Peace and Quiet
by Jack Curtin
The beach was empty, which made it slightly more tolerable than it used to be before everybody went away. Mary still didn't really like it very much, especially on a day like today when the warm ocean water offered scant relief from the relentless heat. But it was July 23, the day she always made a pilgrimage to the place where everything had changed.
She walked along the shoreline, recalling how something which had seemed terrible and frightening at first had instead become her solace and salvation. The peace and quiet she enjoyed here-enjoyed everywhere in the world for that matter-was perfect. Then her foot struck something. She stopped and, gasping with delight, bent down to pull a beautiful, perfectly elliptical white rock free from the sand. It was large enough to require both her hands to lift and hold. Mary wondered if she had just conjured it up. If so, she would soon have some use for this smooth and glistening treasure. That was the way things worked now. She stood still with the rock in her hands and waited to see.
Something appeared on the horizon, far down the beach, moving toward her. As she stared in disbelief, it rapidly took shape. Human shape. If she could have without dropping the rock, Mary would have pressed her palm to her breast in astonishment. This was the first living creature of any sort she'd seen in exactly four years, ever since the day everybody went away.
Mary quickly conjured up a bathing suit to cover her naked body, the first time she'd worn clothing in a long time. As the approaching figure became clearly identifiable as male, also wearing nothing but bathing trunks, the thought briefly crossed her mind that the miniscule bikini was perhaps smaller than appropriate. Modesty hadn't been a concern of hers for a long while now. It had taken her some time to accept that, when there was no one else around and the weather and climate were always perfect, clothing was unnecessary, but now even the brief wisps of cloth covering her breasts and hips felt uncomfortable and constraining.
When the man was within a hundred yards or so, he waved and broke into a slow trot, the "hello" he yelled barely audible in the soft afternoon breeze which had just arisen. Mary liked breezes. "Hello," he said again when he was standing in front of her, not even breathing heavily from his run. "My name is David." He extended his hand then took note of the white rock she was holding. "Wow, that looks really heavy. Here, let me take it." David took the rock and cradled it in his left hand, balancing the weight against his hip, and again offered his right hand. Every nerve in her body tingled at the near forgotten feel of other flesh against her own until she quickly pulled her hand free.
David was several inches taller than she, slightly over six feet. She guessed he was also younger than her 30 years, possibly considerably younger, somewhere between 18 and 25. She always had a difficult time with people's ages back when there were people; all her months of isolation only made that task more challenging. Whatever his age, he was a prime specimen, handsome, muscular and well-proportioned. It was odd she should notice that, Mary thought. Unless.
"This shouldn't have happened," she said.
"What do you mean? What shouldn't have happened?"
"You. You can't be here."
"What, is this a private beach or something? I didn't see any signs." David looked around. "But I didn't see any people either. Not for miles. That's weird."
"I made everybody go away. The whole world. I made it all go away. Every person, every animal, every bug. I made it all go away."
As David stared at her, dumbfounded, Mary reached out to grab his shoulders and force him to look into her eyes. "What's your last name? Where are you from? Who are you and what are you doing here?"
An expression of utter confusion sent David's face slack. He staggered backwards, letting the white rock drop onto the sand. "I.I.."
"You don't know, do you? You can't know, because you didn't exist until I created you this morning."
Mary concentrated again and moved into David's mind. Sex. You're here for sex. We are long-time lovers and we've come to this private beach to make love.
She conjured up a blanket on the sand next to where he stood and watched as the new reality took hold and his face lit up with anticipation. She reached around and untied her top and let it fall. She nodded her head toward the blanket as she began rolling down the bikini bottom. "Shall we?" she said softly. David need no further encouragement.
When they were naked on the blanket, Mary rolled him onto his back and straddled him. "You poor thing," she murmured. And then she abruptly leaned over to grab the white rock from where it had fallen and smash it down onto his face. Again and again, until she was splattered with his blood. It was awful. Deliberately so.
Mary could have just sent David away the way she had everybody else, but she needed this terrible memory. She'd stood in absolute horror on this beach four years ago and first realized that she'd made the world go away. Then she eventually came to understand that she had to change herself as well to fit her new reality. Most especially, her need for human companionship had to be suppressed. Loneliness was not an option in her perfect world.
This morning, she now knew, her sexual desires had broken through and inspired her subconscious to create David. She stared down and seared the terrible image of his broken and bloody face into her memory. She hoped it would serve to offset any future unconscious, and unseemly, desires. Sex, that she didn't need. All she needed was peace and quiet.
Copyright © 2005 Jack Curtin
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