All We Have [Short Story]

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Just trying to get back into writing by writing short stories ;) Let me know what you think. This is set in a dystopia and describes a struggle between two people who are suffering together.

1. -

               They were cold.

                At her warm touch, they flinched. His cold hands, that is. It was more movement than he’d committed to in a while. She frowned, feeling as though she had distressed him. It was the last thing she could possibly want – he had been in pain, sickly and weak, for an uncounted number of days now. No-one counted the days anymore, they didn’t matter. Especially not now.

She cupped his frozen hands, brought them close to her face and warmed them with her breath. His eyes flickered. He winced. It felt as though she had ignited his fingertips. He blinked, his vision blurring with some confusion. He broke a smile in her direction. He didn’t want to upset her.

Times were hard enough without that.

The light seeped into his retinas and, though it was sparse, it overwhelmed them. She saw him struggling and shielded his vision a little with the shade of her hand. She was good at that – protecting him. In another life, their roles would have been reversed. He took her hand in his – struggling, biting back the pain – and pressed it to his face.

Warm. Safe. He could feel her pulse on his skin.

He could sense her urgency, her nerves, but didn’t want to break the silence – the moment, the epoch of imagined peace. She was his peace. Yet, she was disturbed.

                His tired eyes met hers – they were like headlights that bore into the wounded deer of his soul. Her sad smile stood as a testament to her need to give him some futile semblance of comfort. A bittersweet beauty, the beauty of endowing hope on a dying man no matter how truly, utterly doomed he was.

He turned, shifting his weight to side, gasping as he did. The pain shot through his body, racing like a devil through him, beading his skin with a cold sweat. His consciousness floated above him, as if a speck of dust on a windy day, before finding its way back to him. He breathed, his eyelids flickering. He did his best not to pant. He took her hands in his and watched her face. She looked tired, her skin worn and dried, her hair matted down with oil and dirt. And she was still the loveliest thing around for miles. The lighthouse in the storm.

He smiled, genuinely this time.

                 “It looks like your fever has broken,” she murmured, squeezing his hands softly. It sent a jolt through him, a pleasant one for a change.

“Staring at the silver framing on the plague cart, are we?” he croaked, grinning at her. She scoffed, before correcting her split-second of joy. It was a shame; he would have liked to joke with her a little while longer.

“How are you feeling?” she asked.

“Better,” he answered, simply, “Better than yesterday. No fever, remember?”

She nodded, her expression stony and unmoving. She took a rag and leaned over him to dab his forehead. Her smell filled his senses, ensnaring him. He closed his eyes, wishing to lose himself in it.

“It’s quiet,” he murmured, “I don’t hear the others. What time is it? Is everyone asleep?”

                There was a pause. The rag hovered above him, blocking his line of vision. It was as if she had frozen, petrified by the question. A sharp inhale. A long sigh. Her arms shook. She sat by his bedside, looking away. A soft moan escaped her. She shook her head, a subtle method of self-composure, of pulling herself together. She turned to him, unable to hide her angst, and said, “I’ve sent them away.”

He was at a loss of words. He wasn’t surprised, he had foreseen this from the moment the severity of his injury came to light, and even more so when the infection set in. He didn’t know how to mask his despair. Was she going to leave him? Had they all abandoned her? Or was he so weak that she…?

“Are you going to join them?” he asked her, a sense of urgency in his words.

She glared at him. Her face contorted, “I’m not going to leave you,” she whispered, cold, the light in her stare piercing through him. “I refused. Refused to move camp without you. And I daresay, I made a strong case – how far could we have gotten without you? Without me?” tears pricked the rims of her eyes, she turned her face away, angry, “But I was overruled. Ingrates, the lot of them. They had the gall to say that I couldn’t–”

“You couldn’t drag around a rotting carcass?”

His crude interjection wasn’t welcome. She bit her breath, baring her teeth at him.

                It broke her.

