day before the monsters came…but then decide it’s not the time to exchange stories. I’d rather stop the discomfort, ease his pain, not transfer it into sympathy for me. Moving so I’m facing him I lean forward and wrap my arms around him.

We sort of sway in place for a few minutes until he pulls away and we lock eyes. I want to memorize the way the flecks of gold dance within the sea of green. I want to be looked at the way he’s looking at me forever. He leans in and I feel the warmth of his breath on my lips.

The sound of footsteps and voices pulls us instantly apart. Within seconds I’ve unsheathed my knife and Remi has found a jagged metal pipe. Crouching low, we slink together into the darkness of the old gazebo holding our weapons tightly in front of us. The voices are arguing, one whiney and the other gruff.

“I told you, man, I don’t want no trouble. No trouble at all.”

“Sure.”

“Come on…it’s not like I did something really wrong. So what if I took some extra bread. I’m hungry, man. I’m starving. You can see my bones. Can’t you see my bones?”

“Put down your shirt and walk.”

“Then tell me where are we going? Can’t you tell me? I don’t like this, man. I got a bad feeling about this. It doesn’t feel right. I’m sorry. Didn’t you hear me say I was sorry?”

“Walk.”

Remi and I kneel next to each other and peer over the railing of the gazebo. The dense plants hide us in shadow, but we are careful to stay low and not move. I can feel Remi’s breath beside me is calm. He’s been through much worse situations and so have I.

The shorter of the two men, the one with the whiney voice, is dressed in saggy, ripped clothing and isn’t wearing shoes. He’s got a scruffy blonde beard and his hair is wild and dirty. There’s a sour smell coming from him that reaches through the jasmine to sting my nose.

I recognize the taller man, but don’t know his name. He and mom talked for a long time the first day we arrived while my brothers and I waited in a room filled with toys and books. I think he might be in charge of security as he dresses like an old-timey sheriff with a bright white cowboy hat and a crisp button-up tan shirt.

Keeping my knife at my side, I inch close enough to Remi to whisper directly into his ear.

“Who are they?”

Despite his even breathing, Remi’s holding the pipe white-knuckled. Something about the situation has him on alert and it’s not at all about being caught out at night as a teenager. His eyes don’t leave the pair, but he whispers back as low as he can.

“That’s Tom, but I don’t know the other man.”

The smaller man suddenly stops and crosses his arms in front of him. He’s breathing hard now—tiny, wheezy gasps. Tom unholsters his black gun and points it at his face. Remi grabs my hand and we slink a little further into the shadows, but keep our eyes on the men.

“I said walk.”

“Please, man. I’m sorry. I won’t do it again. I promise. You can’t do anything to me. It’s not right. We aren’t monsters. We don’t do this to each other. I’m just starving man. Starving!”

“Walk or I shoot you.”

The smaller man begins to cry but resumes walking. Tom reholsters his gun but keeps his hand on the grip. They walk past the gazebo toward a line of boarded-up storefronts. Tom pushes the wailing man past the hardware store, book store, and pharmacy and then stops at a place called “Sweet Symphony.” It’s painted gold and purple and I imagine it was either a candy or music store, perhaps both.

There’s a strange muffled sound nearby, a kind of faint moan I usually associate with the monsters. I look at Remi, but he’s focused straight ahead at the men. The hairs on my arms stand up and I tighten my fingers around the leather handle of my knife until I can feel the ridges dig into my palm.

Tom bends down and picks up a rusted silver crowbar from a pile of tools laying near the door. He hands it to the sobbing man who only takes it after Tom nearly hits him over the head with it. The faint moan comes again and I feel my heart pounding and my muscles tighten.

“Open it.”

“Why man? I just wanted some bread. I’ll work it off. I’ll do anything. Don’t hurt me.”

Tom slaps the wailing man across the face and he stops crying. They stare at each other in silence for a minute and Remi squeezes my hand tighter. I’m unsure if he’s nervous because he knows what’s about to happen or because he doesn’t. The small man blows his nose on his shirt.

“Shut up and open it.”

He does. We watch in silence as it takes the sniffling man several minutes to pry open the wood from the door. Eventually, it falls to the ground with a splintery, cracking sound. The door has a red X spray-painted across it and Remi gasps.

“What?” I mouth without sound and he shakes his head. He knows what’s going to happen. He knows what’s in there. I realize by the way my body feels, I do too. They can’t have one here in the town. They just can’t. Remi smacks the pipe against his legs hard and then makes a kind of low growl in the back of his throat.

