Love among the ruins: the winners of our post-apocalyptic romantic flash fiction challenge
Post-apocalyptic is the new normal, it sometimes seems. And the introduction of heady doses of sex into science and fantasy fiction – think Game of Thrones and The Handmaid’s Tale, among others – has enlivened and quickened both genres.
So it’s no wonder that our challenge – to write a piece of post-apocalyptic romantic flash fiction – struck a chord with dozens of you. Some excellent pieces emerged from the challenge. The pity is that we have to single out one from among the front rank for the winner’s podium, but that’s the rule, folks…
And the winner is… Neo Botha for their gorgeous submission, The Last.
Runners-up in no particular order – but with equal praise to each! – are
Liz Lewis for her piece which manages to be both funny and chilling…
Mitzi Bunce-van Rooyen (seldom absent from these lists) for her vision of an entirely synthetic world…
Lu Nell for her glimpse of love among the ashes of a world…
Carla Brown for her Handmaid’s Tale-inspired piece…
Monica Cockbain for her aching snapshot of love among the ruins…
And Kate Francis for the enigmatic portal she offers us of an adventure yet to come.
Very good, guys. Now to gird your loins and turn your flash fiction into next year’s… Broken Earth Trilogy. (If you want a treat, read this, an award-winning saga by N.K. Jemisin.)
Read all the winning entries below, and check out our August/September challenge, which is open for entries.
The Last by Neo Botha
She’s got these big, brown eyes that you could lose yourself in. Not to mention the most gorgeous honey-coloured hair. But the best thing about her is her smile. Especially when it’s directed at me.
The room feels vaguely familiar with its 1950’s burger joint décor, complete with chequered floor, jukebox and the electric glow of neon-lights.
She saunters over and drapes herself across my lap.
“Nice to see you again” she purrs. I’m keenly aware of my hand, hard and brown against the creamy exposed skin of her thigh. She’s wearing a tight, black dress designed to enthral and God, it’s working.
“Natasha,” I whisper, “I miss you.” She laughs.
“Miss me? I’m right here, silly.” A cold hand on my cheek forces me to look into her eyes. “I’m right here.” She leans towards me, slowly. Her lips touch mine tentatively. I close my eyes, ready to lose myself. My breathing becomes ragged as she deepens the kiss.
Suddenly, the world becomes dark.
I remove the VR goggles to see the humanoid figure of the simulation robot, its arms still around my neck. I can see my own hands again, papery and age spotted.
I allow a tear to slip down my cheek. Carefully, the robot wipes it away and Natasha’s voice echoes through the room.
“Don’t worry, John. Everything is going to be alright.”
I guess that’s one good thing about being the last person alive.
There’s no one to see you cry.
“Morning, Zeuxis. Kindly undress and put on this gown.”
“Denise! I mean, Calliope. You know me. You were Denise.” She did look different. Stiff neoprene uniform, wacky hair. Not the silky-blonde-fancy-jeans girl I used to know, but, Denise. Second year B.Com. Same perky knockers.
“I am Calliope. You know the rules.”
“But what are the odds? One in… how many are we now?”
“Still, thirty-six-thousand-two-hundred-and-seventy-one. Undress. Cassandra is ready.”
“Do I have to?”
“Yes.” She pressed the gown into my hands. Gown! Gowns were fluffy-soft things, not tarpaulins stinking of disinfectant.
“Why can’t… I mean, why can’t we rather? Don’t you remember New Forest? Pine needles all over your bum?” I laughed. She didn’t.
“Undress.” I obeyed and put on the gown-thing.
“This Cassandra. Is she ok?” She pushed open the thick door. “Denise, I’d rather…”
“Calliope. And, no!” She shoved me.
“Hey! My poor kidneys!”
The room was lit by little flickering lights – dim, like the candles from Before. “Cassandra?” She was sitting on a weird bench. Legs wide apart.
“Hi.” I moved closer. “What the…!”
I screeched, worse than a rabid Phoenix, and crashed through the door – almost on all fours. Anything to get out.
“It’s a machine! I have to fuck a machine!”
“Cassandra optimises harvesting. The sperm banks are depleted.”
Next thing, the Goddesses’ squad arrived, carrying their vicious cat-o’-nine-tails. Very lady-like.
Denise-Calliope yelled, “Into the room! Now!”
Then, warm breath in my neck, she whispered, “I do remember the forest, Seth.”
Me, Myself and Eyes by Mitzi Bunce-van Rooyen
“Do not resuscitate. What did you not understand about that?”
Your new perky breasts and perfectly shaped legs are foreign to you. You never dreamed you’d miss your wobbly bits.
“I couldn’t let you die…what would I do without you?”
You shake your head from side to side on your stiff neck.
“It’s not about you, Simon. We discussed this. We had an agreement.”
Simon jumps up, paces back and forth.
“I know, but when Dr Atwood said she could do nothing more, I panicked.”
You reach for him, but your alien appendage smacks the bed rail with a dull thud.
Simon sits down, cradles your cold hand between his two warm ones.
“They did a great job with the eyes. That’s what’s most important, right? Windows to the soul, and all that.”
His distress is palpable, and since there is no reversing the procedure, you ask him for a mirror. He is right about the eyes, they are your exact shade of brown. They even managed to get the green flecks just right.
“Yes, they did a great job with the eyes.”
Simon slumps as the tension eases from his slender frame.
