Words didn’t come easily to him. Years of heavy labor toiling in the mine had left him with a grimace that reflected the harshness of his life, and his quiet demeanor had served him well until now – now he had a choice to make.
She had been by his side forever – keeping a home for the large man, providing him with meals, children and physical intimacy but now she had had enough; her view of the world had changed and that new perspective had given her insight into how others lived their lives and the ways that they loved, laughed and enjoyed each others’ company.
It was ironic he thought that the one thing he’d bought her to keep her happy during the long hours home by herself would be their undoing.
“I’m sorry my love, it’s going back” he said as she thought to herself “I’ll really miss those daytime TV soap operas”.
It had been a rough period for him – his business had failed, he’d lost his home and later his wife, and the emotional toll was, he felt, significant.
Debt and death had a funny way of reaching into the depths of one’s being and shutting out the light he mused, and as he reflected on the past few years he realized that his world was much darker than he had previously thought.
He posited that the problem with darkness was that light alone was insufficient to illuminate one’s existence – one needed energy as well, otherwise the light would flicker out as quickly as it had been created.
His problem, he realized, was that he was exhausted both mentally and physically – energy was something that escaped him, instead he felt drained and lifeless.
He felt her before he knew her, sensing her vitality and her light that burned with such intensity he was sure he would go blind if he looked into her eyes; he looked anyway and as he did so he realized that that same light was the end of the tunnel.
Her life was ending and they all knew it.
Huddled around the bed in the darkened room they watched as she lay quietly awaiting the inevitable.
A pause in her breathing, her heart slowing, they stood close and held her hand as she slipped away.
There was peace in that moment; months of fighting the battle were suddenly replaced by calm.
A new beginning.
It had never been easy managing the population of New Chicago – the undersea colony deep in the Mariana Trench about 1,000 miles north of the Challenger Deep, but as an essentially self-sufficient biospshere it had become necessary to do so in the two decades since the outpost had come online.
As Human Resources coordinator for the entire complex, Matt had the unenviable task of ensuring that everyone on board had sufficient food, water and energy – the finite resources that were so carefully managed by him and his small team.
Matt glanced down at the morning report – three births and two deaths had occurred in the previous 24 hours; this was a typical scenario – with health being greatly improved in this hermetically sealed environment people were living longer and the attrition rate was dropping.
Settling in his chair, still sipping the first coffee of the morning Matt pressed buttons on his console and the computer deep in the bowels of the structure whirred and clicked as it carefully calculated a new report; facts and statistics combined with random numbers to ensure fairness – everything was precisely determined; there could be no errors.
Matt picked up the report and casually looked at it for a moment before his heart dropped to the floor as he saw his wife’s name on it; before the day was over there would have been three births and three deaths – the population was being managed perfectly.
He could feel it; the poison running through his veins with a burning ferocity that was consuming him from within. How ironic he thought, that the bottle was marked “Love Potion No. 4”.
He’d had no luck wooing the girl he’d been dreaming about for years, and so he had made his way to the French Quarter where in a dingy backstreet store he had explained his plight to perhaps the oldest woman he’d ever seen, and left a short time later with the small blue-grey bottle.
Trembling with excitement at the prospect of finally having his love he had donned his best outfit just in case she knocked on his door immediately afterwards, and settling down in his favorite chair he had consumed the elixir in one swallow.
The draught did exactly what the old woman had said it would do – it united him with his love, but how was he to know that her car had gone into the river just two hours earlier?
The rocket ship blasted off on its pioneering voyage to Mars, 7 souls peering into the blackness, looking toward a future that would be recorded and transcribed countless times.
The inhabitants were aware that their gleaming silver carriage was a marvel of gargantuan proportions; the very latest technology was propelling them into the stratosphere faster and faster, their journey pre-calculated and preset – unchangeable for reasons of physics and finance.
The ship sped onward, machines humming as designed, everything working correctly – they had tested and retested, simulated and double-checked; redundant redundancy was the norm – this bird was the best and most reliable creation that mankind had to offer.
Inside the spaceship there was a relaxed calm as the crew went about their work, preparing everything and settling in for the 9 month voyage and the subsequent 2 year sojourn on the martian surface.
They had locked everything down and were preparing to sleep before anyone noticed that the ship was leaking air, by which time it was of course far too late.
It hadn’t always been this way; there had been a time when his eyes hadn’t wandered from his wife to the pretty girls at the bar, but thinking back he really couldn’t remember when.
He’d never strayed – never taken the road that could not be undone, but this time for some reason it was different; it was as though he was drawn as a moth is to a flame, and he felt powerless to resist.
Perhaps it was because he was alone in a late night bar in the big city, or perhaps it was that he’d had just a little too much too drink – the result was the same, tonight was the time for something new; something different.
He steeled himself, checked himself up and down and made his move; the room vanishing around him as he struck up a conversation.
In that moment he realized that he would never want a woman again.
The caterpillar, tiny and vulnerable, emerged from its egg and found its way into the world without the aid of others; ingesting, growing, incessant in its quest for greater things.
All too soon it was engorged and shed its intricate skin for the last time to reveal the chrysalis, delicately suspended in a silken hammock.
The chrysalis hardened and time passed as a miracle took place within, then suddenly there was movement and the cocoon opened, a new life emerging into the bright sunshine.
Unconstrained by thoughts of failure or any concept of apathy the caterpillar had been transformed, metamorphosized from routine to refulgent.
Amazingly beautiful, the life that once was monotone had now been filled with vivid color and brilliance and soon joined its cohorts to play amongst the flowers; a veritable profusion of dancing butterflies.
He tended to the flowers with such devotion; with care he cut the stems to ideal lengths, pruning and carefully adjusting until the arrangement was perfect.
This had been his vocation for many years now, the one enduring thing that he had practiced, honed, mastered.
He was an artist at his craft, finessing incredible creations into existence using nature’s most radiant flowers, fronds and finery.
He stood back now, taking in the entirety of his work, arms folded, a thoughtful look on his face – he was finally satisfied with his creation.
He paused silently for a while, taking in the bigger picture, and then without a word he turned and left; he would visit her grave again next week.
He could smell it; the unmistakable scent of living human flesh and he sensed an opportunity to feast on something warm, rich and satisfying.
He lumbered down a road that was somehow vaguely familiar, the street lights in the darkness casting eerie shadows but he did not notice – he was unaware of the environment.
A movement in a room, the hurried extinguishing of a light inside, he became aware that the smell emanated from within so he followed his instinct to the house; glass doors were no obstacle and he easily found his way inside.
The smell was stronger now and he followed it up the stairs; somehow he knew where he needed to go.
A scream, “No Daddy!”, then eerie silence before the satiation.