Dessert for Breakfast

Feb 18, 2020 | Fiction

The normally timorous Tilly put her hands on her hips and gave a truculent argument for dessert before dinner. “Daddy said coal miners get to eat dessert first! When I grow up, I wanna be a coal miner!” A very serious look passed between Mama and Daddy. Their surreptitious plot to make the horror of those old shafts sound like a grand adventure, with spurious rewards, were gradually bearing fruit.

Tilly’s mother forced her lips into a wan smile for Tilly. “Well, now, that makes good sense. Coal miners work hard all day, down in those mines. They’ve earned the right to eat dessert first, if they want to.” She didn’t explain to Tilly that those old, spent mines would soon be their only respite from the heat, or that they often collapsed, due to the ubiquitous fissures in the rock, as the ground underfoot shuddered and heaved, trying to rid itself of a two-legged pestilence.

A deep fissure had appeared in their back yard, only yesterday. The Culbersons’ house had vanished into a bottomless sinkhole, just a week, maybe two, before, taking the couple with it.

The parched and torrid earth seemed to be opening mouth-like chasms, gasping for oxygen and fresh water. There was little left, between the sparse, increasingly toxic air and the scorching sun.

“I found a grotto, yesterday,” Daddy said. “Water’s not too acidic.” That look, again.

“What’s ‘acidic’?” asked Tilly, eating the hated turnips first, before the sweet carrot patty, under Mama’s stern and watchful eye. Vegetables were hard to come by, even using ingenious, living room gardening techniques passed down by Tilly’s sagacious, prescient grandfather. The roots, showing signs of rot that had to be carefully pared away, were the last of them.

“Sour, like fermented apple juice,” said Daddy. A few teaspoons of vinegar probably didn’t have enough Vitamin C to ward off scurvy, but it was the best they could do, now.

“Eww,” said Tilly. “Can I see the grotto?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” said Daddy, appraising his spunky little girl. “It’s a long way. I had to climb down the old elevator shaft and walk through those dark tunnels to get to it. You’d have to be a good climber – very strong and very brave.” Encouraging a solipsistic interest in that dangerous, ancient colliery was now a survival skill, Tilly’s father thought, resigned.

“Are there bats? Like in a cave?” asked Tilly.

“Would that be scary, do you think?” asked Mama, concern written plainly across her brow.

“No, I wanna see bats!” cried Tilly. “Mouses with wings!” Tilly flapped her arms. Mama and Daddy often called her “Little Mouse.”

“Good! Because there might be bats. We’ll have to look very hard to find them, though,” said Daddy. Mama nodded, thinking how unlikely it was that they’d find any signs of life in the abandoned shafts. There wasn’t much time left to buy. In a few hours, a few days, maybe, the choice would be clear: burn, suffocate, or starve. The grotto, with its “not-too-acidic” water, might offer a fourth choice, a gentler choice.

“Can we go tomorrow?” asked Tilly. Her excitement was giving way to happy somnolence. Daddy picked her up and her head dropped to his shoulder.

“Let’s go now,” said Mama, clearing the dinner dishes and grabbing the backpacks that had been placed by the front door, earlier. Now, before the early morning sun began to penetrate the thinning atmosphere. “We can have dessert for breakfast, Little Mouse,” she whispered, her eyes glistening.


This story inspired by Writing Prompt – Creative Copy Challenge #615 and the words: Ubiquitous, Truculent, Torrid, Torpid, Timorous, Surreptitious, Spurious, Somnolent, Solipsistic, Sagacity

Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle, illustrated by Jordan Vinyard; A Puppy, Not a Guppy, illustrated by Ryan Shaw; and the newest release: A New Leaf for Lyle, illustrated by Carrie Salazar. She draws inspiration from her family, from her own childhood adventures (some of which only happened in her overactive imagination), and from readers both young and young-at-heart. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, J.J., whose love and encouragement make writing books twice the fun.

20 Comments

  1. Mitchell Allen

    That was superb! You really captured the urgency of outliving the dying Earth. No spaceship escapes, here!
    Truly, this makes a tale more apocalyptic: is there hope, or are we witnessing the final heaving sighs of humanity?

    From the caves we came. To the caves we return. 🙂

    Cheers,

    Mitch
    Mitchell Allen recently posted…The World-wide EruvMy Profile

    Reply
    • Holly Jahangiri

      I don’t think one little bit of flash fiction is going to do it, do you?

      That said, I think we should seriously resurrect our little project soon. It’s still there, you know, lurking in the nebula. 🙂

      Reply
        • Holly Jahangiri

          I haven’t submitted anything anywhere in over a decade, Marian. Want to mentor me?

          Reply
          • Holly Jahangiri

            I’m glad you pointed this one out, Marian – I am subscribed to Damyanti’s newsletter, but almost missed it. Are you joining? I think I like this, how she’s turned the whole idea on its head. Could work!

          • KathleenMK

            Miss Holly ~ I can mentor you. :]

            I just took 20 or so of the shorts I wrote due to the encouragement of yah’ll at the CCC and I published a book of short stories (Feb. 7th).

