top of page
époque press
pronounced: /epƏk/
definition: /time/era/period

Jayson Carcione 
Short Story




I don’t blame you for leaving me. You were always the stronger one. It takes courage to leave a broken world,
a broken body. You left on your own terms and I applaud you. I love you for it, but I miss you terribly. I just wish you told me what you were planning. To find you in that way… in the bathtub, your wrists open.  The water stained with your blood. I don’t know why you didn’t use the pills. Were you  trying to protect me? Government-issue pills get used and there has to be an inquest — and we know how those often turn out. Thank you for not putting me through it.  I know things were strained between us but you thought of me at the end — that gets me though the burning, sleepless nights. You ended things in the most brutal fashion imaginable, but I could never be angry with you.

     I had so wanted to put pen to paper. I miss writing, real writing. It is so sensual to feel the pen slide across a piece of blinding white paper. I had wanted to write this letter and gently fold it into the shape of an origami bird and burn it at your compost site. I wanted to watch the letter blacken and turn to ash. I wanted wisps of smoke to carry my love to you. A symbolic gesture of a grieving madman. But now that fire is outlawed and the simple act of striking a match can send someone to a centre, I thought it best to stick to the keyboard. My handwriting is atrocious anyway.

     The boy next door convinced me to use GhostChat. He swears by it — he sends messages to his father
who died in the Siberian Campaign. Don’t think me gullible. I know it’s probably just another gimmick, a screen drug to keep us happy, but I’ll take my chances. I’ve already uploaded dozens of photos of you to the app, given your date of birth, your date of death. I’ve punched in my own details, complete with a retina scan, and sent
them out into the ether. I hope my words find you. I will never be ready to sever our connection. I will never stop loving you.







The EcoCops came to the house today to draw my blood. I had forgotten it was that time of the month. You always hated them poking around the house even more than you hated needles. I don’t mind them though, we deserve their scorn. I didn’t recognise the lead officer, but she must have been no older then sixteen. The silent goons at her side looked younger  but they were built like mountains.  She reminded me of Sara, but she was no match for our daughter’s beauty. They had trouble finding a good vein. My arms will be black and blue tomorrow. One of the goons took pleasure digging around my withered arms but I didn’t complain. Of course my blood was clean — they found no traces of meat. I explained to the lead officer I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 26 — thanks to you —  and her face softened. Even the goons dropped their shoulders. One of them even cracked a joke, although I can’t remember it now. They checked the solar converter in the kitchen and went on their way. The lead officer even shook my hand.

     I called Sara after they left. I didn’t expect her to answer. She never does anymore.  She blames me for your death. Just like you blamed me for Luca’s. I’m sorry, I had to type out  his name, I had to think it, to say it. Feel it. I say his name and he lives again. His name was forbidden when you were alive and I honoured your request. I don’t mean to upset you but memory is all I have left. I miss you. I miss Sara. I miss Luca.

As ever,






I saw a wolf today. What a majestic creature. I was given permission to walk in the Rewild Zone on the outskirts of town.  It turns out the EcoCop girl  was more taken with me than I thought. I received a text from her this morning. She had accessed my record and discovered that we had driven a hybrid back in the day and upgraded to an electric before it became law. She was also impressed that you taught biology at the community college. She didn’t mention your demise in the text. Or Luca’s. Some things are better left unsaid.

     The sky was seeded last night and the morning was cool, draped with silvery clouds but beyond the dead cities and hinterlands, fires burned to the sea walls. I put on the 105 SPF and my best straw hat. I wore a white t-shirt and jeans. You always liked that I could still pull off jeans at my age. I waved to the kid next door. He’s becoming a man — he looks about the age Luca should be. The age Luca will never be. He was shirtless and ripped, doing some impressive arm curls on his front patio.  His biceps were ready to burst but he didn’t break a sweat. He looked better in his jeans than I ever could in mine.  He’s been conscripted, the poor kid. He hasn’t received his orders yet so he doesn’t know if he’ll be fighting fires in the Arctic or shoring up flood defences in
the Midlands. He nodded. I had an uneasy feeling he wanted to chat. I was going to stop and ask him if he’s heard from his father, but I pointed at the imaginary watch on my wrist and kept walking under the shadow of the e-trees.

     I was a little breathless when I reached the town square and I needed an oxygen blast. I stopped at a thicket of e-trees, punched my code in the metal bark of one of the trees and opened my mouth. I only took a few breaths, I didn’t want to use up my quota for the month.  I stopped for a cup of coffee in a cafe off the square. What a luxury. It was early but the cafe was bustling, full of beautiful people dressed in white. In the middle of the square, the twitching bodies of two poachers hung from whitewashed gallows, but nobody seemed to mind. An EcoCop hosed away the blood and shit and I ordered another coffee. I watched a trio of passenger pigeons take flight over the square before I lost them in the glare of the sun. I was glad when they brought them back.

