1. Pallas

    Pallas Contributor Contributor

    Aug 29, 2009
    Likes Received:
    New York

    The Promises Made Then, The Lives We Have Now

    Discussion in '2012 Science Fiction Contest' started by Pallas, Feb 17, 2012.

    The onions sizzle on hitting the pan. She cranks the heat to sauté them, to stir them, stop, stir them, and so on in a way in which her mind is not present in the cadence. She looks to her mother sitting at the small dinner table, her slender arms moving enough on the old top to catch her attention.

    “Almost done, just need to add the spaghetti,” she says loudly. “Just sit back, mom.”

    As it has been for a long while now, there is no response as much as she hopes one comes. Every time admitting more and more she speaks to the air, speaks to interrupt the silence. At such times she is glad for her laptop, her tablet, her mobile to occupy with work messages, or a news or music feed; and at this particular time, she is definitely thankful of her precaution to have kept paying the utilities of this old place. She jostles with all the ceramic jars with their moo cow handles, and the cup holder that obstruct the outlet. She plugs in her tablet charger. The unit boots with a soft chime as she dumps the still steaming angel hair from the strainer to the pan. Propping down her new model visor to her right eye, she taps the ear piece to sync it. She finds any feed on the tablet, touches a random icon to bring up its window, and returns to stirring and mixing it all together, nice and even.

    The news feed begins, as it has been for a while, it is optimistic; with that hopeful kind that veils thinly, stifles that visceral panic unmistakable in the voices that come forth.

    “…it is day seven since the auspicious events at Geneva turned to tragedy. The whole world waits with held breath for the immediate resolution of this unimaginable development. The Hadron Cooperative is still assuring the global community that the strange field that you see here will dissipate eventually, and denounces all accusations of an uncontrollable situation and allegations of conspiracy and the withholding of vital information. Their assurances have done little to quell the growing fears of neighboring European nations, and largely the world, that has responded with condemnation and shock to what is officially being described as a simple distortion field, but no other details have been released or are known. What is clear is that what began as a grand discovery of Higgs-Boson particles here at the Large Hadron Collider in the shadow of the Jura Mountains has grown into a disconcerting scene with key scientists of that experiment still unaccounted for, and the undeniable daily growth of this field. It has already consumed the entire installation and sprawls quickly into the quarantine zone as an eerie thick fog. Anonymous sources have described how attempts to penetrate it with remote units have yielded nothing but lost machinery. Stay with us as we bring you continued…”

    She props up the visor to stop the feed, already knowing what the next segment, and the following one will be about and will show in looping nausea, as it has been for a long while with only the day changing. She stops stirring and stares at her mother, studies her as the pan has its last sizzle. Grimacing with discomfort, she brings her thumb and middle finger to pinch her temples, to rub and massage them.

    She brings a singular plate to the table with a small portion of her cooking, but returns quickly to the stove to grab an old rag, douses it, and wipes down the table, not realizing how dusty it was, how dusty everything is, stuck in its proper place, seemingly cemented there in that spot in the year that has passed since her mother fussed and stood over them with that particular modest pride in cleanliness and neatness of a hard earned home. The fork taps on the plate as she prepares a small enough bite for her mother who cranes her head slowly; seeming to observe with glassy dark brown eyes the figure that comes to her so often. She eats what is given, not finding any particular sensation but the fullness in her mouth, then in her throat, then waiting for more from the patient and strange woman that encourages with the word mom.


    Her tablet comes alive with the morning alarm, and she stirs in her old sunken childhood bed, her satin chemise and cover pulled down by the nightly tossing. She reaches to tap the screen and returns to her side again to peer out her foggy window, past the ornate iron bars to the steel sky beyond. The tablet sings the news’ chime and the feed begins.

