The Body

Prompt: Devastation

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Tall grasses and weeds had been replaced by creeping ivies and thyme, so the orderly row of houses looked as if their front gardens had been recently tended. It looked almost normal, except for the empty silence.

This was Chandler’s Folly, the purpose-built town with the perfect stone churches, the manicured playgrounds, the houses lovingly occupied, families living in tolerant accord, and the crazy system of never-used underground tunnels. A little girl had fled the town into the woods when the world ended, scrubbing along for weeks before she stumbled upon me and Plato; thin, dirty, and unable to remember even her name.

Now my dog Plato leaned up against the girl, who had named herself Folly, as if to support her, as we three stood in the middle of the road gazing at tidy home after tidy home, waiting for her to move or speak. She’d agreed to come and I’d explained that it might be tough. It was tough for me and Plato to search for my parents and sisters. But strangely, the only way we could have survived was to realize that we were completely alone. My parents were not going to bail me out. My sisters no longer existed.

Finally, Folly said, “Do you see anyone?”

“No Folly, I don’t.” It was probable she didn’t trust her own eyes. “Which way is your house?”

“They look alike,” said Folly.

“What colour was your house?” I prompted.

“Yellow,” said Folly. Well, that narrowed it down to about two hundred.

“What else do you remember?”

“The horses,” said Folly. She kneeled down and wrapped her arms around Plato’s neck. He bore the hug with great fortitude and patience.

Folly then closed her eyes. “Can we go now?”

“Back to the motel?”

Folly nodded, eyes still tightly shut. “Don’t make me look,” she said.

So Plato and I guided her back to the red Jag, and she sat in the back while Plato took the passenger seat beside me. I drove straight ahead instead of turning around and going back the way we’d come. Folly had her eyes closed, but I wanted a bit of a look around.

That’s when I saw a body on the porch of a two storey, neo-Victorian house, not far from the domed library. At least it looked like a body, slumped in a rocking chair, as still and frozen in time as everything else in Chandler’s Folly. I coasted the Jag to a stop. Plato and I had already travelled half-way across the country, and the only body, living or dead, we’d encountered was Folly’s.

Plato saw the body too— hard to tell if it was a man or a woman— and whimpered softly. I glanced at Folly, who was tense and stiff, her hands now covering her eyes as back-up protection.

“Folly,” I said, “I’m gonna go drop you off at the Best Western. Could you find some soup and bread for dinner?”

She said, “Yes. Are we gone?”

“Not yet,” I said.

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The Great Scheme of Things

Prompt: Hopeful

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Folly, Plato, and I were sitting by the pool at the Best Western Motel, just outside the town of Chandler’s Folly. The pool still held water but was almost covered with leaves. It was not an unpleasant sight, as it was too cold to swim anyway, and it was night time so the stars flickered and danced on the water’s surface.

I talked to Folly too, now, and not just to my dog Plato. Folly was about as responsive, but at least she would hear the words, somewhere inside that lost, confused head of hers. She might not understand the words; after all, she was only eleven. I was only sixteen, but I learned a lot, especially after the end of the world, just by travelling around with Plato in the Jag.

For one thing, as I told Folly and Plato that night: “Some days I forget what the date is, or the day of the week, or the month, or the year. What difference does time make? I don’t have to go to school or be home in time for dinner or do anything or keep track.”

We were sitting on loungers, wrapped up in towels we’d found by the indoor pool. Plato was lolling on the tile floor, content to hear my voice.

“Plato and I kept a journal at first,” I said. Plato’s ears stood to attention. “We wrote down what we did and what we saw. We had— well, still have— a notebook about the plague and the end of the world, that we put clues in to help us figure it out. Why the catastrophe happened, why it was so bloody and why everyone disappeared. Why we survived. Don’t you wonder, Folly?”

Folly stared at the pool.

“The Internet still works, in case I want to google something,” I said. “I don’t know why it does, or for how long it will work. And then I think, who cares if it ends, too?”

I stared up at a million stars.

“You know, books and libraries and everything that is recorded will disappear too. No one will be here to notice it or be sorry, or wonder who lived on this planet.

“So I’m not going to write in the notebooks any more. I don’t need to remember stuff about my sisters or my parents or my cousin Dwayne. It doesn’t matter any more, do you understand?”

“No,” said Folly.

Her voice didn’t startle me, rare as the sound of it was. That was part of the problem. Things didn’t startle me, or scare me, or make me curious, or make me laugh. It had been sort of a gradual thing. And to tell the truth, I thought Folly felt the same way.

“It’s hard to understand,” I conceded. “Do you want to remember your parents?”

“Yes,” said Folly. Again, the voice didn’t startle me. But the words did, a little.

“Okay,” I said. “Good. Tomorrow we learn about your parents.” I didn’t care. I thought it would be a good thing for Folly to get her memory back, and find out what her real name was, and all that but in the great scheme of things, it didn’t really matter.

“It does matter,” said Folly. Plato got to his feet and put his big old head in her lap. She scratched him behind his silky ears.

“What else do you want to remember?”

“My birthday,” said Folly.

“Okay,” I said. “Good.” If I was still surprised by things, this evening would have surprised me.

Detour

Prompt: Relax

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I had never heard of a place, except perhaps Disneyland, where a community was created to reflect the ideal, the perfect, the romantic, the nostalgic, and the magical small town the likes of which you’d only seen in movies like It’s a Wonderful Life.

