(Author’s Note: This little bit of fiction doesn’t really fit within any of the worlds that I regularly write about, but I have to admit that the main character feels an awful lot like Robert, the main character for Bird. I wanted to capture a sense of frustrated pessimism, but built on a pragmatic basis. I also wanted this to work mostly through dialogue and ‘stage direction’ as it were, but as it’s told from a first-person perspective there’s a little bit of ‘telling’ that shines through.)
“What do you suppose our future is going to look like?” Sarah was lying next to me in our backyard, looking up at the stars. They were much easier to see now that the electricity had gone out.
I sighed and tried not to look at the one star, bigger than the others, twinkling with erratic, angry life. I didn’t want to play this game with her, not now. “I don’t know. Why don’t you tell me?”
She turned, and I could feel her looking at me. “I think it’ll be better than what we have now. Not right away, but eventually. We’ll build new farms and towns, and we’ll go into the cities only to salvage stuff we need.”
I nodded, and couldn’t stop myself from saying: “Where you’ll have to wade through the bones of the dead and can’t do anything about the infections you’ll get, because there’ll be no medicine.” I kept staring up. My eyes kept getting drawn to that star. It was the brightest thing in the sky now, maybe half the size of the moon.
She was quiet after that, for about a minute. I could feel her frowning at me, too. After a while she spoke. “I really wish you wouldn’t do that. You don’t have to ruin everything.”
“I’m not ruining everything. That is.” I pointed to the asteroid, now, forced myself to look at it. She did, too. I heard her gasp slightly and immediately regretted it. Then I felt angry at her for making me feel bad. “I’m just reminding you what’s going to happen.”
“I already know what’s going to happen.” She turned away, then. Away from me, away from the stars. She was staring at Rodney’s doghouse now, I knew. I tried not to think about how he disappeared a week ago, or wonder where he was. People were getting hungry these days. They were trying to stockpile. They were well past the point of being picky.
“No you don’t. You have this pie-in-the-sky idea of what’s going to happen, but you don’t know what’s really going to happen. That thing is going to smash into the planet, Sarah. And when it does, that’s it. The end. Done. You might think that you can climb out of whatever shelter your family has and just start over, but it’s not going to be that easy. It’s going to be months before anybody even sees the sun again. If you survive — and that’s a pretty big if — you’re going to come out to a world that’s died. Completely. All the plants, all the animals. Just gone. You won’t go into the city to salvage anything, because the cities will have melted. The ash will have choked the oceans. The earth will have been scorched away. You can’t grow anything. You can’t build anything. All you can do is eat what you’ve got until it’s gone, and then you’re going to starve to death. That’s what the future is going to look like. And I sure as fuck don’t want to see it.”
There was a voice in my head telling me to stop. I think I heard her gasp, then whimper, then start to cry. But I kept going. I heard my voice getting higher and shriller, carrying through the quiet of the neighborhood, my panic exciting a dog whose family had left him days ago. He barked four times before he went quiet again. He didn’t have much fight left in him.
But neither did I. Our family had decided not to survive what was coming. We knew better. If we made it through the impact, we were not equipped in mind or body to handle what would come afterwards. What kind of life would that be? Sarah, sweet and naive, always tried to make things into a fairy tale no matter how bad they were. I think she understood that things would be scary for a little while, but thought it would get better really soon. I knew better. There was no getting better from this. The sooner she understood that, the better off she would be. There would be no more fairy tales. The asteroid would scorch all of that away.
“I don’t want to die,” she said through her tears. Her voice sounded small, afraid. The way it should be.
I turned to her and held her, scooting closer to her warmth. This would be the last time I’d get to do this, I told myself, and I started to cry too.
“I know you don’t,” I said. I kissed her hair, put my arms around her. “But if that thing does what we’re pretty sure it’s going to do, I don’t want to live through that.”
She cried harder, and so did I. I held her and she backed up against me. What else could we do? Far above us, but getting closer all the time, the asteroid brightened the night sky in its unnatural, malevolent way.