Contest #156 shortlist ⭐️

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Romance Urban Fantasy Black

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

“Don’t you remember?” his wife — his wife! — says, giving him a purely curious look despite the scorn that Alex knows he deserves. Briana stands at the window nearest to him, its glass having long become miniscule shards on the dusty warehouse floor. The sun’s light gives her large afro a blossoming halo, her dark skin glowing with gold undertones. She’s a vibrant painting, a masterpiece made flesh even with the travel-worn black clothes she wears. 

“I don’t,” he responds and looks down at his ragged sneakers, they were practically falling apart on his feet. “but it sounds fun. I’m glad Nairobi is the place we picked for vacation. I’ve always wanted to go to Kenya.” He fidgets in his damp chair, wincing at the feeling of pooling water beneath his jeans. 

“Is there anything you do remember? Like our new house or how you got that scar?” she points at the jagged line that runs from his left eyebrow to his cheek. “Or even . . . our honeymoon?” Briana’s voice shakes, her speech hesitant. It's like a punch to his gut. 

Alex clenches his fist where they rest in his lap and racks his mind for anything that would wipe that look of hopeful desperation from Briana’s face. But he found none. He had no memories of the last seven years, of his wife and their three children, or of the way the world ended. There is nothing in his head beyond his college graduation. 

When he says as such to Briana, her quiet “okay” is as heart-breaking as her tear-filled eyes had been the first time he’d woken up in that hospital. Alex still remembered her sobs as he ran from her, terrified of his own shadow and everything that crossed him. That fear skyrocketed once he’d burst from the hospital’s entrance doors and had immediately been besieged by the waterlogged undead. It was hell, but his wife had saved him. 

And since then, all he seemed to do was hurt her. 

Briana turns back to the window, staring out at the city with a distant look in her eye. Her full lips are pressed together tightly and she takes slow, measured breaths. Her posture is stiff and she’s trying not to cry. 

Alex swallows, stands, and makes his way to her side. The smell of chlorophyll and rusting metal grows stronger as he stops behind her. His hand hovers over her shoulders, wanting desperately to touch, to pull her into his embrace. But he doesn’t. He drops his hand knowing he isn’t the man she’d grown to love. Not yet. 

“I’m sorry,” he whispers, watching every small twitch of her face. “I’m sorry I can’t be him.”

Briana glances up from the corner of her eye, a sad smile on those soft lips. “You are him. You’re my husband now and forever. Even if you don’t remember loving me, you haven’t left. That counts for something, doesn’t it?” 

He smiles back just as sad, just as hopeful. “Yeah.”

She turns away from him again and Alex follows her line of sight to the city below. He frowns. The water level had risen drastically last night. Submerged now were the rooftops of every building unfortunate enough to not have more than five stories. The stop sign outside of the warehouse was completely submerged, its red paint dying the water around it a pale red.  The scene is still though. His newspaper lay where he’d dropped it the day before, a few inches below the water and frozen as if in ice. He could still see in great detail the place where he’d tried to tear it in anger. 

Far, far below him in the horrifyingly clear sea, Alex could see the concrete streets. And the bodies. Faces stiff with horror, arms raised as if to shield their faces, legs poised to run, clothes torn, blood hanging frozen where it had bled from abused flesh. He could see it all. The waters swallowed everything but hid nothing. It's dead quiet as Alex takes in the underside of the car that sits under the window; weeds and tree branches stuck to its large wheels. If he leaned out a little, he could skim his finger across the water from where he stood. 

Alex let out a shaky breath, unease growing. “Maybe we should leave a bit earlier than planned,” he suggested. Briana nods, eyes sharp. 

When the sun set and the rain started again, those bodies beneath them would rise to the surface and walk solidly on their graves. They would talk, and sing, and play together like they were alive, but when they saw the living, they would become beasts; laughter ringing eerily from torn, rotting mouths. 

“Yeah, I know. The dead are getting more active too. Last night,” Briana bites her lip and frowns, “ they were climbing things. One of them even jumped on the stop sign outside. If we move any slower, we’ll miss Port Nevaeh and the children.” His wife turns from the window and makes her way to the back of the room, gathering their sleeping bags and equipment and stuffing them back into their backpacks. Alex follows her and helps, watching her from the corner of his eye as he turns off the portable heater and puts it away. There’s a question on the tip of his tongue. 

Will she cry if I remind her that I don’t know my own children’s names?

Briana stands and zips her backpack, her mouth upturned. “It will be alright. You may not remember them but they still love you. When you meet them, you’ll see that. And maybe you’ll recall some things too.” 

Alex nods and stands, putting on his backpack as he says, “What are their names?”

Briana pauses, biting her lip hard. He leans forward, frown deepening as he gently pulls her lip out from her teeth. “I’m sorry, did I upset you? I shouldn’t have asked that.”

His wife smiles and steps back, widening the distance between them. “No no, I’m just being silly. You have amnesia so it’s to be expected you don’t know their names.” Her voice is shaking again. She folds her arms under her chest, almost hugging herself. “First there’s Nadia, who just turned thirteen last week. She’s our little painter. Then there's Willow; she’s ten and is just as in love with soccer as you are. And lastly there's our youngest, Marshall. He’s five, likes to touch everything, and wants to steal the sun when he grows up.” 

Briana stares at the ground as she speaks, fondness seeping into her tone. She gives the first truly happy smile he’d seen. Alex’s heart hurts at the sight of her because despite her love for what they have built in the past seven years, he feels no recollection at the name of his children. And he hates it. There should be something, a spark of long-held adoration or the memory of childish laughter. Instead all there was, was a vague recollection of his graduation night. 

It was raining, Alex remembered as he thought back, and it had been doing so for three days straight.

