At the Edge of the World

At the Edge of the World Dave thought it was a Tuesday when the stranger came. He’d tried to keep track, but it was hard. He was certain he’d missed days in his counting. There was no work week without civilization to insist on it. The world was gone and the only time that still existed was right now.

From the window in the kitchen, he watched Jonathon out in the garden, trying to pollinate the cucumber blossoms without any honey bees left to do the job. Jonathon poked at each tiny flower with a dirt-covered finger, convincing them to give up their pollen. He looked up and gave Dave a goofy smile, smearing dirt across his forehead. Dave laughed, short and sharp. But it was gone quickly as the memories of the world pushed back in on him.

Behind Jonathon, the laundry snapped in the warm, salt-flavored air, a soft contrast to the crusty ground and crashing waves beyond. Tuesday was always for laundry.

In the distance, the silhouette of a man crossed the isthmus that connected their homestead to a larger piece of land. No one had crossed that land in years. Dave had finally stopped feeling that clench in his stomach every time he looked toward it and now his stomach dropped. He called out to Jonathon, who hadn’t noticed him yet, while he went to get the shotgun.

“What do we do?” Jonathon asked as the ground crunched beneath Dave’s steps. Jonathon had their farming hoe in his hands.

“That depends on what he does,” Dave answered. He was no longer smiling. He hadn’t felt like this since the dark days, before they’d made it to this safe place. The weight of the shotgun in his hands felt good.

The stranger waved as he approached and Jonathon gave a little wave back. Dave raised his weapon.

“I wouldn’t get too close,” Jonathon shouted. “My friend is a good shot.”

Dave blocked the word “friend” out of his mind while he concentrated on this moment. This was now. The stranger stopped where he was, his eyes taking in their house. Their garden. And the sea beyond.

“Where did you come from?” Dave asked, keeping his weapon steady.

The stranger turned to point back up the road, but Dave stopped him.

“Keep your hands where I can see them,” Dave said.

The stranger turned back and lifted his hands up to shoulder height. He gave a little shrug as though this whole meeting was perfectly normal.

“I was just trying to say, I’m from a village about six days back that a-way,” the stranger said.

“Is anyone else out there?” Jonathon asked, leaning on his farming tool.

“Not with me. But, like I said, there’s a whole bunch of us gathering, trying to get some kind of life going again, you know?” the stranger said.

“Uh-huh. And what do you want from us?” Dave asked.

“Just taking a look around, finding more supplies, people, maybe someone to trade with us or join us or whatever,” the stranger said. “You’re the first people I’ve come across since I left. I was just about to turn back, but here you are, out in the middle of nowhere.”

“Everywhere is nowhere nowadays,” Jonathon said.

Dave leaned his shoulder into the gun, testing the dirt beneath his shoes.”You’d better go ahead and turn back, right now.”

The stranger stayed where he was. “I don’t mean you guys any harm. Just meeting the neighbors, you know?”

“Well, you’ve met us. Now go back where you came from,” Dave said. He gestured with the gun. The stranger waited a moment, looking between Dave and Jonathon. Jonathon gave a little wave good-bye and the stranger turned to go. Dave waited until he was well out of range before he lowered the gun.

Dave was quiet for the rest of the night. Their bedroom was oppressive in the darkness.

“What’s wrong?” Jonathon asked well after midnight. He rolled onto his side to look at Dave, but Dave kept his face to the ceiling.

“They’ll come back now that they know where we are. They’ll bring others,” Dave said. His stomach was still an iron weight threatening to pull itself free from him.

“Would that be such a bad thing?” Jonathon asked.

“And what if they decide they like our little bit of land better? What if they take this place from us?” Dave asked. He liked the way Jonathon acted when they were alone, when he didn’t call Dave a friend. He missed the old days less than Jonathon did.

“What’s this really about?” Jonathon asked.

The silence after that question was too much for Dave to bear. “How much longer until you leave?”

Jonathon propped himself up on an elbow and leaned over Dave’s face. “What are you talking about?”

“Nothing,” Dave said, rolling over and away from Jonathon. He fell asleep angry.

His shoulders ached in the morning when he woke up to an empty bed. For just a moment he lay there, wondering if this was his future. He followed the smell of baking into the kitchen and found Jonathon smearing honey on one of his homemade biscuits. A plate of biscuits and a pot of jam sat on the table. Jonathon held out the other half of his biscuit, but Dave chose to sit instead.

“Are we going to talk about it?” Jonathon asked, coming to sit beside him. The chair squealed on the old linoleum floors as he did.

Dave made a show of shoving half a biscuit into his mouth and instantly regretted the amount of jam that dripped down his face in the process. Jonathon reached across the table and took his hand and Dave didn’t feel like he could pull back. He swallowed hard under Jonathon’s patient stare.

“You always liked people more than I did,” Dave said, wiping the jam off his face. It would stain the napkin, but it was better than having this conversation with raspberry puree all over his face.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Jonathon said.

“Now,” Dave said, picking at some biscuit crumbs. “But you know where they are. You’ll get curious. And they’ll be curious. Either way, it’s the end of what we have here. Together.”

Jonathon wove his fingers between Dave’s, pushing his chair back. “Come on.”

“What are you doing?”

“Dance with me,” Jonathon said.

“What? There’s no music.”

Jonathon pulled him out of his chair. “We never had a real wedding. We never got that couples dance. Dance with me now. Dance with me and pretend the world doesn’t exist,” he pleaded. And after that, there was no going back.

Dave laid his head on Jonathon’s shoulder as Jonathon hummed some old tune he didn’t remember. There was only now. The future would have to wait.

Dianne Williams lives in Lawrence, Kansas. She grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries and classic science fiction. She once dreamed of being an astronaut. Or maybe a lawyer. Or an artist. She settled for being as many of them as she could all at once through fiction writing.

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