And here is another one of those short stories I had to write for my creative writing class. It doesn’t have an official title yet, so I’m just titling it “The World Ended on a Monday” until I can come up with something better. This one is actually finished so that’s good, and I actually like this one. It still needs a lot of work but at least I finished it. Might go back to edit it later on, might not. We’ll see. Anyway, it took me forever to finish this, and it was a bit rushed so please excuse any spelling mistakes. I’m actually proud of this short story but I’ll probably come back and reread it in a few months and ask myself what I was thinking, but oh well. Here it is.
(P.S. This story takes place over the course of months, not in a single week. Just wanted to clarify that.)
The world ended on a Monday.
Flames danced all around him, screams and cries seemed to swarm him, and the skies above were painted grey. He struggled to free himself from under the rubble as everything around him plunged into chaos. He tried to call out for help, but there was no one around to hear, no one around to listen to the pathetic cries that clawed their way up his throat and spouted out his mouth. He fought harder, pushing and pulling and twisting and turning, and after what felt like an eternity to him, but was more likely just a mere minute or two, he was free. Well, free in the sense that he was no longer stuck under a fallen building, but still trapped in the sense that he was snared in the sixth circle of Hell, with fires ablaze as far as he could see. Flames seemed to have swallowed up everything in sight; from every building to every car to every tree to every person. He was covered in ashes, ashes he was sure belonged not to the decimated city around him, but to the people he had been standing side by side with not more than twenty four hours before. So no, he thought, I guess I am not free. The young man, barely twenty four years old, stood on shaky legs and tried his best not to look anywhere but forward. He could still see out of the corner of his eyes as people rushed past him, trying just as he was to find shelter, a place where they could hide from the darkness that threatened to claim them all. He knew there was no such place, at least not in a time like this, but he also knew that there was nothing else to do, besides waiting for the fires to catch up to him. So onward he went, pulling people up by their arms or shirts whenever they stumbled close enough for him to reach. No one bothered to say thank you. They all seemed to have other things in mind. But him? He was strangely calm. He felt more at peace than he had in the past five years, and for once, his mind was quiet. There were no thoughts racing through his brain, no demons beckoning him closer, and no voices laying the blame on him. He felt numb. He raced down the cracked streets, swerving around cars and jumping over the prone figures of the fallen. He saw people waving his way, screaming in joy at seeing him alive. He didn’t wave back. There was no one for him to look for. He knew where they were. The numbness he felt was washed away by a gush of despair at that thought. There was no one left to look for anymore. The thought made him stumble, and this time? This time he didn’t get up. He couldn’t. He felt their loss pulling him down, choking him in this feeling of guilt and hatred, though he was not sure who it was he hated—them or himself. Those emotions, undesired and never-ending, pressed him down against the asphalt, and he closed his eyes as his cheek brushed the loose rocks. He let the screams drown him, and lost himself to the cries of the wounded. And as the ashes of the dead rained down on him, there was nothing more for him to do but let his mind go numb once more.
The sky fell on a Tuesday.
