by Domashita Romero (地下ロメロ)
illustrated by serenity_winner
MARCH 7, 2012
Abraham wiped a bit of horseradish out of his beard with a paper napkin he’d swiped from some fast food joint or another. He had established quite a hoard of ill-begotten paper goods over the years, along with sugar packets, condiments, and other easily pocketed items, before he’d discovered the power of buying in bulk. Eating a roast beef sandwich didn’t merit breaking into the stash of the good stuff, though, so his crumbs were caught with stolen goods.
He took another bite and clicked on another random YouTube video. He’d started somewhere an hour or so ago with something he’d actually specifically intended to watch, but the internet being what it was and all, he’d lost time and all memory of where he’d started, and was now watching a man in a car giving a review of food he’d gotten at Arby’s. Good napkins, Arby’s.
Abraham had finished his sandwich by the time the man on the video was done singing the praises of the Arby’s Super Reuben. He was a man who’d made a lot of decisions in life based on maintaining his own personal safety and well-being, but every man was prone to moments of weakness and error. He scrolled down to read the comments on the video.
ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS
fizzzlebomb 2 hours ago
ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS
weeman5454 2 hours ago
ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS
Shart333 3 hours ago
ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS ANTS
MrSteiner1993 6 hours ago
beebuzz 6 hours ago
Abraham took in a slow breath. He clicked to another video in the sidebar and paid no attention to it while it played. The sound of someone playing the ukulele came tinnily out of his computer’s speakers as he checked the comments. ANTS. ANTS all the way down. ANTS on every comment, on every video, all through the site.
He lifted his paper napkin — which did happen to be from Arby’s, after all — and wiped his mouth off. “Well, shit,” he said to his computer screen. It really sucked to be right sometimes.
MARCH 23, 2012
He’d had drinks in a lot worse places than the Detroit airport Ruby Tuesdays. Not many, he had to admit, but at least the bar wasn’t sticky and they had a hearty selection of alcohol. Red’s flight was delayed for three hours due to a freak storm, some nonsensical thing coming in west from the Atlantic and swirling up waterspouts from Lake Erie on. So, he’d have a few. If he got a little loose, at least he’d sleep on the plane.
There was a TV not far from the bar playing Fox News, an unfortunate airport default. The sound was turned down, but a white-text black scroll went on and on beneath the blonde woman on the screen. He watched her go to splitscreen, could see the dead heat in her eyes as she got into an argument with whatever talking head had been suckered in to coming on. Election years, man; he’d be glad when it was all over.
Red finished up the last dregs of his vodka and tonic and gave a little nod to the skinny white boy behind the bar that he’d want another. He had his phone resting on the bar, just outside the ring of condensation where he’d neglected to rest his drink on his napkin, and just as the bartender took his glass full of mostly melted ice away, the screen lit up and it started to dance with vibration.
“Hey, baby,” he said. He hadn’t spoken more than a couple words at a time in a while, and his voice was rough. He hadn’t slept much recently. “How you doing?”
“I’m fine,” Mel’s voice came clear over the phone. “It’s you I’m checking in on.”
“I’m fine,” Red said. “Flight’s leaving at nine now, so I’ll be getting in at ass o’clock. Don’t wait up for me.”
“You know I will anyway,” she said, and he smiled. The bartender brought him another drink, this one with two wedges of lime, put on opposite ends of the glass like a clock reading twelve-thirty.
“Well, at least be wearing pajamas when I show up,” he said, and he could hear her smile. “How’s it out there?”
“It snowed!” she said. “Three inches, and a lot of hail before that. Almost spring and it snowed.” She sighed a little. “Climate change.”
“Shh, they’ll hear you,” Red said, glancing up at the TV screen. Mel made a soft questioning sound, and he just shook his head, like she could see that somehow. “Nevermind.”
There was that silence between them. It wasn’t the comfortable silence that came when you’d been together with someone for so long; they had that plenty, but this was the other kind, where someone wanted to say something and the other person knew what was going to be said. Red pushed the stupid skinny little red straw out of the way and took a sip of his drink. “Everything okay?” Mel said, her voice just a notch above a whisper.
Red took more than a sip. “Yeah,” he said. “All settled up. It’s a nice couple bought the house. Said they’re gonna fix it up. Probably thinking they’re gonna flip the thing in a year but… ha, best of luck.”
She was quiet a bit. You couldn’t leave a beer bottle alone with her; she’d peel the label into bits. Napkins got turned into confetti. He could almost hear her working her fingers in the hem of her top now. “It was just signing papers. You didn’t have to go.”
“Baby…” he said, and closed his eyes. He pushed a thumb between his brows; quinine gave him a headache, but Abraham used to poke fun at him in college for his vodka sodas, so he’d changed it up. It’d been almost twenty years, and he still hadn’t shaken that pinch in the forehead that came on the third glass.
“Yeah,” Mel said. “I know. I’m sorry.” He could imagine her with an old-fashioned phone, tangling the curly cord up in her pretty fingers. “You think she’d like them? The people who bought the house.”
“Yeah,” he lied. His mother had been old even when she was young, pissy, and didn’t care much for anyone, and that included Mel. One reason he’d had her stay at home, even though she’d passed. “Good enough, at least.” He hear her sigh, a little one she probably thought he wouldn’t hear. “It’s okay. It really is,” he said, and it was true. It wasn’t okay, of course, in so many ways it’d never be okay, but it still was.
“Okay,” she said. “I love you.”
“Love you too,” he said, and pushed his thumb in next to his middle finger to touch to his wedding band, just an instinctive gesture more than any deliberate sentimental act. Most metals irritated her skin, so she wore hers on a ribbon around her neck.
“I got some Thai food tonight. Some pad kee mow for you in the fridge when you get in.”
“Mmm, love that home cooking,” he said, and she laughed.
“Oh, shut up.” Her voice was warm. He could see her smile. “Miss you.”
“You too,” he said. “Be home soon. I’ll call if anything drastic happens.” If his flight got cancelled, he’d get a hotel. Or, hell, he’d just curl up underneath the bar stool. “Be good,” he said.
“I will.” After more love-yous and goodbyes he set his phone down on the bar again. He knocked the timepiece lime wedges into his glass and drank back half of it. The bartender had moved to another side of the bar, and now that he had, Red could see one peculiar bottle in particular. His lip curled up as he read the label. Had to be a joke.
“‘Scuse me,” he said as the bartender came near. He leaned over the bar a bit and pointed at the bottle. “Is that bacon vodka?”
“It is!” the bartender said, bright and happy like that was something to be proud of.
“They make bacon vodka?”
“Yes, they do,” the bartender said.
Red shook his head. White people, he thought, but what he said was, “What’s the world coming to.” He pushed his mostly empty glass towards the bartender. “Hell with it, though. Let me try.” The bartender turned to take the bottle off the shelf, and Red spoke up to add, “With soda.”
It tasted like the distillation of an ashtray made out of pork rinds, but at least it didn’t have tonic in it. Red drank it in slow, grimacing sips, a punishment to pass the time, and couldn’t stop his eyes from focusing on the bar’s television. That pizza dumbass from the primaries was on talking to a different blonde lady; guy didn’t have the decency to disappear after dropping out, unsurprisingly. Red read the closed captions.
BENEFIT MR ROMNEY TO CONSIDER SOME OF THE IDEALS OF MY TAX PLAN. AS I EXPLAINED MANY TIMES DURING MY CAMPAIGN. ALL IT TAKES IS SIMPLICITY. SIMPLACITY. SIMPLICITY. JUST A FOCUS ON THE NINE NINE NINE NINE NINE NINE NINE NINE NINE NINE NINE NINE
NINE NINE NINE NINE NINE NINE NINE NINE
NINE NINE NINE FOUR NINE SEX SIX DOS NINE TROIS
NINE NINE SEX NINE HUIT NINE NINE NEIN
It just kept on like that, the black-backed white text scrolling on while the talking heads kept going. Red took a deep drink of his glass of bacon and said, “That’s just fucked up.”
APRIL 15, 2012
Abraham had liked New York City once, when he’d been young and dumb and in love and broke, and the plaid flannel he still wore to this day had actually been in fashion. Though maybe it was again; he hadn’t really been keeping up lately. Now he was older and hairier and grumpier, and after he’d spent an entire hour stuck in the Holland tunnel because of some terror alert, he honestly wished the whole thing would break off and sink into the ocean.
