I was super thrilled to have a short story published in my alma mater's literary magazine this year!
It's been a while since I've shared my fiction publicly, so I thought I'd post it here for anyone who might be interested.
Let me know what you think!
Drowning in Moonlight
This was all wrong. Devonte gripped the fence, pushing himself up off the dry ground and finding an unsteady balance. He sat there, the railing biting into the back of his legs, but the view was enough to make him ignore the discomfort.
Darkness should have surrounded him. Devonte had experienced many nights here at the Arizona observatory, one of the perks of traveling with Mom for her guest lectures. On a normal night, the sky would have glittered with the expanse of the Milky Way. Glimmering, gentle lights would have filtered through the hazy darkness. Not tonight.
Light poured from the sky. It caught on the trees and shrubs surrounding the Lowell Observatory, casting distorted shadows on the ground. Even Devonte’s dark skin looked pale in the eerie glow. He let himself imagine that the light came from an alien ship or a tear in the time continuum, but even so, reality continued to prove itself more frightening and unpredictable than the situations fiction could ever conjure up.
Tonight, the stars were drowned out by moonlight.
If Devonte sat still long enough, he could swear that he would see the moon drift closer.
“You won’t be able to see it happening. One moment you’ll look up and it’ll be much closer than before,” Mom had said three days ago when they’d arrived at the observatory, the skin under her eyes puffy from lack of sleep.
Devonte had wanted to ask more of the questions that had been haunting him, but Mom had tossed her duffel onto one of the cots set up along the wall, then downed an energy drink before rushing to join the group in the lab. When a catastrophic event was about to take place, all the scientists wanted a front row seat.
Not that Devonte could blame them. Still, while the others posed questions without answers and mulled over data and trajectories, Devonte didn’t want to hide inside. He wanted to witness it. It didn’t matter if it happened tonight or tomorrow; he would be ready.
His fingers tightened around his phone. After the government released the reports of how the moon had been hit by an asteroid and forced into the Earth’s gravitation pull, the news stations started sharing photos and video footage of the flooding caused by the erratic tides as well as the mobs of terrified people rioting in the city streets. Meanwhile, Devonte’s friends and teammates from university were dealing with the trauma the only way they knew how: posting farewell statuses and tagging as many friends as they could.
Devonte wasn’t interested in how everyone else was or wasn’t coping. He was only interested if Dad had called. At this point, a simple text would be enough.
Two months. It had been two months since his fight with Dad. It seemed so pointless now. An argument about the future, a future very quickly dissolved by the end of the world. But still nothing. No new notification, no message. Nothing.
Devonte glared back up at the moon, squinting at the brightness.
“Just going to take your time, aren’t you?” he mumbled. He’d always hoped the world would end quickly. No time for panic or regrets. Everything would just disappear in a flash.
Wishful thinking. At this point everyone had been waiting for a week, knowing what was coming. They’d been given enough time to set relationships right, to settle disagreements, to embrace disaster with the knowledge that they’d done all that they could.
The weight on Devonte’s mind grew heavier.
Right now, Dad was probably bent over the kitchen table at his apartment. He had only visited it a few times since the divorce, but he could picture it now. A stack of papers by Dad’s elbow as he mercilessly graded his high school students’ assignments, the static white noise of the TV filtering in from the other room. The man was persistent, but those students definitely weren’t concerned about their grades at the moment.
A gap year. That’s what had started it all. Despite any attempts to block it out, the memory pushed itself to the surface. Who knew that phrase could cause such a negative reaction?
Wasted potential. A financial nightmare.
Devonte had just wanted to start a conversation, not have judgements and warnings thrown around. He hadn’t even known what he wanted. That’s why he’d brought it up. The regret had twisted in his gut the instant he saw the look on Dad’s face.
He shouldn’t have said anything. It didn’t even matter anymore.
The moon loomed above, and Devonte pulled up Dad’s number on his phone. One hand held onto the railing of the fence for balance while the other hand hit the call button and pressed the phone to his ear. After two rings an automated voicemail recording began to speak. It wasn’t even Dad’s voice. Dad had never been one for personal touches. It wasn’t a surprise he hadn’t recorded his own voicemail greeting, but that didn’t make the disappointment any less.
