Aftermath – Chapter 10

A short story set in a near future – Internet and our societies have fallen and the law of the jungle prevails…

This article is also available on Medium.

2063. After the Event, communities have reformed — while the majority of the population has regrouped in a handful of megacities under lockdown, the rest are scattered across the globe and fighting for their survival. This is the story of seven survivors stuck in a bunker, in the Middle East…

Chapter 10—Rick

It is a starry night like old times. The moonlight deforms every shadow, a nocturnal movie spotlight of cheese and rocks. I see the Gruyère from here, with all its Swiss holes. Air is not cold, it is fresh, and nice, and comforting. Crickets and grasshoppers are singing around, somewhere in the valley a few birds whistle Mozart. I look up to the spread constellations. Could I breathe in every planet, every galaxy, every universe and take them with me? Could I keep this night right here, in my heart, and never let it fade? I turn around suddenly — there was an engine. The same I heard earlier. But is it a car, though? I blink a few times and examine the forest down below. The trees are swinging nicely, calm and steady. There is just this red dot in the middle, like a lit cigarette, that grows larger and larger, and larger, and… The fire jumps from branch to branch, it is a famished snake that flows through the leaves and cannot be stopped. I want to scream but no sound comes out. The closer I get to the woods, the more impressive this unshaped dragon looks. It is just a few feet away, now, and this enormous head of fire smiles at me like an old friend. I restrain a scream and turn around to run away, but my feet are bogged down by flowing sand, red river of infinite dust. I fall on my knees, out of breath, only to realize I have not moved at all. Still, the fire is grinning; still, its arms are reaching out to me. I lay my head down on the shifting ground: just a second, not long, just to gather up some strength.

How long do I stay that way, bent in an unbearable position that breaks my back and twists my arms? Is it minutes, hours, days? My shadow bounces around as if the Sun ran behind me, but maybe it is the fire? When I lift my head up and crack my neck, it feels like decades have passed, my corpse is a bunch of bones taped together hastily. Behind me, the fire is burning bright in the night, hiding the Moon and the stars with millions of ashes.

But suddenly, a cold hand grasps my wrist. Anna is standing in front of me, completely naked, with a mysterious smile I cannot decrypt. I look down at her perfect body, incapable of deciding whether I should feel guilty or grateful. She pulls me to her, away from the forest.

  • Wait, the fire! It’s going to…
  • What fire?

Her voice is soft. As I dive into her beautiful eyes, I start to wonder, too: what fire? This rumbling in the background, this is no flames, this is the jeep bumping on the dusty road. The shadows have vanished, the moonlight spot does not cast any shade anywhere. A bird flies around us for a second, singing a sweet melody, before freezing — literally. I take my eyes off of her to watch the animal suspended in mid air. There are no strings, no wires or tricks. I slowly rise my hand and discover the puppeteer’s strings are on my arms, there are little bolts at my elbow hinge, a big metal key plunged into my spine. I would fall down if she would let me. But Anna is dancing around, gorgeous and hypnotizing, her breasts swinging, her hips waving before me, she holds invisible ropes and laughs like a devil as she pulls one that throws me forward, then another that sends my leg up in an inhuman movement. I used to be a skeleton covered in my flesh, now all these femurs, tendons, muscles have disappeared. A vein is pulsing on her neck, and around it there is black skin, like a bad bruise that keeps on growing. She yells and covers her face in pain, I can only see a scary set of teeth in between the long fingers. She is cowering on the ground, screaming as black metal runs through her body and turns her into a lead statue. At last, there is no more puppeteer: I dislocate into lifeless wood pieces trapped in burning plastic threads. As my wooden head falls on top of the badly-shaped logs, I see her savage eyes locked on something in my back, her desperate mouth petrified in an endless cry; behind me, behind this small pile of wood I have always been, behind the duped Pinocchio, the dragon roars and licks it lips with satisfaction.