He’d probably get some grim satisfaction on that thought in a few months. Terror alert, indeed.
He’d driven in instead of flying or taking any sort of public transportation, because he damn well knew better. There were incidents every day, but no one was connecting the dots, because no one had the eyes to look outside of their own little bubbles. That guy who’d cut his own head off on the Greyhound going from Kansas City to Omaha had made the news, of course — the news reports said he’d had one hell of a knife, but the people who’d really been there would tell you he’d done it with just his hands, grabbing under his chin and pulling until it popped like a daisy — but no one was paying any heed to the plane crash in Karachi where they’d pulled nothing but impact dummies from the wreckage, even in the pilot’s seat; to the night train in north Japan where someone had found an antelope fetus in the squat toilet; to the cruise ship near Capetown that had dozens of vultures and hawks and crows circle it to specifically shit in the swimming pool. He’d take his risk on the turnpike.
He parked a ways away from campus and bought a cup of coffee from a cart. It was bitter and acrid and just the way he liked it. The cup was one of the blue ones with little Greek vases on it. Abraham had thought they didn’t make those types anymore. WE ARE HAPPY TO SERVE NO ONE it said in angular letters on the side. He guessed they didn’t really still make them, after all.
He’d dressed himself proper for the occasion, giving his beard a trim, putting on a tie and a sweater vest, the whole deal. He’d wondered if the tweed jacket with the leather elbow patches was overkill, but fuck it, now was the time for overkill. If it’d been when he’d actually been walking around these grounds like a regular person, he’d have a pipe; someone would likely arrest him now.
Abraham strode into the building like he belonged there, and he had once, what seemed like a lifetime ago. It was lunchtime, and the young man at the front desk was picking at one of those shitty nine-dollar plastic clamshell salads you got around here. “Good day,” Abraham said with a smile as he passed by towards the elevators, and the receptionist just blinked at him and gave a little nod. Abraham pressed the ‘up’ button and watched as he speared a big chunk of lettuce with his fork and a big fat centipede with it, and ate it without changing expression, chewing languidly as he watched a YouTube video on his phone.
The nameplate by the office door didn’t have his name on it anymore, of course. He tried the doorknob and found it locked, but he hadn’t exactly been sitting on his ass these last couple of years. The building was old and the locks were easy, and a kit of lockpicks actually fit surprisingly well in the inner pocket of a tweed jacket. It took him a few minutes, but then he was in. Shit, whoever had this space now had a serious thing for ferns.
It was entirely possible that it was gone. Things got renovated, shit got replaced. Abraham moved a table that had two particularly gregarious ferns on it out of the way and felt his fingers along the baseboard. He smiled when he felt the little bump and pulled out his pocketknife to cut away at the wood, finding the space where he’d made it weak before, reopening the hole he’d made. Dust and paint chips scattered onto the floor as he pulled the rectangle of wood away, and he smiled as he saw the edge of the book tucked right inside.
He would have liked to have retrieved it years ago. He would have liked to have never left it here in the first place, but his removal from his tenure had been quite aggressive and slightly violent, and once they’d let him out of the hospital he had not been allowed to return to campus to ‘collect his things and go,’ as they liked to say. He reached his hand into the hole and pulled out the book. It was a little thing, the size of one of those cheat-sheet manuals of conversion data and science junk. Jann Hodge had left it for him in a Pop Tart box in the locked bottom drawer of his desk before he’d disappeared, and Abraham had had the good sense to hide it right after he’d read the whole thing. He thumbed through it again, all the dates and the charts and the diagrams and angles. He didn’t know how useful it would be, but it made him feel good just to have it again.
He put it in next to his lockpicks and got the hell out of that office. Those damn ferns smelled like Drakkar Noir. He didn’t bother to close the door.
MAY 22, 2012
It was pissing rain as he hurried in his front door. The weather report hadn’t said a thing about rain today so he was stuck without an umbrella, and his jacket over his head didn’t provide much in the way of cover. Whatever, it didn’t matter if he was dry; he just needed to keep his delicate cargo undamaged.
Red got inside and shook himself off a little, dripping in the front hall like a dog. Water came off the plastic covering over the flowers and his grocery bags to form little orange-brown puddles on the floor. Everything inside seemed safe, so he wiped what he could off with his hand, slipped off his shoes, closed the door quietly behind him, and went to set things up.
Mel might have heard his arrival, but she didn’t call to him to say hello. He heard the sound of the TV muffled in the bedroom; she liked to get in early evening naps while watching the Science channel, and he wasn’t about to interrupt if that was going on. He had things to do, anyway.
He put the grocery bags down on the counter in the kitchen and dealt with the flowers first, cradling them with one arm while he pulled a vase out of the high part of the cabinets, some china thing Mel had gotten from her grandmother’s house when she’d passed. It was pretty, and never used. Red filled it part way with water and arranged the flowers in it as artfully as he could. She liked roses, sure, every woman liked roses somewhere in her heart, but Red knew irises were her real favorite. He also knew she hadn’t gotten them enough in her life.
He put the bottle of wine he’d bought in the fridge and emptied the rest of the plastic grocery bags of their dinner ingredients. He wasn’t much of a cook himself, but he had a couple of ‘panty-dropper’ recipes he could pull out when need be. It was just pasta, tomatoes, garlic, that kind of simple thing, but he’d made it for her the first time eight years ago, on their first real date. Mel’s first husband had been shit at remembering anniversaries; he wasn’t a bad guy, Red knew that for a fact, but dates meant nothing to him. Mel always said it hadn’t bothered her, but he knew. He knew to make things a little special now and then, since he did remember.
When he had water boiling and sauce simmering, his impatience got the better of him. It was time to get that woman’s fine butt out of bed to get it appreciated. He got the wine out of the fridge, popped it open, and poured a glass to take into the bedroom.
The lamp on the bedside table was on and the curtains were open, showing where the rain sheeted darkly on the glass. Mel was curled up in a lump in the center of the bed, a blanket burrito being painted in different colors from the flickering light of the TV. Today, on How It’s Made we’ll get into the daily GRIND of making hamburger…. it droned on, the soft narration that knocked her right out. Red leaned in, holding the glass of wine carefully. “Hey, baby, wake up…”
He put a hand on where her shoulder likely was, and before he could give a little shake, he stopped. He felt no warmth coming from under the covers, no rise of breath. “Mel?” He pressed harder, but fell forward a little when he met no resistance of flesh or body, just more softness. He grabbed hold of the top of the duvet and pulled it back. Mel wasn’t there. Just pillows in the shape of her torso, two wadded and wound sheets making an outline of where her legs should be. He stared at the soft, headless silhouette where his wife should have been. In this factory, the meat comes from sources all over the country and sometimes from all over the world, the TV continued. Marco came from Tulsa, and Luis from Guatemala. But no matter where they come from, they all end up in the same mix of meat and fat and bones and skin that ends up in your local supermarket. Red looked up to the TV to see calm footage of men falling into an industrial sized meat grinder, one after another. He dropped the wine glass.
“Mel?” he said, not quite working up the power in his voice to shout. “Mel? Baby, are you here?” The bathroom was empty, tub and sink dry. The guest room hadn’t been disturbed in months, nothing but dust on the nightstands and winter coats in the closets. Red charged back into their bedroom, swatting at the television to turn it off before he saw too much about how leather was made. None of her clothes were gone from the closet. Not one of her shoes out of place. All of their suitcases undisturbed. He smelled burning.
He came back into the kitchen and turned off the stove, his romantic sauce now scorched. He stared at the steam and smoke rising from the pan, and his eyes scanned across the kitchen, looking for any clue. The plastic that had been wrapped around the flowers was still crumpled on the counter, and now he noticed that the rainwater that was half dried on it was dark, like what would come out of a rusty sink. He crumpled the plastic and threw it away.
The flowers he’d bought her were still on the table, and the purple iris blossoms seemed a little like faces now, distorted and laughing at him. Was he losing it? Had he had a stroke? Maybe he’d left the gas on somewhere and he was really passed out on the floor, hallucinating all this shit. He checked the oven knobs twice before looking at the flowers again and seeing the card. He hadn’t bought a card.
