By Michael Woods
where I saw it,” he said, pointing above the golden arches.
“The big one. Me and my old man,
eating Big Macs out the side of the restaurant when it exploded up there into
that death rainbow.”
“Do you remember
what it was?” I asked Noel.
“What? The meteor?”
I heard him say through my earpiece. He glanced at me through his fish-bowl
helmet. Sweat dripped down his raised eyebrow.
“No, no, the Big
“Oh,” he said. He
clambered past the overgrowth on the street, stomping crushed limbs and maroon
flowers. His machete tapped one of the intact windows. The fast-food restaurant
made him look tiny like he would’ve been all those years ago. Inside, vines,
spores, and trees burst out of the building like an unkempt terrarium.
know,” he continued. “I was about eight years old when it
happened. I can’t say what was in it or how it tasted. It was good, though. I
remember that. Last meal I had with Dad.”
beef. Believe it had two patties. Maybe three.”
Three? We really did have everything, didn’t we?”
heard Dome 76 has cows,” I said, hacking away at contorted vines
blocking our path onto Main Street.
swimming pools,” Noel added.
hell they do,” I said. “The richest in our dome doesn’t even
have a private bath.”
were approaching a cluster of decommissioned vehicles in the
middle of the road.
me, I know a guy on the inside,” he said. “He’s the one who
hooked us up with this delivery. And if you’re good—or agree to give me a
little bit of your share—I’ll tell ya what we’re hauling.”
shrugged his shoulders, moving the steel case strapped to his
back. He winked at me.
no way he knows.
cars had aggressive vegetation piercing from every direction.
In the driver’s seat sat a red bush.
this man on the inside?” I asked him as I heaved myself on
top of the car’s hood. The metal bent beneath my weight. My protective suit
made it hard to maneuver over the windshield. The cargo hanging from my
shoulders dug into my lower back as I hopped onto the roof. The kit on my thigh
wobbled. I sheathed my machete to tighten it.
be the president himself for all you know,” Noel said. He
grabbed my hand and I pulled him onto the top with me. He repaid the favor by
being an anchor for my arm as I descended the trunk. “I’ll give you a hint as
to what it is. It’s something old. Real old.”
they already have that in there with them.”
it's gotta be something political, right?” I asked. “After
all, it’s going to the commander-in-chief’s granddaughter.”
could hear him smirking through the comms.
dripped down my back. Moisture pooled all around my rubber
suit. It was 100% sealed: nothing could get in or out.
socks squished inside my boots as I crumpled over beaten plants
already severed weeks ago. Our path was commonly taken by other couriers. It
was an easy delivery. The only thing we had to do was keep a sharp mind, follow
Main Street, and hack away at some of the re-growing weeds. Easy money.
wait till you see it. Their whole dome is like a
pre-collision world. Got stores, factories, movie theaters, parks, pools,
restaurants, candy stores, office buildings, and even libraries. It’s
something,” Noel informed me.
what you heard from your guy. I don’t believe it.”
wiggled his blade in the air as if to tell me, “Believe me or
not. You’ll find out.”
was a glow in the corner of our eyes that caught both of our
attention. A tree grew from the cracked sidewalk. Its bark radiated a bright
neon. Its branches slumped across the road, weighed down by its increase in
nutrients. Its limbs swollen as if pumped with steroids, barricading our path.
Decorating the ends were mangled leaves resembling nothing indigenous
This wasn’t here a week ago. The other couriers at the hub
said it got bigger, but they would’ve let us know if it were impassable,” Noel
closed in to inspect the tree. Its glow bounced off the lens of
Noel’s helmet. He reflected it like a beacon—one of those lighthouses I read
about. He turned to me, letting the purple light from his glass shine
brilliantly onto mine.
no way we can chop this,” he said, then slung his hacking
tool into one of the branches. It barely made it past the bark. When he yanked
it out, liquid oozed from the wood. He wiped the blade on one of the misshapen
we climb it? Or go around?” I asked.
heads craned upwards. The branches were tangled together,
towering at least three stories high.
we go around that way,” Noel said, aiming his machete to the
right side of the street. “We’ll have to cut through the dense brush. Our
blades will dull before we can make it halfway through.”