     I finished my coffee and fell in behind a group of schoolchildren heading to the Zone. They burned bright in their white uniforms. We walked along grass covered footpaths, their wonderful laughter echoing in my ears. The sun was directly above us and the town was bleached, light reflected off the marbled shopfronts, the vertical gardens, the mirror-clad tower blocks. I put on my sunglasses and the schoolchildren did the same. We passed through checkpoints and streets broken by moss and great clumps of weeds. Vines spread over crumbling buildings like broken veins. I stopped outside what was left of the old town hall to catch my breath. Colossal ferns covered its shattered facade. Mighty trees of oak and maple thrived in the rubble. It’s hard to believe we were married here.

     We passed through a final checkpoint. An EcoCop scanned my eye, checked my phone. I lost sight of the schoolchildren in the darkening woods. Laughter replaced by birdsong. The EcoCop gave me twenty minutes and told me to turn on my phone tracker. He warned me to leave no trace.  I followed a trail, thick with leaves and moss. I sucked in the cool, conifer air. The remains of the old town appeared in large slabs of broken concrete  through the birch and willow. Fallen streetlights rusted in a river. I  sat on a rock at the river’s edge and watched a kingfisher twitter around a beaver lodge. This would be a good place to die — it is so peaceful, perfect for a forever sleep. When my crumpled paper heart gives out, I hope I am sitting on a river bank surrounded by trees, the earth waiting for my bones.

     The wolf appeared on the other side of the river.  It was black with patches of mottled grey,  a truly beautiful beast. Its great snout sniffed the wind through the reeds.  I heard my heart above the rushing water of the river.
I dared not move. The wolf caught me with its diamond blue eyes. It dipped its snout in the river to drink before looking at me again. I closed my eyes and when I opened them the wolf was gone. Luca had the most wonderful blue eyes. I hope I dream of the wolf tonight.








The day began in smoke and shadow. A lightning storm ignited fresh fires in the hinterlands during the night and knocked out the power across five districts. Flood Season is due to start next month so I don’t think the fires will last too long, but the GhostChat server is down so today’s letter may not reach you but still I write…

     There were no wolves in my forest of dreams. Sleep was a void, a black hole. I awoke many times during the endless night. I so wanted to hear howling on the wind instead of my own raspy breath on the stairs. I was still awake at dawn, nursing a bottle of Marsala at the kitchen table.  This is how I will probably go — not at the river’s edge, but slumped over the kitchen table, full of fear and regret. An empty bottle of Marsala at my feet. I rang Sara during the night, but she didn’t pick up. I hope she is happy. She has a second chance in Greenland — and she is doing good work. I hope she finds answers in what’s left of the ice core.

     I had some powdered eggs for breakfast, washed down with coffee and the last of the Marsala. I still have one case of Marsala left, dusty bottles under the kitchen sink, a relic to a world long gone. If we still worshipped money, that case would fetch a small fortune. You thought I was crazy, packing the rental car with cases of booze and olive oil, wheels of pecorino. Poor little Sara squeezed in the back seat, you a goddess behind the wheel.  I didn’t deserve to be so happy. The countryside unfolded before us, exploding in wildflowers and beech trees. Sicily was our trip of a lifetime. I still can’t believe it is a Dead Zone now.

     I didn’t venture outside today. The fires got worse as the day limped on. By the time I opened a second bottle of Marsala around lunchtime,  firenados ripped across the horizon. The sky blacker than night, strangled by great plumes of smoke. I rang Sara again. I knew she wouldn’t answer but I needed to go through the motions. I know she won’t speak to me but I just want to see her face flash across the call screen. I need to know her eyes are not black with hatred.

     The Marsala did its job — perhaps too well. I was lightheaded enough, brave enough, to watch the old holograms of Luca. Luca playing with the puppy, Luca dancing around the house with you and Sara, Luca running towards me, arms as wide as the sky… Maybe it was the wine, or maybe my grief had reached that scary hyper stage when memory becomes so real you can feel it, live it again. His hologram passed through me and  my body surged and shivered. His breath upon my neck, his arms around me, screaming never let me go.

I passed out on the kitchen floor, but somewhere I heard a wolf howl.








The boy next door tried to kill me today. He knocked on the door at dawn. Thankfully, there was a dawn. The sky was stained with wisps of smoke but the blue was trying to break through and strings of light hung in the acrid air. The boy was black with soot, save for the google-shaped pink area around his eyes and the pink triangle zone around his mouth where he had worn a breathing mask. He was out fighting the fires in the ghostlands.  I invited him in and he collapsed into the  blue velvet armchair where minutes before I was reading Robert Frost to clear my head. He nodded when I handed him a glass of water, but he didn’t speak.  His breathing was slow and deep, like some great prehistoric monster dying on a forgotten plain. He swallowed the water in a furious gulp before carefully placing the empty glass at his feet. He closed his eyes, cloaked in a curtain of coming sleep. Before he drifted off, he told me how they kept the fires from the city, the main towns, but he saw two villages reduced to ash. Some of the fires reached the sea walls, where they slowly died. He noticed some cracks in the walls and feared the sea would reclaims swathes of scorched earth.

