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Observatory (+ Podfic)

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There is a podfic version of this fic available done by yours truly!

If you'd like to listen to it read aloud you can download it HERE


 

The katydids are loud as fuck during the summers in Georgia.

Like a wall of sound, pressing on his ears in the same way the hot, humid air does against his body and sticks his clothes to him in dark, damp patches. By the bullfrogs' croaks he can hear poking occasionally through the high shimmer of the katydids, Carl knows there's a swamp somewhere nearby. And he tries his best not to think about the new kinds of ways murky swamp water would find of twisting walkers into some variety of nightmare he's yet to encounter.

He wonders if there'll ever come a time when even that will slowly disappear.

Plucking his hat from his head and placing it on his chest, he lays back against the marginally cooler ground and stares up at the scant slices of star-spattered sky he can glimpse through the trees above. A bead of sweat rolls down his cheek and he scratches the itch the salt leaves in its wake.

A few feet away he hears Judith make a soft, sleepy sound in the egg-crate of a crib they've padded with blankets. And beyond that the near indistinct shick...shick...shick of Daryl sharpening a stick or maybe whittling barely reaches him over the insects' whining.

The stars glimmer brightly where he can see them through the foliage and, unbidden, Carl wonders if somewhere in the world there still exists a working telescope. There must. Somewhere.

Right?

Suddenly, he's not so certain.

But that's the nature of the world with the way things are now. Uncertain. And the omnipresence of the slow, painful death of life before.

Carl understands that there will come a day when somewhere―with someone fighting off a walker in an adrenaline-laced scramble for life or a frantic search for food or ammunition or in an accidental explosion or...―the last working telescope will become irreparably damaged and another small piece of what existed before will cease to be.

There's so much of that now. The slow, crawling decimation of the world before.

He sees it in the way that driving two days for a supply run is par for the course when, three years ago, it would have been unthinkable.

He sees it in the way Maggie's face had gone blank for a long moment before finally cracking a smile of recognition when he'd joked about 'Googling' something.

In the way he can't remember what it was like for a video game controller to feel at home in his hand and gun to feel foreign. In the way he can't remember not feeling fear trickling ice cold and sharp along his back if he finds its familiar weight absent.

In the way he's forgotten what his home phone number was.

In the way he suddenly realizes he'll have to explain to Judith what a telescope is when―if―it's ever mentioned once she starts talking. Among so many other things. What a telescope is. What stars are and how they work. What the solar system looks like. How in space there is no gravity―God, he'll have to explain what gravity is to her ―no air, no sound.

Just large and empty. And silent.

The way Atlanta had looked on the way back into the city: large and quiet in an unnatural way―unnerving like school hallways at night or the way abandoned houses with dishes still resting in sinks use to feel.

Space is different than that, though. Empty and quiet in a way it should be. Naturally so.

He turns his head, seeing the boxy, shadowed outline of Judith's crate and thinks about all the things he'll have to explain to her soon. About all the things he himself had owned and touched and seen that he will have to convey to her like long lost legends of ancient civilizations.

He thinks about the way she'll grow up, sprouting like a flower through gaps of a long-dead walker's picked-clean rib cage half-sunken into the earth. Thinks that maybe he himself is not as far removed from that as he thinks.

And not for the first time, Carl is caught between thinking how cruel it is that Judith never got the chance to know what the world was like before, and thinking how cruel it is that he did.

Listening to Judith fussing in her blankets for a moment before settling once again, he thinks about all the things that will disappear for good before she gets to see them. The things that he now regards remembering as something akin to being witness at an execution or a deathbed.

Because with each passing day the last of something from the world before passes quietly, unnoticeably from existence. Somewhere, someday the last iPod will use the final bit of its battery, the last CD will be shattered or scratched beyond recognition, the bags of chips with the longest shelf life will begin to spoil, wild animals will find their way into homes and, in closets of clothes and sheets and pillowcases, make nests and shit and have babies. Wood will rot and concrete will crumble and every day people will die blood-filled, screaming deaths and fewer will remember what it was to be a lawyer or what a dinner party was or what true safety felt like.

Maybe not in his time, but someday, someone will shatter the last in-tact pane of glass or use the last machine-made bullet and slowly but surely, the world he was born into will be nothing but ruins and even the skeleton of the world he and Judith have grown up through will not be able to hold them up any longer.

So maybe it's kinder that Judith never knew about the world before. Maybe it'll be easier for her to watch it slowly die if she never knew what it was like when it was vibrant and alive and safe. But then Carl almost snorts at the idea that ignorance could be bliss―than anything could be bliss―with the way things are now.

Taking a deep breath, Carl folds his arms behind his head and lifts his gaze back, upwards once more to the way the sky flickers through the slightly shifting leaves above and silently decides someday he'll tell Judith what telescopes are. About what they do.

He'll tell Judith about space and about stars and how people used to build huge buildings on the top of hills to house gigantic telescopes just so they could look up away from the earth for miles and miles. Maybe, somewhere, there's an observatory still standing.

Carl thinks Judith deserves to know that somewhere, even if it is such an unthinkably far distance from the reality of life nowadays, stillness and silence of that magnitude exists at the very least.

Even if the closest he and his sister can get is the weight of a humid Georgian summer and the lulling high drone of katydids and small glimpses of the night sky above them.