walked to the left side. The vegetation was thick over there,
too. I couldn't see a yard inside. Flowers blooming spores and thorns like
knives lined the outside of the greenery.
that's it then,” I said.
crouched, following the roots of the tree. They sprouted back
out from the concrete and into the windows of a bus just inside the wall of
he said. His tone was a lot quieter. “We can backtrack and
cut through the zoo. It’ll bring us back onto Main. A lot closer to our
about the spores?”
why we wear this gear, kid.”
raised himself from what he was inspecting. He came by me,
nudging my elbow, encouraging me to turn around.
look,” he warned.
course I had to.
the bus were dark plants, blistering with leaves and fruits.
Each seat was occupied by a clump of weeds. I felt goosebumps travel down my
forearms. It was like they were watching me. Looking at us investigating their
I turned I peeked at the text on the side of the bus: ELDER CARE
TRANSPORTATION. Under it were two spherical helmets connected to two protective
suits. Inside their chests were roots the size of street lamps. Machetes were
suspended in the air by vines, their boots were broken apart, stems growing out
from their soles.
told you not to look. They tried cutting around. They didn't pay
attention to where they were stepping.”
journeyed back over the cars and across the McDonald’s. Noel led
me up a street and into a parking garage. It was engulfed by a cloud of yellow.
ready?” he asked.
ascended the first floor. People who parked their cars here
never imagined it would be the last time they drove. They left behind tons of
scrap metal, turning the lot into a junkyard, succumbed by nature.
walked over roots sprawling over the entire floor like spider webs.
Parts of the second story above us collapsed ages ago. Wood from the
undergrowth on that floor concealed the gaps like a scab.
other minute I had to wipe the amber dust from my helmet. By
the time we got on the other side of the garage, our suits were coated in half
an inch of yellow.
it is,” Noel said, facing the entrance of the zoo.
found a trail not overtaken by foliage. It led us to a grizzly
you ever seen one?” Noel asked.
opening where spectators used to look though was smashed.
Thorns and poison berries found a home in the bear cave.
was an exit large enough for us to squeeze through at the far
end of the walkway. We hacked through vines until we made our way into the
reindeer pasture. Almost every speck of soil was occupied by some species of
vegetation. We hopped a railing back onto concrete near a concession stand. It
was less crowded.
to imagine a horde of people here,” I said.
feet were bricked. He was gazing at something in the middle of
the tint of yellow, an animal was facing us. Its mighty
antlers spread majestically to each side, adorned by crimson flowers. As we
crept nearer, we noticed a system of roots spread from the reindeer’s body like
veins. This system entrapped the animal, the foliage embedding itself inside of
its flesh, pumping blood through the stems and vessels. Its fur was
unrecognizable, it had been completely overtaken by the invasive species.
stood dumbly in front of the poor creature. I stared into its
I said. “I think…”
didn’t want to finish what I thought.
reindeer’s eyes flickered from Noel then to me.
me to Noel.
“It’s alive,” he
“Does that mean—”
whispered, but was cut off.
beautiful,'' he said to the reindeer. “You must’ve been
like this for a while.”
shifted the machete in his hand. With all his strength he
swung his blade into its nape. He tried several more times until its head
lopped off onto the ground.
eyes were still.
spores attached themselves to the open wound beneath its
severed head, and within a matter of seconds, flowers sprouted.
body was still upright, supported by the vegetation. Its neck
wound was being healed by a series of roots from both inside and outside its
body, sealing the traumatic amputation.
still, its eyes were at peace.
on,” Noel said. “We’re almost there.”
ventured through several other pits until the outskirts of the
zoo opened up to a parking lot. Across from that, a sliver of Main Street was
rear exit was too good to be true. An archway with a sign atop
it read, THANK YOU FOR VISITING, PLEASE COME AGAIN!
was the easiest path we had so far until I saw there was a
gaping hole between us and the way out.
like it gave way from all the rooting underneath,” Noel
said. He took off his metal pack.
are you doing?” I asked.
make this jump with these things weighing us down.”
followed suit, gently placing down the shipment.
jump over first then you toss me the two cases,” he
put away his machete, walking back for a running start. He began
with a jog that evolved into a sprint, then cleared the distance with ease.
gazed into the abyss. It was deep enough to snap ankles.
don't sweat it, kid. It's cake,” he assured me. “Now fling
the Gutenberg over here.”
had his case in my arms.
