by Laura Ellen Joyce

Until nightfall it was safe. It was okay to be with Anna. They could do normal things in the daytime. Anna ground flour from the good green twigs that Melissa found. Melissa was always awake at dawn. When the peach gleam of sunrise peeled the night back, Melissa left. She kept on her boots and gloves and thick socks all the time, even while she rested beneath the kitchen table overnight. Melissa had a good system for finding twigs. She could smell the freshness even through the diesel sky. When she came back, she would watch Anna grind them down into flour, adding a handful of cinnamon or other flavoursome barks. Late in the afternoon, when the flour had soaked and sprouted, Anna mixed it into pattycakes and baked them over the stove, making sure not to reduce them to ash. Anna and Melissa ate with some ceremony, taking tiny bites and washing them down with tea. They had a stomach ache all the time from eating nothing but trees. They did other things in the day, too. Sometimes they told stories to each other and sometimes they sang. There was always something to be mended; jumpers, socks, towels, and blankets. But when it was night the main thing they did was erase.

Anna had been given the future in a teacup, and later, by a bark vision in the night. Anna was scary in the night because the visions came more frequently and they were about hurting Melissa and killing Melissa sometimes but sometimes about keeping her safe and tight. If the erasure was going well then it was okay, Melissa could go and rest under the table and Anna would have her visions in the bedroom. If it went badly, and there were elements encroaching, Anna would bring Melissa into the bedroom and work on her there.

One night, Melissa had rested deeply and there had been some small sleep and perhaps a dark vision in it. She woke and black was filling the room beyond the table. Anna was suspended, or pretending to be. There were no sounds, and the electricity was stable. Melissa needed water and crawled out from the table, she made small, shushed sounds on her knees and crawled to the water pitcher in the corner of the room. She stood up slowly and pulled up a corner of the blind. The sky was glowing; an orange flame hung over the sea. Melissa was frightened, so frightened that she called out for Anna. It took Anna so long to come that Melissa thought she must really have been suspended.

Anna held Melissa and kissed her head three times. She made the incantation and Melissa felt calm.

The next day Melissa did not hunt for twigs. Anna forbade it. They retreated to the store cupboard and they drank cold tea from bottles in small, small sips and all they did was erase. They couldn’t open the windows because of radiation sickness. It was gas, Anna said, a controlled fire. It would burn for three days and then the worst of it would be over. But in the future it would be safer if Anna foraged, because she had power over the elements and Melissa would sicken and die if she left the flat. For three days they erased constantly with no sleep and no food and small sips of tea. Melissa vomited on the second night and she worried about the water supply being contaminated.

On the fourth day, Anna left in the night to fetch bark and tea, to get medicinal herbs. Melissa stood at the window. She had never been alone in the flat before, alone without Anna. She watched Anna leave on all fours; she saw her bound across the dead highway. But the fire was still there, the gas burning even brighter in a column that did not reflect into the sea. She lifted the blinds and let the colour swamp the flat, prisming it into wild neon brightness. She opened both windows and let in the gas light, swallowing, swallowing until the vision finally came and Melissa let it flow through her, erasing rapidly. Learning the words.

Laura Ellen Joyce has published two novels: The Museum of Atheism (Cromer: Salt, 2012), and The Luminol Reels (New York: Calamari Press, 2014). Her short fiction and criticism have appeared in PLINTH, Metazen, Spork, Sleepingfish, Necessary Fiction, The Collagist, Black Sun Lit, Largehearted Boy, Montevidayo, 3:AM, and Entropy. She was the judge of The Conium Review flash fiction contest in December 2015. She was project co-ordinator of Global Queer Cinema network in 2012-2013.