And then, everything shattered.

Submitted into Contest #206 in response to: Set your story in an eerie, surreal setting.... view prompt


Fiction Speculative Teens & Young Adult

     The wind, on the bitter morning of the last day—Day six thousand and two hundred, approximately—was as cold as the snow was fresh, and the songs of the trees were mournful. The sun was a muted lamp amid the thick, violet clouds, the sort of clouds you find in daydreams; they were a swirling river, alive with thunder and driven by the wind, and they flowed among the tops of those sad trees and the top of the water tower, gleaming in the distance.

        The raw, early world came slowly, in sporadic flashes as his eyes fluttered. He was so tired, always so full of exhaustion during the last few months, his last few thousand hours. He was staggering down the ramp which leads all the delivery trucks to the back of the building, where they unload their orders at the loading dock, and there was still blood dripping from his fingers, which were hidden by the sleeves of his oversized hoodie. That was when he knew he had to quit.

He sighed and paused for a moment, admiring the water tower that stands amid the empty field of rolling hills, and then—

  And then, everything shattered.

  He’s been here in this dark place ever since, this place of gloom and irregularity where everything is… off. There is a sky here, but the sun is hazy and distant, even shier about its magnificence than before, and the navy expanse is more like the ocean than the cold, chalky murals you find on clear days in December. Those murals are strikingly beautiful and calm and, thankfully, unbreathing.

  But the navy expanse is alive, and there are no daydreams here. There are fractures in the sky, and these fractures are the only source of light, the only reason he is able to perceive colour at all.

        “What are you?” he asks the fractures, these incredible mysteries that have made the sky like torn silk, and behind the silk… what the hell is behind the silk?

        They are like the northern lights, and maybe they would have been beautiful if they’d come to him in a dream, but—

         Is this real?

        It is definitely real, he knows. But that’s the thing about miracles: they tend to inspire doubt, and they are horrifying.

And who knew terror could be so exhausting? He’s been trembling with it, shaking for hours here against the brickwork of the building, his arms hugging his knees to his chest as it heaves with desperation, and yes. He is tired. He is scared and tired and the navy expanse is alive, like an infection, eating him from the inside out. He can hear them, the voices in the torn seams of the nightmarish sky, incoherent and distant, but… are they getting louder?

There is lightning, he thinks, flashing as their voices rise, and where is everyone? Where did they go?

Stupid question. There is no one here, obviously; even the blood on his fingers has disappeared­—only the extraordinary remains.

He could never explain to you how it feels to be here, could sit and attempt to describe it to you for hours and still you would gain nothing, would understand none of it, but in a word… it is overwhelming. Which is why he hasn’t gotten up or looked around much, has only sat and trembled and closed his eyes as the lightning flashes and the voices rise, becoming fervent and violent as thunder erupts from the lavender sky. Because the expanse is lavender now, not like the depths of the ocean but now resembling a canvas of faded lilacs. The sky is deception, growing brighter as its voice—which is a multitude directed with careful coordination—devolves into something dark and terrible.

        He lifts his head, daring to open his wide eyes, and the worst part of it all is that everything is on the verge of normal. He knows his way around this place, has spent the past six months of his life working here in the building behind him, but…

        But none of the people he knows are here—they are nowhere. He doesn’t know anybody here or anywhere else in this new reality, but the voices in the seams… they know him better than he knows himself, and he knows it.

         “Why now are you unsatisfied?”

        A scream tears his throat as it escapes his dry lips. He is standing now, bleeding down his back beneath the black fabric of his work uniform, having scraped himself on the steel railing of the stairs that lead to the back door, which is permanently locked. The voice and its amazing, invisible commander are everywhere. They came from the jagged seams in the sky, from his mind, his soul. The voice is in his veins and his mouth and it is lurking right behind him—

        He looks mad, turning this way and that, weeping—

        “What is this?

        He hates the way it feels, like ants and maggots crawling inside of him, their filthy legs upon the wet, gory sides of him, and as a strike of lightning destroys the water tower across the field, he collapses. There was conscious intent behind that lightning, and he has never felt fear like this before because—

         The lavender sky is alive.

The field is being flooded and the world is alive in more ways than one now as the tower crumbles; there is the life of its killer, the voice in the seams that sparkle and provide their plum-shaded light, and there is the life of its death, the resounding explosion of its enormity as it falls. It is amazing, and the wind is like a hurricane now, full of all the breath that has been taken from his lungs.

“Oh, my…” He is gasping as he witnesses these miraculous things, hyperventilating as he is made increasingly aware of the otherworldliness of it all, because if this were earth the arteries of the boulevard would have been clogged with startled onlookers, and his coworkers would be rushing through that back door to come see—

        But the arteries are flowing freely with nothing, and the back door is still sealed.

        It’s a shame, really, how paralyzed he feels. A world as empty and wondrous as this is brimming with possibility, but he knows he will never leave this parking lot, will never get so far as the other side of the building.


        The voice is here again, roaring inside of him, and he understands that it means for him to remain on his knees, kneeling. His hands are clasped and his eyes are closed and the infection is painful because the torn seams of the sky have become the torn seams of his brain, and if he were to open his eyes now…

        “Do not look,” says the voice. “I will show you all that is left to be shown, and all you must do is remain.”

