It is unclear when the drought began exactly, the sand sneaking up around us until suddenly, we were surrounded, a city in quarantine. By the time we took note it was too late to leave, our water supplies too modest to see us through a trip, especially one of indeterminate length, and what liquid still trickled through the pipes not enough even to get us through each day. The roads were buried at that point anyway, the wheels of our cars slinking into the sand with a soft whirr. The few who managed to set out did not return.
For a while we swept, we bulldozed, but the sand kept on, crawled over our city like a placid amoeba, soft and unstoppable. The coastline, once close, is gone now. In its wake we feed on desiccated fish and kelp; nothing rots anymore, just mummifies. We look like husks ourselves, in our skins of dry leather, parched and sanded smooth.
Early mornings we do our best to forage, for dew, and for cactus leaves, although those too are running out. Mostly we stay indoors, inert. We used to listen for the news, now we simply speculate, make bets and calculations about which hour the spouts will finally run dry. We know it will be soon.
While dehydration and heat stroke may seem imminent, it is unlikely we will die from those threats. More probable are violent disasters: robbery, fire, madness. It is hard, already, to divine the real from the mirage. Withered jellyfish dance like plastic bags on electric lines, vultures stand in a Maginot line before the last intact hydrant. The neighborhood is quiet. Talk is rare: our mouths are dry, our throats raspy from the sand. In fact we can’t remember the last time we greeted our neighbors. We see them sometimes in our dreams, the most vivid nightmares midday, when even with our eyes closed we can feel the sun, searing the soft side of our lids.
Siel Ju‘s novel-in-stories, Cake Time, is the winner of the 2015 Red Hen Press Fiction Manuscript Award and will be published in Spring 2017. Siel is also the author of two poetry chapbooks: Feelings Are Chemicals in Transit from Dancing Girl Press, and Might Club from Horse Less Press. Her stories and poems appear in ZYZZYVA, The Missouri Review (Poem of the Week), The Los Angeles Review, Denver Quarterly, and other places.