“No!” the man screams the second he realizes what’s happening. The scratching sounds of the monster behind the purple door intensify. Remi lets go of my hand to grip the pipe with both hands as Tom turns the doorknob and pushes the man inside. 

We don’t see what happens next, but we hear it. The man’s garbled scream is swallowed up within seconds by the sound of the thing feasting on his body. The tearing, clawing, liquid sounds make my body shiver and I realize I’m standing now with the knife pointed toward the door. Remi’s beside me with his pipe. We don’t make a sound.

Tom shuts the door. There’s no mistaking the wide smile on his face as satisfaction. I shiver at the look. It’s wicked and wrong what he did and there’s no explaining it away. Remi and I slink back down as Tom opens a toolbox beside the door and hammers fresh nails into the piece of wood.

The second Tom’s footsteps disappear back into the night, I turn to Remi. He’s still grabbing the pipe tight and he looks sweaty. The image of my family sleeping a few streets away makes me feel sick to my stomach. I was right. There’s no such thing as comfortable in this new world.

“Did you know?” I say more to say something than to really know the answer. It doesn’t matter. My family is in danger and I’m already planning on how I’m going to explain to my mom what I just saw. She will be mad I snuck out, but I can take her anger. There’s no staying now.

“There were rumors…but I didn’t want to believe it.”

“We can’t stay here.”

Remi turns to me and there are tears in his eyes. I can tell he’s been thinking the same thing. We could kill the monster, yes, but it’s not about that unthinking beast behind the purple door. It’s the fact this town is being run by someone who would feed it and keep it nearby as a tool. Someone who smiled after. Someone who is far more dangerous than the monsters.

“We could go together,” Remi says in a whisper. 

I don’t answer. The dream of kissing his beautiful face seems almost silly now. All I can think about is saving my family. I touch him gently on the arm and run out into the night. It’s time to move again.

Author’s note: I thought it would be interesting to explore the idea of witnessing a crime in a post-apocalyptic world where the ideas of morality are slightly skewed. They did this so well in the early days of “The Walking Dead,” and I think it’s where most of my inspiration for this story came from. I’m not sure I did exactly what I wanted, but I did grow really fond of Remi. I might want to do more with him in the future, this sweet “witchy boy” who is simply trying to do his best in a world torn apart by monsters. 


Short Story Challenge | Week 38

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story where the main character witnesses a crime. We had to include the words Christmas, almond, paisley, lion, pipe, scream, fade, French horn, inflate, and maple.


Write With Us

Prompt: Magic in everyday occurrences

Include: Krav Maga, touch screen, litter, vendor, doorbell, finish, hungry, aversion, signature, sweatband


My 52-Week Challenge Journey

Midnight Wedding Vows | A Short Story

An ant crawls along the edge of the tub, looking for a way out. I don’t want to kill it, but I’m scared it will lead others to me. It winds around the large bottle of rosemary mint shampoo he bought me after our last big fight and stops at the edge of my pink razor. I could squish it easily but I don’t.

I hear him packing things in the bedroom, loudly slamming books and clothes into his large black suitcase. I want to believe this is like all the times before but I know it isn’t. We aren’t coming back from this.

Sinking below the bubbles I travel into the safe place of memory where I can wrap my arms around his waist and slide behind him onto his silver and green motorcycle. I press my face into his warm back breathing in his deep, rich scent. We drive through the darkness to the little white chapel in the woods. Several ravens perch on the branches of the towering sycamore tree singing to us, serenading our love. It’s us versus the world.

A loud thud brings me back and I sit up and stare at the dark wooden door separating me from him. I wonder if he still has the black gun he held to his temple last night or if he threw it in the lake like he told me he did. I sweep my hand over the cloudy water clearing away a patch of white foamy bubbles so I can stare at my reflection.

“Are you going to say anything?” he says quietly through the door. He doesn’t try to open it.

I don’t have any words left so I stare at the reflection of my distorted puffy face in the water searching for recognition in my swollen eyes. He’s crying loudly as if he’s an animal howling at the moon; misery bubbling and echoing through our tiny home in the woods. We were supposed to sit in matching rocking chairs on the porch drinking homemade lemonade with arthritic hands and wrinkled eyes. He promised me so many things.

“There once was a girl who stole the Eiffel Tower and put it in her pocket. She carried it with her everywhere she went, her own little plaything she could pull out and amuse herself with whenever she liked. It was for her alone to enjoy.”

