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The sun was a pale circle halfway up the sky, like a ring left after someone had removed a glass of pale yellow, faintly radioactive liquid. Maybe that someone had drunk up the rest of the sun, and its imprint was all that was left. The fog drifted fitfully across it, and the air was so thick with moisture that Jinx’s dark hair hung wetly in a shaggy damp fringe that was plastered to his forehead and kept getting in his eyes. Selki, plodding quietly along after him, seemed unaffected by the weather, but then again she seemed unaffected by most things. In Jinx’s makeshift backpack a severed TV antenna, a banged-up saucepan, a kid’s jacket with orange dinosaurs all over it, a couple of dusty blankets, and a bundle of electrical wire all jostled around inside as he made his way toward the cloud of dust and ashes around another collapsed building in the distance. Jinx motioned to Selki and whispered, “Another treasure hunt. Anything whole, anything useful.” Jinx made a motion as if he were opening an invisible telescope and putting it to his eye. He nodded militarily and smiled at her, folding up the invisible telescope. Selki just nodded back, solemnly, and they moved on. They were just climbing through a window in a slanted collapsed wall, hanging open like someone’s jaw hanging open in surprise, Jinx heard voices carrying from deeper within the rubble. He stopped dead. He grabbed Selki by her shoulders and frantically motioned for her to stay put. For a moment, she looked like she was about to object, but then looked at the ground and became the distant little figure she had been when he had first found her. Her eyes watched him, independent of her hanging head, as he climbed through the tilted open window and was gone.
The voices grew louder and louder as he picked his way through the ruins, around broken wires sparking and sizzling, and sloshed as quietly as possible through water pouring out of jagged pipes. Finally he peered out from behind a pile of rubble and saw two figures crouching by another collapsed wall, squabbling.
“Stop--twitching. Hold her still, would you?”
“Why don’t you just kill her? For Chrissake, just whack her on the head!”
The first voice ignored the second and addressed the something moving at his feet, “Would--you--just---hold--still--”
Jinx moved a little closer. There was a woman, covered in plaster dust, her lower half pinned under a mountain of rubble. She was jerking and convulsing on the ground, her eyes rolling crazily in their sockets. She should have been screaming, why wasn’t she screaming? Her mouth was open in a red round O, but nothing came out but blood and spittle and an awful strangling sound. One of the figures crouching over her was trying to pin her flailing arms while the other was pawing at her pockets, but they were too far under the rubble to draw anything out, so he gave up and began to clumsily pull out her earrings, while the other one finally let go of her arms and began to pull off her shirt. Jinx was breathing hard. He took a step forward--and felt something cold and metal biting into his throat, as a third figure grasped him from behind. A voice from behind said, “We have…competiiiition,” in the raspy sing-song voice of a radio announcer, albeit one who had trekked through the desert for months without water, and had a mouth full of sand. The two figures stopped what they were doing and looked up. They weren’t Big Rats, not even close. They looked to be close to Jinx’s age, probably younger, but much gaunter, and much more desperate. They could be twins; their cheeks were sunken, and both of their hair was white with malnutrition. Had Jinx’s eyes always been colorless, the color of smoked glass? Or did they fade after years of scavenging in the city, like their stark-white hair?
There was a knife, (not a real knife, but a piece of mirror sharpened to a deadly point) tucked inside the waistband of his ragged pants, and he could--almost--reach--it…but not quite. His arms were being pinned behind him by someone more well-fed than the two little rats in front of him, it seemed. Jinx struggled like mad and even tried to bite the hand holding the knife, but the knife was only driven deeper into his neck, and he could feel something warm and wet trickling down inside his shirt. The woman finally lay still, except for a slight twitching in her hand, and one of them wrenched the shirt all the way off her and headed toward Jinx. The other one stood stock-still, staring at something in shock. He was staring at a little girl who had just emerged out of the rubble. A genuine little girl, it looked like.
The hand holding the knife suddenly froze, and Jinx almost broke free, but then the knife was pressed into his throat harder than ever, and he heard the rasping radio announcer’s voice behind him say, “C’mere, sweetie, it’s okay. Are you lost?”
And, incredibly, Selki began to walk toward him. What was she doing? Jinx wanted to scream, Run! Run, what’s wrong with you?! Move your stupid little bare feet and go back where you came from! But he couldn’t say anything, he could only groan as more blood trickled down his shirt. She brushed both of the white-haired rats with her hand, as if she were comforting them or something, as she passed, and kept walking. Was she ingenuine after all? With the brain of a two-year-old? Come to daddy with the knife, sweetie . Good girl. Come to daddy. Finally she stood right in front of Jinx, right in front of Daddy Gregor holding him from behind, with the raspy radio announcer’s voice and the bloody knife pressed to Jinx’s throat. She looked up with fire burning in her round amber eyes and grasped the hand holding the knife. Jinx almost choked with shock, but something was happening. The hand was growing feebler, but Jinx didn’t break free. He was watching the two white-haired twins. Lines were running in their faces like cracking glass, as if they were going to shatter at any moment. Their limbs grew eerily thin and then one suddenly bent over, almost hunchbacked, as if an invisible hand had just dropped something extraordinarily heavy his back, and the other‘s legs suddenly buckled beneath him. Jinx turned around and saw his captor growing rapidly smaller as his head swelled grotesquely and his eyes bulged. Jinx tried to scream but only a strangled choking noise came out as he watched the grotesque thing turn into a small, dead fetus at his feet. Two bent old men were lying on the ground on pillows of their own fallen hair, and Selki was a small figure sitting on the ground in the midst of it, hugging her knees and resting her head on them.
