Posted in Short Stories

The Planetarium

Not a sound. The sirens, the cars, the trains, the bicycle horns. All gone. The boy walked taking each step with caution, unsure as to where and why he was there. The chill wind gently chewing at the tips of his ears and nose seemed less like a feeling and more like a sixth sense. Something distant that he couldn’t quite bring himself to be concerned with at the moment.

He came to a stop and placed his ghostly fingers gently on top of the cold iron railing that ran along the edge of the cement. As he looked at his hands he felt strange. They somehow seemed unfamiliar. They were of course his hands, but the way his veins lay like small blue snakes beneath his frozen skin sent a different sort of chill up his arms.

Slowly moving his gaze upward his eyes rested unfocused for a moment on the hypnotic water before him. A large body of black oil dancing with diamonds in every ripple. The real gems loomed over the reflection like a giant castle. An entire city beaming just across the bay, lights decorating every window and every street so that the black sky above couldn’t penetrate its glory.

He felt dimly aware of his body heat losing in a ill defended battle against the cool evening air. His whole body felt strangely weak, and the longer he stood there at the railing the faster the cold was taking over. Winning. He turned for the hell of it and began to walk along his way, seeing as there wasn’t much else he could do.

He let one hand numbly glide across the peeling railing as he walked. The other found a small bit of relief in the warmth of his coat pocket and he curled his fingers into his fist. He could feel a strange tingling sensation, like hundreds of little ants running across his finger tips. He took this as a good sign. The blood flow. For some reason it didn’t seem to matter. Something else was more important to heal. Something more troubling than his frost bitten fingers at stake.

He was taken aback at the sight of her standing there. At the same time he wasn’t surprised it had taken him so long to notice her tall dark figure.

All in black, someone stood alone atop one of the rocks protruding just above the water’s surface. A woman. She had long straight hair that played behind her like a curtain with the wind. Each strand was trying to resist the temptation to chase after its invisible trail. Perhaps this girl would know where they were. Perhaps she could tell him who he was – or who she was in the least. Mind made up he walked a little faster and made his way towards her and found himself strangely more confident as he came closer. This stranger wasn’t someone to fear. He even felt that she was oddly waiting here for him. Maybe when she turned around he would recognize her. Maybe it was his Mother, or sister. Had he a sister? Why couldn’t he remember the face of his Mother?

He now stood behind her silhouette. Her long leather coat reached out to invite him closer, but he waited a few feet away. She didn’t turn. Just stood there on the rock as silent as everything else around them. The only noise now came from the waves gently lapping against the other rocks abed the shore. They looked slippery and wet, so he waited patiently.

“I’m glad to see you made it here safely, Sam.”

So Sam was his name. Well of course he had already known that. Or at least he knew it as soon as she said it. He waited for her to turn and face him, hoping the memory of her identity would also resurface upon seeing a familiar face. She didn’t budge, not even to check that Sam was really there. Had she noticed when he first rested on the railing? Or maybe she had followed him here. As unsettling as each possibility was he remained calm. Sam looked up.

“There are no stars.” He observed outloud. The girl took her time before responding.

“Have you ever seen a sky full of stars Sam? Not just a few specs here or there. I mean a whole galaxy. Like the kinds they have in planetariums.”

“No. I don’t think I have.” The girl took another long pause before replying. She spoke a little softer. The familiar gentle tone she spoke with caused a small gear at the back of his brain to begin turning. He knew this girl. He knew her well.

“You will tonight. We both will.”

More silence. It wasn’t uncomfortable or peculiar, but Sam had the strange feeling the girl wasn’t turning around for a reason. She was hesitant, but he couldn’t piece together why.

“Were you waiting for me here?” He asked quietly. She didn’t answer. “Listen, I know it seems strange but I am not quite sure where I am. That city over there, what is it called?” A bigger gust of wind sent a rattling shiver throughout Sam’s bones and he couldn’t help himself from wrapping his arms tightly across his torso. His fingertips could feel and count the ribs along his sides. A fleeting thought came and went asking himself if he had always been this skinny.

“New York.”

The tone in her voice changed considerably. It was almost venomous, yet at the same time breathless with a sort of awe-struck wonder. Whatever the city had been to her it clearly now sat in a very conflicted place insider her. Undecided, good or evil. She had great feelings for the glittering palace across the water. Greatly bad or greatly good he couldn’t pinpoint exactly.