    “…this is day eight in the continuing and unprecedented CERN disaster, many now calling it a cataclysm. Even in the light of a rapidly spreading field, the cooperative and its joint nation leaders still maintain optimistic and assuring. A joint military detachment has been deployed to begin precautionary evacuations of neighboring cities, as the quarantine zone is expanded and becomes indefinitely larger. According to leaked information that the junta discounts, the unaccounted physicists and engineers that performed the initial experiments were the very first victims as they attempted valiantly to contain what quickly overtook the subterranean lab. There have been reported incidents of violence as civilians and protesters have breached the quarantine boundary to demand disclosure, but some truants have come merely to snap photos, harass the military, and even shoot their firearms at the encroaching distortion. Stay with us…”

    She stops that feed and opens her playlists; to allow the meditative songs of panflutes to distract her. As always in her recently suspended life, she sets off that morning for a run; runs hard, fast, like few times before when things were as bad. She remembers these old places as if the years had not turned, the deserted warehouse alleys, then the tree vaulted streets that she walked, sometimes weeping, but long before that she rode a nice red bike, raced it against a bright yellow bike with bells blasting and laughing much with her brother.

    Her brown hair in ponytail whips back and forth faster as she is a bullet on the straightaways, consumes and blasts the breath from her throbbing chest; rends all that she can in the hot cauldron, thinking to thrust the bitterness out of her, scorch those shards of ice left in her by all the things that seem to chase just behind. She gets home slow, coughing, spitting slick phlegm and with burning, heavy limbs. She steadies herself on a low iron fence, and through the meshwork of fencing and drying copses of her neighbor’s garden, she sees a capped, and rather suspicious man sitting on her broken brick steps.

    Considering her mother, she calms her breathing, props her visor up, and steps right out to make herself known.

    “Excuse me, are you looking for someone?” she asks.

    “Uh…” The stranger stands but remains odd, staring, taking off his fatigue cap to bend the brim in his hands.

    “Well, what’s the matter? Hablas espanol?” she continues with sparked impatience, sweeping away her long fringe.

    “Uh…I’m just looking for the…the owner,” he says, his eyes widening as she comes closer.

    She stops, heart surges, and she makes an effort not to double over. He is unrecognizable, haggard, bearded, thin perhaps emaciated, he looms above her on those steps as a lingering ghost finding a body again. His hair is smattered onto his scalp in patches, flared and feathered at other spots, as if he has spent the last tired days held up in a trunk or curled up in some cramped back seat, but utmost it is long and brown, hems a tan and generously freckled face, dotted with hazel eyes, her eyes, her exact features, and she cannot speak because of them.

    “Renata?” he asks with tone that is almost certain of the answer.

    “Rey?” she whispers back, propping herself on gate door.

    “Yeah,” he simply answers, and waits, and waits more over the silence. She will not allow herself to break it, to be the first to commit to something rife with rank bitterness. He wrings his battered cap over and over, but she does not speak.

    “Well…how are you?” he finally says, meekly.

    She almost explodes at the impudence, at the unabashed banality of the words. She nods her head with hand at her mouth dubiously. Then grips her temples with her thumb and middle finger, grimaces in extreme discomfort. She puts her arms akimbo and breathes out deeply to the birthing sky.

    “What do you want?” she says plainly.

    “Haven’t you heard?” he asks with a slight smile. “The world is ending.”

    “Don’t be stupid!” she says, shaking her head, bringing down the visor to activate the emergency option.

    “I just came to visit mom, that’s all,” he says showing his empty hands. “Isn’t that why you’re here?”

    “No,” she nods, closes her eyes in disappointment. “I’m taking care of her.”

    “What happened to her, come on, let me in to see her.”

    “No, I don’t know who you are. Better leave before the police arrive.”

    “Come on,” he laughs. “I’m Rey, your brother, twin.”

    He comes down casually, almost jovially, unashamed to reach for her shoulder.

    She pushes his hand away well before he can pat her. “Stop, don’t touch me!”

    “Okay, okay. I just want to see mom. Let me see her and I’ll leave.” He motions to the door.

    “Leave now. I’m not letting you near her.”

    “Ren,” he pleads, “she is my mother, please, Ren, please, I’ll leave.”

    She is quiet, internally seething.

    “Just five minutes, please. You don’t know what could happen tomorrow.”

    “You think so?” she asks.

    “Yeah, Ren, please, I came all the way from Washington to see her.”

    She passes him, finds the keys in the potted ferns, opens and closes the door with just a one word. “Wait.”

    She leaves him waiting for a long while, showers, slow and measured, eases into new clothes, tends to her mother, combing her long hair again, braiding it loosely. And still she will make him wait through breakfast, through the ruminations that must resolve themselves somewhat before she can have a cool enough mind to open the door again. He waits patiently, determined, calm, not once considering to ring or knock, and places faith in what he remembers of her.