It was plain white and resting on the lip of the vase, ready to tip into the water with the slightest nudge. He picked it up and held his breath before opening it. It was her handwriting inside, he knew that without a doubt. She wrote him love letters once, when they’d been living in different cities, on paper and in pretty cursive, old-fashioned and ridiculous just for the sake of being those things.
“I’m sorry, Red,” was all it said on the inside.
He folded the card up again and pulled out a chair from the table. He sat down in it, and did not stand up again for a very long time.
MAY 24, 2012
Jann’s book had been right about the weather. It was mostly good for weather so far, he’d found, but that was better than nothing. He’d left an old measuring cup on the back porch when it had started, and when the skies cleared around ten in the morning the next day, he had himself about two-thirds of a cup of cloudy red-brown liquid. A more excitable man would jump to some kind of blood conclusion, but Abraham knew they weren’t due for any of that sort of nonsense for some time yet. It smelled like old pipes. He poured it into a mason jar and put it into the back of his fridge.
He was expecting the rain, but he was not expecting what he found on his front porch. These days were going to be full of surprises, he knew, of course, but it still did startle him a bit to find a dead chicken just a few feet away from his doorstep. Abraham put his hands on his hips and nudged it with his foot. Didn’t appear to have any obvious injuries, but it sure was dead. It was white, though, pure white, no sign of the rusty rain on its feathers. And speaking of feathers, there were a few of them scattered up his front stairs, Abraham realized. Or maybe scattered down, because the little white specks of them lead to another form in the grass, this one a white dove, just as dead.
And then five feet from that, a white cat. And then a white fox. At the edge of where his property stopped being yard and started being forest there was a dead deer, as white as you’d find in Narnia, antlers pointed into the woods.
“Welp,” Abraham said, and went inside to get his coat.
He knew the woods around him pretty well, but they were fairly untraversed and unspoiled — one of the main reasons he’d built his little fortress out here. He wasn’t completely off the grid, but if something happened to the grid, he’d be able to survive for a damn long time. Survival instinct had kept him from going on too many wild meanderings through the forest, but this time he had a trail to follow. White duck, white rat, white raven (that was a good one!), each one a little bright marker in the trees and brush to lead him a way he’d never been before.
After a good twenty minutes of walking the trees thinned out again and he came to a clearing. On the ground there were rabbits, white, of course. Thirteen, he counted as he circled around them, looking like they might just have been sleeping. When he got partway around his survey of them, he realized they weren’t just lying around aimlessly, just a random assortment of dead rabbits. They were arranged in a pattern. They were spelling out something. He took a step back, almost back into the trees, and took it all in at once.
Thirteen little white bunnies on the ground, all set up to wink at him. “Cute,” he said, and caught notice of how the ears of the last rabbit making the shape of the flirtier emoticon eye were not just flopped on the ground, but pointed very specifically in one direction. He followed the line pointed by those fuzzy little ears and found two things: a black rabbit, and a hole. “Very cute,” he said, and started to kneel down to get a better look at this one.
His phone went off, though, buzzing frantically in his coat pocket. He pulled it out and saw the name REDMOND COLEMAN displayed on its screen. He hadn’t heard from Red in… well, in a long time. He answered. “Hello?”
“Hey, uh,” Red’s voice sounded rough, but that could have just been the vagaries of the reception you got while standing in a clearing full of dead animals in the woods. “Hey, Abe, it’s me, Red.”
“Hey, Red,” he said. “How’s it going?”
“It’s, uh…” The line was clear enough that he could hear Red swallow. “Listen, is Mel with you?”
“What?” Abraham said. “No, Red. No, she’s not.” The thought of Mel coming out here was so ridiculous he felt like laughing, but Red seemed distressed, so he kept it settled.
“Have you heard from her?” Red asked. “Talked to her?”
“No, Red,” he said. “Last time I talked to her, you were standing right there with me.” Abraham and Mel’s divorce hadn’t been contentious, but it also hadn’t been amicable, either. In any case, though, it’d been over ten years ago, and new crops could grow on old battlefields. But when he saw her now, it was always with Red. “What’s up?”
“She’s, uh… she’s gone.”
Abraham wished he could say his gut twisted to hear that news, but it felt more like swallowing a big ugly pill, the taking in of something inevitable but still painful. This sort of thing was going to start happening more and more. “Gone?”
“I came home and she wasn’t there. Should’ve been there, but she wasn’t.” Red had always been a steady guy, calm and cool and slick with a line to make you laugh. It set Abraham on edge to hear him shaken. “There was a note, but…”
“Didn’t seem right,” he said. “None of it seems right. It’s… weird. Shit’s weird.”
Shit was definitely weird. “You call the cops?” They weren’t going to be able to do anything, but Abraham figured it wouldn’t hurt to at least set the poor bastard’s mind at ease.
“Yeah,” Red said. “Checked with all her family, her friends…” He laughed just a little. “You were pretty much the last name on the list. No offense.”
“None taken,” Abraham said. “Well, shit, Red. If I hear anything I’ll let you know right away.” Something about the body of the black rabbit looked a little funny. He tipped it over with the toe of his boot and found that it was really only half a rabbit, split right down the prime meridian, Solomon-style. The guts and organs that stayed stuck to the leaves spelled out a friendly hi, abe! on the ground.
“Thanks, man,” Red said. “Thanks.” He let out a breath that sounded like it had some genuine relief to it. Had to be good to know your wife hadn’t run off back to her crazy ex. “You doing okay? Been a while.”
“I’m holding up,” he said. There was a wind coming out of the hole — sort of more of the entrance to a cave, now that he looked at it — and it was warm and smelled like an airport Cinnabon. “You should come out sometime. Get away from it all.”
“Yeah,” Red said, sighing again. “Maybe I should.” He made a little grunt. “What’s that sound? You hear that?”
Oh, it wasn’t just a cinnamon wind coming out of the cave now, it was the soft sound of guitar, and a little bit of drum. “Just the TV,” Abraham said. “Look, I gotta go, okay. Keep me posted.”
“Okay,” Red said. “Thanks, Abe. Thanks.”
They said goodbyes and Abraham put his phone away. Just as he hung up, the guitar really got itself going, and then a voice, rough and soft at the same time came out from the hole, gentle and inviting.
Come to my window, it sang. Come inside, wait by the light of the moon. Come to my window. I’ll be home soon.
Abraham shook his head. “Nice try, but no,” he said, and turned to walk away from the cave. He stopped to take a picture of the rabbits with his phone, though. That kind of shit killed on Instagram.
JULY 28, 2012
The cable had gone out a while ago, but Red didn’t turn on the TV much anymore. The sky was clear, bright and sunny and birds singing, so who the hell knew why it’d shut off. Maybe he’d forgotten a bill. His phone kept buzzing at him with text and email notifications, though. He’d signed up for some emergency warning alert system at some point, probably during one blizzard or another last year.
The mandatory evacuation order had been put out last night, the mayor talking calmly on the radio about how this was an unprecedented and historic event, and for everyone’s safety and security, it was best for people living near the shoreline to find somewhere inland to wait out the storm. Two hours after that the governor came on, still trying to sound calm as he said that no, actually, everyone in the greater Boston area needed to find somewhere else to be before what was coming hit within the next few days. He sounded like he’d gassed up the jet already and was going to be hiding somewhere in Oklahoma before they could replay his speech.
Red had spent the morning calling everyone he knew who lived somewhere “safe,” but not a single one picked up their phones. He left the same voicemail message on all of them, asking for a call back, asking if they could give him shelter. Maybe they’d gone in deep, too. Maybe they weren’t just answering his calls anymore. He’d been making a lot of calls in the past few weeks.
His phone buzzed on the table and he picked it up to check it, an unignorable impulse of the modern era. Another email alert from the National Weather Service. He actually read this one.
HURRICANE MELANIE ADVISORY NUMBER 25
NWS NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL AL132012
1100 AM EDT SAT JUL 28 2012
...MELANIE EXPECTED TO BRING LIFE-THREATENING STORM SURGE FLOODING TO
THE NORTH ATLANTIC COAST...
...WINDS EXPECTED TO BE HURRICANE FORCE AT LANDFALL...
...HURRICANE-FORCE WINDS ARE EXPECTED ALONG PORTIONS OF
THE COAST BETWEEN CHINCOTEAGUE VIRGINIA AND CHATHAM MASSACHUSETTS.
