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May 27, 2024


By Effie Collins

Her mother stood in the doorway to the living room, one hand on her hip. The other clutched a cordless phone. Her top teeth worried her bottom lip until the carefully applied lipstick was streaked and pointless. "Do you know who was on the phone?"

"No," the girl replied.

"That was Mr. Farber. Any idea what he wanted?" her mother asked.


"Don't lie to me, Laiken."

"Mother, I'm not."

"Last chance."

Laiken only looked at her, not bothering to answer again. She knew it wouldn't do her any good. Mother believed what she wanted, always had.

"Fine. Mr. Farber's windows have been blacked out. Painted over with black paint. You wouldn't know anything about that would you?"

Laiken dropped her gaze to her lap. "No," she answered. Her heart pumped faster, beating against her ribs. "I didn't do it, Mother."



"And I suppose you weren't kissing that boy Teddy the other day, either? The Farbers saw you, Laiken, so let's not lie this time, hm?"

"I was."

"So who blacked out the windows?" Mother didn't move closer, didn't raise her voice. Her lips opened in a mocking, triumphant smile, her head tilted oh-so-slightly in her smug and snobbish way.

"I don't know."

"You knew they saw you and that boy?"


"But he did, didn't he?"

"He did what?"

"That boy knew they saw!"


"So you did black out the windows?"

"No, Mother."

"Do NOT lie to me again, Laiken St. James!" her mother said in a voice carved from granite. "I can tolerate many things from you, but lying isn't one of them."

"I'm not lying. I didn't spray paint the windows."

"I never told you they were spray painted. Tell me who did it."

She felt compelled to obey. Honor thy father and thy mother. According to verse, there was no 'except when' clause. "Teddy did." Laiken slapped her hands over her mouth. Guilt hit her stomach like she'd swallowed lead. "I mean--"

"Stop right there." Seraphim St. James strolled across the living room and sat beside Laiken on the couch. "You were right there with him. Probably had your own can of spray paint."

"Mother, I didn't!"

"Your father will be furious." Sera sighed and called out, "Gabriel! Can you come here?" She turned to Laiken. "Go to your room."


"I said go to your room. I have to discuss this with your father, but I think it's safe to say that you're grounded."

She forbade Laiken to see Teddy ever again.

Well, Teddy was her only friend, maybe more, and she would not stop talking to him just because her mother was a snob.

"He's nothing, Laiken. Just a thug that will amount to nothing. Nothing, and you need to stop being a child and face the reality of what he is. He's wicked, evil and you're to have nothing to do with him. You are a young woman now and you need to start thinking about how things look, do you hear me, young lady?" her mother raged at her.

Laiken shut the door to her room, her only safeguard against Mother's stinging words. How could she not see that Teddy was her everything? Why couldn't she just understand? Just this once?

Laiken sat on her bed, tears threatening to overflow. Her eyes darted around the room, seeing nothing and everything. Her closet door hung open and her backpack, thrown haphazardly in the bottom after her last school year ended, seemed to taunt her. She was grown, eighteen. She didn't have to stay here with her parents any more. Not if she didn't want to.

She didn't think twice. Practically ripping the zipper open in a flurry, Laiken tossed in three shirts, two pairs of jeans, a pair of shorts and some panties. In a pinch, she could do without a bra.

Then, she waited, pacing about her room, doodling in a notebook, brushing her hair. Midnight came and she slipped from her bedroom, certain that her parents were in bed.

The usual sounds of the night startled her as she descended the stairs, certain that every creak was her mother. Once she was in the kitchen, she shoved as much food in her backpack it could hold and left.


She ran across the border of Prince George's County and, hailing a taxi, made her way into the heart of Washington DC. She found a pay phone and called Teddy.

"Where are you?" he asked.

"In town. Will you come, please?"

"What's wrong?"

"I've run away." The words caught in her throat, but she forced them out. "My mother, she--"

"Stay there. Go sit in front of Lincoln Memorial. I'll be there in a minute."

"Hurry, please." But Teddy had already hung up.

When he arrived, Laiken ran to him, let him envelop her in his arms and told him in one watery gush. "She told me I couldn't see you anymore, Teddy."

"We'll see about that, won't we?" he said. He held her tight as she cried, stroking her hair and whispering promises to fix it, to make everything all right again.

Teddy always knew how to make her feel better.

He pushed back from her and told her not to touch him.

"What's wrong, Teddy?" she asked.

"It's time to fix this, Laiken."

