All-Consuming by Jessica McDermitt

Hissing acid rain beat on the wide glass windows, glowing red with the reflection of the fire. Beneath the window, an old man’s head jerked up from the pen strokes he studied like bacteria beneath a microscope. He peered at the fireplace, a heavy frown etched deep into his face.

The door swung open, creaking. A young man closed it softly behind himself.

“Father, it’s time.”

The old man stood and trudged toward the bookshelves lining the far wall. Books crammed together so tightly that the shelves sagged in the center. He glared at the shelf, eyes running along the worn spines.

The young man put his hands into his pockets, his voice weary as if he were repeating instructions to a toddler for the fifth time. “Father.”

“We do not need to go,” the old man said. He selected a heavy book and glared at his son as he opened it. Tree branches scraping the window echoed in the room like miners working through the night to breach enemy defenses.

“The rain’s through the attic ceiling already. We need to get to the safe zone.”

The old man frowned at the diagrams on the page. “I need to solve this problem.”

“Father—” The young man gripped his father’s shoulder with a hand like a talon. “Your books aren’t going to protect you.”

Wind rattled in the chimney. The old man threw off the hand, frowning fiercely.

“This is the only way to end it!” he almost shouted, his old voice as raspy as the branches drawing across the windows—quieter now, though the rain hissed down, unrelenting, eating everything in its path.

“You cannot stay here! No one can stop it!”

The old man met his son’s eye. The firelight reflected on the dark, dilated pupils.

“You mean you cannot.” Plunking into his chair, the old man buried his head in his hands. The elements howled in his ears, dragging at his thoughts, filling them. He stared again at the charts and scribbles on his paper.

“This is it,” he said, under his breath, to no one in particular. “It has to be.”

The paper, littered with chemical symbols and diagrams, fluttered as the young man approached.

“We don’t have time for this—”

“No!” The old man flung his arm backward, backhanding the young man across the nose. He stumbled backward into a bookshelf. The wind shrieked outside, unencumbered by the tree the rain had already consumed. Around the edges, steaming foam began to seep in at the window.

“All right.”

The young man straightened, wiped his mouth, and walked to the door. It snapped shut behind him.

The old man, panting, slid his head into his hands and tangled his fingers in his thinning white hair, pulling at it. Rocking back and forth, he stared at the papers on the desk and muttered.

This is all we need. All we need. All we need.

At the window, the rain worked its way in, nearer and nearer.

  • : Apocalyptic

Comments

  1. Chantel

    Hi Jessica
    I love your take on the prompt, and you’ve crafted a compelling short story here. Your imagery is also beautiful and alive, and you built tension well in 500 words. I think this is one my my favourites of yours. Well done

  2. Fizza Younis

    This is a great piece. I enjoyed the build-up of tension and frustration. I think it’s very well written and you’ve done a great job with the prompt. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Amrita Sarkar

    Hi,
    Okay so, first of all, this played out like a scene from some movie. Your description was really cinematic and engrossing. I love the manner in which you have built up the interest in the old man and his papers little by little. A practical mind might think it’s better to head the son’s advice. But the story really makes us sympathetic to the old man’s unwavered interest in the papers. That left a lot of questions in my mind. I really want to know what he was working on. Perhaps, you might consider continuing this? Just hoping. Great writing! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Jessica Post author

      Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the story! I intended the old man to be working on some chemical equations that would be the key to stopping or neutralizing the acid rain.

      Maybe I will continue in the future!

  4. Jared Fall

    Great story. My biggest complaint is that I want MORE lol.

    Please keep writing and sharing. And I think if you wanted to expand on this story, there would be an audience for it. Thank you!

    1. Jessica Post author

      I’m glad you enjoyed it! Maybe I will expand on it in the future. It was a lot of fun to write–and incidentally, I came up with it during a Children’s Literature class. Thanks for reading!

  5. Bob Krotz

    Hi Jessica,

    I’m a huge fan of Post-Apocalyptic fiction and this didn’t disappoint. How’re we going to pay Mother Nature when she calls in her chit? Great imagery. Nicely done!

    1. Jessica Post author

      Thank you! I am also a fan of post-apocalyptic and find myself reaching for it as a default. I have a few more pieces on my blog that I can link for you, if you are interested 🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed the story! Thanks for reading!

        1. Jessica Post author

          Here are a few!

          “Utopia” https://quirkycreativescribbles.blogspot.com/2019/07/utopia-july-22.html

          “Unshakable” https://quirkycreativescribbles.blogspot.com/2019/07/unshakable-july-16.html

          “Extravagant Dreams” https://quirkycreativescribbles.blogspot.com/2019/07/extravagant-dreams-july-8.html

          The blog itself is here: https://quirkycreativescribbles.blogspot.com/

          I post short stories outside of this challenge on the blog! I did 1 per day during July, so there are a bunch if you’re interested in reading them 🙂

  6. Irene

    You caught my attention from the first word and held it. Always the sign of a good story. The contrast between the young fleeing and the elderly solving was very effective.