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The Day the World Broke

Autumn Owens is a short story author and playwright who has just completed a 49,000 mile journey around the world. Her play, The Day My Hair Turned Pink, is set to be performed later this year. Some of her writing can be found on her family's website FAMtastic4.com which chronicles their travels to 24 countries. "The Day the World Broke" is her first fiction publication.

We're eating our last meal tonight--a grim Last Supper, except there is no Savior at the table. Everyone is quiet, even Emma, but for once I wish she'd talk.
Aunt Nellie pops a bottle of champagne in the backyard as all the adults look on, clapping weakly. Aunt Nellie laughs, her hands covered in alcoholic froth, but it's a manic sort of laugh, tapering to a high pitch and ending abruptly. She pours the champagne into thin glasses and then she falls quiet, too. We slide into our seats on the back patio.
Dinner is a hodgepodge smorgasbord of everything we love. Loved. We'll never eat it again, so we pile our plates liberally, clean out all the bowls and lick our forks clean; we go for seconds. Emma eats so much that she vomits in the garden, all over Mom's carefully tended carrots. Nobody bothers to hose it away. Time is precious.
The breeze is playful at first, lifting our hair and tangling it. It grows stronger as supper marches on, blowing leaves off trees, tipping water glasses, eventually knocking a bowl of hot tomato soup into Nanny's lap. We ignore the wind and the purpose behind it, tittering lightly and passing around napkins to sop up our spilled food.
After the food is eaten, the kids move into a circle in the grass to play games--Down by the Banks, Concentration--childhood favorites, those games that older siblings pass down to the little ones.
My cousin Sandra suggests we sing something, so we craft an off-key chorus of Down by the Bay, all of us singing half-heartedly. The song dims out and the circle breaks up awkwardly, kids silently slipping back to their parents.
The wind becomes so strong that we are forced to go inside. Dad and Uncle Mike board up the windows, Mom locks all the doors. We all file down the stairs into the basement, where steel warehouse shelves stocked with cans of green beans and carrots await us.
The time has come to talk--we can put it off no longer. We huddle in small groups, whispering to each other about the events to come. The little kids--Mary, Lucas, Amelia--don't understand what's going on. Aunt Nellie hands them a bagful of suckers and gumdrops, and they consume their candy in the shadows of our new prison.
I am sitting with Sandra and her brother, Peter. "Quick," Sandra says. "Tell all the things you want to be known. Your secrets and your ambitions."
Peter and I glance at each other.
"Go on," Sandra urges. "We don't have much time left." She glances at the window well, which fills with all the debris the wind carries. Leaves, mostly, a lot of leaves and twigs, but also teaspoons and socks and mangled metals.
Peter says, "I'll play. When I was twelve, my teacher took our class apple-picking, and I tipped Annie's ladder and she broke her arm. I blamed it on Kevin, and everyone believed me."
Sandra bobs her head. "Good, good," she murmurs, more to herself than to Peter. "All right, Caden." Sandra looks at me. "Go."
"I don't have any secrets," I say.
In the window well, I can see the carcass of a dead kitten. Probably belongs to the neighbors. They just had a batch of new kittens last week. Last week, when it was springtime and beautiful and flowers were blooming.
"Please," Sandra says.
"But I don't have anything to tell."
A raging gust of wind blows against the house, and above me, I hear the place where I grew up crack and collapse. I close my eyes and start to cry. Sandra curls her arm around me.
"It's okay," she whispers.
"I did it," I confess, tears dripping down my face. "That's my secret; I did it."
"You did what?"
"This whole thing--the destruction of the world--I think I caused it."
"No, you didn't." Sandra rubs her hand up and down my arm. Peter looks up at the window well, which is now pooling with water. The rain has started. It won't be long now.
"You wanted to hear my secret--"
"It's okay; I shouldn't have asked."
"But I think I caused it--"
"You didn't, you didn't."
I'm doubled over, sobbing fiercely. Sandra hugs me tighter. A hand touches my back--my mother. She's joined by my father, Aunt Nellie, Mary, Lucas, Amelia... everyone crowds around, some crying, all leaning on each other, everyone holding someone else's hand.
Beneath us, the Earth begins to break.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, August 7th, 2018

Author Comments

A couple of years ago I had a dream where a piece of the sky broke off and floated into space. This idea of the world literally breaking both scared and intrigued me, and I toyed around with trying to make the dream into a story. After a while, I put the story away and forgot about it. Recently, while going through old files on my computer, I found the (very bad) original story and decided to try and play with the dream some more. Eventually, it turned into "The Day the World Broke."

- Autumn Owens
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