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Vaka

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It must have been a Monday when the world ended. Or, began to end--because as quickly as it happened, it still seemed to take its sweet time. Of course it couldn’t have gone out with a flash or a bang; that would’ve been too merciful, and the universe just didn’t care. Whether or not it all really started on a Monday, that’s the way he remembered it. Because in all honesty, there could never be another day of the week that was as fitting for the apocalypse as a Monday.

And now, as he stood ankle-deep in the creek, Sora thought to himself, How appropriate, for the world to end on a Monday.

Something in the earth had crept up from beneath. Classrooms were full of students with sick teachers, and then dead teachers. Somehow, the students remained. And so did Sora, now standing in the creek, with no parents and no teachers. He had theories, but all that was on the news was static. Hemorrhagic fever, a consequence of decades of chemical exposure, or something new and unidentified--whatever it was, it didn’t matter now.

In the current moment, in one hand, he gripped his bow--a handmade gift, repaired so often that it was hardly the original anymore--while the other rested on his his backpack, which he used as a quiver.

Initially, he’d meant to set snares for the rabbits that lived in the creek, but he thought he’d caught sight of a deer ambling a short distance ahead and was determined to bring it back with him. Crouching behind the brush, he kept his eyes open for movement while he pondered the wood grain of the bow by brushing it gently with his thumb. He wasn’t ready to draw it just yet; he knew the creek was blocked by fallen trees beyond his hiding spot and was waiting for the deer to return the way it came. Unless it decided to climb up the sides , which is something that Sora suddenly remembered that deer had the skill to do. Patience was not his strong suit and after a short while he began to debate heading home empty-handed, until--

A noise. He could hear it now, faintly above the burbling of the water there was the crunch of gravel under hooves. Any other creek would not offer such a sound, but it was a man-made creek diverted from its original course in the early 2000s and the crew had thrown all the extra gravel and concrete onto the creekbed. The deer was making its way back cautiously, pausing every other second to wiggle its ears and glance around. Sora could see it clearly now as it rounded the bend and into the open section of the creek that was free of shrubbery and low hanging branches. He silently blessed his plain brown hair for holding his camouflage and held his breath as he fetched an arrow from his quiver and began to draw it. Slowly. Slowly. His elbow was almost all the way back now, and the deer was still clearly in his view. He said a small prayer as he prepared to shoot,

The same moment the phone in his pocket began to buzz frantically. The deer leapt up and bolted, and the arrow whizzed through the brush and struck the ground. Sora watched with dismay as the deer scrambled vertically up the steep wall of the creek and out of his sight forever. Fine, he didn’t care much for venison anyway. He growled and uttered a few curses before answering the phone.

“Sora!” The voice on the other side said immediately. It was bright and cheery.

“Hi, Kairi,” he answered, trying to hide his exasperation, but his voice just came out sounding constipated.

“Where have you been? We need you back to help with dinner.” There was a static noise from the other side like the phone was being jostled, and a muffled second voice. Sora could hear Kairi hiss something to the second voice and put the phone back against her ear. 

“Uh, I’m in the creek. Thought I saw a deer.” He stood up and waded into the water to retrieve the wayward arrow, which was buried in the gravel and sticking up at an angle. He plucked it from the ground and returned it to his backpack after wiping the arrowhead clean with the edge of his jacket.

A month after the beginning of The End, fresh food stopped being readily available. The only way to obtain it was to hunt or harvest it yourself -- if you knew how. Otherwise you were stuck with things like vienna sausage and frozen peas. His friends mourned the absence of fresh meat and fantasized about past meals, now aware of just how much of a luxury they once had access to. When Sora spotted the deer, he thought he might be able to bring them back a treat. The logistics of butchering a whole deer could be figured out later; in the moment he had only wanted to offer them this.

Kairi made an enthusiastic squeaking noise. “Did you get it?” More muffled clamoring came from the second voice. Sora could tell she was putting her hand over the mouth of whoever was trying to speak over her.

“No,” He said. “Turned out it was just some branches that looked like a deer. So I sat there for fifteen minutes with my bow aimed at a tree like an idiot.” He feigned a chuckle. He decided that he’d spare her the truth for now, that she didn’t need a twinge of guilt piled on top of everything else she had on her plate.

“Where is that brother o’ mine?” The other voice finally broke through.

“He’s in the creek,” said Kairi’s muffled voice.

“I’m in the creek, Roxas,” said Sora. He kicked the water, creating a splashing sound to prove it. Roxas huffed, but he could hear the smile in his voice.

