• May 26, 2024

Seeds of the Unspoken, Water of Change – A Science Fiction Short Story by Talulah Pellon – Reedsy Prompts

The buzz of anticipation had created a charged atmosphere of resolve and silent narratives that each of the eighty-eight runners carried with them. Kael’s assertion, almost to herself, was a whisper lost in the cacophony of nervous energy, “We’re chasing after a finish line that doesn’t exist.”

The runner beside her, his long limbs a stark contrast against the short, sharp shadows of the morning sun, glanced at her with a bemused expression. “Sorry?” he asked, his brow furrowed under a bandana streaked with sweat before the race had even begun.

“That’s what they say the purpose of these ultra-marathons is,” Kael elaborated, her tone light but her eyes distant, “to seek something beyond the tangible… like a finish line that’s not marked on our GPS. It’s about awareness, being present—seeing the end with more than just our eyes.”

He exhaled a chuckle, the tension in his shoulders easing. “I suppose I should take in the scenery then—a desk jockey like me doesn’t often get this much sun and sky.”

Kael offered a polite nod, her smile a transient guest on her lips as she turned her attention to the sea of participants. Among them were individuals from all corners of the world, united in a cause to traverse the desolate beauty of a Los Angeles forever altered by climate’s merciless hand. The city was a canvas of contradictions, where nature’s resilience battled against human desertion. Above, drones hummed, capturing every moment of the grueling journey for those who watched from the safety of their screens, making Kael feel like an exhibit in a vast, open-air terrarium.

Her survey halted as she caught sight of Finn. He stood apart from the throng, an island of solitude in a stream of chatter and last-minute jitters. The gulf between them was a testament to the shared past that had once bound them, now a chasm of silence and regret. She had been aware of his participation, yet the reality of confronting him was a storm she hadn’t yet braced for.

The horn’s blare was abrupt, a clarion call that set the mass of bodies in motion. Kael found herself alongside the tech-savvy runner, whose earlier quip was now replaced by a quiet, almost reverent contemplation of the challenge ahead.

“First time?” he ventured, his tone a mix of camaraderie and genuine curiosity.

“Feels like it,” Kael replied, her voice betraying nothing of the emotional undertow beneath. “Some paths, though, are meant to be retraced.”

His nod was one of awkward solidarity as they surrendered to the marathon’s rhythm, a companionable silence enveloping them as they joined the collective stride down lanes where nature had begun to stake its claim, vines creeping over concrete skeletons, a visual elegy to a city yet to be reborn from its own ashes.

Ahead, Finn’s figure cut a solitary silhouette against the backdrop of urban decay, his movements deliberate, each step a testament to his purpose. Kael understood that each runner bore their own catalyst for joining this pilgrimage of pain and endurance. For her, it was not about the camaraderie that electrified the air but a personal rite of passage—a journey that might, with hope, lead her toward the closure that had long eluded her grasp.

Their parallel courses were a dance as old as time, the pull and push of proximity weaving the story of two lives intertwined and unraveled. They had come together in the spontaneity of youth, their paths crossing and recrossing through the ebb and flow of choices and consequences. College sweethearts turned eloped lovers, their whirlwind romance had culminated in a pregnancy that both bound and broke them. Now, five years since the cataclysm that had upended everything, Kael braced herself for the inevitability of facing Finn, not as a partner, but as a specter of what once was and what might never be again.

As the marathon snaked through the skeletal remains of downtown Los Angeles, Kael fell into the rhythmic cadence that only long-distance runners know—the meditative sync of heartbeat and breath, footfall, and pulse. In the solitude of the run, Kael found her solace, her mind drifting to a place of quiet reflection, away from the turmoil that had churned within her since the day she and Finn had said goodbye.

Beside her, the tech guy seemed equally absorbed in his own version of the experience. It happened that when Kael felt the need to rest and take a sip from her hipflask, the man also decided to pause. They were in front of the entrance to a cul-de-sac and had found both of their gazes on a small seedling stubbornly sprouting through a crack in the concrete. Kael was weirdly in awe of this living testament to resilience in the baking heat. The guy pointed to it, a warm light of recognition in his eyes.

“Would you look at that?” he marveled. “Life finds a way, doesn’t it? Almost like it’s determined to start all over again, right here in the ruin.”

