AND ALL IS WELL • by Josef J. Hoskins

Lanterns on the wagon announced its approach long before it would arrive. The view from the Wal-Mart rooftop did not allow movement on the bypass to go unnoticed for long. Since the underpass from which the wagon emerged was almost a mile away, Jessica had ample time to wake her dozing companion and deliver a warning. Just as she leaned forward to rise from her lawn chair and have a good stretch, the roof access hatch swung open.

Eric climbed out and headed over to where Jessica was keeping watch. “How long did Big Stan last tonight?”

Jessica rolled her eyes at the mention of the snoozing mass between them. “He broke his record tonight. Lasted 45 minutes before he had to ‘rest his eyes’.”

Eric took a deep breath of the night air as he surveyed the horizon. He caught sight of the wagon’s gradual advancement and said, “I see we have some late night traffic. What do you think, traders or raiders?”

“Probably raiders. It’s been a whole week and a half since the last bunch tried to break down the doors.”

“We’ve had worse. A few warning shots sent them on their way.”

“Yeah, but anymore it seems each group is a little more desperate than the last. I better send down the alert.”

“That can wait. They’ve still got some ground to cover.” Eric grabbed the empty lawn chair and moved it over beside Jessica.

“Wait for what?”

“Your birthday present,” Eric said as he settled into the seat and produced a rolled up grocery bag from his jacket pocket.

“My birthday is still a couple of days off.”

“Close enough. And I couldn’t sleep. You can hear Mr. Gary snoring all the way over in Toys.”

Jessica smiled at his excuse and said, “I guess I’ll let it slide.”

“Oh, I think you will when you see what it is.”

Jessica delivered a friendly slap to his arm. “Well, don’t keep me in suspense.”

Eric obeyed and handed over the plastic bundle.

“It’s pretty small,” Jessica teased.

“Just open it.”

Jessica reached into the bag and pulled out her prize. Her face lit up when she turned it over and saw the Butterfinger logo. “Where did you find this? I haven’t seen one in months.”

Eric grinned at her reaction and said, “I traded Momma Stina a couple of lighters for it. Told her I needed something special and that was one of her options.”

“You shouldn’t have traded lighters.”

“I still have a couple more.” Eric pointed to the candy bar and said, “Feels like it’s all crushed, but I thought you would like it just the same.”

“You know I do.” Jessica opened one end of the wrapper, careful not to spill the contents. “Yeah, it’s all crumbly, but that’s fine. You want some?”

“No, that’s all for you. I’m more of a Reese’s kind of guy.”

“You’re too sweet to me.” Jessica leaned her head back and lightly shook the remains of the candy bar into her mouth. She held the debris on her tongue a moment to savor the chocolate and peanut butter mixture. “Oh… that’s amazing.”

“Happy birthday.”

“Thanks. I’m gonna have to start planning for yours now to compete with this.”

“Don’t be silly.” As Jessica enjoyed her treat, Eric glanced over to check the progress of the bypass travelers. His gaze then drifted skyward. He studied a spherical shape in the heavens that did not belong there. “Think they’ll ever land?”

“I don’t know,” Jessica replied as she poured more Butterfinger remnants into her mouth. “To be honest, I try not to think about it anymore.”

“They’re not gonna land anytime soon,” Stanley said in a groggy voice as he pushed himself up to a seated position. He shook out the jacket he had been using as a pillow and grunted to his feet.

Jessica and Eric were both startled by his emergence.

“You been talking to them, Big Stan?” Eric said in an attempt of masking his surprise at the interruption. He wondered how much Stanley had heard.

“If they planned on making contact or taking the planet by force,” Stanley said, “they would have by now, wiseguy. It’s been almost a year. They’re waiting for us to tear each other apart trying to survive. Then they’ll land and do whatever they’re here for. Or maybe they just wanna see what happens when you yank technology away from a society that depends on it.” Stanley gave a short laugh and added, “We might be their reality TV. They’re probably all kicked back watching us on monitors.”

“Those are disturbing thoughts,” Eric said.

Stanley grunted as he got to his feet. “I do what I can. Anyway, you taking over for me?”

Eric chuckled and said, “Sure, if you’ll let the door guards know someone is coming down the bypass?”

“I suppose. Good night, lovebirds.”

Eric and Jessica shared a glance and a smile as they replied, “Good night.”

After Stanley closed the hatch behind him, Jessica offered the Butterfinger wrapper to Eric. “Sure you don’t want any?”

“No thanks.”

After tipping the wrapper to her mouth again, Jessica looked up at the sky. “You know what, let’s pretend they are watching us, at this very moment. Let’s give them something to think about.”

“Want me to start dancing? That should confuse them.”

Jessica laughed and said, “That would only suggest we’re regressing into mindless beasts.” She shifted in her seat to keep her composure from slipping. “I was actually thinking of something more subtle. Something to show we’re still bonding with one another and dreaming of a better tomorrow and… you know, all that crap.”

If their exchange had been more illuminated, Eric might have noticed a slight redness infiltrating Jessica’s cheeks. However, even if he had noticed, he would have pretended otherwise. “What do you have in mind?”

“A kiss.”

Eric grinned and said, “Whatever the birthday girl wants.”

“It’s not my birthday.”

“Close enough.”

Josef J. Hoskins attempts to give all genres equal attention, but has been accused of showing favoritism toward fantasy and science fiction. His writing has appeared on, and Every Day Poets. He has also been published with Beyond Centauri, Flash Me Magazine, Residential Aliens, Haruah and Backwoodsman Magazine.

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