Originally published in Fourteen Hills
Our latest Bloc Feature has been shared with us by San Francisco journal Fourteen Hills. Bloc Features is a project designed to support the future of Australian writing by placing (and paying!) the best emerging writers from our workshop alongside published authors from Australia and overseas.
Bloc Features is selected and edited by Raphaelle Race.
Destroyed Flowers Everywhere
The world was ending. They announced it on the radio between an ad raising money for children with muscular dystrophy and Duran Duran’s ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’, which was the only song Priscilla had danced to before puking up the fifth of vodka she’d drunk with her best friend, Toni Medina, back at Homecoming.
Priscilla was still part asleep—wouldn’t have noticed the PSA except that the DJ said he’d play ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’ after a short commercial break, so she had an ear perked when the pre-recorded bulletin came on.
“Remain calm,” said a voice so plain that it would have been easy to miss its actual message. The earth was hurtling into the sun with no hope of stopping its progress. Estimated time of impact, 1:18pm Eastern Standard Time.
“Citizens are asked to go about their normal routines. Schools and businesses will remain open.”
Priscilla sat for a while in her pyjamas, holding the radio, thinking—how obvious really. That when the end of the world finally arrived (after, who knew, thousands or millions of years of predictions), it would be completely pointless.
Since she first got her period, Priscilla had guessed endings would be so anticlimactic. Blood streaking down her chicken-skinny thighs while her mother grimaced and paused barely long enough to say, “I’m late for work. Tampax under the sink.”
Her mother who’d be hearing the same news at the call centre by now. Easy enough to picture. Chewing a lip while she digested the fact that she and her workplace would soon be space dust. Then: snap. Headset on, dialling out to the next lead, thinking to herself that the silver lining was that there would be no office to clean that evening.
Priscilla barely noticed when Simon Le Bon came on the radio, too busy wondering where she’d heard the announcer’s soothing monotone before. Some telethon? A late night infomercial? Then it hit her. The Time Lady—that anonymous woman on the phone who recited the hour on a permanently running loop.
When Priscilla’s mother worked night shift and she couldn’t reach Toni, she would call the Time Lady. Sometimes, she’d sit on the phone until her eyes stung from exhaustion, watching muted horror movies while the Lady murmured, “2:33 and 40 seconds. 2:33 and 50 seconds. 2:34am.”
In the made-for-TV version of Priscilla’s life, the actress playing her would have wailed I’m too young to die and then collapsed into tears. Priscilla—playing herself—probed for worry, fear, any emotion? Nope. But this: a staccato thrill of animal alertness stretching her taut. Her ears felt like tunnels.
I’m disco and rhyme, Simon Le Bon, fading out, sang. But what did disco have to do with wolves? Priscilla’s blood thrummed. She realised that these were the dumbest lyrics in world history.
Through the tear in her window screen, the sun was puff-chested and small enough to blot out with a thumb.
It took forever to reach Toni.
“Fuck normal routines,” said Priscilla. “I’m playing hooky.”
“You cut all last week and the world wasn’t ending then,” said Toni before agreeing to meet at the parking lot. She added, “Listen you spaz, I’m gone.”
Toni was a bitch, but that’s what made her cool. Real bitches, you could trust. Nice girls and guys, people used to being liked—them you had to watch for. Toni had an ugly face but a hot body, fist of a mouth clenched over a D-battery chin. Beneath that, giant boobs, curvy waist, hips like Marilyn Monroe.
From the roof of the elevator tower, Priscilla watched those hips roll up. Toni, who hated small spaces but didn’t mind climbing eight flights emerged from the stairwell at the other end of the lot and swaggered over.
“I’m not coming up there.” Toni soured a lip and squinted up the padlocked ladder. “Too damn bright anyway.” Beefy with fire, the sun seemed to agree. Priscilla raised a palm to block it. Light leaked through her fingers.
“You’ve got shades,” she protested. “Come on. It’s our last time.” Toni tapped the ladder with a nail, making a hollow ding.