“Come back, you and Kairi are on dinner duty tonight and I’m hungry.” Another jostling noise.

“You heard the man,” Kairi giggled, her voice clear once again.

“I’ll be back in half an hour, I’m pretty far down the creek. I’ll see you soon.” Sora hung up and put the hell rectangle that had cost him dinner back in his pocket. He retrieved his shoes from the dry patch in the creek bed where he’d set them down while he’d waited for the deer and began to trudge home, his toes numb from the water and his skin bruised from the irregular shapes of the rocks beneath.

It wasn’t particularly late, but the mountains to the west were where the sun liked to hide from the world early at the end of the day, and in November it retreated behind the mountains even earlier. Sora shivered a little as the last bit of sunlight was drained out of the creek by the shadow of its looming walls. It reflected his mood.

It had been two months since The End, and everyone had been too busy to mourn. Sora had spent his life crafting an upbeat and cheerful persona. It came easy to him, but lately it had become harder to hold. It was only so easy to hide his anxiety, when three fourths of the population had disappeared overnight. He decided to keep himself from thinking about it at all. He did not think about his teachers. He did not think about his parents. And he definitely did not think about how his brother Roxas had begun clinging to him like a stubborn burr.

The current living situation was that, starving for company, his friends Kairi and Riku had moved into the house that used to be occupied by him and Roxas and their parents, but was now left feeling horribly empty in the wake of The End. Sora had Roxas, but Riku and Kairi were both only children.

 

The transition was less than comfortable. Sora always imagined that he’d live with his friends in their own apartment someday, maybe during college. Kairi and Riku were over so often that they might as well have already been part of Sora’s family, but he wanted the freedom of being his own authority figure. He’d known the both of them for so long that he could imagine life without them as well as he could imagine life without Roxas, who had only granted Sora three minutes of being an only-child before joining him in the waking world. It made his stomach twist knowing that what he had wished for had been granted under these circumstances, but the other two didn’t breathe a word about it.

Two weeks after The End, they showed up at his door with nothing but a change of clothes in their backpacks. Sora waved them through the doorway without a word and they sat themselves opposite each other on the living room couches, staring at the carpet with empty expressions. Sora didn’t sit by either of them; instead he sat between them on the floor. For an agonizingly long time, they sat together in silence until Roxas--who had just woken up and still in his pajamas with sleep crusted over his eyes--wandered all too noisily into the living room. He had stopped, staring at the three of them as well as he could through his gunk-covered eyelashes before breaking the silence with, “Do you guys want some persimmons?”

They’d brought their belongings over slowly. At first, just necessities—more clothes, blankets, personal amenities. Then, comfort items. Riku brought as many books as he could carry and Kairi brought her multitudes of crafting supplies; all of this they piled into and carted over in a rusty Radio Flyer wagon.

Roxas moved into Sora’s room and Kairi moved into Roxas’ room (Roxas threw a small tantrum about it), and Riku slept on the couch in the living room. They left the third bedroom--their parents’ bedroom--untouched. Slowly, the house became theirs again.

It was all a bad, awful, nightmare sleepover, Sora mused as he climbed up the wall of the creek. A large pile of sandbags offered him a stairway up and out. Dusk had fallen when he finally emerged from the creek bed, the last light of the sun just disappearing behind the mountains and leaving the sky a deep and even shade of blue, and the street lights began to flicker on ahead.

 

 

 

The porch light was on when he arrived. Kairi greeted him at the door by taking both his hands and leading him inside. Roxas was lounging at the table eating a lunchbox apple and leaning back with his feet propped up on an adjacent chair. Riku lay on the couch with an open book on his chest, clearly having intended to read it but fighting the urge to doze off. He turned his head slightly to peer at Sora from the corner of his eye.

“You were out for a long time.” It was not an accusatory statement, just an idle observation. Riku yawned and closed his book. His hair -- which he had not trimmed in a considerably long time -- fell across his face. He puffed at it a bit before brushing his hair out of his eyes with his hand instead.

“Uh, dinner!” Sora remembered suddenly, dropping his bow and backpack by the door and taking off his jacket. “Let me help!” He quickly removed his shoes with his heels without bothering to untie them and began to head for the bathroom before Kairi held him back gently by placing her hands lightly on his shoulders.

“I took care of it already, it’s in the oven right now. Roxas and I were hungry.” She was smiling, but there was a mischievous glint in her eye. Sora knew that look. She was thinking of a way to penalize him for missing dinner duty. He crossed his fingers and hoped that she didn’t make him lift something heavy.

