March 3rd 2023
The world dies on a Wednesday. Lilah sits and watches from the porch as squares of grass crumble into dust and blanket the lawn in gray. The willow tree in the front yard droops downwards, its branches stretched like taffy, curled in on itself like a concave heart.
“Why aren’t we changing too?” she asks her grandmother in awe. The grayness slides along the bed of white lilacs, gobbling them up, but it doesn’t dare touch the rocking chair where Gramma knits.
“Don’t worry. We don’t need changing,” Gramma says with a small smile. Her needles go click-click-clack through the operatic silence.
Lilah nods, frowns, mulls the words over, flips them in her mind. Across the road, the Murrays’ house rots in real time, the roof devouring itself with a rumble, withered beneath the burden of age.
By Friday, only bones are left. The roots of decomposed trees lose purchase on the dirt of the yard, and it blows wildly through the air, blotting out the cold red glow of the sun.
Lilah wakes up, washes her face, brushes her hair, and obediently helps Gramma make toast and scrambled eggs. They sit on the couch together to eat, silently filling in clues to last month’s crossword puzzle with a dark blue pen. Five across: A restoration; to repeat something on a regular basis.
“Seven letters, fourth letter E,” Gramma says.
“No, that’s eight letters.”
Lilah thinks, thinks, thinks. Then she stops thinking, and the words drift back and forth across her mind, little skaters on an ice rink. Outside, the glass of the windows is frosted with muck and mold. Their little house sits alone, an island in a sunburned sea.
“Renewal?” she asks.
“Very good.” Gramma writes it in. Her cursive script loops freely across the inked-in boxes on the pulp paper. “Nine down. To create or give something of deep importance to another. Six letters, third letter S.”
They finish breakfast before Lilah can figure that one out. She washes the dishes, hair pulled back in a ponytail, Gramma’s yellow latex gloves puddled around her wrists. There are skeletons lying where the backyard shed once stood. Perhaps there was a graveyard here, long ago. Perhaps a family buried their dead a century past but forgot to leave markers behind. Now, dozens of feet of topsoil have dissolved in the breeze and revealed it all.
“You missed a spot,” Gramma says gently. She guides Lilah’s hand, and the sponge scrubs the offending smudge away.
Monday brings cracks in the earth’s surface. Lava spews and burbles into the sky, eager to be free from the underground pressure. Lilah leans over the porch railing, heels dangling in midair, and cranes her neck to see what ground could possibly be left to keep their house standing.
“Careful,” Gramma chides, and yanks her back off the rail. “I know children your age are stir-crazy when kept inside, but you only have to wait a little bit longer.”
“Wait for what?” Lilah whines.
She is given no answer. Instead, she is told to stay in her room till tomorrow morning and read the crimson-covered book of fairy tales that Gramma made for her eighth birthday.
But Lilah has read all the fairy tales, has memorized their curves and turns, and she’s tired of staying put. She sneaks downstairs when the clock chimes midnight. It’s dark outside, but it’s always dark these days. The sun died sometime over the weekend, and all the stars have vanished, leaving behind an ink-black sky. The only light is the cherry-red glow of lava, a fiery blanket smothering the world.
Lilah peeks round the corner of the front door. Gramma stares at the molten sea, her hands on her hips and her forehead furrowed with focus. She is solving a crossword puzzle, searching for the perfect word, the key that will make the problem click into place.
Gramma steps down, off the front porch. The lava parts obediently to let her through. She walks slowly, purposefully, away from the house. Where her feet touch, the crust of the earth heals, scabbed over with fresh sediment and new-sprouted plants.
Lilah wonders if the world would repair itself for her too, or if it’s just Gramma. She’s too scared to find out, though. She watches until Gramma is only a speck in the yawning distance.
Then she climbs into the rocking chair and hugs her knees to her chest. Sleep finds its way to her bones, despite her best efforts.
On Tuesday morning, a new sun rises. It’s not yellow like the old one. Instead, it glows a healthy blue, and sheds cerulean light across the horizon.
Lilah wakes with a start. Gramma kneels in front of the porch, watering a bed of purple columbines. The tree in the front yard has flowered. Silvery fruit sprouts from its low-hanging branches. Everything feels young. Everything feels ageless. Everything feels old.
“It was a willow tree, wasn’t it?” Lilah says out loud. But even as the words escape her lips, she’s no longer sure. She doesn’t remember how much time has passed between this Tuesday and the last.
Gramma glances up at her. She smiles gentle and severe, the same as always.
“It’s your birthday,” she says. “I said you didn’t have to worry, didn’t I? Come on down. Enjoy your gift.”
C.C. Rayne is a writer, musician, and actor based on the East Coast of the USA. An avid lover of all things weird, discontented, and out-of-place, C.C.’s work seeks to blend the magical with the mundane. You can find more of C.C’s work in Soft Star Magazine.
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