FICTION July 2, 2021

A List of Extinctions

Coelophysis bauri. The first dinosaur. Small, agile, carnivorous: they reminded Carter of her brother, Caleb. Some believed the Coelophysis to be cannibals. Their fossils could often be found stacked, one wispy skeleton wadded inside another. They hunted in daylight. Both Caleb and the Coelophysis wanted their savagery to be seen. 

Carter stood at the edge of a basketball court—entirely guzzled by sand, fringed with brittle, withering weeds—and watched as Caleb punched his best friend, Trevor. A boy whose face was always cauliflowered, bulbous with pimples and fat. Trevor teetered backward, holding his nose. Blood looked garish in the heat. The color of maraschino cherries. Clouds wrapped the sun like a mummy, but the day was still microwaved. The park looked dried out. Carter hadn’t seen a kid play on the jungle gym for years. Water bottles, foil wrappers, spray paint, and dirt gnawed at it. The swings no longer had seats. 

As Caleb lunged for Trevor, Carter imagined her brother morphing reptilian. His jaw, narrow and sharp, jutting outward, eyes sliding down the sides of his cheeks. Melted nose and skin that spread green and leathery. Strands of blond hair falling in clumps, and pointed, yellow teeth trudging through his gums. Bones rid of marrow. Hollow. 

They both fell to the ground, Caleb on top of Trevor. A woman with neon workout leggings and a small mophead of a dog walked past. The dust clouded their footsteps. She looked at them, watching, squinting, and then moved on. Carter swallowed as Caleb landed another punch. Her saliva had turned to paste. 

“What are you doing, Caleb?” Trevor said. He said it again and again. Strained and loud. His nose bled onto his cheeks, and his hands darted and snaked to find Caleb’s. The park smelled faintly of honeysuckle. Carter thought, how good that something here is sweet. Trevor rolled, throwing Caleb to the sand, both of them coated in beige. Caleb didn’t try to block when Trevor hit his mouth. It was only once. He stood after. 

“What the fuck, man?” Trevor didn’t sound how he usually did, Carter noted. Not like he did when he came to pick them up for school in his rickety second-hand Civic. Not like he did when he wrapped his arm around her shoulder, told her she was cool for a younger sister, the flabs of his cheeks eating his whole face as he smiled. 

Trevor turned to leave. He didn’t look at Carter, just walked away, and Caleb was starfished, chest heaving. She came to him slowly. He frowned up at her before tilting to spit out a gummy smack of blood. A tooth with it. Incisor. A smaller, side one. There were no insects. Years later, at the end of the world, she would remember this detail. 

“We should go home,” Carter said. “Mom will be worried.” Caleb sat up, red skidding down his lip, and gave her a knowing look, both pitying and irritated. Their mother was worried about nothing. Caleb was splotchy and smelled like the tangy rot that came with heat. The sand rolled off him as he stood. “Did Trevor make you mad?” she asked. 

Caleb turned away from her. She looked at his spit once more, then leaned down and pocketed his tooth. They walked to the sidewalk, and the ground swallowed her feet with every step. Caleb sighed. It sounded more like a hiss. 

“No, that wasn’t the reason,” he said. “When something becomes too easy, it becomes dangerous.”

Carter wanted to squeeze his arm or pat his shoulder. She didn’t understand, but she wanted to comfort him. Like a mother cat licking her babies clean. Caleb sped his pace to be in front of her. His t-shirt clung to his back with sweat.

Their house swayed on the edge of Holbrook. Smothered by tangles of desert shrub and painted sepia, it sunk into the landscape, nearly tipping into the desert. Their mother worked in a museum for rocks. A tourist attraction. Sometimes she brought home sandwiches for them in triangular plastic containers and paper cups full of black coffee from the museum’s café. There was something that felt loving about eating it. The sandwiches were on sourdough, and the chicken salad was made with sliced almonds. Carter could pretend the three of them went out to dinner together. A deli. Maybe they saw a movie after. Instead of drinking her coffee from the paper cup, she always poured it into a mug. 

Today their mother sat in the living room, deep inside the sofa. Back toward them. Reading mail with news buzzing on the television. Carter watched a giant machine carry severed tree trunks across a graveyard of stumps. There was a scorpion hiding under the couch, but Carter said nothing. They lived in a house where the kitchen and living room merged, and it all smelled stale and untouched, as if it had been uninhabited for years and the tables and chairs and paper plates and blankets had fermented. No one said anything.