There’s no way,
felt a lot heavier.
laughed into the comms. “Told ya it was old.”
it really a Gutenberg Bible? In here?”
real piece of pre-collision history. In my hands. Something I’ll
help preserve for generations to see.
smile found its way into the corners of my cheeks.
spun around, building momentum, tossing the sacred text over the
chasm and into Noel’s arms.
repeated the technique with my case: a success, also.
both were safely across, I copied Noel with a running start.
cleared it, landing in a crouch. But as I straightened up,
concrete gave way from under my right foot. Before the zoo was able to swallow
me whole, Noel took a hold of my wrist, pulling me back up to the surface.
thanked him and went to brush myself off when I felt an unusual
sensation on my knee. It was cool like air was meeting my sweat-soaked skin. I
glanced down to discover my suit was torn.
I exclaimed, throwing my palm over the breach.
attempted to undo the pouch strapped to my thigh, but sweat
trickled into my eyes, obscuring my vision.
heard Noel unfastening his pouch.
was coated in yellow. Every part of this hell was
absorbed by a cloud of spores. Visions of the reindeer flooded my mind.
breathing drowned out Noel’s voice telling me to be calm.
last I felt pressure around my knee. He was wrapping me with the
repair kit. He used his entire roll, securing the opening.
lifted me and wiped my helmet clean with his glove.
listen to me. You’re okay. You’re alright. I got you patched
blinked profusely to clear my eyesight.
was right. A black band was tightly tied around my leg. Somehow
he got there in time. I didn’t feel anything there.
laugh escaped me in relief.
your pack on,” Noel said. “Smooth sailing from here.”
parking lot was mostly bare. Still yellow, but bare,
end of the lot attached to Main Street. Surrounding the exit,
wherever there was a hint of soil, trees erected dozens of feet in the air,
creating a familiar wall.
took the lead. He hobbled up the pavement between the green,
the top, he turned to me whistling.
should see the view, kid,” he said. “I can see the top of Dome
76 from here.”
gifted me a hopeful expression.
I made my way up, Noel was darkened by a shadow. Behind him,
something massive neared. Its body pushed a car to the side as it pierced its
way through debris like a bulldozer. It was a grizzly, already implanted by a
million spores. Patches of its fur were replaced by flowery petals, roots
dragged across the ground from its flesh, leaking blood, leaving red paw
eyes were manic. With one swift motion, it lifted its massive
claws, knocking Noel across the street. He let out a painful yell as he bruised
across the asphalt.
attempted to go after him, but the bear came my way. It blocked
the exit so I retreated further back into the lot. It didn’t pursue me. It let
out agonizing breaths as it limped towards the zoo. Its bright petals dimmed as
it disappeared in the distance.
rushed towards Noel's bent body. His hands were grasping at his
helmet. I heard his whimpers in my ear.
kit. Please…” he said.
undid my pouch, unrolling my band.
the breach?” I asked him.
rolled over towards me. There was a massive fracture in his
helmet. Plumes of yellow were being sucked between his fingers.
it bad, kid?” he asked.
tilted my head to see through his lens, just beneath his gloves.
was a flower blooming on his cheek, turning red, already
soaking up blood.
It’s fine,” I said.
lie. I can feel it, you know,” he said, letting out an
Move your hands. Let me wrap you.”
raised the band.
hands lifted from his helmet then shoved my band away.
spores dug into his flesh, instantly beginning the process.
