It was surprising the email even got there, what with all the electromagnetic disruptions that came with the apocalypse. But there it was, blinking in Elana’s inbox like a star in a world that no longer had them. She shrieked, leaping up from the vintage laptop her father had jury-rigged to charge with AA batteries, dancing on her threadbare carpet.
“I’m going to college! I’m going to college!”
Elana knew she should keep her celebrations more subdued so as not to attract the wrong attention. But how could she hold it in when she was just so excited?
She burst out of her room, half-tumbling down the stairs.
“Mom, Dad! I got accepted! I’m officially a college student!”
Elana skidded into the dining room at top speed, almost laughing at the way her mother’s soup spoon hovered frozen in midair, the canned tomato slop they’d lived on for the past three weeks dribbling over its edge.
For once, the sight didn’t make Elana want to hurl.
She threw her hands in the air, grinning expectantly at her parents.
“I got in!”
Nothing moved except the soup drip drip dripping into the bowl, its contents almost the same hue as the light filtering through their boarded-up windows. Her father’s mouth was open in a perfect, comical O.
But as the silence stretched, Elana found it less and less funny.
Her arms fell.
“Aren’t you guys excited?”
Elana’s question shattered the spell like a rock through glass doors. Her mother’s spoon clattered against the bowl, spraying soup all over the wrought-iron table that used to sit on their patio, before it was incinerated.
“Absolutely not.” Her mother’s eyes flashed. “It’s out of the question.”
Elana’s excitement withered like burnt paper, curling into ash.
“You are not going halfway across the country for a college education you don’t need. Not at a time like this. I forbid it.”
But her father’s deep, soothing voice fell on deaf ears, because his wife was shoving upright, hands gesticulating wildly.
“What if something happened? How would we ever find out? What if things get worse?”
“Mom, you’re being so unfair,” Elana said, stamping her foot. “Just because the world is over doesn’t mean my life has to be!”
“I said no!” Her mother’s voice had become a full shriek now, making Elana’s father wince and flick nervous glances at the ceiling. “We have to stay together! I won’t have my only daughter flitting off —”
“I’m not flitting!”
“—to some far-off city where I might never see her again!”
“Mom, you can’t just keep me here! I’m eighteen years old!”
“It’s the end of the goddamn universe, Elana, and you’re going to stay. Right. Here!”
Elana swung to her father, bearing down on him like a cosmic storm.
The weathered, balding man shrunk in his wicker chair, clutching armrests that looked just as world-weary as he did. But he met his daughter’s ferocious gaze with an apologetic shrug.
“Sorry baby girl. Your mother’s right. We need to stick together now that… you know. Now.”
Elana gaped at him, that overflowing, excited, wonderful joy as distant as her memories of sunshine.
“I hate you!” she screamed at last. “I hate you both! If this is all you’ll let me do, maybe I don’t want to live!”
Ignoring her father’s pleading voice and her mother’s brewing fury, she spun on her toes and shoved the screen door open, slamming it behind her and not caring a single bit about the crash.
Her blurry eyes could barely focus on the red sky that stretched to the horizon or the clouds churning with tentacles. Those long, undulating limbs drifted in and out of view like divine fingers mixing the oil of existence. Elana glared up at them, tears spilling over and streaking the grime on her face.
“Couldn’t you have waited until I got out of here to ruin everything?” she said.
But of course, there was no answer. The monsters swam on, drifting over her as if she wasn’t even there.