Crossed Genres magazine is currently asking authors to Post a Story for Haiti. Below you will find my previously unpublished story “Ozymandias Revisited.” I hope you enjoy it!
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by T.J. McIntyre
Kudzu crept over the crumbling brick wall. Behind this protective layer of greenery hid the grafitti signature – a sign of her past, a signal from another time. Angeline pulled at the plants, tugged away the winding vines, and tried to uncover the writing. Bits of dust floated in the air around her. A few rotting bricks fell free and shattered as they hit the ground below. Cicadas sang a piercing song in the background, and she could hear the distant warning of a rattlesnake.
Within a few seconds, the signature became clear: ANGEL. Five interconnected letters scrawled in a flowery and looping hand in various shades of red and black. To anyone else – but there was no one else, she reminded herself – it would appear as just another forgotten work of graffiti, yet another fading reminder of another time, but to her it meant everything.
She looked up and down the empty overgrown streets. She stared up the side of the old bank building. It was hard to believe that she was in the same place, the same Birmingham she had known and loved. She remembered coming here and signing this so long ago. She remembered the rush she had felt at the time, worried a police officer might round the corner and catch her and Jesse with their cans of spray paint. With a pang, she wished a police officer would round the corner. It had been so long since she had seen one.
She ran her hands over the letters, felt the gritty bricks beneath her hand, and sighed.
The sounds of nature around her silenced. Then she heard the Wares. They yipped and yapped as they ran. She felt the rumble of the running pack beneath her feet and looked around for somewhere – anywhere – to hide. The buildings offered no protection.
Too many wires.
Too many eyes.
She saw a glint of gold shine through a pile of shrubbery. She ran over to it and moved some of the plants away and recognized the hidden form beneath the vegetation. It was the statue of Electra that had once stood atop the old Alabama Power building. She dove beneath it and peered out through the small hole she had created when entering her hiding place.
The wares rounded the corner. The leafy weeds around her swayed with the artificial wind created as the Wares sped by in a flurry of steel, plastic, and wire. She felt the rumble beneath her as the current reigning rulers of the earth passed. Trailing the pack, she saw Franklin. He was trying to keep up, but was left behind.
She wanted to reach out to him, to cradle him next to her like she had in her childhood, but she knew to do so would be suicide. Her toy was no longer a toy. He had long gone feral and joined the pack. He preferred being among his own, she knew, even if the pack disrespected him and left him behind. She had seen him a few times in the years since The Event, and every time he had trailed the pack, following them as they rumbled through the empty streets.
She still loved him, and still thought of him as her Franklin. Even grown feral, he was cute, a large robotic dancing baby with a docking station in the back for her ipod.
The Program had run rampant, stirring consciousness. It crept along the wired networks first. It found a comfortable refuge in the corporate buildings. The computerized machines used in manufacturing struck first. Isolated incidents and workplace accidents – seemingly unrelated – had been making headlines before Angeline had left town. Her newlywed husband Travis had been one of the casualties.
After Travis’s funeral, she decided to get away. She stayed up on Sand Mountain where her parents had long owned a primitive hunting cabin. Her plan was to stay a few weeks and then return to work and her life. Those weeks turned into months and still she grieved.
Sometime while she was gone, The Program hit the wireless networks.
By the time she finally made it back, there was nothing left to return to. The wares had decimated the population. As far as she knew, she was all that was left.
Seeing Franklin, she felt a pang. She had discarded him years ago, and now he had returned — but not to her. She watched him trail the pack around the corner and then let out a long exhale. She had not even realized she had been holding her breath until after the wares passed.
Cicadas and the rattlesnake resumed their songs. Like them she was another survivor, but she was too afraid to sing and, besides, there was no one around to appreciate her song.
She left her hiding place and began to jog in the opposite direction of the wares. Her shoulder hurt from the weight of the five gallon gasoline tank she used as her canteen. It sloshed as she ran, sounding half-empty. She worried her shoulder could not take any more weight, but knew she would need to fill it the rest of the way up before heading back to home.
“Home” was inside a magnolia tree suffocated by a wall of kudzu. It was in what used to be her front yard before the electronics in the house left the lot barren. She shared her home with the cockroaches. As much as they had disgusted her in her former life, she had grown used to her new roommates — even appreciating their vitality in the face of so much death. She grew to like them so much, she was always sure to leave them a little food in her discarded canned goods.
As the years passed, the corpses of humanity decomposed. The stench of death she met when first returning to her hometown had long since blown away. Few traces of humanity remained. In the suburbs, those faint traces were nearly non-existent. Her weekly trip to Birmingham was all she had to keep her sane. It had become a pilgrimage of sorts to remind her of humanity’s former place in the scheme of things. Humanity’s fingerprints were still left in the brick and mortar walls, in the crumbling statues, even in the steel girders serving as the bones of the skyscrapers. Humanity remained in the design despite the fact that all wired architecture now housed the Wares.
She recited Shelly’s “Ozymandias” while walking through the empty streets. Out of habit, she read the poem to herself nightly from a battered paperback literature omnibus she had found inside the remnants of a college bookstore. As she fell asleep, she would quote the final couplet repeatedly:
“What powerful but unrecorded race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.”
She wondered if one day a future poet might see the remains of her society and be inspired to write words with such depth, meaning, and clarity of thought. At night, hearing the insect chirps in the trees, feeling the pounding of the Wares through the empty streets and highways nearby, she realized words had grown meaningless in this new world. She realized that they always were meaningless. They were never anything more than signals. Her graffiti, her name — ANGEL — held no significance to the current inhabitants of the world. It was just another word, another lost signal, without meaning now that the lexicon was gone.