An anthology of short stories, THE FALL explores different visions of the apocalypse. Ancient prophecies, technological Armageddon, failures of government, a distracted deity, and yes, zombies, all have their moments in this collection, but so do love, yearning, hope, and humor. In the end, the apocalypse offers a path to new beginnings, even if it takes a course through death, despair, and destruction to find them.
“Emanate” follows the journey of thirteen-year-old Austin and his six-year-old sister, Sunny, who are running from an alien force who rely on young girls’ energy in order to power their bodies. As they come to rely on adults, they quickly learn that in the barren wasteland that was once America, anything and anyone can be sacrificed in order to stay alive.
Hero (December, 2012, Liquid Imagination)
One day. One moment. Everything changes for a father and son after they learn what the true meaning of hero is.
As part of the summer anthology from Elephant’s Book Shelf Press, “”Unearthed” examines the tumultuous relationship between two archaeologists in the 22nd century who find themselves in the middle of a military mystery during a routine dig.
In early Spring of this year a fellow Twitter friend, Carey Torgsesen, sent out a call for short stories. She was developing a new idea called “The Memory Project,” where a series of shorts would follow a main story thread surrounding a mystery suitcase containing strange items and photos. Each participant was sent a picture and then asked to develop a short based around the image. Here is my image and story. Enjoy!
21 seconds. That’s how long I can go without a breath. When I first started practicing, I could only hold my nose and snap my mouth closed for 15 seconds. But over time, I learned to push my lung capacity farther.
To some it may sound like a game. But today isn’t a game. Holding my breath may just save my life.
Twenty feet separate me from the edge of the compound and the guard towers. I lie across the dirt and count boots. Six sets. Just as I predicted. There aren’t enough guards to patrol all the grounds, so I’m safe. For now.
I combat crawl to the closest barrack. My fingernails, which my mom used to paint on special occasions, snap off one after the other as I dig into the red clay embedded in the earth. It’s okay. I don’t need nails. There aren’t any reasons to celebrate anymore.
I have 5.3 seconds to get to the edge of the dull, gray building before guards move their position. As I shift across the sand and dirt, rough shards of rock grate against my olive-colored uniform. The thin material has been my only clothing since my confinement. I’m sure I’m as ripe as moldy cheese, but I’ve turned off all my senses. It’s the only way to survive.
At the edge of the first barrack, I release a breath. Sitting up, I lean back against the building. My hand slides into the pocket of my regulation pants, and I retrieve my most prized possession. My only possession. The edges of the photo poke at my callused fingers.
It’s an odd family picture. My little brother, Ryder, lies lengthwise across the top of the couch while Mom and Dad sit side by side on the cushions in front of him. I’m positioned on the floor between their feet. Strands of dark, unruly hair hide half my face.
Aunt Kay took the photo, a scowl crossing her face as she tried to convince Mom to move us in front of the Christmas tree. “Constance,” she snapped. “This is not a proper family portrait, especially with that hideous picture on the wall behind you.” Mom continued to smile as she encouraged my aunt to press the button on the camera.
People always commented about the image when they came into the house. It’s not normal to hang a poster-sized photo of an airport departure sign in your living room. But for Mom it had special meaning.
I never understood its significance until I overheard her telling our neighbor, Mr. Norris. In her sing-song voice she explained she’d taken the photo on her first, and only, trip overseas. My father took her to Dublin as a surprise birthday gift shortly after Ryder’s third birthday. She told Mr. Norris she blew the photo up as large as possible so she had proof she’d actually been “across the pond.” She laughed, and I remember thinking it was as melodic as the wind chimes in our backyard.
The photo slid through my fingers. My hands trembled. A month after the picture was taken her first symptoms began. Six months later the syndrome took her, and the government came for us. Every day I hope the pain will subside a little, but every time I think of her, the deep wound in my heart opens once more.
A sharp horn startles me. The long, bleating noise signifies the arrival of the new “afflicted.” They have no clue of the hell they’re about to endure. The scalding hot showers. The acidic scrubs peeling away the first three layers of skin. The trip to government building number one where a tool resembling a small chainsaw takes all your hair. And of course, the loss of your name. Once I entered those gates, I was no longer Tatum Andrews, just #A4658. I guess it’s easier to treat us like animals if we don’t have a name.
The intake trucks rumble across the parched desert ground. Just behind them are the semis bringing monthly supplies. In the chaos there is also a shift change. It’s the only time the compound is frenzied, and it’s my only chance to escape.
I kiss the photo once and press a finger to my image, trying to remember what it felt like to have a ponytail or wear shorts. Could I even remember the last time I laughed or held a book? If I could get away, those things could be real again.
