After all the saccharine good wishes of Christmas, the avalanche of sweets and pies, and the torment of endless carols in the shops, it’s refreshing to wash it away with a tale with a bit of bite to it. This is from my Tales of Imagination short story collection. As romance authors and readers know, sometimes romance doesn’t quite stand the test of time and reality.
Arlene pushed the jar onto the pantry shelf and gave a tired smile.
“There,” she said, “that be jar number 250 of the canned chicken done.” She ticked off a list that hung on the door. “Best start checking the cornmeal for weevils agin. I know the Preacher told me they was extra protein, but dang, time enough to eat weevils after the Apocalypse.”
She picked up the Glock handgun from the pantry shelf, suddenly pivoting to look down the barrel along the empty hallway. “If any of those city folk come here after our food, Jed and I will be ready for ‘em.” She automatically turned the safety on with a loud click and stuck the gun in her apron pocket.
Crooning a hymn softly to herself, Arlene heaved a bag of dried beans into a laundry basket and carried them down the hall. She passed a mirror near the front door and stopped to tuck her long hair back into the headscarf. She pulled her high collar down to look at the bruises around her neck, flinching a little as she did so. “Honour and obey, like it says in the Bible. I sure do hope you were right about them Heavenly rewards Ma.”
She opened the hall cupboard and tried to find a place to stow the beans amongst the boxes of tinned food and ammunition. She pulled one box down, and a cascade of baby clothes fell out. Throwing the bag of beans into the empty space, she slowly picked up all the tiny garments. It was the little booties that got her. Clutching them to her chest, she sat down in the hall chair and a slow tear ran down her face. “No more babies,” she whispered, hugging the booties to her thin frame. She sat rocking back and forth in the chair, hugging the tiny things.
Finally, with a deep sniff, she pulled a clean rag from her sleeve and blew her nose. She carefully folded all the baby things into the box. “These can go to someone that can make some use of them.” She gave the booties a final caress and shut the box.
The ring of the phone made her jump. “Now, who can that be, Jed’s out huntin’, nobody rings me.”
She picked up the phone. “Hello, Arlene speakin’.”
‘Yes, I used to be Arlene Johnson, before I got married,” she replied, glancing at the wedding photo that sat in a frame next to the phone.
“Clint Harper? Yes, I remember you, you went into the army just when I had to leave high school early. What do you want?” Cradling the phone against her ear, she picked up the wedding picture and tried wiping the dust off with her sleeve.
“Your sister, Betty Lou? Yes, she was a little titch of a thing when we was at school. How’s she goin’ now?”
Arlene sat down suddenly, her fingers gripping the wedding photo.
“Jed…my Jed? Are you sure? We’re in church regular every Sunday, and he spends all his time with the Preacher and Pa, talking about building stockpiles and bein’ ready for the end of the world.”
Arlene turned at the sound of a pickup truck in the driveway. “That’s Jed home now, I got to go. Lord, he’s early, must have been testing the Preacher’s new batch of moonshine.” She craned her head to look outside. “Parked on my geraniums agin,” she muttered.
“I don’t reckon I’ll get to church this Sunday. But tell Betty Lou I have some things for her,” she nudged the box closer to the wall with her foot. She hung up the phone, and went out onto the front porch, not noticing the wedding photo still in her hand.
Her hands on her hips she yelled, “I heard what you been up to. Been doin’ more than huntin’ and checking your stockpiles.” Her voice softened and her hands fell to her sides. “Least I had almost finished high school, I knew what we was doin’ was a sin. But what you did to Betty Lou was wrong. She ain’t no more than a child, Jed.”
She threw the wedding photo at his feet. “When you goin’ to start beating up on her too? I lost our babies, I can’t have no more after what you and Pa done to me.”
“The Preacher said you needed someone who could breed? For after the Apocalypse?”
Arlene put her hand in her apron pocket, and there was a loud click. She raised her hands, double clutched around the Glock as he had taught her.
“It be the end of the world now, Jed.”
Cindy Tomamichel is a multi-genre author, with her SMP series Druid’s Portal a time travel action adventure romance set in Roman Britain. Short stories of fantasy, scifi and romance can be found on her website, where she blogs on aspects of world building. The 30 Organizing Tips for Writers provides much needed help for authors trying to navigate social media and build an author platform. Doing NaNo this year? Check out her free book NaNoWriMo Ready. Or pick up a copy of the free Romance Short Stories.
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