Ash and Bone || Elford Alley

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Margie's hair fell out in clumps and the detective still had questions. Outside, the snow and ash fell together in a gray haze over the small, brick walkup. Twenty years ago, who could afford them? Today, who was left to inhabit them? He entered the building and tapped the door with his wedding ring. The couple welcomed him, but the detective stood in the doorway while the Knudson's made small talk about the inability to keep warm.

"Gets any worse I'll have to make a fireplace." Mr. Charles Knudson pulled the rotten flannel coat close to him. His hair was a mere dusting on his head and his stomach the most pronounced feature of his body. He rubbed his hands together and laughed.

"Just throw out the TV and put a fireplace right over there," he said.

The detective nodded.

"You wanna sit down?" Abby asked. He looked at the chair like it was a spring-loaded trap and remained in the doorway.

"No thanks."

Abby smiled, her glasses magnified her eyes and like her husband, time left her with wrinkled features, sunken cheeks, and yellow teeth. People blamed the weather, the sudden shift, for the way everyone seemed to age ten years in one. The detective cleared his throat and she took the seat beside her husband. "I just stopped by for a second, I'm Hugh, by the way." Hugh shut the door, a thin smile spread as he moved to the chair. He remained standing and started kneading his hands.

"That is funny, we never did get your name before," Charles said.

"I don't guess there was ever a good time to." Hugh sat down and gripped the armrest. He leaned forward. "Nice place."

"Compared to what?" Charles asked.

"An efficiency on Boulevard?" Hugh cleared his throat. "Not the roomiest place in town."

"I thought the city paid you guys pretty good?" Charles asked.

"Not like they used to. Besides, I'm never there anyway. There's only four of us for the whole city."

The room was still dim, but the tension was dissipating.

"So, do you know when they'll turn on the street lights again?" Abby said, trying to keep the silence from settling.

"I dunno, it's gets so dark, I wish they would. It may be the end but it shouldn't feel like it." Hugh scratched the back of his head.

"That's what everyone says. Real cheerful," Abby said.

"Well, you people do have a nice place."

"This place is a dump," Charles said.

"The kitchen lights burned out, it's like a horror movie in here," Abby said. Charles jumped in. "Any minute something is going to come out of the dark, I made the mistake of letting Margie watch this one movie."

"How is Margie?" Hugh asked. He sat up and folded his hands on his lap.

Charles said nothing, finally Abby answered. "Same. Same as always." The silence settled. Charles cleared his throat and then said nothing.

"How are the treatments?" Hugh asked.

"She's," Charles said. "She's not responding."

"At least you found a real doctor, most people are lucky to have a faith healer or some other voodoo shit," Hugh laughed.

The silence settled in, Hugh ran his hand across the stubble on his chin, taking careful stock of the questions he needed answers to. The house, though cold, held a warmth and for a moment almost made Hugh forget about their world. He forgot about the walk in the dark, the lack of lights because the grids were too strained trying to keep the heat on, the rolling blackouts that few in his age range survived.

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