This week’s flash fiction comes to us from Val Muller, author of the Corgi Capers kids’ mystery series. The prompt was to create a story using three of the four following words: radio, dress, attic, photo. The story below takes place in the world of one of Val’s works-in-progress, a YA post-apocalypse tale on a barren earth, which most humans have abandoned for the promise of an Eden on another planet.
* * *
Action and Bustle, Too
By Val Muller
The wind roared against the house, blasting Abigail and everything with a new layer of dust. Abigail pushed on the door, struggling to open it against the years of debris that had accumulated inside. The door gave, inch by inch, until the space was large enough for her to squeeze through. She stepped onto a soft pad of dust and closed the door behind her, leaving on her mask until the air settled. Only then did Abby remove her lenses and mask and look around.
It was a typical two-room house with a single window facing the south. The boarded window allowed a bit of light through. The room was barren—all furniture likely burned long ago. The chimney itself was full of dust; a huge mound of soft, red dirt pooled around the hearth.
The people who lived here had abandoned the house long before the extraction. They had probably died before the strange ships from the stars descended and promised to take everyone to a better place. Better for them—lucky to have died without having to make such a choice. Abby shuddered, thinking of her mother and the others who were duped into believing such a promise.
The second room was a kitchen. Part of a dilapidated countertop was all that remained. The sink had likely been traded, as well as the stove. That, or looted. This was a waste of time. There were no spare parts here, no rope. Nothing. Abby took up her mask again and her goggles, but she stopped when she pushed the door open. The ceiling was low, but the roof was high.
There had to be an attic.
Abby returned inside and jumped onto the remaining countertop. Part of the ceiling wasn’t wood at all, but a dilapidated piece of corrugated metal—like the one at Pap’s house. It pushed upwards easily, and Abby hoisted herself up into the beams.
The attic was tiny, and she had to duck in order to fit. She needed to use her flashlight, too, despite the preciously low battery. Attics were rare in these types of houses, and they usually hid many a treasure. In the corner was a dust-covered box. Abby blew at the dust, tightening her mask to save her lungs. The air settled, revealing a black and silver device. Abby squinted hard. She knew what this was. She had read about it somewhere. It started with an “R.”
That’s it. It was a radio. A communication device. They only worked when there was more than one, but one was better than none, and think of all she could learn taking it apart and putting it back together! Besides, Wade would love to take it apart. If she ever found Wade. She thought of the intelligence and drive in his eyes, the way its incandescence radiated through even the dust. Something she hadn’t seen in anyone since he’d left. She stuffed the radio under her arm. The radio alone made the entire trip worthwhile.
The attic grew taller in the center of the house, and Abby could stand without stooping. She swept the room with her flashlight and shuddered at something human-sized standing at the center. She shook off her fright. Whatever it was had stood there for years.
She removed a cover of dusty burlap to reveal an old mirror, nearly her height. She’d read of these, too, but the closest she’d ever come to seeing her reflection was the tiny peeks she’d get in the shards of metal used to signal each other in the dust. Beneath the mirror was a box—a trunk. A nice one, too, but too heavy to travel with. The trunk contained only one item.
It was only a dress. Her mother had worn these things, and Abby had always wondered what good they were. They were inconvenient for running, for exploring, and for riding horseback. Still, she’d never had her own before, and the house provided a nice shelter from the dust.
She stripped off her dusty clothes and admired her form in the mirror. The fabric was once white, though the dust had dyed it a reddish cream. She danced in front of the mirror, highlighting the billowing fabric with her flashlight. Her limbs tingled. She felt light. She felt alive. She felt—like a girl. Her mind rushed with thoughts of Wade, and she blushed despite her solitude. How nice it would have been if he had just stayed with her. If neither had agreed to their quest to seek wire and motors and nuts and bolts. If they had agreed to live their lives in peace—even if it meant being the last of humanity on earth.
She imagined herself as her mother, raising children in blissful ignorance of the terrors in the skies. Calmly singing, rocking her children to sleep even as their own destruction was planned in the cities and the skies. Abby swallowed hard and removed the dress, packing it away for later. As she dressed, she remembered a quote from one of her books, a quote spoken by her namesake, Abigail Adams. “Calm is not desirable in any situation in life. Man was made for action and for bustle too, I believe.”
With a quick zip of her pack, Abby ducked down the hole in the ceiling and out the door into the world of dust, donning her lenses and mask. Wade was out there hustling, trying to mold his discontent into purpose. And so, too, would Abby. And she walked into the dust, bustling into action, looking for the next find.
* * *
The Spot Writers- our members:
Catherine A. MacKenzie