I used to write a lot of flash fiction, at least one piece a week. Last year, when I wasn’t writing anything, people suggested I try flash fiction again and I thought about it but didn’t get very far. This year, now that I am writing again, I have the urge to flash.
I will be keeping my clothes on. 😉
I find it interesting that creativity seems to spark creativity and for me, writing small follows writing large. But I do remember that what I used to love about writing flash fiction was the break it offered my novelling brain. For an hour on Monday morning, I could step out of the universe that was all but consuming me and think about something else for a while. In another direction. Usually in a post-apocalyptic direction.
We’re not going to talk about why the first two pieces I’ve written in two years are set after some sort of apocalypse. We’re just going to roll with it. “88 Days” is inspired by Fear the Walking Dead only in that the picture reminds me of the LA neighborhood where the series starts. The story is original, or as original as anything post-apocalyptic gets. “Mine” is a return to the world of “Reminders”, this time consciously. I searched for an image that would take me there as I’ve always been fascinated by this world and wanted to explore it further.
I’m supposed to be hauling water from the creek at the bottom of the hill. The creek that didn’t use to be there. I don’t ask where the water came from; we’re all grateful for it, even though the muddy furrow it has cut through the Stevenson’s lawn smells like a graveyard. We boil it, the water. Even the buckets designated for the garden. None of us want to taste death on the tomatoes.
Raya once mused on the idea of sending an expedition to the source. No one answered her. No one wants to leave the neighborhood.
I think about it sometimes, though. Leaving. I think about it on days like this, when I’m ditching work to catch a little time alone. I sit up here, soaking up the rays, and wonder which cancer will get me first. Something on my skin, or a germ from the corpse water that we can’t boil away.
We had a cure for it. Cancer. For 88 days, we all felt a little lighter, even while we waited in line for our shots. People started dying before I got mine. Then the people who were trying to figure out why died, or buried themselves underground in graves with backup generators and clean water supplies.
I think about leaving, but I never do and probably never will. It’s warm here in the sun and I can hear the creek murmuring and chattering at the bottom of the hill. It’s peaceful. Here, I know where death is.
(I couldn’t find a photography credit for this one, but my Google searches did show me lots of lovely pictures of an actor named Matthieu Charneau.)
We visit the Reminders the same way people of the old world visited landmarks of significance. They’re not just statues; they’re, well, reminders. I’ll try to explain, and maybe while I’m doing that, I’ll figure out what the glasses on the floor mean. You ready?
Some of us call it the last day. Wait, let me capitalize it for you: The Last Day. Others call it the First Day. It was a day like any other, near the end of a month and a year that no longer has meaning. Some of us still measure things like days and months and years. They’re the ones who argue the Last Day/First Day bullshit.
It was the day the world ended, so if you ask me, it was the last day. Time did a thing. Time, well, it hiccupped, and some people got stuck. Sitting, standing, carrying a briefcase, a newspaper, a cup of coffee. There’s a woman leaning over the rail of the Brooklyn Bridge. There’s this dude posed like a ballerina on a rooftop.
He’s one of my favorites.
So, there’re these stuck people, and there are people like me, who are still here. We don’t know what happened to everyone else. They up and disappeared. We call the stuck people Reminders because, for the most part, they’re doing things we don’t do anymore.
Just so you know? People argue about why they’re called Reminders too. Some think they’re called that because they remind us of the Last/First Day. But I figure, if you can’t agree on what to call a day, then how can you have a solid theory on what the Reminders are?
That day, a bunch or so years ago, give or take a month or two because I slept a lot toward the end of that first year when I realized things weren’t going back to normal anytime soon… That day, our last day, left us a set of Reminders of who we once were.
So, the glasses on the floor.
They weren’t there last week.
It’s not unusual for Reminders to collect things. In Brooklyn, there’s one that collects shoes. Some of them are mine. The shoes, that is. I see them, I pick them up, especially when there’s just one. I keep them in a box and I have a vague sort of plan for when I find the mate. I do see pairs of shoes, but I don’t pick those up because I know someone left them behind when they disappeared. The places where lots of people were like Times Square? You don’t want to go there. Well, not back then you didn’t. It was full of shoes and clothes and, just, stuff. The stuff people left behind. We used to collect some of it, like a good pair of shoes that fit, a dope watch, a coat that looked warm. But knowing someone had been wearing it when they disappeared proved too much of a sticking point for me. I couldn’t wear any of it without feeling like I was going to fade out. I get my clothes from stores. There are enough clothes in the stores to last me and the few of us still roaming these city streets until the end of time.
Food’s another matter, but we’re here to talk about the glasses.
There’s a Reminder right at the edge of Times Square. He’s sitting at a café table, and it’s funny because I don’t really remember there being tables there, but I didn’t head up that way too often. Anyway, he’s sitting there reading a paper and over the years, he’s collected more papers. They’ve mostly got the same date. They’re from that day.
The thing that bugs me about the glasses, aside from the fact they weren’t here last week, is that I thought I was the only person who knew this Reminder was here. We share this stuff sometimes. There’s a map that goes ’round. Sunny started it. The map goes ’round and if you’ve found a new Reminder, you add it to the map. I hadn’t added this one yet because I wanted a bit more time with him. You don’t get a lot of them indoors. I mean, I can’t state that definitively because we don’t spend a lot of time going through houses. Not really. We did at first. I mean, who wasn’t going to check out the Dakota Building after everyone left?
It was locked up tight and I didn’t want to be the one who broke the glass. Someone did, a while later. I never went inside. Didn’t seem special after that.
This Reminder is way out of the way, though. They had this little farm in Battery Park and there’s this little barn type thing hidden behind one of the trees. I like the farm. You can sometimes find something growing there. Something new, something fresh. I never went in the barn, though, until the day it rained. I hurried inside and there he was, sitting up the end, looking out the window, the gray light glinting off his glasses.
At first, I didn’t think he was a Reminder. He didn’t feel like the others and it worried me that I’d been visiting the garden for so long and that he’d been there, watching me through the window, unseen. Then I worried that maybe he hadn’t always been there and that maybe people were still getting stuck. I mean, it could happen. How would we know? There aren’t a lot of us and people sometimes disappear. They just don’t come back.
I’d never seen anyone I know get stuck, though, so…
I like visiting on sunny days best because the way he’s sitting, it’s like he’s meant to be there. With the sun on his face. And I think it wouldn’t be such a bad place to get stuck. To be inside and sort of sheltered. To be able to watch the rain and listen to the wind and to feel the sun.
Whether Reminders feel anything is a question for the Last/First Day people. I don’t think it matters one way of the other, but I like to think they can. That it’s not so bad being like that. I mean, people come to visit, don’t they?
The glasses, though? They mean, well, they mean someone else has been here. My Reminder has been found. They mean he’s not just mine anymore. And, here’s the thing, why I haven’t told anyone he’s here. It’s not just that I liked having one of my own. A Reminder to visit quietly and secretly. It’s that I haven’t had the courage to look at his face yet.
I have a feeling I did know him. Knew him. It’s his hair and the glasses, the ones perched on his nose. If I close my eyes, I can see him pushing them back up. The way the sun shone off them, blinding me for a second. I can see those glasses coming off and getting caught in his hair. Me reaching up to take them and put them on the floor. The reflection they made over there while we did what we could to stay on one sleeping bag.
He was mine.
Now he’s not. Not anymore.
Now I’m going to have to look at his face. Or leave this quiet corner of the quiet city forever.