story time: the final chapter

17 Apr

She lowered the knife and it grew even brighter.

The fourth and final installment of the Harris Burdick story time series is upon us. Break out the tissues.

This one was also written by our friend Josh and was my personal favorite of the night. I think you’ll like it, too.

“Just Dessert” or “Alice and the Bunker” by Josh Hoover

Our story begins and ends in a dark room.  Not too far from here, underneath miles and miles of earth and rock, Alice sat – barely mindful of the darkness around her or the absence of sound.

“Will you play chess with me?” asked a voice.

Alice opened her eyes to see Adam sitting at their small kitchen table – designed for one.

“You know I can’t.”

“Just this once, come on, let’s do something together, then I’ll go to bed and leave you alone.”

Alice turned away back to a computer screen, angered that her partner was not taking their job seriously. You see Adam and Alice were chosen for a most important position. They were chosen to live in isolation, away from influence, deep beneath the earth in a sheltered bunker, to watch the skies. Watch for an attack. For God forbid if there ever was an attack, they were to be the countries first hope.

You see Alice had fallen in love. She had never met a man like Adam before – playful but brilliant. And while she knew she should be paying attention to the thermal graphs and warning signs, she decided to play one game of chess with Adam.

She smiled and turned back, but Adam was not there. The kitchen was dark. Adam was there…she heard his voice…or so she thought.

Oh, Alice and Adam were not supposed to fall in love. Raised from birth to believe in nothing was more important than the survival of their country, they were chosen because they expressed very little emotion. They were raised to have no emotions. And Adam didn’t fall in love.

Every night, Alice would wake to take her shift. And every night, as Adam slept, Alice could think of nothing else but him. And this continued as nights turned to weeks, weeks turned to months, and months turned to a year.

Then Adam fell ill.

It was a routine for Alice to rise from her sleeping shift, turn on the kettle, pour a cup of tea, and sit by the computer with Adam for thirty minutes, while they reviewed the day’s data of missile locations and heat maps around the world. After 18 months of the same routine, she didn’t even have to think about it. It just happened.

And then once again, on another day like every other before it, Alice heard a familiar voice. “Will you play chess with me?” asked the voice.

Alice turned in her chair to see Adam sitting at their small kitchen table – designed for one.

“You know I can’t.”

“Just this once, come on, let’s do something together, then I’ll go to bed and leave you alone.”

And this angered Alice, for as you and I now know, she was raised to take her position seriously, but in her heart, it made her love him more. Maybe I’ll play just this once, she thought. But when she got to the kitchen, Adam was gone. Had he gone to bed without telling her?

Alice slept soundly. She had become fully accustomed to the pitch-blackness and lack of sound in the bunker. When she awoke, she felt fresh, and ready to protect her country, but lately mostly ready to see Adam. She turned on the kettle and poured her tea. But when she got to the computer, Adam was not there. She went to his bed, but he was not there either. This wasn’t the routine, she thought.

And she knew the only way in and out of the bunker was the elevator. It smelled of earth, and when the doors opened, she saw fresh soil on the floor. She needed to know what happened to Adam. Why would he have left? She stepped in the elevator, activated the green button, and up it went. Up and up, through miles and miles until finally it stopped.

She pushed open the latch to a rush of light. The bright light was so bright it burned her eyes and she was forced to shelter her face for what felt like hours until she finally slowly opened her tearful eyes only to see a barren landscape. The trees had been burned. Was there an attack? How had they missed it? The barren landscape begun to spin as Alice walked deliriously to the only sign of life she could see. Something was standing tall, but she couldn’t make it out. Her eyes could not adjust.

Finally she reached it. It was a grave, centered in a silent and sleepy pumpkin patch, and the soil was freshly turned. Here lies Adam Erie. Died for his country with honor. It all felt like a dream, like she had been there before. But there was no one else there. Just the earth and the stumps of trees, and a pumpkin patch. Alice fell to her knees.

What was that noise breaking the silence of the landscape? Was it music? It can’t be. But it must be. She could hear music, and in the pumpkin patch, she saw Adam standing tall where his grave had been before.

He in his black jacket and top hat and her in her ruby red velvet floating dress, they joined hands and the sound waves beat with their hearts as they danced towards no tomorrow. For why would anyone consider tomorrow when now is such bliss?

But she considered tomorrow. Why should this bliss end? The feel of his touch, the smell of his scent, the sound of his sing, this was such a wondrous thing.

Illuminating their dance, in the center of the patch, grew a large glowing pumpkin expanding and contracting, just as a universe is young, then old, and then young again.

And Alice remembered, just as when the universe contracts smaller and smaller until you don’t think it can get any smaller, it then gets smaller and smaller still. Then…it’s nothing…nothing…till an expansion and something once more…stars explode, gases combust, rocks form, nitrogen…hydrogen…flowing water. Life. Atoms and atoms, randomly, cosmically, come together. Why? She didn’t know. For even they don’t know. For it’s a mystery to all. But still they come together and life begins anew.

And so she stared as the pumpkin contracted – smaller and smaller. And she knew: their time was coming to an end. Blissfully sweating, the couple twirled with the music. The moon –the same moon she had not seen for 18 months smiled and lent her spirits to keep the night alive as the pumpkin consumed her thoughts. Just then the warm embrace of the top hatted man came to take over her mind and soul.

He held her close as he looked deeply into her eyes, “Alas, if only this night could last forever…but our time is short and our love is young.”

She kissed him deeply for the first time. They had never kissed though she had wanted to for so long. He was powerless.

Shell shocked by the kiss, she left him there. His body hung in the air with the bass waves. Euphoria claimed his senses…but not hers. Destroy the pumpkin and it cannot implode. A woman without time, is a woman without dreams.

Some will say one knife cannot be sharp enough or dull enough to destroy the galactic pumpkin. Her knife came from within, to cut the pumpkin was to mean the night would last forever, and he would be hers.

And so she pushed forward gaining courage from the moon. As she lifted her knife, the pumpkin grew even brighter.

As the knife penetrated the pumpkin skin, a thousand suns burst from within and the mass star explosion blew the man’s top hat into the stratosphere and on and on and on…

Their hands clasped tightly as they were lifted up through the cosmic orange and black abyss.  They past through stars, galaxies, and ways, up, up, and up never losing grip of grip until slowly their atoms merged, for they were to be something new. And they were happy. And they were one. And they joined the universe.

When she awoke, Alice felt refreshed, went to the kettle, and poured herself a cup of tea. She went to the computer and heard a familiar voice.

“Will you play chess with me?”


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