        The seams are coming open now, tearing themselves wider. The light is brilliant, a sea of pinks and purples and brightly shining stars that presently become focused and, before his eyes, become forms that are intangible but intelligible.

        “See,” says the voice. “Here you are, and here you fell.”

        But the forms are moving too fast, like a movie on double speed. He sees himself applying for his first job at the age of fourteen, three years ago; screaming at his parents; running away, moving to live down south; meeting the love of his life, Ellie Aleta Colley; kissing her, letting her push him against the wall at that first party; they are running away together now in his rusty pickup, leaving the world and all the responsibilities and restrictions of life behind; her parents finding them on the ghostly shores of paradise, the quarry they were going to visit before leaving this town forever; Ellie’s funeral, a sight he never witnessed in real life because he was never invited—

        “Please,” he says.

        But the voice commands him to remain.

        He sees himself in the glade down the street from their neighbourhood, the little clearing in the forest where they used to meet and spend their days in each other’s arms. He came there a few nights after her death, dressed in a new tuxedo, the only tuxedo he ever owned, a rose in the breast pocket and a silver ring adorned with a flower on his finger, the ring she’d given him on their first real date. He had a bag full of her love letters and all the gifts she’d ever given him, and a shovel. He mourned her there in the glade, and as the sun was setting beyond the leaves of the trees, he began to dig. His suit was covered in blood, sweat, and tears by the time he was finished, and he left it all—the letters, the rings, the suit—in the hole, and he covered it with the hundred flowers he'd picked two days before.

        “And then,” says the voice.

        He sees himself running away again, this time for good. His family was left in mystery and agonizing apprehension, wondering where the hell their son had gone.

        “Such a scared, desperate soul,” says the voice. “You spent your life waiting for it to fall apart, and deep inside, you hoped it would.”

        “Yes,” he sobs, because such fear leaves room only for the truth.

        “You have called yourself kind and forgiving, but you are only scared. You have rejected me a thousand times, and you are a liar. You hate me, and you hated yourself. You lack faith, and this has hurt everyone who ever met you. You were not worthy of offering Ellie the life she deserved, the life you deserved, because you doubted me and you doubted yourself. You murdered her. When her family moved across the ocean, she ran away and caught a plane for you. She crossed the world for you, how desperate you made her, and look: her blood is on your hands.”

        His eyes are still closed as he watches his first day of work at his new job, a day he always remembered well. He was in charge of stocking the strawberries, and they had his favourite brand, the one with the glass of red wine on the label. Perhaps it was the wine, or the swirling red font, that offered that brand a more feminine personality. There was something sexual about it, something—

        “Do you see now?” demands the voice. “Do you see how futile it was? All the worries of your life?”

        “Yes. I should have been braver.”

        “You hated all things righteous, and because of the hopelessness that you allowed to fester in your heart, I have given you exactly what you always wanted. I have pelted you with filth and treated you with contempt, so that you may have a reason to live the rest of your life as a rebel, a foreigner to all realms of normalcy. I have given you reason to run away and abandon your responsibilities, have offered you a way to justify your sins, and so I ask: why now are you unsatisfied?”

        He does not have an answer, and the seams in his brain remain torn. He sees himself on his last day, Day six thousand and two hundred, moments before staggering down the ramp to the rear parking lot.

        “Um, excuse me, sir?” says the homeless woman who always came by to beg for food in the mornings. “Sir, I am very hungry,” she says. The memory is chilling.

        “We open at eight, ma’am,” he tells her, such a respectful boy, so kind and forgiving.

        “I understand,” she says. “But… I have no money. If I come when you are open…”

        “I’m sorry, but we can’t just… look, you have to pay like everyone else. I’m sorry, but we can’t just give away our products for free.”

        She tugs at her greasy hair, gnawing at her split, bleeding lips. Her left hand reaches for his arm and seizes it in an iron grip. “Please!” she howls. “Please, please, p—

        And as his mind shows him the memory, he too howls. His fist comes forward to strike her, and then… and then he is staggering away, his hand filthy with gore. She is on the ground, the material of her jaw spread across the asphalt in a crimson puddle. The people inside the building are screaming and he is running away, around the building, and then he is staggering, his eyes half-shut, he is faintly amazed at how calm he feels after punching through a woman’s face—

        “I have made you a spectacle,” the voice says. “In your seventeen years of life, that is all you wanted. And so I ask you a third time: why now are you unsatisfied?”

        “Because I am by nature sinful,” he says. “And your works are beyond my understanding. I know not what I do, nor what I desire.”

        “I have made you a vehicle of miracles,” says the voice. “But you have doubted me.”

        The seams are closing now, and his eyes flutter. He has been made naked, is glistening with sweat, and the field is still full of water, the sky still full of thunder. He is still here.

        “Please,” he weeps.

        “But you are too late,” says the voice.

        “Please,” he says again, but the sky is rending now, spreading wider, and he has been filled with the awful certainty that surely awaits us all on the other, unimaginable side of life.

        “Life,” says the voice, “is a dangerous gift, because no man ever considers the dangers of a lion; he waits and admires its majesty until its teeth are piercing his skin. Only then does the fear come.”

July 15, 2023 00:08

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