And After That?
Edited by Tyler P Coughlin
by Deborah L. Davitt
Before the plague, Hollywood told us that the end of the world would come in sepia and brown and rust. It would come as graffiti on the walls, and people turned cannibals in the shadow of decaying cities.
I remember watching those shows. No matter how run-down the houses looked, the grass out front had always been mowed.
This grass under our feet lashes the legs of our HAZMAT suits. We don’t wear them for protection from the plague—we’re all survivors, immune to what humanity unleashed on itself. We wear them in spite of hundred-degree heat, so that all we can smell is our own living stench.
Weeds fill flowerbeds. Vines crawl up the brick, thick enough to shoulder downspouts away from the façade. Bonsai saplings grow in the gutters. The window beside the front door, shattered. Looters—scavengers not sanctioned by the county—beat us here.
Inside? Teen squatters. One says he lived in the house before the plague, but his name doesn’t match county records. They have guns and baseball bats. We have pistols and clipboards. Amazing how official a clipboard remains, even after the apocalypse. They won’t leave, but it’s not county policy to shoot kids for being stupid and desperate.
“This area’s scheduled for demo,” I tell them. “Clear out.”
On the door, I paint: Squatters. Given notice. A photo on my phone for the record. In a week, the fire-teams will come, and any squatters or looters will get what they deserve as the subdivision blazes.
Three houses down, my eyes fall on a weathered No Solicitation sign, and I knock. “Giving the looters fair warning?” my companion asks, drawing his pistol.
I don’t give him any more answer than the house gives us reply.
Inside, green mildew and the maggoty corpse of a dog. Given the shotgun pellets in the wall behind it, looters killed it, and rats and raccoons have gnawed it since.
I don’t eat before retrieval runs for a reason.
We find bodies upstairs, past a door that bear mute evidence that the family dog had chewed its way in here in desperation. Cockroaches swarm away from our feet. Names painted on the wall—Maddox and Carl.
One boy’s still in the top bunk; the other boy’s partial remains are in a corner. The mother died slumped in a chair beside the bed. The dog gnawed her legs off.
We take them down to the backyard and bury them under the long grass as birds sing, occasionally dropping down to peck bugs out of the upturned dirt. The apocalypse didn’t come in brown or sepia or rust. The apocalypse arrived in green and jade and viridian, and swarmed with life.
Just not ours.
We drive off, knowing that after the fires, the green will return. Trees will grow, and someone might clear the land and farm, like the pioneers. And after that? Maybe they’ll build a city atop the farms.
Because even when the world ends in viridian, people keep going.
by Melanie Bui
I was probably the last person who should have done it—and certainly not the first. But I came up with the idea. I had a knack for mending pants and sewing pillowcases, and most importantly I could speak a little of the language.
Right away I learned that you need hummingbird sugar spun into perfectly thin, crystal clear glass. No other material will do, as it must be delicate enough to hold the wispiest fricative and clear enough to reveal the slightest nuance in tone. It had to be a hollow globe with a small opening at the top, into which you’d pour and pour the words and sounds, praying that they kept.
I gathered the waiting nh and gi sounds first. Plucked them from my own mouth like berries and ushered them into the waiting cage. From others I netted ngô instead of bắp for corn; ngã instead of té for fall. I foraged for lots of little things like that. The chirping staccato and the melodic lilt that tumbled together like taffy, I braided slowly.
I also nabbed the ph, after hearing that a newfangled f was squatting in its old quarters up north.
When the Northern-born refugees fled Vietnam, they took what language they had with them. They severed a flowering tree, yielding twins, and planted one in strange soil. The old half continued growing, though—unfurling new branches and sprouting new leaves until it was wholly different. Twins no more.
I didn’t choose the bestowers in any calculated way. I just started with what was easiest: friends and family. Then their friends and family. And finally, strangers with open minds and easy tongues.
You had to have an open mind to be willing to hoot and holler in front of a stranger holding an orb in one hand and spooling your speech from thin air with the other like fine cotton candy.
And after all that was where the mending came in handy. I had to knit everything together. I wished I could have tossed it all in like some kind of phonemic pottage, but I had tried before and it all came mashed together and melted. So, I hand-fastened every little tuft and bauble tight until they were all one glistening web.
In the end it was the best I could do and I believed it was all in there, encased and unchanging.
I considered my options.
Do I send it to a museum? Were there museums for such oddities? Do I let it sit, then break it open one day to feed every mouth of the next generation or grind its contents into dust to scatter over whole towns via helicopter?
