The result of my first #bookstorewindow fiction writing exercise, inspired by the late Harlan Ellison, based on a writing prompt supplied by Entropymanor. Wrote it live on our Slack site in about an hour:

“Nobody drives in New York, there’s too much traffic,” she said.

I rolled my eyes, but she probably didn’t notice in the dark. Hugged myself hard. Three layers of Goodwill-scavenged Army jackets offered negligible comfort against the chill. “Next you’re gonna tell me it’s a dry heat.”

She got to her feet, grunting at the effort. “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” She took a couple of limp-drag steps toward the sliding glass door that opened onto the balcony.

“When you gotta go, you gotta…” I let that thought go unfinished as she pulled the blackout curtain aside to show the swirling flurries of another Manhattan summer blizzard. Nothing new to see out there. Same storm. Same dark buildings. Same inert hulks of cars and trucks abandoned in the streets, up to their rear-views in noxious East River water.

“It’s not the fall that kills you,” she said, left palm against the glass door, fingers splayed. “It’s the sudden stop.”

“Hey,” I said. “Clarity. C’mon. Don’t even joke.”

“All that glitters isn’t gold,” she said, still playing the game with that damned dreamy singsong voice. Her head tilted, the bristles of her buzzcut catching the pale moonlight.

“Just don’t go out there, okay?”

She straightened. Didn’t look back. Her left hand remained on the glass. Her right hand, though, I could hear it fiddling with the lock lever on the sliding door.

“Hey, wait,” I said. “Every cloud has a silver lining.” Maybe if I kept playing the game. If nothing else, it distracted me from the nagging rumble in my stomach and the burgeoning ache in my head.

“The writing’s on the wall, Maddie,” Clarity replied. I heard a faint thump as she rested her forehead against the glass, gazing out into the bleak condemnation of a dying world.

“The city that never sleeps,” I said.

“A diamond in the rough.” So maybe she agreed? Her right hand fell away from the lock. With her left, she pulled the curtain closed again. Still, she didn’t turn my way.

“Just a matter of time,” I said.

She countered with: “At the end of the day.” I watched her shadowy form moving with that trudging gait – that battered leg, thanks to a fall through a gap in a crumbling skyscraper stairwell. Heard her rustling around in the kitchenette.

“When life gives you lemons,” I started, and then tried to remember the last time I’d actually seen one. Gilberto’s corner bodega hadn’t stocked decent food and produce in more than a decade. Might be able to catch a striped bass with my bare hands in the snack aisle, but would the mercury poisoning be worth it?

“What goes around comes around,” she said with a sigh. She moved through the apartment again, toward me this time (thank God), and settled on what was left of the threadbare blue couch. Dropped half a Ritz cracker on the concrete floor in front of me.

I snatched up that cracker before the roaches could beat me to it. Not much value to it, really. Wouldn’t do more than fill a fraction of my stomach. Fundamental nourishment was a luxury enjoyed farther down the food chain. But it might fool my headache into fading, even if just for a little while.

“And they all lived happily ever after,” I said.