He has stopped crying and his voice sounds watery and soft through the door. I hang on to his words like I always have, breathing in his musically-rich voice, his distinct way of making everything sound romantic and mysterious. Poetry mixed with madness; the way it began and has remained. 

Closing my eyes I see myself swimming along the shoreline of the murky lake near my parent’s home distraught after yet another messy breakup. The soft sound of a guitar on the shoreline breaks my fluid rhythm. Surfacing, I spot him sitting on my favorite rock—the one with the smooth flat top filled with little hearts carved by teenagers proclaiming “B+W forever” or “CR+TJ for life.”

“Fig tree resting in the shady woods reaching toward the light…”

His singing voice is deeply rich with a slight hint of his British accent and I’m mesmerized. A large white dog with straggly white fur sits beside him and when it spots me it dives into the water. He stops playing and watches as the big hairy thing tries to lick my face, lapping at the water while its tail churns bubbles behind it.

“Don’t mind Brutus,” he calls to me. “Like me, he can’t resist the allure of beauty in the water. Tell me, are you a mermaid?”

I couldn’t speak for a long time. I’d never met anyone like this lanky man with a head full of curly hair and eyes as bright and deep as the rainbow moon labradorite stone I wear around my neck. I was enchanted from the start.

“The world missed the Eiffel Tower. They put up posters asking for anyone with information to please come forth, but nobody did for the girl was careful. She cradled it tight to her body at night, only bringing it out when she was sure nobody else would know. It was her secret.”

The last word he spits at me through the door, banging his fist for emphasis. Yes, I know this story. He’s still angry about the pale pink envelope he found stuck in my copy of “The Ocean at the End of the Lane.” It was never a problem with love between us but with secrets. He wanted to hold them all and I wanted to protect him.

“I wish you’d never found the letter,” I say.

He slams his fists into the door several more times and screams. This wildness usually presses me against the wall, bites my shoulders, and fiercely presses our lips together. Now it’s mutated into undulating wails of anguish and anger. He screams and screams. The ant has disappeared and I wonder if it jumped under the water to escape the sound.

I cover my ears and think about the day Brutus died. I found my love wrapped in a dark green wool blanket under the willow tree beside the still lake water. For the next two days, he didn’t move—refusing food, water, and my touch. It was his way—go inside himself or explode. There are no grey areas within him. For someone so beautifully expressive and poetic, it makes no sense to me he can be so black and white.

He’s gone silent and I hear the door creak as he leans his body against the thin wood. When he speaks the sound oozes toward me like spilled toxic honey. I shouldn’t listen but I do. I let the words seep deep into me.

“The day you promised would never come has arrived. You swore with all you are to never do this to me, but your words were lies. You killed the last buffalo, shot it with your pretty little shotgun and now the world shall never see it again.”

“No,” I say into the cold bath water. “I never lied to you.”

He’s not there. I follow the sound of his steel-toed boots walking through the house back and forth; our cozy cabin we’ve slowly made our own with paintings, piles of books, and squishy chairs made for two. He slams the front door and I jump gasping for air. I’ve been holding my breath.

The sputtering sound of his old red pickup truck makes me bolt out of the water. I run wet and naked out the front door to catch a glimpse of the rusted bumper disappearing into the dense forest of tall pine trees. I don’t breathe as I listen for the sound of him turning around and returning. It doesn’t come.

Several black birds circle the woods above me. Are they the ravens who witnessed our nuptials in the woods? Could they be here to witness our end? The sun creeps down the tree line releasing the swirling night winds blowing in from the far away ocean. Shivering, I fall onto the wooden porch and pull my legs up to my chest. He will be back. He always comes back.

I cry into the splintered wood. We are going to sand it down and repaint it this summer a soft sandy brown color. I rub my palms into the reddish splintery wood until one embeds itself into the palm of my hand. I stare at it and wonder if it symbolizes something.

Closing my eyes tight I travel back to our night. He pulls a bouquet of flowers from his oily dark brown saddlebag; a dozen pink, yellow, and white tulips tied together with a piece of soft brown leather. I hold them in my hands as we stand on the church steps under a vast dark sky of bright stars. He kisses my neck and a breeze blows my lacy white dress around my knees.

“Happiness, cheer, and forgiveness I give to you among the witnesses of the night,” he says. “May our forever be like this forgotten chapel, sacred and wild.”

