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Touch of Ruin

By Timothy Johnson in Issue Nine, June 2023

Antoni kneels on the cracked pavement and waves his hand over a seam. A weed sprouts from the desiccated earth beneath, spreading its jagged limbs in praise to him, its creator. He brushes its leaves, allows its bristles to graze and nuzzle between his fingers, the mounds of his knuckles. He hears the high frequency at which it chitters its pleasure to be alive because, even here, it is grateful for the chance.

And then he tears it up, root and all.

The truth is he has only ever been able to create weeds.

“Would you like me to dispose of that for you, sir?” Enoch stands by, his chrome chest plate reflecting the oppressive sun’s rays into Antoni’s eyes.

Antoni raises his hand to block the blinding light. “Could you turn a little bit, Enoch?”

“Certainly, sir.” Enoch’s titanium feet scrape shards of weathered glass. He turns precisely twelve degrees.

Winding the weed around his finger, Antoni retrieves the life he gave it. The plant withers to dust and falls to the earth. Antoni’s dry, cracked lips moisten and heal. He stands and surveys the land, the rusted steel hulks of automobiles bowing on their atrophied suspensions. Broken light poles lie down, frayed wiring at their bases. A crumbling shopping plaza lines the perimeter of the ancient parking lot.

The horizon sky is a tortured, hazy red above a mountain range of rock. The wind licks the crest of a bulbous dune, perhaps the vanguard of a dust storm. If it is, they will have to seek shelter, and Antoni will have to don his respirator. Enoch will provide ample warning.

Before them, an ancient storefront beckons. Antoni doesn’t recognize this area specifically, but it is familiar to him. He sees his touch in the desolation and decay, evidence of his ruin. Though he has never been here, Antoni is responsible for all of this.

“We have reached our destination, sir,” Enoch says. “If you have any doubt, I assure you routine diagnostics have returned no errors as of…” Enoch vocalizes several stuttered clicks. “Now.”

“I know it’s the right place,” Antoni says. “I can feel it. I just can’t believe this is the end.”

“A wise man once said…” Enoch’s voice modulates into a mimicry of Antoni’s. “The passage of time is a gift. As long as time moves on, nothing is over. We have all the time in the world, so we can make it right. Otherwise, what good is this gift?

“Let’s amend that,” Antoni says.

Enoch chirps with acknowledgement, his recording function activating.

“We have time so we can learn from our mistakes,” Antoni says.


Antoni grew up in the verdant countryside where silvery brooks and rolling hills were more common than bricks and mortar, the insect buzz and bird song louder than machine grind and engine rumble. Humans were everywhere, but much of the world was still untouched.

His family owned a winery and farm where they cultivated the land in rhythm with the seasons, where they lived by the limits of nature, until Antoni learned how special he was.

One gloriously sunny day, Antoni dashed through a field of immature wheat crops and spread his arms like wings, soaring under the warm sun. The coarse stalks feathered his palms. His footsteps kicked up the scent of rich, fertile soil. No siblings, no friends—he was alone, allowed to be a child only because he was too young for work.

He carved great sweeping arcs as he made his way toward the barn on the hill where crowds gathered at picnic tables beneath a large white tent. The people there held glass chalices of gold and crimson, some of them swirling and sparkling in the light, others raising in salutation.

By the time Antoni arrived at the tent, he heard only his own breathing. The crowd’s gathered murmur had silenced, and he halted when his gaze raised from his feet to meet the stares of an audience before him. Dozens of strangers gaped, some of them still absently sloshing their wine, nasal cavities working to draw in aromas of acacia and elderflower, oak and hazelnut, or honey and apricot.

They weren’t looking at him, though. They were looking at the wheat field below.

Antoni turned and saw the path he’d carved into the land. The green, immature stalks he’d touched had grown, browned, and flowered into a ripened stage ready for harvest. His eyes followed the curving line across the land as it curled over on itself in irregular, unpredictable fashion to the other end where his father, Magnus, stood with hands on hips, glaring across the distance.


