The Coming (flash fiction)
by Mary O. R. Paddock
A shape started on the horizon and, over time, took on dust and shadows. The children named it a rain cloud, but it was more than a gathering of wind. There was mass and purpose to it. The earth moved under my feet, oh so slightly, and I knew our time was limited to the distance between us and that spewing, muttering cloud. So I called them, told them to collect their most important things and to meet me at the fruit cellar.
My oldest flew to the apple tree and gathered a basket of apples. "I grew these. I want to fill my mouth with them just once," she said.
The boy picked up his guitar and three picks "I always lose at least one while I'm playing," he says "and then find it again later when I don't want it anymore."
The third collected the tabby kittens from the loft in the barn. No one needed more than a look from her robin's egg eyes.
I stuffed my apron pockets full of novelties. Scissors, a kitchen knife, a couple of face cloths, a small Bible, a picture of my husband- may the spirits shield his eyes--and a loaded salt box, though I didn't tell the children about the last. It would do us no good should the door not hold against the weight, but it made me feel as if I had a say in life and death.
The house trembled as I swept the last child past me and we moved into the cellar, just yards away. I closed the door on the red maples, the garden with the pumpkins almost ready to carve, on the sun just past mid- point in the sky, already filling with dust-- the air being pushed ahead in waves. I glanced towards my rooftop and wondered, briefly, if it would be there when we opened it-- should we be there at all.
You know that instant right before something under pressure snaps? A bowstring, a tree branch, an angry man. They're all the same. You hold your breath in that split of second of seconds, and you count in spite of yourself, but, when it comes, you jump and cry out anyway, as though it was a snake slithering out of the straw by your foot. That's what it's like in the seconds before the first crash, the descending thunder of hooves. And you stand underneath them, listening at first, unbelievingly. Will the herd be small this time? Maybe just a thousand or so? Maybe just some trampled fields and a few downed trees will be the only mark of they’ve even moved through your life at all.
But, most of the time, they run for days. And after the first hours you turn your attention to surviving it, adjusting to it by speaking just a little louder than usual, by dampening your face often and breathing in the water you pumped from your own well. You wipe away the opportunistic tears that threaten to take you over. Call your children to their chores-- - you cut the apples", "you find the drinking water", "you play us a tune" and "you . . . well . . . you watch the kittens." And you light a lantern and find the battery powered radio. And everyone settles into their places, trying to ignore the occasional clods of earth that fall from what has become your ceiling, your world. Sometimes the man on the radio knows when it will end, sometimes he can only tell you what they've already come and destroyed.
Last time they came, we only had the basement and foundations of the house above us. I lost my husband to falling timbers. I only had the two children then, didn't even know the third was on the way. We got to keep the barn and an apple tree, but nothing else survived and I buried my husband out by the creek at mouth of the hollow. I rebuilt, added a cellar and stored canned goods and water in it. ‘Turned my attention to getting the young ones raised.
The herds have gotten bigger since the fourth war to end all wars, the man on the radio says. No one knows where they're coming from or where they go when they leave. We only know the buffalo come.
. . .once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.
(The Velveteen Rabbit)