“Ha ha, Kairi’s gonna punish you,” Riku mumbled from the couch. He was now laying on his stomach with his face buried in a pillow.

“I’m sorry, Kairi!” He brushed her hands off her shoulder. “I’ll make it up to you.” She hummed in acknowledgement and let him continue his journey to the bathroom.

The water was still on when he turned the tap to wash his hands, and he wondered idly when the day it would stop coming out of the faucet would come. He cupped his hands under the faucet and took a couple sips of water (out of some weird habit he formed and was never able to shake). When he raised his head to meet his reflection in the mirror, for a moment he just gazed into his own blank expression, the emptiness of which had become emphasised by the formation of deep purple bags that formed an ugly crease underneath his eyes when he squinted.  Then he scowled at himself.

When he returned to the kitchen, Kairi had set a out casserole in the center of the table without any other dishes to accompany it. Roxas was still at the table but this time sitting upright and with a plate in front of him,  announcing  that he was going to eat the entire thing by himself if they didn’t hurry up and sit down. Sora squeezed behind his chair and sat down next to him, while Kairi and Riku assumed their seats at the opposite side. The lights flickered a little and the four of them held their breath, but the lights remained on. They released their collective breaths and then dinner proceeded to happen as usual.

“--So, they had been planning on removing the observatory at Mt. Umunhum,” Kairi babbled through a mouth full of casserole. “I guess it’s never gonna happen now though.”

“That ugly thing?” Riku was apparently more familiar with local happenings than Sora was, but he knew what they were referring to. A beige colored rectangle had been seated on top of that mountain for decades, stark against the lushness of its surroundings.

Exactly! ” She slammed her fork down on the table for emphasis. “It’s been around since early in the Cold War, is out of commission, and is unattractive. And it was still met with resistance by people claiming that removing the observatory would be wrong since it would be removing a piece of history, but that mountain is a better piece of history than the observatory will ever be. But no one talks about how much older the mountain is than the stupid observatory.”

Unable to contribute to the current thread of conversation, Sora silently mused the age of mountains. He thought about the millions of years the things they had observed on earth and if….. And if they remembered seeing something like this before. He quickly shut the thought down. Mt. Umunhum has an ugly hat, haha, he thought instead. He then distracted himself with the casserole dish, which was now empty.

Sora cleared the table without offering, intent on making up for making Kairi make dinner by herself. She and Roxas left to lounge on the living room couches, Kairi working with a friendship bracelet taped to one of her knees and Roxas tapping at a Gameboy Color. Riku approached Sora as he scrubbed at the casserole dish in the kitchen sink and wordlessly rested his chin on the top of his head, hands in his pockets, hair in his eyes. He reminded Sora of a very large sheepdog, with slits of bright green eyes only ever just peering down at him through a waterfall of silver hair.

They stood that way for a moment while Sora splashed idly in the sink and pretended not to enjoy how warm the underside of his chin felt on the top of his head until Riku mumbled, “Do you wanna go for a run?”

Sora paused to gauge his level of exhaustion and weighed it against his desire to spend time alone with his friend and to his dismay he found he felt more tired. He reached back with his wet, soapy hands and ran them up through Riku’s hair. “Let’s go tomorrow,” he offered.

“Gh--” Riku ducked under Sora’s arms to escape the soggy headlock.

“I’m tired and I can’t wait to go to bed,” Sora said.

“Tomorrow.” Riku hummed and ruffled Sora’s hair for a moment before leaving him alone with the dishes.

 

 

Sora and Roxas shared Sora’s double bed. Sora had originally meant to give the bed to his brother and sleep on the floor, but that had changed quickly. It reminded him of when they shared a bunk in the same room when they were younger. Roxas slept on the top bunk, but about half the time he preferred to crowd Sora in the bottom bunk. In the middle of the night he would climb down and insert himself firmly between his brother and the wall. Sora didn’t mind.

When the lights had been turned off and they were settled in but still awake, Roxas stretched and pretended to smack Sora in the face as he did so.

Sora returned the gesture by giving him a gentle kick to the shin. “Night, Roxas,” he said.

“Night, Sora.” Roxas started to turn onto his side, but stopped and spoke again, in a whisper this time. “...Can you call me the next time you’re gonna be gone for so long?”

“Of course,” he whispered back.

Roxas seemed satisfied with that answer and turned back onto his side. “Goodnight, Sora.”

Through the darkness, somewhere in the distance, Sora could hear the gentle trilling of a screech owl echoing through the empty streets lined with empty houses.