To distract himself Devonte began to scroll through his photos. There weren’t many, mostly due to the fact that the phone was old and slow, and the camera barely worked. One of the only pictures on it was from high school graduation. If he had to choose, this picture was his favorite. While Devonte had taken the news of the separation well, that last photo of them as a family had helped him get past it.
The divorce process had started six months after graduation, but Mom and Dad had been there to support him. In the photo, the grins on their faces hid the tension between them, and Devonte stood between them wearing his cap and gown. He could remember feeling on top of the world that day.
An ache spread up through Devonte’s chest. He leaned forward and braced his elbows, shifting his phone from one hand to the other. If the collision happened right now, it would be over. The already broken world would be reduced to fractured pieces drifting in space. What would it sound like when it was over?
After so much fear and anger, voices overwhelming each other until the world consisted of billions of one-sided conversations, would that silence finally bring peace? Or would peace even matter then, if there were no one to experience it? The questions kept warping and multiplying, the answers either elusive or nonexistent.
Devonte didn’t need any more reasons or excuses. Before the silence arrived, there were words he needed to say. He brought a hand down over his head and kept it over his eyes for a minute to block out the light. He held his phone up again and waited as it rang.
He almost dropped the phone.
“Did you and your mother get to Arizona?” The sound of Dad’s deep voice went into Devonte’s ear and traveled down until it settled between his shoulder blades, easing the tension that had been tightening there for the past week.
“Yeah, yeah,” Devonte looked around blinking. The moonlight must have been getting to him. His eyes burned, “We’re here.”
“Good. You doing okay?”
“Listen, Dad,” Devonte swallowed hard, “I… I just wanted to tell you that I’m sorry about the fight and--”
“Devonte, you don’t…” Dad tried to interrupt.
“Let me say this, Dad, okay?” He kept talking, not wanting to lose any nerve, “Look, I know there’s not much of a chance any of us will be walking away from this, but I need you to know two things. First, I’m sorry about the fight. If I could do it over, it would be an entirely different conversation.” He forced himself to take a breath, “And Dad?”
“I love you.” The words were quiet, but the meaning clear.
After a pause, Dad sighed, a breath catching in his throat. Devonte swallowed again, the ache in his chest a dull throb.
“I love you. Devonte, don’t doubt that. I am proud of you, and I wish we had the time to…”
“If things were different…” Devonte tried to find the right words.
“If by some chance we survive this thing?” Dad’s voice took on a forced tone of surety, “We’ll be okay.”
Survival wasn’t likely, but that wasn’t the point.
“Thanks for picking up,” Devonte’s throat tightened.
“Thanks for calling. Tell your mom I’m thinking about you all, okay?”
“I’ll tell her. Bye, Dad.”
Devonte lowered the phone and pushed it back into the pocket of his athletic shorts. Bracing both hands on the railing on either side of himself, his shoulders lifted and fell with slow, rhythmic breaths. A cool hand pressed lightly against his back.
“That was your dad?” Mom spoke gently. Devonte looked down at her, seeing the concern and exhaustion in her eyes.
“I just needed to remind him of something.” He offered her a hand to help her balance as she began to climb up on the railing to sit beside him. She anchored herself by looping her arm through his and with her other hand she reached up, lifted his chin, and made him look at her.
“Is it all okay now?” With her thumb, Mom wiped away a dampness from Devonte’s face.
“Yeah, Mom. I think so…What are you doing out here, anyway? I thought you’d be inside discovering the secrets of the universe.” He glanced over and caught sight of her soft smile as she turned to look up at the sky.
“I’ve been trying to discover the secrets of the universe for most of my life now,” she said. “But the end of the world? That doesn’t happen every day, and I’d like to experience that with the people I care about. With you.”
The ache in Devonte’s chest pulsed, and it was then that he realized the ache wasn’t caused by anxiety or fear, but another emotion. It was the loss of human connection that made the end of the world feel so bitter.
“I love you, Mom,” he said moving to put an arm around her shoulders.
“I love you more.”
The two figures sat together on the old fence railing, now silhouettes shadowed by brilliant luminescence. The horizon glowed with anticipation as the moon approached, and gravity would draw the celestial bodies together only to tear them apart.
But even in this chaotic existence, Devonte felt at peace.