• ERIC BUTLER

Promises Kept

So there is a delay in the next group of Ephraim Godwin chapters. In its place, I am sharing a stand-alone story I sent into a publication that printed stories based on the last sentence. You had to write 1880 words and use the sentence they provided...I think the theme was "end of the world" or "alien invasion". The sentence was: Jordan looked me in the eye and said, "I trust you."


This story made it to the final round but ultimately got passed up so I want to share it here.

Image by Willgard Krause from Pixabay

It's the end of the world; I suppose...well the end of mine for sure. I slump down into my favorite chair, setting the rifle to the side. The explosions are getting closer and I figure there's time for one last drink. I stare at the amber liquid in the fancy glass my oldest got me for my last birthday, regretful there is no ice. Of course, you need water for ice...water and electricity. I let my first sip linger in my mouth, enjoying the burning sensation as it travels down my throat and into my belly.


I guzzle the rest, hoping the liquor dulls my senses. My eyes grow tired and I struggle to keep them open. I don't want to remember...to think of what I've done. If only the bottle was closer. Instead, I let the glass slip from my fingers and shatter on the floor as the memories rush back.

***

Sitting in the dark kitchen, I stare at the black blob I know is my useless TV. Couldn't turn it on if I wanted since there's no electricity. Even so, there's no more news anyway. They blocked all signals within the first few weeks. It was like they knew using our own news programs would stir up more panic and fear than just shutting it down. Took a week for the riots to start...fires burned soon after; you'd think we'd come together at a time like that, but the world is too divided.


Shaking my head, I take the last sip of water I'd been saving. Of course, it was the first thing to run out, not like 2020 when toilet paper was all the rage.


We were lucky; since I worked for Pure Water all those years, we had a surplus of water. Actual water you could drink...not the questionable stuff in the taps. Every weekend I brought home a case and stocked them in the garage. When the invaders appeared in the sky, I wasn't too worried...well I did have 2020 flashbacks. Wouldn't have mattered anyway, the streets were soon overrun with madmen. You couldn't get to the store if you wanted to.


My youngest son and daughter-in-law worked at the local Shop 'N Save, so they stocked up on the last day and drove the little ones out to my new place. Once my sweet Mary died, I sold the house and escaped to the country; couldn't take the memories staring me in the face daily...the little reminders that I was stuck here without her. Her dying was the true tragedy of my story, not some conquering army in the sky.


Standing, I fought the urge to go room to room and check on everyone. Not because I'm not worried, but because we ran low on batteries. Soon I'd have to make a trip out to the abandoned Academy to check if there were still any camping supplies left. Hell, maybe even some batteries.


Instead, I strolled out the back door into the darkness. I glanced at my wrist out of habit, knowing full well it would tell me the time was 3:15 in the afternoon. The watch broke damn near when my heart did. I haven't taken it off since Mary gave it to me when I retired from the company. They only handed out certificates by the time I left and Mary thought that was a shame. I smile every time I think of her eyes lighting up with pride when I opened that fancy box. I never was one for flashy things, but my heart swelled to learn how much she appreciated the hard work I put in all those years.


I took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, and fighting the urge to break down right there in my backyard. Too close to the kiddos, I tell myself. I'd hate to wake them up this early. I glanced up to the sky and gauged from the darkness and moon that it was still a good three hours before daybreak. They needed their sleep...especially today.


I wandered to the barn, wanting to go over the camper one last time. Needed to make sure we had it ready to go. A loud boom sounded off in the distance. My hand froze on the door handle, waiting to see if it woke anyone, but the house stayed quiet. I released the breath I didn't know I was holding and turned the handle. I took one last look around the property to be safe and then slipped into the old barn.


I stepped carefully in the dark, focused on moving straight ahead. At the back, I found the generator waiting for me. A quick pull on the cord and a flip of a switch and its low hum filled the barn. I've run it enough to know it won't wake them up...especially if that explosion didn't. A sigh slipped out...who would have thought explosions out here wouldn't garner any more attention than a fart.


I waited a moment longer, and when I finally decided it's okay I hit the light switch. Ten bulbs flickered alive throughout the structure. Just enough light for me to work by, but not enough to grab the attention of the roving mobs or the invading force. Those first couple of days, I had the place lit like a beacon...but it attracted the wrong attention.