Jinx walked over to her and knelt in front of her, breathing hard and unsteadily.
“I’m sorry,” she said in a whisper.
Jinx grabbed her by her bony little shoulders and started to shake her.
“You killed them…you’ve been killing them, all of them. You killed Toby, didn’t you? Didn‘t you?!” His eyes were cold and distant and hard as flint.
“I can’t--I can’t--” But she didn’t deny it. There was something trickling out of her eyes, but it wasn’t tears. It was dust, dust pouring in rivulets down her face and turning it into an eerie, sepulchral statue.
Jinx grabbed her by the throat and shook her harder, and started to squeeze.
Her eyes widened. “Robin! Robin, stop it!” she managed in an urgent, croaking whisper.
He stopped, mostly from the shock. No one had called him that in two years.
“You can’t kill me,” she said, “I’m already dying.”
He looked away for a moment and wiped his eyes, and when he looked back at her. She was sprawled on the ground, motionless. Jinx wondered if he had killed her after all, but she had only fainted again. Jinx considered her. He could easily cut her throat, or throw her off a building, and be rid of this little girl who just might be the disease that was crippling the city. He sighed. He picked her up and vanished into the mist, just as sirens began to scream in the distance, replacing the screams that the rats lying dead and unnatural in the ruins couldn’t get out, and the screams that Jinx himself hadn’t been able to utter.
* * *
Selki heard the roaring even before she awoke, like some great dragon breathing steadily in and out in great roaring gusts right next to her ear. She opened her eyes. It was dusk, and she was lying on something soft with something decidedly not soft digging into her back. There was no dragon, but a voice spoke over the roar, “No one comes here anymore. I think they’re afraid.”
Selki sat up. She was lying half on sand, half on some jutting rock. In front of her the dying orange sun seeped into a roiling ocean stretching as far as the eye could see. Jinx spoke from beside her, “It never used to be this angry. It used to have moods, shifting with the moon. But the moon doesn’t change either now, does it? The only two things that don’t anymore. You might want to answer a question of mine, before I throw you back into the sea where you came from, little Selki.”
He laughed, but it sounded more like a seal trying to bark while being strangled.
“What are you?”
She was quiet for a while. “I’m sorry,” she said, in a voice he could barely hear. “I don’t make them. I don’t kill them, Robin. I didn’t kill Toby. I just can’t stop it anymore. I’m dying.”
“And who is this ‘I’ you keep talking about?”
She didn’t answer. Then she took a deep sighing breath and began.
“Look at the ocean. It’s just like Time Itself. It roils in perfect ordered chaos, rearing up and then collapsing in on itself and then doing it over and over again, relentlessly. It flows over bits of seaweed and broken shells, (there are never whole and polished shells, because people never are like that). Then it slides back into the sea, making way for the next wave, the next era. I came out of that sea.”
Jinx said quietly, “But the sea doesn’t work like that anymore. It goes forwards and backwards and sideways and it crashes into itself from all directions. It doesn’t just go forward anymore.”
“No, it doesn‘t. I can’t control it. I was tired, so tired of watching people light and then wink out again and again, like candles, while I watch like the sun. So I came closer. Now I’m like this, for as long as I live.” She held her hands up to her face and examined her palms in the fading light. “It doesn’t matter. I’m finally dying. Ingenuines are being born and cities are crumbling. It’s all right. I was always a little envious of people, they die so quickly, but they get to see what comes after.”
Jinx was speechless. He cleared his throat and said, hesitantly, “I always suspected it, that Time Itself was dying.”
She smiled. “I prefer Selki. Last names are too tedious.”
Jinx frowned somberly down at her. He didn’t know what to say. “Is there anything I can do?”
“Donuts would be nice.”
Jinx barked so loudly that a flock of resting seagulls took off indignantly and left to find a more restful resting place.
“Donuts it is.”
It was completely dark as the two figures walked away from the roiling dark ocean and toward the city. The moon was a small unchanging sliver. Like the floating smile left after the Cheshire cat had disappeared, it was the only part of the moon that hadn’t vanished completely. Not yet, anyway.
| Yep, you said it. The ending was a surprise all right. You have so much story in such a little space. I still think this story could be written on a larger scale. |
I did enjoy the story. Left me kinda feeling unfullfilled though. Maybe, not enough set up.
I liked the ending : ) I must admit I never saw it coming (as far as her identity). Nice analogy with the ocean and the waves.
The donuts seem to be growing on me. You have one of the greatest imaginations I have had the pleasure of seeing. I hope you do great things. With a little work on your character and plot developement I think you could be a grand writer.
|| Posted on 2006-07-14 00:00:00 | by Man in Black | [ Reply to This ] || I didn't see that coming either. When he was like YOU KILLED TOBY!!?!?!?!?! I was like holy cow... what is this? cool twist. I agree w/ Man in Black that this could be extraordinary on a larger scale. I think you should seriously consider writing a book. |
Your description of the sun at the start was brilliant. Science fiction extraordinaire. Also the discussion/analogy on the waves of the ocean was awesome. You have so many excellent ideas. This story is very cool. Good job. . . and really... think about a novel.
|| Posted on 2006-07-17 00:00:00 | by parabola | [ Reply to This ] |