Caleb went down the hallway to his room, and Carter stood where the tile met the carpet. She hovered. Waited. There was an emptiness in her stomach that felt a little like hunger and a little like sickness. Her mother spoke in her croaking voice. 

“Why don’t you make us some sandwiches, dear? And bring me a drink while you’re in there.”

“Of course,” Carter said, smiling. 

Their bread was hard at the corners, and the bag of lunch meat crinkled open like it had gone stiff. Everything on the brim of decay. Slathering the mayo, she waited for her mother to ask how her day had been, where she and Caleb had gone. She waited for her to come into the kitchen to pass her Styrofoam plates and chip bags. Her mother didn’t do these things. 

They ate side by side on the couch. Her mother didn’t speak to her. Didn’t look at her. Carter stuck her hand in the pocket of her jeans and held Caleb’s tooth. It was slimy, smooth one way and rigid the other.

In three years, Caleb will run away from home. Carter won’t look for him, but she’ll wait. She will tell her friends he is at college but comes home for holidays, she’ll write notes and leave them in his bedroom, she will sleep with his tooth under her pillow for years. She won’t recall a single memory of him that is warm—not birthdays, not hugs, not sharing toys—but she will wait anyway. At the end of the world, a small part of her will still wait.

# # #

Megalonyx. The ground sloth. A megafauna cut down by ice. They were larger than bears and used claws to pluck branches from trees. In a certain light, they could be seen as a threat. When scientists found their fossils, they thought the Megalonyx was a lion. In college, Carter studied them. She was told they were slow and did better in packs. She felt she could see herself in them. Her university was in Colorado, wedged into the mountains. She moved there on her own, piling boxes of books and used clothing and stolen makeup and toothpaste into a rental moving truck.

The first night in her dorm, she stared out her window into the green. There was green everywhere. Vines of leaves curled over her window. Outside, the grass rose to her elbows, and weeds burst from the sidewalk cracks. A garden of cilantro and mint and rosemary edged the building. A giant pine tree covered her view of anything else. She stared at it. Counted the needles. Watched a beetle tiptoe on a thin branch before falling to the ground. 

Then she cut off all her hair. Her roommate, a girl named Ana with metal hoops through her face and dark makeup, studied cosmetology. Carter let her chop it short, close to her ears. It made her look like Caleb, and when it was finished, she made herself cry in the bathroom. Ana invited her to a party with her friends. Don’t worry—they like everyone, she told her. Carter said she would love nothing more. 

When they arrived—a large house dripping of wealth and newness, shiny glass walls, firm blocky sofas, framed abstract art, ceramic figurines, touchscreens on everything—a girl in a metallic green dress gave them cups of spiked fruit punch. It was bright blue like an artificial lake. The girl reminded Carter of a mermaid. Long, wavy hair. Vibrant eyes, glossy like polished crystals. 

Carter and the girl and Ana sandwiched on the living room couch with other people, and they all took turns picking videos to play on the TV. A candle in the center of the half circle, sitting on the coffee table. It blanketed the smell of alcohol with eucalyptus. The smile wouldn’t leave Carter’s mouth. She wasn’t watching the videos. Too distracted by the bodies. Touch. Heat. Togetherness. The girl’s leg and arm were pressed against hers. She was wearing a fruity perfume. It made Carter’s stomach twirl. 

Later, standing in the kitchen, talking about forest fires and polluted oceans, the girl took Carter’s hand. The girl kissed her with soft lips. The girl fucked her on silk sapphire sheets. The girl left her in the bed and took a shower. Carter sunk her face into the pillowcase. Breathing through her mouth to feel the fabric arc across her lips, touch her tongue. Loneliness always settled in a way that was both sudden and sharp. A snip. A puncture. The girl had been in the shower for an hour. 

Carter stood up and got dressed. She felt weighed down. Slumping. She thought of the Megalonyx then. Arms stretching until her fingernails limped along the floor. A hunch winding into her back. She wished to reach the branches of the trees. She wished to rip them down. On the way out, she took the girl’s necklace. A thin band of black fabric with a clip on each end. She wandered through the house. To the front door. There was still one person in the living room. A thin boy. Angled jaw. Dirty blond. He too, Carter realized, looked like Caleb. They both did. He was a reflection of her, and all three of them—her, the boy, Caleb—were the same. 