When Antoni was thirteen, the family’s German shepherd, Remy, died in his sleep. He was twelve in human years. Antoni found him coiled up, tail to snout, in his bed. The boy’s cries brought Magnus running, but he stopped in the doorway. Once Antoni accepted he’d lost the only dog he’d ever known, he collapsed upon his friend and held his lifeless body to his chest.

The bones of the house rumbled. Picture frames fell off of walls. Dishes rattled in the kitchen sink. A snake plant and its stand toppled over, the pot smashing on the hardwood floor. The soil spread out, and all of its saturation and mineral content sapped away, leaving a pile of dust. The leaves softened, withered, and browned to the brink of rot.

Then the rumbling settled, and Remy licked Antoni’s tear-swollen eyes. The boy pulled away and stared in amazement at the dog’s alert and energetic face, his gray muzzle now the spotted black-and-white of his youth, his nose wet and sniffing, the filmy cataracts in his eyes wiped clean.

Neither Antoni nor Magnus spoke of it because they knew that if they did, it would open the door to dark possibilities of returning other loved ones long at rest. They simply accepted the gift of Remy for as long as they had left with him, and when he died in his sleep for the second time years later, Magnus swept the dog’s body away before Antoni could touch him.


By the age of eighteen, Antoni had learned to enrich crop fields. He dug his fingers into the cool soil, and at his command, grape vines burst forth and twisted around trellises. Wheat and corn flowered and unfolded their leaves. Apple trees dropped their ripe fruit like raindrops. The farm’s yield increased exponentially with weekly harvests throughout the year, even during the knuckle-aching, skin-splitting cold months. The winery produced barrel after barrel until the new storage facility, a warehouse that once contained machine parts, was filled beyond its limit. With the amazing profits, Magnus bought another building and filled that one, too.

It did tire Antoni, though, especially at the beginning. He didn’t understand how his gift worked then, but he knew how he felt when he used it. At first, when he wiggled his fingers into the earth, it was a shock of energy that wired his soul and electrified his mind. He was a champagne bottle, corked and shaken, until it all flushed out of him as if his fingertips were drain spouts. With the fleeting energy, he tired, but food and rest restored him. The more he used his gift, the more he could do with it. Each planting conditioned him, and soon, by the time of each harvest, he was ready to go again.

Magnus, now the wealthy owner of a wine and agricultural company, came to him one night with tired eyes and a ragged voice from a long day of meetings with businessmen vying to know his secret.

“It is enough, son,” he said. “We have enough now. I want you to be young for a while, enjoy your life. I want you to grow yourself.” His demeanor saddened. “If you are here, I know you will use your gift. I know I will want you to use it. That is why I would like to send you on a trip this summer. How would you like to see the world?”

Antoni agreed with enthusiasm because he knew it would please his father, but the prospect of leaving his home terrified him. Regardless, when school let out for the months of sunshine and long days, Magnus gave him an itinerary with all of his travel fares paid and put him on a train. He walked the streets of New York City and saw a man wearing a winter coat in June and pulling along two shopping carts stuffed with everything he owned. Antoni saw a man with a pit bull begging for something, anything in London’s Strand. A mother and child in Rome came to him dressed in rags, but he didn’t speak Italian. An entire family pleaded with him in Cairo, but he couldn’t understand Arabic either. He witnessed a sleeping toddler in New Delhi that was little more than skin, bones, swollen belly, and eyes. Like a field of wheat plowed and left to rot, a billion people were starving.

In August, when he came home, the first thing he said to his father was, “You were wrong, Dad. It’s not enough. We have a lot of work to do.”


Magnus shut the winery down and replanted the fields with soybeans and potatoes. He turned the facilities into more food packing operations and used the warehouses for distribution. But no matter how much Antoni dug his hands into the soil, it wasn’t enough.

