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While the Devil Snickers in the Moonlight

By S. N. Rasul

February, Alexandria
He watches the priest burn, flames swirling in the sandy wind howling of eternal hopelessness, but his eyes are alight with a different fire, a different desperation, one that singes through the crowd, looking, probing, his cloak slicing through screaming voices heralding the downfall of religion and politics and everything that's deemed important, except what he yearns for. His beard hangs on to grains of burning hot sand like desolate hands looking for something to hold on to, for purpose, and it sears his skin red underneath.

He is not a hero. His cloak isn't dark and foreboding, his presence not an automatic intimidating partition through the crowds, his skin not desensitised to pain, his eyes not luminous with confidence, the hilt of his sword not looming over his head like a sleeping serpent that will devour the flesh of anyone who chooses to cross his path. He is not a hero. He is someone looking for something, like everyone else in a world brown and sooty, as an everlasting dusk spreads itself farther and farther across the sky. But he looks not for food or shelter, not power, not transport, not oil, not redemption, not the non-existent green planet or the existent grey one, not the DNA of an insect, not respect, nor his family.

He looks for love.

June, Nevada
“…rather die with the world that has given us life and sustenance for billions and billions of years than change the essence of what makes me a human being…”

The radio crackles her awake, forcing her eyes to open in the dampness of a four-by-four cellar, crooked smiling grilled bars staring back, dripping rust and evaporating stale ammonia meshing to engulf her in the stench of its continuous vapour. She can hear the guards laughing as they surf from station to station. She sits up from her foetal position, back against the wall and strains her ears to listen to the unclear bursts of almost-indecipherable transmission, impulsively, foolishly longing, looking out for news about something immaterial in the world external.

“…in a planet where I clearly don't belong.” Crackle. Switch. “…rumours of the existence of a grey cat resurface, with sources indicating its last sighting being somewhere in southern…”

She hears a familiar voice in tune with jangling keys and the creaking of a heavy metal door, followed by steps leading up to her cuboid entrapment. A shadow blocks whatever lone stream of light still escaped into her dome, consisting of a caricature born of the night, in trash, eternity withstanding.

Click. Switch. “…new Solaraid! Emergency energy patches for your ca-“

“Shut it!” hisses the shadow at the guards, moving origami in the light. Click. Her fingers touch the scars on her thigh, mountains of memory, trembling to go any higher. She turns around, her naked back facing the wall, red rivers straddling the hills of her skin.

“Welcome back, Doctor,” she whispers. She can feel the animal insider her flutter.

The shadow snickers.

July, Nice
His eyes are weary, his muscles strain, his jaw persistently clenched, his mouth dry, and his feet, they have suffered the most, tired, burnt and bleeding yellow. Miles covered on foot, hidden in ships carrying cargo, swimming across rivers, kidnapping pilots and hitchhiking rides in a most ungenerous world, he has managed to find a location, a direction to aim for.

He has killed, tortured, blackmailed, stolen, robbed, and even sold a kidney to a Moroccan jeweller while holding his family hostage to get the information he needed, and to end up where he is now. He hears the roaring engine first, and like subsequent supersonic waves, the revolving swords are seen slicing through the clouds, and a plane emerges and swiftly lands, whizzing past, his hair a poor mockery of anime.

He runs up to the ladder extended while it stopped and sits down in the cockpit, beside the pilot, who sucks on a cigarette butt, his face hidden with a ski mask, only a slit around his mouth to leave room for air. And smoke. Some of the last remaining droplets of energy flying through the sky for his selfish will.

“Reno,” he says. The only word of the journey.

August, Mexico City
She has been moved. But she waits. The animal punctures her back.

September, Lovelock
His feet can carry him only so far. He tries to run, the minister's foot soldiers at his heel, but he is too tired, exhausted from an endlessly disappointing search, his shoulders slumping, his body caving in, darts piercing his calves, pushing nocturnal proximity into his bloodstream. He falls on his knees, giving into the wrath of the desert heat.

He can feel the cuffs being put on his wrists, but it's surreal, like a fleeting glance caught from the corner of one's eye. He has to find her, he has to find her.

He has to find her.

November, Philadelphia
She has been moved again. And she has a neighbour now, though he or she hasn't woken up yet. The animal is clawing at the insides of her skin, choking the cells into submission. The guards turn on their radios again. Nat King Cole. Classic. It's one of her favourite songs.

