The Day the World Turned Orange

“Hey, Hun,” Elise called, pausing as she grabbed her keys off the counter, eyes transfixed out the window in front of her.

“Yes?” Michael responded as he popped his head out of the bathroom. He followed his wife’s gaze. Toothbrush hanging out of his mouth.

She stood unblinking. “What’s wrong with the sky? Why’s it like that?”

He moved beside her. “I don’t know. Perhaps the clouds are reflecting the sunrise. It is almost five thirty.”

“Right. Almost five thirty?” Eyes widening, she trotted down the stairs. “I’m going to be late for work. I can’t get fired!” She flung open the door leading to the garage then elbowed the button to retract the large garage door. Placed her lunchbox in the passenger seat of her bright green Jeep.

However, her pace slowed to a crawl when she caught a glimpse of the outside world as she rounded the back of the Wrangler. Yes, the sun may start rising before five thirty, but it was never this bright. Nor was the entire air tinted orange. And that’s what it seemed like. As if someone spray-painted the air itself with a transparent, faint orange color. Never had she seen such a thing in her years of life.

“Whoa,” came Michael’s response as he stood in the doorway leading back into the house. “Were we transported into a video game in our sleep or what?”

She gave a short laugh. “Well, if we did, it was Fallout, and this is just after the bombs fell. But I guess I better get going. I can spectate this on my way.” After giving her husband a quick peck on the cheek, she pulled herself into the taller vehicle. Carefully backed out into the orange haze.

Honestly, the atmosphere was eerie. She wanted to declare this was an unbelievable phenomenon, but there was something about it that made her not want to make any final decisions on it. It was too quiet. Even for this early time of the day.

There were much fewer cars on the road taking her to her hardware store job. Normally, there was average of about fifty. Today, she counted thirteen. And they all had their windows tightly rolled shut even though the weather was lovely, despite the summer season.

Elise glanced at her two windows that were rolled down. Was there something in the air she didn’t know about? Did she need to roll up her windows? She looked around at the continued orange through the top of her windshield. Were there even clouds in the sky? She couldn’t see any kind of variations.

Ah, screw it. She was keeping her windows down. As weird as the sky was, it was too nice out to not have them down. Turning up the radio, she placed an elbow out the window. Thumb tapping the steering wheel. Although, her wary gaze didn’t lose true sight of the strange orange glow.

Soon, her nostrils flared. What was that burning smell? Her arm grew hot. She looked down and gave a yell of alarm as the top layers of her flesh bubbled red. Pulling her arm back inside the Jeep, she almost crashed the vehicle during her surprising discovery.

The subtle sizzling of her skin stopped once it was out of direct contact with the orange light. Her wide eyes studied her arm. She couldn’t feel much pain, but common sense told her not to put her arm back out. In fact, she rolled both windows up.

She stared at her festering wound. Returned her attention back outside. What was this orange glow? Where did it come from? There had been no alerts, no sirens in the night. Nothing to relay a national emergency. It clearly wasn’t safe, so why hadn’t she seen anything about it on her news feed when she played on her phone before getting ready?

Was this the result of government experiments? Or was this the pollution finally coming to wipe humans out. It wasn’t a bomb since there were no sirens. Unless certain people died, and no one was able to activate the sirens. She didn’t want to think about that.

The main worry for now was what could she find that would allow her to safely go out into the orange glow? Assuming she would ever find out what caused it and what it was made of. After sending a warning text to her husband, she continued on her way. If there was something she could make to protect herself, certainly the hardware store would have it. It didn’t seem to affect cars and houses, after all.

 

*Author’s Note: Yesterday morning, I did walk into my garage and lift the door to see the air painted with a faded orange. It was an unusual phenomenon. Of course, I ran through every fictional post-apocalyptic/sci-fi scenario I could before the science side of my brain kicked in and told me the crystalized water in the very low-hanging clouds was reflecting a bright orange sunrise down instead of out across the sky. It was ominous and beautiful at the same time. And, of course, I needed to write a short story about it. 