At Antoni’s direction, Magnus began acquiring seeds, as many as he could. They arrived in barrels loaded up on lines of tractor trailers. Antoni shoved his hands into each, imbuing them with his touch, and then he had his father contact the media. Antoni wanted to speak to the world.

Every media network came, and Antoni gave a speech about how he’d traveled and seen such a simple, solvable problem become a disease. He said his father’s company was going to cure it by giving away their seeds, the special ones they’ve been using for years to grow food. A journalist asked him what made the seeds so special. Glad for the question, Antoni went into the field, dug a hole with his fingers, and planted a single seed. He dampened the earth with a dash of water, and then he stepped back and waited. Moments later, as the audience started to mumble its impatience, a green finger emerged and slid upward as if it had only ever been hidden in the dirt and was now revealing itself. In seconds, it was six inches tall and branching. In a day, it would brown and flower, and in two days, it would be ready to harvest.

“The only condition for receiving these seeds is a signed agreement that the food it yields be sold at cost,” Antoni said, and the journalists barely let him finish the statement before they erupted with questions.

“It’s him!” someone yelled from the crowd. “It’s not the seeds. It’s him! He does it! I’ve seen him!”

“Me too!” someone else shouted. “Whatever he touches grows!”

“Beware of the devil bearing gifts!” another screamed.

These people had been in attendance at the winery when his gift first manifested. They’d seen him at work, and for a while, they remained bewildered until the farm grew and the food started to circulate around the world and news of Magnus’s success reached every household. They’d been content to whisper among themselves and those they knew, but now, with Antoni’s attempt to expand his influence, they could remain silent no longer.

Despite the anger and hatred from those who were afraid of what they didn’t understand, the seeds dispersed around the planet, but not even that was enough. Without water, the seeds wouldn’t bloom, and drought was gripping and squeezing much of the world. With his new-found celebrity, failing farms asked Antoni to come and help return their crops to health.

He was happy to turn dry, useless dirt into rich, nourishing soil. He would have touched every corner of the Earth if he could have. Of course, he thought, it was just a matter of time before everything changed.


When Antoni sat in the leather chair on the set of the Benny Gibbs show, the spotlight blinded him. He squinted and raised a hand to block it, and the operator adjusted it so he could see the host sitting across from him in his own leather chair. The front of the stage was almost pure darkness, but he knew from the applause and murmurs that an auditorium filled with people, thousands of pairs of eyes, gazed at him. Clear to see were the four ocular lenses panning and focusing on him to send his image and voice to screens across the planet.

“Welcome to the show, Antoni,” Benny Gibbs said.

“Thank you for having me.” Antoni adjusted the knot of his tie, which he’d done himself and hadn’t gotten quite right after eleven attempts.

“Well, thank you for accepting the invitation. We all appreciate the work you do, and you’ve been notoriously difficult to pin down for a conversation.”

“It’s like you say, there’s important work to do,” Antoni said. “But I felt it was time to address some things.”

“Of course,” Benny said. “I’m sure you get the same questions over and over, and one of the things we talked about backstage is all of the misinformation going around and how some people treat you.”

Antoni fumbled his hands in his lap. “Yes.”

A quiet moment slipped onto the stage, and a rumble of whispers swept through the crowd beyond the darkness. Antoni thought he saw a protest sign held aloft, but he couldn’t read it. He couldn’t tell if it was one of support or opposition. In his experience, it was an even toss-up.

Benny glanced at a notepad on which was a list of approved questions. He and Magnus had gone over them backstage, and before that, Antoni and his father had worked with Gibbs’s people to develop a list of acceptable questions. As Benny stuck to those questions, the interview went well, accomplishing exactly what Magnus hoped it would: it humanized his son. Antoni talked about his childhood running through the fields at the farm, his favorite ways to relax, how it made him feel to feed the world. Then, Benny asked a question that wasn’t on the list.

“Where do you think this gift came from?” Benny asked.

Antoni froze. Benny had made him feel like he was in good hands. That feeling was why he’d agreed to do the interview in the first place, why he’d chosen Benny Gibbs from the other journalists, anchors, and late-night talk show hosts who had vied for this very interview. He’d trusted Benny.