Rain drops hit the asphalt by the thousands, and lightning illuminated the sky in an ominous way. Thunder seemed to almost make the ground shake, and the windows vibrated with the echo of its slap. The winds battled against everything in sight, trying their best to uproot every tree, every car, every home, every person from the ground. A slender figure rushed down Ware Road, cursing at whoever thought it was a good idea to have no sidewalks. The figure, a nineteen years old girl, ran for one, two, three blocks before catching sight of the Stripes ahead, where a sidewalk finally appeared. She stumbled onto it, grateful and more than a little exhausted, bending over to rest her hands on her knees to try and catch her breath. A minute later, she was running again. For a few uncertain seconds after she started moving, though, the wind pushed her sideways and she careened to the right, her left foot leaving the ground momentarily. She shook it wildly and tried to get it back to the ground, not managing to do so until after she lost her balance and threw her hands out to catch her. She crouched on the concrete, both hands and feet safely on the ground as her heart did its best to beat out of her chest. Stupid broken down car, she thought, stupid McAllen weather. She took a deep breath before she started running again, this time leaning forward and a little to the left, so her face would not become acquainted with the ground. Her shoes were covered in mud and she could feel her socks were drenched in rainwater, and cursed again at whoever thought it was a good idea to have no sidewalks. The wind screamed in her ears as she stumbled toward Stripes, clawing at her clothes in an uttermost attempt to keep her from going inside. It didn’t work. It was practically empty inside the store, only three other people besides herself. She headed down the candy isle, even though she knew her pockets were as empty as they could be. She had a lot of time to waste. She was so immersed in the wide variety of candies they offered, that she failed to notice the man standing directly in front of her. She bumped into him, and watched helplessly as he tumbled down at her feet. She apologized fervently, her face coloring a bright red. She had not seen him. The man frowned at her and growled something she could not understand. She was not sure she wanted to. She apologized again, but he wanted none of that. The girl nodded, but the least she could do was help him up, right? He slapped her hands away. He was a grown man, he could stand on his own. Or so he claimed. The girl watched him as he struggled to his feet, catching him more than once during his failed attempts at standing upright. He muttered under his breath each time, pushing her away and telling her to stop harassing him. This time, she growled back. Oh, was he surprised someone besides him could growl so well? She had grown up with three older brothers and four younger sisters. She had the growl down to a tee. It was practically patented. He didn’t find that particularly funny. And if she was so against not pestering him, the least she could do was help him up. The girl threw her hands up in frustration. Just what, exactly, did he think she was trying to do? Outside, the world shook from the force of the winds, the windows vibrating and the palm trees being stripped of their leaves. And inside? The story of a naïve girl with her whole life ahead of her intertwined with that of a soldier, a soldier whose life had already ended once before. And as she pulled and nagged and he pushed and burked, the sky fell.
The sun rose on a Wednesday.
And as the sky was painted in oranges and yellows and pinks, it stood proud above everything. The soft breeze blew softly at the palm trees, making their leaves sway to the rhythm it set. Birds sang from high up in the branches, their songs mixing and entwining into one. And below, down on the streets, the young man barely managed to suppress a groan. He certainly did not expect to see her so soon. Or ever, if he was being honest with himself. When he saw her coming his way, he ducked behind one of the stands outside the public library. What on earth had made him think that coming to the Farmer’s Market was a good idea? The man was too busy lamenting his luck to notice the bright smile that overtook her features as she caught sight of him, as she spied him hiding behind the organic jellies stand and started his way. He was too busy to notice her until there she was, a mere few feet away from him, a reusable bag held tightly in her hand. He ignored her first greeting, and the one after that and the one after that and the one after that. But after she would not stop saying hello (and more than half the costumers took notice of them), he finally broke down and acknowledged her existence. She wanted to know what he was doing there so early in the morning, but he had no intention of sharing any information with her. She wanted to know why. He thought for a second before claiming to have no idea who she was. She could be dangerous for all he knew. A serial killer! The girl snorted and demanded to know exactly where he thought he was because McAllen’s Farmer’s Market was definitely the last place a serial killer would go to pick his victims. He didn’t particularly care about what she had to say on the matter. She shrugged and reached for his bag, attempting to be a kind and helpful person, but he stiffened and moved it away from her reach. The young woman took notice of his strange reaction and decided not to comment on it, but he seemed adamant on claiming it never happened. She played along. It truly was none of her business, and he seemed glad she thought that way. Everyone else would have pried, at least according to him. Yeah, well, she knew better than inquiring about soldiers’ reactions. He started at that statement, but only got a raised eyebrow in response. I don’t pry, you don’t pry, her expression seemed to say. His frown seemed to say that wasn’t enough. She sighed. In the concoction that was her older and younger siblings, a Soldier or two could be found thrown in the mix of Potheads and Dancers and Singers and Nerds. And that was all she had to say on that matter, frown or not. He relented. But that didn’t mean she could carry his bag! Just what did she think he was? It should be him carrying her bag, not the other way around. The girl raised her eyes up to the rising sun, mourning the loss of all sane and common sensed people. She spun on her toes and glared his way. So she couldn’t carry his bags because she was a girl? That was a bit sexist. Having grown up with an older sister, he knew better than to argue. Sorry, ma’am, was his only reply. And in the light of the rising sun, all that could be seen was her answering smirk.
