This was a story I dug up from a prompt- it has a certain 2012 end of the world feel to it.
“Dancing” 1,164 words
He was alone.
Last year he might have predicted things would work out this way. Someone who had been given such a gift-entrusted with it, really- would never simply continue life as it had been known before. He should have known.
And here it was again, this holiday time of year. The calendar told him it was 2012, and his life was different.
The change went much deeper than a season or being a year older. It went under his skin, as deep as his soul-if he permitted himself to believe in such a thing.
Life was like that, he thought. It could strip everything away from you in the blink of any eye. And then it could restore everything you had lost-give you even more, in fact, than you had ever had- with the same lightning speed.
He knew that now. Daniel closed his eyes and gave silent thanks. He was still here, still alive. One year ago he had been on vacation, his first time away with his girlfriend, Amy. The days were hot; the tropics lived up to their promise of endless sunshine. The most taxing decision they had to make was which seaside restaurant they would have dinner in.
In this realm of paradise, where it was easiest to do so, Daniel decided he loved Amy more than anyone on earth, more than anyone before or since would love another human being. Amy seemed comfortable enough with the goddess stature he’d imposed on her so the days passed in a mixture of suntan lotion under beach umbrellas, drawn out declarations of love, and the tangle of sheets.
The hotel activities which they had heretofore ignored included an evening of dancing to an orchestra. Amy pleaded, “Come on. When will we have a 50’s moment again?”
“I can’t dance.”
“You don’t have to. You just glide around the floor.”
Daniel put on the only long pants and shirt he’d brought; Amy looked gorgeous in a long silk dress and her blond hair piled up in a twist.
“Where did you pull that out of?” Daniel eyed her dress.
“It travels well and you never know.”
They started on the rum cocktails and like Amy had promised, they glided around the floor. The punch went down so easily, spinning around the room, Daniel just stopped short of dropping Amy on the floor. She couldn’t stop laughing. She protested when Daniel tried to get her back to her room. He got as far as the mezzanine. Amy sank into one of the sofas and immediately closed her eyes. Daniel fought off the woozy headspinning sleep as long as he could.
He woke to silence. It was light so he knew it had to be morning. Amy was sprawled out on the leather sofa with drool coming out of the corner of her mouth. Daniel tested his arms and legs to determine what part of his body was stiffest. “I haven’t fallen asleep on a chair since I was twenty.” He said to nobody as if excusing himself.
Amy was still asleep so he decided to bring her a coffee to ease her into the morning. His head throbbed as he stood up. There was a railing on the mezzanine that overlooked the hotel lobby. Nothing could have prepared him for what he saw.
It was as if all the humans below had been frozen in a moment of time. There were receptionists slumped over the hotel desks, a bellboy sprawled out next to a luggage cart. Daniel took a deep breath. What happened? He felt suspended in time, like he’d entered some weird movie set or fantasy world by stepping through the wrong door. As he stood paralized, an older gentleman came up to him and hugged him. “Thank God, I was beginning to think I was the only one left.”
Daniel took a moment to process this, “What happened?”
“Gas, a gas leak. I think.”
Daniel clutched his head. That explained the headache, but not why he hadn’t succumbed. He ran immediately to Amy and shook her awake. She was barely responsive. He and the stranger dragged her outside where she started to cough. “What’s wrong?” She looked at Daniel. “Who’s he?”
Daniel didn’t want her to see. “Something terrible has happened. We have to stay outside.” He looked at the stranger as if to give him a warning not to say more.
“It’s so quiet out here.” The man said looking around.
“It’s early yet.” Daniel said hopefully. “Should we call the police?”
“I have. No answer.”
Dan felt his entire body shake. The three walked down to the harbor where there would ordinarily be a hub of activity with fishermen coming back from a night at sea. “Radio? Do you have a radio?” Dan asked the man.
They walked until they heard sound coming from a café on the beach. The proprietor waved them in and served them coffee as if it we a normal day. He spoke a Pidgin English they had a hard time deciphering. An explosion of a transport ship had released huge amounts of carbon dioxide. “Dry ice,” Daniel couldn’t believe dry ice was a danger. He tried to ask the café owner, “Will they wake up?”
The man understood and shook his head. They left the café and went to the shipping office where an agent was stationed. “What the hell happened?” Daniel asked.
“They got the ship out to sea.” The man had tears in his eyes. “Everyone is staying indoors. You should be too.”
“That can’t be safer. Everyone is...” Daniel was still trying to protect Amy. “Can we get out of here?”
“There might be a fishing boat that can take you as far as San Jose.”
The stranger who was with them broke down and starting crying. Amy took his hand trying to comfort him.
Daniel went back to the room to collect their things and by late afternoon they were on a plane headed for New York. As the plane took off, he spotted the glow of a ship burning in the distance. On the flight they spoke little; Daniel couldn’t begin to comprehend what had occurred.
It took him months of internet searches on toxic gas and doctor’s visits to try to make sense of the explosion. In the process he lost Amy. At first they tried to find that happiness again, but it was always tinged with death, a sadness that wasn’t spoken about but present in every moment they spent together. Nothing specific marked the end; their calls became less frequent. They made excuses for not getting together.
Still, Daniel was alive while so many weren’t. Sometimes when he walked to work in the city, he stopped and looked around him. Every single person he saw would die. Yes, they would all be dead at some unknown point in the future, but for the moment, he was still breathing and that gave him great happiness.