“You don’t have to answer that,” Magnus said from off stage.

“People want to know,” Benny said.

“End this,” Magnus hissed to someone.

“It’s okay.” Antoni shifted in his chair and thought about his response. He took his time. “I honestly don’t know. One day, I just had it. I don’t know if I was born with it or if some fairy visited me while I slept or if some passing meteor showered me with radiation. I’ve even heard the one that I’m a devil worshipper who sold his soul, and I’ve seen the posts on the Internet by people who think it’s true and actually celebrate me for my selflessness to help humanity when I could have been just another billionaire.”

Laughter trickled through the hidden audience.

“That’s not true by the way,” Antoni said. “None of it is. Just, one day, I was able to grow things. I know that isn’t a satisfying answer, but there it is.”

Benny peered at him, doubtful. This wasn’t the guy Antoni had watched on TV every night for years. He wasn’t the guy whose brilliant half-joking takedowns of political figures and corporations he’d applauded, the guy who’d made Antoni feel through the TV that they were on the same side. He was just some guy, afforded a chance to ask questions because he was afraid of the answers.

“What’s it like when you do it?” Benny asked.

“It’s like drawing a bucket up from a well. There’s some strain involved, but that’s how you know you’re lifting up the water so you can drink, right?”

“And you just pour it into whatever you want?”


“What do you think it is?” Benny asked. “This energy you’re transmitting.”

“I don’t know,” Antoni said. “The essence of life, I guess.”

“Have you ever tried anything other than plants?”

Antoni hesitated. “No. Never.”

“Plants are living things, right? So do you think you could do other living things? Maybe you could bring back the recently deceased?”

He hitched again. “I don’t know. Can we move on from that, please?”

Now Benny Gibbs hesitated, rubbed his chin. “All right, how about this? If you’re pulling water up from a well, where do you think that water comes from?”

“I really don’t know.”

“Do you think it could ever run out?”

“I really don’t know that either. I’m sorry.”

The audience’s silence permeated the studio. Antoni could feel their stunned states. Everyone had hoped Benny Gibbs would ask such questions, but no one had expected it to actually happen.

Benny looked into the camera with the red light on top. “We’ll be right back.”


Antoni went into hiding. At his father’s farm, he continued to imbue seeds with energy and send them around the world, but he no longer travelled to struggling farms. The American Midwest started to dry up, and there was talk of another Dust Bowl, this time one that would be much worse than the first because the underground aquifer that supported the Great Plains was now empty.

Magnus died, and he’d written in his will that Antoni wasn’t to touch his body. To ensure this, when he knew he was dying, he had himself relocated to a facility in the city, and he wouldn’t allow his son to visit him. He arranged to be cremated immediately following his death, and a handful of friends and family attended his memorial service. It was only then that Antoni could get anywhere near his father.

After Antoni had time to say goodbye to his father and greet family and friends, a man dressed for the occasion but not recognizable to Antoni approached from among the mourners.

“You’re a difficult man to get in touch with,” he said. “My name is Guillermo Montoya.”

Antoni peered at Guillermo, recognized the awkward tie knot and knew instinctively there was a kind of kinship between them.

“Are you a friend of my father’s?” Antoni asked.

“I’m hoping to be a friend of yours.”

Antoni saw what this was. He fumed that someone had the gall to come to his father’s funeral and beg him to visit their farm or send even more barrels of seeds because the last batch wasn’t sustaining anymore or to heal a sick loved one or to work any number of miracles Antoni didn’t have the power for.

“I’m not interested,” Antoni said. “Whatever you’re paying isn’t enough.”

Antoni fled, leaving a line of friends and family mingling around a silver urn and collages of his father.

Guillermo chased after him. “But you haven’t even heard my offer.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Antoni said. “It’s never enough.”

“I think this time it might be.”

