Before I took her, she was tearing the petals off Black-eyed Susans and chanting “love-me, love-me-not.” I don’t think she had anybody in mind; I think she was just playing games. Maybe she was just counting, like in that old Goldwater commercial. But she was too young to remember the commercial, and too old to be playing games with flowers. Regardless, I took her for her own good, and for the good of humanity.
She was my neighbors’ kid, seventeen, athletic, smart. Her father, Jerry, worked at Lockheed Martin and her mother worked in a garden that took up their entire backyard. I had eaten dinner at their house across the street many times. Just three days before I took her, the mother served roasted duck and Jerry bragged that his little girl earned a tennis scholarship to UCLA and would begin in the fall. I asked her what she wanted to study, and Jerry answered for her. “Physics,” he said.
“Her father’s daughter,” I said. I raised my water glass in her direction.
“Damn straight,” Jerry said. “We should toast to that. Father’s daughter. How about some Port?” He stood quickly from the table. In the corner of the dining room, he unstopped a decanter and overturned four copitas and poured the wine. He carried the glasses and the decanter back to the table and served each of us, beginning with me. We drank to tennis and quantum theory, and to the suburbs of Bethesda, where we all had happy little lives
After dinner, while Persephone and her mother cleared the table, Jerry and I moved to the verandah and drank some more. He brought the decanter with him. We surveyed the houses in our neighborhood. He said something nice about my house, though his house was better than mine, fancier, much more expensive. It would all be destroyed in a few days, and covered in perpetual darkness.
“You’re not doing so bad yourself,” I said. “You have columns. Not bad at all.”
I thought about telling Jerry about the shelter I’d built, but he would have laughed. The shelter could only accommodate two, anyway. He filled my glass and I drank and felt warm. I left soon after. It was the last time I saw Jerry.
How I took Persephone: I came upon her from behind while she was picking apart flowers and I cupped a chloroform soaked handkerchief over her mouth like I was packing a snowball. (Homemade chloroform: put 5 ml acetone into 1 l bleach, chill and strain.) She collapsed back into my arms and I carried her home. She began to stir before I could get her downstairs to the shelter and I was afraid I would have to give her another dose of the hanky, but I got her downstairs and placed her gently on her cot where I bound her hands and feet. While I made the final preparations, (disconnecting the water main, checking the generators) she whimpered a bit, and then cried.
“Don’t do that,” I said, and she stopped—too abruptly for comfort. “I didn’t mean it like that,” I said. “Feel free to cry.” But there was just no way to explain things. We were in the twilight of human history. Nuclear war was upon us.
I sealed the hatch and unbound her, helped her sit up in the cot and made her a hot tea even though it seemed wasteful to heat up water for just one cup. Then I told her everything. I told her she was safe and that all was prepared. It was important for her to remain calm. I lifted her legs, removed her shoes, and rubbed her tiny, calloused feet.
After tea, she slept. I wondered if this were the best of all possible worlds, if indeed, I was protecting her from the madness above-ground and she would come to understand this. I wondered if we would ever love each other and if, in the distant future, they would sing our story. A song of sacrifice.
Everything shook, and I knew the bombs had been dropped on D.C. I knelt by Persephone’s cot and made a prayer to Jerry. In the excitement, I forgot to ask his forgiveness.
Colter Cruthirds is currently pursuing a doctorate from the Center for Writers in Hattiesburg. He has won several writing awards, and his work has recently appeared in Product and The Cathead Biscuit Review. He lives with his lovely wife and daughters and does his best to hide the chocolate.