I thought, finally, that perhaps I could plant it and hope it would grow into something bearing fruit, whose inheritor would come away with more than flesh behind their teeth.
by Jason Graff
It was on the way home from Taos that they first heard about the fires. The hills had been blazing for days. As the news came from static through the car speakers, each of the Pedersen’s silently wondered in terror if they’d still had a home — except for Stacey, who had never wanted to leave, who had only half-joked about going native, giving up their lives and resettling there in Taos permanently. Her family could only conclude that she had been joking. It was not the type of suggestion a responsible mother like her would seriously make. How they had laughed; her daughters and Craig. They laughed at her in that way of theirs that dared her not to join, that dared her to taciturnly admit she was hurt, that she had her weaknesses. She could barely remember, but there had been a time in the recent past that such evidence of a connection between the three had pleased her, moved her even. Until recently, it had hardly seemed possible that they could gang up on her in a conspiracy but that was how it had felt at the taco stand they’d gone to on their way out of town. They laughed together as one. Stacey now suddenly found that she no longer took pride in having brought them all together. So, she allowed her mind to wander, like a spark dancing out into the breathless night, glowing with the fire of changes to come.
by Holly Lyn Walrath
I wanted to see if there was any vestige of you left in that old house.
So I flew back across the plains, far and vast, white and wheated. Although it has been many years since I drove out—winding through the dappled brook trees and old hedges lined with oaks in the Texas motherland—I still remember the road to your house after all these ages.
I think you are in Dallas now. I have your address; I could look you up if I wanted. But then it would be me clumsily perched on a hospital bed soaked in white linen and looking down on you, trivial on the pillow and speculating if this is what I will become too.
The house, part trailer, part moving home, decrepit, as I remember but oddly diverse in its sadness. The road is white grit and longer than I remember. There is the fence with the horse on the other side that never came close but there is no horse now. In my memory there are margins and I can’t see past them. Now I recognize it is because we are in an echo.
I parked my car in your spot where that old post-office wagon always sat. You splattered it all over with painted bluebonnets. How did you find it? I still don’t know. I could ask you if you were here.
Inside, the empty kitchen cabinets are painted over and the smell of you lingers in the air. The altar is still perched on the column in your studio.
They took the art off the walls. There are bare spots, like church walls with missing embroideries. It hurts. Your chair is there—the hanging wicker bleached chair. I lean on it and it creaks like a rope swing. I look out the window and notice the creek bed, dried up.
Everything is gone. Maybe the garage. I wander back to the little side door, stepping into the murky garage that never had a light. There is an old Coleman on the ground and I flip its switch and it works. Still. Everything is empty here, too. Void.
The light shines on something in the musk. A gold-leafed frame.
There is one canvas left. It is a seraph. Like the ones you used to draw for us, me and my brother. Like the one of me you painted and I still keep on the wall – an inspiration.
She has hazel eyes, like me.
Deborah L. Davitt was raised in Reno, Nevada, but she received her MA in English from Penn State. She currently lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband and son. Her poetry has garnered two Rhysling nominations and has appeared in nearly twenty journals; her short fiction has appeared in InterGalactic Medicine Show, Compelling Science Fiction, and Altered Europa. Her well-received Edda-Earth series is available through Amazon. For more about her work, please see www.edda-earth.com.
Melanie Bui lives with her husband in Maryland and works for an interfaith nonprofit devoted to reproductive justice. She loves puzzles and becomes disturbingly competitive during friendly board games. She hopes it’s cute. It’s probably not.
Jason Graff is an educator as well as a writer of essays, poetry and fiction. A Pushcart Prize nominee, his work has been featured in journals such as Per Contra, Carrier Pigeon Magazine, Shadowgraph Quarterly, The Ignatian to name a few. In the Service of the Boyar, published by Strange Fictions Press is his debut novella. His lives in Little Falls, NJ with his wife and their son.
Holly Lyn Walrath is a writer of poetry and short fiction. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, The Fem, and Crab Fat Magazine, and her poetry was nominated for an SFPA Rhysling Award. She is a freelance editor and volunteer with Writespace, a nonprofit literary center in Houston, Texas. She currently resides in Seabrook, Texas. Find her online @hollylynwalrath or hlwalrath.com
H.P. Lovecraft, in his story, The Call of Cthulu, presents us the image of writers and artists as a sort of divining rod, capable of feeling the collective turmoil and disorder whenever it begins to appear on the horizon.
And while he was a sexist and racist who’s works are often chaffing, reading through the collection of submissions we received for Remixt Volume 2 has convinced me on this one isolated point.
Reading the stories we received, it was hard not to notice the collective anxiety that they held and not see them in the context of the political decay and turmoil of our current President.
And yet, I found myself drawn to the stories taking place in the aftermath, the stories not about the upheaval, chaos, and disaster but of people endeavoring to survive new status quo.
Those are the stories that give me hope, as if someone is seeing better times, just on the horizon.
Tyler P. Coughlin has been an actor, comedian, writer, sommelier, nonprofit manager, restaurant manager, and car salesman. The only thing that fluctuates more than his career goal is his weight. Currently he has retreated to his hometown of Rochester, New York to avoid adult life. You probably shouldn’t listen to anything he says.
Veridian Copyright © 2017 by Deborah L. Davitt
Unspeakable Copyright © 2017 by Melanie Bui
Stacey’s Dream Copyright © 2017 by Jason Graff
Angel Copyright © 2017 by Holly Lyn Walrath