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Blossoming Morning

The morning begins in midnight blue
A fresh day barely waking
Then light glitters on the horizon
A new color palette making

The sun peeks onto the sky
Bringing forth deserved life
Then filling the world with warmth
Chasing away night’s strife

The midnight blue fades away
Revealing pastels of dawn
Then the floodgates open
The morning in full blossom

Hope

Today, I was honestly going to talk about abandonment. My fear of it, how I respond to it, how I deal with it in my everyday life, etc. However, that’s not going to be today’s memoir subject. This morning, I woke up and said no. I will say I’m stuck in an emotional rut right now, but I’m tired of the negativity. I’m tired of feeling sorry for myself. Tired of taking everything personally. Because, guess what? It’s not all about me. It’s not all about one person. And I’m glad. I don’t want that pressure. I’m not sure of anyone who would.

I feel like if you survey 100 people, most will give you different ways for how they define “hope.” I’m not going to pull the dictionary out for this one. (Yes, I use physical dictionaries instead of Google. Thesauruses, too. I’d rather personally smack someone upside the head with knowledge if it came down to it. Burglars, beware!) Instead, I want to talk about how I define hope. Also, I’m just lazy. I’m not even going to lie.

When I hear the word, I firstly think of one of my best friends who goes by the same name. I’ve always been a person of few enemies and even fewer friends. However, my pretty much sister-from-another-mister and I have been friends for several years. Sometimes, I honestly wonder how we’ve made it this far. It’s no secret I’m an emotional person. I’ve put her through things she nowhere near deserved, so we’ve had our ups and downs like any relationship. But, we’ve made it work, and that’s how I know she’s a real friend.

What do I think of secondly? Well, when I try to think of how I would define hope, my brain flat lines for a few moments. Then it’s all over the place. So I never get a clear answer. People like to say things like, “Oh, I hope the weather stays nice,” or “Man, I really hope my team wins this year.” The only sport I repeatedly watch is NASCAR, so I’ve been known to say, “I hope my favorite driver wins at the end of a good race.” I’ll delve into NASCAR some other time.

All that is fine and dandy. I’m not saying it isn’t. I feel like there’s something more to those four letters than just wishful thinking. I’m a Christian; I was raised Southern Baptist. (Shocking since I tend to write dark and supernatural stuff, eh?) So hope can be capitalized when using it as one of God’s many, many epithets. Even still, I think the meaning of hope can dive deeper because I don’t believe it only pertains to religion. Although one could argue hope can be aligned with faith. Or dreams, for that matter.

My hopes and dreams? Of course, I hope to become a published author. I’ve been diligently working on my first novel. I hope people will read it, and it will touch them in some way. I hope they’ll connect to my characters. I hope readers will walk away with a new perspective on life. I have the typical aspirations of every author. Becoming published is my goal in life.

Yet, there’s still an itch that needs to be scratched. And it’s rather personal. I’m constantly hoping I will change. I mean, down on my knees, begging and hoping I will change. Not in a physical sense. Nor the idea I need to change to fit the world’s mold sense. An emotional sense. Most of the time, the only way I make through each day is hoping I’ll eventually be better. I don’t handle stress well. I tend to lash out at those I care about most. I have no self-confidence. I question my own judgement. I’m always lost in the vast oceans of my inner demons and turmoils. Wrestling with myself day in and day out. As a result, I’m perpetually exhausted. Both mentally and physically.

Hope keeps me alive. I know I’ll be better one day. I have to be better some day. I could go on a whole “religious rant,” but I’m not going to. Here’s why. I’m learning that I am not in control. No matter what religion you are, whether you’re religious or not, one thing stays the same. Life was not created to be controlled. Our best attempts fail. Such is the way of humanity and its hubris.

Long story short, my hope is my reason for life. My passions, my dreams are all funneled through this tiny little of strand of hope I desperately hold on to. That is how I would define the word. Outside of my friend, of course. The will of life is what hope means to me. The motivation to move on, push forward. And, yes, there are actual steps I can take to better myself. I’ve been taking them, slowly but surely. To me, though, it all means nothing if I don’t have hope.

 

The Fall

The water thundered over the side of the cliff, tumbling down below. The mist roiled skyward. But such was the ways of waterfalls. A peaceful yet violent force of nature.

She stood atop the falls, surveying the land below. It had taken her three hours to climb to the precipice, and it had been worth every second. The serene atmosphere gave her plenty of time to reflect. And nothing in her mind had changed.