“Nah,” she said. Toni always refused. Swore the pigs would show and that she had enough record, didn’t need some petty trespass, let alone their porcine stares at her cleavage. Porcine stares, a line to drop when people assumed she was dumb. Toni did have brains. She knew which drugs movie stars were addicted to, could tell when bands lip-synched, and she had memorized juvenile emancipation laws in multiple states. A bored-seeming attention lodged under Toni’s gutter-tough surface. Without betraying surprise or really interest, she caught things before they happened. Hell, she’d probably known a week ago about Earth’s defective orbit. Her M.O. was to keep quiet, let the suckers decode their own torpedoed fate.
She’d been right about the cops. They’d turned up exactly once. Four cruisers and a shrink in tow, united to nag Priscilla down. Some wig-out about teen suicide that came around like clockwork, an adult fad, no big deal. Her sentence: mandatory counselling, which translated to skipping gym each Friday so she could chew gum in Dr Argyle’s office and heed her weekly diagnosis. Attachment disorder, announced Dr Argyle, like he had struck black gold. Depressive personality. Alexithymia. Blow, pop, nod.
“I don’t need your ogling either,” said Toni. “Get down already or I’ll smoke this bowl myself.”
“Fine.” Priscilla swung down the ladder. That was how their fights went. Her insisting, Toni resisting, then smoking weed. Sometimes when Toni was in the mood, she’d let Priscilla swipe a furtive hand under her shirt. Sometimes in a TV and pot induced fugue, Priscilla could press a hand into her spine, feel Toni’s drowsy pulse in her pubic bone.
Priscilla fantasized stillborn conversations with Toni:
P: I want to . . .
T: You want to what?
P: I don’t know.
P: What if we just . . .
T: What if we just what?
P: Never mind.
Even in her imagination Priscilla knew people didn’t really talk about these things, they simply happened. Lust’s magnet taking action, she thought, pulling a hit off the bowl. Smoke seared her lungs. Anything she could confess Toni already knew. Better to let her win arguments then slip through whatever breaks appeared, grab what she could. Ants survived through the accumulation of grains. They built elaborate civilizations that way.
Then along came a pair of sneakers and kicked ant civilization to jack diddly.
Each time their thumbs traded places over the hole, Toni’s molecules rubbed onto her, quivered like a faraway alarm going off.
The rhombus of shade in which they leaned was becoming slender. It was an anorexic shade headed to its demise. Endangered shade. Someone could print it on a decal, Priscilla thought, suspend it in a box of cereal. Save the shade! Grave shade posing on the cover of Time Magazine, ‘End of an Era.’ Tragic shade in People Magazine, sunglasses, cigarette, devil-take-me sneer.
“How much time you think is left?” “Dunno. A couple hours maybe.”
A pair of yuppies emerged from the stairwell and crossed to a margarine-yellow Jeep. Toni dumped the roach and stuck the pipe in Priscilla’s back pocket, but it didn’t matter; the guys weren’t interested in a couple of teenage stoners. The bigger one—he looked like the boss, cruel around the brow, tan hair extra shiny—sat down in the driver’s seat and fiddled with something. The other guy opened his door but stayed standing. He kept wiping his palms on his khakis like they were sweating a lot.
“Turn it up? I can’t hear,” he said. Boss Guy fiddled again and the voice of the Time Lady crackled on. 2 hours 24 minutes 30 seconds. 2 hours 24 minutes 20 seconds.
“Fucking hell,” said Boss Guy. “Fucking fucking hell.”
“Fuck,” echoed Sweat Hands. He combed his fingers through his hair, something Priscilla might have done in a mirror, going for rocker-cool, ice-cold Le Bon cool. Sweat Hands didn’t look cool though. He looked pathetic, verging on tears.
Priscilla waited for Toni to yell, Hey goober, want your mommy? Make this poser feel the hurt. Toni chilled though, slouching on the brick. She started a cigarette. Didn’t offer.
