Thursday, April 7, 2011

Picnic at World's End

It couldn't truly be said that the girls were sisters; memories of their entangled lives reached back no further than The Final War, as is true with all the straggling handful of survivors. The biological warfare that ravaged the planet was the result of growing tension between governments who had sought to annihilate each other, and perhaps in some aspects they succeeded. Those who lived through the horrors they had witnessed were not survivors, not really; that word invokes the image of grizzled youths fighting for their lives against forces they were prepared to combat, and no one had been prepared for this. The devastation was not meant to be survived. Even the officials in their bunkers had been found dead within 48 hours. It was a genetic mutation that saved the remaining humans, and those who were left seemed to sort of wander around in a daze, waiting to starve to death or remembering, as if hallucinating, the lives they'd lost.

The girls had abandoned names when they found each other. They referred to each other as "sister," a barely-remembered word that was almost lost with the rest of their memories. They wandered, day in and day out, living in a realm between reality and fantasy. They knew no age, no status, yet they clung to bits of propriety that were remembered more as habits than necessities; the elder still laced her corset every morning, and the younger tied her bonnet's ribbons under her chin as if anyone were still there to care.

On the first sunny morning after the attack, a half-remembered word flitted through their minds. They couldn't quite grasp it, but it was there, whispering seductively around every stream of sunlight on their skin, demanding attention. The sisters followed it through the trees, half-catching it and losing it again with every step, until they came upon the field. Something sparked when they saw the picnic basket, but it was the hoop for which a name produced itself. The elder touched it with the reverence of an ancient artifact and breathed the word "Toy," the only name she could grasp onto of all those vague remembrances flashing behind her eyes. She could remember nothing: only the dance.

The scene was like one of their plaguing hallucinations: everything was laid out - the table, the basket, the food - as if the diners had just gotten up and left on a whim. There was something so haunting to the whole scene that the younger found herself entranced by it- it made her feel like that ghostly word was within her reach, and that there was somehow something to be gained if she could only catch it. It was like grabbing at smoke until she put her fingers around the handle of the basket.

As the sisters passed the abandoned basket between their fingers, they couldn't help feeling like something had fallen into place. There was something here, they could tell, some link to a past that was feeling more and more distant every day. Perhaps they somehow knew the truth, that this picnic had been set out for them in the days when they had someone who cared enough to give them pleasant things. As they passed the basket between them, the younger smiled up at her older sister and whispered that elusive word that had so often escaped them.


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