Remember

Submitted into Contest #60 in response to: Write a post-apocalyptic romance.... view prompt

2 comments

Romance Science Fiction Drama

“Blech!”

Hilda stuck her tongue out in disgust as she ripped her makeshift axe from the dead giga rat – ten times the size of its smaller rodent cousins. Daisuke was always better at this kind of thing… she thought. Flicking the slimy blood off with two quick shakes, she continued her way down the dress aisle.

She already had shoes picked out: a pair of ink black combat boots that were as stylish as they were practical, still perfectly preserved in the original shoe box. That box rested in a shopping cart she found in the parking lot earlier, which was proving quite handy. She’d brought a big bag just in case, but had since thrown it in the shopping cart alongside the boots, a few untorn packs of expired-but-probably-fine candy and chips, and a slightly charred makeup kit. Probably the work of a firewing. Hate those things.

Though the boots would look nice, her Converse were her life’s treasure… but life was different now. The Converse were, too. Aside from the gaping hole in the back of the left shoe (bitten off by another giga rat) and the floppy sole of the right (being constantly on the move took its toll), the roses she embroidered on them years ago had become so faded they looked like peonies. Eh, peonies smell better anyway. Out of curiosity, Hilda flipped off a shoe, caught it, and brought it to her nose. Ooh, never mind.

Slipping it back on, she grunted as a wheel popped off the shopping cart, bringing it to an abrupt halt. As far as she was concerned, it was the luckiest abrupt halt she’d ever experienced, because not a foot away, the floor disappeared. She’d almost tumbled right into a hole the size of an Olympic swimming pool. And that wasn’t even the worst part.

The floor below sported another hole around the same size as the one in front of her, and below that… was a nest of giga rats.

Hilda had seen lots of disgusting things in her post-apocalyptic life. There was the time she saw a man’s arm cut off, though she was so scared at the time she no longer remembered the context, who the man was, or who chopped him up. There was the time when, while scrounging for food, she accidentally stumbled across a firewing giving birth. Worst of all was the time she caught Daisuke picking his ears when switching off with him on watch, which – after some coaxing – she discovered had been habit of his long before “watch” was ever a thing. She refused to have sex with him for two full weeks after that.

This nest, though… this was on an entirely different level. Giga rats were already gross up close, but –

Hilda skidded backwards, landing on her behind. Did one of them just look up? she thought. One of them totally just looked up.

Heart beating in her chest, she listened to the giga rats scuttling and scraping down below. From what she’d seen, they tended to attack prey all at once, fighting over who got the eyes, who got the liver, who got the –

Ugh! Why am I even thinking that? Snapping out of it, Hilda slowly stood up; she grabbed her arms to stop them from quivering. “It’s okay,” she whispered. “Chill, Hilda. Chill. You’re ‘Chillda’ now, okay?” Indeed she was, for a chill ran down her spine a moment later. “They’re just… rats. They’re not so scary. Felix was scarier than they are even before – yeah.” She continued whispering her self-pep talk as she began collecting her items from the now-useless shopping cart, stuffing them in the bag. “And y’know what? Felix is probably dead. You can’t be scary if you’re dead. All you can be is dead – just like the giga rat you killed two minutes ago. Yeah! You tell ‘em, Chillda.”

Rather than dwell on why there’d been a stray giga rat on this floor when the rest skulked below, Hilda shouldered her bag, shouldered her axe, and went to see if the mall had any more clothing shops that hadn’t been completely ransacked.

She did dwell on Felix, however. Roaming the empty hallways, she was reminded of the first time he asked her out, since it happened in a place just like this.

It was the summer between junior and senior year of high school, and Hilda was working a cinnamon roll stand in the local mall to save up money for a road trip she and her friends were planning in August. Seeing people from school wasn’t all too uncommon; there wasn’t much to do in her town, so kids gravitated towards the mall. From what she could remember, the cinnamon rolls were actually pretty good, so many of the students flocked to her, mouths watering. Felix’s mouth watered for a different reason.

Him showing up was a surprise; she never knew him too well, but from what she’d been able to glean from the classes they shared and the rumors that spread, he was something of a shut-in. Still, a customer was a customer, and popular though she was, she was never the kind of girl to be mean to those lower on the sociability totem pole. Though many of her memories had faded in the ten years since, Hilda could remember how her interaction with Felix started verbatim.

“Hey, Felix! What would you like?”

“Y-you.”

Yeesh. Thinking about that pickup line alone is making me wanna dive right into that giga rat nest – and that’s assuming I count it as a pickup line.

It only got worse from there. A line formed behind Felix as Hilda attempted to convince him that (a) she wasn’t interested and (b) she was going to get fired if he didn’t move. Neither point hit the mark; Felix just sort of stood there and mumbled half-responses. Eventually, Hilda’s boss told her to exit out the back door in the kitchen and go home for the day.

Felix didn’t come back to the mall after that, but once the autumn leaves began their colorful descent, he started approaching her in school. At her locker. At lunch. At school events. It was all stuff she could more or less ignore at first – meek attempts to find time to talk to her alone. Whenever Hilda asked why, Felix would excuse himself and shuffle away. Her friends kept on insisting that she nip the bud – even a few of the more attentive teachers began asking if things were okay – but she ignored them, too, waving Felix off as another harmless suitor.

