Friday, January 13, 2006

Two Unicorns (Nicole Utz)


It was still raining.

The man leaned slightly over the edge of his small balcony and squinted, looking somewhere into the distance, looking for any sign of life. He saw nothing but gray clouds, gray water, and the top of one palm tree swaying uselessly two feet above water. He leaned further out and squinted harder, and as he wondered to himself if that was a person sitting on top of that building over there, he was promptly drenched by a torrent of rain. He cursed and took a step back, reminding himself that the balcony was indeed small and that the rooftop above it was even smaller.

He removed his glasses and wiped them on the edge of his shirt, turning as he did to peer back into his hotel room. The door separating his room and the balcony on which he stood was open—what use was there to a closed door right now? --and in front of the king-sized bed, a small television still stood blaring. He’d only turned this television on twice during the week he’d already spent in this room. The first time had been four days ago, when the local news station was all abuzz about a tropical storm approaching the Florida coast, one expected to bring strong winds and six inches of rain. The second time had been two hours ago, when he’d woken up from a sound sleep and found the ceiling leaking and every floor below his flooded.

The television really hadn’t been much use; everyone on it was too frantic to do any good. Things had already spiraled out of control, with the less practical newscasters proclaiming that the second coming had finally arrived and those who hadn’t sinned would be saved by Jesus. They’d all promptly been dragged off their air by their higher-ups, but the man wondered to himself if the censors could really give half a damn at this point, Jesus Christ or not. He’d watched all that he could stand and had found himself absorbing the news calmly, eventually lighting a cigarette when he realized that there was probably nobody left in the hotel to tell him he was a menace to society or a man with dirty lungs. He certainly couldn’t give a crap about lung cancer right now.

So the entire continent was flooding. The man put his glasses back on and squinted out into the storm. He needed to get his prescription changed; he still couldn’t tell if that was a person over there or not. Fleeing to the roof was probably a good idea at this point, considering he’d managed to sleep right through whatever evacuation there had been the evening before. He was the kind of guy who could sleep through an earthquake, and during a business trip to California three years ago, he had. But he figured that the twelfth of fourteen floors was close enough to the roof as it was, and the water still had to rise another foot and a half to get to him, so for now he was safe. Safe, but a little pissed off.

He grunted and reached into the pocket of his jeans, looking for the cigarette he’d previously placed there for safekeeping. When he found it he went back into his hotel room for his lighter, and as he lit up his eyes were inevitably drawn to the television again. Some big shot reporter was speaking now, at a desk under bright lights instead of "on location" as guys like him always wanted to be, and something about the dark circles under the reporter’s eyes told the man that he’d missed a lot in the past couple days. As he listened, he caught the word "apocalypse." He sighed, wondering if the entire population had lost its collective mind. Wasn’t the end of the world supposed to come with fire and brimstone? Hadn’t that Noah guy been promised that the world was safe from giant, humanity-destroying floods from 2000 BC onwards? Or had that been a lie?

The man snorted as he lit his cigarette. Somehow he could see how people could be panicking. If he’d read the Bible at face value and taken Christianity seriously as a kid, maybe he, too, would have been willing to believe that the world was currently being flooded due to the wrath of an angry god. But he was far too intelligent to think that something of that nature was possible. A storm was a storm, and the fact that it was currently causing a gigantic flood was unfortunate, but on its own… that proved nothing. He would believe in religion the day God himself walked into the room, shook the man’s hand, and told him his life story forwards and backwards.
He looked at the television, decided to keep the now crying newscaster in his thoughts, and turned it off. Regardless of what anybody believed, this had to be something like hell on earth.

There was no doubt about that.

He went back to the balcony and leaned on the railing as well as he was able, being careful this time not to poke his head out too far. The last thing he needed right now was another drenching. The usually strong scent of cigarette smoke was nearly drowned out by the overwhelming smell of rain, and the man inhaled only twice before tossing the cigarette into the water below.

Smoking was his one bad habit, and the only reason he had to enjoy it was the scent. It reminded him of his father and grandfather--both men had smoked and had died from it, but yet the smell was so inviting (and the activity so calming) that it all seemed impossible to avoid. But with all this rain around…

"Well, looks like I’m not the only one left after all."