  2. Pallas

    Pallas Contributor Contributor

    Aug 29, 2009
    Likes Received:
    New York
    Finally let in, he eases into the living room, steps softly and waits for Renata to direct him. However at seeing his mother, listless and staring into nothingness, and not responding to his whispers, he steps quickly to her, falls as a heap on the floor with arms on her lap, waits for her to turn and assure him, to say his name, but she does not. He sobs softly, rises and takes a seat at the side she faces and with trembling hand cradles her cheek. Renata stands, overseeing, unmoved externally by the honesty that spills out from a brother she hardly remembers seeing in such a pose, perhaps the last time was when he was twelve or so, before he was too old and wrestled out of their mother’s attempts to coddle him, and wipe his face.

    After he has observed her long enough without change, save for a tilt in her gazing that does little to relieve his anguish, Renata directs him to the kitchen. He takes the first seat and remains quiet, and she waits by the stove with arms crossed.

    “Why?” she asks. “Why are you really here?”

    “To see mom.”

    “Well you saw her, feel better?” she asks.

    “No…Ren no seas asi,” he whispers.

    “How should I be then?” she demands.

    He does not respond.

    “Why did you leave then in the first place, tell me?”

    “You know I tried to contact you years ago,” he finally says not being able to form adequate answers to the questions.

    “What happened? I have always been here in New York.”

    “You changed your name,” he explains. “I wasn’t sure I had the right Zaruma.”

    “So I should have kept Hastings?” she says with a tone of severity.

    “I did. Not too many Reymundo Hastings’ in Washington State. I’m an easy find if someone looks for me.”

    “Why would I, you’re the one that left. And how would I know about Washington?” she asks, her gaze askance.

    “Oh, right,” he sighs.

    The silence threatens, and so he musters anything else to break it. He takes his cap off casual like, and pretends to fix his hair. “You know I tried to find dad a few years back too. I thought the old fucker was maybe in Argentina but I found him here…San Diego.”

    She continues with arms crossed, but now staring away, out the window into the neighbor’s kitchen, seeing only the top of an old balding head.

    “…by the beach, big house, nice cars…new family,” he utters with sick humor.

    “We have a half brother and sister…fifteen and seventeen by now I think. You know all white and blonde, not like us stuck in the middle somewhere. He seemed happy.” He continues, chuckling, sighing, more blathering, and not noticing that she barely pays attention.

    She thinks of her deplorable father, his ugly intents whispering into thought. How he must have decided in a brilliant machination to enchant her petite mother to advance his legal status. After some awkward and short meetings in their college courses, and discovering of her citizenship, he was inspired to romance her, accelerate her affections with feigned tenderness, pawnshop jewelry, and tacit promises from a handsome, fair skinned and eyed man. Unknowing of such attention, she fell, hard; this consummate woman of rich mahogany, fine and raven hair was surely otherwise to him, beneath and inferior as self adoring Portenos are known to think in exalting their classic European surnames and phenotypes. The unexpected long process even after marriage made him bitter, and soon roused contempt, and then neglect for such a woman and the unfortunate, and even less loved mestizo twins that came of his sudden and selfish instances of lusty fever. Her mother never said such things of him, but she imagined it, gleaned it from her mother’s quiet moments, and her own teaching encounters with men over the years.

    “…I went to see him and the bastard had cops waiting, had me arrested, told me not to come near his family. I don’t get that guy. I’m his son right?”

    She returns, hears the last bits of his little lament, and clenches her teeth, furrows her brow to think all these things, to see her empty and effete mother. Before the impotency turns to tears, she interrupts him.

    “Why tell me? Do you really think I want to know, that it doesn’t hurt?! I don’t care what that bastard is doing!”

    She walks away to the living room to sit with her mother.

    He follows her but stops at the hallway, his body half protected by the alcove and his head nodding in confusion.

    “Don’t you want to know? He is our father.”


    “Mom used to say that a father is a father, no matter if he is an insect, you have to respect him,” he assures if finding a great nugget of wisdom to validate himself.

    “What do you know of what she thinks, what she feels?!”

    “I’m her son, I know her,” he insists.

    “You’re a stranger, like your father!”

    “Ren, I lived here for fucking twenty years of my life!”

    Even though their mother has no reaction to the rising sentiment, Renata stands and goes to him, pushes him back with enough force to coerce him.