Antoni turned, beaming with fury. “You don’t understand. Whatever I do, it’s never enough. Haven’t you seen what’s going on out there?”

Guillermo grinned. “I think we can fix all of that together.”

The next day, a black car arrived at Antoni’s farmhouse. The driver knocked politely, and Antoni took his time getting up from the bed, descending the stairs, and answering the door. The driver spoke, but Antoni knew why the man was there. Without a word, Antoni got in the car and shut the door himself.

On the way, the driver tried to engage in casual chatter about sports, film, music, steering clear of current events. Antoni responded by raising the partition between the front of the cabin and the rear.

The car took Antoni into the city to a cylindrical glass building that must have risen a hundred stories into the blue sky, but Antoni’s attention was drawn down to the lack of green. Nothing grew here. Everything was dead.

With an eager grin, Guillermo greeted him and led him into a great, cold atrium.

“Are you familiar with the concept of a perpetual motion machine?” Guillermo asked.

“Yes, but it’s impossible,” Antoni said. “It violates the laws of physics.”

“Technically true, but every once in a while, we rewrite those laws. Conventional batteries generate energy by flowing electrons from one end to another. The trouble is, once all of the electrons have become negatively charged, the battery requires energy to move the electrons back to the other side. What if we didn’t have to do that?’”

Antoni blinked, processing the idea. “A battery that recharges itself?”

“Exactly! A battery that is spherical instead of linear.”

“Okay,” Antoni said. “Assuming you’ve done the impossible, what do you need me for?”

“It’s a bit of a Schrödinger. Once we’ve built the sphere, we can’t open it to start the reaction.”

“You need me to charge the battery.”


“What makes you think I can?”

“I saw your Benny Gibbs interview,” Guillermo said. “Something you said made me think this will work, and I think, when it works, your definition of life may evolve.”

Intrigued, Antoni followed Guillermo deeper into the facility and into a chamber where a small glass sphere sat on a pedestal. To Antoni’s unaided eye, it looked stunningly perfect, unnaturally smooth. The light flowed around it instead of through it. Even the rays that hit it directly in its center were cupped and guided around the spherical center. The effect was, at the core, a fine point of darkness not even light could penetrate. It looked like a brilliant jewel.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Guillermo said, then pointed to an observation room through a window. “I’ll be in there. You just take your time, and when it feels right, do what you do.”

Guillermo left Antoni with the sphere, and if he were truly alone, Antoni would have spent hours contemplating what he was going to do. However, under Guillermo’s watchful, anticipatory gaze, Antoni felt a clock ticking down. More than that, though, the possibility haunted him. What if Guillermo had done it? What would be the harm in trying?

“Screw it,” he said. He crouched low, touching the floor with his palm. He felt it come to him immediately, like a well-trained pet. It curled into his fingertips and rested in his wrist, and when he felt full, he stood, grabbed the sphere, and let the energy slip inside.

The sphere burst with brilliant, blinding, blue light. It hummed with a revving sound, beginning low, then rising into an ear-stabbing pitch, and then it quieted.

Guillermo’s muffled cheers radiated from the observation room.

Laboring on excited breaths, Guillermo hurried back into the chamber. “I knew it. Antoni, you did it. Let me show you what you’ve really done.”

Guillermo grabbed Antoni’s hand and took him out into the hall and to a lab where dozens of scientists were working at different stations. When Guillermo entered with the glowing sphere in his hand and Antoni in tow, rattling keyboards quieted, idle chatter ceased, and four men and women at the whiteboard froze and capped their markers. They all followed.

In the back, Guillermo gestured toward something about seven feet tall with a white sheet draped over it. Guillermo looked at Antoni in anticipation.

“This is it,” he said. “This is the moment. Everyone remember it.”

“What moment?” Antoni asked.

“The moment we create life.”

