* 1 *
The first thing to happen had been a kiss.
* 2 *
There had been a kiss, and she hadn’t expected it. She may have loved and wanted it, but she had not expected it, and that was the thing. They had been playing at love, disastrous and hungry and confused, never even holding hands because she could not bear to be touched. He had always stayed just at arm’s reach, not to keep her away, but because she
(this is not me)
kept him at bay. He would have stepped closer had she only let him. Time and time and time again, he offered, and she refused, even though she had no idea she had ever been asked. And then, just the once, she stepped in, instead of out, and he thought that perhaps she had finally joined the dance.
(Will you, won’t you?)
In that instant, between heartbeats, between breaths, between moments, there was the fissure that divided One Thing from The Next. Neither of them knew it; it could have been any other moment, but instead, this one wore fire on its sleeve and took bites out of hearts.
* 3 *
Neither of them would remember just how it happened, but it happened all the same. There had been a kiss, in the middle of the square, in a crush of people, with the sun shining down, all silver and gold and bright. His lips touched hers, warm, almost feverhot, the kind of kiss that could have ended then and there, were he any other boy, were she any other girl. It could have ended, but it didn’t, and they each leaned in, eager, delighted, giddy in the way that first kisses can be. The shock of it spindled her, drove through her, and she breathed in, and opened her eyes, because the kiss had stopped, because he was gone, he was nothing, he folded in on himself and went down. She realized it then, in an abstract way, the nature of the thing
(what rough beast)
inside her, that it would not allow even a moment of respite. She realized it then, no longer abstract, but as physical as the thing she felt, as though it were, in fact, a spindle, a pin holding her to velvet, caught. She realized how much it damned her, how much it would steal, how it would swallow everything she ever touched, everything she ever desired. Between that breath, that first breath after being kissed, and the exhale that was the last word she spoke in this world, everything changed.
* 4 *
She remembers saying aloud, “Oh,” and looking around at the people, the cars, the whole of it, when no one had yet realized that the young man at her feet would never get back up, or maybe they had realized, but did not think to care about one lone fallen boy amongst all the rest. That they wouldn’t care, that the world wouldn’t care, that nothing and no one but her would change because of this seemed somehow Wrong.
* 5 *
She remembers, looking down at his ‘almost like he’s sleeping’ face, which was still sweet, and then everything is blank. Not a torn out page, or a few moments of black in the midst of a movie, or that dead-air when the DJ fails to load a song correctly, but a blank that somehow thundersang of infinite silence, a nothing so defiant of the politics of nonexistence, so rebellious, it wore a red dress and laughed, defying all preconceived notions of what was, and would would be.
* 6 *
When she woke, the city was on fire. She was curled up, fetal, tangled up with herself. She was alone. There was not even a scrap of him to commit him to memory. It took a while to come undone, to make limbs work, to come back to herself and remember there was this thing called Gravity, this thing called Breathing, this thing called Standing Up, especially because they had all been rendered somewhat useless due to this thing called Confusion. Aftershocks moved through the ground now and then, as what sounded like meteors kept hitting the ground, the last echoes of further dominoes falling and falling.
* 7 *
Bodies were everywhere, but not whole or recognizable. They littered the ground like confetti, like lost party favors found the morning after, while cleaning through the hangover. She staggered in circles, wider and wider,
(the centre cannot hold)
from the middle of the crater, dust covering her, obfuscating the violence of color that clung to her from her Past Life,
(everything was Past, now)
blood pooling in her eyelids, dripping down her cheeks in dark tears. Choking down gulps of onfire air, panting like an animal, she reached the lip of ground zero going backwards, and stumbled up over the event horizon, where she could see what should have been the towering walls of the steel and concrete canyons that were home, the billboards and signs, the teeming populace, the city that never slept, except that at the moment, the city itself had suffered some kind of traumatic brain injury and was in a coma.
* 8 *
The city itself was all but leveled, and a hundred-thousand-thousand blackbirds were wheeling and diving through the smoke and stormclouds, landing as one, atop a swath of what had once been street, and was now rubble and humanity, blended into mud. They would take off as a flash again, a flutter of black wing against grey sky, smoke and ash grown thick enough to blot out the sun, and she followed their progress for awhile, staring with half-blind eyes, because her all-deaf ears had nothing to give her.
* 9 *
“What day is it?” she asked them, but her voice and her wonder were lost in the dust, and the question was, too.
* 10 *
She walked, looking for answers, but everyone’s eyes were blank
(as pitiless as the sun)
and everyone’s lips were blood, and only the whirling, whorling, diving blackbirds followed her, and sang, and she couldn’t hear them, anyway.
* * *
This is in response to Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge called ‘Ten Little Chapters’. It is 1000 words, precisely.
What a heart breaker! With no possibility of healing. Fabulous story.
Thank you! Glad you enjoyed reading.
Jones, best I’ve seen from you. Utterly riveting. Love the structure you chose, and the vibe. This is seriously seriously excellent, and my favorite from you. This is mind-numbingly good.
Thank you — I’m really happy with this one.