The Great Tribulation: A Short Story

Woah, it’s has been a minute since I’ve posted a story. Here’s one inspired by way too many wasted Sunday mornings… I tried to make the title a little less obvious, and failed. Ah well.

Curtis roasted like a pig. He moved in a fever between two pots, holding a wooden spoon the length of his arm. The doors and windows of his small shack were open but the heat was unmoved. He looked to see the girl was still naked and sprawled out on top of his bed with a filthy rag on her forehead. The girl’s breasts spilled away from each other like two repelling magnets, a steady stream of sweat licked her from chin to navel. Her mouth was open and dry and it had been minutes since she’d blinked or sighed.

“Hey you. Hey, you still alive?” Curtis said.

The girl made a sound, something like a squawk and wheeze, and managed a few licks of her lips.

“I think so.” she said.

“Unlucky you. Why aren’t you blinking?”

“Oh… I wasn’t paying mind to whether I was blinking or not.” she said.

“You weren’t.” Curtis dashed a palmful of salt into a pot, “I thought I was cooking for a dead girl.”

Curtis took the joint from the corner of his mouth and passed the dregs to the girl. It was mostly ash, but it was familiar so she inhaled and held anyway. Even bare skin felt like one too many layers, she made herself as wide as she could to cool down. Arms and legs spread open so she looked like she was making snow angels in the sheets. And when was the last time she’d seen snow? Heat had built up slow then wrecked them all at once, writhed out of the ground like some vengeful spirit ready to drive them delirious – and succeeding. The girl was half blind and shriveled like a newborn pup when he found her stroked out in the dirt and sand, the poor godless and sun-bleached girl.

Curtis brought a bowl where the girl laid and she finally sat up at the smell. The bowl overflowed with rice and meat, two spoons for sharing. The chunks of meat were mysterious but they both guessed it was goat’s meat; fibrous and swimming in it’s sweetness. He watched the girl’s mouth work the steaming chunk and wondered how she could put her lips on something so hot without batting an eyelash. She caught his slack look and laughed a crack lipped riot saying, cool as anything, “Man, when you’ve been raised by the sun a little heat don’t hurt.”

The girl’s body looked like a heap of Himalayan salt in the distance. Curtis had watched her crawl on her stomach from noon til late, the cloud’s bellies burnt orange and only a few hours left before they’d disappear. If the girl was going to make it, she’d have to drag herself to salvation and prove she wanted it. To be out at this time of the day was a show that at some point she wasn’t sure she did, and Curtis didn’t have time for people who’d given up on themselves. The girl passed out on the steps to the smell of starch and boiled meat.

From the empty bowl of her stomach, Curtis guessed it had been weeks since the girl had eaten. She downed a mug of water and refilled the mug to cleanse her ruddy face, before starting on a plate of sweet bread rolls and jam. They sat on the bed and the girl appreciated not having to move to sleep, the meal formed a content lump in her gut. The solitary candle wisped around in a moment of breeze and they both held their breaths while it bathed them. Curtis pushed the empty bowl away from himself and wiped a rag on his mouth and all around his forehead and neck.

“Why were you out there like a damn slug?” he said.

The girl didn’t open her eyes but cupped the new pouch of belly in her hands like an expectant mother with little more than a peanut in her womb.

“I was trying to find somewhere cool I could lay a while.”

Curtis lit a fresh joint on the candle, the light sparked the girl up like an angel and blasted the rest of the room into void.

“Hm,” he said, “You can crawl all the way to Lakeland and not find a lick of shade.”

“I don’t know. My daddy told me there’s still some places where it’s cool and maybe not so crowded.” she said.

“And where’s your daddy at now? Nowhere good, I bet.”

The girl shrugged and took the offered joint into her fingers. She tried to remember the last letter she’d got from her father and retrieved a memory from a year prior. She waited as the ocean crept closer and swallowed homes in front of hers, before it finally knocked on her own door and swept her inland. She’d stopped believing her father was alive, but not that there was somewhere else to go. If there wasn’t, they would be alone in the dark when the curtain fell on Earth, leaving only godless souls to crawl on their bellies like blind snakes in a barrel, one climbing on top of the other for a chance at dying last. The girl looked at Curtis’s smushed face and missed when there was only man to fear, and the ground boar more than death.

Curtis poured cold water in a large bucket outside and the girl had a good go at washing herself. Her skin was virginal and free of scars; flesh like the smooth hat of a mushroom. He watched steam rise from the pool at her feet. The girl paused scooping water on her body, opened her arms and face and mouth to the black sky in a silent scream. She gave up bathing when a hot wind kicked up and coated her in dust.

Curtis had craned his neck to the clouds in a similar way but let out a primal scream with his own girl’s body laid in his arms and her looking up, too. The gaze was absent and her neck was cut and leaning awkwardly curious. It was done, but she didn’t fly into grace with open arms. Her body laid useless and Curtis left her there knowing this was their punishment and nothing would lessen the sentence.

The girl fell asleep as heavy as a child with a fever, her garish frame barely enough to make a real lump in the bed. Curtis sat up in bed beside her. She looked like a corpse, her skin opaque and veins ribbed up and down her arms and legs. He watched her and grew angry at her carelessness. Dragging herself through the rotten desert for what – she only had to take one look around and it was obvious; this was it and no magic man saved a place for her, or any of them, in the shade. You could live in a dream or with the steady footing and firm disappointment of reality, and he preferred the latter.

The sky was lavender and a steady heat of steam rose from cracks like geysers. The girl was gone when Curtis woke up and he saw her naked body merge with the mirage of wavering air in the not so far distance. She’d taken his boots, but they both knew he had no use for them. She would hear him call her name if he knew it. If he screamed it loud enough and knew he wanted her to stay. Soon the distance was too much and the heat too strong to see her without straining. He went back inside to the unmade bed, still musty and covered in her dirt, stripped the sheets and dumped them in the sink, running water on them until there was a stream of murk. The girl could have her shade, and Curtis would have his. The comfort that even Earth was mortal, and as long as there were sinners you could crawl for eternity and never leave suffering.

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