This is actually closer to a novlette, totalling just under ten thousand words. I'm posting a few excerpts for the same reason as before: I'd like some general feedback on it. The Phoenix Project will return next week as this is the last story that I wanted some critiques on. I hope everyone enjoys it!
A Survivor’s Grace
Anne realized the beans were bubbling in the pot and set the table for dinner. She poured the hot meal into a second-hand bowl from the cupboard. Anne sat at a crude, wood table in the hunting lodge she had discovered over a year earlier.
The propane tank had finally given out a month ago, but she was still reluctant to use the fireplace to heat her meals. The smoke might give her away, but she had decided it was worth the risk.
She hefted a spoonful of the aging canned good into her mouth and looked across the vacant table in the dim kitchen. It had been eighteen months since she had last seen another person.
This would have been her graduating year.
Anne thought of how she should be picking out a prom dress right now. She should be picking out make-up, a good hairdresser, and worrying if she had chosen the right guy to take her to the dance.
Instead she sat here, in the dark, and wondered if her sister was still alive. She hadn’t seen Beth in two years. Beth would be nineteen by now.
She ruminated on her meal and the last two years while she stared at the opposite wall. Anne noticed the taste of the beans was a little off now. They had passed their expiration date a few months ago, but the beans and the other meals from the large store of canned goods hadn’t caused her a sour stomach yet.
Anne was used to the sumptuous meals provided by her parents. Her eyes stung at the memory of the two, both dead. She finished the meal and got one of the tattered books from the limited library in the den. She sat on a chair with her single candle and began to read. This was the last unread book, but she found herself stopping every paragraph in distraction.
Where the hell was Beth?
Anne nearly lost her composure then. She resisted a great desire to weep. That hadn’t happened in three months, and she was determined it would be at least another three before it occurred again.
Still, she couldn’t escape the question. Why hadn’t her sister come for her yet?
She comforted herself with the same answer as before. With tanks raging across burned-out cities and patrols in every village and town within a few hundred kilometers, it was impossible. Finding lost relatives on this planet was a dangerous occupation and one that Beth was too intelligent to undertake.
Beth had always done better at school, but Ann comforted herself with the knowledge that she had always been more popular. She forced herself to concentrate on a trashy romance novel and found it comforting to fall into a world where she had a boyfriend, a life, and an existence beyond this lonely, forgotten cabin in the woods.
Once she realized that it had gotten late, she retired to a small bedroom in the back. The bed was covered in afghans that the original owner’s grandmother must have knitted. They were warm, even if she hadn’t been able to wash them since she arrived.
After staring at the ceiling for at least an hour, she felt fatigue seize her consciousness. Forgetting the world of reality, she found herself where she least wanted to be.
Just as most dreamers do, she knew on some level that she had already experienced these events, but this was clouded in her dreams as some form of deja vu. Even as she sat on her bed and spoke with her girlfriend on the earpiece hanging from her lobe, she knew something was about to happen.
“I’ve got to go,” she said to Amy and hung up the phone. It hadn’t occurred that way in reality, but it was the realization that something was about to happen that forced her off the phone. She stood up in her plush bedroom and looked through the window. There was a glow coming from the horizon, just as he she somehow knew there would be.
She raced to wall and moved the curtains out of the way as a feeling of foreboding filled her gut. The second floor window’s view was blocked by the adjacent house, but she could tell that the orange light on the horizon wasn’t from city lights. Something was burning.
A lot of somethings were burning.
Ann had noticed the reports of war looming closer to their city, but it still seemed a world away. Ann jumped from a loud knock at her sturdy, plastic door.
“Ann, you in there?” her father demanded from the other side.
“Dad?” Ann inquired. The door was flung open before she could reach it.
“You and your sister are going to have to go to the basement,” he replied. Her father had the pistol in his hand he had kept from his service in the Coalition Army.
“What’s going on? What’s that light out there? Is something on fire?” she asked, excitedly.
“The E.I.A.’s landing troops. It’s a surprise attack. The news just broadcasted a general warning for all residents of New Amsterdam.”
“I think I know that already,” Ann said, and found the true memories escaping her.
Her father ignored the comment as it never had been made in real life. “Don’t get all excited. Come on.”
She followed him down to the cellar. Beth was already there and grabbed her hand to comfort both herself and her sister. In that moment Ann knew
that there was something that was going to happen, but she resisted the urge to run to her parents and watched the door close as she had in real life.
Talk to me,” Ann said, frightened.
“Dan asked me to prom.”
“When?” Ann asked, but didn’t take her stare from the closed door.
“Today, at school. He’s cute, don’t you think?”
“Very cute, and in twelfth grade.”
“I know, a full year ahead of me. I didn’t think he noticed me at all,” Beth said.
“Neither did I,” Ann joked, even though they continued to watch the silent door at the top of the stairs. “Find me if something happens.”
“Find me if something happens,” Ann repeated, deviating from history.
“I’ll find you no matter what happens.”
“I hope so,” Ann said. She knew what was going to happen next. They heard explosions now that couldn’t be far off.
The door flew open and her father rushed down to them.
“The bastards are blowing houses up! You’re not safe here!”
The sisters followed him from the basement. He had his pistol ready even as he led them through their house and towards the front door.