THIS INCLUDES THE MIDDLE AND UPPER CHESAPEAKE BAY...DELAWARE
BAY...AND THE COASTS OF THE NORTHERN DELMARVA PENINSULA...NEW
JERSEY...THE NEW YORK CITY AREA...LONG ISLAND...CONNECTICUT...AND
...WINTER STORM WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT...
* SNOW ACCUMULATION...TOTAL STORM ACCUMULATIONS OF A LOT A REAL LOT OF INCHES.
* WIND...PROBABLY GOING TO BE A LOT OF THAT YEP
* DON'T...WORRY THOUGH
* JUST...LIE DOWN YOU'LL SLEEP THROUGH IT
* : ) .... : )
Red put his phone back down. It was fucked up how he was getting used to that sort of thing. It was even more fucked up how lying down seemed like a really good idea. He picked his phone back up. There was always the last resort.
“Hey,” Abraham answered after one ring. “What’s up?”
“Hey,” he said, and put his hand to cover his face. “You get the news up there?”
“More or less,” Abraham said. “I know what’s coming, if that’s what you mean.”
“I, uh,” Red said, and it felt weird to laugh. “That offer to come visit still good? I got nowhere else right now. You’re the only one picking up the phone.”
“Yeah, get your ass up here,” he said. “You got a car? Don’t take public transportation.”
“I got a car,” Red said. Abraham lived somewhere up in the woods practically in Canada, so he didn’t know exactly what busline he thought he was going to take. “Roads are probably going to be fucked, though.”
“I’ll send you directions,” he said. “Follow those. Don’t use Google Maps. Don’t even use Mapquest. It’s not going to take you the right way.”
Made sense. Out in the boonies like that, the internet would probably give him directions that told him to turn left into a lake. “Yeah, I got it. I’ll head out soon. Let you know on the way how it’s going.”
“Good,” Abraham said. He was quiet for a few seconds, that flavor of silence where you knew someone was debating what to say next. “Pack for a long stay.”
Red didn’t really look at what clothes he threw in his suitcase. Didn’t unplug the electronics, didn’t even turn the kitchen light off. He threw the bag in the backseat of his car, checked the directions he’d written down from Abraham’s email, and just started driving. He did check a map on his phone halfway through the drive, but all it would show was his little blue dot on a sea of grey, no matter how much he far he zoomed in or out. Abe’s directions would have to do, then.
The roads were clear the whole way, just as clear as the sky.
JULY 28, 2012 (later)
Red had texted him about an hour ago, right when the drive was bound to be getting dark and twisty and weird, which meant he was getting close. He heard the sound of tires crumpling twigs and stones in his front drive, but took a moment to pull back one of the curtains to get a good look and see the car, see Red exiting it. Always better to be sure; the woods could make some tricky sounds sometimes.
When Red was coming up his porch steps, though, he opened the door. It looked enough like a real him for Abraham to allow it. It was his eyes that convinced him. Red had the kind of face where his eyes always looked tired; now he could see that the weariness in them was real.
“Hey,” he said. “You grew a beard.”
Red laughed a little and brought his hand up to his chin, feeling over the rough black whiskers there like he’d just been reminded they existed. “Well, so did you.”
There was grey in Abraham’s beard now, matching what had started to streak through his hair years ago. “Damn right I did,” he said, and stepped back away from the door. “C’mon in.” Abraham had not so much had guests in his home, save for men delivering things too large for him to wrangle by himself. Still, he figured it had to be presentable; important to keep things organized. “You want some coffee?”
“It’s almost midnight,” Red said.
Abraham stepped into his kitchen and emerged holding a bottle of Jameson’s. “Seasoned coffee.” Red laughed and followed him into the kitchen, leaving his suitcase tucked up against the wall. “You’re not gonna get any sleep tonight, anyway, not if the storm comes.”
“‘If?'” Red said, and leaned up against the kitchen door frame as Abraham put a kettle of water on to boil. “You think it’s not going to hit up here at all?”
Abraham shrugged. “Anything can happen.” He got out mugs he’d had for years, one with Columbia’s logo on it, one with NASA’s from a vacation to Florida long ago. He cast a small glance over at Red. “You holding up?”
The look on his face before he sighed and covered it with his hand said that the most he was really holding up was the wall when he leaned on it. “It’s just…” Abraham could see his fingers press into his temple. “Shit, you know how it is.”
Abraham spooned coffee grounds into the filter of his old tin coffee pot. “I know how it is for me,” he said. “How is it for you?”
Red stepped deeper into the kitchen to pick up the bottle of whiskey. Civilization clearly survived just a little, since he opened a couple of Abraham’s cabinets until he found a glass. When he’d had a drink, he took in a slow breath and could look at Abraham again. “Fucked. Just fucked.”
“You hear from her at all?”
Red shook his head and drank again. “Nothing. Not a clue.” He swirled the whiskey around once in his glass, catching some of the dust out of it, and then finished it back in one knock. “I still haven’t been able to get hold of any of her family, anymore, either.”
The kettle was starting to steam. “Her mom and dad still around?”
Red shook his head a little. “Just her mom.”
“Still in Chicago?”
“The thing about that is,” Red said, “after she didn’t pick up the phone, didn’t answer any emails, didn’t…” He swallowed, this time no alcohol to make it easy. “Didn’t show up on any missing persons lists, I got on a plane and went out there myself.”
The water was hissing now. Abraham pulled it off the burner. He didn’t know the exact way this song was going to end, but he knew he’d heard this chord progression before. “Yeah?”
“Her house was empty. Cleared out. No furniture, no nothing.” Abraham poured the coffee into the upper reservoir of his coffee pot, watching the grounds swirl in the water. “I asked her neighbors, and they said she’d packed up and moved to the islands. Sumatra. Had a lawyer come sell all her shit.”
East of Java, Abraham did not say. The coffee dripped down into the lower half of the pot with the sound of rain on a tin roof. Maybe they’d get some of that later. “She never did come here,” Abraham said. “Mel, I mean. Her mom, too, but…”
Red let out a short laugh. “If her mom’d come looking for you, you would not have been able to walk to that door to answer it.”
“Don’t have to tell me twice,” Abraham said. He filled the mugs with coffee and then dosed them heavily with whiskey. He gave the NASA one to Red. “I’m sorry,” he said, looking Red right in his eyes.
“Yeah, that’s what she said, too.” Abraham must have made a little curious sound, because Red looked up from the steam of his coffee. “The note. That was all it said.”
“Huh,” Abraham said, and drank. The drying coffee grounds in the filter were piled in the shape of an octopus. He put the lid on the pot. “I really haven’t heard from or seen her, I want you to know.”
“Yeah, I know. I didn’t think so,” Red said, and then shook his head. “No, I did think so. I mean, had to think every option, you know?”
“She wouldn’t be coming here now,” he said. “Got herself a better man.”
Red shrugged. “You always been a charming fucker, though. Even though you’re crazy.” He took a drink of his coffee and grimaced. “And you still make the shittiest coffee.”
“Liking shitty coffee makes life a lot easier,” Abraham said.
Red shook his head. “Survivalist.”
Abraham lifted his mug. “Just trying to see things to the end.”
They drank their coffee in silence for a while. Dead silence from outside, in fact, not a suggestion of wind against the windows or through the trees. Abraham had metal shutters on the windows he could pull if things got nasty, but he’d gotten a good hint from Jann’s book that what was going to happen next wasn’t going to happen here. They were, for a comically short-defined sense of the term, safe.
Too much silence. “So…” Red said, peering into his coffee mug. He’d taken milk in his coffee once upon a time, Abraham could remember, but he supposed he’d been too polite or too damn worn out to bother asking. Would’ve done no good anyway — Abraham didn’t keep the stuff anymore, not after a week of his Cheerios’ spelling four-letter words at him. “You staying out of trouble?”
“Haven’t called you to bail me out in years,” Abraham said.
“You might’ve found someone else to do that for you.”
Abraham laughed. “No, can’t say that I have.” He shook his head. “Can’t really trust anyone these days.”
It was Red’s turn to hit him hard in the eyes, dark and locked. “You let me in.”