That weekend, Carter went back to Holbrook. There were dust storms. One after the other. She sat in her mother’s museum for hours, sipping water from a flimsy cone and counting the rocks in the gift shop. Topaz. Calcite. Feldspar. They each had a small price tag stuck to their surface. The sun squeezed yellow into the sky, and sand slid under the door with the wind. She doesn’t work here anymore, one of the cashiers told her. 

# # #

Rhinoceros. Once, there were five species of them. Most rhinos preferred solitude, but the white rhinos lived in groups. Their herds were called a “crash.” Carter thought groups of people should be called that too. Not a family. Not friends. A crash. She remembered when the last rhino died. They showed it on TV, and her high school science teacher cried and then the whole class did. 

The day the news told everyone the world was ending—two years into her PhD program, six years after the girl and many others, sixteen years since she’d seen Caleb—Carter saw a therapist. The office was painted light blue, and a large canvas photograph of a rhino hung behind her. They were strong creatures. Thick skin. Carter intended to talk about Caleb and her mother. Holbrook came up instead.

“It’s different from Denver. It’s all old things,” Carter said. Pointed glasses perched on the tip of her therapist’s nose, and cups clustered with office supplies roamed everywhere. “They even have all these dinosaur statues. Right as you enter town, there’s these brontosauri. All lined up. A t-rex too. When I was young, I used to lie in the sand by them. Under their shadows. I think they’re the reason I’m a paleontologist.” 

The therapist nodded. She was clicking a pen against her thigh, and her hair was pulled tight into a braid. They looked the same age. “Would you like to continue?”

Carter loved being asked to speak. It felt as if she was exchanging Christmas gifts with the other person. 

“It’s weird that Holbrook has dinosaurs,” Carter said, staring into the eyes of the rhinoceros. The photo was black and white. “We can’t let them go. Dinosaurs. We look for them. Study them. Collect their bones in museums. The thing is, we don’t really know anything about them. Look at a chicken. Small. Feathered. Bred for slaughter. That’s the closest thing we have. The dinosaurs are unrecognizable now. They are a fast food meal.”

Her therapist smiled thinly and wrote. Carter liked that she was listening. It reminded her of middle school and her best friend, Laurel, a lanky girl with limbs that hung like strands of saliva drooping from the mouth. Her laugh was loud, and she talked too much about horses. Carter kept her because Laurel read every book she suggested, asked about every weekend, nodded vigorously to every anecdote. Carter’s therapist scheduled another appointment for the following week. 

Driving to her apartment, Carter got take-out: lo mein and honeyed chicken in a paper box, tiny plastic cups of orange sauce, a waxy bag of crab rangoon. She washed it down with two cans of soda and made a tower with her napkins before disposing of it all. She was alone, wrapped in a fleece blanket, when she heard the news. The anchor smiled too much. He looked stuck in place. The earth is taking agency, it seems, he told the camera. He spoke about the waters, the deserts, the vegetation, the wind. There were video snippets of each. Twirling vines. Sand burying houses. Floods with violent circles of waves. You will be informed when we have more control. 

# # #

Coffee. No one really noticed it was gone. Headlines popped for a week and then fizzled out. A replacement appeared a second after the last real cup was sucked down. It tasted the same, mostly. Carter noticed, however, that if you kept it in your mouth, tossing it from one cheek to the other, there was a hint of plastic, like it had been kept in containers for years. Two nights after the news, Carter met Rachelle at a coffee shop, where they drank fake caramel macchiatos out of disposable cups and ate dry scones that crumbled under their fingertips. Carter had found Rachelle on a dating app. All the dating apps were overpopulated that night. An endless line of faces. Endless cycle of swiping. No one wanted to be alone anymore. 

Rachelle’s hair was red, and so were her clothes. She stood out in all the green. The plants wormed around every building, stretched across the streets. It hadn’t seemed odd, dangerous, until then. She pinched a withered blueberry off the scone and put it in her mouth. Carter sipped the carameled foam.

“What do you do?” 

“I work at a museum—paleontologist. I talk to people about dead things.”

“I’m a nurse.” 

Carter smiled. She imagined what dialogue could come next. Rachelle could say something like I deal with dying things. It would be morbid but cute, something to prove their compatibility. Rachelle didn’t say that. 

“Where are you from?” she asked.

“Holbrook. Little town in Arizona. I visit there sometimes. Where are you from?”

“Here. I’ve lived in the city my whole life.” 