    “Let’s go to the kitchen,” she says.

    He retakes the same seat, and she goes to lean on the counter.

    “Ren, look, I know this is hard. I just want you to not be so angry. Let’s just…live for the time we have left.”

    “Live…so easy right? Just forget everything and live. Is that what ten years living as a vagrant taught you?”

    “I’m not a bum. People have the right to make their own choices. I was nineteen when I left. I had that right.” He taps on the table with a loose fist after every affirmation.

    “You didn’t even say goodbye. You left a nonsensical letter…and just hurt…a lot of hurt.” She cups her brow.

    “I had that right.”

    “Forget about rights, how about responsibilities?!” her steely eyes demand.
    “We loved you, even after everything. The drugs, the suicide attempt, the nights mom stayed up waiting!”

    “I know all that!”

    “No! You don’t.” She comes to stand behind the chair adjacent to him.
    “You didn’t love us back. You just left without thinking of your responsibility to us.”

    “I didn’t birth mom, or you, I didn’t have to take care of you two.”

    “Yes you did!” She leans over grabbing tightly the back of the chair. “You’re supposed to look out for me. You’re my brother. I’m your sister. We are family, that’s what family does!”

    “Okay, okay I accept that, I was wrong. That’s why I’m here now. I want to help.”

    “Help?!” she repeats with exasperation. “How can you help? Tell me. Show me. By giving mom another stroke. How can you help?!”

    He remains quiet.

    She continues, validated by the silence. “That’s right. You can’t do anything. In fact, you’re just another person I have to look after now. Look at you. You’re a stranger. I don’t know what you want. You’re like dad, I know it. You’re just here for some sick and desperate convenience!”

    She is close, nearly over him, and he sits with head capped again, hides his eyes. She waits, waits to pummel his response, and bare her teeth more, and even throttle him if he provokes her, but he is still. She steps back, combs her hair back, breathes in, breathes out, and walks away to the living room again.


    They do not speak for the rest of the day, she not offering a scrap of food or drink even though she fills the rooms with the simple aroma of steamed vegetables and brown rice; and he shuffling softly in his old room, wiping up the coat of dust with the door ajar, tacitly inviting, hoping she comes to talk coolly as she passes to the bathroom. She does not even pause to check on him. His stomach churning, he scraps together the eighteen dollars from his frayed cargo pockets and leaves to find a corner deli, to sip a cup of coffee slowly and measured, to linger in the aisles while an attentive Himalayan clerk eyes him from under a lit shrine with the common bulbous statue of the Buddha and a large frame of the smiling Lama. People come in and out, but he stays, buys a medium bag of plantain chips that he eats closer to the counter and melds with the people that murmur in anger at the only news on every band that shrills out from the stained cassette deck radio.

    “…in ten minutes, we give you the world. The latest development from Europe is dire. Reports on the wires are hectic and confused as news agencies lose contact with their reporters in sudden chaotic evacuations and mass exoduses as the field rapidly extends into Germany, France, Italy and threatens to consume next Great Britain and eastern Europe. NATO, Russia, and the governments of Asian nations quickly scramble all resources to develop and employ any and all possible measures to halt the ghastly advance of what is now considered to be extremely perilous…”

    He leaves, rolls up the chip bag and its remains into the pocket of his dull hooded blazer and steps onto the grey, cracked sidewalks again. Under clouds stretched as wool, and needling roof antennas gilded by the evening, he follows the path back to Renata’s intersection. He crosses the wide avenue, and quickly entertains and dismisses the urge to just walk away again, but instead continues on to the old home, smiles weakly at the play and scooting of wilding kids.

  3. Pallas

    Pallas Contributor Contributor

    Aug 29, 2009
    Likes Received:
    New York
    Renata having set her mother to bed after speaking, consulting with her, this time in whispers as there is now someone that could overhear them, she retires to her own room at the back of the house. The next door is framed in peeking light, she assumes he has fallen asleep with the light on as always, but she will not go in to turn it off. A bit later, in her slip and robe, she passes to the bathroom and feels a chilled waft caress her toes from under his door. She inches furtively closer to the door, and waits, not wanting to confirm what she thinks, but it comes, the distinct and pungent aroma of marijuana. She turns the knob and makes herself known, and he unsurprised, comfortable, sits on the window sill, astride and content with grossly thin and pale legs stemming from black boxer shorts.

