An essay by Eloise Dustmote, as provided by Marlee Jane Ward
Art by Scarlett O’Hairdye
When you live just a few clicks off the contamination zone, it ain’t a simple thing to meet babes. I mean, I’m not fussy or nothing, but I do have my standards. I like a higher teeth-to-bare-gum ratio and that don’t leave me many options, yeah? And sneaking off for a quick one just isn’t easy as all that. It’s hard to slip in the tongue when you’re both wearing particle filters.
I’m leaning over a booth, wiping the same spot on the table and staring at the void again. Late at night I’ll get to staring and it’s like the formica tabletop drops down and I can see past it to infinity. I know I should be filling the syrup bottles, but I’m gazing right at forever and it’s vast like … like …
I drag myself outta the void and look up through the window. All day I’d been thinking that a storm might be brewin’ and I’m right. Sure won’t be any customers tonight, not when the sand is like to grate your skin right off. I sigh.
The floodlights outside illuminate nothing but dust swirling. It twirls and grates against the window and it’s like I can see shapes in it, sand turbines spinning, a mouse tail curling, the outline of a man. The man-shape moves and I blink. Am I hallucinating again? Shit, I hate it when that happens.
Thump. A hand, right against the window.
I rush to the decon room, step quick-smart into the haz-suit we’ve got set up for emergencies, and in no time I’m out the door, feeling my way along the wall until I right trip on the lumpen body collapsed-like by the window. I’m but a scrap of a thing, even so, I get him by the leg and drag him towards the door. He comes to about halfway there after a few good clunks over rocks and such and makes his own way into the decon room. I go through first and let him catch his breath, clean up while I go inside.
“Evenin’,” I say, handing the stranger a menu as he slides, clean and free of dust, into a seat at the counter. He’s got five day stubble and a big leather jacket that he shrugs off, revealing a fine set of arms that bulge out in the all the appropriate places.
“What were you doing out in that storm?” I ask, and he looks up at me with hazel eyes and I kinda drift off into them. I picture him humming through the border zone on a hack-slashed solar-powered Harley, air and dust streaming over his particle filter and through the fuzz of his buzzed hair, the sky behind him blazing brilliant red with the nuclear sunset …
“Miss?” he says.
Shit. I been staring at him for who knows how long. He looks at me like he’s wonderin’ if I’m not a bit touched in the head. Well, maybe he’s right. Maybe the lonely has scrambled my brain like a double serve of eggs.
To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Autumn 2015 collection.
Eloise Dustmote is an orphan and waitress who works at a diner on the edge of the contamination zone. A whiz with a spatula and a deft hand on the grill, she’s happy to brew you up a fresh pot of coffee as long as you clear decon in a timely fashion. She digs daydreamin’, babes, and SPAM, in that precise order.
Marlee Jane Ward is a writer, reader, and weirdo from Melbourne, Australia. She’s a Clarion West Writers Workshop alum, took second place in the Katherine Susannah Prichard Speculative Fiction awards for 2014, and her debut novella is shortlisted for Seizure Online’s Viva La Novella. She has a lot of thoughts and feelings that she overshares at http://marleejaneward.com. She digs cats, babes, and food, in that precise order.
Scarlett O’Hairdye is a burlesque performer, producer and artist. To learn more, visit her site at www.scarlettohairdye.com.