The photograph was creased with time, and worn from water. In it was a strong, well-built man, holding his most prized possession: a surfboard. He was running across the beach towards the next "tubular" wave, his smile bright and warm. A smile for his two loves - surfing and his fiancé.
His fiancé, at the time, was a young, energetic, street-savvy girl by the name of Zoey Smith. She had met the surfer one day while being chased by five, wannabe gang boys. Three of them were looking worse-for-wear because of a switchblade Zoey had hidden in her jeans pocket. The other two were hollering at her to stop as she ran into her groom-to-be and several of his friends. They fended off the five boys, easily, and accepted Zoey into their wave-riding brotherhood.
Giving the picture a smile of her own, Zoey put the frame back on her table. It was then her arthritis bit into her hand, and she was thankful she had put the picture down, otherwise, she might have lost the only picture of her husband she had left. She recoiled away from the vicious, invisible monster, holding her palm like some sharp-toothed beast gnawed at it. The pain racked her bones and ravaged her muscles. Squeezing up her face in extreme pain, she closed her eyes and let out a soft whimper; even though the arthritis tore into her hand with the ferocity of a million fire-ants. Another soft, pained whimper escaped her mouth as she tried to remain tough.
Knowing what she had to do today, Zoey gritted her teeth and stood up from her chair with maximum effort. Her body twitched and creaked upward. Her knees nearly buckled with age as her hips locked and her back protested with tremendous pain, clawing at her spine. She nearly fell back in the chair, knowing if she did, she would never get back up, but she stood strong. Even though her fingers almost refused to work, she put her grey hair up in a bun, patted out her pocketed apron, and tried to stretch out her wrinkled fingers. Her skin was so old and wrinkled that it look like overheated leather. Her feet stung with that same evil demon that her hands did. Arthritis was knocking her back and her scoliosis was only aiding it.
Zoey took a step, sliding her left foot forward. It was the same pain she had lived with close to sixteen years now. The arthritis, the scoliosis, the overall age of her body at 79. Pain was an old enemy of hers, inhibiting her from doing what needed to be done. Every day it tried to knock her down - a rabid mongrel, biting and clawing at nearly every inch of her body.
Speaking to herself, egging herself forward, she whispered out through gritted teeth, "Okay, come on, Zoey. No different than any other day. You've been here before. It's a day like any other."
It was not though. For little did she know, today would not be like every other day. She would not be going to bed with a hot cup of herbal tea, as was the norm for her. She would be lying on her front porch, dead.
Passing by an empty room that use to be her son's, Zoey struggled to the front door, opening it with dim light flooding her eyes. The ocean above was held back by the clear dome, fish and other animals swam by in the blue, watery sky. The sun was nothing more than a blurry orb, obscured by the water above.
Zoey made the comment, "As long as I've lived down here, you think I'd be use to that."
A school of fish zigzagged above her, shooting past her farm and into the darkened abyss beyond.
Zoey's farm was comprised of a few, small squares of strong fruit bushes, several self-contained tanks of editable fish, and a filtering-pump. The pump was the worst of it all - she would deal with it last.
Stepping down off her porch, her foot landed in the warm, wet sand that made up her farm. It was like the sand from the beach all those decades ago. It was the only thing that reminded her of the above world - a distant memory now. Even with the beach-like sand warming her feet, and contorting to her shape, she still knew the agony of her body.
Ahead of her, past her farm, was the tube that lead to the big city under the ocean. Gigantic towers of steel and glass, protected under a bubble of translucent, impenetrable material. She rarely ever went into the city. The only time Zoey found herself stalked by the shadows of the skyscrapers was when she had to do business with her bank, and even then she kept it short.
They are coming soon, she thought.
Not worrying about that, she began her chores. First was picking the ripe fruit off her bushes. She picked up the first basket off her porch, one of so many, and got to work. She started with the oranges.
As she went through them, she thought about her son when they use to pick together. He was ten times faster than what she was. He skimmed right through the fruit like it was nothing.
Still lost in her happy memories, her body still aching in pain, four men approached her from the tube to her farm. They had come by car, but they were dressed in fine clothes and two of them were carrying guns.
Zoey chose to ignore them.
One of them approached her faux-cautiously. He bowed to her, taking off his hat. "Ma'am?"
Zoey kept picking her fruit, her attention fully focused.
He turned to his associates and then back. "Miss Smith, I don't suppose you have given any thought to our proposal?"
Moving on to the next bush, picking out the good fruit, Zoey made no move towards them.
Putting his hat back on, clearing his throat loudly, he told her, "I don't think you realize just how much money we are offering you. Not only would you get the purposed price, but also ten percent. We are offering you a generous amount of money here."
That was when Zoey stopped and turned towards the men, harshly. Her eyes glared intensely at the four, saying in a harsh, raspy tone, "I already get a hundred percent of everything, why would I want to sell?! Just so you can take everything that me, my husband, and my son worked so hard for?!" She slammed her basket on the ground, and talked to them directly. "You sons-of-a-bitches are just pissed-off because none of you dumb-asses had the brains god-give-a-duck to think of farming underwater yourselves; so now you want to rip out the only good thing my husband put down here worth something. You already did with the others, why do you need my farm?!"