The music played on a Thursday.
The sound, a sweet medley of melodies, rang out all around. It could be heard from far, far away, and be enjoyed by anyone who would listen. It truly was a marvelous sound. Among the many spectators, two stood out the most. A young woman with a bright grin to match her glittering eyes, and a sullen soldier with attentive eyes and a turned down smile. They stood side by side, swaying to the soft harmony being played out before them. The room started filling up, little by little, but the more people that entered the space, the more the young man withdrew in on himself. He hated crowds. She rolled her eyes because she thought he was just being petulant. It wasn’t until sweat broke out on his brow and his hands clenched into fists that she understood. Her brother had been the same after he had come back from first tour, she explained as she led him away. He forced out a chuckle, saying he thought there would be no prying. She wanted him to just shut up already, I’ll share my life story if it’ll make you stop freaking out. He muttered that he wasn’t freaking out, he could handle it, but they both knew he couldn’t. She pretended he could though, as she led them both outside the Holiday Inn conference room, through the lobby, and out the front entrance. Cars flew past her on Nolana, and she spoke of how her brother would make her go outside with him whenever he would have a panic attack and make her count the cars that drove by, each of them picking a color for the other to count. He listened to what the girl had to say, his panicked eyes never leaving her slender figure, his gaze roaming over her, taking in all the details he could remember. Brown eyes, chocolate. Brown hair, brunette. Tan skin, gold. He noticed nothing more, and it wasn’t before long that he found himself standing outside a rustic looking Rudy’s. He managed to raise an eyebrow at her choice of venue, but decided to say nothing. The girl chose the table furthest from the door for them to sit in. Well, more like for her to shove him into while she went to order them some food. He didn’t pout at that. Not at all. While waiting for her to come back, he listened to the music, so different from the one back at the hotel, but far more calming. It was the kind of music they used to play back at the barracks. He found it odd that music from Hell was comforting to him, but what was he to do. Maybe it was homesickness, or maybe it was the fact that it was something he knew and was comfortable with, but whatever the reason, he closed his eyes, leaned his head back, and listened. The girl finally came back, her arms carrying a heavy tray that was brimming with food and a complaint on her lips. What, did he expect her to carry this all by herself? He sputtered. Hadn’t she just reprimanded him for being sexist? She wanted to know who cared about sexism when her arms were about to fall off. He didn’t understand her. He didn’t understand her at all. (Yet he still got up to help her. He was raised a gentleman, after all.). After the food was set on the table, they dug in, exchanging innocent stories to pass the time. Hers were mainly about her siblings and all their misadventures, ranging from the time one of her Pothead brothers tried to mow the lawn at two in the morning and almost cut down one of her Dancer sisters as she was coming home from a competition, to the time one of her Nerd brothers tripped on his way to the stage to accept some fancy academic award and nearly brought the stage down with him. His stories, though… his stories weren’t that many. She wouldn’t even consider them stories, really. They were more like snippets than anything else. He grumbled that she was way too demanding. Yeah, well, she demanded to know more than what his favorite color was and how much he enjoyed visiting his grandmother while he was growing up. He didn’t care what she demanded. Never mind, he totally did, as long as she didn’t hit him with the food tray again. As their (mostly playful) banter echoed through the almost vacant restaurant, country music flowed out of the speakers, its tasteful lyrics and silvery tunes flooding the room, breezing through every nook and cranny it could find.
The tears fell on a Friday.