    “I want you to leave,” she says plainly, calm. “Immediately, just leave.”

    Still sober and lucid from a long while of habituation, he scrambles on his wire limbs after her.

    “Ren, please wait. Listen.”

    He catches her in the kitchen and grabs her arm, and she thrusts him back.

    “This is mom’s home!” she berates. “You are still disrespecting it. All these years and still with that garbage?!”

    “You don’t understand,” he pleads. “It’s therapeutic, uh…palliative, I need it.”

    “Don’t give me that shit!” she says, pointing.

    “I have MS. I need it for pain,” he continues with pleading hands.

    “MS this time? Don’t lie to me!”

    “It’s true, please believe me. I wouldn’t do it otherwise.”

    She calms, goes to the counter and cups her brow in one hand. “All this time, no shame, no regret…the same…leave.”

    “Look at me, Reni. Look at me. I’m a stick, I’m sick, hungry. I have no other place. Please, Reni.” He comes closer, eyes welling.

    Her eyes leave the darkness, but do not turn to him in acceptance, rather they turn to the pack of water bottles she had bought days ago and forgot to put away. In one swift motion of her toned and marathoning body, she lifts the weight by the shrink warp and brings it down on his turning back. It glances him enough to send him into the chairs in a cascade of popping and thumping bottles. He recovers to only receive hammers of her fists on his back and head.

    “Leave!” is the only word she repeats. “Bastard! Leave!”

    In his weak state, he cannot retaliate, nor would he against her, but merely shields with raised arms. He catches a knock to his nose, it bloodies.

    “Stop, Ren, please, stop,” he begs, sobbing.

    She clenches her teeth, and comes to grab his neck, strangles him. He manages to pry her off, or perhaps she let him, but she continues pummeling him, grabs him by the hair and yellow shirt, and pulls him through the hallways.

    “Please, Ren. I’m your brother…you’re my family. I’m not going to hurt you. Please stop, Ren!”

    She does not respond through bared teeth. He resists a bit more as she opens the doors, but throttles him out with force and curse. She smacks his face, hard, and sends him to the ground, as the motion sensor light comes on to spotlight on him.

    “You’re all I have, Reni. You’re my family!” he says as she slams the door closed.

    He continues in desolate weeping a long while, slapping the hard wood door, begging and blubbering under the bright amber light. He gives up, defeated, he crawls to the big potters, huddles, clutches his knees and face, hides under the wilting ferns, whimpers and exhausts the hot breath to the cool night. She has not left him. She watches his small shape, peers through the Venetian blinds of the front most den, sobbing softly.


    Renata is awoken from her lucid dreaming by the soft shuffle and tapping of her mother. Having come to check on her during the night, and having stayed to ease the bitterness and guilt, Renata firstly sees her mother looking to her with more emotion than those brown eyes show, or at least she imagines it that way. She props her up with a couple of pillows and looks to her again. When mostly she would wander slowly about the room with her eyes, now they are steadfast on Renata. They are so intent, peering, unnerving, that Renata looks away, dons her robe and dashes barefoot to the door.

    She does not find him until to her relief she descends the steps to spot him, fetal on the grass and weeds between the garbage bins. She bends to see him asleep, still with the dried smattering of blood about his nose and upper lip.

    “No, just leave me.” He resists and pulls away his arm.

    She is more forceful, pulling and uprooting as she would the weeds he lies on. She holds him by the narrow shoulders and guides him back into the house under the watch of curious neighbors out for their early dog walks.

    In the bathroom, she sits him on the tub edge. His eyes are still down, avoiding. When she returns, he says, “I’m sorry, Ren…I was just stupid, selfish.”

    She pauses.

    “I...I just didn’t want to be here,” he says in sniffles. “I just starting walking and…I couldn’t turn back. Ren, do you understand?”

    “Shower. We have to take mom out for a walk.” She gives him a towel and her looser fitting exercise clothes; closes the door.


    There is nothing said on the walk. Renata pushes her wheel chair bound mother, while he, beside her, merely looks forward. His face is smooth, his hair is duller, having lost that oily sheen, but is fuller, airy, smelling of her scented wash. Turning the corner, he takes off across the broad avenue. “I’ll get us some coffee.”