The coffee shop smelled like a greenhouse—grassy, warm, slight mildew—and worry glossed everything. Cups clattered. Sweat oiled people’s foreheads. The radio station was slightly garbled with static. Carter glanced out the window. There was a man yelling on his phone. Pacing on the sidewalk. His car had rammed against a vine—thick, taller than his thigh, haired with moss—that had curved through the parking lot. Circles upon circles of its tentacle-like body swirled the asphalt. Her insides buzzed. She needed this to work. She knew Rachelle felt it too, because her fake coffee was gone. Devoured. 

“Did you see it coming?” Rachelle asked. 

“It’s not something I thought of. But it seems obvious now. I remember reading an article about the Pacific Ocean consuming San Francisco. I just ignored it. I guess it seemed too unreal,” Carter replied. She picked a scab on her thumb until it bled. “Did you see it coming?”

“Yeah. My dad makes cars. He always told me they’d destroy us. Our air. And my mom is religious. She thinks this is the rapture. She pointed out everything.” Rachelle laughed toward the end, though it wasn’t funny to either of them. 

On the walk back to Carter’s apartment, they sprinted through questions. What’s your favorite color? What music do you listen to? What food do you like? They didn’t comment on each other’s responses, as if they both knew these things didn’t matter anymore. Cars honked. A hedge hugged the brick walls, reaching its arms across a whole shopping center. The sky was deep blue, darker than it should have been with daylight. The stars glittered like little eyes. When they arrived, Carter poured them glasses of white wine. She always kept one bottle in case there were people over. She sat curled on the sofa, and Rachelle followed. An oil diffuser spat out cedar wood. They rushed through the movements after that. Folding the years. Shriveled and vacuum-packed. 

“I used to have an eating disorder. It’s still bad sometimes.” 

“I don’t know my mom or brother anymore.”

“I want kids, I think. Two of them.”

“I could see myself being a mother.” 

“I’ve dated both. Most of my ex’s are men, though.”

“I didn’t date, really. Before.” 

While Carter talked to Rachelle, she thought again of the dinosaurs in Holbrook. How they provided shade. How they were inanimate versions and empty. A shell of themselves. Rachelle’s glasses were brown tortoise shell, and her eyes were also brown. They ran out of questions. There was only the whirling ceiling fan, the cars outside, the soft groans of shifting bodies on a sofa.

Rachelle offered to order pizza, but everything was closed. Carter made sandwiches instead. She peeled plastic off shiny American cheese and squirted mustard in dizzy swirls. Rachelle hummed, leaning against the kitchen island, as if they had stood there before, and Carter plated the sandwiches with a nest of potato chips. The paper plates were printed with a blue floral design along the edge. Celebratory.

They brought the plates into the living room and turned on the TV. More footage. They were interviewing a woman with wind-chapped lips. Her two children stood behind her, holding her hands. They were boney and tired. They reminded Carter of birds. Small and pale. The kind that twitched, couldn’t hold still. Rachelle stacked her potato chips on her sandwich and squished them inside. The crunch made Carter wince. She turned the TV off and looked at Rachelle instead. She looked back at her. 

After eating, they made out on the couch. Carter held Rachelle’s face with both hands. She was soft. Her cheeks flattened under her touch. She tasted stale like bread, and her glasses poked Carter’s nose. She laid her on the couch. Carter kissed her fast, touched her fast. Rachelle swung her legs around Carter’s waist. They were heavy and made her back ache. 

Carter pulled away, and they just stared at each other, barely sleeping, barely moving, and in the morning they went to Rachelle’s apartment. Carter waited in the living room with her roommate, who was going back home to be with her family. My sister is a biologist, she said. I’ll be OK once I’m with her. They hauled stuffed purses and backpacks of clothing, canned food, shampoo, kitchen knives. On the way back, they listened to the sand twirling on the sidewalk. Quick tornados of sediment. 

# # #

Stegosaurus. One of the social sauropods. The herbivores were usually bigger. Necks like rubber bands and tall, smooth plates sticking from their spines. But carnivores moved faster, so the sauropods lived in groups. Maybe, if they surrounded themselves with other prey, their life would be spared. 

It took a month for things to get bad, to seem lasting. For the leaves and branches to choke everything, for the rain to turn hot and consistent, for the wind to cut. Most stayed in their houses, but sometimes groups formed—migrating through the streets with layers of clothing and hiking backpacks stacked higher than their heads; lost, fearful looks on their faces; children perched on shoulders so they didn’t touch the ground—and Carter wondered whether there was a lone carnivore roaming, waiting to pounce. Rachelle and Carter hadn’t left the apartment complex. Sometimes, when a resident left, they searched the space for water bottles, perishables, over-the-counter meds. The power and water had shut off a week before. 

