Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: Grace: Part 1
In a moment, life changes. Between the lines of life lie fuses waiting to be lit, leading to explosions with the potential to carve out crevices or craters. Sometimes the new landscape is welcome, and sometimes it's so far from okay—and yet we manage to go on.
Ghosts flood my mind, dipping and swirling. Joe's hulking body collapsed to the floor; Mamie's wrinkled, tanned skin thin as onion paper as she languishes in her bed; Katie slumped over at the kitchen table, metal piercings a harsh glint against her alabaster skin; Dover with his tangled coat, dried out tongue lolling out of the side of his mouth. All of them blistering hot—hotter than any being could survive.
Coolness blankets my skin, intruding on my thoughts. A damp shiver works its way over me like a snake, writhing and biting into my flesh. I still hear Dover's last pathetic pants even though the dream faded. I roll, feeling grit and sharp edges dig into my cheek.
The panting grows louder, stopping only for a soft whine then continuing.
“Dover?” My vocal cords grate like sandpaper.
Something soft and dry nudges at my face, and then a warm, wet tongue licks from the base of my jaw to my temple, catching and lifting an eyelid in the process. I squint against the sudden brightness, expecting steel-gray fur and finding wiry black and tan instead. The two large paws planted next to my head belong to a large dog. Maybe a Shepherd mix. Not Dover. Dover is gone.
From my side-lying position, the world is a strange mix of craggy brown and cinder, set against smooth blue and fluffy white. I lift my head, and the world spins for a few seconds.
The dog barks and whines again, biting at my sleeve.
A short distance away are ruins. Their debris is strewn across the top of the cliff—a chunk of it pokes me in the hip—but whatever occurred here happened long ago. I find this comforting.
I don't remember how I arrived here, or even know where here is, but the air is clean and tangy with the brine of the sea.
The dog barks sharply, crawls with her belly low to the ground until she reaches my camouflage rucksack and sniffs it. I can count her ribs, and skin sags around her haunches.
“Are you hungry, girl? I might have something to share.” I lean forward and snag a strap, dragging the bag toward me. Unzipping a side pocket, I pull out a Slim-Jim, peel the plastic wrapper back, and break the stick in half, holding it out. “Here you go.”
Her ears stand up, and her tail swishes back and forth. She watches me with mistrust in her eyes though it's obvious how much she wants the food.
“Come on, girl. If you want it, you have to meet me halfway.”
She tilts her head and whines, approaching slowly.
“Did someone scare you out here? I won't hurt you.” My stomach rumbles, so I slide the plastic off the other half and pop it into my mouth. “Yummy!”
She decides to take a chance and nips the jerky gently from my hand, chewing slowly as if savoring it. As emaciated as she is, I expected her to snarf it down.
“Where are we, girl? Are there any people around here?” I rise to my feet and walk off the stiffness that has set in. From this vantage point, I can see towns and villages below. It all looks so peaceful and quaint, unspoiled—except for the absence of smoke curling into the air, movement of any kind, animals or people.
There are no vehicles clogging the streets, no signs the townspeople tried to run. It looks pristine and perfect and abandoned. Back home, there was no getting away from the evidence. After a while, it was impossible to traverse the cars blocking the roads or ignore the stench of death.
The destruction of the human race ripped across the world, leaving few unscathed. The worst part was the dogs. Human viruses don't usually affect animals, but this one did, leaving hundreds of beloved family pets dead. Most people retreated to their beds to die, but many of the affected animals went ballistic, running through the streets until they dropped dead.
“So, you wanna be pals? You must be immune, too.” I hold out my hand, and she licks it. “You need a name. How about Grace? You took that Slim-Jim so gently even though you must be starving. What's next for us, Grace? What happened to all the people down there?”
I've lost count of the days. It's been a few weeks since I've seen any others. I keep moving, foraging for food . . . looking for answers.
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Sarah Aisling hails from the East Coast of the US and loves living by the ocean with her incredibly indulgent husband and precocious daughter. She’s currently editing her upcoming novel, The Weight of Roses. When Sarah isn’t being enslaved by her characters, she can be found with her nose in a book, obsessing over nail polish or anything leopard, biking, hiking, camping, and spending time with friends and family. Twitter: @SarahAisling Facebook