By on Oct 25, 2015 in Fiction

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Two teen girls by river with robot in distance

Her latest obsession was clouds. Books on clouds of all varieties, from picture books to nonfiction, were piled in her corner of the room next to her graying cot. On the rare occasion it was safe to be outside, Imogen would lie on her back and try to name them. She could tell cirrus clouds from their soft, cotton candy threads, while cumulus clouds were the soft cottontails that piled on top of each other in fluffy heaps like a litter of rabbits. Sometimes she struggled to identify a patch of clouds, and the frustration could plague her all through the night.

Grace hated those times. Imogen was already notoriously unpredictable; the addition of a foul mood made Grace wonder if the two of them would make it until dawn.

Tonight, however, was a good night. Imogen lay sprawled in the grass next to her pack, lazily pointing out the clouds that drifted by as if Grace was listening. The night air was sweet and thick, and carried the taste of spring flowers. Birds chattered in the nearby trees. The little glade was seemingly hunched inward, as if to shield its inhabitants from the outside world. In the distance, a deep, wide river cut the forest in half, the rushing water whispering promises of protection along the breeze.

Grace often wondered why she stayed in the other girl’s company. It seemed inevitable that Imogen’s recklessness would mean the end of the both of them, and yet Grace never split off from her partner. She couldn’t quite understand it. Imogen was an irritating girl, prone to bad habits (like nail-biting and finger-tapping), wont to obsessiveness, highly emotional, and always talking too much. But the thought of leaving her alone left Grace feeling irritated and gloomy. She supposed she must pity the girl, in a way. Grace couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have even one of her memories taken from her.

Imogen didn’t remember her age, but Grace thought she must have been a high school student before the world fell apart. They could have even been in the same grade. She couldn’t remember her last name, her father or her address. But she could remember her mother and her dog, and all of her teachers. In fact, she remembered most of her life. But sometimes, Grace would watch her eyes glaze as she reached back into her mind for a memory that was no longer there. She didn’t like to talk about it, how she’d been cornered and then somehow escaped. Grace didn’t pry. She’d only seen the process once, and the memory still gave her nightmares every now and then.

Imogen was looking at her. She did that often, as well. At first, it had unnerved and annoyed Grace, who was unused to meeting others’ eyes. But now she found she didn’t mind, and a little part of her even tingled pleasantly at being awarded such complete attention. She felt important. Special. It was a warm feeling.

“What is it?” Grace asked finally.

Imogen smiled. The corners of her eyes crinkled. “Nothing.”

“You’re so odd,” Grace mumbled. Imogen only continued to smile.

“I hope the traps are full tonight,” Imogen said after a while. “I’m sick of eating potatoes. If I don’t see another potato in my entire lifetime, it’ll be too soon. I mean, I guess they’re good for you. I remember being told that. Even if they look like those shriveled heads. Shrunken heads, I mean, like from the Amazon. How do you shrink a head, anyway?”

“You boil it,” Grace answered. “I read that somewhere.”

“Right, all that studying,” Imogen said. “Seems stupid now. And I never even did much of it anyway.”

She was right. It was stupid to read now. There was no more progress to be made for mankind; the knowledge that remained was meaningless, no purpose in books beyond kindling for a fire. But Grace feared that if she simply agreed, she would be giving up something she wasn’t yet ready to lose. Something Imogen was still fighting for, in spite of herself, as she listed the names of the clouds.

“It was important to me then,” Grace mused. “I was ‘that girl who studies all the time’ in school. I didn’t care. I was going to have a future, after all.” Grace thought of the books they’d collected over the past month. She never read anymore.

Imogen, though, she read ravenously, insatiably, as if all the pages would turn to dust in her hands before she could consume every last drop of human knowledge they had to offer. Grace wondered what she was trying to replace, wondered who she was trying to fool. What a terrible liar she was.

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Megan Sierra Smith is an amateur writer, a cat person, a freshman at the University of Iowa, and too short to reach the top pantry shelf. She mainly writes as a hobby, as catharsis, and sometimes to entertain people on the Internet. She has no previously published works.