“Where do you think they’re going?” Rachelle asked. As she peeked through the blinds, a rectangle of light covered her eyes. Carter shifted back and forth on her feet beside her but stopped to take her hand. Carter liked to hold people. 

“I don’t think they know,” she replied. She looked at the apartment—the collection of macaroni boxes and roll-closed bags of chips on the counter, the scentless candle they might light later, the stacks of books they’d collected, the smell of sweat. “What reason do they have to stay?”

Rachelle shrugged her shoulders. They were freckled all over. Her stomach had a white, faded scar. She put her hair up in a bun at night. Without makeup, she had dark bags under her eyes. It seemed important, almost scientific that Carter knew these things. Having Rachelle was like studying a new specimen, brushing the dirt from it, polishing the bones. 

“Yeah. I guess. It’s just scary. It feels like we’re safer here. Together,” she said. She held a yellowed paperback, a finger wedged down the middle. When she was younger, Carter had pretended her mother read. Reading felt like a hobby of good mothers. She liked to pretend her mother was smart and thoughtful so she and Caleb would be smart and thoughtful. Sometimes Carter would come back from the library with a herd of books—one of every genre, every size, every font—and leave them on the coffee table, where everyone could see them. Maybe Caleb or her mother would pick one up. This one looks interesting—where did they come from? That one? I just picked it up from the library. Made me think of you. 

Rachelle sighed and walked into the kitchen. Everything was a hazy darkness now, absent of the fluorescent lighting. Not pitch black, but softer, brown. As if they had been shoved into the flesh of a bruised fruit. 

“What should we do today?” Rachelle asked, like she did every day. Carter thought she did it to comfort her, to make it seem like life wasn’t the way it was. Every so often, Rachelle suggested they do yoga: twisting their spines, lunging, pressing their feet against each other so their legs made one giant diamond. When she was bored enough, Rachelle scavenged Carter’s desk drawers and kitchen cabinets and said they could make arts and crafts with her findings. They spent the day stapling slabs of cardboard together, drawing faces on it, giving it arms made of paperclips. Carter wanted to enjoy these things, wanted to enjoy doing them with Rachelle. Sometimes, before they’d do one of these activities, Carter would stand in front of the bathroom mirror watching her face smile and rest. She’d embrace herself, feel the warmth. She’d think about how to give Rachelle that warmth. She wanted to. 

“Do you want some soup? I can make a can of soup?” 

Carter disliked soup. Disliked how it turned into something else when left out. Liquid to paste. The consistency of mud. Rachelle smiled back, her lips rosy red with Chapstick. 

“That sounds great. Thank you,” Carter said. 

Rachelle had brought a portable camping stove with her when she moved in. It never cooked things all the way, and they both knew life was trickling out of it. A quiet but high pitch rang from it while being used. While Rachelle stirred, Carter sat on the couch and stared at the wall in front of her. It was blank, painted a dingy white. The TV was covered in a layer of dust, but she could still see her reflection in it. 

Rachelle brought her a mug with a plastic spoon inside—Carter had used disposables before, but now they wiped the old ones down with a rag. The soup was chicken noodle. Cubed meat and crescents of brown celery. The broth had too much salt, and oil separated from the water in yellow bubbles. They collected together along the side of the mug, so it looked like an infection. Boils. A burn on flesh. 

Carter stirred them away, and Rachelle sat next to her, so their thighs were pressed together. She slurped a noodle from her spoon, and Carter made herself take a bite, grinding a vegetable to mush. They often talked about how long it would be. When will we see people again? These conversations felt like lying. Carter wondered whether Rachelle would still choose to be here if everything was normal. Sometimes she thought about their missed futures on a loop. Adopting a child. Doctor’s visits. Vacations. Job layoffs. Weddings. Funerals. It was never quite right, though; Rachelle was always faceless. 

“Does it taste OK?” Rachelle asked. 

Rachelle had mentioned once that, when she was sick, her mom made her eggs and toast, not soup. She’d be curled under a thick pink duvet that felt like clouds, sinking into layers of pillows, wearing pajamas that matched and were printed with tiny hearts or princess crowns. Her mom would bring a glass plate with scrambled eggs and buttered toast, fresh orange juice. Would kiss her on the forehead to see whether the fever was going down. Would turn on cartoons and sit with her, rubbing her shoulder back and forth until she was finished eating.