The man with the hat backed away a step while the two with guns ready their weapons. One of them had a shotgun and pumped it with vigor, gaining a snarl.
She looked at him and pointed, warning him, "You want to intimidate me, boy, don't forget your damn army next time!"
The man with the hat patted the air at his associates, and told Zoey, "Look, I'll come back when you are in a better mood."
From out of her pocketed apron Zoey pulled her switchblade. She flashed it at the men. "I mean it! I'm not selling! You'll have to pry this farm away from my cold, dead fingers."
Then, an old enemy hit her as if it was right there with the men. Arthritis was back and it hit her hand that held the blade. She just cramped up and held her knife as long as she could, trying not to let it show. She jerked her arm in the direction of the men, hoping that would be enough to make them leave.
It was. They piled back into their car, and sped off with the hat-wearing leader telling her, "You are an old woman now, Zoey Smith. Your husband and son are both dead. Those fingers of yours will be cold and dead soon enough."
When they were far enough away she dropped to her knees, and dropped her switchblade. Through the immense pain she remembered how well she could wielded it nearly sixty years ago. She could spin, flip, fling, and slash the knife like no one else. She could also toss it faster than someone could pull a gun on her. Now, she could barley hold the thing. Her fingers couldn't even grasp it correctly.
Clawing it up from the sand she put it back in her clothes, and after ten minutes of grueling struggle, she stood up on her feet. Her brow was soaked with sweat and she was already feeling tired. She wanted to stop right now, but knew she couldn't. Exhaustion was hitting her hard, and her scoliosis joined in, enflaming her arthritis. She gritted her teeth and told herself, "Come on Zoey-girl, you've got this. I'm not stopping now, to hell with all of you!"
She picked her basket back up, and felt like she was going to collapse again. She struggled through the pain, the sweat on her forehead pouring down. She had to struggle to focus her fingers to pick the fruit. Even though her back wanted to give out, her fingers felt like they were going to fall off, (Which, at times, she wished they would because it might make it easier.) and her feet were nearly useless, she carried on. She chalked it up to being determined, and a little bit stubborn.
Her memory faded back to how her, and her husband, wound up beneath the ocean. When it was first announced that the city had been finished, he was one of the first to move in. By that time she was already pregnant with their son and the love-of-her-life talked her into moving down with him. After she agreed, he worked out a better way for the city to get food, discovering underwater farming. That way the city could depend on itself and not the upper world. He even shared this knowledge with others. Three others who made farms of their own.
After the other three farms had sold, and their son was fourteen, that was when they approached her husband. He kept saying, "No," even by that time he was in his fifties, and could barely do any of the farm work. He was a sad man by that time, not having rode a wave in nearly twenty years.
Then, one day, the police came. They told her that he had got caught in a horrible storm. He was swallowed up by the ocean he loved so much. She smiled then and she smiled now. She even remembered what she said with tears running down her face, "I bet it was the best wave." It was a little tougher telling her son.
She had already moved on to the fish tanks and was gathering them up to be sold in town. She moved over them quickly, taking a break afterwards. Shambling into her small house, fixing herself a sandwich of potted meat, Zoey sat down in her favorite char and ate. Even though most of the food she had was fish, every now and again, she wanted the taste of topside food. It was why she kept cans of potted meat around, for just such occasions.
After eating, and taking nearly half-an-hour to get back outside, she now had to activate the pump. The pump was a filtration device for the ocean water. It was the highest, and most valuable commodity she farmed. Even though there were filters in the city none tasted quite like her husband's, and everybody was willing to pay top-dollar to get it.
The valve had to be released first.
She walked over to the pipe with the valve handle and grabbed it. She tried to turn it, but she lacked the grip, the strength, and the will. Placing her hand carefully between the rusted, jagged "teeth" of the handle, Zoey tried again, pushing it with all her might. She grunted with excruciating pain, straining to turn the valve, gritting her teeth and pushing with all her body weight. The rusted, rugged metal held steadfast.
It was this very thing that had killed her son. He had been trying to turn the valve, too. It was a stubborn thing, even back then. It's sharp edges, cumbersome size, and rusted crevasses made it the hardest thing to operate. Zoey's son had insisted on doing it, convincing his mother the danger was too great to handle. Two years after her husband had been gone, and her son was turning into a fine young man. She thought he would be running the farm soon and she could retire. Day-after-day he had operated the valve, sometimes coming back with blood on his hands from the ruthless machine, but he would always let go just in time before it truly got going. It was an unlucky day, nearly thirty years ago, when he hadn't let go, and caught his hand in the valve, avoiding it the wrong way. Spinning like it had always done, it sunk its teeth into the teenager and ripped him apart like a buzz saw, gutting him like a slaughterhouse pig. It was far too late when Zoey found him.
