We got an assignment in fiction workshop a few weeks ago to write a plot outline based on this two-line story published by Thomas Bailey Aldrich in 1870: “A woman is sitting alone in a house. She knows she is alone in the whole world; every other living thing is dead. The doorbell rings.” My attempt wasn’t exactly successful because I didn’t include the major conflict of the story, but it was still really fun to try this surreal post-apocalyptic style for this assignment! I may end up turning this into a full story, stay tuned 🙂
Simone heard a voice that sounded remarkably like her own coming from the other side of the door. “Let me in! I beg you!” It was disturbing enough that she was the only surviving human on the planet, at least she had thought so until now, but the fact that this impossible visitor echoed the sound of her own voice was even more terrifying. Her first instinct was not to duck below window level even as the knocking and begging increased in intensity. Instead, she was fixed to a spot in the center of her living room, halfway between the crooked hand-me-down armchair and the door, her anxious energy almost burning a hole on the green floral carpet on which she stood.
Perhaps she had missed conventional human interaction more than she had realized, and the lack of it had subsequently caused her to lose any sense of judgment, but for whatever reason her curiosity overwhelmed her fear and she walked towards the door and opened it. She nearly fell backwards into the room when she saw that she was standing before herself, a more worn and tattered Simone with a light film of ash over cracked brownness which must not have seen lotion in days, leaves and clumps of mud dispersed throughout the tangled mass of tight curls piled on top of her head, and smears of indeterminate substances all over a white shirt and navy trousers.
“Simone! I mean…I! Ugh this is too complicated. Let me in, please? They’re coming for me…us! Whatever, let me in!”
Simone could not distill her confused thoughts into speech, but then she recognized the twisted humor of the situation. Technically she had spoken, it was herself at the door after all. Her two selves sat down together, and beat-up Simone winced a little as she tried to get comfortable in her seat. Beat-up Simone went on to explain that she was alone in the world, but technically she wasn’t, because there were different versions of themselves scattered around their small town from different stages in her life leading up to the day the world ended for everyone else. There was blissfully happy Simone with her culinary school certificate displayed on the wall in an apartment much like this one, and frustrated Simone who could only get a job as a dishwasher in a French restaurant downtown because fresh trainees didn’t typically rise to executive chef right off the graduation dais.
Then there was her, beat-up Simone, who looked the way she did because all the other versions had tried to stop her from going to tell original Simone what was happening. They only stopped throwing punches when she caught her breath mid-attack to ask “Wait…what are you even scared of? What is going to happen if she finds out?” They realized they had been acting based on group hysteria and outrage, and had no real justification for why they felt as though original Simone should not know of their existence, so they let her go. Collectively, they didn’t really know much at all. Not about how they, or her, of all people had been saved from whatever unknown but deadly fate had befallen the rest of the world, and why this had caused them to separate out into these strange constituent parts. As beat-up Simone tried to explain all this to the baffled and slightly amused original, they both heard the doorbell proceeded by frantic knocking.
“Let me in!” they said in unison.