Thursday, November 9, 2017

11/9/17

Sunset
By A. Katherine Black


“You think you’re old enough to apprentice in engineering next season, then you’re old enough to help your ma prep for nightfall.”

Joyce stood at the kitchen window, watching sunset colors spill over the fields, while Jack huffed and stomped through the kitchen door and into the study. She took a deep breath and turned to the table to re-count supplies and ensure they had twenty meals, enough to sustain them through the night.

Juliet burst through the back door and into the kitchen.

“Mommy, guess what?”

She held a hand behind her back, excitedly rotating her body to and fro.

Joyce gave her daughter a tired smile, reminded of how difficult it was to entertain this little explorer while they were locked in the house for the many hours of night. She hoped the school had honored her request for extra vid lessons.

“What is it, Sweet?”

With great care, Juliet brought her hand from behind her back. It was closed in a loose fist.

“I found one! Just like the song says, but they’re not stinct anymore!”

Joyce spoke an order to the house to begin pre-seal procedures. Whirs and clicks sounded in the walls, as the house prepped air tanks and heaters for full night seal. An insulated shield slipped over the kitchen window, blocking out the last of the daylight. She turned to the food packs on the table and began counting silently, prepared as every parent was to attend to real life matters while pretending to listen to her child’s all-important report.

Juliet began to sing an old nursery rhyme in a cheerful tone.

“A flower of old
A flower of old
With lovely green spikeys
And terrible bities”

Joyce looked at her daughter as a chill crept up her spine. Juliet slowly opened her fist to reveal a small flower with long, green outer pedals and white rounded inner pedals. Its middle was a deep purple, almost black. She held it out to her mother proudly as she continued singing.

“The flower of old
The flower of old
That wiped out the first ones
With touches so fast done”

Words failed Joyce. She held out a hand to her daughter, gesturing that she stay where she was. She checked the vid on her wrist, pulling up archive photos to confirm identification of the thing in her daughter’s hand.

“My flower of old
My flower of old
Its beauty is legend
With truth never ending”

Juliet held her chin high and sang the old song just as all young ones did, with no understanding of the meaning, of the history, of the fate of the first settlers on this world.

“No flower of old
No flower of old-“

“Shhh,” Joyce said, keeping her distance. “Sweet,” she said, tears filling her eyes. “We don’t want to damage it, such a fragile thing.” She looked toward the door to the study and choked down a sob. “Don’t move.”

Juliet’s eyes went wide. “Yes!” She whispered. “I am a discoverer!” She shivered. Her face grew pale.

Joyce’s mind raced as she tapped messages onto the screen on her wrist.

“Yes, Sweet, you are a great discoverer.”

She verbally ordered the house to make the final countdown to night. Soft words rang through the walls, warning of impending seal, unbreakable until morning.

Tears streaked freely down Joyce’s face as she regarded her younger child, forever her baby, doomed by one innocent touch of a deadly, near-forgotten flower. It would be quick, at least. Joyce approached her child and placed an arm around her small shoulders.

“Sweet,” she said, “we need to take this flower outside. It belongs in the wild, not in a people house.

Juliet nodded seriously and walked with her mother toward the back door, pausing just inside, on her mother’s cue. Joyce’s legs were weak, her heart heavy. The house’s countdown was nearly over.

They stepped outside.

The kitchen door swung shut behind them and hissed its final seal against the coming night.

Juliet’s face showed surprise as enormous shadow crept across the fields.

“It’s okay, my sweet.” Joyce smiled and wrapped her hand around Juliet’s. The flower tingled under her grip.

###

Jack walked through the swinging door from the study to the kitchen. Motion lights triggered and lit.

“Ma?”

A vid activated on the wall, first showing a message left by his mother, and then a message from the Mayor, reassuring him they would be there for him, via vid, through every step of his first night alone.

The house cracked loudly, adjusting as extreme cold set in.


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A. Katherine Black is an audiologist on some days and a writer on others. Her short and flash fiction stories have appeared in Abstract Jam, 365 Tomorrows, and Bethlehem Writers Roundtable. She lives in Maryland with her family, their cats, and her coffee machine.


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