I pick at the splinter, grabbing at it with the tips of my pointer and thumb. The weathered steeple leaned to one side and I wonder if it’s fallen now, blown to the ground during the big storm we had last month. It’s home to the animals anyway and they don’t care if it’s vertical or horizontal. Its bones will continue to provide shelter and nesting material for far longer than it was a place of worship hidden in the unforgiving woods.

A dark bird swoops from the trees grabbing at a tiny shadow scurrying out from behind the woodpile. I think I hear a tiny squeak and picture a fluffy grey mother mouse leaving behind her nest of too-naked pink babies. The tears I thought had dried up come again but the sound of his truck doesn’t.

He burned the pink letter in the fireplace while I stood beside him. I watched it curl up and fade into ash. The only remnant of my life before him I’d stowed away, my mother’s words scrawled out in thick, black ink. Her words of love and concern. Her words of anger and hurt. He burned them as he had all my things the night we moved here.

“Don’t let him erase who you are,” he quoted back at me. “Don’t let him take my beautiful girl from this world and tuck her away into the wilderness like a caged bird.”

Holding the black handgun against his left temple he made me convince him I didn’t believe her words. I tried to do so, over and over, but he saw the pain in my eyes and knew the truth. He was incapable of sharing me with others, and I missed my mother and my friends. I paid a price for loving him and he decided it was too much and he must leave. I fought to convince him to change his mind, but he would not. Black and white.

Pulling myself from the porch I stagger into the dark, quiet house. I see the empty places where he took things, gap-toothed holes punched into our singular woven life. He’s never taken things when he’s left before. I suck in the thick air and it feels like being in the middle of a forest fire, crackling heat breaking all around me.

Falling to the floor again, I pull his soft grey blanket from the light blue loveseat and press it around my shivering body. You want this, I tell myself. You need him to leave because you’ll never have the courage to walk away by yourself. You want this. You need this.

I force myself to focus on how his brilliant eyes would cloud over when he’d get angry or sad. All the hurts of his life, the abuses inflicted on him through his childhood, and the tortures of his teenage years, would turn into a visible mist encasing and transfiguring him into a shadow of himself—a monster. He’d stagger around, his feet forgetting how big they were, kicking anything in his way.

“You never loved me,” he’d say. “You are like all the rest.”

I’d never know how long these transformations would last, these stormy tempest-torn moments he’d become someone else. It was best to go for a swim or a long hike, leaving him to splinter wood with his well-worn ax or throw shiny knives into the trees behind the old barn. To stay was to fight against a stranger who couldn’t see me. It wasn’t a fight I could win.

I stagger to the bathroom and rinse myself off in the shower before drinking an entire bottle of red wine and slipping under the soft covers of our bed. The smell of him surrounds me and I fall asleep telling myself he will return tomorrow and it will be different this time. The rainbow after the storm will streak across the sky and he will be back within my arms free of the misty madness forever.

A sound outside wakes me. He’s back. I run into the bathroom and rinse my mouth with mouthwash and run a brush through my tangled blonde hair. I’m wearing the one shirt he left behind, a long blue flannel that reaches mid-thigh. My thick, strong legs look good in the golden light streaming in from the bathroom window.

Unbuttoning the top three buttons, I splash some rose oil onto my breasts and under my arms. My body vibrates with anticipation of his electric touch. I slither into the living room smiling and panting but find it empty. He’s not here.

There’s a low moan outside followed by a thumping and scratching sound. It reminds me of the time a rabid dog took refuge in a dilapidated barn with broken legs. It still crawled toward us, foaming and feverish. I’d fetched the shotgun from under the bed and left when he’d shot it. We both cried as we buried it under the moonlight.

Climbing onto the couch I peer through the faded yellow curtains. There’s no sign of his truck, but there’s a large shape at the foot of the porch steps roughly the size of a man. I can’t make out any details, but it’s writhing and crawling. The sound of the moan comes again, a deep guttural sound followed by the sound of nails scraping on wood.

What if it’s him? Maybe he had an accident in his truck and he was forced to crawl through the woods injured toward me. While I slept warm and intoxicated in our bed he could have been struggling to stay alive. Guilt burns my cheeks red as fire.

I throw open the front door and the horrible sour smell of death blows into my face as the creature at the bottom of the steps raises its head as if to see me, except there are no eyes, only inky black crusted holes. It opens and closes its mouth with a sickening clicking sound of teeth on teeth.

I scream and it quickens its movements, clawing at the wooden steps towards me. It has exposed bones for legs with no feet. The sharp broken-off bones dig into the ground trying to get leverage to propel it up the stairs. I scream again and slam the door shut. 

