This is my story for this week's flash fiction challenge at Chuck Wendig's site. We had many options to choose from, but I finally settled on post-apocalyptic, heaven, and haunted by past. This story flowed from my thoughts to my hands easily and eagerly, so much so that it was hard to contain the story to exactly one thousand words. I would like to expand this story one day, but for now, here it is:
The sign for Joe’s Diner flickered so only the letters D, i, and e were lit.
I entered the diner through the shattered glass door, grunting as my shoes scraped against my heels.
“Coffee?” I groaned, leaning heavily on the grimy counter.
A wrinkled, puckered lipped woman stared back at me with red-rimmed eyes.
“There hasn’t been coffee since Day Zero,” she snapped.
“Tea?” I croaked. My shoes bit into my feet, begging me to sit down.
“None of that either.” Losing interest, she went back to wiping a cloudy glass with a dirty rag.
“Okay, what about a hard one, then?”
She glared at me again. “It’ll cost you, you know.”
“I know.” I slid a pack of cigarettes across the counter. She grabbed it and quickly tucked it in her stained apron, glancing around as she did so.
No one used money anymore. It was worthless, even as fuel for fire to keep warm. Currency was necessary and scarce items like bottled water, aspirin, toothpaste, cigarettes, and matches.
With a sigh, she set the cloudy glass on the counter with a clank and reached under the counter to get a bottle. She poured a dubious amber liquid in the glass and handed it to me with shriveled fingers.
“Thanks,” I breathed as I trudged over to an empty booth. A few people were scattered across the dingy diner, all staring blankly and in various stages of eating.
I grunted in pain as I finally took weight off my aching feet. Leaning back in the booth, I took a swig. The liquid burned all the way down my throat, leaving a fiery path in its wake. Surprisingly, this was good stuff. It was definitely worth the pack of cigarettes. Thinking of cigarettes, I felt my fingers twitch, wanting to grab at my second pack hidden in my torn windbreaker. No, I needed to save that for payment for a bed to sleep in tonight. Hopefully, it will be a bed without lice this time. Since Day Zero, I never stay in the same place or the same town.
Day Zero. I don’t know what happened that day. The sky torn apart and the earth shook. Millions of people died for what looked like no reason at all, just fell to the ground or slumped in their chairs. It was as if their souls flew away, abandoning the bodies. Millions died, leaving us behind, the last remaining. We don’t know how many of us are actually left. Communications are down, electricity comes in spurts, and all transportation has come to a screeching halt.
All I know about that day is that was the day I died. My heart may be pumping and my lungs may be taking in oxygen, but I am the living dead. Because on that day, Day Zero as it is coined, I made my choice to leave my family to go to a business meeting. I should have stayed at home with my wife and baby daughter. I don’t know if I could have saved them but coming back home and seeing their lifeless bodies slumped on the couch was more than I could bear.
The shoes that I wore to the meeting and the pair I walked in when I saw my dead family are the same ones I hobble in now. I could have changed shoes, probably should. Everyone walks since there is no more gasoline, at least, not easily acquired.
No, I have to walk in these shoes everyday, feeling the blisters, the sores, the scraping of shoes against my heels at every step. It is a constant reminder of that day when I could have been with my family, to have those last precious moments together before they were gone forever. Who knows, maybe we could all be in heaven right now.
“Heaven is still in our reach! Repent now and save your souls!” A man shouted hoarsely, wearing a torn, aged robe that didn’t quite fit him around his midsection. He stood in the middle of the diner, proclaiming the Word of God as everyone around him stared like zombies.
“Goddammit,” I muttered as I took another gulp. These “reverends” come around and spread false hope wherever they go.
“We are not forgotten. God wants us to share in His everlasting glory and has given us a second chance for us to find Him,” the man continued, lies bursting out of his cracked lips into the desperate ears around him.
“Oh, shut the fuck up!” I sprung out of my seat. “We have been left to rot, cursed to live without life, existing in this Godforsaken hellhole. There is no heaven for us, only death and despair!” I shouted in such a furious rage that burned deeper and darker than the alcohol in my stomach.
In my fury, I punched him right in the jaw. He collapsed on the dusty floor, robe spilling out in folds.
“What did you do that for?” accused the puckered lipped waitress with a hand on her hip. “Hope is all we got left.”
“There is no hope.”
I choked down the last of my drink and slammed it down on the table. Everyone was quiet, watching me with dead eyes. No one rushed to check if the man was okay. It’s not like we could take him to a hospital.
I limped out of the diner, my feet waking up with pain.
This is my punishment for all those nights I stayed late at the office instead of being with my family for... I couldn’t think about all that right now. I shoved it out of my thoughts. Yes, I know why we were all here. We are the damned, the sinful, the ghosts that haunt the dead.
I walked with no place to go and no reason to live. I walked to feel the scraping of my shoes against my heels and the material biting into my feet.
I walked to my death.