Why was I sitting in the passenger seat of a parked car? Holding half a lemon? I had woken from a deep sleep after subconsciously squishing it against a gash across my forehead. It stung like crazy.
The front and back doors were stuck, the windows smashed. The seat and my clothes were covered in dust. The scent of lemon strengthened as a breeze swirled through the car. Then I noticed the lemon tree plantation across the road.
“Lemons Aplenty”. I came here regularly with my girlfriend, Jess, when we were kids. We would climb the fence, steal lemons, and make lemonade to sell outside my house. The pigment of the lemon’s skin was dull. Something wasn’t right.
Jess! This was her car, her pink ribbon hanging from the rear-view mirror. Where was she?
I climbed out through the window. Vertigo hit me, my body bouncing off the car like a pinball. Blurred eyesight briefly impaired my ability to read a sign by a walkway leading into a forest.
Appropriately named! This site was an icon, a favourite place for young lovers.
Scattered clothing lay along the walkway. I picked up an apron covered in bloodstains. Jess’s apron. Was she alright? Along with the bloodstains was a message written in black ink.
‘The date has arrived. A promise kept.’
The apron was a clue. I looked at my watch. Through the cracked screen, I saw the numbers twenty-one and eight. August twenty-first. My seventeenth birthday.
The promise! I remembered it now. In eighth grade, when we started dating, we promised that on this day we would lose our virginity here. That must be why I was here, but where was she?
I saw a flashback of Jess in the kitchen where she worked, listening attentively to a radio, people gathered around her. She saw me. Her mouth mimed: ‘It’s coming!’ What was coming? Why couldn’t I remember?
I had another vision of Jess yelling desperately at me inside the car, her eyes wide. A sudden flash of light hid her look of horror. A faint scream rang in my head, snapping me back to reality.
For the first time, I notice static coming from the car radio. Amongst the static, the announcer repeated the words:
‘Only those with immunity will survive.’
Then I remembered. The pandemic: the Dust Curse! The plagued twister of a new species of glow-insects that developed in the Kalahari Desert. In one day, it wiped out the population of Africa, turning all in its path to dust. Then it came towards us. Only a few in southern Africa survived. They believed the juice of a citrus fruit saved them.
Reality hit me. Tears trickled and splashed onto the ground as I recalled the moments before I blacked out. Jess’s door refused to open. I had snatched two lemons from the plantation. Then her horrified expression as I reached out to give her a lemon, one she never received.