2 hours 22 minutes 10 seconds. 2 hours 22 minutes.
Boss Guy drummed on the hood, careful not to let his clothes brush the grill.
“That’s a clean shirt,” said Toni.
“It’s pretty stain-lifted,” agreed Priscilla. If this guy had been in mandatory counselling, Dr Argyle would have taken him off suicide risk for sure. Care for self-presentation, Dr Argyle liked to say while chomping a gummy bear, was the strongest positive denoter of wellness in the individual.
The Time Lady reached two and a quarter hours before the radio went to a commercial for storage units. You collect it, we keep it, said the ad. Priscilla thought about how many storage units must exist on the planet, garage doors which, if lined up, could reach from there to the moon. Behind the doors were cardboard boxes people had packed and were intending to retrieve: pots to be cooked in, stools to be sat on, photo albums to be flipped through. Glass rolled in newspaper, ceramic buried in StyrofoamTM peanuts. Some people had probably used label-makers to organise their objects by category, probably had aisles and drawers devoted to specific things they were saving. Doorknobs, for example. Whole filing cabinets labelled: doorknobs, crystal; doorknobs, brass; etc. Doorknobs that would go permanently unturned. Labels made useless. Storage units floating loose in space, lodging in the moon’s dusty sides like gravel in a scrape. Priscilla wanted the Lady to come back on again. She was getting used to the counting of numbers backward and it felt like, in a weird way, backward made more sense, because of the certainty of the thing. Time forward actually seemed wrong, an error in life’s accounting. Forward you couldn’t tell when anything would end, or if.
And then she thought about the doorknobs. They wouldn’t float through space; they’d burn.
2 hours 10 minutes.
“Isn’t it kind of sad?” said Priscilla, because sad seemed the correct way to feel.
“They are,” Toni indicated the yuppies. Sweat Hands shook, murmuring, “Oh God,” and crouching occasionally to retch on the pavement while Boss Guy paced circles around him and the Jeep. They were sad—or they were angry, or scared. Priscilla often took quizzes like this with Dr Argyle, where she examined a picture of a face and tried to name the emotion. Sad?, he’d ask. Anxious? Puzzled? The tests were responsible for her continued gym-class hiatus; she answered wrong as often as right. Toni figured she was blowing the assessments on purpose, but the real problem for Priscilla was emotions. How could you tell if what showed was the actual thing? Feelings hid beneath feelings, flickering capriciously, vanishing, unfolding in contradiction. Surface feelings refuted deeper feelings and deep feelings appeared at the wrong time and place, so when you were supposed to feel scared you instead became electric, or when meant to be sad instead felt bored.
She explained this to Toni in her head.
P: I mean, how am I supposed to classify this weird . . . stomach. . . thing. There’s not a name for that feeling.
T: That’s because the feeling isn’t yours, dork. People don’t have feelings.
P: Oh, sure. Tell that to Sweat Hands.
T: People are radio antennas. They pick up signals. They radiate signals. Other antennas pick up those signals. And on.
P: They are too my fucking feelings.
T: FUCK YOU, YOU PIECE OF SHIT TOILET-BOWL SNIFFER!
P: WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS SUCH A TWAT??
T: See the pattern. You think you’re mad, but you’re not. You’re picking up my signal.
P: Fuck you. Get out of my brain.
T: Does a radio station care if you tune in?
“Look alive.” Toni mashed out the butt of her cigarette. The sun had fattened to dodgeball size and stationed overhead. Sweat Hands was gazing vertically into the light, his sprayed hair shifted backward on his scalp, toupeeish, his pasty self aglow.
“What’s with him?” said Priscilla.
Toni shrugged, her shoulder soft and round like a brown melon. “Who cares? Real life stuff is crap,” she said. “Let’s go watch it on TV.”
1 hour 16 minutes 40 seconds.
Stopped cars clogged the road the whole way to Toni’s. Like Boss Guy and Sweat Hands, drivers had climbed out with radios blaring. It gave the streets an aura of a parade late in the day, when the crowd’s drunk and fights are beginning to break out: panic, a sense of occasion and also the freedom to walk along the centre yellow line, elbow through clots of adults with zero consequences.