 At the beginning of their journey when his wife told him that the apocalypse had only started six months ago, Alex had been confused. He remembered the way rainwater had burst through the high-class restaurant windows in a large wave, soaking his graduation afterparty and ruining the food. There had been screaming, crying, and sirens wailing in the distance. He had hit his head on one of the tables and fallen to the hardwood floor with a loud, wet thud. He had thought he was dying, only to wake up in a hospital room seven years older with a wife who had traveled across the now sunken America to find him—leaving the safety of her city-ship to find him even after everyone else had declared him a lost cause.

Amazement warms him as he smiles back at Briana. “I don’t remember anything, but I’m sure I’ll feel something once I see them again.” Alex doesn’t know if that was true or not, but what he does know is that he didn’t want his wife to be upset. 

His Briana, beautiful and brave and everything he could have dreamed of, grins back at him with sparkling eyes. “I know you will,” she says, cheer in her soft voice. “I have faith.”

Then she turns and walks to their small powerboat. It's docked in a corner where the brick has completely fallen away, leaving a makeshift doorway. As Briana loads their things on the boat, Alex takes one last glance back at the warehouse.  It was a decrepit thing that had served them well, though tall and looking ready to topple over at any moment. For the past week, they had switched between here, an abandoned high school, and the towering mall downtown. But now the latter places were submerged and he knew that tonight's storm would soon swallow the former. He turned away and climbed into the cockpit, sitting down in the old leather driver’s seat with a huff. 

Alex stares out at the calm waters. “We’ll go all the way this time, right?” he asks. 

Briana appears beside him, still smiling. “Port Nevaeh departs Thursday, so we have three days to get down to Mississippi from here. So yes, straight on till morning.” 

He hums in response. In a few days he would see all that he’d forgotten. His Nadia, his Willow, and his Marshall on that great ship he’d been so excited about after hearing it was being built. He’d look them in the eye and pretend that he felt something for them, and then hope that they’d be just as generous as their mother. His stomach churns as he brings out the key and turns on the boat, the engine rumbling to life. Briana, still watching him, places a delicate hand atop his own. 

“Don’t worry. You’ll remember something.

“But what if I don’t? What if I can’t ever get those memories back? What will you do if I can’t love you like I used to?” Alex winces the moment those words left his mouth. Briana's expression turns downcast and punishes him for his brash tongue, her eyes just barely avoiding tearing up. “Sorry,” he says with a grimace, about to pull away.

She stops him and twists so they face each other in their seats, interlacing their hands. Her knees brushed against his as she stared into his eyes. “Even still, I’ll love you. As long as you have me, you don’t have to worry about being alone.” Briana gives him a grin wild with mischief, “We will be here till death do us part.” 

Amusement chases away some of the worry drilling at him and Alex manages a chuckle. He squeezes her hand, breathing in the joy that radiates from his wife. “Till death do us part,” he repeats, his own smile growing as wild as hers. 

As their boat pulls off and the warehouse steadily shrinks behind them, Alex can only think of one thing. 

I have a crush on my wife!

July 29, 2022 18:31

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13 comments

Faith Ogedegbe
15:04 Aug 07, 2022

This story has a happy ending and I love stories like that. Great job, atrice!

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John K Adams
21:30 Aug 04, 2022

You create this ruined world in so much detail, I felt the urge to look out my window to make sure my world hadn't flooded. Even before the ending, I felt sure that even if Alex couldn't remember his love for Briana, she would ensure he fell for her again. I've only read this one story but am encouraged to read them all. You must pursue writing! Carry on!

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Atrice J. R.
00:23 Aug 05, 2022

Hey John, thank you so much! Your comment made my day. I definitely plan to write a few books soon. Thanks for the encouragement!

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Kevin Broccoli
17:12 Aug 11, 2022

This is really a gorgeous example of world-building. I like that the world itself is one of horror and yet you're creating a personal story that's so human. Well done.

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02:20 Aug 09, 2022

CA-YUTE

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Kate Winchester
18:16 Aug 08, 2022

Congrats on the shortlist! This is a great story! You capture well the feelings of both Alex and his wife, and you’re descriptions of the scene are amazing. I loved that there was hope at the end. Kudos. 🤗

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L. E. Scott
16:46 Aug 05, 2022

I love that last line. This is an amazing story for so many reasons. The apocalypse backdrop that isn't even the main focus of the story, the tension between Briana and your main character, the world building. I love it all. Good job and congrats on being shortlisted.

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Atrice J. R.
17:18 Aug 05, 2022

Thank you so much, Scott!!

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Kaethe Kaiser
02:04 Aug 04, 2022

The vivid descriptions of the city and how clear the emotions are expressed really pulls you into the story. I loved the last line so much. Alex and Briana feel so fleshed out even though the story is short. I look forward to reading more of your stories.

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Atrice J. R.
03:40 Aug 04, 2022

Hey Kaethe, thanks so much for this comment. I'm glad Alex and Briana read as I intended, I was really worried I wouldn't portray their relationship with enough depth. Thanks again!

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Raluca .
14:57 Aug 02, 2022

I loved this "And since then, all he seemed to do was hurt her." It's a sign of very good writing right there! Looking forward to read more of your work.

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Emma G.
18:46 Jul 29, 2022

That last line is adorableeeeee. Really nice story here merging the sweetness of love with the danger of a new world. You left me so curious about the fate of the characters and whether or not Alex ever remembers his past life. Write a book!

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Atrice J. R.
20:16 Jul 29, 2022

Hi Emma, this means so much to me! I was really worrying over how to portray Alex's and Briana's love for each other in the face of adversity. Writing a book (or a few) is definitely on my to-do list. Thank you so much for the uplifting comment!

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