Shaking away the thoughts, I shove the photo deep into my pocket. I climb onto all fours and listen to the racing rhythm of my heart. Each beat urging me to run. I burst up and sprint across the open ground between two barracks and slide under one of the semis. My body skids across the rough gravel, ripping the skin at my elbows. Shimmying under the axel of the back tires, I hoist my body up onto the metal undercarriage. Unlatching the door to the metal pod, I ease my slim body into its dark pocket. I never thought I’d be thankful for hormonal guards who smuggle in loose women from the city, but now I’m praising God for their indiscretions. Just as I swing the door closed, boots crunch across the water-starved land. The creak of rusted hinges signals the opening of the truck’s doors. No turning back now.
The truck shudders as the engine turns over. Exhaust and gas seep in through the air holes, flooding my lungs. I gag and gasp trying not to cough. I shove my face into my shoulder, trying to block the fumes. My hand reaches for the bandana tied at my neck, yanking it over my mouth and nose. Now is my chance to put all my practice to work.
My eyes close. I begin to count, focusing on Ryder and Dad—the only meaningful things left in my life.
15, 16, 17 seconds. We race toward the gates.
18, 19, 20 seconds. The wheels bump over the cattle guard and into the desert.
21, 22, 23 seconds. I suck in a choked breath. The racing air finally free of exhaust and chemicals.
As the truck lurches forward, the pod sways like a hammock in the wind. Grimacing, I knock around inside the compartment, focusing on the worn boots covering my feet. My father will be pissed when he discovers they’re gone. I had to take them. I needed something of his. They were his last gift from my mother. I know he’ll miss them—perhaps more than me. Ryder once tried to slide them on his feet, but my father snatched them away, clutching them to his thick chest like precious jewels. The withering look he gave Ryder sent him running from the shack we’re forced to call home. Yes, he’ll be mad, but it won’t matter. I’ll be long gone.
Turning my body so I’m facing down, glimpses of the Arizona desert speed by through the holes in the pod. We careen over barrel cactus and dry creosote, and then the entire truck shifts. The driver doesn’t brake as he turns. The vehicle, and my body, tips as we go up on two wheels. The truck rights itself and slams back against the dirt before bumping on. It cuts a path down the unpaved road as lizards and rabbits skitter out of the way. I wonder if I look as terrified as the animals scattering to take cover.
I roll onto my back, my knees banging inside the compartment. Beads of sweat slide off my forehead and down my back. My stomach rolls with every dip in the road. Closing my eyes, I recall things from memory. Images and words appear in my mind like I’m seeing them on a screen. My mother’s favorite Emily Dickinson poem. The way Ryder sleeps. One arm and one leg hanging off the edge of the bed. My father’s favorite hymn he murmurs when he thinks no one is listening. Trying to calm myself, I reach in my pocket for the photo. Departures for New York, London and Dublin. This is the first step to getting there some day.
The loud hiss of hydraulic brakes fills my ears. I curse as the rear of the truck fish tails back and forth. The motion makes it impossible to hold on. I snap my teeth together. Using all my strength, I brace myself. The motion whips me around like a ragdoll in the mouth of a rabid dog. I slide my arm around a small opening in the frame. A quick shift snaps open the latch on the pod door. My body dangles just above the ground. Digging into the metal with my fingers, I scratch along the surface trying to hold on. The swerving proves too much. I swallow a scream as I’m thrown loose from the speeding semi.
The wind wrenches the photo from my hand. Time stops. My heart ping-pongs inside my chest. The picture floats into the air before disappearing into the dust devil churning across the open desert. Now it’s impossible to breathe— my last connection to my mom gone.
It’s not true what they say. Your life doesn’t flash before your eyes when you think you‘re going to die. It’s more like a rush of sound and motion followed by a blur of cracked images. Instinct takes over. I huddle into a ball and roll between the tires before being crushed. My shoulder jams into the ground. I somersault forward several times. Pain cracks through my body with each tumble until I crash into the trunk of a skeletal tree.
Flat on my back, I take in deep gasps trying to slow my heartbeat. The pain forms deep pools in my eyes. I blink, trying to focus on the sky. Thick, gray clouds pitch across the horizon. A deep roll of thunder signals a coming monsoon. The rain will be here soon.
Great. It’s been a while since I’ve had a bath.
Lying still, I try to assess whether or not any of my bones are broken. Lightning crosses the sky illuminating the purple-blue mountains in the distance. When I’m sure all my limbs are still attached, I sit up. Fading tail lights disappear into the dust. This time my lungs fill to capacity. I’m grateful for the oxygen. And my freedom.