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Dust and Ash: A Short Story

Jennifer Wilber is an author and freelance writer from Ohio. She holds a B.A. in Creative Writing and English.

Dust and Ash by Jennifer Wilber

Dust and Ash by Jennifer Wilber

Dustin held Ashley in his arms as they stood on the balcony awaiting their inevitable demise. The two lovers looked out across the horizon as they waited helplessly for what was about to come. Their new life together was about to be cut short, but there was nothing they could do. The two of them stood in silence together as they watched the nuclear reactor in the distance while they awaited their fate. Why tarnish what precious little time they had left with meaningless words?

The threat of nuclear annihilation had loomed for years, but it seemed so unreal to Ashley and Dustin. Year after year they had lived through a bombardment of terrorist threats from the other-worldly invaders. Even though the world governments had proven helpless to get the situation under control, this part of the planet had not been under any real threat thus far. The invaders had set their sights on the areas that contained the most resources for their mission, but those resources had all but dried up, and they had no use for this planet anymore.

Top political analysts had long suspected that the invaders would never allow the people of this planet to continue to exist once their usefulness had been outlived, least Earthlings retaliate at some point in the future when Earthly technology advanced to the point of reliable space travel and super weapons. According to reports in the media, the invaders' mission was ending, and what was left of the planet Earth would soon be destroyed in a frenzy of alien missiles aimed directly at each of the planet's nuclear reactors.

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For most of her life, even though Ashley had heard all the sensationalized media reports of the alien threats, she had lived in a state of quiet apathy toward the promise of nuclear annihilation. The media was likely over blowing the whole thing to create panic and to boost their ratings anyway. On some level, she had even been anticipating it. She didn't have much to live for anyway and had felt almost nothing for anything or anyone else. But that was before she met Dustin. Suddenly her life had meaning, and now, in the face of their impending doom, she felt a deep sense of remorse. Her life had felt meaningless before she met Dustin, and she had never been overly concerned that the world could come to an end at any moment. These things happen, she had thought every time she turned on the news, it's just a part of life. But now, she felt as though she was being cheated out of a life that had just begun.

Her thoughts turned to the life that she would never be able to have as she stared blankly into the sky. She and Dustin would never have a family. They would never have children. They would never grow old together. For the first time in her life, she finally had some sense of what she wanted. She finally felt some sense of purpose. For the first time in her life, she felt a sense of belonging. But now that would all be taken away from her in an instant. There was so much left undone, and only moments left in their short lives. Ashley looked up into Dustin's eyes for what seemed like an eternity as she pulled him closer to her.

Her thoughts turned toward her past. If she could just go back, she would have done everything differently. She wouldn't have spent so much of her life waiting for the future and wasting her present. She remembered how she had been so mad at Dustin just the week before when he had forgotten to pay the rent for their apartment. If only she would have known what was to come, she wouldn't have spent so much time fighting over such trivial things as money. None of that mattered now.

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Dustin looked down at Ashley. She had been his only reason for living since they met. She had been the best thing to happen in his life, and now it was all ending. The world had known for years that it was only a matter of time before the invaders had no more use for humanity, but after so many years, it felt like they were safe from the worst-case-scenario. How quickly things changed, however. The world governments had now apparently given in and all but ceased their efforts to prevent such a tragedy. Dustin felt enraged at the government for not doing more to try to stop this and wondered if somehow the top-ranking government officials were conspiring with the invaders, if only to save themselves, but he knew that it was pointless. There was nothing that could be done now, and there was nowhere left to hide. Being angry at a government that didn't care to do anything to protect the people it was meant to represent wouldn't change the fact that he and Ashley, and everything and everyone else he had ever known or loved, would be gone soon. All he could do now was spend what little time that was left with the love of his life, Ashley.

Dustin had only been with Ashley for a year now. He had hoped to propose to her sometime next spring and marry her in the fall. Eventually they would have bought a house together in the suburbs and gotten out of this tiny apartment in the city. By then maybe his career would take off and he'd be able to support a whole family. Ashley could quit that minimum wage job that he knew she hated and stay home to raise a family if that's what she wanted. Maybe someday they would have had a kid or two and been able to watch them grow up as he and Ashley grew old together. Those dreams were shattered now.

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In the distance, Ashley could see a rocket begin to climb into the sky. Dustin noticed it too as it reached its apex in the sky directly above their apartment before beginning its descent toward the nuclear reactor at the edge of town. Dustin leaned down to kiss Ashley. This was their final moment on the planet Earth, and they had to make it last for the rest of eternity. They continued to hold each other in a passionate embrace, barely taking notice of the sound of the rocket colliding with the nuclear reactor in the distance. They took no notice of the mushroom cloud that had formed on the horizon in an explosion that rivaled the brilliance of a thousand suns. The temperature seemed to rise exponentially within seconds, but still Dustin and Ashley remained focused only on each other.

The couple barely notice as the world around them was incinerated, as their final moments were spent focused on each other. A wave of heat unlike anything either of them had ever experienced washed over them as they held each other close, locked in one another's embrace. Even through the seconds of intense searing heat that ripped though their skin in an instant, neither Dustin nor Ashley could let go of the other. The lovers became one as their charred bodies fused together into a single pillar of cinder, joining them together for all of eternity. Though it felt like forever, it was all over in a flash. Neither Ashley nor Dustin felt a thing as the Earth's surface turned to nothing more than dust and ash.

Dust and Ash was inspired by the song "We're So Small" by the Epoxies.

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© 2021 Jennifer Wilber

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