“It’s fine. Thank you,” Carter said, resting the mug on her thighs, letting it burn her, like the heat of Arizona once did. “They have a point, you know. The people leaving.” 

Rachelle straightened, rolled her shoulders back. “You think?”

“What if this is it? This is our meteor. This could be our end. Do we just wait to die, Rachelle? Let the dust swallow us? Do we sit here, waiting?” Carter’s insides were simmering. Rachelle didn’t know anything about leaving or staying. 

Rachelle took another bite before setting the mug on the table. Her eyes looked slicked. She was going to cry—Carter could tell. Her movements shook slightly. 

“OK. What do you want to do? Do you want to go?” Rachelle said. “We could go back to Holbrook. Is it your family? We can see if they’re still there. If that’s what you want.” 

It was odd to have someone so agreeable. It made Carter want to ask more of her. Like cutting a thin slice of cake, promising to eat only one bite but consuming the whole cake. The soup bubbles had risen again to the surface, but Carter let them stay. 

“I think we should go tomorrow morning. Let’s pack a few bags and head out. It’ll be OK. We can’t stay like this forever,” she said, reaching for Rachelle’s hand. Her knuckles were dry. She pulled Rachelle closer so she could feel her breath, humid as it pecked her cheeks. “I know we can’t be this way forever.” Carter kissed her. Rachelle’s arms wound around her neck, bringing her closer. Carter put her hands on Rachelle’s waist, even though she felt as if she was suffocating. 

# # #

Cars. Carter hadn’t seen one in use since that day in the café. There were too many worries. The vines slithered; earth cracked; wind rippled and softened and rippled and softened; rain came in thick, sporadic downpours. Walking gave the semblance of control. Your movement was yours. Carter figured that something would eventually come to replace them. A vehicle meant for the end of the world. Monstrous tires. Doorless. Sheers attached to all sides, making quick circles, slicing all that was near. They hadn’t seen anything like it thus far. Carter remembered when Caleb taught her to drive in an empty parking lot, making figure-eights and listening to a radio that sounded like crushing paper into rigid spheres. She was thirteen. After, he would call her drunk at parties. I need you, he would say, please come get me. The only time they were really together was during those drives.

They had packed everything in two backpacks and tied a sleeping bag to each with a scarf. Rachelle walked on her tiptoes, as if to apologize to the ground for her weight. Everything smelled fresh and wet, and the sky was mold colored. With every step, cans clattered. 

It had been three days. The edges of Denver were forested with tall spurts of leaves and a deep, sloshing mud. Flies buzzed, darting from skin to plants to ground, touching all they could. Carter and Rachelle would stop soon, shiver under their sleeping bags for a few hours, eat more soup. They saw another group every few hours or so—families of five with the siblings all holding hands, groups of teenagers in college sweaters, three women of differing ages in diner uniforms. Rachelle wanted to talk to them. Carter didn’t. It had rained once already, and she felt hot and weighed down with her own scent. She could imagine leaving a trail of it, one for someone to follow, to follow and attack. Earlier in the day, they’d seen a feral cat disemboweled on the concrete. Its body was choked with vine; blood and dust matted its fur. 

Another pack was approaching them, their bodies stick silhouettes in the distance, parting seas of buildings and vines and debris hills from the other end of the block. Rachelle grabbed her hand, and Carter could feel the veil of sand covering her palm and fingers.

“Let’s ask them where they’re going. If they’ve heard anything. There could be a place that’s safe?”

Carter didn’t respond, staring as a tree stretched its branches above, growing quickly, shadowing them. She imagined her mother in Holbrook. Buried under several storms of sand. Coughing the grit out of her lungs. Flipping through worn-soft tabloids while sipping beer. Or maybe she’d left. Maybe she’d found people to stay with. Deep in Carter’s stomach, a ripple of fear told her that Caleb hadn’t made it to the end of the world. Rachelle was the only person left. 

“I know you’re trying to keep us safe,” Rachelle said, “but other people could give us something we don’t have.”

Something they didn’t have. Carter looked at her. Rachelle’s eyes swelled with worry, and her eyebrows, filed and thin when they met, were bushed, wide, and nearly touching. They could see the group more clearly now: two parents and their two teenagers. They were all wearing winter jackets of the same deep blue color. Rachelle let go. She called out to them and waved. They waved back. As they got even closer, Carter imagined they’d be new and clean. Their clothing would still be free from dirt, and the reek of moisture and baked skin wouldn’t yet grip them. The girl’s pink hair would be vibrant. No roots. 