Recently, it had occurred to her what life really meant. How futile human existence was. Their purpose was to make the world a better place. And how miserable they failed. That’s why their lives were less than a hundred years. Why would they live longer lives? They were only selfish beings who honestly deserved less.

It was why she climbed to the falls. Her life had been nothing but a selfish disaster. A selfish disappointment. She would make the world a better place by returning her body to fertilize the earth. It had been something that filled her with fear, but no more. It was something she came to terms with. Something she wanted.

Her eyes closed as the waterfall breeze mingled the spray with hair. It was time. Holding out her arms, she leaned forward. Felt the rush of the wind against her face. Tingling every nerve.

Ten.

She had no regrets.

Nine.

No fear.

Eight.

No more reason to live.

Seven.

This was her wish.

Six.

Her peace.

Five.

Her freedom.

Four.

She smiled.

Three.

No one would ever see her again.

Two.

Her body hit the water.

One….

Swift Winds

A clock chimed the lonely hour
While I found myself in a tower
Looking down below
Dragons, their teeth did they show
Swift winds and there I went
While the world shook and bent

Bells tolled their tune
While I found myself on a dune
Looking around, nothing I saw
Except the sand opening a jaw
Swift winds and there I went
While the world shook and bent

Croaking came from a toad
While I found myself on a road
Looking side to side, I saw a ghost town
Phantoms coming to devour me down
Swift winds and there I went
While the world shook and bent

Singing came from afar
While I found myself on a bar
Looking around, what did I see
A siren calling my death to me
Swift winds and there I went
While the world shook and bent

Looking around, I was found dumb
Because my time had not actually come
Swift winds and there I went
While the world shook and bent

*Author’s Note: I pulled this one out of the archives. Back in middle school, I loved learning about Edgar Allen Poe. I created this then, inspired by his work. I had thought this seemed similar to his creations. Now, I read this and chuckle to myself.

Forgiveness

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I sat on my bedroom floor, curled up in a corner. Everything falling apart. Tears flooded my face. I was a bad person. I didn’t deserve to be on this Earth anymore. My knuckles turned white around the knife. I would be doing the world a favor if I left. I caused more harm than good by being here. No one would miss me. Everyone would be better off without me.

Throwing my head back into the wall, my chest rose and fell with hard sobs. My body trembled. I looked down at the knife in my hand. It wouldn’t go anywhere. But I needed to go. What purpose did I have on this planet? After all the bad things I’ve done…how could anyone forgive me? Everyone simply acted like they loved me. Nobody needed me. Nobody wanted me.

I didn’t even want myself. I hated me. And if I hated me, certainly everyone else did. I was so pathetic, I couldn’t even make myself bleed. There was no controlling the snot mingling with tears on my face. I was a mess. Had always been a mess. I screwed up everything. Never made anyone happy. Never let myself be happy. All I did was ruin everything. I needed to go.

But I never could go. I watched the knife shake in my hand for an hour. It never went anywhere. It stayed in my sweaty grasp. My depressed sobbing had turned into cries of anger. Why couldn’t I die? Why did I need to live? What purpose did I have other than torturing myself? Could I wish myself away? Could I will myself to death? The knife wasn’t doing me any good. My body went limp from exhaustion. What was I even doing here?

Then I heard something other than the voices in my head. I heard soft crying. I blinked back pooled tears. On the other side of my room was a little girl. Her knees up to her chin, head in her arms. She looked familiar to me. Behind her played blurry, one-sided and biased events. My wall had become a projection screen for her past. Though her past wasn’t quite clear. Sniffing, I rose.

“Don’t you see?” she screamed. “Don’t you see how bad of a person I am?” The events slowly became clearer. “Dont’ you see what I’ve done? I’m a bad person. Nobody loves me. How can anybody love me?”

I swallowed. Beginning to understand. Those events…I remembered them as clear as day. Her past was mine. Everything I had done. Everything that caused me so much anxiety. Everything I couldn’t forgive myself for. All the reasons why I hated myself. My eyes darted over the various incidents. Brimming with tears again until they overflowed. “Can’t you see how bad I am?” she pressed. “I’m a terrible person.”

