RECKONING – a post-apocalyptic short story

by David Antrobus

“All that happened after was predicated on before.”

I came upon the group gathered in the blue twilight, silhouetted atop a ridge, the half moon rising behind them. The coming night crept in silently, and the gathering was silent too. A gentle scene, though I knew if they saw me they would kill me. Without words they stayed awhile, lingering in the quiet grain of the air, and I held my place below, hidden by a great stone and a small grove of aspen, whose song was muted by the absence of any wind. This was dry land, and no rains came that night either. 

Why did I linger? That’s simple; I needed something from them. But no, truer still—they had something of mine, and I wouldn’t be leaving till I could balance that ledger at last.

When they left the bluff, filing down a narrow rocky trail on its flank, I stayed in place until they’d returned to their camp. Then I climbed the trail myself in the vast silence of that star-blessed night. It took less than a minute to find my daughter’s footprint in the soft dirt, the extra toe on her right foot a private sigil.

***

“On the nature of daylight.”

This world. It’s sumptuous. It’s freighted. Wherever you can, cook things in the surplus juices of the last ingredient.

***

Once I knew she was there, I closed in the next dusk. Waited a drawn-out moment.

Soon, she wandered near the perimeter and I hissed our reptile code, and she stopped in her tracks and hissed back after a beat and came to me.

“I found you,” I said.

“You did,” she whispered.

The horizon crackled with something bright and infected.

“Ready to leave?” I asked.

When she didn’t reply, my heart skipped two full beats, and something buzzed in my brain pan. I repeated my question, and she still didn’t say anything, her foot with the extra toe dug into the sandy dirt. 

I looked at her face and willed her great brown eyes to stay open and gaze at mine, and I give her credit, because she made sure they did. Respect is a strange animal; I felt it steal into the clearing of my heart and force hope into the crowding bush, while love crouched unmolested. I sort of almost got it. I knew that loss and grief were boiling thunderheads amassing in belligerent ranks beyond the next ridge and the next, someplace way ahead, awaiting me nonetheless. 

I didn’t even know what sound to make. I brushed her small and bony hand with my own tentative reach, like the soft and flickering wings of a moth, and something happened inside my chest, and I saw tears fall in small beads from those nut brown eyes, and I left, and I never looked back, though I wanted to look back and squeeze her with the entirety of my raw and shrinking heart.

***

Why do we come here? Better yet, why do we stay? For the light and shadow at play on a woman’s hands. For the nighttime murmur of a dreaming child. For the boughs laden, the twilight fading. For the huddle of warmth at the eye of the storm. For the room at the end of the couch with all the feverish cousins. For the eloquence of silence in the wake of ferocity. For tender care. For sweet triumphant justice. 

For the enraptured.

We are all poets. Troubadours of love. Now write me yours. Write us ours. And always, always try to go in the unbroken strength of peace. 

© Copyright by David Antrobus at The Migrant Type.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

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David Antrobus is a freelance writer and editor whose origins lie in northern England and who currently lives in the Vancouver area. As if in tribute to the abused and neglected children he spent two decades working with, his writing in all its forms bristles with outrage, sorrow, dark humour, and resilience.

As a writer, David is far from prolific, which he justifies by assuring anyone who cares to listen that he much prefers quality over quantity. The fact that he has one perfect daughter lends support to this approach. However, his steady intake of wine, caffeine, and deeply questionable movies just as easily undermines it.

As an editor, he created Be Write There in 2009, a one-stop service that provides proofreading, copyediting, substantive editing, developmental editing, and manuscript evaluation.

He has published two books, both nonfiction, and has written numerous dark yet lyrical tales scattered among various anthologies and websites.

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