They rained down on the ground below; twin trails down his cheeks and off they went. He couldn’t stop their onslaught, try as he might. They seemed never-ending. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. He had meant to be alone, wallowing in his misery. He hadn’t meant to tell her. He hadn’t meant to tell her at all. But what was he supposed to do, when she was looking at him with those sad, tear-filled eyes? He hadn’t even lasted five seconds before he caved, practically admitting his every secret to her. God, he was pathetic. Or, well, a chump, really, since the second he had told her where he was going, her tears had magically stopped, and a smile adorned her lips as she stated that she was going with him, whether he wanted her to or not. He really, really hadn’t wanted her to, but by the time he realized what was going on, it was too late. She was already sitting on the passenger’s seat of his rented car with the music blasting through the speakers. And so that was why, one hour later, not only did he find himself hating 107.9 and all their pop, mainstream music, but also found himself standing outside the main gates of the cemetery with three tiger lilies clutched in his hands. The flowers for his fallen brothers-in-arms, and tiger lilies because shut up, they are totally badass flowers (plus, they’re pretty). He did look up their meaning later, trying to find out if he was offending anyone by leaving those flowers on the graves of fallen soldiers (for all he knew, they could symbolize everlasting love or something), but was grateful to find that they symbolized pride and nobility, so he guessed that fit. He did earn a punch to the arm when she leaned over to see what he was doing on his phone. Didn’t he trust her? Not really. And that was the last thing that was said that day, as they had finally reached the first tombstone. He read his name and date of birth, as well as the date when he died. He tried to recall everything he knew about him, not only how he had died (bloody and in pain), but also about how he had told him he had three younger sisters, how he hated that the oldest of them had gotten together with The Boyfriend and he wasn’t there to scare him away (the best he could do was ask his brothers and sisters from his squad to pose for a picture with their guns and grenades to send to The Boyfriend), and how the thing he missed the most from home was his mother’s lemon pie. The young man carefully placed the first tiger lily on his grave before moving on to the next one. He read the full name, date of birth, and date of death before remembering, remembering how she was only twenty one. Remembering how she had already been in his platoon for her Twenty First Birthday and the guys all took her out to drink, how she had worn a plastic tiara the whole time. Remembering how when she started dating The Navy Guy, her squad had attempted to do the same as in The Boyfriend situation, only for The Navy Guy’s squad to send them back a similar picture, which started The Picture War. It lasted for about three months, with over a hundred pictures being sent back and forth. The soldier laid down the second tiger lily and moved on to the third and last grave. He repeated the same process, reading the full name, date of birth and date of death, and then remembered. This one… this one had hurt the most. Eighteen years old, one he had taken under his wing. One he was supposed to protect. One who still watched Disney movies (he had admitted to it after one too many drinks during The Twenty First Birthday) and cried at the end, and still grumbled a five more minutes, mom whenever they tried to wake him up in the mornings. One who was still a child at heart and cried for three days straight after his first kill. One who had no business being six feet under while there were so many new Disney movies coming out. And down went the third and last tiger lily. The young man hadn’t even noticed the tears running down his face until the girl wiped them away. He jumped, having forgotten she was even there, she had been so quiet. He turned his solemn eyes to her, and in return she offered a small smile as she wrapped her arms around his waist. It would be okay, she seemed to say. He knew that. He just didn’t know when okay would get there. He leaned against her, for once glad she had appeared out of nowhere and taken over his day. Who else would have wiped his tears in silent support? Because that’s what she did, even when there was no point because new ones would take their place faster than she could dry them. But she didn’t seem to care or judge, she simply stood by his side, supporting him as his tears attempted to wash away his pain and guilt. As they splashed on the ground below.
The bells rang on a Saturday.
