Flash Fiction Challenge – Interstitial Eschaton
I know, another story? But yes, another. Here was the challenge,and the title I ended up with was Interstitial Eschaton. This is the story that resulted out of me puzzling out that title.
From a distance, the body floating in the water looked like a log.
It was impossible to say how long it had been there. It was face down (mercifully), but as swollen and discolored as you might expect, its arms missing and ragged strips of fabric trailing from its shoulder sockets like streamers. Jace used an oar to push it away from the boat, even though it could be nothing but a smelly and gross distraction. She had nothing to fear from its diseased flesh.
She was immune from the virus that had wiped out about two-thirds of America. She had no idea how badly hit the rest of the world was. The electrical grid went down early, and few communication options were still open. Well, there were CB and ham radios, but she didn’t know how to work either of those, and sat phones, but she’d never found one of those. She found a hand cranked weather radio that sometimes worked, but didn’t enough that she kind of forgot about it, and now it sat in an old rucksack with a whole bunch of other stuff that might be useful one day, but wasn’t right now.
She let the boat drift while she consulted the old atlas she’d found in that abandoned library a few days ago. Tommy walked to the bow and perched near the edge, peering over the prow like she could see under the water. And maybe she could. She was a weird cat.
What city did this used to be? She was pretty certain she was in California, but to be honest she wasn’t sure. Old boundaries had started fading away when the oceans started to rise, and the worst of the flooding began. The plague that soon followed knocked out the last people and infrastructures that gave a damn.
She was in some sizable city. Skyscrapers rose out of the water around her like steel cypress trees, the still intact mirror finished glass reflecting water and her ship back at her like a wavering mirage. She lazily rowed, aiming for the closest buildings on her left. Some of the glass was broken, but they looked to be in a good zone. Might be a place to stay tonight. It looked like rain was coming, and she needed to get out of it.
Some of the buildings were still intact, in spite of all the flooding. But some weren’t, and sometimes you didn’t know how much their structural integrity had been compromised until you were in it. If you could find an accessible floor above the waterline, you could get a general idea, especially since she started using a level. She put it on the floor, and if the bubble stayed in the middle, all was probably good. If the bubble inside started creeping left or right, that indicated a tilt in the floor, which meant a tilt in the building. Not good.
As soon as she was with reach of a good looking skyscraper, she let the boat drift in as she readied her jerry rigged anchor, which was just a grappling hook attached to the boat by strong paracord line. Jace knew enough to hit the outdoor shops and abandoned survivalist bunkers whenever she found them. Looting had been bad in the early days, but there was more stuff around than you may have thought.
Once she hooked up to the building, she stood and looked inside the broken window wall. It had been an office building, judging by the amount of desks in cubicles, and the mildew smell wasn’t too bad. The level seemed to keep stable, so she judged it safe for exploring.
Tommy jumped up onto her shoulder, and then used that as a launching point into the building. From the way the tortoiseshell calico darted into the place, she assumed it had rats or mice. Quite a few did, as the rodents sought higher, dryer ground. From the brief, aborted squeak she heard as she climbed in, she knew she was right, and Tommy had already caught herself dinner. She had never intended to pick up a feline traveling companion, but the feral cat had adopted her at one of her dry land spots, following from a distance, then getting near enough for pets, and now she usually slept curled beside her. Tommy was smart, and acted as a watchdog in many respects. Jace decided the cat must have been lonely when it took up with her. She usually didn’t need Jace for food.
Although the floor looked neat enough that evacuation must not have been in haste, she still found a plethora of stuff in desk drawers. Photos, food, tea bags, candy, even some hidden booze.
Jace ripped a drawer out of a metal file cabinet, and used it to hold a fire she created, using files and broken bits of wooden desks. She just got it going when it started to rain, big, fat drops tainted red. It was algae or something like that, mostly harmless though bitter to the taste, but it looked disgusting, like the sky was crying blood.
She sat beside the fire, eating her dinner of chips, candy, and warm hootch, and Tommy eventually joined her, carrying a dead gray mouse in her jaws. “What do you think?” she asked the feline. Talking to Tommy sometimes made her feel better, and she had no idea why. Maybe because it was the only time she got to hear a human voice. “Think the survivors being the lucky ones was all bullshit?”
Jace figured she’d know she completely lost her mind when the cat replied. It hadn’t happened yet, but she was almost looking forward to the day that it did.