With her back still turned towards him and focus still intent on the lights across the bay, Sam allowed himself to look around a little closer to gather more clues to rejuvenate his memory.

The winding cement path he had walked along was lit by a couple of tall black lamp posts. Each white orb glowed with a fierce electrical energy that if you really focused on could be heard making a muted buzzing sound humming like a small scratch in your ear. A few well kept plants were scattered here and there, but aside from a small area of grass and no more than ten trees, the area was all cement. Looking further down Sam made out a string of lights hanging a good fifty feet above the water. A bridge.

“Look, its okay if you can’t give me answers. I think I’ll just be on my way. There is a bridge over there that looks like it will lead me to the city. I am sure I’ll find some answers there somewhere. I guess I will-”

“Don’t bother.” The girl cut him off. Her head was now hung looking sadly at the slippery rock beneath her feet. “It’s empty.”

“Empty?” Sam repeated confused. “What is empty? What are you talking about?”

“The city. Its empty. Abandoned. They all left. Didn’t even bother to turn the damn lights off. Its better this way I suppose.” She lifted her focus back up and out. “It’s nice to see it as it was meant to be. A place it could have been. Before it all ends.”

“I-I don’t understand.”

“You were under when the warning came. I don’t suppose you would. They wanted to leave you there. Did you know that? I wouldn’t let them of course. I couldn’t. They left all the sick without families to claim them. All the helpless. Its better off that way I suppose, but I couldn’t let you go. Not like that.”

“I’m sorry, I really don’t think I…” his voice trailed off knowing it was pointless. Whatever he had just woken up to, whether it was a nightmare or some sort of incredibly realistic dream he couldn’t feel himself waking up anytime soon. “I’m sick?” He knew the answer, but asked anyway not sure what else he could do.

“You’ve been in the hospital for months Sam.” The girls hands clenched into fists at her sides. “In and out of coma’s since we were just twelve years old. Each time you wake up you remember less and less. Less of you. Less of the world. Less of me…”

A very dark feeling began to engulf the space between Sam and the girl, thickening like a heavy fog. He wanted very badly to reach out and embrace her somehow. The feeling came so suddenly and so strong that he actually took a couple steps closer then stopped. The dark fog seemed to be emitting straight from the girl. A shield to defend herself with, forged from years of loss, pain and despair. She continued on to explain.

“The city had been a virus from the beginning. We were all too gullible. We built dream after dream in the one damned city where it was all supposed to happen. Where every dream was supposed to come true.

“About a month ago we all learned the truth. The entire city has been wired like a circut board. Its one giant fuze ready to blow. Some underground terrorist group has been at it for decades, passing this master plan down generation after generation. We were lucky to have had the warning that we did. I guess every little daddy’s girl rebels at some point. She soiled their whole grand plan that they had so stealthily been building all these years. It made international news within the hour. Of course at first no one would believe it, but it didn’t take too long for investigators to confirm the truth.”

Sam was speechless. Had the cold not already been doing the deed for him he would have pinched himself enough times by now to be sure it wasn’t all some bad dream. The girl’s voice suddenly broke.

“You were laying there so hopeless Sam! The city began evacuations and families were the first to bolt. I came to visit everyday praying my hardest that at least your family would come find you. For heaven’s sake its the end of the world. My family was dead when I was brought to the orphanage, but yours was still out there somewhere. Probably some rich family in New York who just didn’t want the burden of their sick child, but I thought that they would look for you in these times if any. I really thought that throughout all this- this hell, you could have a happy ending, b-but-”

She began sobbing and Sam leaped forward to catch her as she slipped and fell backward off the rock. Her feet up to her knees had fallen into the water, but he quickly hoisted her out with a sudden burst of strength. She cried harder and harder as Sam struggled to drag her up to the grassy area just above the rocks.

It maybe should have felt strange to Sam, laying there with this girl in his arms, but she fit there perfectly. He held her tightly and didn’t let go even as her painful cries began to subside. He wasn’t sure for how long or how badly the girl had been suffering but her pain was so great that it seemed as if she was just now letting all of the horrors of her past resurface.

