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View Full Version : A Stroll Through Eden Park (Short Fiction)



Saeria
July 18th, 2015, 10:41 AM
My dreams are filled with dystopian futures that frighten me to my very core.



Wilton struggled against the creaking age in his joints to lace his boots before setting out. It was still dark, but the faded grey sky gave him reason to believe sunrise would be soon. The sun rose everyday so no doubt it would rise again today. He shuffled to his door, gathered his coat and hat but left his cane propped against the wall. Today he would not be in a hurry and no one these days seemed to pay much mind to a stooped old man in a threadbare duster.

While clearing his door was easy, slipping past the nurses would be much more difficult. The 10-6 shift was just drawing to a close so chances were the nurses, eager to end their day and go home, would be less vigilant right before dawn. As Wilton crept past the nurses station, the building rumbled gently, upsetting the array of medicines gathered on the cart in the dining hall. The scattering of pills kept the nurses busy just long enough for him to wedge himself through the back door.

Ever since the sirens in town sounded last summer he hadn't been able to enjoy fresh air. He, just like the rest of the residents at Oak Hollow, were kept indoors at all times, not permitted to watch news programming or read the paper. Wilton missed his paper the most. Nothing felt as soothing to the old man as the feel of fresh ink on newsprint. They reminded him of the days he spent as a young teenager, throwing bundle after bundle of newpapers onto the lawns of the people in Kingsboro.

Perhaps that was the point in Wilton's life he became so obsessed with the rising sun too. The sunrise meant that he was finally done with his paper route and it was time to rush home to gather his books and join his friends in the alley to go to school. Sunrise was when Wilton met Anna, sitting on a bench at Eden park, clutching an antique valise with hands so tight her knuckles had blanched. His mind receded into memory as his feet took to a route he had made thousands of times in his lifetime.

The moment Wilton saw Anna on the bench he knew she was all he would ever want. Her short cropped golden curls, illuminated by the rising sun, gave the illusion that at any moment she would srpout angel's wings and fly into the clouds. Her knees, swathed only in fine silk stockings, knocked together to ward off the chill of early morning.

“You seem a tad under-dressed for a morning such as this.” Wilton called as he sat beside her. She didn't lift her eyes to him, simply nodded, clutching the valise still harder.

“Where is a girl like you headed this time of day?”

“U-University” she stuttered. He smiled as he tried to place her thick accent.

“You must not be from around here. Are you an exchange student?”

She nodded again, this time meeting his gaze with eyes that shone like emeralds.

“Perhaps I can show you around campus. I happen to be a student there too.” Wilton blushed, suddenly tongue-tied in this girl's presence.

Silently they watched the sunrise through the bare trees. Soon spring would be upon them and these same trees would be teeming with life. Wilton checked his watch, rose and gave her his arm. From that moment Wilton's life changed forever.

Another rumble in the distance brought the old man out of his reverie. The bench he met Anna had been replaced many times over the years. The wrought iron bench rusted away and was replaced with the simple concrete bench he sat on now. The sky loomed overhead, hazy grey darkness obscuring the heavens from his failing sight.

Wilton kept his eyes on the sky as long as his joints would allow, but soon his neck grew stiff and he rose to prompt feeling back into his legs. Growing old definitely had its pros and cons. While his body aged, and even his mind grew hazy from time to time, the world around him was in a constant state of newness. Two children dressed in masks and flak jackets dashed in front of him, giggling as they chased one another to the jungle gym. Times had changed for certain. His own children ran around Eden park years ago but in those days it was safe.

It saddened him to watch the children struggle against the restraint and weight of their gear in their play. The days of peace of his childrens' youth were gone. Rapid gunfire shuddered from the South and the children stood stock still, tiny ears listening.

A woman donning a semi-automatic at her hip muffled a command and the two children dropped from the jungle gym and filed silently behind her as she rushed them away from the park. Without children, the park was eerily silent save the sounds of gunfire in the distance. Undaunted, the old man shuffled down the walk, looking at the barren arms that reached up into the still grey sky. It seemed the older he became, the longer it took the sun to rise. It was as if age had made him impatient.

The pigeons which once overran the park, perching upon the stately head of Henry David Thoreau to defecate and sleep, were also long gone. No squirrels, or butterflies, or even the daisies that pushed up through the manicured landscape graced the place these days. Thoreau's sad smile beamed down, mocking the silence of the park as if to say “the beauty of the world I once knew has faded away”.

