The Seattle Public Library had a flash fiction contest, so I entered it. The aim was to celebrate the late Octavia Butler, a writer I’m sad to have only just learned about, on the anniversary of her death. I wish I would have known about her when I was much younger and more willing to take myself down dark paths.
I was informed that I did not win, so I guess it’s OK for me to “publish” my work now.
It Was a Cloudy Afternoon
It is Saturday and I’m putting on my shoes. I drag out the process, like a toddler getting ready for bed. When it comes to walking I’m of two minds. Having lived in New York for some years, I’ve walked miles with no complaint. Having lived in Seattle now even longer, I’ve grown lazy and impatient. “Can’t we just drive? It will be faster.” Sometimes I say this out loud. Mostly I keep my whining internal.
Once outside, I forget my struggle. The daffodils have started blooming, the cherry blossoms budding. Small, brown birds are chirping from the bare branches of trees. We can smell food grilling somewhere. There is a thick layer of clouds making the air cool but not cold. The sidewalk is clear and smooth. It’s never as bad as the anticipation.
We’re analyzing the architecture of the houses we pass, marveling at the uniformity in what ostensibly are unique, old buildings. Each facade its own color, windows placed similarly but with varying shapes. We lament the proliferation of new construction, devoid of personality. “Was it really any better fifty, sixty years ago? Back then, each family was packaged in their own little box, the same but different from the one next door. Now the packaging might be uglier, but really the only thing that’s changed is that we’re packed in bulk.”
On the corner waiting for the signal to cross Interlake Avenue, we pat the head of the bronze walrus. “Remember when this whole block was scaffolding?” We’re startled by a flash of light streaking by overhead. Another whizzes over, then several more. The air fills with static electricity, and I have an uneasy feeling in my stomach.
We continue east on Forty-fifth, not saying anything, but walking with urgency now. A few more flashes slice through the sky as we pass the Mexican restaurant. The library is on the next block, and we go inside.
A few people have also seen the light show from inside and have gathered near the windows. We join them in the northeast corner, where we can get the widest view. Those who had still been seated when we entered raise their heads one by one. Each one fills in the spaces at the perimeter of the room. Everyone is now pressed up against each other, gaping silently out the windows.
Whirlpools form in the cloud cover, and out of them reach slender black legs. I can see this happening across our entire vista. The closest is not quite overhead, maybe above Ravenna. The spindly legs reach down further from the flashing clouds, followed by glistening black vessels hundreds of feet across.
A whimper breaks the silence. We turn to each other with expectant faces. Someone must know what is happening. In a moment there is a burst of activity. The librarians lock the doors, the lights are turned off, orders are given to be seated among the book stacks. We could be the lucky ones, they say, since the food bank is in the same building. I’m not sure luck has anything to do with it.
The invasion has begun.