“Hello,” Rachelle called out. She seemed unsure of what to say, like they were aliens. “Hello, do you all need anything? Are you travelling OK?” When she yelled, her voice was more nasal, sickly sounding. It was ugly. The man said something back, but Carter wasn’t listening. She kept walking forward. The building to her left—a small New Age clothing store stuffed with kimonos and beaded necklaces and Buddha shirts, let that shit go, namaste—was eroding slowly under the layers of vegetation. It looked like a giant, soggy sandwich. Its glass door was bone-colored, gritted with sand, waiting to be shattered. 

“OK,” Rachelle said to them, agreeing to something. “Carter, let’s go to them. Just for a second. I promise.” 

Carter kept going, her steps so heavy she had to pull each one from the mud a little. There was a light burn in her thighs. A panic stomping at the bottom of her stomach. “Rachelle,” she said. She had nothing else. 

“I am scared. Please,” Rachelle said, wide eyed. 

Carter stopped and looked at her. Her mouth was parted, and there was a small cut on the top of her cheek that she hadn’t noticed before. She wondered where it had come from. The wind? The vines? Herself? Carter let her gaze drift to the family, their matching coats. The parents were holding hands. To Rachelle, she shook her head. The air was getting hot. Humid. Bloating. She kept walking. 

“Carter,” Rachelle said, but Carter ignored her. It felt as if there was something chasing her. Something bigger than them both. As Rachelle called after her, telling her to wait, Carter kept moving. Faster now. Rachelle caught up eventually, giving up on the family. When she did, she took Carter’s hand, held it in hers, and kissed her on the cheek with damp lips. 

# # #

Bananas. They didn’t leave completely, just hid. A cycle of floods and droughts and floods and droughts made them nearly ungrowable, turned them into a delicacy. By the time she was in high school, Carter only ever saw them on television. A welcome gift given to an orphan as she walked into a wealthy family’s house. They’d be cut round like coins, plated in an elegant spiral. She’d sink her teeth into its flesh, and her eyebrows would spring up her forehead. 

Carter had eaten one at a state fair once. A half banana covered in chocolate and crushed pecans, skewered on a stick. Her mother had taken her and Caleb to the state fair in Phoenix. It was the only trip they’d taken together, and Carter had never been more excited. They all got candied bananas and sat at a fold-out, soda-stained table, and after she went on the Ferris wheel. She waved to Caleb and her mother as she ascended, and they waved back. The ride went in a circle and then another. At the top, Carter cataloged all that she could see. Noted any differences from the previous circles. But it was always the same cracked ticket sign, the same oversized teddy bears noosed along the edges of a booth, the same candy-cane-colored garbage bins. When her time was up and the wheel stopped, she went to meet Caleb and her mother again, but they weren’t there. She spent the rest of the day wandering the grounds, watching. She saw a dad hauling a toddler on his shoulders. A couple kissing on a bench while ice cream melted onto their hands. She didn’t want to be there anymore. Just when tears rose in her eyes, smearing her sight, she found Caleb. He was at the game with a giant hammer. Striking the base again and again as the bell blared. 

# # #

Raphus cucullatus. The dodo bird. An extinction induced entirely by humans. They were discovered and depleted in less than a century, devoured by sailors. They were too easy to catch. They had no natural predators. Carter liked the dodo for their struggle. When explorers came to the island of Mauritius, they took all the fish in one quick gulp, and the dodo was left with nothing. Because of this, some reports said the dodo would eat their own eggs. Snap at their large vitiligo shells. Pluck strings of yolk. 

They stopped at a gynecologist’s office. She thought of this as they stood in front of it. Inspecting. Other than a few plants wrapping and bursting from the bricks, the building looked untouched. The Y on the fading sign cradled a nest of birds, and the lobby was a museum: drifts of magazines on side tables, a corner of children’s toys, a pair of forgotten glasses and a ballpoint pen. A scent—chemical blanketed in age. They slid cushioned chairs together—two for each of them—and rolled out the sleeping bags. It was balmy inside. From the thick clouds—dark gray like mothballs—Carter knew the rain would soon come. 