Once clear of Thoreau and his mocking smile, Wilton pushed his way through the winding path toward the pond. At least there the ducks still slumbered. The poor foolish creatures had been fed here for so long they had never considered moving on even after the feedings stopped. By the pond stood a group of ragged dome tents huddled around a smoldering barrel. A dog whined as a man snored loudly. In another tent a very young infant whimpered and a frantic mother soothed his cries.

Wilton fished in his coat pocket, his fingers working their way through a tear in the lining. This was the only safe place he could keep his cash these days from the nurses that remained at Oak Hollow.
Wilton gently rapped on the tent. For a long moment only the whimpering infant could be heard from inside. Suddenly the barrel of a shotgun forced its way through the small opening in the tent.

“We don't want no trouble, mister and we ain't got any food either.” The woman inside barked hoarsely.
The infant began to wail, its hitching cries waking the snoring man in the adjacent tent.

“I told you to keep that damn monster quiet!” the man grumbled. The shotgun barrel slid back into the tent and the child's cries slowed back to a discontented whimper.

“I don't want any trouble either. I'm just an old man.” Wilton replied calmly. The woman opened the tent just enough for Wilton to squeeze through before she secured it back again.
The inside was cramped with piles of blankets and towels. Amidst the clutter sat a vase of Columbine blooms. The woman reminded him strangely of his youngest daughter. The woman couldn't have been any older than 20. Wilton smiled gently and held his arms out but the woman only clutched the infant tighter.

“Ah, these are distrusting days indeed.” Wilton sighed as he lowered his arms.

“Ever since Marshal Law began.” The woman moved a strand of hair from her face and Wilton noticed a gold band glittering in the dim lamp light.

“Where is your husband? That's not him in the other tent I hope.”
The woman smiled and shook her head.

“Hell no! That man isn't worth the air he breathes, but he is protection. No, my husband was drafted some 6 months back. I tried to contact him after our neighborhood was bombed but I haven't had much luck yet.”

“Do you have any other family? I can't imagine you feel very safe here.”

“Ain't nowhere safe, mister. I just keep hoping my husband will come back. Then maybe we can take off for Vancouver. As it is, there's no work for me to go alone.”
Wilton stooped and pressed the roll of cash from his pocket lining into the woman's hand. She protested fiercely.

“I can't accept charity, especially from someone that has less a chance out there than I do.”

“It's not charity. Sell me your vase of flowers.”

“You're trying to give me $600 for a dollar vase and some wilted flowers? Are you senile old man?”

“These days I wish I were.” Wilton grunted as his hip began to ache from standing. “Those flowers, you found them out by the fountain right?”

“'cept there ain't no fountain there anymore. It's just a shot up pile of concrete now.”

“My darling wife and I planted those Colombines there in college and they have come back every year. They've endured more than likely 60 years of this world through sheer determination alone. They were her favorite flower.”

“You can't find flowers anymore, mister. I tried to sell them but it seems like no one has the money for things like this anymore. I hope you're not angry I took them.”

Wilton thought for a moment. The idea that these were the last of Anna's Colombines did raise his hackles a bit, but the kind way the woman had taken care of them even amidst her own poverty gave him pause.

“No. Anna planted them for the benefit of others. This is why I would like to purchase them from you.”

“You have no idea how much this means to me and Avery.” The woman smiled.

“Avery” Wilton's smile widened. “My son's name was Avery. He was such a bright child.”
The woman held her infant to him and he gingerly cradled the sleepy child in his withered arms.

“My Avery was such a colicky thing too. He was our first child and we didn't have a clue what we were doing. We must have tried every remedy our mothers told us. You know what finally worked? The Mamas and the Papas. We would put on the Deliver album and the moment Avery heard “Look Through My Window” he would go silent. By the end of the song he was sound asleep. Please forgive me but I must be on my way if I'm going to catch the sun rise.”
The woman gave him a quizzical look but smiled nonetheless as she handed him the vase.

“Good luck with that. You are a blessing, mister.”

Wilton shuffled out of the tent, eagerly looking up at the sky for any signs of dawn. Still dark, he muttered as he made his way back to the bench to continue waiting for sunrise. Long moments passed but the sky never seemed to brighten. A young police officer rushed to his side and huffed through his mask.

