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Beyond the Villa of Ørmen

by Joshua Jones

 

None of us stop the Major as he bursts into Leon’s pharmacy, his aging Kalashnikov slung across his shoulder. Leon says, OK OK OK, and takes the sterile pads and iodine and cigarettes and stacks them all in a paper bag along with the bottles and bottles of morphine, Oxycodone, Vicodin. None of us blame the Major. We all saw what he saw, the sky streaked with ribbons of jet fuel. Here, at the top of the world, we hear all the radio chatter, the reports of the fires, the entire atmosphere awash in flame. Cities we will never visit, gone. We sit outside the pharmacy with our boxes of diapers, our sticks of venison jerky, bar after bar of chocolate. Someone passes a bottle. The Major stands at the edge of the village, his eyes to the sky. We follow his gaze, see another cluster of metal stars scarring the night. When we look down, the Major is gone. Let him go, Leon tells us. He doesn’t bother locking up behind him.

***

Leon clangs the bunker’s door shut and descends into the musty space of our breath. We learn to inventory the cans of mackerel by feel, run our hands along the dust-rimed lids. Enough until spring, Leon says, and then… We don’t ask what comes after. We use a hand crank to power a radio. After the third day, all we hear is a whorl of static. After a month, we stop trying. We stop counting the days long before the food runs out and Leon says, It’s time. He climbs the ladder, presses his ear to the door, then opens it to a howl of wind. The sky is empty, he calls. The sky is empty! And we emerge, one by one, squinting, shielding our eyes. Then we see it: the sun is black.

***

It is brighter at night. The light comes at us from all sides. Phosphorescent bands of the aurora borealis net the sky. The village is gone. Blown away on the breath of giants. Ashy snow covers the remains. Leon leads us through the ruined shapes that were once houses, the pharmacy, the train station. He follows a trail of hoof prints leading to the wilderness. It’s all wilderness now. Wolfish eyes bob along the horizon, wink open and closed like those glowing creatures of the blackest oceans. We walk on, past stands of pine, past skeletal remains of electrical towers. We smell the herd before we see them. They’re all about us, curious and unafraid. Astride the largest reindeer sits the Major with a beard down to his chest. He’s shirtless, his skin dotted with luminous tattoos—circles and runes from some earlier time. He nods toward us, eyes shining. A primordial light. One by one we mount the reindeer. Leon takes off his hat, his gloves, unbuttons his coat and lets it flap open. The heat from the herd wraps about us, and we leave the world behind.

 

Joshua Jones lives in Maryland, and his writing has appeared in The Best Microfictions 2020, The Best Small Fictions 2019, The Cincinnati Review, CRAFT, Juked, matchbook, Paper Darts, SmokeLong Quarterly, Split Lip Magazine, and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter @jnjoneswriter or visit his website: https://jnjoneswriter.wordpress.com/.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Beyond the Villa of Ørmen”?

This piece had its origins in a 2018 Fast Flash reunion using a prompt to write a story based on three songs from three different decades. I chose three David Bowie songs: “Blackstar” (where the titular Villa of Ørmen comes from), “Leon Takes Us Outside” (the opening track of the first Bowie album I ever owned: Outside), and “Scary Monsters.” I wrote the piece quickly, then set it aside. I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that I decided to revisit such an apocalyptic piece while in the midst of a global pandemic. So much of my writing has taken on an apocalyptic tinge recently.

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