                She blinked back silent tears, stifling her sobs. Her lips curved, her brows furrowed, her eyelids flickered like her eyes had decided they didn’t want to see him anymore. He reached out to touch her and she flinched away from his grasp.

“You have to find them before it’s too late,” he implored her.

“I will not,” she said, disgusted by his suggestion.

“You can’t stay–”

“I can! I am!” she snapped.

He sat up, his anger fuelling him, dulling his pain, “I will not drag you down into my grave!” he barked, “You have to go!”

His head snapped away when she slapped him. The side of his face smarted, hot with her rage. She glared at him, unapologetic.

“How dare you?” she seethed.

He scowled, “How dare I face my fate?” he asked, scoffing, “You’re unbelievable. You have to get out of here. The others must be leagues away already–”

“This discussion is over,” she brought her face close to his, “There are no ‘others’. You aren’t well. Lie down.”

                He scoffed, “I’m ‘not well’,” he sighed, and looked at her, “Don’t do this. This is suicide, for you. They were right in leaving me and wrong to not drag you away with them. Kicking and howling. And I’ll curse them to my last breath for that.”

“You know they couldn’t have,” she replied, standing and pressing him back down into his tattered mattress.

He pushed her hands away, “Enough,” he said, rubbing the sores on his side, “I refuse to spend my last moment yowling like a broken kitten while you play witch-doctor at the end of the world!” he snapped at her, picking himself up. His legs shook, like a fawn on ice, “We’re chasing the others.”

“There are no others!” she repeated.

“What does that mean?” he shook, unbalanced and frustrated.

“They’ve been gone for days!” her voice cracked, the tears returned making her eyes sparkle, “There’s no finding them.”

Anger changed his face, his demeanour, “Well,” he fumed, through clenched teeth, “We’re not staying here.”

*

                They lumbered through the wilderness, the crashing of the waves following them no matter how far they tarried – slithering in their wake to consume them. The chase was on. But they were only human – they couldn’t outrun the might of the Great Waters. Even as they tried to escape it, the rain beat down on them tiny bullets that water-logged their peeling boots, made heavy their clothing and obscured their vision. It was difficult enough without one needing to carry the other. And the other was in desperate need of carrying, herself. She dragged her partner through the muck and the vast pools, hurtling them further and further – but it was useless. She didn’t want to see it that way, but it was all she could see. She could remain blind to their doom no longer. But she couldn’t tell him that.

She didn’t have to.

Their legs tangled on an exposed root and they fell face first into the sucking mud. He screamed. Not in pain, the pain meant nothing to him. He screamed in fury.

“Enough!” he cried out, “Enough!”

“No!” she spat at him, wiping the wet dirt from her eyes and dragging him up, “We keep going! You cannot give up now!”

“Then when?” he bellowed into her face; a man possessed by his doom.

“Get a hold of your senses!” she hissed, refusing to be spoken to in such a manner, “What kind of a man are you that you would let go of your life so simply? We are wasting time with your pointless, thoughtless jabbering! Bury your inhibitions, bite your tongue, and move!”

                His leg gave and he pulled her back into the dark, splattering muck. He straddled her, holding her down by her shoulders, his eyes staring into hers, his saliva drooling onto her face, “You will die with me,” he rasped. Were it not for the urgency in his voice, she thought that he may kill her there, suffocate her in the rain and the mud, “My wounds have swollen, heavy with the rain. I will be gangrenous once more, and you don’t have the mercy of distance to pull me from the jaws of disease. Leave me, to the ocean and to nature! You don’t have the time!”

The soil and the worms and the creatures that crawled through the earth burrowed into her hair. She swallowed and closed her eyes, ignoring the pain of his weight on her body, on her arms. “You fool,” she muttered.