“Are you ready to see your family?”
You turn your head away, and gaze out at the synthetic landscape. Breathtaking, but like yourself, devoid of any recognizable scent.
“I think the real question is – are they ready to see me?”
The smell. It briefly transports me back to lazy Sunday barbeques. Kids splashing in the pool, Bill flipping turkey burgers on the grill.
I shake my head, the chinstrap chafing deeper into my cheek. Find him. I must find him. I push on, bouldering through the debris. Find him. I follow the smell. It grows denser, more intense, rancid.
He’s lying on the wing of one of the reconnaissance aircraft.
His eyes open slowly, sticky with grime.
His voice is muffled, distant. My hand brushes across my wet cheek.
“Bill, honey, it’s me.”
He smiles. Such kind eyes. Pain shoots through my chest.
“Where’s your oxygen tank?”
I rummage through the duffel bag by his side. Punctured. I stare at the dial: critically low.
“Where are we?”
I turn back to him, taking in his ravaged clothes and blackened limbs.
“We’re almost home.”
He smiles again and I remove my mask. His eyes grow wide.
“Caro, you know you shouldn’t…”
I reach over, loosening his chinstrap.
“There, that’s better.”
His broken body feels good next to mine. I relax into the crook of his arm. Bliss.
“Look at me.”
I kiss him full on the lips, his mouth finding mine eagerly.
Air raid sirens scream as the smell of turkey burgers fill the air.
“So you want to live a lie?”
Nicky didn’t respond. She watched Romi’s fingers, a hairbreadth away.
Nicky shut her eyes and moved her hand. “What’s the alternative? We don’t have a choice.”
Romi harrumphed and turned away. She raised her hand to her face.
“People who don’t pair up are useless to them.” Nicky turned to Romi, scanning her profile, hoping to meet her eyes.
“Who don’t pair… really Nicky?” She glanced back, her eyes glistening like dark pebbles.
Nicky stood up and took a step away, then turned around. “Who don’t procreate. Don’t do that. I’m not the enemy.”
Romi ducked her head.
“We’re incubators. They want babies to repopulate. You think they care about us? That they’ll make an exception for us?” Nicky couldn’t stem the anger bubbling from her chest.
“We can have babies…”
“Have you been in a coma? Have you missed our friends going missing in the dead of night?”
Romi’s shoulders shook. She wrapped her sinewy arms around her shins and pressed her face to her knees.
Nicky watched her. Her mouth twisted. The lump in her throat grew.
Romi whispered inaudibly.
“What?” Nicky sat down beside her.
Romi looked up. “I don’t want to go on without you.”
Nicky pressed her forehead to Romi’s. “I don’t want to be the reason they take you away.” Her voice crackled. “To know they are hurting you.”
They sat in silence until the shadows crept over their shoulders and the night enveloped them fully.
The icy moon illuminates the crushed world which lies far below in the valley, silent as death’s whisper, a city once so alive.
I feel something touch my back and I am poised to strike.
It’s Liam. Relieved, I lower my fists.
He takes my head in his hands and touches his forehead to mine, his skin tightening.
Great pain shakes within me as I admit, “I wasn’t sure if you were alive.”
Liam’s arms wrap over me like bandages and his hand presses my head against his chest.
“Listen,” he whispers, the hum of his voice rubbing life back into my bones.
The pulses below my ear instantly calm me. It’s the first peace I’ve felt for days. I dare to breathe in. His smell is familiar, welcoming as a home-cooked meal. Home… This, right here, is the closest I can come to it now.
“Nothing has been the same since the meteor surge,” I say into his shirt, my hot breath bouncing back. “I need to know you will never change.”
He is quiet.
But before I lose all hope, he tips my chin up with his finger with incredible ease, even though my head is heavy with all the bricks cluttering the city floor. I can see horrors reflect from his eyes in the same way the moon coolly reflects the sun’s light.
And despite the terror…despite everything, his lips enfold mine and my empty chest suddenly feels full, stinging with desperation that all will be okay.
Sam crouched under a rusted iron sheet and patted the knife stashed in her boot. A felled pylon crisped and crackled in a field of mealies, each dry plant a broken skeleton, limbs bent and peeling. Their usual meeting spot, an abandoned house across the field, was smoldering.
The door splintered open and Thomas sauntered out mopping ash from his face with his t-shirt. She flicked her eyes from his torso and stomped towards him.
“Getting cocking?” She brushed ash from his shoulder.
“There’s no one for miles,” he stepped towards her. “Where d’you wanna do this?”
“Here’s fine,” she fidgeted with her shirt.
“Suit yourself,” he clicked his metallic fingers sparking a blue-grey light.
“Ya, they hooked it up for me,” he clicked again and the light fizzled. “You should see what else I can do with these fingers,” he snaked his human arm around her waist.
She relaxed against him before stepping away. “D’you come prepared?”
“Always,” he smirked and produced a condom.
She blushed, “Given the circumstances, I’ve more on my mind than sex.”
“Given the circumstances, I thought you wouldn’t wanna die a virgin.”
The blush burned to her ears. “I want to know what’s going on.”
“I thought you’re supposed to be smart,” he retorted.
“Take me to them.”
She gulped and nodded.
“Fine,” he sighed, unclipping a syringe from his belt. He pushed up her sleeve.
“This won’t hurt a bit,” he grinned and stabbed the needle into her flesh.