Their roots connected with his veins, planting deep inside his face, blooming
exotic plants foreign to our planet. They struck through his skull, pierced his
tongue. Anywhere there was a living cell, it was a space to occupy.
let me live like this,” he groaned. “Please, kid. You know
what you have to do.” The last order his brain gave his muscles was to point at
the machete sheathed to my side.
helmet was garnished to the brim with a basket of brilliant
colors. Vines twirled out from his mouth, thorns from his ears, petals from his
eyes, and bushes thickened from his cheeks. The pressure built up, pressing
leaves against the glass of his helmet, eventually leaking out of the crack. A
small flower, pumped with blood, opened up and released a breath full of
arm fell to the road.
stepped back watching his life exist in the flora.
closed my eyes, producing my blade.
aimed for his neck.
already spread to his torso. I couldn't get a clean cut.
My vision blurred.
This time with
I’m not a butcher.
It’s not meat.
They're just plants.
Noel was right, Dome
76 wasn’t too far away. Somehow I managed to drag myself down Main Street,
lugging his case on the front of my chest, and mine on my back.
It was magnificent.
Maybe Noel did know a guy. Maybe we were delivering a Gutenberg.
At the front of the
dome’s gate, men with guns wearing protective suits approached me. Asked me a
bunch of questions, but I didn’t hear them. I flashed them my papers. They saw
the president’s name so they eagerly let me through. A pair ushered me into a
tube where the sanitization process began. I was sprayed with a variety of
chemicals, dozens of times. Then in another tube, I was blown by harsh winds
I was scanned as not being contaminated, a man opened the
first door for me. After I entered and it was sealed shut, I was in pitch
black. Then somewhere, some guy pressed a button and two titanic gates crept
open before me, revealing where the wealthiest lived.
It was the world
pre-collision. It was one of the cities I’ve read about. So clean. So many
people bustling around in the streets. I took off my helmet. The air washed my
armed man led me to a car—a working car. He took my cargo
and placed it in the trunk.
We drove down the
street where people ate, played, and laughed on the sidewalk. Men in suits
discussed business, every other person held a cup of coffee, kids ate hot dogs
and kicked soccer balls on freshly cut lawns. Businesses were lined up, selling
their products under occupied apartment buildings.
To my amazement, I even saw
scent of coffee and freshly baked goods left us as we veered
off into a residential area.
house was identical: a garage, two stories, gray roof tiles,
and walls lined with red bricks. We made a right. There was a community
swimming pool people were gravitating towards. At the end of the road, there
was a building that stood out from the rest.
here,” the driver said to me.
were parked in front of a mansion. Bigger than I’ve ever seen in
driver went to the trunk, retrieving the two metal packs. I
held them by their straps. They were warm in my hands.
make the delivery. I’ll be waiting here to take you back to
the front gate.”
hiked up the long driveway. Their decorative potted plants mocked
me on the front porch.
knocked on the door.
slid open. A youthful girl frowned when she saw it was me. She
scanned me up and down.
have a delivery to this address,” I said.
been sanied, right?” she said.
They sanitized you right?”
lemme see!” she said, bouncing up and down on the tip of her
knelt, setting the weathered cases before her. I unlatched their
clasps, hesitating for a moment, hovering my hand over Noel’s.
please,” she prodded.
flipped the lids.
couldn’t make sense of it.
is this?” I said to myself. “Bullshit! What is this?”
flung the contents to her feet. A shirt unfolded over her socks.
Followed by a pair of shoes, sunglasses, and a skirt.
stop!” she demanded. “Do you have any idea how much
pre-collision designer costs?” She shoved me onto her well-kept lawn.
A pair of
reached into her pocket producing a handful of bills, tossing
them my way, not even counting the amount.
go back to the decrepit dome you came from!” she said.
picked myself up and hobbled back over to the road. My driver
chuckled. People on their way to the pool swept past me. They gawked at my
condition. The sidewalk was alive. Men were shirtless. Women were in bikinis.
felt odd. There was a pain in my knee.
undid my wraps.
back the rupture in my suit.
took off my gloves.
people pushed me aside
agitated the petals with my finger.
It produced a wind of amber into the air.
Michael Woods: “Thank you so much for
accepting my short story. I know writing is a continuous learning process where
you fail constantly and receive dozens of rejection letters as the result, so
I'm so very grateful for you to be the first person to believe in my work. I
promise it'll only improve from here.”
Glad to help, Michael. Don’t
be a stranger…Ed