He released her, pulling away. He crawled to a tree and hauled himself up. His knees shook violently. Still she lay there, seemingly lifeless – staring empty-eyed at the sky, her mouth parted and trapped in the horror of her thoughts, her breathing so shallow he couldn’t make out the rise and fall of her chest. Her eyes flickering at the onslaught of rain was the only indication to him that she had any life left in her.

“You fool,” he heard her mutter once more.

“Get up!” he ordered her.

                In one motion, she was up and upon him. She slammed his body with such forced against the trunk of that tree, he was winded.

“Climb,” she seethed.

He spat on the ground, “Have you lost your mind?”

But she didn’t hear him, she just shoved him towards the trunk and said once more, “Climb!”

He had little cause to argue. It was futile in any case, so he did as she instructed. It was no easy task for him – but she bit at his ankles, like a wild animal, whenever he paused. They didn’t stop until they were at the very top. And by that time, the water had consumed all the land beneath them. Even so, they could hear the distant crashing of more. He waited for further direction from her, but none was forthcoming. He leaned his back against the tree’s trunk and stretched his wounded leg out before him. She gazed out at the watery world, observing it for a while before disrupting his brief comfort, and positioned herself behind him. His head rested on her chest, and her hands combed through his hair.

“What now?” he breathed.

She sighed. She had hoped for a longer silence before she had to say, “Now I watch the end of the world.”

He groaned, “Stop this,” he begged, defeated. He didn’t have the strength for more. He expected her to be looking out at the storm ahead, but she was looking at his face.

                Her finger traced the shape of his brows, followed the ridges of the scars on the side of face to the corner of his mouth. She didn’t pant, but she took a deep breath of the salty air. The rain had washed the mud from her tresses and her face. He couldn’t tell if she was weeping.

“Eve…” he whispered.

Eve. It had been so long since she had heard her own name. Between all the urgency, all the barking, the screaming, the scrambling, all the desperation – she had all but forgotten it. She felt a pain in her heart when he said it. But she could not to show it. She wished that her words wouldn’t emerge as moans, but she had no control over that now.

“I can’t let you drown,” she mouthed, her voice catching. She looked away for a moment and swallowed, wiping the water from her face with her forearm, “I cannot take you with me and yet I cannot leave you behind.”

“You have to,” he interjected, but she put a finger to his lips.

“After everything,” she continued, “I won’t let the ocean take you. I won’t let this world take you. This world that held no love for us, this world that we had to endure – because what else could we do? Submit?” She was angry and filled with sadness, “You keep saying that I don’t have time, that I have to leave you – but you’re a sweet fool,” she scoffed a scoff that filled her eyes with more tears, “Look at us! With our tatters, with your wounds… all we have is time.”

He looked at her, searching her face, her eyes, confused by her sudden lapse, “This is unlike you…” he touched cheek and she leaned into his palm, “What happened to leaving grief for times of peace?”

She smiled at him and shook her head, “You will never see such a time,” she cried.

“You might,” he reassured her.

“No,” she said, “There will never be such a time for me. Not without you,” she sniffed and shook her head, “Close your eyes, you must rest. I want to tell you a story.”

“Eve,” he almost giggled. There it was again. Her name. The pain returned and it took all her strength not to bawl, to fling herself into the depths below and drown. She remained composed.

                She kissed him and murmured the word, “Please.”

He sighed but did as he was told. She murmured sweet nothings in his ear, filling his mind with painted visions of another time, a better time. Her breath was warm and pleasant, it shielded him from the cold, wet world. Behind the lids of his eyes, there was a peace he never thought he’d find again – a world where men and women smiled at each other, confessed their love without thought, where children played until they were filthy from sand and sweat, and dogs chased their tails until their tongues lolled in frustration. A place where time could stand still, and a moment could last forever. It brought a blissful smile to his face, and the crashing of the terror beyond matched the rhythm of his breath. He didn’t want to fall asleep, but she kissed his eyes when they threatened to flicker open and he fell into slumber so deep he barely felt it when she plunged the knife into his heart…                       

     
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