     I watched him sleep.  I read Frost aloud. He did not stir. I mopped his brow with a wet towel, the soot dripped off his face in lines reminded me of marching ants. I brought the cool towel to the top of his head. His breath was on fire, it smelled of smoke, of the black night. Sooty water dripped from his eyes and he looked like he was weeping. He opened his eyes and I smiled. I wiped his brow again. He smiled and wrapped a beefsteak-sized hand around my neck. He was really crying now. I fell to the floor but kept one hand on the arm of the chair. My ancient knees hit the floor. Brittle bones on reclaimed hardwood. His grip tightened, sweet air was a memory. My eyes fluttered. I was ready. There was no wolf, no river’s edge but I was ready.  I prepared a final death rattle — it’s ok I told him. His fingers seared my neck. He wiped his tears with his free hand. He pulled me up, never loosening his grip. I stared into his fiery, sooty face. “I hate your kind.” He said this three times before he let me fall in a crumpled heap.

     He was nice enough to put the empty water glass on the kitchen table when he left. He closed the front door quietly and properly behind him.

     He really should have done it. It’s all I need, all I deserve.








The rains came today, great torrents of water from the sea. When we saw the black clouds, we thought the fires had returned. We didn’t expect the floods for weeks but now whitewater surges in the valley. On higher ground the earth still smoulders.

     The velvet chair is clean of sweat and soot. I sat in it for hours this morning, in the shape left by the boy next door, a copy of Frost’s collected poems on my lap. I listened to the rain, I feared the rain. It fell like jagged rocks from the sky. Earlier, through the metal shutters of the windows, I watched the boy do his curls, the rain bouncing off his granite skin. If he saw me watching him, he didn’t let on. I longed to go out to him, tell him I forgive him, but I thought better of it and returned to Frost.  Luca and Sara built sand castles before me. The last hologram of them together. We were on the beach, when we could still go to the beach, and I remember the day like it was twenty minutes ago instead of twenty years. The sea gently lapped the shore and I tasted salt on your beautiful, bare shoulders. The sun turned Sara’s hair the colour of ripened wheat and little Luca’s skin was bronzed like an ancient warrior. They were the most stunning humans  I had ever seen.  We laughed and laughed as our castle grew more complex and regal, decorated with sea shells and kelp. Do you remember how Luca cried when the sea breeched the moat and the castle crumbled? You sat with him in the back seat — Sara was delighted to sit up front with me like a grown-up — and held him in your arms all the way home.

     Then the floods came and I couldn’t save him. I didn’t save him.  I know you know all of this, but I need to repeat it. I need to relive the horror  to get to where I need to go — to the kitchen table, where two little government-issue pills are waiting for me. We had him for another year, a beautiful year with our children, even as the world crumbled around us. The storms came, fiercer and more frequent. The food shortages, the assassinations.  When the spring floods swept towns and forests away, we crawled along traffic-choked roads heading further north. The soldiers turned us back at the edge of the city, nobody could get in or out. The roads were impassable, water surrounded the city and we went back home. I thought we could ride it out, I truly did. I packed the sandbags, waist high, around the house. I dug a moat with our neighbours around the block.

     But, as you know, the waters came in the deepest of night. They took our boy away. I tried to save him. I held his little hand as the waters pulled him from me. I saw things more clearly than I have before or since, the world was beginning anew. A world of flood and fire. What kind of life awaited us? What kind of life would he have? I thought about letting go of his hand. He did not deserve this new world.  But I didn’t let go — I was his father, I am a father. I will always be one. I held him as long as I could. I pulled him closer to me, so close I could almost kiss his soft cheek. I thought I was strong but the waters took him back to the sea.

     You never forgave me. How could you? But I hope you never stopped loving me. We gave Sara the best life we could but we lived on the eternal abyss. We stayed too long in a rotten world. You were right to leave it.








I rang Sara this morning. Of course, she didn’t answer. Maybe she will forgive me now. I’ve turned off the lights and closed all of the shutters in the house and as I sit drumming my gnarled fingers on the kitchen table, I feel like I am in a tomb. Rather fitting. There is a half-glass of Marsala in front of me. I don’t know how long it will take for the government-issue pills to work. I take another swig from the glass. My hand trembles…

Born in New Jersey and raised in New York, Jayson Carcione now lives in Cork, Ireland, where he works for the Irish Examiner newspaper. His short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Forge, Passengers Journal, Across the Margin, Lunate, and Pigeon Review. His work was also highly commended in the 2020 Sean O'Faoláin International Short Story Competition. He was awarded a Munster Literature Centre Mentoring Fellowship (Fiction) in 2022.


Twitter: @carcionejay


Of the motivation behind the story, Jayson says:


‘Our fears are most acute in the night. It was a sleepless night that the idea for this story first cast its shadow. Climate dread seeps into the background of a lot of my stories, which often deal with family, place, immigration, and loss, but in “Dearest,” its shadow looms larger. Aside from the scale of the loss - loss of our environment, our way of life, our future, ourselves - we are facing in the climate crisis, there is also personal loss. I tried to capture this sense of loss in a man in the not-too distant future who has lost everything, a man living in a world he doesn’t want to live in. We need only to look back on Europe’s burning summer, a Pakistan ravaged by floods, drought in Somalia, fires in the American West, to see this world taking shape.'

bottom of page