As Rogelio woke that December morning, Grandpa Ludovico hobbled through the door. He removed his grime-stained mask and wiped the sweat from his brow. His shoulders hunched forward as he sniffled and wiped snot from his nose. He’d returned home early from his shift at the saw mill. He moaned and slogged his way toward the dining table, his eyes accumulating a thin layer of moisture like a child about to cry.
“Good morning, Mijo,” he said, nestling into his seat. He rubbed his eyes and let out a deep sigh.
“Good morning, Abuelito,” Rogelio said smiling. He approached the table and sat beside his grandfather. The man smelled of sweat, coffee, sawdust, and all the scents that came with manhood. “How was work today?”
“Besides having this lingering flu, it was fine,” he said. “I just hope it’s not La Corona.”
Grandpa Ludovico looked outside the window, gazing upon the town as it began to stir awake. People scrubbing clothes and hanging them on clotheslines. Children without masks chasing hens in the narrow alleys.
“We cleared a few more acres from the forest,” he said. “And we were able to finally scatter that tribe from their grounds. They’d been holding up production for months. We had no choice. You know how bad the gringos want our lumber. You remember all the wildfires in Australia? Or in the United States this summer? They have no more wood!” He shook his head. “Anyway, the foreman says at the rate we’re clearing the trees, we’re sure to make our bonuses by the end of the year.” His grandfather rubbed his thumb and index finger together as he smiled and said, “Más lana. More money.” “Oh, how wonderful,” Grandma Clara said coming out of the kitchen holding a tray containing two bowls of chicken soup. “I’m so happy. Finally, some good news this year.”
Grandpa Ludovico nodded. “It’s been a dreadful year, yes. As soon as this flu goes away, I’ll be back on those bulldozers in no time instead of barking at those new kids we hired. They couldn’t fell a tree if—” Suddenly, the old man’s face contorted while he fought off an oncoming sneeze. Grandma Clara set down the steaming bowls of soup beside Ludovico and squeezed her husband’s shoulder, rocking it gently like a cradle.
“Ludovico, try to hold it in,” Grandma Clara pleaded. She gripped her rosary, bowed her head, and uttered a prayer under her breath.
“I can’t fight it anymore,” Ludovico said, worry in his tone. He shut his eyes and tilted his head back.
“What is it, Grandpa?” Rogelio asked jumping out of his chair.
“Mijo,” Grandpa said, crinkling his nose, his lips quivering, “it’s time you knew the truth. Every time we sneeze, we create an entire universe. Every speck of spit and snot houses a galaxy, and in seconds, entire life cycles go by, until the mist dissipates, and then—”
“Achooo!” Ludovico sneezed, shooting a violent spray of moisture and phlegm into the air like a geyser.
“Look, Mijo,” he said pointing at the cluster of haze spiraling over the table. The mist swirled and expanded. The specks of moisture hung on a beam of sunlight emanating from the kitchen window. “That’s a whole world you’re witnessing. You see, time is relative to everything. Even now as we speak life has probably evolved somewhere in here. Perhaps they are working out the basis of civilization at this very moment.” He pointed to a speck lingering in the air. “Somewhere in there people may be marching for their rights as they learn to coexist with one another. Maybe they even have their own plague to deal with. And now,” he said with a bit of excitement, “some species may very well be travelling along the drops, exploring the entirety of their creation. Isn’t it wonderful?”
The cluster began to slow its expansion. The droplets scattered in the wind and settled gently on the table and floor. A few droplets landed on Grandpa Ludovico’s arm and evaporated instantly on his wrinkled skin.
“We get older and sicker,” Ludovico said solemnly at the dissolving mist. He hung his head and removed his hardhat, placing it over his heart. “I’ve destroyed so very much over the years. How many civilizations have I annihilated? Impossible to say.”
Rogelio didn’t know what to say or do to comfort his grandfather. It was all so much information to take in. He felt like he’d stumbled upon some ancient truth kept secret from mortal ears. It was both wonderful, and terrifying. “Bless you, Abuelito,” he said warmly at last, resting a hand on the man’s shoulder and squeezing it as his grandmother had. It was all he could offer his grandfather and he hoped it would be enough.
“Thank you,” said Ludovico with a warm smile. Then his brows furrowed as he regarded the moisture on the table with eyes of contempt. “Now get me a handkerchief. What a damn mess.” As Rogelio turned to reach for a box of tissue, the wallpaper began to peel into tiny flakes as they scattered in the air like ashes. Next, the wood on the wall dissolved in a storm of millions of individual particles. Then, came the roof, and the floor, and his hands, and his grandparents, until darkness at last settled neatly into all the empty spaces that had been their world.
Originally from Los Angeles, Pedro Iniguez is a Mexican-American author now living in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He spends most of his time reading, writing, and painting, which stems from his childhood love of Science-Fiction, Horror, and comic books. His work can be found in various magazines and anthologies such as: Space and Time Magazine, Crossed Genres, Dig Two Graves, Writers of Mystery and Imagination, Deserts of Fire, and Altered States II. His cyberpunk novel Control Theory, and his 10-year collection Synthetic Dawns & Crimson Dusks can be found online. Currently, he is working on his second novel. He can be found online at pedroiniguezauthor.com.