That night, he held her while she slept on the stone platform in front of a statue of Abraham Lincoln.

She woke at some point to the sensation of lips on hers, hands on her breasts.

She didn't refuse him. Teddy was special to her and if that was what he wanted...

As Teddy's body tensed above hers, she watched as his pale, (insane) blue eyes went black. She felt energy ripple from him as he moved.

His eyes closed, and then opened. His mouth dropped in a wide roar as the world around them exploded in fiery wrath.

Teddy's wrath. Teddy's love. For her.

Her lips parted. Her shouts of pleasure mingled with Teddy's, and drowned out the screaming world around them.

She woke to total darkness, her inner thighs still tacky with semen and the blood of her virginity. She felt the ground beside her, fingers groping for the familiar feel of Teddy's hand, but he wasn't there.

She was alone.

Her insides felt blank, hollow. She called out, but got no answer.

Teddy was gone.

Laiken got up and stumbled to the Reflecting Pool. The water within looked dank and dirty; Abraham Lincoln's huge, chipped face stared up at her, accusing her. Rubble and refuse surrounded her, the concrete walkways broken, buildings in pieces. The words 'The Smithsonian' sat at her feet on the cracked slab that once sat in front of the esteemed institute.

It was so hot! She couldn't remember where her backpack was and all her food and drinks were inside it.

The water in the Reflecting Pool, now just a muddy pond full of garbage and dirt, looked inviting. She knelt beside it and gagged at the smell of stagnation and sewage.

She dipped her hand in, her only thought of wetting her face, to cool down. The cool liquid trickled down her forehead, over her eyelids and cheeks to her lips. Her tongue flicked at the droplets.

It tasted like pure heaven.

Laiken laughed, the sound a clear, sweet tone throughout the desolation. She slipped both hands beneath the swirling, muddy water's surface and lifted out a drink of cool, crystal clear goodness.

"I need my backpack," she said aloud. She splashed more water on her face and stood, puzzled, but not worried by the complete darkness. She made her way across the National Mall at a slow, even pace, feeling her way along in the dark.

"Oh! I'm sorry," she said when she stumbled over someone. "Are you all right?" Laiken knelt down beside the man lying on the ground and shook him. "Sir? Are you okay?" She grasped his shoulder with both hands and pulled with all her might, forcing him to turn over on his back.

Charred, blackened lips stretched wide in a scream of pain on a face crumbling to ash. Nothing left of his eyes but a milked-over, gelatinous pair of sightless blobs.

She scrambled back, a scream of terror and agony ripped from her throat and echoed around her.

"Oh no. Oh, Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death." She closed her eyes and recited the prayer in a hurried, harsh whisper as tears flooded her cheeks. Pain seared beneath her shoulder blades as she said, "Amen."

She drew in a ragged, hitching breath and dashed tears away with a shirt-sleeve, staring down at the man she grieved for. A man she knew not from Adam. But there, beneath his ripped and charred body, was her backpack. She pulled it free of his weight and stumbled away. She passed by more people; women, men and children. All dead. All burned alive by Teddy's anger.

She went back to where she had slept and opened her backpack. She ate in silence and refilled her empty water bottle from the pond in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

She decided right then and there that she wouldn't stay in the National Mall any longer. Teddy was gone, had left her behind after he got what he wanted, and she didn't want to be alone. She had to get out of DC, had to find some other humans, someone who could help her.

The sun never rose, so she had no way of knowing how long she'd been there, waiting for him to return. She walked and slept, ate and then walked some more. She prayed over each body she stumbled across, prayed for their souls. For their salvation. God would be good to them.

She touched the ground where it burned. She didn't know how, but she would heal what Teddy destroyed. A little at a time.

She walked until her legs gave out and slept where she fell, not caring who came along and found her. If someone came by and woke her, she'd probably jump for joy. But no one came and again, Laiken woke up alone.

She dried her eyes, wishing the tears would run out, and reached for her backpack. She dug out a bag of chips, two sugar cookies and a bottle of water. Not a nutritious breakfast, but it was something. She counted her food supply and was frightened to find she had very little left. Two apples, two more bags of chips, twelve sugar cookies and a brownie. And a can of nuts, which she'd been saving.

Days went by with the same cycle. Walking, sleeping, nibbling on her dwindling supply of food. She walked out of the DC area and into Virginia without seeing one living soul. She stumbled over broken bodies, charred bodies, cold and long dead. Stinking.

Still she walked. Eventually, her mind went numb and she no longer cried. When she stumbled into a convenience store that had survived most of the damage, she refilled her backpack with food and drinks.