The man started and turned, nearly losing his footing as he did so. He caught himself and looked into his hotel room, staring across the short space at a figure in the entranceway. He’d forgotten to lock the door that led from the hallway into his room--what would have been the use? --and so someone had apparently decided that this permitted entrance. He squinted and took a step forward and saw that it was a woman. As she came into clear focus, he could see that she was smiling, and that smile put him on guard. "Who are you?"

She laughed, somehow sounding fearless. "Does it matter? I was looking for some company… didn’t think I’d find any, though." Her voice was sweet and Southern, and she moved into his hotel room, crossing the floor to the door that led out onto the balcony. "You here by yourself, sweetie?"

He looked at her and wondered how someone who seemed so young could have the audacity to call him "sweetie." His great-aunt called him "sweetie."

"As far as I know," he answered, cautious. "I thought everyone else had left--"

"Everyone but the two of us. D’you have a death wish? A handsome fellow like you should’ve evacuated long ago." The woman came onto the balcony and looked the man over, then smiled again. "Trying to jump or somethin’?"

"No! … No. I wouldn’t do such a thing." He frowned at her, wondering how someone could simply walk into his hotel room and judge him in such a way. "What do you want?"
"You’re all questions! Sheesh, what a hardass. Got any more of those smokes?"

He narrowed his eyes at her. "How long were you--"

"Look, does it really matter? I’m amazed somebody can ask so many questions while the whole damn earth is flooding." She snorted and took her place beside him at the balcony railing, tossing her hair over her shoulder. "Maybe this’ll get you to shut up. I came here with my grandmother on a vacation, and she died last night. She wasn’t well enough to move out when the evacuations started, and I sure as hell wasn’t gonna leave her alone, so I stayed. S’far as I know, we’re the only two people left here. Grandma’s body is up in my room on the next floor, and there’s some guy laying in the hallway outside your room--I think he’s dead, too, or just layin’ real still. I’ve been looking around for any sign of life since this morning, since I figure drowning alone would be pretty crappy… y’know what I mean?" She took a breath, paused, and rolled her eyes. "I was standin’ there long enough to see you toss a perfectly good cigarette out into the goddamned ocean, so if you’ve got another, I’d be happy to take it off your hands."

The man took a moment to absorb this information and then walked back into his hotel room. He emerged a moment later with a pack of cigarettes, half-full, and a lighter. She accepted both items with a grin. As she lit up, her eyes seemed to twinkle a little. The man took a good look at her and saw a woman that could have been no more than twenty years old-she was average height and somewhat skinny, and her waist-length hair had been dyed bright red- it reminded him of a freshly painted fire hydrant. Her eyebrows were blonde, but something made the man think red suited her better than blonde. Maybe it was just because she was a loudmouth.

"So, sweetie," the woman said, and blew a cloud of smoke into the rain, "why’re you still sticking around? If you’re not killing yourself, you’ve got to have some reason…"

He leaned against the railing again and stared out into the rain. Something told him that there would be no use resisting conversation with this woman. If they were going to drown anyway…

"I was asleep," he answered, and heard her choke. "I didn’t wake up for the evacuation."

"You’ve gotta be kidding--"

"No. I woke up and found the hotel abandoned and everything flooded."

"And you didn’t try to--"

"To escape? How?" He glanced at her and shook his head. "There seems to be no use now. I decided to wait. If the rain stops--"

"The rain ain’t stopping’, sweetie. Haven’t you heard?" The woman laughed. "It’s the end of the world. The rain won’t stop until there’s nothing left for it to rain on."

"The end of the world?" The man looked at her. "Do you actually believe that?"

"Why wouldn’t I?"

"It’s--you can’t possibly think such a thing--" He stumbled over his words. "How could you think such a thing?"

"How couldn't I? Think about it." She kicked off the shoes she had been wearing, sinking two inches lower to the ground as they were cast aside. "Do you know," she began, stepping towards the balcony edge, "what the probability is… of all this happening?"

He remained looking steadily at her. "What?"

