(the future least desirable)
The power is out.
It is nighttime—though only moments ago, Marou is sure, he was shielding his eyes from the sun.
He tries to take in the room, but it is so dark. All he can see are dying embers in the fireplace (how long ago had it burned out? The house feels cold) and the reflection of stars shining out on the ice shards, broken over the lake. He’s mid-stride, moving towards the hearth. When his foot meets the floor, it catches him off guard—like he didn’t expect it so soon. He stumbles. Normally he’s not walking around when time plays these tricks on him.
Where is Rhi?
He sees it, when he blinks. Where he was, where he’d traveled. The bright coral sun, the beach, the cool waves at his feet—all gone away when his eyes open again.
What year had he left?
What year is it now?
He can hear ticking. It’s loud, resonating, making the ground shake. No matter how long he’s lived with it, it’s always strange to return to. He looks wildly for the source, but then remembers it’s just part of the house—an all-encompassing clock, without a face or hands, always ticking, echoing, pumping through the walls, the furniture, even him—so much like a heart. Instead he finds her.
She’s sitting on the couch, watching him. The hounds are curled up on either side of her, their heads nestled close on her lap. She’s rising, reaching for him, and when she moves Marou can see golden dust spill off her skin. It swirls around her, floats into the air. Like bubbles underwater when she dives from the surface. Like sparks becoming ash as they fall. She snaps her fingers and the glow bursts out, explodes like a tiny firework in the middle of the living room.
“Did I lose you, Lemon?”
His eyes are adjusting to the blackness. The sparks flowing from her skin start to spread, trailing light to every nook and cranny, high up into the vaulted roof, reflecting off the copper pipes, the gears and cogs that burst from the floor, that live in the corners, that hide in plain sight. Those haven’t always been there, have they?
It must be the present.
Or maybe it is the past?
“What year is it?”
She doesn’t miss a beat. “It’s 2189.”
“So the world is still ending, then?”
“It is, sunshine,” she says, moving closer to him, her hand rising to his cheek. “But I hardly think that matters to us.”
“How long before the house collapses into the lake?”
“Many, many years from now,” she assures him. She touches him finally, her thumb tracing a familiar path along his skin. She moves the back of her other hand to his forehead, and he both wants to fold into her caress and shove her away at the same time. He does neither.
She must notice, because then she asks, “Do you hate me tonight?”
Marou blinks. He isn’t quite sure. When he first opened his eyes, she was taking up most of the space in his mind. Where she was. If she was alright. With her hand on his forehead, he feels a mixture of desire—wrong, corrupt—tinged with revulsion. And while he watches her, no matter how many times he tries to blink it away, she glows. Sparkling, golden, gleaming brightly in his eyes.
Has she always shone like this?
“I can’t tell,” he says.
The dogs have barely moved, except to reposition themselves after their cushion had gone. They are watching Rhi and Marou silently, waiting for them to come back to the couch.
She hasn’t stopped caressing his cheek. “Will you lay with me? The sun won’t rise for another eighteen hours.”
His head is going foggy. His eyes feel heavy with sleep, and maybe a little lust, too. She doesn’t wait for him to answer—just slides her fingers down his neck, the length of his arm, and laces her hand into his.
He follows her into the bedroom.