I woke up excited for the first time in fifty years. It was the end of the world.
This time we were certain of it. Scientists confirmed it. I saw it on the news. I got up and put on a nice shirt I stole yesterday. First time I shoplifted since I was a kid. It was a riot going on that day, too.
People have quieted down since the countdown clock has been running everywhere that still has power.
People started setting their watches to the recordings that will interrupt radio broadcasts. Where you can still get radio, that is. My clock was set and reset until scientists had calculated it down to the last second.
The end of the world will be exactly 12/21/21 at 3:33 AM GMT. My pants were pressed for the first time in twenty years. I had gotten out of the habit since my wife left me. Something about my lack of driving ambition. That and the fact she thought I was crazy.
You see, I knew this was going to happen. I told everyone but no one believed me. You wouldn’t either but that’s okay. At the time, I didn’t either. I dreamed this. The date, the time, everything. I just didn’t know what I was seeing at the time. My psychiatrist called it a prescient delusion and it wasn’t anything to worry about. He said after some therapy I’d be fine. At two hundred dollars an hour, he picked fine time to be wrong.
Until newscasters started talking about it, I admit I didn’t even know what a comet was.
Yes, they talked about it in school when I was a kid, but I admit science class was not someplace I admit to paying much attention to, except when we got to cut up frogs and make their legs move when we connected them to batteries. Science, I figured who ever used it anyway.
The first time I had the dream, I was a child. It was a dark, except for fires I could see burning all around me. The city was aflame. The buildings on my skyline were all dark, like a blackout in the summer. I could hear people wailing in the distance. No cars moved, and the summer air was hot, filled with stinging smoke, which would have made my eyes water, if I could dare close them. I look up. I wake up.
I put on dress shoes and tied my tie. I learned to finally tie one four years ago because I went to a job I positively loved. They required a tie and jacket. After all those years working as an unwanted project manager for ungrateful companies, I made it into lower management. That was three years before it was discovered.
My years in the workforce were as monotonous and crushing as everything in my life had ever been. Ill-used, ill-favored, no decision I ever made worked out right, and I absolutely never got the girl. I had been told every man is the hero of his own story.
Don’t believe that. We are all extras in some famous person’s life. Just ask them. They’ll tell you.
Then I had The Dream one more time four years ago. It had been decades since I had it and I knew it immediately. I was walking the street in a nice suit. One from my new job where I was in a position to make changes I thought were important, where my voice was heard and my projects came in on time and under budget. I pushing past people on the street, running to my brownstone. They were all looking up. I knew I had to be somewhere and they were in my way.
I was running out of time. It was three AM and I promised I would be there.
Though there were no street lights, everywhere was lit, with a foxfire brilliance, light, soft, diffused, set people’s faces in an eerie glow, shimmering, beautiful, except for the rictus of horror twisted in every face I saw. Mothers holding their children, lovers embracing, people running through the streets holding TVs, their cords dragging behind them.
Despite all of this, the only thing you ever hear is the wind and the weeping. It is a constant thing, the wind. Newscasters tried to explain it but no one was listening. Something about the size and mass of the Comet. People stopped listening once they learned it would strike the Earth.
Doomsday cults appeared like roaches under a kitchen sink, first jubilant their day had finally arrived; then petulant because no one believed them, they had been right. Being right has become so important to some people. Then they grew truculent, dangerous as their righteousness overwhelmed their moral imperatives and the growing realization the end of the world included them. Fortunately, most people simply killed them outright, fearing moral and judicial authorities no longer mattered.
There was surprisingly little violence after people screaming the end of the world from every corner were silenced from a populace grown tired of fear. It was a strange precipitous thing, because it was thought to have occurred all over the world within a single day. I think a subconscious shudder through the collective mind shouted back at them. We got it. The end of the world is nigh. Now shut the hell up.
People slowly tapered off from going to work in the last year. That is where I met her in my last years working, the only job I ever loved.
She was beautiful, not the classical sense of beauty, but in a way I could be comfortable with. Not the awe-full kind of beauty which makes men stupid. A quiet beauty, one that drew me inexorably to her. She was kind even in a world gone straight to hell. I learned she was married and that didn’t matter much to me at the end of the world. She came to my house and eventually she took me to hers. Her husband had stopped speaking once you could see the Comet during the day. At night it dominated the sky but once it could be seen during the day, people began to do strange things. His lack of speech was far less dramatic than most. Suicide suddenly became a competition sport.
In comparison her husband Dave, just sat in his living room looking out the window at the damn comet. He didn’t talk. Only got up to replenish his drink, go to the john, go outside to get food. He listened to us making love frantically, desperately, in the next room. We made love under the light of the end of the world. I wanted him to be angry. I wanted him to say something. I wanted things to be normal. I wanted to believe we had a future. He never made a sound. Never moved a muscle.
I heard the pigeons on the fire escape in front of his chair fly away. The pigeons were always there and only moved when he did. It was three months ago he got up and staggered past us. We didn’t bother to close the door anymore. I can only assume he thought we were sleep, he looked in at us and then he walked out the door. He never came back.
On the last day I wanted to look my best. I told her I was going to go home and change. I didn’t live too far away, I thought today would be like any other. People had started staying home, doing very little. No one picked up trash, and it was amazing we hadn’t lost water over much of New York. I guess, unlike the garbage men, water treatment found someone willing to work during the apocalypse.
The power went out for the last time in New York at midnight. It was the only blackout we knew would happen. I had grown used to walking to her house, first in the dark, and now in the light at the end of the world.
The people were in place. The roving bands stealing right up to the end. We were all where we were supposed to be. Except for me. A traffic accident I didn’t see in my dream slowed me down. Now I would be late. I couldn’t be late. I ran. My shoes pinched my feet. I didn’t remember that from the dream either. I saw people just staring up. My alarm on my watch went off at 3:20 and I was still ten blocks away. I tore off my shoes and ran barefoot, shoving the statues staring skyward out of my way. No one objected. Most of them didn’t even notice me; and to be honest I didn’t care either way.
Fires from nearby buildings lit the street as I ran and my eyes watered and teared but nothing was going to stop me from reaching her. My alarm sounded again at 3:30 and I saw her running down the street to me.
She was wearing my favorite white blouse. The one I met her in. So many years ago when I was certain my life had turned around. It was her sad smile that told me I would spend all my life with her. I grabbed her and the smell of honey-suckle filled my nostrils. She was warm and soft. I closed my eyes. I drank in those last seconds. The wind picked up, gusting strongly now, the cries grew louder in the distance, a collective gasp against the coming night. She squeezed me tight.
She turned me and said “Look.”
My alarm went off. I looked into the light.
The Light at the End of the World © Thaddeus Howze 2012. All Rights Reserved
Very nice – and oddly positive given the subject. Very ‘human’ in its approach – the desperate need for connection overriding the social convention of marriage was particularly good I thought.
Thanks for the read and the comments. The venue of comets destroying the world was a common one. I wanted to take an approach I rarely saw, the perspective of an ordinary man who realizes he is out of time and no longer has the alternative of living with failure as an option.