    She stops to wait. She must wait. She props down her visor and scans for a feed, places her hands on her mother’s shoulders and listens.

    “…day nine of the event that started with so much promise, now turned global tragedy that has consumed billions. The truth is painfully clear that the field has not yielded its growth despite desperate barrages of conventional nuclear and new laser weaponry. It has consumed Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa and sprawls its way across the oceans, following the hundreds of thousands that escaped the continents on hijacked ships and planes and flee in terror to seek refuge. Untouched nations ready their borders with the full force of their military to deny entry and protect their sovereignty. According to these images from satellites and the Echelon One Space Station, the field will reach the United States in…”

    She closes the feed, her hands uncomfortably clutching her mother. She notices the bicyclists and the casual joggers that pass on the wide avenue, oblivious or perhaps like her, choosing to be so of the troubles less than a world away and every moment less so. Around the distant gentle bend, the early athletes scramble to the sidewalks in panic. She hears it now, the rising rumble of huge machinations before they erupt around the bend, a column of Humvees clearing the avenue of traffic for what follows them; loaded trucks, tanks, APCs, and behind them cranes, and giant wheeled tractors and flatbeds loaded with dark cargo containers piled so high as to snap the boughs of high canopies. The convoy barrels down, scrapes and smashes aside parked cars, and Reymundo now also comes darting out of the grocery mart with cups in hands, followed by the vendor that yells at him to pay. Invaded by sudden dread, he becomes a young boy again, and she darts to edge to warn him, gesture wildly with her hands to stop him. And exactly as a child caught in his distractions, he crosses into the street, but he is fleet footed, fast, holding the cups all the while to her side again, his eyes wide with exhilaration.

    They revert down her block to escape the dust and uproar, but it is a small respite before the thumping and chopping whirlwinds of tangent Chinooks, battle helicopters, Black Hawks, War Hawks, Ospreys and every kind of steely fowl loaded with more cargo containers, mechanical pieces, coils, transformers, and bristling with missiles on stiff wings. And beyond them, in the yawning blue stretch out blotting lines of black bombers, and jets slicing their silver contrails; they look on with mouths agape, glassy eyes, silent.

    “I guess we aren’t going out with a whimper,” is all Reymundo utters.

  4. Pallas

    Pallas Contributor Contributor

    Aug 29, 2009
    Likes Received:
    New York
    That night is a mostly sleepless one. More so than the swirling thoughts that keep them up is the horrid clamor that invades brazenly even from the distant coast where the military had headed. The booms jar even the bricks, the whirl of charging and buzzing mechanisms startles. The only one that sleeps calm is their mother, Renata going from the den to her room to check frequently, and then to the bathroom to sob quietly and muffle her whines in the noise. Then she returns to the den to sit with him, only to do it again when those crashing sounds overwhelm. She keeps her gaze away from him under long fringe and loose hair, but he knows well she is breaking, as in the early days she would stay in her room, alone, when he began to lose her admiration.

    Once again in the bathroom, staring at her reflection, deep into the tracery and flecks of her eyes, she feels that particular desolation come again, doubly so. What she thinks to be the mere phantasmal lint of the inner eyes and tiredness startles her to become more, broader, quivering strands that come and go from the air. She brings her hand to them and they mostly pass through, barley disturbed. She steps back to see them everywhere now, coming straight out from the wall and passing through her. She runs out futility swatting away the glinting strands; runs to her mother and calls for her brother. He does not come still after more calling. She goes to him, even more frightened to find him hurt or killed by such terrible strangeness.

    He is certainly alive, calm, transfixed by the spectacle that comes more and more into the house. He turns to her, and by his wonder, that nearly forgotten face of his, she knows peril is still a bit away and she is still safe. She goes to observe him closer, to sap more of his calmness, and peer out the blinds to see that everywhere, as shown by the amber of street lamps, the dusting falls. Yet nothing accumulates on the ground as she stares intensely for a long while, it is just the air that becomes fuller.

    “What do you think is going to happen?” she asks without looking away from the speckled street, and the people that leave their homes to cluster in fascination.

    “I don’t know,” he says, barely.

    “You know, tell me,” she insists.

    “How can I know?”

    “When you first arrived, you said the world is ending, didn’t you?” she asks in that way that does not need an answer.

    “It could be. What do all those channels you listen to say?” he responds with a bit of hardness in the words.

