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by Marilyn V. Brock
Lately shed been counting things, incessant things like how many cigarettes she smoked and how many diet cokes she drank. She lingered in her a car a moment before pulling the key from the ignition, soaking in the daylight that warmed the chill shed been feeling around her shoulders. The queer sense of dread that drizzled her last few days now began to blend together in her mind like a dismal haze. It felt like the fresh pang from an old wound that precedes a storm, or the sense she got whenever she mentioned, I feel it in my bones.
While the sun warmed her neckline, she let the fear sink through her skin and radiate into the open air. She enjoyed having a convertible for this very reason, and her smoking, well, the smoke from her cigarette radiated just as comfortingly. She ducked a little when she saw her neighbor walk up his staircase carrying a stuffed laundry basket. He had asked her for a date, and though he was affable enough, the exchange of women shed witnessed coming in and out of his apartment for the past couple years was enough to tell her to stay clear. Now she watched him as he walked the stairs in thongs and drawstring pants. When his door slammed, she crept from her car and retrieved her groceries from the backseat.
Hey, she jumped when she heard his voice from his patio upstairs.
Hey, she replied, balancing two bags of groceries while knocking the door closed with her knee.
Why are you so jumpy? he laughed.
Its the weather maybe. I dont know. Somehow this haze is giving me the creeps.
I know. Its supposed to be the hottest day of the year. Whos ever seen a July this gray? he called as she walked underneath him to her turquoise apartment door.
Yeah, she called and fished for her keys amidst her vast handbag. She finally set down the groceries to reach elbow deep to the purses bottom, jangling to find the metal clanking. She retrieved the keys, unlocked the front door and gathered the groceries. As she turned around to shut the door behind her, she caught sight of the groundskeeper sweeping the sidewalk. His eyes were a watery blue, tiny and close set at the base of a wide, veiny nose. They looked at her intensely while the he methodically moved his broom. Aurora noticed how his uniform seemed large for his small frame and closed the door. Once inside, she switched on the lights as the late afternoon sky slowly disintegrated to dusk.
Her muscles felt knotted like an elaborate hand knit throw, and when the phone rang, it sounded much louder than usual. She ignored the screaming rings that were probably her ex boyfriend trying to get back together with her. She combed through her feelings while she sat at her dining table and wondered if the anxiety had anything to do with the recent breakup.
No, she shook her head and exhaled, Ive wanted him to move out for so long. Ive wanted a new start for ages. I know this isnt why Im upset. Its the weather, I think. The freaky, muggy, sticky weather that makes everybody worry theres going to be an earthquake. And being in between jobs. I just need to find one.
Aurora had long, thin arms and the ends of her curly, auburn hair rested around her elbows as she leaned forward on the dining table and smoked. She had waitressed while being officially engaged for two years. Then the excitement of being official wore off until even just being became too much. She wanted to be alone. She wanted a new career. The thought of her crumpled uniforms in the closet made her sigh in despair. She pulled out the newspaper from her grocery bag and studied the want ads until it was time for bed.
That night she thrashed fitfully while she struggled to fall asleep. She turned off the heater and kept flipping the pillows over: they were saturated with sweat despite a chilling cold she felt humid against her feverish skin. At dawn she grimly decided to rise, sick of the damp sheets that entangled her like twisted serpents. She pulled herself outside to catch the sunrise and stumbled on to the patio in her gauzy white nightgown. The first rays of sunshine illuminated the edges of the sky and a single crow atop the old oak across from her patio cackled coarsely as his black coat become frosted with gold. The air, still cold from night was biting and she clutched her arms tightly around herself, squinting from the sun. The morning breeze blew her hair around her shoulders. She leaned against the railing that enclosed her patio, its gunsmoke metal cold and damp. Itd been years since shed seen the sunrise. She was struck by the brilliant sun breaking into the sky, the colors willful and beautiful and she kept staring, squinting, watching the days incredible birth.
What is it? she whispered to the glorious, elliptical horizon that looked like heaven. Why have I been feeling this way?
Aurora watched the crescent of light beaming out from the horizon. A spark of metallic gray began to develop from the inside of the left corner of the emerging sun. Fissures of dark silver ran throughout the star like a drop of paint in thinner. Metallic gray lengthened steadfastly from the point of conception, as the pewter rivers grew wider and deeper.
She squinted, leaning forward toward the sun and attempted to discern the fraying blotch that appeared to be grappling the sun with liquid, spidery arms.