“L is for the way you look at me.”

Her neighbour is whimpering; male, familiarity. He is waking up, the vocal chords catching weight as his senses sharpen, and that voice, so recognisable, so utterly impossible, yet unmistakably there. She flickers to the iron bars, her head dented against the frame. She screams his name.

“O is for the only one I see.”

She cannot see him. Oh, how she longs to see him. Her voice has stirred him awake and he whispers it out, coarse and rough and travelling through the thickness of bile in the air and reaching sweet in her ears. She cannot help it, the tears mingling with the smiles, her reptilian heart so cold is now warmth personified. She reaches out for him, hoping to touch him, feel him.

The door creaks open.

“V is very, very extraordinary.”

She cannot reach him. She sees herself properly for the first time in a long time, her environment oblivious; he is crying out her name, again and again. She sees the darkness spreading across her skin, coldness blooming through her blood. She is glad he cannot see her. Her neighbour's door is pushed open.

No. No. No. Nonono. Leave him! No! Let him go! All these exclamations, they're all in vain. In the darkness of the light, she had failed to notice she had submerged in the darkness of the sound as well. No wonder only Levarda understood her.

“E is even more than anyone that you adore.”

Even after all these experiments they couldn't put him to any use, they say. She can hear vague snatches, but their voices, especially his, is so low, so low, like a scream wrapped in a whimper. There was too much radiation inside him; irrevocable damage. Crackling radios. They would have to recycle him.

No.

The animal inside her breaks free, its wings in full fury, its antlers seeking out, ready to consume its host in the blink of a life. She is oblivious to it all, her hands still reaching out, her mouth in the shape of his name, such anguish soaked tones, such despair. Her last effort is proclamation. He continues to scream out her name as they dose him - poison for the future in his veins - and he does so, for so long, until they are just incoherent gusts of despondency. The animal tears into her, an experiment gone horribly wrong, and the animal, it screeches for its master, its red king.

“And love is all that I can give to you.”


Last week our topic was Post-Apocalypse. We received a number of submissions but decided this one went best with the theme of the issue as a whole. This week our topic is “New Beginnings”. We look forward to entries that make such a mundane topic interesting. Submission deadline is the usual Sunday 12pm.


After The End

By Rayaan Ibtesham Chowdhury

27th December
This journal is one of the few things that I still cherish. All this still feels like a dream. I wonder if I will wake up any second now, sweaty and glad that the nightmare is over. People are trying to get some sleep. The silence is strange now, given that even a while ago people were crying and yelling out to God. Most just fainted or dozed off. You couldn't blame them. Today was the most peaceful day in the past week or so. I wish I could sleep too but after what I have seen, I wonder if I'll ever be able to sleep again.

28th December
We have been walking for hours now. The Chief says the best way to find safety is to keep moving. I failed to grasp the logic behind that decision but like everyone else, I am not in a position to refute him. There is a foul stench in the air. Every direction you could look at, all you would see was the aftermath of God knows what. It struck us like lightning and within hours, civilisation, or what's left of it, was reduced to rubble. I wonder if we will find a way to fix things. I sure hope we do. Hope, it's all we have got left. Maybe it would have been better if I had just died in the first place. Been obliterated like much of my species. What was the point living this way?

29th December
Three of the survivors died today. We wanted to bury their bodies but later on, chose not to. What was the point in further exhausting ourselves? If millions could experience death without proper burials, surely three could as well. It seems like it's only a matter of time before we all cave in. Give in to the harshness of this new world. My feet feel like stone but we have no choice. We keep walking all day, no one exactly knows why. At one point we sit down and sleep. Who knows how many days it's been? What if today isn't the 29th? I don't care. Some would question writing this journal. It's just a mere attempt to give my dried mind something to do. I have blisters but there's nothing that can be done, right?

30th December
Our group has been reduced from thirteen to six in the span of five days. Everyone is frustrated now, cursing at each other. Cursing at their luck. It seems that my thoughts have crept into their minds as well. I was wondering when madness would strike. Maybe I've gone mad too. After all, no one else was in state of mind to actually keep writing a journal. I am going to die soon anyway. Might as well spend my time doing something I like.

31st December
A new year is near. And our group seems to have come closer to each other. It's strange that after millenniums of history, all that remains of humans are the six of us. Who knew how much of sanity we had left anyway? It feels odd; I am one of the last remaining humans. Wow. Well, almost.

 


 

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