    “Half the world is gone.” She leaves the window and passes him to sit on the patterned couch.

    “It’s not Multiple Sclerosis is it?” she asks. “Rey, tell me.”

    He pauses, looks away slightly. “Just something in my head.”

    “What kind of something, a tumor?”

    “Yeah something like that,” he says with subtle amusement, “looks like the world is going to do me the favor first anyway.”

    “That’s not funny. This isn’t funny!” she asserts, angrily, finding again all the reasons to loathe him.

    “Sorry,” he admits, “I’m still not sure what I should be thinking, or saying.”

    He sits on the couch, but a good space away. “I’m sorry Ren. I don’t know what I can do. I’m just…very sorry.”

    She cups her brow and temple, hides away as long as she can, feigns aggravation before the tears betray her. He says nothing, uncertain, pretends he does not see, until her louder sobs make it clear. It all seems too much, so too much that surely it is alright for her to cry, even now, in front of him.

    “You are supposed to be the strong one,” he says with a braving smile.

    “We are supposed to be the same,” she responds.

    He thinks he should cry as well, but all he can muster is placing his hand on the couch back, just a bit from her shoulder.

    “You think maybe it is the end, that is why you are crying. Maybe all those people are not dead, just in a different place…waiting.”

    “For what?”

    “For the rest of us,” he answers, surprised by the bit of certainty in his own words.

    She looks up, dubious, to nod her head slightly, paying more attention to the dread; that tiny thing that curled in her just days ago in hearing the news to the whorl that now turns her innards. He loses the confidence to say anything more, and she surely loses that clinging optimism.

    Her dreaming is as disturbed. Knocked by the thunderous sounds, she visits those beaches where they surely come from, the ones where she splashed under hot summer rays, looking at the families of four while they were only three. Now her imaginings render tossed and twisted wreckage, firefights and chaos of multitudes, running in waves of multitudes dying. She wants to escape, but passes into the same frame, the same world, lost in a warren of such grim places.


    Renata awakes uncertain, confused, wrestles with the two blankets that she has been covered in, and calls for Reymundo. He does not appear, and she starts for her mother’s room through the unnerving plasma-like strings that crowd the air. Not finding her, she bursts into his room, but he is also missing. She is frantic through the other rooms, until she returns to the kitchen and sees the door to the second floor open. She ascends to the empty apartment, bare save for the standing piles of sheetrock, paint cans, tiles, and strewn tarps for renovations that barely got started more than a year ago. The eerie particulate lights her way through the switch-less hallway to the pull down ladder, extended and clear under the wide open roof hatch. Hearing his soft voice calms her, draws her back to the many times they would play up there and receive a scolding and a couple of spanks from a stiff hand or sandal.

    She peeks her head just beyond the edge to observe the two, their forms dark against the brightest dawn, their mother sitting in a kitchen chair wrapped in her pea coat, and he standing, telling with hand gestures and enthusiasm all the life he has lived. Renata stands and listens a long while, until the sheen of her hair betrays her.

    “You coming out?” he asks.

    “Why didn’t you wake me?”

    “Just had to talk to mom for a while,” he answers. “It’s strange, I think I had a dream she was talking to me, so I brought her up.”

    She comes around to look at their mother. Her eyes follow her daughter, seemingly with new intent, she stares. Renata props up the collar, reties the scarf to her liking.

    “So you really were in Alaska?” Renata abruptly asks.

    “Uh…yeah, I was there for a while, sockeye processing at first, you know salmon. Shit was fucking boring.” He chuckles.

    “Did it pay well?”

    “Yeah, but I didn’t stay long. I got a better job on a trawler, then got a great job just kayaking with tourists. Yeah that was in Kenai and Prince William…I liked that a lot…”

    “What is that like, kayaking?” she continues.

    “Beautiful, calm, so much blue…muted and calm, you would like it.”

    They continue, merely talking in the brilliant flurries, noticing more each other’s interest. She is glad to listen and he more than glad to repeat his stories again. What returns them to the present is the tumult of convoys again, of tearing helicopters and vehicles that dash and run along with thousand fold stampedes escaping to the west, foreigner and American alike. Megaphones come with shrill voices blaring, give the most frantic orders to escape like they do, and then disappear.