My God, what is that? she gasped and wondered if this was some sort of an eclipse.
As in a stage light, the dawn began to dim. Startled, Aurora looked around to see if anyone else was watching this. She realized the eerie silence and shivered momentarily. There were no noxious alarm clocks or choking morning engines; not even the slightest rustle of early morning risers passing through the narrow concrete pathway that separated her patio from the oak tree that harbored the backside of another row of apartments.
She twisted around to catch her nightgowned reflection in the sliding glass door, the blackening sky behind her, before shifting forward to grasp the metal handle. She emerged back in to the dining room and picked up the telephone, confused when she heard a strange tone similar to a busy signal. She hung up several times but the signal persisted. She turned on the television and the emergency broadcast system blared garishly from the screen. Within a few seconds the picture flickered and went black. Aurora wrestled with the cable switch and checked the plug but could not retrieve the picture.
Aurora ran back outside, sliding the door closed behind her. She clutched her arms across her chest and sprinted past the seemingly vacant apartments whose identical juxtaposition enabled her to scan the sliding glass doors and windows for any signs of her neighbors. There were none, and as the sky grew bleaker, panic seared through her stomach like an incisive blade.
She thought of her upstairs neighbor, and changed course back through her apartments and around to the stairwell that led up to his door.
Hello! she cried out, pounding fiercely with frozen knuckles. Hello?? she yelled through the frosted pane in his front door. Where are you!?! she looked around to his balcony, and at first, in a quickly blackening image she had trouble registering, she saw what looked like a shadowy blue arm cradled stiff against the glass from the inside. The rest of his bed covers crumpled below and she screamed so loudly the glass lightly pattered against his hand.
She ran back down the stairs, barefoot and freezing, the concrete underneath becoming colder with her nightgown bare protection. She raced through her apartment again and scanned the view from her patio. The sun, barely visible, faded like an evanescent bulb. The metallic gray now enveloped the mass and she could look at it without squinting. More crows gathered around the oak tree and a slight but foreign wind swept the disengaged leaves like a ghost-like rake.
Again, she ran inside her apartment and pulled the glass door closed behind her to keep in the rapidly dissipating heat. She picked up the phone to dial the police, but still the busy signal, which rang eerily distant as if itd been swallowed by the phone.
The insidious chill from outside began to invade her apartment and she ran to her closet to wrap her body in sweaters and pants.
Oh my God, oh my God! she cried inwardly. I need to get out of here. Everybodys freezing to death! The sun is burning out! I cant die here, I just cant! Her panic ran deep and she could hardly breathe. Please, not now!
She picked up her Demeter statue from the fireplace mantle, the only belonging she felt compelled to bring. The statue had been a gift from her mother whod died from cancer two years earlier. She clutched the piece closely and the marble felt cold and heavy against her chest. She pushed her way back outdoors, breathing forcedly and quickly. The oak leaves curled up and died like a haunted cartoon and the sky was so pitch she could hardly detect colors anymore. The world was beginning to transform itself into graduated shades of gray: even her own skin, her hands grasped around the statue, began to look petrified.
Aurora stumbled and held onto Demeter with one hand while blindly reaching out with her other to hold onto the railing for a sense of direction. She walked steadily to the edge of the complex, guided by the contiguous patio railings that formed a line, leading her to the parking lot.
The winds whipped feral and felt incredibly dry. Aurora made it to the end of the apartments and into the laundry room, a separate structure that faced the parking lot. The machines were silent, defunct, but the closed door had kept in a trace of humidity. Aurora curled up on top of a dryer and clutched Demeter and prayed intensely.
Are you alive? a voice whispered from beyond the door.
Aurora looked up from her prayers and gasped, I think so.
Good, so am I, the dark form ambled inside. Oops, gotta be careful where you walk now, the old mans voice became distinguishable as his leg made a thud against something.
What do you mean?
A lot of dead people. I think this is Mrs. Havershack.
Through the fluttering fingers of a shadow, next to the janitors pant leg, she was able to see a body, a female form, crumpled next to a washer. Aurora felt heady, dizzy, numb, while she absorbed the sight: the womans face was obscured by her own wet laundry, now dry and stiff and strewn around the floor at some point during her headlong death. Aurora stared with tears threatening and her eyes stung from the salt as the oxygen evaporated; sucked into the vacuum of the burnt out sun.
Youre the janitor, she said softly with pain in her voice. Do you know whats happening? Do you know why were still alive?