Guillermo whipped the sheet off, and Antoni was staring at a steel and chrome humanoid shape. Its exterior was all metal and constructed to resemble muscles, but its joints, wrists, elbows, and knees were thin and minimal. Its neck vertebrae were exposed with an array of hydraulic strutsto regulate its head movements. Its mouth was a glass screen, and it had no nose save for a convex point on its face shield to mimic the feature. It had eyes, but they were closed, or rather, covered by mechanical shutters resembling eye lids.

“The problem has become one of labor,” Guillermo said. “You’re only one man, Antoni, and you can’t be everywhere. It’s taking more of your energy to sustain us than you have. Now, we can have all of the helping hands that we need, and they’ll never tire.”

Guillermo stepped behind the humanoid machine, opened a compartment in its back, and placed the sphere inside.

“Antoni,” Guillermo said. “Say hello to Enoch, the first automaton.”

Enoch’s eye shutters fluttered asynchronously and then snapped into unison. Its ocular sensors fixed on Antoni.

“I am,” Enoch said. “I exist. Therefore, something must have created me. Are you my creator?”

“No,” Antoni said. “I just gave you energy.”

“Energy is everything, and everything is energy,” Enoch said. “Energy is life. You gave me life. You are my creator. I serve you.”


Antoni imbued thousands of automatons with the energy of life, and supplied with his seeds, they tirelessly carried his touch to every corner of the Earth. They tended, harvested, packaged, and distributed the food, and because all of the work was completed by the automatons, eating became free the world over. For a time, there was no hunger.

That time, however, was short.

One day, at Antoni’s farm, something was wrong with the harvest. It was light, and the crops were withered and sickly. Antoni buried his fingers, and nothing happened.

He stood and clapped his hands together. The soil was dry, desiccated, lifeless. He did everything he could, but in a matter of weeks, the wheat withered, and the vines shriveled and broke away.

The very land under his feet, the earth from which he’d drawn so much life, was diseased, and his touch could not cure it.

It spread.


With dust and wind from the oncoming storm whipping at their backs, Antoni and Enoch cross the parking lot and enter the store. The metal door is missing its pane of glass, and as Antoni swings it open, it pops off its hinges and slams on the debris-strewn tile floor. Antoni accidentally kicks a bell, which jingles as it tumbles into an aisle of shelving that has fallen under the weight of time, like everything else.

Servos in Enoch’s neck whir as he scans the interior. Dust has coated everything like a grayish-brown snow. A breeze whips and whistles over the jagged teeth of the front display window. Daylight touches a long counter, and beyond, the store is bathed in darkness.

“Hello?” Antoni says, but nothing responds.

Enoch’s mouth display turns red. From deep within, spilling like fire rising from his chest, a buzzing static bursts out. It carries radio waves in a short-range form of communication between automatons.

Behind the counter, another automaton snaps upright, throwing dust like flour. Its eyes brighten with a sage green, and optical shutters flit asynchronously. A hum rises from within, and it clicks with fierce processing as it awakens from hibernation mode. It turns on frozen and stubborn servos, jerking into motion as it raises the stump of an arm with a flopping hand connected by a single wire.

“Greetings! I am the automaton designated Ardent Attendant. Welcome to Furry Friends Inc., where all your pet needs are met. We just received a new litter of Malinois shepherds, and snagless cat sweaters are buy one, get one half off!” Ardent Attendant slide-stops on the built-in rail system that replaces his legs until he is at the corner of the counter nearest the entrance. He leans in and places an elbow on the plane where a glasstop used to be but has long since shattered into the display case below. “How may I be of service today?”

Beside Antoni is a locked cage with canine bones inside. He knows it is childlike, but he worries for a moment that the spirits of those animals are trapped, still waiting for someone to come for them. He indulges that part of himself and opens the door. It’s in his nature, he supposes, to try to help even when it is hopeless.

“Ardent, buddy,” Antoni says, “today, I’m going to do something for you.”

“Wonderful!” Ardent Attendant says. “I always look forward to returning kindness.”

Antoni circles around behind the counter. As he approaches Ardent Attendant, the automaton jerkily faces him and blinks his ocular shutters curiously.