“You’re not from these days,” Abraham said, and that really was the reason. There was only one person left around who as far back with him than Red, and that was Mel. He’d been around. He’d stayed around when things had gone the way they did. And here he was now. He’d be one to remember how it’d all been, how it all happened, right up to the end.
“I guess I’m not,” Red said. Abraham picked up the whiskey bottle and topped up Red’s mug. Had to reward something like that somehow.
JULY 30, 2012
Red woke up hot and sweating. He’d kicked off the weird quilt Abraham had given him to sleep with, but was still soaked wet through his shirt. If there was any air conditioning in this damn cabin fortress of Abe’s, it wasn’t apparent and definitely wasn’t on. He felt like he was going to melt into the sofa.
He’d been sleeping on the sofa because while Abraham had a second bedroom, it was full of… things. Supplies, he said. Red had only had a little peek in there, but he’d seen lots of bottles of water and cans of food, blankets and flares and candles, and he was pretty certain his mind was inventing the belts of ammo, but you could never be sure. No bed, though. At least the couch was comfortable.
He was baking spread out on the fabric in the dead air, though. The clock on the VCR (a legit VCR! Abraham was nothing if not a cranky, bearded dinosaur) correctly matched the watch he’d taken off and left on the coffee table as saying it was just past two AM. The light peeking inside through the curtains looked like dawn, though.
He didn’t quite feel awake, but that was nothing unusual anymore. He filled a glass of water from the tap and drank it standing in the kitchen without turning the light on. The water in the city had taken on a stale, metallic taste in the past few months, but here things tasted clean again. It was almost weird; he’d gotten used to that taste of copper and iron.
Red wiped sweat off his face with the bottom of his shirt. It’d been cold the day before, the damp chilliness you’d get before a storm, though they hadn’t gotten a drop of rain or flake of snow like had been promised to the south of them. Maybe he needed fresh air, something to cool off his skin.
When he opened Abraham’s front door he didn’t get the gust of chill he was expecting. The wood of the porch underneath his bare feet felt warm, like it’d been baking in the sun all day. It was hot out, a dry Arizona kind of heat. Like standing in front of an open oven. He stepped out from where the porch roof blocked out the sky, down a few of the front steps.
The sky was red above the treetops, mottled orange and brown, the color somewhere between an old bruise and a shitty tropical cocktail. There was a shimmer to it, like heat over an empty pan. Red saw no moon, no sun, no clouds. His mouth tasted dry and sour again.
He only realized how long he’d been standing out there, toes hanging off the bottom step, when he heard the door squeak behind him and realized his legs hurt. He looked behind him to see Abraham, dressed in plaid pajama pants with his broad chest bare. His glasses were off, making his eyes look small and tired.
Red moved his tongue in his arid mouth to speak. “Northern lights?” he asked. He didn’t think they were up that far, but he’d sort of lost track of things on the drive.
“Something like that,” Abraham said, his voice gravel. “Come back inside. I’ll set you up a fan.”
Red turned and walked back up the stairs, into the house. It felt cool again inside, and he was still seeing orange behind his eyes when he closed them to go back to sleep. The VCR clock read four AM.
AUGUST 2, 2012
It was raining, but just the soft pit-pat on the roof like something you’d get in some stupid Japanese poem about spring. Wind blowing prettily through the leaves, soft sound of birds and crickets, all that shit. Perfect weather for sitting out on the porch in an old rocking chair, having a bottle of something cold, and relaxing. Except for the thick smell of sulfur that hit you like a punch in the chest the minute you opened the door.
Red was suffering some amount of cabin fever, Abraham could tell, or at least that’s what he hoped it was. They’d talked a good amount, of course, bullshitting and catching up where they could, but there was only so much that could be said through all the tight wires strung up between them without slicing through a few. Wasn’t time for that yet. Red had paced a lot around the house, muttering at his phone as it only got a few drips of signal in special corners for a few minutes.
“You getting anything at all?” he said at one point. “Any idea what’s going on out there? Is it safe to go back yet?”
Abraham had made some modifications to his phone that would keep it working for a while yet despite whatever conditions arose. Not forever, of course, but two bars would do for now. He didn’t let Red use it, though. “Nope, not yet,” he said, with certainty that didn’t require checking. “Lot of water. Lot of power out. Best to stick up here.”
After that Red spent most of the time flat on his back on the couch, arm slung over his eyes, the TV on low. Abraham didn’t turn the thing on often himself, but now it seemed the only channel it was picking up was some entertainment news channel. Red had bitched about it a little at first, rustled a little through Abraham’s box of cassette tapes, and then just given up. He lay on the couch in a pair of Abraham’s pajama pants and a very worn university t-shirt and just let the talking heads go on.
Abraham had been pretty glued to the computer. News wasn’t going to come through the regular journalistic sources, not anymore, and if it did, it was going to be wrong. Big news from Brangelina, the woman on TV with too many white teeth and a helmet of blonde hair said. The famously private couple really hit a new mark keeping this one under wraps — Angelina just gave birth again… to triplets! Red groaned a little and rolled over, turning his back to the screen. Maybe he was asleep. Good to rest up. The pair reports that little Leiche, Ruumis, and Cadavre were born very quickly and are now very quiet and very still. We can only hope for pictures soon!
The internet wasn’t running very fast anymore, not with new satellites crashing out of the sky or escaping orbit every day. He didn’t need speed though; all he needed were the message boards. The man on TV, the one who seemed to have even more teeth and a perfectly square head, laughed. At what point do we start to call it a litter, huh? Maybe when she eats her young! There were always message boards, blogs, deep posts where you’d find the information that forces would try to hide. Up next, a new trend from the East — sushi you’ll find MEOW-th-watering!
Abraham glanced back over his shoulder to see something long and furry and calico being rolled up in a bed of rice. He switched off the TV. Red didn’t stir.
He listened to the rain of the roof and the sound of Red’s breathing. Reports from along the coast were patchy and incomplete, but Abraham could see the picture being painted. The subways and train lines from Boston to DC were gone, that was definite. How they were gone took a little more digging. Not flooded, not sunk, that was what the mainstream media wanted you to believe.
Abraham found a post by someone who called themselves ’embryo.’
i'm from jersey and i used to live pretty near the nj transit line. they were supposed to shut everything down but the traiins kept running all night. i finally got someone to come pick me up to get the fuck out but i knew something was going to happen so i got this video... THIS is what is really going on. THIS is the situation. if someone you know is not out of these Zones than they are not coming out. that is the truth now. THIS IS THE TRUTH NOW
The link to the video went to a private server. It was blurry and shaky, the same shit cell-phone video you got on everything these days, but the content was clear. The train tracks ripping themselves out of the ground. The train cars going with them. The whole rail line leaving the earth like veins and arteries being pulled out of meat and disappearing into the sky, leaving only falling dirt and empty trenches behind them.
“Shit,” ’embryo’ said on the video. Abraham looked in the rest of the thread, and realized that all of the posters had the name ’embryo’ now. THIS IS THE TRUTH NOW.
He thumbed through Jann’s book. They’d probably need to make a move soon. Didn’t want to do it too early, but it’d be a waste of it all if they were late.
He nudged Red awake on the couch and dug a dusty cassette tape out of the box. They sat next to each other, close enough on the sofa to feel each other’s body warmth but not quite touching, and watched The Muppet Movie without any particular conversation.
AUGUST 4, 2012
Everything in Abraham’s house was neatly arranged, very well in order, and covered with dust. Red had never been a clean freak, but after he’d lost track of how many days he’d been stuck up in the cabin, he had to get something done. He nudged Abraham out of the way as he went at the tables and counters and tops of books with paper towels, ending up with a pile of them, crumpled and smudged with grey. Abraham directed him to put the mess in whatever composting or compacting system he had set up. Burned-up paper towels probably kept the lights on, for all he knew.
At least it was something productive. At least it was some kind of change. Red took a little payment for his cleaning services from the bottle of whiskey and fell asleep again on the couch. Abraham had one of those emergency radios, the kind you hand cranked that would run forever. It didn’t get any station useful, though, nothing that would tell him about the situation outside, nothing about if he could go home. All it picked up was a Motown station, crackly and grainy. I know you’re no good for me, it hissed and spat out as Red drifted off. But free of you I’ll never be.