I stared at my hands, still seeing the blood there. No parent should have to outlive one of their children. This time I don't try to stop the tears; I'm far enough away to let the grief take me. I slumped to the ground, suddenly weighed down as I imagined holding my oldest once again, his blood gushing from the gunshot wounds. I still hear his whispered words over the roar of the mob as they pushed against our fence to get to the house and my family firing back to drive them away.


"I love you, daddy."


My cheeks now wet with tears, blew out in a huff. He hadn't called me daddy in thirty years, and then as his life slipped away...


My hands balled into fists, my nails cutting into my palm as I use the pain to steal my focus from those memories. I struggled to my feet and shuffled over to the workbench. I made them pay...the ones I caught after that day. Glancing at the wooden box at the back of the table, I resisted the urge to open it. Don't need those gruesome reminders of what I did, not today...especially not today.


A creak from the barn door grabbed my attention and I swung around, a long blade in my hand.


"Damn fool," I muttered as I realize my rifle is still by the door. Just because they haven't been back doesn't mean a new group wouldn't try again...or the invaders. Although, I'm not sure what the rifle could do to them. The little we saw before they shut down the TV was disheartening, to say the least.


"Gramps?" a tiny voice called out and I sighed in relief.


"Jordon...what are you doing up?" I said, trying to keep my voice stern but I heard the relief shine through. I slipped the knife back on the table and stepped towards my granddaughter, the apple of my eye.


The only grandkid the Lord found fit to bless our family with and the reason I didn't walk out into traffic the day Mary left. She's almost ten now and growing like a weed. I squatted down in front of her and scoop her up, hugging her so fiercely she began to giggle and squirm.


"Gramps, you're crushing me."


"I know but I'm just so happy to see you."


I loosened my grip, so she could slip to the ground. I studied her face and my chest tightened in anger. No child should bear the weight of the world, but all the troubles and worries were etched on her face. For the first time, I'm glad my Mary isn't here to witness this, and then the sadness flooded me once again.


"Are we really getting out of here?" she asked with a wide-eyed innocence that made me want to scoop her up again.


"Fraid so, hon," I said as I moved over to the truck and popped the hood. "Your parents and I realize we can't stay here any longer since the invaders landed. Without the news telling us what's going on...well we need to see for ourselves, so we make the right choices. So after breakfast, we're all going to pile in and head south to Fort Worth. After some scouting...well, we may just come back and wait them out. All depends on what we find there."


"So that means pancakes right?"


I glanced over to her and smiled, hoping the dim lights hid the sorrow in my eyes, "Sure does...once I get what I need from here, we can start."


I dropped the hood back down and moved to the cab. Leaning in, I reached to the glove box and pulled out Mary's last bottle of pain killers before the cancer took her. Slipping it into my pocket, I closed the door and motioned for Jordon to follow me outside.


The sun began to rise as we stepped from the barn and I paused, enjoying the warmth as its rays washed over us. Another boom sounded from the south and the ground shook a bit. The invaders are on the move...something I discovered the last time I slipped away looking for supplies. They moved from town to town and took everything that breathed. No one knew where to, but it can't be good.


Jordon slid against me and wrapped my arm in a hug. Her weight pressed the bottle against my leg, and I fought the urge to cry all over again. Mary will understand and if I can send her family to her in heaven...well I can only pray God forgives me.


"Let's go inside so I can start the yummy pancake mix, and we can head out of here on time."


Jordon didn't move, instead, she looked up at my face, and the heat of shame flooded my cheeks. She's only ten but she knew. The thought forced me to glance away, to stare at the sunrise and after a moment I forced a chuckle.


"Ms. Sun is a beaut...almost as pretty as you," I said before glancing down at her. "I'm gonna make all this better. I promise."


I rubbed the top of her head with my free hand, enjoying the silky softness of her hair. Her hands slipped down and grabbed my old weathered fingers, pulling my hand to her chest. A slight smile fluttered to her lips as she hugged my hand tight, and we watched the sunrise. The back door banged open and my son stuck his head out with a sigh.


"Oh thank God, we were worried when we couldn't find you," he said, the concern evident in his voice.


Jordon dropped my hand and skipped toward her father, "Gramps said we can have pancakes, and he knows how to make everything better."


Halfway to the house, she spun around. Jordon looked me in the eye and said, "I trust you."


-END-

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