            Kathleen
            Now of Dragonfly Editing and Publishing

            P.S. We can do this for you too
            kk

          • Holly Jahangiri

            THIS, I can do, Kathleen. What I need mentoring in, really, is submitting work for publication, not self-publishing it. And despite what I said yesterday, on Twitter, I am a decent editor – it’ll pass muster. BUT – self-published work won’t be read by more readers than already read this blog, I think. Marian is talking about publications with a somewhat wider audience, not to mention the gauntlet of editors it has to run to get there. I don’t worry about rejection; what typically holds me back is the process. Rejection, I can handle. Waiting months for it? I lack patience. I started to say that SASEs and postage aren’t cheap, but realized I’m just giving away how long it’s been since I bothered to submit anything! Do publishers still insist on dead tree manuscripts at all?

            When my first children’s book, Trockle, was published, the publisher knew about it and had read the manuscript several years earlier. She had said, at the time, “You HAVE to publish this!” I did what I always do. Smiled at the compliment and stuck it in a drawer. When she asked if I’d ever gotten it published, I said no. “Do you still have it?” I pulled open the drawer, and there it was. I told her I did, and she asked if she could publish it. In a very real sense, it is that sort of interaction with editors and publishers that has spoiled me and bolstered my habit of not sending things out. For a while, with non-fiction, I made a decent freelance career out of being the dependable workhorse of a writer that editors came to at the 11th hour, when the first writer failed to produce words. Any words. Or the right words. I applied the old TQM definition of quality: “Meets the customer’s reasonable expectations, on time and within budget.” It wasn’t Pulitzer-worthy stuff, but it served a given purpose well. And then there were the decades of making a good living as a full-time technical writer. I can write, but I need help with pushing it out into the world the “right” way. Arguably, any more, self-publishing is just as “right” as any other way. But when it comes to publicizing a thing, I’d do better with anyone else’s work but my own.

          • Marian Allen

            No, I won’t be doing the challenge. I have too many books and collections to do that. If I get out from under what I already have, I’d love to send stuff out again. Now that Sword & Sorceress has ended its anthology run, I need to find some other publication that loves me.
            Marian Allen recently posted…Sunday Snapshot and Hot Flash #VSSMy Profile

  2. KathleenMK

    Miss Holly!
    Oh my goodness! “…due to the ubiquitous fissures in the rock, as the ground underfoot shuddered and heaved, trying to rid itself of a two-legged pestilence..,” What a great image!
    and “…The parched and torrid earth seemed to be opening mouth-like chasms, gasping for oxygen and fresh water….”

    What a great tale you have told here this week! You made my heart hurt, my heart ended up in my throat for a minute! I love the way you wrapped this reader’s mind into that home with the family and the ending… wow!

    Write On! Please,

    Kathleen

    Reply
    • Holly Jahangiri

      I made my own heart hurt, with this one. I love “normally timorous Tilly, turned truculent.” I can see her as the star of a children’s picture book, set on a pre-apocalyptic planet, can’t you? My heart breaks for Mama and Daddy and even the Culbersons, although… well. I’m sure there’s a subliminal reference in there, and although it wasn’t consciously intentional when I wrote it, I left it because it seemed so appropriate. 😉

      Reply
  3. Rajlakshmi

    I absolutely love your story telling… It’s compelling… Kept me hooked till the end. Have you written a book yet?
    Rajlakshmi recently posted…From the delivery roomMy Profile

    Reply
    • Holly Jahangiri

      Several, but only three children’s books and one collection of short stories are published. I plan to get back to serious fiction writing soon (April). Meanwhile, I’m glad you’re enjoying my attempts to regrow the garden of imagination after a long drought!

      Reply
    • Holly Jahangiri

      You know, Reema, even as I was writing this, I was trying to think of a way out – a way to keep from having to write “The End.” There was no way to set things up slowly in flash fiction, no time for subtlety. And it hit me, then, that the entire existence of humans on this planet has been the equivalent, in universal and geological time, of “flash fiction.” “Climate change” as we know it? Just a tiny dot of ink on the page. This won’t even spell “The end,” just a small pixel, one of many, in the period typed after the warning of those two short, little words.

      Reply
  4. Corinne Rodrigues

    Holly, I don’t normally read stories like this, but I’m loving all of your latest posts.
    This one could almost be a reality sooner than we know! I’m hoping to see you turn these into a book.

    Reply
    • Holly Jahangiri

      Be specific, here, Corinne – writerly minds (well, mine, anyway) want to know: What do you mean by “stories like this”? Short stories, flash fiction, apocalyptic fiction, sad stories that have less than happy endings, stories about kids, stories written from random prompts…?

      I do want to know the answer, but I’m also very happy you made an exception for me and weren’t sorry you did! We’ll see about the book. I’m thinking “new material, not previously published,” for the book, but if I keep up the pace, I might collect these little tiny takes and self-publish them in a single collection. Judging by my stats, someone would have to DIG HARD to even realize they WERE “previously published.” 😀

      You’re all just virtual members of my private writing group, right? (Don’t let that 6000-something subscribers fool you, it’s still fewer than 20!)

      Reply
      • Corinne Rodrigues

        Apocalyptic fiction, I mea)nt.
        Yes, you really need to make sure you get word about your previously published works out. I’m waiting for April to give you loads of ideas (as if you need any!!)

        Reply
        • Holly Jahangiri

          That sounds like a lovely thing to look forward to, Corinne, and I do thank you for keeping those ideas safe for me till April! It’s becoming clear how much I have, yet, to do this month! No extra distractions just yet… but come April, I’m all for it!
          Holly Jahangiri recently posted…Two Armadillos’ StrifeMy Profile

          Reply

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