Kael nodded, her gaze lingering on the seedling. “It’s like those Earthseed verses from that old book, ‘God is change,'” she quoted softly. “Makes you wonder if we’re witnessing the beginning of a new world, doesn’t it?”

He glanced at her, a spark of interest in his expression. “You read Butler?” he asked, pleasantly surprised. “I didn’t take you for the Sci-fi type.”

“More of a philosophy type, I guess,” Kael replied, a wistful smile touching her lips. “The idea that we shape God through our actions… it resonates, especially now.”

They smiled at each other for a few brief moments before the guy went on silently without her for a short distance. Kael did as well, but not before tugging a white dandelion-like flower that sprouted a short distance away. She ran on, contemplating the seedling’s silent sermon.

The sun climbed higher, its relentless gaze turning the marathon path into a heat ribbon. Kael’s shadow stretched long and lean on the cracked pavement, a silent companion in her solitary race. Up ahead, the figure of Finn moved with a steadfastness that belied the surrounding chaos of the marathon. His strides were measured, his focus unyielding, as though each step was a conscious defiance of the world’s entropy.

Kael’s pace quickened, a subconscious pull toward the familiar. As the distance between them narrowed, her mind replayed fragments of the past, each memory a shard of the life they once shared.

The tech guy wiped his brow, soaked from the effort and the heat.

“Name’s Tad, by the way,” he said, extending a sweaty hand, a half-grin on his face. “I figure if we’re going to suffer through this hellscape together, we might as well be on a first-name basis.”

Kael smiled, accepting the handshake. “Kael,” she introduced herself. “Suffering together sounds about right.”

Their exchange was cut short as Finn slowed, syncing his pace with theirs. His eyes met Kael’s, a storm of electric emotions passing through them, too complex to decipher in the brief moment before he looked away.

“Water station’s just around the bend,” Finn said, his voice neutral, addressing both Kael and Tad, but the undercurrent of their shared past was undeniably present in his tone. “We should all stock up.”

Tad nodded appreciatively. “Good call. I don’t feel at all prepared for this heat. It’s like running through a furnace.”

When they reached the water station, Finn grabbed three bottles from the heat-resistant cabinet, passing one to Tad and offering the other to Kael. Their fingers brushed, a spark of their old connection reigniting for a fleeting second.

“Thanks,” Kael murmured, her throat tight, not just from dehydration but from the proximity to Finn… to what used to be.

Finn merely nodded, his gaze now locked on the horizon, where the ruins of downtown loomed, a jagged silhouette against the sky. “Change,” he said suddenly as if the word was wrenched from somewhere deep within. “It’s all we can count on, isn’t it?”

Kael looked at him, really looking, seeing not just the man who had shared her life but the individual who had faced the maelstrom of change alongside her. “Yeah,” she agreed, her voice barely above a whisper. “The only constant.”

They ran on, the trio now a unit of shared endurance. Tad spoke of his work designing widgets for different devices, his voice animated as he described the longing for the outdoors that had driven him to sign up for the marathon. Kael listened, but her thoughts remained anchored to Finn, to the unspoken words that hung between them like the onmi-present dust in the air.

Their trail wound its way through the remnants of a city park, where the drought-resistant plants had taken over, a wild tangle of life amid desolation. Finn reached out, breaking a branch that obstructed their path, clearing the way for Kael and Tad.

“Always looking for a damsel to save, aren’t you?” Kael said, the corner of her mouth lifting in a sardonic smile.

Finn shot her a look, a flicker of warmth in his eyes. “Some things never change,” he replied, the ghost of their former intimacy hanging in the air.

As they passed the park, the memories seemed to recede, allowing them to be three runners among many, each seeking their own finish line in the ruins of a world that had moved on without them.

 Kael and Finn’s labored breaths were in harmony with the rain pounding as the sky above Los Angeles unleashed a fury of water in a shockingly short amount of time. Transforming the marathon route into a steady forest stream, but then a treacherous river. Once a scattered mosaic of color against the city’s grey palette, the runners were now indistinguishable figures battling against nature’s sudden onslaught.

Tad lost to the surge before they knew what was happening and began floating behind them down the street. Leaving Kael and Finn to navigate the chaos as they searched for a way to climb the roof of one of the shorter buildings. The water, a ravenous beast, rose swiftly, clawing at their upper bodies, threatening to drag them into its murky depths. It was Finn who acted with urgency, reaching for the sturdiest remnant of a half-drowned tree that would allow them to reach one of the rooves of a two-story store. He was desperately pulling Kael towards him.

