Cigarettes, Secrets, and Saying Goodbye

Submitted into Contest #158 in response to: Start your story with a couple sharing a cigarette in a parking lot.... view prompt

5 comments

Drama Suspense Science Fiction

Ash steadily fell from the lit cigarette, the man tapping it twice to ensure it was ready to be lit again.

“You know,” he began as he looked ahead, “I’ve never smoked before this.”

There was a chuckle to his right side as he passed the cig to his female counterpart.

“It’s funny, I haven’t either.”

She held it steady in her mouth as he pulled out the lighter and lit the cancer stick. They were both silent as she inhaled and immediately began to cough.

“What,” she hacked out another rough exhale, “What was your name again?”

He smiled and put out his hand, “Anthony Jameson, you?”

She returned the handshake with a chuckle, “Lilian Carmichael, a pleasure to spend the last day on Earth with you.”

They both smiled as they turned to look at the view ahead of them. Currently, the two were perched on the top level of a parking garage as the world around them was in flames. The ground below was cracking after the sudden earthquake wrecked through the town, lava beginning to spill out and over the street. The screams of people panicking echoed as the two strangers turned to friends watched. The parking garage was almost 1,500 feet tall, one of the city’s biggest investments and now here they sat at the top as a way of protecting themselves. It wasn’t planned for the two to meet, but rather a coincidence. Lilian had been walking around completing her grocery list. She had her headphones on and had been confused why so many people were running around screaming. It wasn’t until she got to the store that the gravity of the situation was revealed to her. Across every screen in the shop were newscasters saying their goodbyes, emphasizing that there was nothing more to be done. Footage from around the world portrayed disaster and death with earthquakes, tsunamis, tornados, and other cataclysmic events ravaging cities everywhere. She had stared at the screen emotionless, customers running past her and bumping into her shoulder. Lilian had left the store immediately afterward, grabbing a pack of cigarettes and a water bottle. It felt as though she was on autopilot, not fully grasping the situation. She hadn’t even meant to go to the parking garage since she didn’t even have her car there, but something within her made her go to the top floor and just watch the city. What else was she supposed to do? Stay at home and wait for the inevitable?

In a nearby park, Anthony had been going for a jog through the woods when he received word of what was happening. His phone had been ringing nonstop, causing him to get frustrated that his music was repeatedly getting paused. He took out his phone and saw there were around 20 notifications, ranging from Emergency Alerts to phone calls and text messages.

“Hello?” He asked, taking a pause by the water fountain as he called back his parents.

“Anthony?” Her voice responded full of worry, “Anthony do you know what’s going on?”

He frowned and checked his heartbeat. “I saw there was an alert but I figured it was for an Amber Alert… why?”

There was silence on the other line when a sob left her mouth.

“Anthony, they’re saying it’s the End, that too many disasters will follow suit over the next few hours. They’re saying to say our goodbyes now but I don’t want to Anthony. Can you come home?”

Anthony didn’t quite know how to react. He was just told that the End of the world was finally here and yet his mind was convincing him this was all some sick practical joke.

“You’re in a completely different state, mom, I can’t make it in time.” He murmured, his knees buckling until he was sitting in the dirt. It was then that he registered how empty the park was. “I love you, okay? Just stay with dad and it’ll be okay. I’ll see you soon, alright?”

She sobbed again and Anthony swallowed the thick lump in his throat as the line went dead. Guilt was spreading through his body and it felt as though his heart was going to hammer through his chest. Standing up, he just started to walk with his phone laying in the dirt. Why does he need a phone if the world is going to end anyway? It felt as though he had no control over his body, his legs taking him towards the parking garage next to the park. As he stood in the elevator, the tears finally began to flood his vision. When he left the elevator, he saw everyone was taking their cars and leaving rapidly. Even though it was the End, it was comedic to Anthony that they were trying to outrun the inevitable. He looked around and saw a girl roughly the same age as him sitting on the wall, her legs dangling off the edge. She had warm tan skin that complimented her sleek black hair and as he got closer he could see her olive eyes tracking an explosion that erupted further away.

He cleared his throat as he stood next to her, “This seat taken?”

She looked up at him, her eyes meeting his hazel eyes. He had a kind face; his pale skin being illuminated by the orange flames down below. His ginger hair was slightly messy and he had old tear streaks down his face.

“No, go ahead,” she responded, looking down at the grocery bag she had next to her. “Care to join me in a final cigarette as the world burns?”

Talking with one another was easy, they found. It wasn’t as if either of them had anywhere to go. Roads were crumbling every few moments and it was impossible to drive anywhere. If they had wanted to walk, there was the very real possibility that the two of them would either run into someone who was perfectly okay with attacking another human being during the final moments of the planet or by the time they got anywhere some disaster was bound to strike. Lilian was attempting at blocking the very real reality of what follows after an earthquake but the knot in her stomach knew that living so close to the shoreline would not be in their favor. The introductions to each other and glimpses at the world burning next to them quickly dissolved into sharing secrets.

“One time,” he remarked, taking a small puff, “I broke someone’s car window because I thought they had left a dog inside of the car. Turned out to be a gigantic stuffed dog that the person had bought for their daughter’s birthday so I ran away from the scene and never told anyone.”

