Isolation

Fiction

Danika Miller

            When Katherine dumped me, it felt like my world was ending.

            On a related note, the world is ending.

            That should have been enough for Kathy to stick around. Procreation is a duty in such desperate times. What if we end up being the last two people on Earth? She said if I really believed that, I would come with her.

            Part of me hopes she won’t make it.

            She also said this diner we met at is creepy. Now that I sit in this booth alone, I can see what she means. The neon “OPEN” sign flickers. It flickers because the diner’s not fully open, it flickers like, “Yeah the door is open but there’s nobody in here to make you a milkshake.”

            Man, I really want a milkshake. I push up from the cracked plastic leather to see if maybe there’s still ice cream in the freezer. The memory of her voice echoes in the silence, “Brian, I’m leaving with my family, we’re going south…you have to come with us…” As if I would leave my family here.

            I pluck an ice cream scooper off the ground. It was sticking out from under an overturned soup pot amongst other things not deemed worth pillaging. Finding it gives me hope that the looters didn’t take the ice cream either.

            The refrigerator door is crooked and open; it reeks with rotting darkness. But the freezer, the freezer is still shut. It makes sense; people aren’t too fond of the cold right now.

            I pull my gloves on tighter and yank the handle. The seal pops though there’s no cloud of cold as it opens—there has to be a temperature difference for that.

            “This whole town froze over in just a few days; we’ve already been here too long.” She had glanced at her glove then, her missing pinky a ghost she could feel but not see.

            It’s white in here. Frostbitten fries and broken nuggets spill from cardboard boxes. On the shelf straight ahead there are large tubs of vanilla ice cream. Some are half empty; one has completely frozen through and the container has cracked in half. I wrap my arms around a tub. It slips a bit against the weatherproof fabric of my jacket.

            I find a blender, but no milk. So I use water from the bottle I brought and swish it around with the scooper. My milkshake is sad—a weird clear white. And I can’t find any straws.

            “You have to let them go, or you’ll die.” Those were the last words she said to me. It was kind of dumb because we’re all dying.

            Everyone’s rushing away from it, but we were sentenced to death the day those icebergs started melting. Katherine thinks it’s a temporary ice age. She kept trying to convince me with stuff she heard on the news, but they always lie on the news.

            I carry my milkshake in the blender, leaving to walk home through this white, empty world. A lot of people left with Katherine.

            In just two weeks the city has emptied. I retrace my steps home, stomping my boots into the deep prints I made earlier in the day. Mine are the only tracks disrupting the blanket of hard snow. My feet crunch down, not reaching concrete. It’s the only noise in the cold stillness.

            If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? I think about that a lot these days. With no one around to hear me living, am I really alive?

            My watch alarm beeps. Twenty minutes until sunset. Twenty minutes until the sun isn’t here to help the life left dangling along. Twenty minutes until the soft hint of heat seeps away. Darkness and cold will work together to coat the world another layer thick.

            The front door has frozen shut so I enter my house from the back. I shatter flowers walking through the ice garden.

            My living room is basically a giant pillow and blanket fort, all centered around the fireplace. That’s where I’ve placed my family, waiting to thaw.

            “Hi mom, I brought you a milkshake.” I set it in front of her but she doesn’t budge. None of them have moved in a while.

            “Kathy left yesterday,” I whisper to her. My dad and little brother are across from us. They’re all so blue.

            Caden’s legs are spread out, his little frozen toes are stretched—I can see right through them. Dad has one leg bent, his foot angled as if he’s going to push and stand at any moment. Mom is sitting on her knees, her arms reaching out with black tipped fingers. Some of her hair broke off when I moved them here, but she’s been talking about getting it cut for a while so I don’t feel too guilty.

            I don’t like to look at their faces much. Mother’s eyes are squeezed shut. Dad’s are wide, and icicles hang from his lashes. Caden, though, he’s just looking down and smiling.

            The house creaks and my breath clouds. It’s a small relief, an indicator that my internal temperature is higher than the external. I wrap myself in space blankets and comforters, and squish into a sleeping bag. I stack pillows around myself, and fall asleep after counting only four sheep.

