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Day Two Hundred and Forty-three: Alice

January 22, 2012 Leave a comment

The package from her mother was wrapped in brown paper, a recycled grocery bag, and as soon as Alice saw who it was from, she knew what it was. Her mother’s precise, looping handwriting was in the upper-right hand corner. Her own name was printed with a heart above the “i,” and “Happy Birthday” was written in big, bold letters underneath the address.

“Is it gonna be a surprise this year?” Alice asked herself. She shook the box, but didn’t hear anything. She shook it harder, and hoped. But there was no sound from inside. It was either soft or very well-packed. She tucked it under her arm and brought it into the kitchen. She took a knife from the counter and started working it under the layers of packing tape that her mother had used to close up every possible seam. This was how every package from her came, and she said she just wanted to make sure nothing happened to the “precious contents.” Alice was pretty sure it was just to see how long it would take her to get through her defenses.

She out a laugh. “Very symbolic,” she said. “Mom would be proud.” Her mother had been an English teacher for decades, which made her one step below a psychologist when it came to ascribing meaning to every little thing she got her hands on. Unfortunately, it also made her think she was awfully clever. Alice disagreed.

The paper finally came off, and she started working on the box. There was really no reason to hurry on this, other than just to get it over with. Alice knew what was inside – the same thing that was in the box every year.

Well. Not exactly the same thing. But close enough. As far as her mother was concerned, it was a challenge to find something slightly different yet still the same. And every year, underneath her disappointment, Alice was actually impressed that her mother managed it.

She opened the box and pulled out a small package wrapped in white cotton batting. When she unwrapped it, it was a coffee mug. Printed on the mug was a stylized cartoon of a white rabbit with a gold pocketwatch. Underneath the drawing it said, “Don’t be late!”

“There we go,” Alice said. “Right on cue, Mom.”

She stuffed the cotton batting into the trash and folded up the box for future use. It would come in handy someday. The mug would go with all the others.

There was a case in her living room, made by her father – at her mother’s request. It really was beautifully done, probably the best thing her father had put together in that workshop haven of his. It was taller than she was, with adjustable shelves and wide, glass-fronted doors. The whole thing was made from dark-stained wood, and would probably last forever. She opened the door and took a look at the other twenty-five items that were on the shelves.

There were several stuffed rabbits, of various sizes. Little figurines, art that her mother had commissioned, a t-shirt that was folded up, showing the Disney character on it. A rabbit made of glass, another that had a bobble-head, and one that looked like a human-rabbit hybrid. From her first birthday, her mother had been giving her variations on the theme, and she showed no sign of letting up anytime soon.

Alice supposed it was better than her mother forgetting her birthday every year, but at the same time she really wished that she’d come up with something else.

She put the mug on the shelf next to last year’s present – an original vinyl pressing of Jefferson Airplane’s most famous single. That one actually had been pretty impressive.

She took her phone from its charger in the kitchen and dialed her mother. Thanks were in order.

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Day Forty: Happy Birthday [REDUX]

On the last day of each month, I’ll take a story from the previous month, clean it up a little, see if I can make it better than the first time it appeared, and post it up. This month, we’re going back to the beginning – Happy Birthday. Enjoy.

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The day after the Rapture was my birthday. I had hoped for trumpets and celebrations, for the face of God to appear on Earth. I thought the dead would rise again, that the oceans would be as blood and the sky as flame, that animals would speak in the languages of man and utter the terrible truths they had known for so very long.

Before the Rapture, there was the Hype. You couldn’t drive through the city without seeing one of those billboards, or one of those trucks that just drove around all day blasting sermons out of huge speakers. The late-night hosts were having a ball with it, and the Internet did what it does best – relentlessly mock. I joined a Facebook group that promised to loot the houses of Raptured families, and I joked that if I was going to be watching the Tribuations, I might as well do it on a 65-inch LCD TV.

I didn’t believe it, mind you. I wandered away from the church years ago, and even then I had trouble accepting the whole “The Bible is the Word of God” thing. I didn’t even bother to go on Easter and Christmas anymore.

Nonetheless, I found myself looking forward to it, almost hoping that it really would happen. After all, angels coming down from Heaven, the return of Christ Almighty and the torments that would be visited upon the Unsaved, well… How could you not look forward to that? Angels with swords aflame would come flying from the clouds to carry off the elect. I figured music would rain down from heaven. It would have sounded like the kind of music Bach heard in his head but could never quite get down on paper. I expected the earth to shake and crack and rend itself asunder as great gouts of sulfurous steam jet forth, blasting the flesh from the bones of anyone unlucky enough to be in its way. There would be wonders and horrors enough for a hundred lifetimes, and I would get to see it all.

What I saw on that day was this: On the train, a young woman – probably about thirty or so – looked up from her book, said, “Oh.”

Then she vanished. And that was it.

Maybe I was the only one who noticed, maybe no one wanted to make a fuss about a young woman who disappeared like a soap bubble, but there it was.

“Oh.” Gone.

It happened again a few more times during the day. An elderly man who just started laughing before he went; a small girl who was singing and vanished mid-skip; a Starbucks barista who managed to hold on through making a double latte. She put the cup on the counter, called the customer’s name, let out a deep breath and then just… wasn’t there anymore.

And it seemed like nobody noticed but me. Everyone went about their business, doing whatever it was they did on a Saturday afternoon. Twitter was humming along as it always does, but the only mention of the Rapture was to make jokes about it. Not once was there a, “Hey, did anyone see people disappearing? That’s kinda #weird.”

The next morning, the morning of my birthday – and allegedly the first day of the Tribulations or whatever they were called – the sky was grey. Not turned-off TV gray. Not a foreboding, hard-rain’s-gonna-fall gray. Just a lack of any kind of color. Just gray. The air was heavy and muggy and sluggish, barely moving through the world. What sunlight filtered through the gray sky was weak and attenuated. There was no birdsong outside. There were no insects traveling through the air.

My morning coffee was weak and bitter, my toast crumbled as I bit into it. My shower was lukewarm, no matter how I twisted the knob. My clothes made me itch. My hair lay flat on my head, and my skin was pale and dry and old.

My boyfriend stumbled out of bed and grunted something that was probably “Good morning,” but really could have been anything. He dropped a box on my desk and said, “Huppuhbufduh,” before crawling back into bed. The box wasn’t even wrapped. It was from a box of granola bars that he’d taped shut. Inside was a pair of socks. One of my pairs of socks.

I spent five minutes just staring into the refrigerator.

All that was on TV was cooking shows and home shopping.

The dog didn’t eat. The cat just slept.

That last part, at least, was normal.

So I’ve been sitting here. I’ve been through Facebook and Twitter and Flickr. I’ve gone through all my feeds and my bookmarks and forums. I’ve read through webcomics and funny cat caption sites. I’ve sleepwalked my way through some games, both online and off. And now all I can do it sit. Because I can’t think of anything better to do in this grey and heavy post-Rapture world.

Demons, volcanoes, the collapse of causality. Any of those would be better apocalypses than this. Screaming ghosts, empty graves, bloody skies. At least they’d be exciting. Interesting. Something worth writing about.

This just… is.

Day One: Happy Birthday

May 22, 2011 3 comments

The day after the Rapture was my birthday. I had hoped for trumpets and celebrations, but this wasn’t what I had in mind.

The Rapture itself was a let down, if anything. After all the hype that had been put out around it – all the references to angels coming down from Heaven, the return of Christ and the torments that would be visited upon the Unsaved, well… I expected more, let’s just say that. I expected angels with swords aflame to come flying from the clouds to carry off the elect. I expected music to rain down from heaven. It would have sounded like the kind of music Bach heard in his head but could never quite get down on paper. I expected the earth to shake and crack and rend itself asunder as great gouts of sulfurous steam jet forth, blasting the flesh from the bones of anyone unlucky enough to be in its way.

I expected more.

What I saw was this: On the train, a young woman – probably about thirty or so – looked up from her book, said, “Oh.”

Then she vanished. And that was it.

Maybe I was the only one who noticed, maybe no one wanted to make a fuss about a young woman who disappeared like a soap bubble, but there it was. “Oh.” Gone.

It happened again a few more times during the day. An elderly man who just started laughing before he went; a small girl who was singing and vanished mid-skip; a Starbucks barista who somehow managed to hold on through making a double latte without being called away. She put the cup on the counter, called the customer’s name, let out a deep breath and then just… wasn’t there anymore.

And it seemed like nobody noticed but me. Everyone went about their business, doing whatever it was they did on a Saturday afternoon. Twitter was humming along as it always does, but the only mention of the #Rapture was to make jokes about it. Not once was there a, “Hey, did anyone see people disappearing? That’s kinda #weird.”

The next morning, the morning of my birthday – and allegedly the first day of the Tribulations or whatever they were called – the sky was grey. The air was heavy and muggy and sluggish, barely moving through the world. My coffee was weak and bitter, my toast crumbled as I bit into it. My shower was lukewarm. I could have gone out, but… why bother?

The Boyfriend stumbled out of bed and grunted something that was probably “Good morning,” but really could have been anything. He dropped a magazine on my desk and said, “Huppuhbufduh,” before crawling back into bed. It was a fashion magazine that was sold in any convenience store in the country. I couldn’t care less about fashion.

The dog didn’t eat. The cat just slept.

That, at least, was normal.

So I’ve been sitting here. Because I can’t think of anything else to do in this grey and heavy post-Rapture world.

Demons, volcanoes, the collapse of causality. Any of those would be better apocalypses than this. At least they’d be exciting. Interesting. Something worth writing about.

This just… is.