He woke up and it was nighttime and the radio was only hissing static. He got up and stretched, bones cracking and back aching. He was too old to be spending this much time on a couch. Any longer than this and he’d just tell Abraham that they were going to be spooning here on out. Abraham wasn’t immediately to be found, and the VCR had been unplugged and plugged in again at some point so all it could do was flash 12:00 at him. Maybe it was late. A thin layer of dust was over everything again.
Red turned off the radio, though it still seemed like the hiss was coming out of it, a crackle in his ears like rusty tinnitus. There was another noise, too, but this one was coming from outside. It sounded like feet in the grass, crackling of twigs and some shuffling, organic noise. Maybe Abraham was outside. Red went to the porch in bare feet to see.
It was full-moon bright cast over the trees and the bare dirt and gravel leading up to Abraham’s house, though there was no moon in the sky to be seen. At the edges of Abraham’s property, where it stopped being a man’s thing and started being the woods again, the grass and leaves and trees looked blue, a deep ocean blue. Red heard more sounds and took a step down off the porch. There was movement in the trees.
“Don’t,” came Abraham’s voice from behind him. He was too big to be quiet as a cat like that, but Red figured that even tigers didn’t make a sound when they were hunting. He flipped on the porch light, bathing the scene in yellow from moth-filled lights, making everything turn aquarium green.
They came out of the trees slowly, sniffing cautiously at the edges of the borderline of the wild. They weren’t dogs, and they weren’t wolves… Coyotes, lean and yellow. Red had heard once on some radio show that Mel liked about how they’d been coming more and more north, following the line of food they could steal from humankind. Sometimes they’d eat your cats.
“Don’t,” Abraham said again, after Red took another step down the porch. The coyotes were making noises here and there, sniffing and yipping and pulling at each others’ fur like puppies. Their muzzles were darker than the rest of them; Red felt stupid for how long it took him to realize it was blood.
“This the kind of thing you get out here?” Red said, and Abraham came closer, enough that he could feel the edge of his presence touch his.
“No,” Abraham said, and that caught him. ‘More or less’ or ‘something like that’ were the answers Abraham usually gave to all of his questions. He started to turn his head to look at him, but then there was another sound, a louder rustle. Not thin paws on sticks. Feet.
He saw her back first, bent in a pretty arch, skin pale in the sick light. There was the mole at the base of her spine. There was the little scar on her side from when she’d fallen off a jungle gym and gotten cut as a kid. There were the dark curls of her hair, thicker than usual from mud and scattered through with leaves. The coyotes brushed against her and nipped at her like any other dog. She lifted her head.
There was her face. There was her mouth, the one he’d kissed the first time eight years and a few months ago, brown back to her chin and fresh red near her lips. Her teeth were pink when she curled her lips back, and the sound that came out of her brought all the coyotes to respond, a chorus of yowls and growls and dark sounds that became swallowed into the trees, trapped in there with them.
“Mel!” he shouted, and only got one step off the porch before Abraham grabbed both of his shoulders, hard. “Let go of me, fucker!” he said, but Abraham hauled him up, wrapping an arm around his neck like a wrestler’s headlock to haul him back up the porch stairs.
“No,” he said again, and his mouth was near Red’s ear. “There’s nothing you can do now. There is nothing you can do.”
“Fuck you, that’s my wife!” he said, and thrashed against Abraham, but he just grabbed him tighter, locking him in with both strong arms. Mel — god, it really was her — was standing up a little. She was bare, naked and bruised and dirty, with blood and darker things caking her hands and arms up to the elbows.
“You can’t,” Abraham said, and Red felt the tears hot on his cheeks. “You can’t.”
Mel met his eyes. She had the prettiest honey-colored eyes. Those long butterfly lashes he’d brush a thumb over when she was pretending to not be awake in the morning to make her laugh. She looked at him with those eyes and they were still her eyes, still his eyes, but then she opened her mouth and yowled, let out a choking groan that grabbed into his gut. She was back on all fours then, running with the coyotes back into the woods, leaving nothing but the prints of her toes in the dirt, scattering amongst the paw marks.
He lost it for a while. Thrashing, kicking, probably a lot of swearing, crying. He wasn’t there for a while, his mind somewhere floating above the trees, trying to find the source of that moonlight and find something to take all the shadows out of this situation. There was nothing, though. Nothing. He wore himself out and stopped.
Abraham had him pushed down on the sofa, nearly on top of him. He went limp for a while and closed his eyes, and that seemed enough to get him to pull back. He sat up and scrubbed his hands over his wet face. His eyes were blurred when he looked at Abraham.
“You know,” he said, voice broken. “You know what’s going on. Something is going on and you know what it is.” He pointed towards the front door. “You saw that and you knew what it was! What the hell is it, Abraham? What the fuck is going on? Not just Mel, all of it, what the fuck do you know?”
Abraham took a very deep, very slow breath. He met Red’s eyes and spoke with the voice of a man who was telling the absolute, undeniable truth.
“It’s the end of the world, Red,” he said.
AUGUST 4, 2012 (still)
Red looked at him for a long time after that, eyes already swollen from crying going even thinner. “What?” he said, voice a dry rasp.
“The end of the world,” Abraham said, and wondered if he should have said it earlier. “The world is ending. The world is going to end very soon.”
Red shook his head and kept shaking it. “That’s bullshit,” he said. “That’s impossible.”
“Lots of impossible things been happening lately,” Abraham said. “You going to tell me they haven’t?”
“Yeah, but…” Red let out a long breath and pressed his fingers to his temples for a moment. “I thought it was just me. Thought I was losing it. Brain tumor or something.”
“It’s not just you,” Abraham said. “It’s real. It’s actually happening. It will happen.”
Red was shaking his head but he still asked, “When?”
“Well, if all my research and sources are correct, December 21st.”
“Your research–” Red made a face, his lip curling up. “Is this that Mayan shit?”
Abraham shrugged one shoulder. “It’s a lot of things. It’s complicated. Mayans were mostly just real good with dates.”
“That’s bullshit,” Red said. “I know that’s bullshit.” He let out a humorless laugh and put his hands over his face. “Neil deGrasse Tyson said so,” he said, small and into his palms.
Abraham rolled his eyes. “Neil deGrasse Tyson is a reptiloid.” Red peered at him through his fingers. “Look, it’s not going to be as simple as all that. It’s not going to be what anyone has expected or predicted. There are things in the earth and things above that we won’t ever–” He stopped himself. Future tense. Had to get out of that habit, it was just wasteful words at this point. “We can’t understand or know. But this is what is happening now, and in a few months it’s all going to end.”
Red let his hands come away from his face. “Why?” Abraham just shrugged. If there was one thing he had learned in his four decades of being a living, existing creature, it was that there was absolutely no answer to that question that was fully true or accurate. Red closed his eyes, steepled his hands in front of his mouth, and took deep breaths for a while. “What do we do? How do we stop it?”
“We don’t,” Abraham said. “There is no stopping it. Stopping it is not an option.” Abraham took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. You could stop this like you could stop any death. Things could be avoided, and things could be extended, but in the end, there would be an end. Red didn’t seem ready to hear that, though, so he just let him breathe.
“This is…” he said, after a while. Abraham put his glasses back on to make him sharp again. “This is what you were talking about back then. When you went nuts.”
Abraham let out a short chuckle and nodded his head once. “That it was.”
Red looked like he’d swallowed something bitter. “You were right?”
“I was,” Abraham said. “I’m not saying I’m not also crazy, but I am right.” It was the questioning, the constant voices in his head, the paranoia that had made him dig into this whole thing to begin with, all those years ago. If you dug deep enough and hid the pills in the bottom of your lip long enough, you eventually got to the truth.
“Why?” Red asked again, but this time he had more of an aim for it. “If you knew this was going to happen, why all this?” He gestured around the cabin, to his room of supplies, to the metal shutters, to the bars that could go across the door. “If we can’t stop it, why this survivalist shit? Why not just blow your brains out and not have to go through…” Abraham saw his throat work, swallowing down more pain. “This.”
“Well, I’d say my history of institutionalizations and incarcerations would make it hard for me to get a gun for that purpose, but, well, that’s simply not true.” There was a box under his bed and one in the trunk of the van, should any of those means become necessary. Red didn’t seem to appreciate the wry tone in his voice, so he brought it back down, calm and professorial. “I’m here and I’m like this because I want to see it. I want to be there when the lights go off the last time. I want to see it.” He breathed in deep and leaned back a little. “And if you want to see it, too, I’ll keep you alive with me.”