Monster. Zombie. Undead. This must be a nightmare. I splash water on my face from the kitchen sink as the sound of the thing moaning and moving continues. A loud thump tells me it has made progress and is getting closer.

I pull on a pair of jeans and my faded brown boots. Laying on my stomach I find the shotgun still under his side of the bed. It was his grandfather’s and the fact he left it behind tells me he either plans to return or he knew I might need it. Either way, I hold it across my chest and return to the living room.

The 12 gauge shells are in a box on the bookshelf made to look like three old books sitting together. As I pull it down and load the gun, I remember him trying to convince me that learning to shoot is part of living in the woods. When I’d still fought him on it, he told me he’d had a nightmare where I’d been torn to shreds by a wild animal. He begged and begged until I finally relented.

The prophetic poetry of this moment brings tears to my eyes and I can’t help thinking I’ll never be loved the way he loved me again. He’d move the world to save me. Would I do the same for him?

The moaning sound rises as I inch open the door holding the end of the gun snug against my shoulder and focusing on keeping my knees flexed. The horrible thing has made its way to the third step and when it senses me it quickens its movements. There’s nothing natural about how fast it is and I aim at its head and shoot. I’m surprised by how little I hesitate and how easily I absorb the recoil.

It slides down the stairs landing in a motionless heap on the ground. Its chest lays splayed open, a twisted mass of raw flesh and bone. It reminds me of a computer I saw laying in a ditch on the side of the road once—a discarded heap of tangled wires and splintered metal. Motherboard exposed. This thing had a mother.

I scream and the sound echoes in the woods around me and is answered by the call of hundreds of birds circling the morning sky. I’m alone out here and wonder if the shot and my cries are calling more of these things to me. I cover my mouth as a wolf howls in the distance—awake at dawn as confused as me as to what’s going on.

I kick the now twice-dead thing on the ground to make sure it doesn’t move. It makes a squishy sound and leaves a wet mark on my boot. I gag.

Has the end just begun or has it been raging on while I’ve been tucked away from the world in my love nest? Or was my mother right and it’s been more like a gilded cage? The tears return and I can see the night I pledged myself to him playing like a film in the sky. A golden cast of clouds and sunlight reenacting it all; forcing me to see and feel it.

He kicked open the chapel doors at midnight, swollen shut after years of being unused, lifting me into his arms and carrying me down the dark vine-covered aisle. Silver moonlight shone through holes in the roof and illuminated the stained glass window set behind a small wooden alter; a giant golden cross in a swirling sea of blues and greens. He placed matching homemade twisted-wire rings onto our fingers, symbols forever entwining us together.

“Let the stars, the moon, the beasts of the world bear witness as we pledge our pure love to each other. May nothing stand between us now or for all eternity. Soul mates through infinite space and time, we are no longer two beings lost at sea, but one being bound together in the blissful bonds of dutiful devotion.”

We made love on the altar in the single most romantic moment of my life. I was utterly devoured by him; swallowed up and erased from the Earth. I’d become a part of his magic; an alluring rhythmic line in an epic poem composed by and recited by him year after year. Looking down at the monster at my feet I feel the words he’d spun around me crack and shatter.

I return to the cabin and pack my things into my two matching blue suitcases. There is no reason to stay here anymore. I need to see what’s happening in the world and decide for myself what to do next. I stretch my arms out and feel the muscles of my shoulders and back loosening.

I load my old Mazda 3 and lay the shotgun in the seat beside me. I’ve pictured the day I might leave here for years, and although it’s nothing like I could have imagined, the sense of freedom still lingers at my fingertips. I take off my ring and tuck it into the pocket of my jeans.

Author’s note: You might find similarities between this story and one I wrote in week 8 titled “Sunset, Sunrise.” Both have to do with an end of a toxic relationship and include violence. I thought it might be interesting to explore a couple on the fringe, away from media and other people, at the beginning of a zombie apocalypse. I found their twisted love story fit neatly at the end of the world. I apologize if it was a bit too dark or graphic for some of you. Thanks as always for reading and supporting me in this 52-week journey. Almost halfway there!


Short Story Challenge | Week 24

Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story about the early days of the zombie apocalypse. We had to include a motherboard, buffalo, Eiffel Tower, raven, motorcycle, envelope, tulip, moon, reflect, and sycamore


Write With Us

Prompt: Memory editing wreaks havoc
Include: Jupiter, chocolate, domestic, blossom, ladder, steam, extension, pine cone, sunrise, tide


My 52 Week Challenge Journey