"The chance of there being rain falling on every square inch of this planet-the chance of a flood occurring everywhere all at the same time-is less than a ten thousandth of a percent. That’s really damn low. To put that into perspective…" She stopped to blow more smoke. "It’s more likely for every member of the United States Senate to spontaneously combust at the same time."

The man chuckled despite himself. "That’s an image to remember."

"I’m not joking, y’know. It’s almost statistically impossible for the entire world to flood. The fact that this is happening completely defies logic." The woman’s expression hardened. She swallowed, her eyes fixed on the burning tip of her cigarette. "I don’t know if you’ve seen the news lately, but even the atheists are screaming about the apocalypse now. The probability is just too low--"

"How do you know that?"

She sighed. "Before I came here, sweetie, I was a statistics major."

The man was caught off guard. He drew back from the railing and looked over the woman again, unsure now of his previous judgments about her. At first she had seemed like a wild Southern teenager, uneducated and brash, but a statistics major? He never would have guessed such a thing. After all, the students he had attended college with would have never dared to dye their hair bright red. There would have been consequences to such an action. But, he reminded himself, times had changed. So it was possible for someone so strange to be more accomplished than he had initially thought. Even so… He cleared his throat. "How old are you?" he asked.

Now she seemed to be the one off guard. "How old… why d’ya ask?"

"I want to know." He folded his arms. "If we are the last people left, we might as well get to know each other before we drown."

"Well, well!" The woman laughed. "Looks like you had a change of heart. Can’t say I expected to hear something like that come out of your mouth." She flung her spent cigarette out into the water and tossed back her hair, pressing her thin arms to the top of the railing. "I’m twenty-four."

"You don’t look--"

"I know. Save it; I hear that every day." She looked at the water instead of him. "You?"
The man forced back his surprise and answered her. "Thirty-nine."

"Woooow." She threw back her head and laughed. "You’re practically an old geezer. Man, and at first I thought you were my age. You take a dip in the Fountain of Youth or somethin’?"

He chuckled softly and reached into his back pocket for his box of cigarettes. "Such a thing doesn’t exist."

"There y’go again. You’re just resolved to be the most practical man alive, aren’t you? I bet you don’t believe in God, either."


"Well, you’d better start believin’ while you can, sweetie. Otherwise…"

"Otherwise," he began, lighting up, "what?"

She shrugged. "Otherwise you spend eternity rotting in Hell. Who knows, at this point. Like I was saying before, though-you can’t explain this flood logically. The only thing left to do is blame it on a higher power."

The man snorted. "A thousandth of a percent still isn’t very low. I’ll take my chances."

The man and woman were quiet for a while, and as the rain continued to come down in torrents, they watched. Suddenly the woman whirled around and faced the man, grinning like a cat would if it had cornered a mouse. "You ever read the Bible, sweetie?"

He nodded. "Once, a very long time ago."

"Ever wonder why the unicorns weren’t mentioned?"

"The unicorns?" The man blinked. "What are you talking about? Unicorns never existed."

"Do you have proof of that?"

"Well, no, but--"

"Look, just listen to me for a second." The woman shook her head, seemingly annoyed with his protests. "It’s said that the unicorns weren’t mentioned in the Bible because they managed to get themselves killed back when the Earth flooded. You remember the story of Noah’s ark, right?" She waited until he nodded in response to continue. "It’s said, sometimes, that the Bible excluded mentions of certain creatures that boarded the ark-creatures we’re not supposed to believe in. Y’know, faeries, elves, and so on…"

The man cleared his throat. "I fail to see how this relates to our current situation."

"I’m getting to it!" The woman glared at him, then spun around, turning her back on the rainfall.

"Unicorns kind of fall into that category--you know, nonsensical creatures. My grandmother always used to tell me that they existed, though, and that they aren’t seen anymore because they were too proud to board the ark. When the rain started and Noah gathered up his pairs of animals, the unicorns were stubborn and stayed behind. They thought they could wait out the storm-that it wouldn’t get as bad as that crazy old man was thinkin’. They thought they could just swim right through it. Noah begged and pleaded with them, but they insisted on staying right where they were. So all the other pairs boarded the ark, and the unicorns just sat by watchin’, thinking to themselves how smart they were, how stupid Noah was for believing that God guy would really wipe out all of humanity…"

He pursed his lips. "Then what?"