Often Rachelle would talk until they fell asleep. She would tell a story about her cousins when they were in middle school, give a synopsis of the book she’d read that day, ask Carter what she thought about different movies they may or may not have seen sometime before the end. Carter thought she might stay quiet tonight. She didn’t. They both lay down, bending their knees to fit between the chairs, and Rachelle began speaking. She said she might’ve been to this doctor’s office before. Her friend had cancer. They had to remove a whole breast. She came with her. Even though her friend was happy to be better, it was difficult. The story made Carter think of Trevor, his bloodied nose and teary eyes when Caleb hit him. As she coasted to sleep, the rain crashed, riddled with a heave of wind. Carter worried for a moment that the building was swaying. Tumbling. 

When Carter woke up, Rachelle was no longer in her sleeping bag. It was slung across the armrests, wrinkled and dead-looking. The room was quiet, and sunlight came through the windows tinged green. She let her eyes dart across the room, but she knew the lobby was too small for Rachelle to be hidden. She looked anyway. Crouched. Moved chairs and tables and bags. Opened and closed the blinds so quickly the rope burned her palm. She said Rachelle’s name aloud a few times. Rachelle. Rachelle. Anyone. Her hands were hot. Face cold. She imagined rotting here in the lobby, turning into a fossil, brittle and dry. Maybe in a million years, scientists of a new species would find her. Maybe they’d say she was a solitary creature. Maybe they’d also say she ate her own kind. 

Her eyes throbbed. People left her and came and left and came. The memory of Caleb hitting Trevor came to mind. The blood. The heat. The confusion on his face. She pictured it again and again. Punch. Blood. Fall. Sand. She thought the lobby had been quiet, but she realized the insects outside were buzzing. Loud. Close. Carter opened the front door and stepped outside. She let the humidity smother her. Let the sweat coalesce and roll. Let her molars gnash against one another.

She heard the creak of a door behind her and turned. It was Rachelle. She hadn’t left. In her arms were cups of pudding, boxes of saltines, a bottle of pills. Carter’s chest ached. 

“This office must have been rather lonely the past few months,” she said with a smile, setting everything down. “Everything is still here.” 

# # #

Hadrosaur. Perhaps the only non-avian dinosaur to survive the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event. The last of the dinosaurs. Nestled in the desert of New Mexico among bundles of sagebrush and coyotes, there hid a hadrosaur fossil that dated to two million years after the event. It outlasted the rest. What was it about the species that enabled them to persist? Carter often thought about this, but she always came back to one fact: the hadrosaur, in the absence of shellfish and leaves, would often consume rotting wood. They were better than the dodo in this way. They were willing to adapt without destroying their own. Without destroying themselves. 

Carter wasn’t crying, but she thought she should be. Night showered beyond the walls of the café. Rain blew through the shattered glass door and puddled on the carpet, shading it darker. Rachelle was asleep. Her mouth was open, and wet from her hair turned the sleeping bag shiny. They had spent another day migrating. Allowed vines to strangle one of their backpacks and suck it deep into the ground. Watched a park statue be dragged away by wind like a Trojan prisoner tied to a chariot. Ran out of water. 

Carter didn’t pack anything. She left it all circling Rachelle, except for Rachelle’s red sweater. A stretched, stringy material. Carter pulled it over her as she walked out of the café. The rain needled her face, and vines licked her ankles. She thought she would be anxious, leaving Rachelle, but there was only relief. With quivering knees and wind weighing on her, she trudged all throughout the night. 

When the sun rose, painting yellow into the clouds, she was farther from the city. Fewer buildings and cars, but more sand and earth. It had stopped raining hours before. It made sense to Carter that the earth wanted her place back. She didn’t blame it. The trees and green were dwindling there too. There would soon be an expanse of cream-colored desert. Carter took a breath and collapsed, lying down. The sand was damp and stuck to her clothes in speckles. It made her smile. She lay for minutes and then an hour and then another. She felt like she was spinning, going in circles upon circles. Her mouth was dry, and sometimes the wind blew a wave of warm dirt over her body. In the distance, there were a man and a woman. Their bodies were covered in the gold light. Carter thought again about when Caleb left. She thought about her mother. She thought about an endless stream of faces with no names. Arriving and departing. The couple was getting closer. She could see the bright orange numbers on the man’s jersey and the women’s hay-colored hair. Carter let them come to her. 

Miranda Williams is 22-year-old a writer from New Mexico who now resides in Arizona. She received her BA and MA in English Literature from Arizona State University where her research focused on feminist and queer theory. Her work appears in Blue Earth Review, jmww, and Third Point Press, among others, was selected for the 2021 Best Small Fictions anthology, and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Find her on Instagram @mirandaiswriting.