A burst of laughter left Lilian’s mouth as she shook her head, “In your defense, you were trying to save the imaginary dog so I don’t think that makes you a bad person.” The smile on her face faded slightly, “Hope I don’t bring down the mood with this one. When I first moved out of my parents I was staying at a friend’s house and I noticed that she had… changed. Whenever she left the bathroom she would be totally wired and I eventually questioned her to find out she was battling an addiction to these stupid pain pills. But the worst part was, she would ask me to steal shit for her, saying if I didn’t she couldn’t afford rent. I didn’t want to anger her or have her run off with her suppliers so… I did.” She was silent for a moment as she looked at her hands inquisitively, “When she… when she overdosed, that was my wakeup call. I ended up moving back in with my parents and told them that she was hospitalized for an illness.” Lilian looked at Anthony whose eyebrows were knitted together in concern, “She’s okay now but we don’t talk anymore. I wanted to help her but I think the fact that she knew what she had asked of me would always be a reminder of what happened. I’ve had the chance to get closer with my family as a result but it feels good to have gotten that off my chest.”

“I’m sorry that happened to you and your friend,” He looked down at a car that was slowly falling into a sinkhole that was gradually growing, ”Did you call them? Your parents?” Anthony questioned, turning away from the disaster in front of them and instead looking only at her.

“I,” she took a deep breath, “I used those public telephones over there but…. The line was dead and I couldn’t get through.” A bitter laugh left her mouth as she wiped furiously at her eyes, “You know the saddest part is, I’m convincing myself that they just went out for a long walk and that they are going to get my message and know that I wanted to see them.” She pointed down the street where a bridge had crumbled down, “If I had wanted to see them regardless, I couldn’t. That fell apart first I’m pretty sure. Everything is breaking so fast, though, that it’s hard to tell.”

Lilian took the beat of silence to pull out another cigarette, grabbing the lighter that sat between them. As she lit it, she breathed out harshly before gently passing it to her new friend.

“What about you? Did you get your goodbyes in?”

Anthony looked to the side of him and picked up a loose piece of stone. “They wanted me to come to them… I told them that I couldn’t but looking back I don’t think it would’ve hurt to lie,” He threw the stone, watching it fall down to the raging inferno that had quickly spread. “Now I’m stuck with the thought, ‘what if they thought I didn’t care enough?’ It’s got me wishing that these cigarettes kill me quicker than the End.”

Lilian felt the corner of her lip quirk up as she looked over the edge. “I think I’m right there with you.”

Their conversation was interrupted by another shake, the ground rocking back and forth. The structure of the parking garage was quite sturdy but Anthony watched as a piece of stone began to crumble off of the sides. An assembly of cawing caught their attention as they watched a flock of birds flying away from where they were facing, a breeze beginning to blow on their faces. Lilian looked at Anthony who locked eyes with her.

“You know, I’ve seen enough End of the World movies to know that when there is a group of birds flying away from something, it isn’t a good sign.”

Lilian nodded in agreement and felt a tear fall down her face, “It doesn’t feel real, does it? I was just at the store running errands, perfectly content with my mundane life. But now, here I am, watching the town I’ve grown up with fall apart.”

Anthony swallowed thickly and brushed away the tears that were welling up in his eyes, “I think maybe we know that something bad is about to happen and our bodies are accepting the reality first,” He brought the lighter up and attempted to ignite the cigarette but the breeze had gotten stronger, blowing it out immediately. “So, we don’t think it’s real even though it’s right in front of us. It’s a way to distract ourselves.”

“You might be right. Thank you for coming to this parking garage,” She gave him a watery smile, “Maybe we’ll meet again in another life,” She commented, her voice barely above a whisper. “Maybe we can truly get to know each other, y’know?”

Anthony nodded absentmindedly, his eyes now tracking the building in the distance that was crumbling to the ground. With the skyscraper gone, the two of them fully registered the 2,000-foot wave barreling towards them. It was destroying everything in its path and suddenly they felt so small, so inferior.

“Guess that’s it then,” Lilian murmured as she gently placed her shaking hand on top of the young man next to her.

He turned his hand to fully hold it as he turned to look at her, “Thanks for making my last memories. I hate to think about the people that were alone in this.”

She nodded, the breeze of the wave blowing against her face as she shivered.

“I hope it’s peaceful.”

Silence overtook them once again as they held hands, the lit cigarette forgotten as the wave crashed over them.

August 11, 2022 19:38

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5 comments

Anne Marie Miles
03:23 Aug 18, 2022

Hi Ashlyn, I love this apocalyptic cigarette conversation. I really liked how you started it with the pair together and then zoomed out to describe their individual experiences before bringing them together. I imagine a lot of people would do what Lillian and Anthony did in this situation. There were a few grammatical things that could be tweaked ("Lillian was attempting at blocking the very real reality of what follows after an earthquake..."). As someone who makes a lot of grammatical mistakes myself, I recommend reading the story aloud wh...

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Ashlyn Oboyle
17:34 Aug 18, 2022

Thank you so much for the kind words and advice!!

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15:01 Aug 14, 2022

Glad they found someone to be with it. :) Good work with the prompt!

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15:01 Aug 14, 2022

Glad they found someone to be with it. :) Good work with the prompt!

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Graham Kinross
14:06 Aug 12, 2022

It’s a sweet end, I’m hoping they can quit smoking though.

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