“Turn around,” Antoni says.

“Yes, sir!” The automaton does as he is told, forcing his way through several gear hitches.

Antoni opens the panel on Ardent Attendant’s back, and the automaton’s power core greets him with a brilliant blue glow.

“Sir, I must inform you that my power core access panel has been opened,” the automaton says.

“Everything is okay, Ardent,” Antoni says. “I’m going to take care of you.”

“Thank you, sir. I have been alone so long without anyone to perform my maintenance. It has compromised my ability to help Furry Friends’ customers. Oh no. Is my poor service the reason for declining sales?”

“No,” Antoni says. “That’s my fault.” He grasps the core. It is cool. He wiggles and pulls, and Ardent Attendant freezes, his sage eyes going dark.

Antoni holds the core up, inspects it, and palms it. The blue glow diminishes as he takes the life he once gave back into himself. Then he drops the core and watches it roll into a pile of dust and debris.

“Job well done, sir,” Enoch says, though Antoni thinks he sees a mournful expression.

Antoni has trouble meeting his friend’s flitting gaze, but he forces himself to do so. Enoch deserves as much.

“We’re not finished yet,” Antoni says. “There’s one last core.”

Enoch blinks. “Sir, have I not served you well?”

“You have.”

“May I not be able to further serve you in your endeavor to make this world a better place?”

“Enoch, all we’ve ever done is make it worse. I gave you life, but it was never mine to give. I took it from elsewhere, and it was needed there. You understand? You’re the last of my creations, and once you’re deactivated, I’ll let this world take its own course.”

Enoch’s ocular shutters flit as he processes. “You will intervene no more.”

Antoni nods. “I’m not God. He knew to give it a rest. It took me far too long to learn that lesson.”

“Sir,” Enoch says. “Might I suggest we have given back enough.”

Antoni embraces Enoch. “It’s never enough. Thank you for everything. You’ve been my most loyal friend.”

Enoch responds with the flit of his ocular shutters and places a metal hand on Antoni’s back. When Antoni releases him, he obediently turns and grants access to his core. Antoni hesitates for a moment but goes through with it. His long-time companion freezes in time. Antoni takes the source into his palm and drains its life. There it sits, a clear sphere with a pinhole black core.

“Rest well, my friend.”

Antoni slips Enoch’s core into his pocket. This one, he’ll keep.

He walks outside and presses his fingertips to the pavement. A fierce blue light shoots down his arm and into the ground.

It is done. He has returned everything to the earth that he could.

Antoni looks up, turns back to the empty pet store, the cages of bones, the tanks of black sludge, the decades of filth. Maybe he hasn’t given everything. Maybe he can intervene just a little more.

He closes his eyes. The ground rumbles. Inside the store, plaster chips and glass rustle and tinker on the floor. There is a pop like sudden diving air pressure. When he opens his eyes, Antoni sees what once was and is again because he could not resist one final act of influence, of hope.

A pack of adult Malinois shepherds spill from the storefront and dash away, together rejoicing at the wonder of life because, even in the wastes, they hope.

“Good luck to all of you.”

Antoni’s lips shrivel, crack, and bleed. He feels it then, the final act, its cost, internal withering, the well bucket pulling from within instead of without, the life he gives instead of takes, the way it was always supposed to be, and he knows that this time, because the gift was his to give, it will be different.

© 2023 Timothy Johnson

Timothy Johnson

Timothy Johnson is a writer and editor living outside Washington, D.C., where he recently earned an MFA in creative writing from George Mason University. His published writing includes the novels The Pillars of Dawn and Carrier as well as short fiction from Gamut, Deracine Magazine, Crystal Lake Publishing, and Inked in Gray Press. He was editor-in-chief of phoebe journal, and in 2021, he was an Alan Cheuse Center Fellow and a Pushcart Award nominee. He is an HWA member. Learn more at www.timothyjohnsonfiction.com.

Fiction by Timothy Johnson
  • Touch of Ruin