Eventually she calmed and lay there awkwardly curled up against Sam’s boney chest. He felt personally guilty seeing the way she felt embarassed crying in front of him. His eye caught on a woven bracelet old and worn hanging delicately on her wrist. Distant memories of her began to resurface as the simple threaded bracelet wove together the pieces.

“I am so sorry, Alex.” He whispered.

She looked up suddenly when he said her name, glossy blue eyes searching him though a thick wall of tears. She released a sort of half burst of laughter at the same time inhaling a half gasp for breathe then threw her arms tightly around him crying a while longer. Sam cried with her too. For every single tear she cried, he cried two, making up for the years and years she had spent battling not just for herself but for him all alone.

About an hour later (it could have been only minutes) they lay there in the cold using the heat between their bodies to stay warm. Sam’s left hand rested on Alex’s left shoulder as the other intertwined his fingers around hers. She was resting her head on his chest, eyes closed finally resting. Her breathing had become so soft Sam was surprised when she spoke.

“I hope you aren’t upset at me.”

“Upset?” Sam withheld the sudden absurd urge to laugh. “Why on Earth could I possibly be upset with you?” He gently pressed his lips onto the hair atop of her head, and suddenly became conscious of the lack there of a top his own.

“They told me to leave you there. In the hospital. You are so sick, Sam. They told me it would have been a better ending. Instant. I told them I wouldn’t let you be alone, but they were so forceful with evacuations I wasn’t allowed to have a say in the matter. Sick were only permitted to leave with the aid of their families. The cost and rations of everything was too high to spare. So I ran and hid then came back to sneak you away. It seemed sensible at the time, but now… Now it just feels selfish. Would you have wanted that? To be left there with the other sick and abandoned people? To die instantly from the explosion?”

It was quite a morbid thought, but Sam considered it for a moment. The weakness and pain he felt pulsating throughout his body was more noticeable now. The weight of Alex’s head on his chest felt as if his lungs were being crushed, but he pulled her closer.

“No.” He said quietly. “I wouldn’t want anything else but this right now.”

A beeping noise suddenly began chirping into the night. Alex sat up and pulled back her coat sleeve to reveal the source of the noise. She hit a button on her watch to stop the alarm.

“It’s time.” She whispered.

With Alex’s help Sam sat up as well and they both watched the last moments of peace in the dazzling city of New York across the bay.

“I’m glad I stayed. That is not evacuate. I’m glad I got to see… well. See what New York was intended to be.”

Sam studied Alex’s face. He stroked her cheek with the back of his hand and she shuddered.

“I am glad you stayed too.”

The silence was broken by an earsplitting boom that shook the Earth beneath them. Tears raced down from the corners of her eyes, but neither of them looked away.

“I love you Alex.”

“I love you Sam.”

They then turned and watched the flames rise taller and taller as Manhattan burned before them. Alex let her head fall onto Sam’s shoulder and mumbled “and some people just want to watch the world burn…”

When Alex woke it was to the fierce burning of the rawness inside her lungs. Eyes stinging she forced them tearfully open and was startled for a moment as she confused snow with the ashes drifting like millions of tiny ghosts around her. The bay was now a dark murky grey color and she couldn’t even see Manhattan through the billowing smoke still rising up into the air from the explosion.

Sam lay beside her, hand still intertwined with her own. There was no warmth to his touch and no rise and fall from his chest. She leaned down and gently kissed his cheek leaving a small pool of tears when she pulled away. His eyes were open and she hoped it wasn’t just her imagination when she took notice that his expression was that of peace and rest. She followed his gaze upwards and smiled as the tears steadily poured down her cheeks. The grey clouds were parting to reveal a deep navy sky imbedded with millions of twinkling stars.

“Look at that Sam. You see that?” Her voice croaked as she spoke and the words cut like razors in the ash filled passageways of her lungs. “Just like an planetarium what did I say.”

She gently closed his eyelids, then lay beside him and fell back asleep. Her breathe slowly grew weaker and weaker as her lungs closed too weak to fight the toxic air. When the sun fought its way through the haze of grey blanketing the city, its rays just caught the silhouettes of two silvery colored figures. They rose intertwined with one another reaching up and up from the ashes until they disappeared into the sky above and didn’t stop until they broke through to the infinite galaxy of stars.