Still, it was slow going. Thousands of people were milling cow-like and stunned while others punched inanimate objects or each other. Pure chaos. Toni ploughed through with linebacker force, but Priscilla stalled, rubbernecking. The ones going crazy were upstaged by the transfixed, whose features had been annulled by the shining sun. The PSA that morning had explained that Earth’s unexpected lurch from orbit was warping and thickening the atmosphere. Instant cauterisation would protect the planet from heat until they were completely engulfed; but the brightness, that was it. The sun getting huge. Everyone had shades on, except the starers.
Priscilla tried staring herself, wanted to see the outline, see if she could measure its distance but even a split-second stung and left traces that made her lose Toni. The crowd surged up, pressed in, stole her breath.
You could drown in human beings.
From hundreds of simultaneous radios, the Lady boomed: 1 HOUR 3 MINUTES 30 SECONDS.
Priscilla held tight to that call. Punched and kicked to its echo, until she gasped out into the good air. She caught up with Toni at the curb by Toni’s house. Toni, of course, had not noticed she was missing.
“Fucking lawn ornaments,” she was saying.
Through her sweat and calming pulse, Priscilla saw what Toni meant. Starers of various ages, races and genders statued across the grass, noses pointed up. Their shared expression made them look related, like some very slow-moving family reunion.
“They’ve gone blind,” said Priscilla.
Toni had on Tom Cruise Ray-Bans. Pray-Bans actually—cheap glasses from a youth group—with a gold Jesus-fish in the corner in place of the designer logo. Priscilla had chucked hers; the plastic was thick, nearly opaque, you couldn’t see shit. But Toni wore the Pray-Bans everywhere. Toni didn’t care about seeing. Toni cared about making people know how much she didn’t need to look at them. Toni didn’t need, for instance, to see women ripping at their hair, men bloodying knuckles against windshields. Didn’t need to see the starers either, those Lot’s wives turned prematurely to pillars of salt.
“You think this is it?” Priscilla tried to keep her tone as flat and neutral as the Time Lady’s, but she was bugged. Electricity coursing her bloodstream, beaming out her pores. The world was ending. How fucked up and how perfect and how unholy and horrible and wonderful and rerun-predictable.
“Well, yeah, but like End Times. ‘His Rebuke with flames of fire,’ um, the beast of, wherever coming up from below—‘for the wages of sin is death’ . . .”
“Yeah, I read that book. Movie’s better.”
Hell did seem cheesy, like a carnival haunted house, barely scary with a friend, egging each other on. So it wasn’t a church thing maybe but something else. She felt its completely uncheesy power. Freight train. Tsunami. Flames of fire wending near.
“Think about it. A planet that’s been around a million, billion, trillion years vaporised, like . . .” The snap was more of a damp sliding of fingers. She tried again, glad Toni couldn’t see. The only sound they made was wet skin, wet flesh. Soft. “You and me. We’re the ones alive for it. We are. Doesn’t that seem important? Maybe not God but destiny. Like every breath that every human being has every taken made us so we could be here, breathing our breaths. The last oxygen in the universe. The last.”
Toni hiked up her skirt. A band of leg shone with sweat. The trickle-cool sensation running up Priscilla’s stomach surged with the clarity of a sign. A burning bush. Hers. She couldn’t move or open her mouth.
Toni lifted her mealy, riveting gaze over the top of the shades. “You know who gives a shit about us?” asked Toni. “No one.”
She glanced above Priscilla at the sky-large sun a moment longer than seemed smart. Then, blinders down, picked her way to the back door.
The familiar stench of must and rot struck as they entered the zigzagging passageway of old papers. Maybe that was how Toni didn’t need to see, years navigating the labyrinth of her aunt and uncle’s crap. She moved by feel now, ignoring the wall switch and spiralling toward the sofa in the curtained room. Once seated, she grabbed the remote. TV light flooded the dimness. The Time Lady there too, humming along.