Its evolution, my dear. Some of us can live in the dark.
The sun is just gone, she cut in with a hysterical current pulling at her voice. I didnt even know this could happen!
Oh, yes, all stars have a life span. Theyve known this for years, you know. The scientists. But people never believe what they dont want to hear. It burned out years ago, actually. The darkness just finally caught up with us.
I cant believe I didnt know this! she cried, clutching her statue, which felt like ice through her layers of sweaters.
A new star is in metamorphosis, he continued, while he cupped his hands and breathed into them. Then he pulled his baggy uniform sleeves out to recover them. Itll be coming in a few minutes, he replied.
I cant stay in here with a dead lady!! Aurora cried, exasperated with his casual tone, and leapt from the dryer to run just outside the laundry room. Immediately, she was confronted with a cold, endless, Stygian darkness. She fell against the doorframe when she realized the silence meant widespread death. While imagining dead bodies everywhere, strewn like the laundry, invisible in the black abyss, consternation petrified her being insensible.
A distant rumble from the east, like oceans crashing from abysmal depths, grabbed at Auroras insides and she turned toward the sound. The crashing transformed to chanting, distant murmuring, powerful voices; their words indistinguishable.
I can hear something! she called to the man inside.
Yes, he mumbled from the darkness.
The horizon became suddenly discernable by a florescent outline of white, gold fire. The blackness recoiled, screeching back toward the west, the light billowing upward and outward with magnanimous force.
God Bless the Son of God, the Daughter of God, the Most Glorious Souls on Earth! God Bless the Son of God, the Daughter of God, the Most Glorious Souls on Earth! the powerful voices chanted.
The winds whipped into an even greater frenzy and pealed high pitched. Aurora struggled to keep her hair out of her face while gripping the doorframe. She felt tangled in the winds like they embodied a strangling hurricane.
Light swirling like smoke invaded the dead woman, blowing in and out of her body, creating portals of parhelia. Demeter crashed from Auroras arms and the laundry flew around the room like poltergeists.
God Bless the Son of God, the Daughter of God, the Most Glorious Souls on Earth! the voices continued to chant, louder as they glided overhead.
A new star exploded above the horizon, flaming blue and infecting the winds with searing heat. Bursts of fire fanned in all directions, trail blazing the earth in parallel lines. Aurora looked toward the woman and cringed when she saw her blue skin blister crimson, and screamed when she saw her own arms throbbing blood red, though she felt nothing.
God Bless the Son of God, the Daughter of God, the Most Glorious Souls
She turned toward the parking lot, unable to withstand the stars penetrating light. The lot refracted the heat, the air just above crinkling like a desert mirage. Crows blew in the laundry room, whipping by her face as their wings batted fiercely and chaotically. Screeching uncontrollably, they were forced out just as quickly, out to the prismatic sky.
God Bless the chanting tapered into the west. The pealing wind suddenly began to subside as the hot air rose and was replaced by a temperate breeze. Cumulous clouds formed, condensing rapidly from the oceans tepid waters. The sun simultaneously reduced to half its girth while turning from electric white to pale yellow. The prismatic sky washed pale blue like a plush blanket recovering the earth to homeostasis. The fires slowly dissipated like worn out bonfires, leaving parallel streaks of cinders Aurora know the scientists would ponder for years. Aurora turned toward the old man, his eyes on fire with excitement, as he watched the new sun regenerate the world. Aurora averted her eyes from the dead womans body and said, What do we do now? Should we try to find others?
I imagine theres plenty, he replied.
Aurora heard a baby crying from an upstairs apartment.
Oh my god, a baby! she cried. Stay here, we should stick together until we find other people! she replied. The man winked and breathed in the new world deeply. Aurora ran in the direction of the crying. It came from an upstairs apartment next to the laundry room. The front door was unlocked and she ran past the unspeakable sight of the dead mother on the couch and picked up the crying newborn that lay on a blanket on the living room floor. Aurora calmed the baby through tears, Its okay. Ill take care of you. Its okay. The suns out now. She quickly left the silent, death filled room and brought the baby outside. Pockets of fear drained while she carried the new life to her chest and breathed the fragrant day. She would find the others, and begin again. She had a million years to begin.
Story © 2003 by Marilyn V. Brock Ladyhawke_10@hotmail.com
Illustration © 2003 by Juan Rodrigo Piedrahita Escobar email@example.com
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