Author’s Note: “Red Sky Warning” is a flash fiction piece that I’ve written and am offering for free here on my website. Flash fiction, by definition, is typically less than 1,500 words, so this piece is short. But I hope you find it interesting, and I hope you like this new character that I’ve been developing!
“Red sky in morning, sailors take warning…
Mahari Jackson wasn’t really sure when the first time she’d heard that little nursery rhyme was—she was sure it was when she was a kid—but the context of her first exposure to it escaped her. Ultimately, though, it didn’t matter; it was just one of those weird phrases that wandered into her head on that unseasonably warm late January day, when she was approaching her apartment building at the end of her morning jog. She looked up at the bit of horizon she could see between her building, the house next to it, and the trees beyond and saw that the dawn was painting the sky a vivid but slightly unsettling shade of red.
The sight of the red sky wasn’t quite enough to soften the mild bout of irritation she felt at the sight of the woman sitting on the concrete front steps of her building, though.
“What the hell?” Mahari grumbled as she slowed her jog down to a paced walk, her breath rasping in her throat and her dark skin glazed with sweat, all thoughts of the long shower she’d planned to take shunted aside. Still clutching her cell phone in her left hand, where she’d cued up her favorite jogging playlist, which was still blasting the Deftones through her earbuds, she stared at the unexpected visitor as she slowed to a stop at the end of the concrete sidewalk that led to the front door. Said visitor was dressed in black, in something that vaguely resembled a government-type suit, her dark hair slicked back into a tight, skull-hugging ponytail, baby hairs perfectly tamed. She didn’t appear to have noticed Mahari yet; she was, instead, studying her phone, like something on it was intensely interesting or concerning—or both—and even from where she stood, Mahari could see her knee bouncing rapidly.
Victoria Jackson, her older half-sister, the good, upstanding, smart one who’d gone out and “made something of herself,” as Mahari’s mom had always phrased it, with her nice, cushy government job, was sitting on the concrete steps of Mahari’s apartment building, looking wildly out of place and the very picture of anxiety.
She hadn’t seen her sister in three years. She hadn’t exactly missed the stress she usually brought with her, either.
Mahari squared her shoulders, ready for any potential argument that might ensue—it happened more often than not whenever they were in the same room—then took a deep breath and started up the walk, killing the music on her phone and taking out an earbud as she called out, “Vic, what are you doing here?”
Victoria had the absolute nerve to startle, as if she hadn’t expected Mahari to show up at her own apartment building, and she lurched to her feet as Mahari approached, levering herself upright with a hand on the wrought-iron hand rail. “Mahari,” she greeted, giving her a nod as she slipped her phone into her pocket and tugged her suit’s jacket down from where it had ridden up. “Sorry to drop in on you unannounced like this. But I really need to talk to you about something important, and I didn’t think a phone call was going to be sufficient.”
“I’m almost afraid to ask,” Mahari remarked, brushing past her to enter the building. Despite the flippancy of the remark, she could feel her gut start to churn with nerves. The last time Victoria had shown up out of nowhere at her apartment like this, unannounced and unexpected, it was to tell her that their father had died. She could only imagine what Victoria was here to drop on her this time, and irrationally, she really hoped the older woman would just go away. No luck with that, judging by the sound of the creaky entry door on the front of the building squealing behind her. She blew out a breath and turned to the door immediately to her right, thumbing the appropriate key out of the bunch in her hand and inserting it into the lock on her door. “I guess I’m supposed to invite you in at this point,” she remarked, opening the door and stepping aside to let her sister enter ahead of her. Victoria did so, wordlessly, and it was then, as she moved past her this time, that Mahari noticed that her sister’s hands were shaking.
Seeing that made it click for Mahari: this wasn’t a social visit. Not that Victoria actually did social visits in the first place.
Mahari shut the door, and after a second’s hesitation, Victoria reached past her and deadbolted it before moving away to stand in the middle of the living room. She looked around at Mahari’s carefully chosen and curated furniture and artwork that she’d spent the past two years collecting and decorating her space with—the dark gray couch under the front window, the rose pink armchair in the corner, the mid-century modern console table and coffee table, the large flatscreen TV against one wall, the plants scattered about—like she was lost and didn’t know what to do with herself.
“Vic?” she prompted. “What’s going on? Why did you come here?”
There was a long moment, a pause in which the air seemed to settle between them with the weight of an anvil. Then Victoria turned to her and asked, “Do you still have that gun Dad gave you?”
“Uh, yeah, in my bedroom closet. Why?”
“Go get it,” she replied. “You’re going to need it.”
“What?” Mahari asked, shaking her head as she took a step closer to her sister. “What the hell are you on about?”
“Look, I’ll explain in a minute, okay? Just go get the gun first,” Victoria said. “You know I wouldn’t be asking you to do something like this if it wasn’t important.”
Mahari huffed out a heavy breath that sounded like frustration but was really just nerves. “Fine,” she said before trudging back toward her bedroom, kicking off her shoes in the hall as she did so, if only to avoid dirtying the thick white rug on her bedroom floor. Beelining to the bedroom closet, she quickly flung open the door and snagged the lockbox off the top shelf, keying open its biometric lock with her thumbprint and removing the weapon and spare ammunition magazine from the foam-lined case. She didn’t really know what to do with it, she realized as she held the weapon uneasily in both hands. She didn’t have a holster for it, mainly because her father had given it to her specifically for home defense purposes. What the hell was she supposed to do with this thing, stuff it in her pants? That violated every gun-safety class she’d ever taken. Sighing, she shook her head and started toward the living room, carrying it carefully with both hands so she didn’t do something stupid like drop it.
She found Victoria still in her living room, though now she was sitting on the couch, her television remote in hand, flipping through channels rapidly, cycling through the handful that Mahari subscribed to over and over again, like she was looking for something. She barely looked up as Mahari entered the room and set the requested pistol on the white-topped, kidney bean–shaped coffee table in front of her. “So are you going to tell me what’s going on now?” she prompted when Victoria didn’t say anything.
“Yeah,” Victoria replied, which honestly surprised Mahari. Her sister had spent so long beating around the bush by now that she’d begun to wonder if she was ever going to get any answers. Victoria lowered the remote she held and looked up at her then, her dark brown eyes shiny with worry and fear. “Yeah. I’ll tell you what’s going on. The world is ending, and we’ve got to get ready for it.”