Short-listed Entry: Fiction Category
By: L. Vera
Jonathan had awoken. His wife lay quiet and his son remained in his room. He poured himself a bowl of cereal and remained silent, not like a ghost but like a memory forgotten, knowing that his family was dead.
He floated through the house, disparity in his movements. His wife wasn’t breathing and his son was motionless under his Transformer covers. He wasn’t use to the solitude. Every morning he awoke to a television blaring wacky cartoon sound effects and the crashing of dishes, as his wife got breakfast ready. The lack of chaos rested in his mind with an unsettling resistance. He was empty.
They had no landline and his cell phone had a network busy icon. He was aware that his family was dead but chose to ignore it. He placed his laptop on the dining room table and drank a warm cup of coffee. He remained empty.
The front page on his favorite search engine had only one news article. The headline ran: “Billions Die in Their Sleep”.
In an urge to save money, Jonathan had cancelled his cable plan and had only used his television to watch DVDs and streaming videos from the Internet. He turned on the television and the first channel that emerged from the static began to throw information at a rapid speed. The television filled with lifeless bodies. Panic spread through the larger cities in the west coast and apparently the president was missing.
Jonathan shuffled through the channels grabbing bits of new information as he went. He began to feel the void in his stomach grow and soon after that, he threw up into the kitchen sink. He became even emptier.
“Britain’s prime minister is among the casualties in Southern England.”
“The death toll continues to rise as bodies overfill hospitals.”
“Many cell phone networks are being bombarded by people trying to reach loved ones.”
“Lady Gaga found dead on her tour bus.”
When Jonathan had had enough he walked outside for some fresh air. It was dead. There wasn’t a single soul out on his street. Many cars that would normally be at their owner’s respective jobs were still parked in their driveways. It was empty.
Jonathan opened the door to his car and, before he turned the key, cried. His family, his relatives, his friends – all dead. He was now alone.
He drove to his office, staring at the grim scenes through the gray fog. Houses were quiet, parking lots were unoccupied and streets that led to his office were empty. He had hoped to find someone or alive. He stopped. Stared at a lone kitten and as it ran off, he felt something inside of him fill with emotion. He pushed it away until he felt nothing again.
The glass doors came alive for him and, as he walked in, his shoes created loud echoes throughout the building. He stared up from the empty lobby at the many balconies that stretched above and yelled, “Hello!” His echo was the only response.
He continued to his office on the fifth floor. The elevator opened as a young woman stared back at him. “Heather,” he whispered.
He was happy to see her. “Heather, I . . .” Jonathan managed to say. She leapt in to his arms and kissed him. The elevator had closed behind her as they passionately embraced each other.
“We were meant to be,” she said as they sat in his office. It was a very comfortable office, Jonathan had worked hard to achieve such a glamorous space to work and the view was breathtaking. Jonathan had gotten up and stared out the window, over the fog. He wasn’t ignoring what Heather had said; he was just frightened by the implications. She joined him by the window and held his hand.
Jonathan could see a lone white truck driving through the streets. Heather pointed to a child wandering alone; the world wasn’t completely dead. “We should help her,” she said.
Jonathan remained quiet. He didn’t want to be surrounded by this grim atmosphere. He escaped to his office for that one reason. He didn’t want death around him. “No, she’ll be okay,” he lied.
He turned to Heather and kissed her. It wasn’t the first time. He had had a long affair with her for years. She was in love with him and he was in love with himself. “I think you are right. We were meant to be with each other,” he said as his emotions began to swirl like a tornado, filling himself with lies. He kissed her and slowly he began to take her clothes off.
She was a lot younger then him and her skin reflected that. They both made a makeshift burrow out of the many blankets they had found throughout the building. They laughed as they ate chips from the now broken vending machine. Later they turned off the lights and watched a movie on Jonathan’s laptop. They discussed how their day began. Heather had explained that she hadn’t noticed anything till she had arrived at work.
“How many do they think are still alive?” she asked. Jonathan quickly silenced her with another kiss.
“We can’t pretend that nothing has happened,” she said.
“One day. That’s all I asked,” he said to her and she nodded.
Jonathan fell asleep with her warm naked body in his arms and when the morning came, he felt Heather’s body become cold. He wrapped her with more blankets and stood in his underwear at the large window in his office. Nothing moved. There was nothing alive.
He returned to the nest he had created with the help of his young and beautiful lover. There among the coldness, he began to realize that her heart laid still. He laid her down and tried to find a pulse – nothing. She was empty.
He left the building for the same reason he had left his house. He didn’t want to be surrounded by such dead and grim things. He jumped into his car and noticed that he had left his cell phone charging. He had one text message from Heather. It read: “John, no1 is at the office. I’ve been on the Internet reading about people who died in their sleep last nite. I’m scared. Please let me know if you’re okay.” Once again the pit in his stomach began to eat away at his inside, pulling emotions to the surface and it caused him to weep.
He wiped his tears on his sleeve and stared at the message again. He felt like he was missing something, like he was no longer whole. Heather had filled that gap, just like his wife did years ago. The network busy icon had gone away. He called his mother and father – no answer. He then scrolled to the G’s and called his brother George.
“You sonafabitch,” his brother yelled through the phone. “If any asshole would survive this it would be you,” George continued.