He really was harmless at first, Hilda thought with a shudder. A skittering noise stopped her in her tracks, her heart stopping in tandem. The giga rats?! Bile rose in her throat as she imagined being clawed and bitten down to atoms by a pack of the filthy rodents. The noise sounded closer, but this time she realized it was coming from somewhere above her.

Peering up, she sighed with relief at the sight of some birds hopping around on the mall’s enormous glass-domed roof. Just regular old birds. No stupid firewings. That the sound carried all the way down to where she stood was a testament to just how empty the building was. On this floor, at least. Dangling her axe between her thumb and index finger and keeping an eye out for somewhat-stocked clothing stores, she unfortunately continued remembering the story of Felix.

With prom just around the corner, Hilda had guys asking her to go with them left and right. Suitors had courted her since she was a sophomore (she filled out early), so she’d mastered the art of graceful rejection over the course of her high school years. It came to the point where guys referred to her as “Hilda Heartbreaker,” and she didn’t blame them, even if she didn’t sympathize with their varying degrees of effort. Accosted with her friends’ adamant protests, she’d had to constantly remind them that she didn’t want to go to prom at all. “I just have no interest,” she remembered telling them time and again. “If I’m gonna meet a guy, I want it to be more natural. Plus, if I’m gonna party, it’s gonna be on my own terms, not the school’s.” It was the best she could come up with to get them off her back.

After rejecting what felt like every guy in school, Felix slinked in exactly one week before prom, as if he’d been the last person waiting in some imaginary line. It was after school; most students had already left to study for finals or enjoy that nice, pre-summer weather. He came to her at her locker, as he had so many times before, only this time he had flowers and a note in hand.

“What’s this for?” Hilda asked, humoring him – the first step of graceful rejection.

“Read the note,” he said as he handed her the flowers. Roses.

Unlike many of the other fellas that had tried winning her prom night heart, there was no pomp or circumstance to Felix’s method, which she appreciated. The note followed the same philosophy, simply reading: “Will you go to prom with me?” His handwriting was neat and crisp.

“Oh, Felix, you’re so sweet,” she told him, “but I can’t accept this. I’m sorry. I’m actually not going to prom at all.”

Stark silence followed. It could’ve been five seconds or five minutes, but each moment ached ten times more than the one that preceded it. Felix spoke a single word to bridge the noiseless gap.

“… Liar.”

Then – right there at her locker, with nobody around – he…

Hilda dropped her bag, gripped her axe in both hands, and smashed open a display window as if it were Felix’s head.

And inside was the perfect dress for her date.

***

“Daisuke?” Hilda called as she pushed the fake cave wall she’d made – a pallet with vines draped over and woven through it – aside. It wasn’t much protection-wise, but it fooled your average giga rat or firewing well enough. “I’m back! Just gonna pretty myself up and then I’ll make dinner, okay? I found some slightly rancid potato skins we can use as a side dish, too. Your favorite!” She laughed to herself. “I… may have had one or two on the way back, but there’s plenty left. Promise.” Pulling the wall back in place, she stepped into her and Daisuke’s latest home.

It was luxurious as far as caves went. Staying in buildings was a big no-no since that’s where giga rats usually congregated, and sleeping under the stars was an open invitation for firewings to swoop down and grill you on the spot. So, whenever they were on the move, she kept a sharp eye out for mobile homes, backyard sheds, and caves like this. The size of a decent suburban home and with as many “rooms” (that is, natural alcoves large enough to maintain some degree of privacy, or to hide in), Hilda rued the inevitable day supplies in the area ran dry or things got too dangerous. The crystalline pond alone was reason enough to want to stay; finding a good source of drinking water these days was nothing less than a miracle.

Speaking of which, I’m parched. Setting her axe and bag against a wall, she beelined for the pool, which rippled in the back of the cave’s main chamber as droplets drip, drip, dripped from a stalactite above. Her cup was still there; she hadn’t washed it in a while, but what had been washed in the world recently? She was reminded of her poor Converse as she downed a glass of the clear, clean water. “Um… think I’ll take a quick dip before our date, Daisuke.” She threw her best smile at him. “No peeking, you perv!” she proclaimed in an innocent voice.

Stripping down to her bare essentials, Hilda splashed herself a few times using the cup. It didn’t completely get rid of the smell, but she felt so much better. There were no towels, so she laid down just outside the cave to air dry. The sun was high and no firewings circled above – Though I guess they’d dry me up pretty quick – so it didn’t take long.

“Okay, next step – hey! Daisuke! I said no peeking!” Covering herself, she snatched up the bag and dashed into one of the alcoves. “You’ve seen me naked a bazillion times,” she said to Daisuke as she began getting dressed, “but today’s special. I want you to ogle me in my new outfit first. How long has it been since that’s happened, y’know? I’ll admit, I kill the ragged, stained t-shirt and ratty jeans look better than anyone, but… well, wait ‘til you see what I nabbed. There was a crapton of giga rats there, so if you don’t like it, I’m gonna go feed myself to them.”