Red didn’t say anything. He didn’t say anything long enough that Abraham got up, went to the kitchen, and came back with a whiskey for the both of them. Red knocked it back in one shot. “Terminal diagnosis,” he said, looking into his empty glass.
“Yep,” Abraham said.
Red tipped the glass back again, getting any last dropps. “Go out like we came in?”
“Kicking and screaming,” Abraham said. Probably covered in blood and pus, too, he did not add; Red didn’t seem quite ready for that sort of humor.
Red shook his head again, clinked his empty glass to Abraham’s full one, and then took the glass away from him, drinking that one, too. He looked out to the window, to the nighttime behind the curtain. It was quiet out there now. “Hope she doesn’t see it.”
Abraham looked only at Red. “So do I,” he said.
AUGUST 27, 2012
Abraham had started showing him things. The stuff he knew about, the stuff he’d seen, his proof. He’d only give him a little at a time, letting him adjust to things after Abraham brought out a couple of boxes of crayons where all 64 colors were labeled ‘flesh’ and only came out a muddy red-brown on paper, or when he’d show him a video of giant catfish emerging from the river, struggling up onto shore and into the grass where they could swallow pigeons whole. He was being gentle with it all, a slow revelation, which Red honestly did appreciate. He spent many nights being sick in Abraham’s bathroom, from terror, from despair, from thoughts of Mel, from too much whiskey on a stomach filled with MREs.
He had given up on the couch and slept in Abraham’s bed now. If the world was ending, he could at least do it without lower back pain. And he didn’t want to or need to say it, but sleeping alone felt harder than ever. Abraham had to know it, because he made no complaint, just scooted over to one side of the bed and shared the quilt with him. Red didn’t sleep much, and he didn’t sleep well, but having a warm, living, breathing presence beside him made it a little easier. Even if that presence was far hairier than he was used to.
Abraham had taken him to the woods and showed him the cave the day before. It smelled like roast chicken and Billie Holiday was coming out of it, and Abraham had to grab him by the back of his collar to keep him from walking right in. “Didn’t used to be there,” he’d said. “Been getting bigger.”
He was alone in bed when he woke up the next day, his face pushed into Abraham’s pillow, smelling different sweat. The clock said he’d slept in, but trusting clocks was harder and harder every day. He shuffled out into the rest of the house wearing Abraham’s pajamas; he’d barely packed a week’s worth of his own stuff, he’d figured. It’d been so much longer than a week.
Abraham was in the kitchen cooking something, and whistling. The crazy fucker’s bright-side attitude to this situation would possibly lead to Red’s murdering him way before the world’s deadline. He’d had longer to adjust to the diagnosis, long enough that it was normal.
Red squinted at the contents of the pan Abraham was stirring. “Eggs?” he asked. “Are you making scrambled eggs?”
“Yup,” he said, and stirred them a little more with a wooden spoon. They smelled a bit like the devil’s farts.
“Where’d you get eggs?” Abraham had left once in his van in the whole time Red had been here, for a few hours that got more terrifying and sickening as Red thought of how he might not come back, might just drive straight into whatever chasm of nothing might surround them now. He didn’t come back with any more supplies, though, and didn’t say where he’d been. Definitely not to get eggs. He wouldn’t want to see eggs these days, anyway.
“Powdered,” he said. “Old wartime classic.” He spooned some of the jiggly yellow mass onto a plate and gave it to Red with a fork.
Red took a bite. He gestured to the eggs with his fork as he chewed. “Is this what they’re supposed to be like, or is this another symptom?”
“No, that’s pretty much what they taste like,” Abraham said, and got a plate of his own. “Got some hot sauce if you want it.” Red shook his head. He didn’t think Texas Pete’s was going to go well with the taste of sulfurous rubber no matter what. “Sorry the grub stinks. Pretty much how it’s going to be from here on out. We’ll probably stop getting hungry and eating at some point, though.”
Red put his fork down. “How do you know these things? You’ve got all these vague whats and whens but nothing solid.”
Abraham pulled the little book out of his pocket. He’d seen him looking at it now and then, flipping the pages and nodding or shaking his head and muttering now and then. He’d never let Red get near it, and he’d not gotten more of a glimpse of a lot of scratchy writing inside. “I’ve spent the last decade of my life trying to figure it out. And before me someone spent his whole life trying to figure it out, and he left me this, and so…” He put the book back away. “I know what I know. It’s not a lot, but it’s enough.” He put another spoonful of eggs on Red’s plate. “Eat up and get dressed. I could use your help loading up the van.”
“Going somewhere?” Red said, and ate more of the terrible eggs. He was getting used to them, like you could get used to anything.
“Going to need to head out of here soon,” he said, and tapped the pocket that had the book in it before eating his own weird eggs. “This place isn’t going to stay safe much longer. Changes are coming.”
“You sure?” Red said.
“Nope,” Abraham said. They ate bad eggs standing in the kitchen and then put the dishes in the sink. Red spent the better part of the afternoon helping Abraham move things into his van, unlabeled boxes that he didn’t bother to inquire the contents of. When that was finished, he came back to the kitchen and saw the remnants of their eggs, turned back into yellow powder that shaped out the letter ‘M’ on both plates.
That night when they slept he turned towards Abraham, resting his forehead between his shoulder blades, just to feel his breath, to feel his heart beating.
SEPTEMBER 1, 2012
Red kept asking ‘how,’ and Abraham had given him the best answer he could. He wasn’t going to pony up the real root of it, though, partly to keep Red from running off on him, and partly because he worried that if he told someone about it it would escape him. He knew that things would happen and the vague shape of what they would be because he knew. He felt it in his stomach like you’d feel when you were about to vomit. He heard whispers of it in his ear when he was trying to sleep, just like he’d been hearing since back when he’d still been with Mel. Everything in his life had been pointing, screaming, bleeding it into him so long he had no choice but to know.
So, he knew it was time to go. The feeling of it hit him in the gut like the first strikes of food poisoning, and he didn’t even need to check Jann’s book to know what it meant. They’d have to be quick, but not run. Running was only something you did when something was chasing you.
Red had been killing time reading through his books, bugging him about which conspiracy theories he thought were and weren’t true. Abraham could lecture on those topics for quite some time, so it’d filled the time. He was sitting in Abraham’s recliner reading a book about ancient aliens (utter horseshit), rolling his eyes every few pages. Abraham stood up and walked over him to take the book out of his hands.
“Go get your shoes on and your bag. Go put it in the van and get in yourself.” He could see Red tensing, see him start to breathe faster. “Don’t hurry. Just go easy.”
“Time to go?” Red said.
“Time to go.”
The bustled around the house with the lazy business of an old married couple not quite eager to take the dog out for a walk on a cold day. Red laced up his shoes and put on a scarf before walking calmly out the front door with his suitcase. Abraham tied up the kitchen trash bag and put it in the compactor before following him. He stopped after closing the front door and went back in to retrieve a hat, a stupid plaid thing he’d had for years. He closed the door again, locked it, and got into the driver’s side of the van. Good, Red was in the passenger seat. Sometimes strange things could happen when you’d turned your back.
He buckled his seatbelt. “We going to go?” he said, tension in his voice.
“Just… just a minute,” Abraham said. For all he knew about the strange and awful and unexplained things in the world, he firmly thought that psychic powers were bullshit. Anything could change here at the end, of course, but the feeling he had now wasn’t that, wasn’t some energy reading across the unseeable waves. It was like the reason dogs started to howl before earthquakes. It was why flocks of birds would divert their paths the day before a storm. It was the microscopic ripple in the pond just before the stone hit.
“I just want to see,” he said quietly, and kept his eyes fixed on the rear view mirror. The windows were rolled up, but he could hear the noise starting to build up, something that first sounded like the bass out of an amp at a rock show until it got lower, louder, a sound that felt like it could make the sky go black. A songbird, all white save for a burst of red on its chest, fell out of the air to thud on the hood of the van. Red jumped, but Abraham just kept watching in the mirror.
The sound stopped, abrupt like a pulled plug. He could hear Red breathing hard, too fast. He reached a hand over to put on his thigh, squeezing it until he slowed some. Red put his hand on top of his, curling his fingers around to hold it.