53 minutes 20 seconds.
Priscilla lowered onto the gritty cushions, migrating her knee to almost touch Toni’s. Onscreen, a drawing of two circles, one blue and miniature, one yellow and large. The diagram reminded her of a solar system handout from science class. The sun is 109 times the size of Earth! At the time, it hadn’t sounded so impressive.
“Fucking bullshit,” said Toni, jabbing the remote. On every channel the picture was static, identical. Sun. Sun. Sun. “Not even fucking live.” Priscilla for her part would have preferred an America’s Most Wanted-style, re- or pre- enactment. When it actually happened they
wouldn’t see anything, they’d be too busy dissolving.
“Like it’s so hard to set up a camera and leave it,” said Toni. “What are we supposed to do now?”
Priscilla reached. Didn’t mean to. Arms and legs acted on their own, hands closing at the plush of Toni’s waist, then pulling herself after so she was half-sitting on Toni’s lap with one leg extended behind, foot resting on something crunchy in the rug, stale food maybe.
Before today, contact with Toni necessitated near-invisibility and imperceptible movements. She’d never grabbed before. Seized. She braced expecting to be pushed away. Toni tensed slightly, then—maybe it was the changing gravity, moving had begun to take on an unfamiliar weight—softened and reclined, while Priscilla’s hands kept kneading that perfectly curved waist. Toni’s lips parted. Priscilla’s heart beat inside her chest. (What else would it beat inside? The couch?) She sunk a hand inside Toni’s underwear.
A smell seeped from Toni: floral, pungent, too strong, like mashing your nose into a garden bed. Priscilla understood, suddenly, bees. Why they wobbled frenetically from flower to flower. Why they worked so hard.
Toni was not the kind of person you kissed. Not even if you were a guy and especially not if you weren’t, so Priscilla did the next best thing, dragging Toni’s skirt with her as she slithered to the ground. She plowed into Toni’s brown morass, tonguing without any particular sense of direction, praying that the chuffing and minute hip jerks meant she was doing something right. At some point one of them must have leaned on the remote, because the volume on the sun broadcast went way up, the Time Lady counting down with thunderous indifference and the hiss of the broadcast deafening. Outside, what must have been a caravan of cops blasted their sirens. Toni’s hips jerked so hard Priscilla lost her balance, knocked her front teeth against Toni’s knee. When she tried to put her head back, Toni pushed it away.
Everywhere, the destroyed smell of flowers.
She straightened and after a moment, wiped her chin as discreetly as possible on her t-shirt. On TV the sun/earth picture remained unchanged, but the Time Lady was into the low double digits. A quarter of an hour. Over her shoulder, Toni rustled a baggie, repacking the bowl. The longer Priscilla studied the carpet, the longer she could pretend impossible things. Toni leaning in for a kiss. Toni’s lips shaping her name.
15 minutes 30 seconds.
“Light,” said Toni.
Mouth fisted up, sightless behind the glasses—the same Toni. Priscilla felt full of desperate, mean hunger. Dr Argyle. What could he have called this one? She wanted to swallow Toni or be swallowed.
Priscilla struck a match. Her hand was shaking; it took two tries. Toni inhaled, passed. Priscilla sucked too much and choked. Her lips buzzed on the glass.
The sirens sounded strange, distorted, uneven. Another effect of the nearing sun, maybe. Could sound waves gain weight? Fatten, slow, drag into the ground?
“Those guys back there,” said Toni.
“Guys?” Priscilla felt fuzzy. The noise was messing with her head. And Toni—half naked, thighs apart. The lingering flavour, the smell on her fingers and emanating from them both. Want. Ravenous hunger.
“On the parking structure,” said Toni, impatient. “Which one?”
