Aleea Davidson’s Picture Choice:
Title: Wither Part 8
Mara lost track of how long Glen held her. The tears she cried were as bitter and angry as they were sad. She couldn’t grieve a man she’d never known, but the butcher’s violent suicide had opened a wellspring of emotion she felt ill-equipped to handle. She was furious that he’d forced her and Glen to be unwilling witnesses to the end of his life, and yet she was filled with a twisted sort of empathy. With the state of the world crumbling and death already knocking at his door, could she blame the poor man? In his position, would she act differently?
Panic trickled into the edges of her awareness, oily and insipid, trying to find purchase in the areas of her mind eroded and spongy from stress. The sounds the rioters made were dimmed by the solid walls around them, but they couldn’t block her newfound knowledge of the fragility of her world. All around them people raged, venting their helplessness and their pain, and there was no one to stop them.
Glen’s hands began to stroke a soothing, repetitive pattern across her back. The nylon shell of her jacket crinkled with each pass, further covering the sounds of destruction. She dragged in a big gulping breath and exhaled it slowly, trying to release the infection of misery that felt as though it had seeped into her pores and settled under her skin. Glen was deliciously warm and solid. Her full weight was leaning against him, and he bore it without complaint or any evidence of physical strain.
Finally, she pushed away and made herself move to the other side of the room. A crudely made wooden cross hung on the wall, the only adornment in the otherwise stark room save the cot and milk crate table. A spider had created an elaborate, silvery web across the form of Jesus carved upon the center, it’s brown, bloated body sitting obscenely on top of the depicted crown of thorns. Mara shivered as the spider twitched then scuttled into hiding beneath the vertical portion.
A part of her wondered if she should view the spider’s machinations as a desecration or simply part of God’s creation. As a child, she was raised Catholic, but never with any dedication. Her father preferred golf on Sundays over scripture, and her mother believed she could commune with the Lord by spending time tending her flower beds.
Right after she’d turned sixteen, her father had purchased an old, steel hulled sailboat that he christened The Lord’s Prayer, on account of the fact it would most likely take an answered prayer for a miracle to get it restored to it’s former glory. She wasn’t sure if he actually prayed or not. She only knew he put in a year’s worth of work, and more money than her mother thought appropriate, before losing interest and reselling it. Last she heard, The Lord’s Prayer was rusting on a secluded beach somewhere in Puerto Rico.
Point being, until recent years, Mara had given little thought or attention to religion, and the state of the world around her certainly didn’t help bolster her rather weak faith. Apparently not even the end of life as she knew it could make her embrace the concept of God with anything more than lukewarm indifference.
Glen spoke behind her. “It should be safe in an hour or so to get you home. The rioting will die down as soon as people start to realize how close it’s getting to daybreak.”
She heard the zip of his jacket slide down its ladder of metal teeth a moment before the fabric rustled and a soft whoomp indicated he’d tossed it onto the cot.
“Are you okay?”
His tone was concerned. Mara scrubbed her chilled palms over her face, rubbing at the stiff feeling tracks left from her tears. She was beginning to feel ashamed of her breakdown. She didn’t know him well enough to reveal all her cracks and weaknesses so blatantly.
“I’m fine. Sorry for the meltdown. You must think I’m quite the sissy.” She forced a laugh and made herself turn to face him, plastering on a grin that stretched her face oddly. “I’m not normally a cry-baby...”
“No, really, I’m not. It’s just not every day someone blows their brains out in front of me. I wasn’t expecting it. And then that man in the town square, trying to steal my bag. He rattled me, you know?”
Mara ignored him, hating the way he was looking at her, his eyes kind and bluer than a cloudless summer sky, a frown turning the corners of his mouth down. A mouth that less than an hour ago had been brushing against hers as he braced her against a cold brick wall, her legs wrapped around his waist, skirt bunched around her hips…
Could she consider that a kiss? She had nothing to compare it to… There was definitely dry humping, she knew that much. She’d never done that before, either.
“I still can’t believe all the craziness started over apples, can you?” She shook her head, knew she was babbling, yet couldn’t stop herself. Her cheeks were fiery from her thoughts, and it wasn’t helping her feel calm at all. “What’s wrong with people? I mean, now is not the time to fall apart and start attacking one another. If this town has any chance of surviving, people have to start working together! Though I guess I shouldn’t judge, seeing as how I’m doing nothing but blubbering all over you. Honestly, I don’t act like that usually. I’m sorry I made a mess of your jacket.” She bit down on her bottom lip, realizing her voice was rising in pitch, trying to stem the tide of words she knew verged on turning hysterical.
Glen closed the distance she’d put between them and reached for her hand. “Listen to me. You don’t need to apologize or explain. I’m not exactly feeling the most stable myself at the moment. I get it, trust me.” He grinned in a teasing way and chafed her cold fingers with his warmer ones. Both the action and the smile helped settle her tattered nerves. She took another deep breath and nodded, finding her emotional fortitude returning with each pass his thumb made against her palm.
Loud yelling outside made them both turn their heads to the small window. The pane of glass was filthy and offered no view. Glen tugged her into the darker corner of the room, but the disembodied voices floated away as quickly as they’d come.
Still, her heart pounded in her chest as she worried that the shelter of the church might appeal to someone out there the way it had appealed to them.
As if he read her mind, Glen whispered, “Don’t worry. This place wouldn’t make a good hideout for anyone wanting to avoid sunlight. Too many windows, no protection. Even the roof is full of holes.”
Through the grime of the window, darkness persisted, but Mara could see Glen’s point. It could only be an hour or more until dawn, and the old church would be a death trap for the UV Intolerant. Of course, there could be others out there like her and Glen. UV Tolerant people looking for a place to spend an hour of two before making their way back to their homes. More than ninety percent of the world’s population was believed to have developed the disease that made sunlight poison, but Glen was proof Mara wasn’t alone in the strange way her body rejected the gene mutating virus.
As if her thoughts might have conjured the very thing she feared, a shadow passed the window, then another. Glen tugged her close and put a hand over her mouth warningly. Through that tiny rectangle, Mara saw a form pause, eerily silhouetting the shape of legs. A muffled curse followed the sound of someone trying the door and finding it locked.
Her eyes wide, her breath coming out harsh and fast against Glen’s palm, Mara thought to herself, what now? What the ever-living-fuck now?
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Aleea lives in her imagination most of the time. It's an interesting place to be... Occasionally she can be coaxed out to chat on Twitter, though she finds it akin to torture to stick to that absurd 140 character limit. (@Aleeab4u)