Dropping down next to her, I held her in my arms. Buried my head in hers. My heart ached for this little girl who carried so much weight. “No…” I barely managed talking through my crying. Squeezed her tighter. “All of those things…just because you did something wrong doesn’t make you a bad person.” I choked. “You’re not evil. You are loved. I love you. And even if nobody else does, I-I…forgive you. I forgive you for the things you’ve done.”

Her head lifted, glistening eyes meeting mine. “Then you have forgiven yourself.” I blinked. “What?” But I studied her. That was why she looked familiar. She was me. The part of my soul I kept buried in guilt and shame. I couldn’t stop crying. It was all sinking in. She smiled. “I am you, and you have forgiven me. You have finally forgiven yourself. You no longer need to carry the hatred for yourself.”

She radiated warmth while I sat in stunned silence. Tears stopped raining down. My heart no longer hurt, and my soul felt lighter. What happened? I looked at the knife on the floor. No longer wishing to take my own life. I blinked again. It had been years of not letting go. And…it was this hard but also this easy all along? She suddenly burst into thousands of glowing particles and absorbed into me. “I forgive you,” she whispered, “I love you. You have forgiven yourself. You have set yourself free.” I whispered back, “I am free.”

Dark Waters

“Has anyone looked at the river’s dark waters and wondered how inviting they might actually be?” I asked no one in particular. None of my characters answered me. They didn’t have anything to say this time. So I pulled onto the exit ramp and finished my drive to riverfront. When I parked, I could vaguely see, across the street, the water’s reflection in my headlights. A deep breath turned everything off. Long strides guided me to the bank. The river flowed about ten feet below.

I didn’t know how many times I had come to this spot. Whether it was to clear my mind, enjoy the day, or find inspiration for my work. I even made the mighty river a character. I liked to think Jormungandr, the great serpent, resided beneath the surface. So many times had I come to him for advice. Tonight, he was silent. It was if he knew my true intentions. My alterior motives.

Sighing, I sank to my butt and drew my knees to my chin. Never taking my eyes off the body of water. Jorg, you there? The river remained still, but I imagined a giant black snake head rising. His gazed pierced my soul. Yes, fleshling. My eyes watered. I’m done. A tongue flicked in and out. Again?   This time it’s for good. I mean it.   What happened? I buried my head in my arms. I’m selfish, uncaring, hurtful. I don’t think. I never think. I just ruin everything. No one would miss me. I’m not good at life.

His head came closer. Eyes bearing into me even more. Who is? We’re allowed to make mistakes. We learn and move on. I sniffed. Wouldn’t it be ironic if I was eaten by the Devourer, the one I gave to this river?    I’m not eating you. You jump, and I’ll spit you right back out. My head lifted as I glared. Why won’t you help me? Can’t you see I’m broken and can’t be fixed? His acidic laugh drowned the rushing river. No one is broken beyond repair. Not even me. Think about those you would leave behind–    I did. They’re better off without me. All I do is make things worse. He shook his head. If you did, they would never be around you. Think about your work. All those characters who will never see the light of day because you’ll be gone. No one will be able to meet them. They’ll never exist and be lost. Don’t you want them among the world? 

I sighed once more. They’re not even that good. I startled when someone suddenly yelled my name. Jormungandr vanished to the back of my mind. My name sounded again. I glanced over my shoulder. It was my love. He sprinted toward me. Slid next to me and enveloped me in his arms. He buried his head on top of mine. “I thought I was too late. What are you doing out here?” I stared at the water before bursting into tears. “I don’t know.” He took my face in his hands, pressing his lips against my forehead. “Do not take yourself away from me. That is a hole the world could not fill.”

My eyes squeezed shut. I trembled but allowed myself to be held. Finally buried my head in his chest. “I can’t keep making everyone’s lives worse.” “You don’t, hun. You don’t. You make it better. Each person brings their own challenges. Do you love me less for my imperfections?” His question caught me off guard. “No.” He held me tighter. “Then why would I love you less for yours? How about we get you home, okay? Can we do that?”

Opening my eyes, I saw Jormungandr again. The snake gave a nod. Go. Be loved. Remember I will not eat you. You have too much potential for something so trivial. I swallowed as he merged with the river. Nodded. “Yeah. I’ll go home.” I was helped to my feet. Led back across the street. I looked behind me. Jorg had said his peace. He offered no protest with my decision. His image had vanished. He would not take my life. All that remained were lethal dark waters.