Joseph Chandler had a dream of such a community, and used most of his massive inherited wealth to bring the dream to a reality. So the town originally called Chandler Village was a place of broad avenues lined with oak trees, tidy homes on generous manicured lots fronted by white picket fences, a plethora of parks, playgrounds, churches, and independent businesses— no Walmarts, no Burger Kings, no Starbucks, no Safeways, no Gaps.

But this dream was not the entirety of Chandler’s Folly, as the town came to be known. Joseph Chandler wanted a kind of underground city, too, where cables and wires and electrical boxes and meters were tucked away below ground, part of a series of tunnels that connected schools and businesses to homes and churches. The conception and building of such an underground system was the major source of employment for the people of Chandler Village. Until the collapse, that is.

Near the outskirts of town was a place called The Quarry. Slabs of rough grey granite formed a circle around a deep, milky, teal-colored pond which was, of course a gathering place in the summer for young people, who loved to swing on a sturdy rope attached to a mature oak on the edge of the quarry, into the pool below. There was even an antique quarry car near the parking lot, a self-driving vehicle that was once used to haul granite shards, placed as if in tribute to the quarrymen.

It was all an illusion. When the tunnels started collapsing, Joseph Chandler had to halt work on their construction, and the worst collapse, one that miraculously claimed no human lives, was the site which the faux quarry now occupied.

According to Wikipedia, many tunnels still existed under the town, abandoned and deemed unsafe, and were often the scenes of sketchy, possibly criminal activities.

This was the home of the little girl who remembered nothing except that she thought her name was Folly. She was born and raised in a perfect illusion, the surface of which was glossy and gleaming and sparkled like the specks of silver in quarry granite.

We stopped for the night at a Best Western Motel, not three miles from the town limits. Folly had relaxed somewhat during our time together touring in the red Jag, but she shared no new information with me and Plato. I told her we were making a bit of a detour which would delay our visit to the Grand Canyon, and this did not seem to bother her. But then, she reacted not at all, to anything, except with suppressed fear and suspicion. I’m not sure how I hoped to heal this child by taking her to her home, whose name and location she’d been unable to recall, though I knew I was right.

But we had to start somewhere. Plato and I had each other from the beginning of the end of the world. I remembered my family well and with great warmth and love, and Plato and I mourned them together.

Folly couldn’t start to mourn until she started to remember.

Chandler’s Folly

Prompt: Folly

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It was my dog Plato that coaxed the shadow out from the depths of a dark, dense army of evergreen trees and into the flickering light of the bonfire.

Plato barked and whined with excitement but his tail also slowly wagged in a grand swishing movement, and I said quietly, “OK.” Plato took a few tentative steps, nose thrust forward, and someone emerged, hand first for the dog to sniff, like a child who’d been taught to do so by a careful parent.

It was a child who stepped forward. Young, with long hair like a girl, but scruffy, thin, and ragged. Plato sniffed, and then licked her hand. She lifted her head and looked at me with a blank, dead expression. It startled and confused me. Where was the curiosity, the relief, the fear— all the emotions I felt?

“He’s gentle,” I said to the girl. “You can pet him if you want.”

She fell to her knees, closed her eyes, and put her arms around Plato. He didn’t like hugs, but only squirmed a little.

“What’s your name?” I asked, as Plato had a quick taste of her cheek with his tongue.

“I don’t know,” she said. She stood again, and took a step backward.

“Would you like a hot dog?” I asked her.

She nodded and I went to the small table I’d set up beside the fire, where there was a cold, roasted hotdog, and some fresh ones that might take a few minutes to heat up. I figured she didn’t want to wait, so I gave her the cold, roasted one. She turned her back and ate it. I guess she ate it quickly and greedily. Someone taught this kid both manners and dog protocol. Who? I buttered a couple of hot dog buns and gave them to her, too.

“Where are you from?”

“I don’t know.”

“How old are you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Have you travelled far?” I asked. “Never mind, don’t answer.”

She slept in the tent with Plato, while I lay by the fire, wrapped up in a sleeping bag set on a thin foam mattress, and watched the stars move across the sky. I thought about how they still moved across the sky, even though life had all but ended on Earth, and about how they must have moved across the sky before the first squiggle of life struggled into being.

The following morning we walked to the mall, where we picked out some jeans and shirts and sweaters,  a coat with a hood (age 9-11 seemed to fit her best), toiletries, a carry-bag, and other necessities, then she cleaned up, and a fresh, clean, nameless child with shiny black hair walked back to the camp with Plato and me. She never spoke unless I asked her a question. So I asked her questions, though she had few answers, and got upset and frustrated. I realized it might take some time. It had taken me and Plato a bit of time to get used to the plague and everyone gone and being alone, too.

“You still can’t remember your name?” I asked.

She hesitated. “Folly.”

“Folly?”

She looked at me in silent despair. “I don’t know. I think so.”

“OK,” I said. “Would you like to come with us to the Grand Canyon?”

And so we all three crammed into the front of the red 1961 E-Type Jaguar convertible, Plato partly in her lap, and hit the open highway again. It wasn’t until we stopped at one of those gas station pantries to use the toilet and pick up some Cheezies and Snapple, that I idly looked at the big map and spotted a little town about seven miles from where we’d camped in the woods behind the big mall. The town was called Chandler’s Folly.

I decided to change our plans. The Grand Canyon wasn’t going anywhere.