Which would she screw, Toni meant. They’d played this game a million times. Partly dumb, partly hot, it usually thrilled her to talk about sex so boldly with Toni. I’d let that one do me up the ass, Toni’d say and Priscilla would imagine herself as the hard-dick man, rocking above while Toni moaned. She didn’t want to play now, though. She didn’t know why. It just didn’t feel fun.
“Who cares?” Priscilla reached for the pipe. Toni held it away. “Fine. The tall one.”
“I’d do the shrimp.”
Sweat Hands, red, swollen, sobbing. Whining like a run-over dog. “The cryer?”
“Yeah,” said Toni. “He could even stay on the ground. I’d ride him right there, sitting on top. He’d cry but for me.” She paused. “I bet he’d get all sappy too, swear he loved me or some shit.”
Toni’s expression unnerved Priscilla. Cheeks freakishly stretched, gazing through the Pray-Bans onto nothing. Smiling? Like that she almost looked nice. Quasi-pretty. A girl with giggling friends who’d have spent Homecoming dancing instead of knocking back Gordon’s behind the gym. Priscilla had the moron thought, It’s her real face. As if the Toni with whom she’d killed the better part of her adolescence had been a mask.
“And then what?”
Toni’s chin snapped up. The smile—or whatever it had been—receded.
“Yeah. I do him, he cries, then: BOOM. Earth hits sun. Everybody dead.”
“Oh,” said Priscilla. “Yeah.” What the fuck did it mean, a smile for that yuppie crybaby? Bringing him up like that right after what had happened? She kept re-adding the order of events, wanting the math to work out so the smile had been because she’d made Toni feel good, because Toni wanted her the way she wanted Toni. All the ingredients were there, only the numbers didn’t agree. Sweat Hands blocked the way, obstructed the smile and what it meant. If enough time remained, she could force the pieces to come together and mean what they should. But time was rushing from them like water from an unstoppered tub.
And the sirens. Blaring, howling. Impossible to think.
8 minutes 10 seconds.
“Fucking pigs,” said Priscilla, definitely angry now. “What are they going to do? Arrest the sun? Do they think we don’t get that it’s an emergency?”
“That’s not sirens, Moyer. That’s people.” People.
People screaming, wailing, ululating. People and animals.
Light pulsed through the drapes.
Toni took off the Pray-Bans. It was for real.
“Tone.” Priscilla sank down on the end of the sofa, a safe distance.
She took a breath. Rubbed a scar on her finger. Tried not to look at Toni’s lap, her hanging open knees.
“You want me to . . . you want to do that again? Because I don’t mind. Because, I kind of . . .” Liked it, she meant.
Toni’s stubby lashes parted, examining. Regarded her.
Hadn’t she once heard that time could stretch? There weren’t enough minutes to get drunk or filch more of her mom’s Virginia Slims, but there could be enough for the two of them to change. There was a reason they were here at the final stretch of human existence. Not Napoleon, not one of the apostles. Her and Toni.
“Nah,” Toni said. But Toni didn’t look away.
“Oh,” said Priscilla. “Sure.” She didn’t look away either. Toni’s normal face wasn’t really ugly, so much as mean, like a squinched expression that had gotten stuck that way. Except if she could really smile then the stuckness was only temporary. A phase. A phase she’d grow out of to become the nice girl Priscilla had glimpsed. Marry a banker who would whisper in her ear that she sparkled when she came. Call her angel. Bunny rabbit. Baby girl.
That was as hard to take seriously as the image of Hell. The beast of perdition vs. Toni in a Brat Pack makeover sequence. Whatever Priscilla had thought she’d seen, it didn’t shine through that bulldog mug. Ugly, brutal, tough, was the Toni Priscilla wanted to know. Toni shaped like a hammer who could be counted on to hold strong ‘til the last fighting gasp.
4 minutes 40 seconds.
The sun had drawn pressingly close. Flared through the heavy brown drapes thinning them to gossamer. The wails had quieted to a low mewl. Speech was harder. Breathing too. Silhouetted people crouched, individual strands of hair outlined in gold. Priscilla felt a jolt of remorse. If she’d convinced Toni to climb the tower, they’d have been flattened by the sun too, traced in awe, their hands coming together out of instinct. Inside, reality wasn’t dreadful enough for touch.