The sodas were warm, but tasted like sugary heaven.

Sugar meant energy.

Laiken crossed the border into West Virginia without even knowing it. The bodies grew few and far between. Trees, dark hulking beasts rooted in Earth, taunted her in the dark, reached for her as she sat, hoping for some sign of life, but not expecting to actually see any.

She didn't know how long she slept there under the trees, but when she woke, the forest around her teemed with life. Bushes rustled with angry fervor, trees swayed in gusts of wind.

An owl hooted, once, twice and was joined by another, then another.

So, everything hasn't died. Just all the people.


She jerked, a tiny scream caught in her throat. The sound of another human voice after so long frightened her, startled her. It was a sound she never expected to hear again.

"Laiken, talk to me."


"Oh God, ohGodohGod! Teddy!" She scrambled forward, toward the sound of his voice. "Teddy where are you? I can't see!"

"Here." Light, blinding bright, flickered in front of her.

"You have a flashlight?"

"Sure do. Well, a battery powered lantern, but it works."

"Where have you been?" Laiken stood up and advanced on him, anger lighting in her chest like a raging bull. "Why did you leave me all alone? Why'd you do that, Teddy?"

He held up his hands, palms out. "I had to find us somewhere safe."

"Teddy, you did this!" Her voice shook as she shouted, but she didn't care. "You lost control, didn't you?"

"I did. I couldn't stop it, Lakey. I didn't mean to."

"How long have we been apart? I can't tell time with no sunrise or sunset. I don't have a watch."

"Almost a month."

"A month?" Laiken dropped to her knees and yanked at her hair, something she'd done since she was little. "I've been wandering around for a month?"

"Yep. I figured you'd stay put, but when I went back, you were gone. Why'd you leave, Laiken?"

Laiken shrugged one shoulder and looked away. "I thought you left me."

"I didn't! Lakey, I wouldn't just leave you. You're all I've got now."

"But why, Teddy? Why did you do this to everyone?" She looked at him, accusing him with her eyes. She knew he saw her anger, her frustration. Her feeling of hopelessness. "Why did you do this to me?"

"They would have kept us apart," he said. "Your parents. I didn't mean for it happen that way, but I had to."

"You had to," she repeated softly.

"Have you bled since we last saw each other, Lakey?"


"Good." Teddy smiled.

"I don't understand." Laiken looked up at him, her eyes drinking in the sight of his form. She loved him, thought he was beautiful.

He put his hands on her belly, rubbed gently the place where she knew his son rested. "He won't be normal, you know," Teddy said.


"The baby."

Laiken nodded. The enormity of what she'd caused, and the result of her own selfishness, bore down on her shoulders; a heavy weight to bear. She knew she was pregnant without a doubt. Her body felt strange and even in one single month, she'd put on a little weight. "I still don't understand how this happened. How you lost control. Tell me why."

Teddy moved a few feet away. Laiken moved with him and gasped. She hadn't realized that her wanderings had taken her to the top of one of the Appalachian Mountains. She turned away, disheartened by the desolation below.

"Teddy, tell me why!"

He stood, looking out at the wretched landscape below, and whispered, "I had to make us safe."

Article © Effie Collins. All rights reserved.
Published on 2011-04-25
8 Reader Comments
05:36:31 PM
One of the best short stories I've read in a long time. Very well written and intriguing.
06:56:27 PM
Hey Hey!!! Great short girl!

I especially liked this part "...he enormity of what she'd caused, and the result of her own selfishness, bore down on her shoulders; a heavy weight to bear."

Congrats Effie!
07:06:12 PM
Shows promise. Needs developing. Skeletons need flesh if they are to come alive.
09:06:42 PM
That's my daughter.....you go girlfriend I am so proud of you and I love you !!!! :)
06:35:22 AM
Wow. Talk about a "boyfriend from hell". When he blows up, he REALLY blows up!
Steven Sarber
02:10:42 AM
Good work! Did you use my last name for reference? Ha-ha! I liked it a lot, maybe it could be a bit longer, but still very good.
12:25:45 PM
Hey Steve! I actually didn't make the connection till after, but I think I may have done so without thinking. You were in the hospital when I wrote this, so you were weighing on the mind a bit.

Thanks to everyone for the read and support and all that jazz. And to the Piker Press for publishing this piece and the others I have upcoming. Y'all are awesome.
Steven Servis
09:51:10 PM
Enjoyed the story, but I wonder why everyone suddenly died.
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