            I awake to the sound of a shotgun shattering glass. The sounds crumble and crack through my eardrums, and I jolt upright.

            But it’s not glass; Caden has shattered. I scream. I scream so loud, but stop suddenly, afraid the noise will shatter Mom or Dad.

            A boy about my age is standing in my fort with a shotgun and a shocked face.

            I don’t even hesitate. I pounce on him, hands around his throat and my vision blurring. He shoves me off; he’s huge, like he’d been training for the world to end.

            “DUDE, calm down! We—we use them as target practice, I—I didn’t think—I didn’t even see you under the pillows—they’re already dead; they’re not alive, I—I didn’t kill them,” he rambles.

            “What in the hell is going on in here—?” A girl stomps into my living room.

            I don’t say anything. I don’t feel anything.

            “What did you do?” she asks the boy, after seeing my face and my huddled, frozen family. She’s taller and leaner than the boy, but they look alike. “Are you wasting bullets again?”

            He rests the shotgun against the fireplace. “Look—I’m sorry, I didn’t think there was anyone in here,” he says.

            Of course there was, they had been sitting right in front of him. “Get out.”

             “Well, I see you’ve met my brother, Nash,” she says dryly. In a long black fur coat and grey camo pants, she’s a stark contrast to her brother. He’s wearing a too-small bright blue snowsuit and a dirt clad Christmas beanie.

             “My name is Jamie,” she says. “You’re Brian, right?”

            “Well Nash here just killed my brother so I don’t care who you are. Leave,” I say. Except I’m not sure I want them to.

            “You know this kid?” Nash asks Jamie. He’s picked up his shotgun again.

            “Yeah he’s Kat’s boyfriend,” she says.

            “Ex-boyfriend,” I mumble. I recognize her now as Katherine’s neighbor.

            Jamie raises her eyebrows, but I don’t want to elaborate on Kathy’s abandonment.

            “She left.” I leave it at that.

            “Why are you still here?” Nash asks. I look down at all the pieces of Caden.

            “When did they freeze?” Jamie asks me, clinically, like she can diagnose a recovery.

            “Two weeks ago, they were on the shore when the Pacific froze over.”

            That was the day it all started. We were on our way to the beach too, but Kathy wanted to stop and get new flips-flops at the outlet mall. She never stopped talking about how lucky we were to be standing in front of that North Face store when people went ballistic. She grabbed us coats and we hid there during the first freezing. Most people who didn’t make it indoors that night don’t move anymore.

            “You can’t stay here—come south with us.” Jamie sounds more like she’s asking me to grab lunch with them.

            I notice Nash examining my milkshake, and I’ve never felt so territorial over dairy before.

            I shake my head. “Why would I go anywhere with you?”

            “Because temperature is dropping 6 more degrees tomorrow night and you’ll die,” says Jamie. She blows a bubble and I wonder where she got the gum.

            “We leave an hour after sunrise tomorrow,” Nash says.

             “I’ll meet you at the diner on 5th and Park,” I say.

            They look surprised that I’ve agreed so easily, but I just want them to go away. If what they say is true I only have one option anyways.

            “We won’t wait long after the rays peak,” Jamie says with a sympathetic smile. “Bring anything hard to come by.”

            Nash snags a blanket on his way out but murmurs sorry. Part of my fort tumbles down.

            “Sorry about your family,” Jamie says shortly, as she stomps out.

            I crouch down and touch the cubes of Caden, pushing them into a pile between Mom and Dad. I spend the rest of the day sitting with them and fall asleep colder than ever.

            My watch beeps and I wake immediately. It’s still dark out. I kiss my parents on the forehead and put a piece of Caden’s smile in my pocket. Then I wrap a blanket around my shoulders and head for the diner.

            The open sign isn’t flickering anymore but I still go in. I walk past the booth where Katherine left and took what she knew of me.

            I move to the freezer and pull it open again and sit against the shelves on the back wall, waiting for my white world to turn blue.



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