    Renata is heeding. She grasps and lifts her mother. “Rey, come on, we have to leave!”

    She is already by the hatch, and in the house, she is doubly desperate, finds her gym and camp bags and dumps whatever she thinks they will need, mostly bottles of water and packs of dried fruit, crackers, a change of clothes.

    “I don’t know why we didn’t leave earlier. Hurry! Rey, pack your things!”

    “I don’t have anything,” he responds, following her, attempting to find a way to grab her arm and stop her.

    “Hurry, here, get my car out,” she says pushing the keys into his chest.

    “Ren, we should stay,” he blurts out.

    She stares with derision.

    “Don’t be stupid. We have to leave. Don’t you see? Look!” she says pointing to the strange air. “Look what’s coming. We have to escape!”

    “Ren, we can’t drive fast enough. There is no place to go, you know that.”

    “It might stop. We have to save mom!”

    “How safe will she be out there? With all those desperate people, will we be safe?”

    “Then stay,” she says pushing their mother passed him to the front door.

    “She doesn’t want to leave, I know,” he responds. “She doesn’t want to leave her home.”

    Renata does not pause, she continues until her mother drops her feet from the footrests and stops the wheelchair. She comes around to place them back on, but her mother resists her with the little motor strength she has left. Her right arm moves, attempts to jostle forward and upward to her daughter’s face, all the while staring.

    “Ren, what happened?” he asks.

    Renata looks to him, tearing. “She’s still in there. All this time…she was struggling to come out.”

    “Mami, por que quieres quedarte?” she asks in hopes she will speak as well. “Mami, dime, por que?”

    “It’s up to you, Ren, whatever you want I’ll follow,” he assures.

    “Why does she want to stay?” she asks, again, again, fading to a whisper.

    “This is our home,” he utters, “the three of us are safe here.”

    Renata turns to the bright street, flowing with many things. Many eyes catch her own, discourage, and warn patently of the misery ahead for those that wish to outrun to the very last, and it is not something for her or her mother to be one more in the masses, trampling over the other in desperation and spend last moments in debasing anger or fear.

    “What makes us special?” she asks him. “Why can’t we be like them?”

    “Come on, Ren, close the door, solo somos los tres,” he whispers, and with clenched teeth and her hand crushing about the knob, she does.

  5. Pallas

    Pallas Contributor Contributor

    Aug 29, 2009
    Likes Received:
    New York
    She looks on through the window until the street is empty of people, and silence pervades, such a silence that it unnerves her and she finds her family again; finds them again on the roof, caught in the plasma-like winds of the second sun that seems to rise under the first, dispels the usual blue with the most vivid violet and coral, and soon trumps that with a sky undulating with every band of spectrum. Her eyes slowly come down again, back to the dull patches that still endure; across the sprawling lines of runneled roofs, she sees many like themselves that decided on staying home. Neighbors she never got to know, now wave to her, and she is certain to wave back.

    “How is she?” she asks, approaching.

    “Good, happy,” he answers, happy as well.

    “Is it really okay to be calm now, isn’t it insane? You don’t know what’s going to happen.”

    “I have my family back. I know I may not deserve it, but I have you back, sis, mom.”

    “Besides, that’s the point.” He continues, jumping onto the parapet. “That’s what’s beautiful, that we don’t know. Look how wonderful this is, do you really think it’s bad. Imagine without fear, what could be waiting for us if this is just the door! Mom understands!”

    In that instance, caught in the speckled whirlwinds, he appears to become many things, heroic and fragile, an imagining and wholly real, tragedy and exhilaration before the advancing great wall, but supremely a man trying to grasp, understand, mend, and carve just another inch of his own life to reach and join with hers.

    “Hey, get down!” she says. “You’re going to fall!”

    “No, you come up!” he responds, as he used to taunt from any high place he managed to climb to.

    “I did look for you, I did find you,” she is glad to say, “but I didn’t know what to do after that.”

    He jumps down and takes her outstretched hand.

    “I was sacred too,” he says with an embrace that throttles her heart, and burns away the last of the coldness that lingers. The field is upon them, has enveloped the world before them, and in the strangely slow atmosphere of this storm, they clasp each other a long while, three, in the present that fades away to white; calm, muted.


    Title: The Promises Made Then, The Lives We Have Now
    WF 2012 Science Fiction Entry
    Count: 6975

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