The chiming could be heard all through the neighborhood, the melodic sound flittering through the air, leaving no ring unheard. Every corner and rooftop was bathed in the glorious sound of the golden bells of the church, and even as he walked down the path leading to the entrance, the soldier could not help but visibly wince at the loudness of it. The girl elbowed his side when she noticed, motioning forward at the older woman who shook her head his way, a disappointed look on her face. He swallowed and felt as though his neckline was choking him. The young woman rolled her eyes when he reached to unbutton the top buttons and moved her hands to fasten them once more, but he swatted at her perfectly manicured hands. She frowned and swatted back. She knew he was nervous but he was being ridiculous. It was church, not a police station. There was no need to be so nervous. He knew that, it was just his first visit to church since he’d gotten back. He said that in a way that sounded like it was supposed to be important or have a deeper meaning, but to be honest, it kind of went over her head. He frowned and stomped ahead of her after noting her blank look. She scurried after him, feeling a bit guilty for some unknown reason. Probably because it was the first time she had seen him so nervous in the few months she had known him, or maybe because of that familiar panicked look in his eyes. Either way, there she went after him and found him sitting on the very back, as if he were trying to hide. She threw herself on the seat next to him, shooting him a grin when his gaze turned on her. It seemed to ease his nerves a little, since his shoulders slumped and his back curved. Her grin softened and she took hold of his hand. When the priest walked down the aisle and towards the altar, the soldier nodded, as if resigning himself to the situation. He must have realized it was too late to sneak out. She snorted, ignoring the looks from the people sitting in front of them. He nudged her side, and this time, she couldn’t contain her giggling. He snickered at her expense when the ladies in front demanded the huercos quit their pachanga back there. Yeah, well she thought the rucas should just mind their own business because we’re having a moment here. And so maybe the chiming of the bells was deafening and daunting. And so maybe there were far too many judging eyes turning their way. And so maybe… so maybe it wasn’t as scary as it could have been. At least, not with her by his side, holding his hand and bickering with the old ladies sitting in front of them. And so as the bells chimed one last time, he let the sound wash over him, feeling his nervousness and apprehension fade away.
The smiles came on a Sunday.
The teary grins and wide beams greeted him as he pulled the strap of his bag higher on his shoulder. Hugs and kisses and cries of joy were all he was aware of as he was passed from one pair of arms to another to another to another. The smiles, though, wide and bright, were what finally washed away what was left of the guilt. He hadn’t even realized it, but little by little, that same guilt which had barely vanished had been steadily scraped away by someone whom he had least expected to take up the task. Who would have thought that a random girl he met at a Stripes during a thunderstorm (in McAllen, nonetheless) would have been the one to start the tedious task of ridding him of the hatred and guilt that had filled him for months on end? That she would have been the one to force him on that bus back home, a place he hadn’t been to once since his return? He had barely managed to cross the threshold of her home and dump the grocery bags on the floor when she was on him, shoving a packed bag into his arms and begging him to get the heck home already, what the heck are you waiting for? Your family must be going crazy and you must be even crazier if you think I’m going to let you set foot in this house again if you don’t get there yesterday. And so off he went, driving down Business to Central Station, rushing to catch the bus for which she had already purchased him a ticket. Which was why, almost three hours later, as he was getting off the bus, he caught sight of them. Them and their ridiculous grins. Them and their bone crushing hugs. Them and their undeserving forgiveness and unwavering love. Them and their accepting smiles. He knew they had missed him, heck he had missed them. But they needed to understand, he hadn’t been ready to come back home. He hadn’t been ready to face them yet. But now? Now he was. He hadn’t been sure how long it would have taken had it not been for her, her and her incessant badgering. Her and her accepting manners and open mind. She had taken to him as though he had not been damaged. As though there was nothing to fix, even when he was nothing more than millions of broken pieces in need of fixing. She had put him back together without either of them realizing so. It was all in the details; the stories of the Pothead and Dancer and Singer and Nerd siblings, the stories of The Boyfriends and The Picture War and The Twenty First Birthday, tiger lilies, fights with old ladies at church, thunderstorms and Stripes, Rudy’s and sexism. All those little moments they had shared in a span of months. She had patched him back up with Band-Aids and not-so-gentle smacks, had taught him how to live again, how to fit in. Had held his hand and guided him out of the sixth circle of Hell, where part of him had stayed. And so he accepted their smiles—welcomed them, even—because he knew that, no matter who it was that was grinning his way, he would only ever see one face. Her face. And he was surprisingly okay with that.