“Hey, old guy. Why aren't you wearing your mask and jacket? There's Insurgents everywhere in this city these days. You're going to get sick or hurt walking about like that.”

“That's okay, kid. I'll take my chances.” Wilton replied.

“What are you doing sitting around during the day like this? That's when you're more likely to get shot or something.”

“Just waiting for the sunrise, then I'll be on my way.”

“You do realize it's almost 2 in the afternoon, right? You're not senile or something are you?”

Wilton nearly dropped the vase as his eyes tracked back up to the sky again. For a brief moment tears formed in the corners of his eyes, but he brushed them away before losing face in front of the kid cop.

“I must have lost track of time.” Wilton said softly as he rose.

“I can take you back home if you like. It really is dangerous out here.”

“I have one last errand to run and I promise I will be back home and out of the way.” Wilton tipped his hat and started his shuffling descent back to Oak Hollow.

Wilton didn't have far to go, only a few blocks, but the few blocks were enough for him to see the damage the war had done to the once beautiful, bustling city. Dilapidated buildings loomed overhead and trash blew in the acrid breeze. More than once he heard bullets whiz around him but he continued on undaunted, the vase clutched into his old duster. On the stoop of an abandoned house, still wrapped in plastic, sat a yellowed newspaper.

The ground shuddered, but Wilton simply rifled through the paper, casting aside different sections. The pages he kept went into his coat with the vase of flowers. Another blast shook the ground, sending a spray of concrete toward him but he continued home all the same.

He slid through the back door, knowing that his absence was more than likely noticed by now. Sure enough, the head nurse rushed to him, shouting expletives as she tugged his arm.

“Wait!” Wilton said suddenly, wrenching his arm from the nurse with a strength he hadn't felt in a very long time. “I have to see her, one last time. You know it won't be long now before-”

“If you pull one of these stunts again, I swear, Mr. Handish, I will keep you so full of sedatives you won't know your head from your ass.” The nurse grunted not unkindly.

For as gruff as she seemed, Wilton knew she was the reason this place was still standing and operating. She cared enough about them to keep them away from the terror beyond the walls, to work without pay.
Wilton pulled one of the Columbines out of the vase in his coat and presented it to the nurse. Lines of exhaustion seemed to lift as she looked at the little blue flower with wonder.

“I haven't seen a real flower in a long time. I'm not even going to ask where this came from but it sure is beautiful. You're always a pleasure, Mr Handish. Now you'd better get to your wife before her meds kick in. You know she wears out faster these days.'

Wilton's gait picked up and he almost seemed to skip as he swung himself into Anna's room.
The years were no longer kind to her. Instead of his lithe Irish beauty, here lay an emaciated shell of the woman that changed his world. Even in this state, she captivated him.

“Oh, Avery. Hurry and wash up, it's almost time for your father to come home.”

“It's me, Anna, Wil. Do you remember me?” Wilton sat at the edge of her bed, gathering her bony hand in his. Her rheumy eyes whirled for a moment before her foggy gaze settled on his face.

“Oh, It's you. I think I met you in University.”

“You did.”

“We planted Columbines by the fountain. I do wish I could see them again. They've always been my favorite.”

“You mean these?” Wilton showed her the vase of flowers and her eyes sparkled with joy. She held the vase for a moment before carefully placing them on the table beside her, next to their wedding photo.

“Oh, Wil, I've truly missed you. I hope you will stay the night with me.”

“Anything for my Irish Beauty.” Wilton smiled as he took a seat next to her bed. “I also have the paper. Would you like me to read it to you?”

“Only the bits I like. You know how boring I find sports!” Anna laughed weakly.

“I have your favorite section right here. It's a good one too.”
The danger of frost is finally over so its time, our green thumb gardeners, for one of our favorite annuals, the bearded pansy. He read slowly, speaking each word as clearly as he could muster. Chances were pretty high that this would be the last moment she would recognize him so he had to make it special, just for her. The world was changing around them and there was just no room left for two old fools locked in a home. She smiled warmly as she tightened her grasp on his hand.

“I feel so tired, Wil. Please tell me you will finish the article at breakfast.” Her voice wavered.

“Of course, my love.” Wilton carefully lowered himself into the bed with her. It was a snug fit, but there was still enough room for him to wrap his arms around her. He loved her smell, even though now the scent of death was growing ever stronger.