"What do you think? You know what happened, geez. It rained for forty days and forty nights, and everything and everybody drowned before a week had passed. Those stubborn unicorns didn’t make it past two days--Grandma always said they tried to cross a river and each and every one of ‘em slipped on the rocks and fell in. Hooves aren’t exactly the sturdiest things, y’know, especially when there’s water involved." The woman studied her fingernails, painted red to match her hair. "What I’m saying is this: we’re kinda like those two unicorns. Noah gave those two a chance to live through the biggest storm the world would ever know, and they turned it down. They just walked away and thought to themselves that they would be just fine on their own. And we know how that turned out…"

"Are you trying to say that the two of us are going to die?"

"What else do you think could possibly happen at this point, sweetie?" She shook her head slowly, her hair falling forward to shield her eyes from his gaze. "It won’t stop raining anytime soon--at least that’s what the weatherman kept sayin’--and even if it does, where are we supposed to go? What do we have left here? I only have enough food in my room for one more meal, and I doubt we could find an open McDonald’s anywhere around here." She smiled a little at her own joke. "I could really kill for a cheeseburger right about now…"

The man looked at the cigarette in his hand and swallowed back the sudden lump in his throat.

"Me too."

"Honestly, I don’t know what’s goin’ on here. If we’re to believe the Bible, God’s taking back his word about never flooding out the world again--and he’s really pissed at humanity, to boot. If we’re to believe logic… well, I’m not so sure we can believe logic anymore, seeing as this defies just about everything."

"The whole world’s ruined, either way."

"Now you’re cookin’ with gas." She threw back her head and laughed. "I mean, look at this. A hundred percent of the world is covered with water right now. There are no houses, no businesses, no buildings that aren’t filled with water to some extent. If the rain keeps coming, even the skyscrapers will be submerged. There’s almost no food, no drinkable water, only a couple places to sit or sleep in, and I’m sure people are panicking their asses off considering the death toll’s supposedly two million right now in the United States alone." The smile on her face was slowly dying. "Even if we do wait out this storm, what’s left for us? What’s left for any of us when the storm clears and everything we hold dear is underwater?"

The man flung his cigarette out into the rain and watched it fall to the ocean below them, his throat tight. Not even the smell of smoke could comfort him now. "Nothing," he said, mostly to himself, and closed his eyes. "There’s a very grim future in store for anyone who lives through this."

"Think it’s even worth living through?"

"I don’t know right now," he answered. "But I won’t know until I try."

"So you’re gonna cross the river?"

He chuckled. "I can swim very well."

"Well, if you’re determined to do that…" She turned and pointed across what had once been a beach, her sight set solidly on a taller, larger hotel. "We’ve gotta move to higher ground. There are balconies over there, too--we can climb up onto the nearest one and see if we can get into a room from there." She paused. "I was about to say that I wouldn’t wanna break in, but I guess that doesn’t matter much now."

"No." The man adjusted his glasses and squinted at the hotel--there was someone on the roof there, he was sure of it now--and sighed. "Do you think we’ll live?"

"You said you could swim well, didn’t you?" The woman was suddenly climbing on the railing, pushing herself up to sit on the top bar. "It isn’t too bad out there… nothing I couldn’t handle. I was on the swim team in high school, y’know…"

"Me too."

"Well, that’s just another thing we have in common, huh?" She winked over her shoulder at him, then slid a little off the railing. "C’mon, let’s get going. And I’m not saving you if you start to flail around, so you’d better be good at watchin’ your own ass."

The man bent to remove his shoes, smiling. "I can take care of myself just fine. I’ve made it this far, haven’t I?"

He waited for his answer and heard nothing-the woman was already gone. Sighing, he peeled off his socks, unbuttoned his shirt, and began to climb over the railing. Around him the rain continued to come down, relentless, as if it was determined to continue until there was nothing left but the sound of waves lapping against rooftops.


WRT310 Creative Writing, Fall 2005

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