Screaming at the pipe, Zoey kicked the valve, repeatedly, and on the fourth kick she fell flat on her back. Her spine screamed in pain along with her own holler. Clawing into the sand she leered at the valve, and with all her might, started kicking the thing again. Down and barely able to move with her entire body burning, she sent kick-after-kick. Every single strike another silent insistence to turn. Zoey herself began to curse at the pipe, throwing every dirty word she could think-of along with the kicks. The valve handle budged ever so slightly each time. Rust fell from the pipe and the thing shook in the ground.
Finally, Zoey felt it give way and the handle spun like a speeding tire, water flowing into the pipe. It had to be released though. The spinning valve just activated the filter, now, the water had to be pumped. Zoey sighed as she crawled over to the lever and began pumping water through the pipe. This was nowhere near as dangerous as the valve. Hearing the water flow she knew it was now being stored in the tank next to her house. She knew the exact number of pumps it took to fill the tank, too.
When she was done, the daylight faded with the setting sun as the ocean became dark. Only a sliver of light was left, which seemed to only be lighting up her small part of the dome. The towers beyond had kicked on their lights, and the ocean city glowed like a giant light bulb. Only Zoey's small abode grew darker and darker.
Back on her feet - with incredible effort - Zoey began to walk back to her house when she collapsed of exhaustion on her porch. Her brow was soaked with sweat, her muscles felt like burning jelly, and her vision was fading in and out. Every part of her felt like it was encased in cement and she actually thought about sleeping on her porch.
"No," Zoey said to herself. "I won't give up. I'm not letting this place beat me down."
Trying to get into her house she moved her hand and began to crawl towards the front door, even though it felt heavier than lead. Memories flooded her mind, making her grow angrier with every passing vision. Memories of her husband and her sitting on this exact porch, watching the sun go down, her son playing in the background. Zoey thought back to what she dreamed for her son while he was still alive: him running the farm with children of his own. Her comfortably sat on the porch as she watched her grandbabies play.
Her anger drove her. Her anger was the only thing driving her. It propelled her forward, making her ignore the agony, not just in her body, but in her soul. Her scoliosis tore into her back, her arthritis felt like a giant elephant trampling her under its feet. Still, she kept crawling, struggling with every breath.
The only thing that made her stop was the noise she heard from behind. Turning herself she saw that same car from before and now with the sun down, and the ocean deep nearly pitch black, she still recognized the four shadows as they approached her.
The man with the hat bent down and removed it, covering his heart. "Oh dear, Miss Smith. Looks like you've had quite a nasty… tumble."
She looked up at him with her face paler than beach sand, soaked from sweat and breathing heavily from exhaustion, she sighed out, "I can manage."
Shrugging his eyebrows, the man put his hat back on and pulled a piece of paper from his pocket. "Come now, you can't really keep this farm going without some kind of help. Let us help you."
Shaking her head, beads of sweat flying from her stone-grey hair, (now matted to her head) Zoey gasped, "I - I will not!"
"Why?" The man in the hat asked. His question genuine.
"Come on!" A male voice came from behind the hat wearing man. It was the man with the shotgun. "Let's stop playing with the old bat and get this over and done with!"
Looking at him, both Zoey and the man with the hat shot him a mean glare. Going back to Zoey, the man with the hat pulled a pen from his pocket and said with the paper still out, "Sign, Miss Smith, please. Not for me, not for your husband, not for your son, but for yourself. Let it go."
"That's all I have left. This farm is all I have left of them."
"And we'll make sure it's well kept. You're the only one holding out. And for what I don't know."
At that moment, a flood of memories came back to Zoey. The best times of her life - and the worst times - all had been spent on this farm. This underwater farm that most didn't think would work, and the ones that did, sold-out to the man in the hat. She was the only one left, she found strength in that. Enough to grab her switchblade.
Zoey pulled it from her pocket and told the man, "I won't sign!"
"She's got a gun!"
What came next was a loud blast and then cold silence. Zoey's body was mangled into a bloody husk, her knife falling to the ground, soaked in crimson.
The man with the hat jumped back to the ground and looked up at his partner with the shotgun. He pumped the weapon, ejecting the shell from the slide. He looked at his boss and said, "Well, you saw it, right? She pulled something, it sure looked like a gun!"
Getting up quickly, the man with the hat grabbed his associate's shirt and shook him. "You idiot! Now, we'll never get this farm!"
"Please, It'll just go into the bank's hands and we can buy it from them, dirt cheap!"
Grabbing the shotgun from his thug with a crazed laugh, he walked away a few steps before turning around and shooting his addle-brained associate. The man without the shotgun fell to the ground with a large, red hole in his chest. Pumping the shotgun, the man with the hat and shotgun calmly said, "The bank will sell it to a company, or organization, so they can make a percentage! They wouldn't get a percentage out of us! Moron!"
Shaking his head he signaled the other men to get in the car as he followed. Throwing the shotgun in the backseat, tossing his hat to the side, he grabbed the steering wheel and said to himself, "Looks like you win, Zoey Smith."
(A/N: This was done as a challenge, of sorts. A challenge I hope that I succeeded in, but only one person will know that. I hope it was well worth the read, and as always, reviews are more than welcome!)