“Grab my hand!” he yelled, his voice barely slicing through the cacophony of rain and rushing water.

Kael’s fingers found his in a desperate clasp, and together they scrambled up the tree and onto the building. Below them, the water swirled with the debris of a dead city, swallowing the path they had run on just moments before.

Perched uneasily, Kael turned to Finn, her face a canvas of raw emotion. “Where’s Tad?” she shouted, her voice laced with concern.

Finn’s eyes scoured the turbulent waters, then met hers, somber and clear. “I don’t know. He might have made it to higher ground.”

Silence enveloped them for a moment, punctuated only by the sounds of the deluge and thunder.

Finn broke the quiet, his tone hesitant. “Is he… are you two…?” The question hung incomplete, suspended in the air between them.

Kael’s laugh, sharp and short, cut through the tension. “No, Finn. There’s no ‘two.’ There hasn’t been since…” Her voice trailed off; the sentence was unfinished but understood.

Finn looked away, then back at her, his face etched with lines of regret. “I never wanted things to end the way they did. After… everything.”

Her eyes, reflecting the storm around them, met his. “But it did end, Finn. And we’ve been running ever since, haven’t we?”

He nodded, his hand reaching out, not for support, but in a gesture of connection. “Maybe we’ve been running from the wrong things.”

Kael leaned into the touch, “Yes… maybe we’ve been running from the wrong things… from each other.”

For a long time, they sat at their feet, the tree cradling their shared past as the waters raged below. In its indiscriminate fury, the flood forced them into a closeness they had avoided for years, breaking down walls and filling the spaces between with the torrent of unspoken truths.

As the storm began to abate, the water’s retreat laid bare the altered landscape of the city and their lives. Climbing down from their temporary shelter, Kael and Finn were different than when they had ascended—soaked, shivering, but strangely cleansed.

In the clearing haze, Kael and Finn found themselves side by side, their shared silence a testament to the understanding that had quietly unfolded between them. The storm’s chaos seemed a world away as they rested on the remains of a bench, once a park fixture now barely recognizable.

Finn picked at the peeling paint of the bench, his voice barely above a whisper, “Do you remember when Leira asked if the world would ever be like the stories? Full of green forests and clean rivers?”

Kael’s eyes shimmered with the recollection. “She wanted to see the world we saw in our old picture books. I didn’t have the heart to tell her it was already too late.”

He nodded, the lines on his face deepening. “I used to tell her we’d make our own little paradise, right in the backyard.” A soft, sorrowful chuckle escaped him. “She believed me.”

“She believed in a lot of things,” Kael added, her voice thick with emotion. “She believed we could fix it all.”

Kael remembered the summer Leira had passed- the relentless heat, the drought, and the afternoon she had been lost outside their community for hours. She didn’t want to remember what had happened when they’d finally found her- but it was inevitable. “Why was it us? Why was it her?” She found herself asking him.

The question that never went away.

Finn reached out, his hand covering Kael’s. “We did everything we could, Kael. It had to happen to someone. Why shouldn’t it have been us?”

The sorrow was tangible, wrapping around them like the creeping vines that overtook the city’s forgotten walls. “She was our little sprout,” Finn said, his voice breaking. “I keep thinking she’ll appear somewhere, out of the concrete, reaching for the sun.”

Kael said nothing to this and let the silence hang between them. Eventually, they stood and walked amongst the washed-away streets to find the race organization’s rescue team. The workers wrapped them in blankets and separated them into two tents, separated by gender. Kael did not look for Finn again after that.

When she emerged after a few hours of rest from the tent, she found herself walking the streets alone as the sun was setting. Everything was dry now, and it was as though the flood had never happened.

She came upon the tree that had allowed Finn and her to reach safety on a roof and climbed it without thinking about why she was doing so. At the top, she found that Finn had also returned to the same spot and then gone on his way. He seemed to have made a small shrine with bits of debris and concrete at the place where they’d spoken during the storm. In the center, he had piled up dirt that had washed onto the roof and written Leira’s name with a stick.

Kael took out the flower that had survived in her pocket despite the day’s happenings and dug the seeds into the mound that Finn had made. She smiled, knowing that one day, this building would collapse, but there would still be some life that they had touched together going onward.

And so, Kael, too, went onwards. Through the park, through the city in the cool, humid night. And onto what change would come next.

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