“Wil?” Anna whispered. “Did you see the sunrise when you picked the flowers this morning?”

“I did. The older we get, the more beautiful it becomes! Let’s go wake up early tomorrow and watch it together.”

Issachar
July 20th, 2015, 02:18 AM
Saeria,
you make me cry. Well done. Only caught two things, it is "martial law" not "Marshall law", and I thought "donning" a semiautomatic refers to an action that does not seem to be in progress, is the lady putting on the pistol or is she wearing it? Good work creating vivid characters and settings, I could easily imagine Oak Hollow and the ruins of the city.
Keep es up the good work!
Issachar

Saeria
July 20th, 2015, 06:00 AM
Bwahaha Marshall Law, gotta love auto correct. I can't believe I missed that one. I had tapped this story out on my cell phone about 3 years ago while staying with a friend that was newly transferred to a nursing home after a paralyzing motorcycle accident. I finally rediscovered it last week and proofread all the silly auto corrects.

Thank you for your helpful response :)

Bard_Daniel
July 22nd, 2015, 01:12 AM
This piece is really quite nice.

First, you manage to capture the atmosphere of Oak Hollow without relying too much on sensory detail but rather on the characters he meets and their reactions to Wilton in their environment. This struck me as quite well done as it can be a pitfall to rely on too much imagery to create an environment.

Secondly, you build the character of Wilton slowly but surely. Instead of a massive info-dump you skillfully utilize flashbacks and an anecdote (about the flowers) in order to bring out his inner sense of self. I found such a technique to be well thought out and effective in crafting your character, bringing him originality.

And last, but not least, the ending was particularly good. Melancholic it might be but it served as a uniting whole to the entire piece. Truly, well done.

The only downsides I could find was some formatting, which I'm sure you can see if you look again at your post and the "Martial Law" bit, which I understand was a spell-check error.

Nice job on the story! :D

bdcharles
July 22nd, 2015, 02:22 AM
Hi. Great pace on this rather hertbreaking piece set in a vivid post apocalyptic world. Reminds me a little of "The Drought" by J G. Ballard, what with the old guy finding his way between pockets of humanity in a sun-blasted otherwhen. Some excellent sentences and phrasings, eg:

"My dreams are filled with dystopian futures that frighten me to my very core." - I dunno if that's part of it or not. If not, it should be. :)
Thoreau's sad smile beamed down, mocking the silence of the park as if to say “the beauty of the world I once knew has faded away”.

Couple of comments:

If it's a short story, however, it's worth bearing in mind that every word needs to carry its weight, so minimal repetition, unnecessary words, etc. I appreciate it does tie in somewhat with the voice here - senility or somesuch - but to take as an example:

The bench he met Anna had been replaced many times over the years. The wrought iron bench rusted away and was replaced with the simple concrete bench he sat on now. - repetition of "bench" and "replaced". Unless this is a key theme, experiment with phrasings to convey the passing of time etc, eg:

The bench where he met Anna had been replaced many times over the years; wrought iron had rusted away, wood had splintered and warped and rotted into nothing, until [someone] eventually furnished the park with the simple concrete on which he now sat.

Just some ideas - feel free to use or ignore as needed :)


Last - couple of errors (I am sort of assuming you're after some kind of feedback and critique!):
- other people mentioned "Marshal Law". Unless you have a strongman named Marshall, well ... :)
- “You seem a tad under-dressed for a morning such as this.” Wilton called - should have comma after this if you are using a speech tag (called, said, sputtered etc etc)

Hope this helps

MindBlank
August 14th, 2015, 09:54 AM
Great read Saeria, I found the story flowed nicely. I was genuinely interested in what Wilton was doing, and am still intrigued about what has happened to the world he's in! The only thing I can mention that hasn't already is just one sentence;


We would put on the Deliver album and the moment Avery heard “Look Through My Window” he would go silent. By the end of the song he was sound asleep. Please forgive me but I must be on my way if I'm going to catch the sun rise.”
The woman gave him a quizzical look but smiled nonetheless as she handed him the vase.

It feels like it needs a break in the middle after the memory of his son, to then having to leave. Maybe a pause in the dialogue after 'sound asleep' and before the 'Please forgive me...'

That's all though, I thoroughly enjoyed this.