I wake up with a start in a sweaty panic mixed with a hard-on. My thoughts are an unorganized stack of emotions and fantasies that are stuck under my skull, at the corners of my eyes, just far enough to be in potential reach. What is different? Something is not like before. I see shades sitting up in their beds, searching for the error as well. Over there, Aiko seems to have already woken up a while ago, her eyes are wide open, she is watching Adam with a strange look — but now, she too turns to the piano. The deep voice of the old man rises in the shade.

  • Erik Satie, my friends. Jolting our hearts, moving her feet.

Who could have believed that, one day, there would be those peaceful notes, this moment of grace in the bunker, the movements of a blue feather floating around? Who could have predicted the British man would dare to put his fingers on the keys and that she would dance to his music?

  • For Piano Girl is but a name, a label on an ever-shifting animal. Dance, child, dance and fly.

In this perfect instant, it seems time could stand still forever. No more flickering lights or weird smells, no more stained walls or shattered beer bottles, no more fire in the trees. All our troubles have gone away. For the first time in my new life, I feel at peace. Arpeggios lay down cozily around us, they curl up in our minds. I have not breathed so fully, so deeply in months. Everything is sharper, everything is greater, everything could be eternal. I see before me the little bird frozen in mid-air, wrapped in her blue wings.

  • Life is a gift, children. Let’s not spoil it.

I see sparkles on the old man’s cheeks as he looks up at the neon lights. And Piano Girl is moving with such grace! This is a new woman that I discover in her, something beautiful and unique that she kept a secret for so long… as the piano sings up, my heart purrs gently. I sense someone behind me, a warm presence — Anna puts her head on my shoulder. In this instant, in this perfect piece of life, with her hair in my neck, and Satie’s in my ears, and the blue dress smiling as she dances around, I wonder: yes, why not enjoy it while it lasts? Have we been so caught up in our sadness we stopped seeing the good things? Have I? Surely the kids are strange, Adam is unbearable and Piano Girl is different from us… but they still are a family. The music flows in me, it clicks against the shores in my mind — strong fingers tapping on the keys, light touches a second later, Gareth Kenner is not as good as she is, but he has soul and emotion.

  • Look.

I follow Anna’s eyes and stand there open-mouthed: Ichirō has gone to her, he is reaching out for Piano Girl’s hand; and she takes the long pale fingers in hers, and the two of them slowly float in the middle of the bunker while Satie lifts their feet. Deep inside of me, I understand I am witnessing love in its purest form, this is an unbreakable connection between two young minds. They know each other better than anyone else, they could dance with no music, their bodies would still share the same rhythm. Droplets of notes crash on the floor and bounce again, a rain of chords falls into circles and crowns around them. Looking at this girl and this boy, I see shining stars like before, this emotion that I had while watching the birth of galaxies, the death of comets, the revolution of planets, this emotion takes a hold of me. It is more powerful than ever. I remember my wife’s smile, her sweet eyes, her nose covered in yellow after she breathed flowers in her mother’s shop. I remember her silver earrings twinkling in the night when she brought me dinner at the telescope, her scarf that drifted away one time when wind blew on the hill, the one we waved goodbye with a smile. I remember the red in her cheeks as she watched me kneel in the restaurant, the red on her lips the day of the wedding. I remember happiness and good times.

There could be more, I know that now. While Kenner plays, while Piano Girl dances and Ichirō pulls her to him, while Anna’s head sinks in my neck, I realize grief must come to an end. It is time to live again. It has been a long time since I have not wished for hours to stop, too long since I have gone on the roof at night and stared at the dark ground. Still each of these notes is proof that beauty has not disappeared: it is still in all of us, in our memories, our pasts, underneath our tanned skins, below the deep shell of sand. To think there can be sweetness in an abandoned military bunker gives me hope that tomorrow could be a brighter day.

I glance at the two shadows on my left. Aiko has closed her eyes, she is sitting on her bed, hardly moving. There is a smile stuck on her mouth, as if she had frozen her emotions in this half-awaken state. Next to her, Adam is looking at the teens in the light. There are tears rolling on his cheeks, he is mute and lost. For an instant, I think of mocking him, payback for all the times he did it. But why ruin the moment for him? Why break the spell?

Life is a gift. Let’s not spoil it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.