“If it were me,” said Toni slowly, “I’d have filmed the whole thing. So people could see.” She’d gone back to staring at the TV screen with the sun large beside a serene and tiny Earth. “It’s like we’re the opposite of burning. We’re a match getting put out. This little black,” she puffed at her fingers, “smoke. The universe won’t remember us. Not even a little.”
Toni scooted her bare butt backward on the couch. It was distracting. The musky crotch, the dark red gaps in the black hair. Priscilla wanted her animal instincts to take over again, to make her do things, to know how to do them so Toni would smile like a tough girl instead of a nice one. If Priscilla got good enough, touched her exactly right, Toni might even shove her deeper, call out, “Keep going, you fucking goober.” The world couldn’t end while you were eating pussy.
But Priscilla merely bore further into the cushions.
1 minute 20 seconds.
“Gravity,” she uttered, speech itself taking effort.
The weight of the world. History, garbage in the gutters, the garbage clogging the living room, layers of garbage under the earth like the scraps of scrolls they’d learned about in church. Quotes from Jesus that hadn’t made it into the Bible, leftover by accident, nobody knew why really—because some apostle got caught in a flash flood, because of a rockslide, because the Saviour’s pal dozed off in a burning hut.
Outtakes, like the salt-tang of Toni’s vag. Leftover bits. Scrap-room floor. Stuff that only meant something if you’d been there, tasting her, feeling her, overwhelmed with desire too large to know precisely what it wanted. Hungry like the wolf.
There would no more Priscillas, nor Tonis, nor vag-es belonging to anyone. Toni, her first and final taste of that wild flavor, last glimpse of the raw pink.
Priscilla’s hand weighed too much to reach for Toni’s, even if she’d had the balls.
She could barely raise her head, but did. Toni nodded, or seemed to nod.
If Priscilla could have gathered a deep enough breath, forced sound through the pressured air, she might have said:
Or, You scared?
Or, One more time. Please.
Or, even, something stupid, a dumb name, to make it small, this ending, as small as the dot of their disappearing planet. As small as their dwindling seconds to remain alive, sorting between options. Loser, carpet-muncher, numbnuts. And Toni would have reached out, punched her shoulder hard enough to bruise.
The possibility of change had been an illusion. Toni was right. They were who they were, unfixed by therapists, uneducated by school, static, heavy, as inconsequential as the rest of the human race. So what.
Before the heat surged and skinned them alive, light filled all the gaps. Someone should have put it on film.
Fourteen Hills has a reputation for publishing works from emerging and sometimes experimental authors, which is another way of saying when we read submissions for our journal, we encounter the unknown—much like Priscilla and Toni do, the two teenagers who brace themselves for an apocalyptic showdown with the sun in Luke Dani Blue’s 'Destroyed Flowers Everywhere'. What I remember most about the story is Priscilla’s teenage façade of nihilism in the face of imminent death, which was placed alongside lines like, “Surface feelings refuted deeper feelings and deep feelings appeared at the wrong time and place, so when you were supposed to feel scared you instead became electric or when meant to be sad [you] instead felt bored.”
These kinds of sophisticated observations about teenage behaviour and thoughts are abundant in Luke’s story, which leads one to ask questions about how unknown or inarticulate can teenage identities be, and what must it be like to live in that state of mind for years of one’s life, or in the case of Priscilla and Toni, a few agonising hours before the end of the world? A story that can posit these types of questions is one that is a pleasure to read for our editors, and an irresistible find for our journal.
Esther Patterson, Editor-in-chief
All donations go to supporting emerging writers.
Luke Dani Blue
Luke Dani Blue’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Colorado Review, Fourteen Hills and Midnight Breakfast, among others. She was the winner of the 2015 Nelligan Short Fiction Prize and was a recent A Room of Her Own Foundation fellow. She lives and teaches in San Diego.