Once she was dressed, Hilda used the small mirror she’d found under a flipped-over dining room table a few towns back to apply makeup. Or she would have, if the contents of the kit weren’t completely ruined. The firewing did more damage than I thought. I don’t think “flaming lips” is a good look for me. The mascara was passable; hopefully her bath from earlier had cleared up any lingering dirt, grime, and giga rat blood from her face.

“Okay, Daisuke! I’m reeeaaadddyyy…”

Hands on her hips, Hilda stepped back into the main chamber with a smile and a twirl. The boots fit perfectly, the black a brilliant contrast to the cherries and strawberries – Daisuke’s two favorite fruits – that dotted the seafoam green silk of the summer dress. It showed just enough cleavage not to be showy and reached down just past her mid-thigh. A golden hairpin stuck out of a stylish bun, preventing her hair from falling into disarray. Topping it all off was a silver necklace inlaid with a real emerald gem – or, at least, that’s what its price tag indicated. Luckily, in this world, price tags meant as much as the dust that covered them.

“Oh, I knew you’d love it! Look at you drooling, you caveman.” Hiccupping with excitement, she hopped and skipped around a bit, flaring the hem of the dress. “I feel five years younger in this thing! Whoo!” She laughed as she finally came to a stop. “Dinner, Daisuke? Honey, you’re looking at it! Actually, I guess I’m more like dessert.” She clawed the air between them, purring seductively. Do I even remember how to be seductive? Her stomach purred in response. “Time to eat. It’ll be ready in a jiffy.”

And ready in a jiffy it was. Hilda set the big bowl of bean salad on the flat rock doubling as a table, which she’d set with a white curtain doubling as a tablecloth. The dish was missing a lot of the ingredients it should’ve had, but that was par for the course these days. Even after hitting every supermarket in town, she’d only been able to scrounge up white beans, though oil and vinegar were both available in spades, as was a decent variety of spices and seasonings. The dried basil should be a nice touch, she thought proudly. There was no other bowl for the potato skins, so she cut the bag and spread it out like tinfoil. Completing the meal were two glasses (one her water glass, the other a kiddie cup Daisuke liked) which she filled with wine. “Coming across that wine cellar the other day was complete chance. Call me Lady Luck.”

Lifting her glass with a delicate hand, Hilda cleared her throat. “To us. Happy anniversary, Daisuke.” She sipped, then drank, then gulped it down. “Sorry. Not every day we get to drink like kings, is it? Don’t worry, there’s more – assuming you didn’t wash it all down behind my back.” She looked down, a blush on her cheeks and a stupid grin on her face. “Anyway, I should probably start eating before the alcohol gets to me. You always called me One Hit Hilda, didn’t you?”

Sniffling, Hilda picked at the salad. Four or five bites in, she put her fork down. Using the curtain-tablecloth, she wiped a tear that ran down her nearly makeup-less face.

“I know I say this a lot, Daisuke, but…” She made eye contact with him, finding it surprisingly easy to maintain. “I really don’t know where I would’ve ended up without you. After Felix, I was ready to – to kill myself.” Her chin quivered, but she continued. “I’m sorry. Bringing that up on our anniversary is a crappy thing to do, but I was thinking about him today. About what he did to me. About the emptiness I felt. The pain – pain I didn’t think anyone could… could forgive or accept me because of. You changed that, Daisuke. Not right away, but you…” Hilda took the deepest breath she could manage, hugging herself to quell the shaking. “You reminded me that people aren’t all bad.”

She didn’t remember Daisuke’s wine glass being empty, but there it was, nary an ounce left. “Sorry, babe. Figured you weren’t gonna drink that.” The only reason she didn’t guzzle down the rest of the bottle – aside from the onset of wooziness – was because she looked into Daisuke’s eyes again. Cherished them.

It was a small picture, propped up against a stone. You’d never know from looking at it that giga rats and firewings swarmed the face of the planet not a few weeks after it was taken. Hilda had captured him splitting his sides over a dumb joke she’d made, written on the back of the photo as eternal proof that she was the funniest person of all time. She lost her comedic touch after Felix did what he did, but Daisuke…

Smiling, she picked her fork up and told Daisuke the best joke she could think of.

September 26, 2020 01:34

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

2 comments

Mira C
19:58 Oct 01, 2020

I loved your specificity in your story! It made the whole world really come alive. I particularly liked the detail "roses she embroidered on them years ago had become so faded they looked like peonies" - the fact that she has the knowledge of the flowers and it instantly brings us into how she sees the world. The only part that did pull me out of the story for a moment was "down to atoms" when describing the potential giga rat attack. I am guessing it is an exaggeration for being torn into small pieces but the use of atoms for some reas...

Reply

Benny Regalbuto
20:02 Oct 01, 2020

Glad you liked it. The flower stuff required some research; Hilda definitely knows more than I do! And I see your point about the atoms thing, but yes, it's meant to be an exaggeration on Hilda's part. Anyway, thanks for reading.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply