Clark bought me a new Piccadilly writing prompt book. Their book of 1000 Writing Prompts.
Since he bought the book, I had him select the first writing prompt. It’s not a story I would ordinarily write, but here goes nothing.
637. Write about earth after a major asteroid hit it. Describe what you think the aftermath would be like.
Please Stand By for Further Instruction
The TV had reported that an asteroid had been headed right for Earth. Things had shook, fallen off shelves, and all had gone dark. The emergency shut-off had shut off the pumps. He hadn’t yet been able to assess the damage.
Their cell phones didn’t work. There was snow on every channel. The service station’s ancient phone had no dial tone.
Walter turned the knob on the old-fashioned radio he kept in the corner of the service station. It was old, but it picked up whatever came floating across the airwaves, so he kept it around. He kept a drawer full of C-cell batteries for it and used it during the frequent power outages during the windy season.
Crackle. Pop. Hiss.
“Damnit,” he muttered as the air was once again pierced with the shrill beeping of the Emergency Broadcast System.
“This is the Emergency Broadcast System. Please stand by for further instruction.”
Walter knew better. There would be no further instruction. He looked around at the small group gathered in his station.
His wife, Mildred–Milly–had been about to take him to lunch. His stomach growled, reminding him that they had never made it to lunch. Milly had her arms wrapped around a girl of about fourteen. The girl trembled with silent tears. The soda pop she’d stopped in to purchase lay forgotten at her feet.
“Billy, you see anything out there?” he asked.
Billy was nineteen. A high school dropout who’d shown up every day since he was sixteen to learn how to fix cars. Walter had sent the boy away time and again. Told him to get to school if he knew what was good for him. But Billy had just stood quietly off to a corner, watching and learning.
Milly would mother the boy. He supposed that was his fault for not being able to give her kids of her own. She’d taken to Billy. Fallen in love with the boy. She’d fed him sandwiches and invited him upstairs to their apartment for dinner a couple of times before turning to Walter and saying, “Hire the boy.”
So he had hired him the very next day. He’d had him sweep the garage and taught him how to keep track of inventory and order the stock they needed. Then, he’d set about teaching him everything he knew about cars and how to keep them running.
“No. Nothing. It’s so quiet. Want me to go out n look?”
“Not just yet. Let’s give it a while and see what comes about.”
“I don’t mind, really.”
“Still, I think we’d better wait.”
Across the room, his wife spoke quietly to the girl.
“What’s your name, sweetheart,” Milly asked her.
She sniffled and pushed her dirty blonde hair out of her face. Her big, blue eyes were puffy and red from crying.
“Sabine,” she answered.
“I’m Milly. That grumpy old guy over there, that’s my husband, Walter. That’s Billy, he works here now, but one day he’ll own the place. And the gentleman over there is named Benji. He was here for an oil change and a tune-up.”
Benji lifted his hand in a limp wave then dropped it back to his side. He looked a bit dumbfounded. He stared with unfocused eyes.
Walter’s stomach growled again. In the unusual quiet, it seemed particularly loud. Mildred jumped to action.
“All that food upstairs is gonna go to waste. Let’s go see what we can whip up.”
“What’s upstairs?” Sabine asked nervously.
“Our apartment is up there,” Milly answered. “Why don’t you grab a couple of those flashlights, Billy.”
They went upstairs to the apartment. Walter brought his radio. Billy carried up two flashlights.
They sat around the kitchen table. Milly lit candles around the room. Using the flashlight to illuminate the fridge, she dug out all the leftovers.
“Let’s see,” she said as she opened containers and set them on the counter. “There’s lots of fried chicken. That can be eaten cold. I’ve got some spaghetti if you don’t mind that cold. This Sunday roast is still rather delicious,” she declared as she stuffed a bite in her mouth.
She shoved aside any foods needing to be warmed. Returning to the fridge, she pulled salad fixings and dressings.
“I’ll fix everyone a salad. Billy, why don’t you make everybody a nice, tall glass of chocolate milk?”
“None for me, thank you,” Benji spoke up.
“None what, dear?” Milly asked.
“Milk. I don’t drink the stuff,” he admitted sheepishly.
“Oh, well that’s alright. Would you like something from the coolers downstairs? There’s a small selection of soda pop, juice, or bottled water. Heck, you could even help yourself to a beer if you’d like.” Mildred offered.
“Why don’t I grab us a couple of beers,” Walter decided. “What’s your poison?”
“Umm. I’ll have whatever you’re having. Thanks.” Benji stumbled over the words.
Walter was happy for something to do. He’d wanted nothing more than to escape that stuffy kitchen from the moment they’d all started to fill it up.
The bell above the door sounded. Hadn’t any of them thought to lock it before they’d all gone traipsing up the stairs?
“Hello?” a soft female voice called out. “Is anyone here?”
He came through the door behind the counter that concealed the stairs behind it. A woman, young, maybe early thirties, stood near the door peering around. She had long, dirty blonde hair and large blue eyes that made her identity undeniable.
“You must be looking for Sabine,” he suggested in lieu of a greeting.
“Oh she is here, thank God.” The woman let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.
“I was just grabbing a couple of beers for those of us who didn’t want chocolate milk,” he explained as he came around the counter.
He pulled a couple of forties from the cooler. He locked the door behind her and signaled for her to follow. She did, and he led her up the stairs.
“Mommy!” Sabine shouted, leaping from her seat and wrapping her arms around her mother.
“Lolita?” Benji asked.
“Benji? What are you doing here?”
“I brought my car in and then…” He waved his hand at a loss for words.
“You two know each other?” Sabine asked, her nose curling.
They both blushed but neither said a word.
Mildred placed a salad at each seat. She dropped a platter of fried chicken in the center of the table. She set a plate of roast beside it. She added the bowl of cold spaghetti. After placing the small variety of dressings on the table, she settled into her usual chair. Billy set chocolate milk at almost all the seats. He took up his usual chair beside Milly.
“Sit. Eat.” Milly invited.
“You sit by me.” Sabine held her mother’s hand tightly and pulled her to the table.
They ate. They talked. Not about the asteroid. Not about what the world might be like beyond their little town. They talked like they were old friends sharing anecdotes and stories. They talked like they were family catching up around the Christmas tree.
They talked until the food was all eaten. They talked as they scraped bones into the trash can and piled plates beside the sink. They talked as they carried candles to the living room and settled into the homey space.
Every so often, Walter flipped on the radio and turned the dial. They’d all grow solemn and quiet as they listened to the static broken only by the occasional emergency broadcast alert which played on fewer and fewer channels as the afternoon turned to evening and then became night.
Without her cell phone to stimulate her, Sabine became restless. She wandered the room, picking up nick-nacks, turning them over in her hands, and examining them thoroughly.
Around the third time she picked up her favorite cat–a Blue Persian stretched out on a rug and playing with a ball of bright yellow yarn–Milly suggested they play a game.
“What kind of game?” Sabine pouted.
“Let’s see, there are six of us.” Milly thought aloud. “What about Monopoly?”
“That game takes for-e-ver,” she whined, drawing out each syllable of the last word.
“You have somewhere else to be?” Lolita asked her daughter.
They moved back to the kitchen. Candles were once more set around the room. Monopoly was placed in the middle of the table.
It didn’t take long before they were all laughing and joking as they played. The outside world was temporarily forgotten. Walter stopped checking the radio.
When the game had ended and Sabine had been declared the winner–being the owner of most of the properties–they moved back to the living room. Sabine was drooping and Walter suggested she lay down in their guest room.
“The bed in there is super comfortable,” Billy said. “I used to stay the night sometimes when I needed a safe place to sleep.”
“You sure you don’t mind?” Lolita asked. “I’ve got my car parked outside. I could take her home.”
“Let’s stay here, Mommy. I don’t want to go home tonight. I wanna stay here.”
“It’s no trouble, really.” Milly was already leading Sabine and Lolita down the hall. “You’ll find the bathroom here. This is mine and Walter’s room. And in here is the guest room. I think you’ll find the bed is big enough for both of you.”
They disappeared into the room. Lolita and Milly returned a short while later.
“She wanted us to sit on her bed and tell her stories like I did when she was little.” Lolita sighed. “She hasn’t called me Mommy since she was nine.”
“It’s been a hard day. She was scared. She was so scared when she couldn’t call you on her phone.”
“Thank you.” She looked from Mildred to Walter. “Both of you. For looking after my little girl and keeping her safe.” Her shoulders shook with unspent sobs.
Benji rushed to wrap his arms around her. Gone was the sheepish and meek fellow of earlier. He was all stoicism and gallantry for Lolita.
She hugged him back, placed a quick kiss on his neck, and released him. She sat down on the couch looking spent.
“What’s it like out there,” Billy asked.
“There was nobody out there. I was driving through the streets and looking for Sabine, and I didn’t see anybody at all. Not another car. Not a single person walking. No one poking their heads out of their houses. I was starting to worry that I was the only person to survive. Then I was starting to worry that I was dead and searching for Sabine was my hell. It would be you know? Pure hell. To never know if she was okay. To forever be hunting for the answer to the question ‘Did she survive?’ How could that not be hell?” She was growing hysterical.
“There, there, dear.” Milly patted her hand. “It’s all okay now. You’re here with us. Sabine was safe with us.” She turned to her husband. “Get her a little nip now. In fact, get us all a little nip.”
Walter didn’t pretend he had none. He slipped from the room and returned with five glasses; each filled with two fingers of whiskey. He handed them out.
They were quiet. Each was lost in their own thoughts. Every so often Walter tried the radio again. He found nothing but silence. Even the emergency broadcast system was gone.
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