“Yellow Skies” came from a dream where I was a young girl using this mammoth machine to drill into the dry and dusty earth for water. Behind me was an elementary school, where dream me knew I lived. The sky was yellow and days didn’t last very long, leaving me and my family of survivors burning books to stay warm during the long night.
I drilled several times in close proximity and gained no water, but on the last day of the short sequence, I drilled into a pocket below the surface, expelling a small burp of gas but sucking the thicker atmosphere down into it, dropping me to the ground as the thin air put me to sleep and suffocated me.
In the dream, I knew that all life on Earth was killed in that moment, and I’ve repeatedly called “Yellow Skies” nihilistic because of this, although the ending of the story could be read with a tiny bit more hope than that, I typically lean towards darker interpretations. The same is true when I read others’ stories. Always.
As I was drafting, however, the characters transformed and the story did, too, a little bit. It has a teeny tiny smidgen more hope than my dream had. This came from the many, MANY Catholic stories I heard as a child—between going to church in the wee hours of the morning and my various family members talking about god and lessons to keep in mind.
My favorite by far is the trick my dad taught me as a child, that when Jesus came back for his second coming, the devil would arrive first, pretending to be him. And the way we knew if we were really in the presence of god was to pinch ourselves. If we could feel it, the imposter had come because we become incorporeal in the god’s company.
I don’t know if anyone else has ever heard this before, so far, it’s just been me, but this showcases how deeply ingrained the principles of Catholicism, more specifically Roman Catholicism, develop within my story ideas.
This was all to bring us here, to an excerpt from the story.
I’ve pasted it below, but I also recorded myself reading it, so if you would like to listen along as you read, click the video below!
An Excerpt from “Yellow Skies” from IN THE AIR:
Three blanket-burdened kids swaddled in front of their doors like monsters, jiggling with excitement.
“All right. On with yous, wake up your cousin and let’s have story time.”
Limbs and cotton bumbled through Youngblood’s mess and tackled him in his bed.
His groan had a little life in it.
I cracked one of his clean bottles and offered it to him once the brats settled down to create their nests.
“What’s your symptoms?”
“Hot. Sweaty. Barfy without the chunks.”
He’d had too much of the bad water, and I hadn’t brought any fresh stuff home.
“Drink up some of that.” I propped myself on a nearby chair, pushing the dirty shirts and socks onto his dresser, and opened the book in my lap. “I’ve brought Where Have the Bees Gone?”
“Tell us about the ancient Earth myth.” The eldest braced himself against Youngblood’s bed frame, blankets tucked up under his face.
“I’ve retold that five times this week already.”
“Please.” Their voices chimed in unison.
Settling back, I crossed my legs and gave them the practiced lines my father fed me and Jane when we were young:
Once, thousands of years ago, seventy percent of the Earth was drowned with water.
Vast oceans packed with life that pumped oxygen into the buoyant atmosphere.
Rainbows reflected across the planet and the bright and full sky.
People climbed to the very peaks of mountains; they flung themselves into the vacuum of space; they sculpted the landscapes into monuments. But they never dropped themselves completely through the depths of the sea for the abundance of it.
As the air choked with smog and runoff stained the waters, life blew into chaos.
The Earth was damaged beyond repair.
Then, the angels came, sinking from the streaked clouds and distant stars to scoop up a few hundred thousand souls before leaving the rest to the apocalypse.
Plagues spread—infectious bubbles and boiled lungs, rotting sores and flesh-eating parasites. Illness took more than half of who was left behind. Continued to with festering cancers and carcinogens. With polluted air and water. With their means of life dying away.
People warred over what value the Earth still provided them. Territories formed. Families tore themselves apart.
The water dried up. Food was harder to maintain. The atmosphere dwindled.
But stories say that those angels plan to come back for the ones who can suffer through their failing planet and reward them with a new, blue oasis to enjoy because they’d proven their appreciation of being provided so much.
As the skies darken, we await the shining saviors from distant stars.
Each of them blinked unseeing eyes at me, Youngblood included.
Did he see those angels swooping down for us as his fever spread moisture across his forehead?
“Tell us again,” the littlest said.
“What do you think it’s like to float?” asked the middlest.
“Can you imagine not seeing the stars most of the day? A sky so bright to cover them all for hours.”
“What it was like to stand under rain.” Youngblood rolled onto his back, breath labored.
The polluted leftover bottled water from a plant my parents and their group found were most of what we had in reserve. No one wanted to touch them for this reason, but water, even tainted, was too valuable to waste.
The kids’eyes glowed with mysteries before they slowly came back to me with sleepiness.
“Did you want me to read Where Have the Bees Gone?”
They grumbled, but I read it to them anyways before sneaking away from their snores.
Do you see bits of your past peeking into your writing over and over again? If so, tell me about it in the comments below.
If you want to read the rest of the story, and all of the other awesome ones published alongside it, get your hands on IN THE AIR.