“There it is,” Abraham whispered, and watched as the first leaves started to sprout from the earth, red like autumn. The vines came out slowly and delicately, the little wavering curve like you’d see in time-lapse film of a seed sprouting. They wiggled in the air for just a bit before curling around the foundations of Abraham’s house, climbing up the wall, making every last inch of it disappear beneath criss-crossing vine and an explosion of red leaves. Red was watching it too, he could tell, from the way he gripped his hand.
The house was gone, now, a blanket of red making it look like some obscenely large October front-yard leaf pile for a kid to jump into and ruin. Abraham looked at it through his mirror for a very long time. Red’s hand was sweating onto the back of his.
“Are–” was all that got out of his mouth before every leaf turned black at once and the pile collapsed, not even the shape of his house remaining. The leaves blanketed the empty space that had been his home, and now seemed to be squirming and writhing. That cinnamon smell was leaking in through the van windows.
“Now we are,” Abraham said, and didn’t look back in the mirror as he drove slowly away.
Abraham did all the driving, but he was fine with that, because Abraham seemed to know where they were going. He took back roads at times, and main highways at others. His drive up to Abraham’s house had been nothing but empty roads, but now there were other cars. Sometimes they seemed normal enough, old woody family sedans full of kids and suitcases, another set of hopeless people trying to get somewhere safe. After a while of being stuck in traffic of all blue cars driven by long dark things with long fingers, he thought about covering the window on his side of the car with newspaper. Abraham had one tucked in the back that he found, and he didn’t question as Red unfolded it. At the bottom column on the front page the listing for BIRTHS simply said NO and next to it DEATHS said COMING.
Red threw the newspaper out the window. One of the long dark things in the blue hatchback beside him honked and hissed at him. Abraham just leaned over him and flipped it off. It held up one long shadowy-shimmering middle finger in retort, and then turned on its radio. Final Countdown, very funny. Incorporeal asshole had some serious subwoofers in that thing. Red decided to just close his eyes.
They slept in the back of the van on some mattress probably old enough to drink and army sleeping bags, in between the boxes of Abraham’s supplies. So much for not having his back hurt. He’d crawl back there to sleep sometimes while Abraham was driving, but the dreams he had then always ended up bad. The hum of the engine became a deeper drone, and all he could think of was melting through the van floor and into the road below. So he slept when Abraham slept, next to his steady, untroubled breathing.
They were driving somewhere straight and flat, with long clear roads. Red would guess Ohio, but the sign saying CLEAVE-LAND wasn’t to be trusted. He’d just trust in Abraham’s navigation. The van had a tape deck that only worked part of the time, and only when Abe remembered to use it. He’d put in a cassette a while ago, some hand-labeled thing he’d dug out of the back. Red listened to a couple of songs before it all started to connect.
“Wait, I remember this,” he said. “Bjork, Radiohead…” He laughed. “Shit, this is that mixtape. You remember? From that road trip we did in college.”
Abraham’s eyebrows went up. “Oh, huh. So it is.”
“Is this the world fucking with us again, or did you legitimately still have it?”
“No, no, I kept it,” he said, and smiled. “Shit, that was a long time ago.” He shook his head, grinning. “New Orleans, man.”
Red smiled too. “New Orleans,” he said, and then forced himself very hard to think only of the spring break they’d spent there and not of how people were probably eating twelve-course dinners in the tombs or something worse by now. “Sometimes I think I’m still hungover from then.”
“Oh, probably. Your body saves that kind of damage to surprise you later,” Abraham said. Bjork sang out of the shitty speakers for a while longer. “Met Mel when we got home from that.”
“Shit,” Red said. It was stupid, how the moments of your life could seem like a tangled wad of Christmas lights, and how only with a lot of frustrated unwinding could you see two bulbs connected right next to each other. “You did.”
“We did,” Abraham corrected. Abe had known some guy in the art school, and they’d gone to the performance of whatever weird project he had that was supposed to say something about the AIDS crisis or whatever had been important back then, and it had been pretentious and stupid, but there was a girl there playing the cello. And that was Mel.
“We’ve never really talked about it, you know,” Red said.
“Do we need to?” Abraham asked. He said it sincerely, not out of a wish to avoid anything.
“I don’t know,” Red said. “Maybe you don’t. Maybe I do.” He laughed a little. “I mean, shit, when is there going to be a better time?”
Abraham dipped his head a little. “Well, then, let’s talk.”
Red took in a slow breath. The sky outside was slowly pinkening and it was starting to snow, but this is what had him knotted up. “Did it bother you? Were you really okay with it?”
Abraham took in his own share of air and rippled his fingers on the steering wheel. Cars were always the best place to have serious conversations; you didn’t have to look at each other. “I loved Mel,” he said. “I loved her very much. She is, in fact, the only woman I think I ever loved.” The cassette sputtered and skipped a little, the growl of the engine overtaking it for a while. “But I wasn’t good to her. Even before…” He gestured a little at himself, at the general region of his head. “All this. I wasn’t good to her, and I wasn’t good for her, and she was right to leave me.”
“I always thought, uh.” Red rubbed a hand over his face. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d shaved, but his beard had stopped growing. “Thought maybe that was why you went nuts.”
Abraham shook his head. “No, her leaving just gave me more time to focus on going nuts.” He held up his finger to Red and glanced over at him. “And being correct, I will remind you.” Red had gotten so adjusted to this situation that it just made him roll his eyes. “But no, no, it was what had to happen. She deserved a better man.” He looked over at him fully, then. “She got him.”
“Yeah,” Red said, and swallowed hard. “I guess so.”
“I know,” Abraham said, firm as he looked back at the road. “I never saw her as happy in our whole marriage as she was the day she married you.”
Red rested his hands on the dashboard. “Was that weird?”
Abraham’s mouth curled up a little at the edge. “Red, I think you might imagine that I have a very different definition of ‘weird’ than most people.” Red nodded and had to laugh a little. “It was good. I’m glad she got to be happy before this.”
Red looked out the window beside him. The lane of the highway they were on was empty, but the other was completely backed up with abandoned cars. “Do you think she…”
“Don’t,” Abraham said. “You can’t think about that now. There’s nothing you can do.” Red could see that every license plate on every car read NEVER. “It’ll all be over soon, anyway.”
“I guess,” Red said, and brushed a thumb over his eye. He’d stolen a peek at Abraham’s little madman’s book while he’d been sleeping, but none of it made any sense to him. He had some hope, some tiny little light of hope, that somehow this could be fixed. Abraham was driving them to a heroic destination where they’d find the switch to turn this all off, make it stop, make things go back to normal. It was a feeling he’d had before, in a hospital room. “Yeah, it will,” he said.
Abraham reached over and took his hand, holding it tight and squeezing it. He held it until the end of the cassette, when the deck devoured it just at the end of Black Hole Sun, spooling out brown tape between them.
They’d actually spent a week at a motel, tired of driving and in some need of real beds for at least a little while. The proprietor was a middle-aged woman in a quilted dressing gown with a tremor in her hands who accepted a sizeable box of beef jerky as payment.
“Who you boys going to vote for?” she said as she brought an unlit cigarette to her lips and drew on it.
“Uh,” Red had said, and looked to Abraham for a cue. He had none; he didn’t pay attention to politics even when the world wasn’t ending. “Obama?”
The motel woman rolled her eye. “Pfft. Yeah, you would.” Nothing like a little racism during the end times. Bless humanity. “I don’t think he’s done enough for this country. I mean, did you see the debate?” She sucked on her cigarette again, and blew out no smoke. “I don’t care what anyone says, I’m voting for A Skeleton. That’s what America needs right now.”
Abraham took the keys from her and put a package of Slim Jims down on the counter as a tip. “Well, thank you, ma’am, we’ll all do our part and may the better man win.”
There were two beds, but they slept in one. The TV showed nothing but static, even when unplugged, so they just put it in the bathtub. Neither of them could really remember the last time they’d showered or brushed their teeth, but neither of them felt dirty or anything less than minty fresh. Getting ash on your skin when you walked from the van to the door just meant you needed to brush off a little.
Abraham got that feeling again before long, though, unignorable deep in his veins. Time to move. The earth was shifting all the time now, above and below and all the places in between. You had to keep moving just to keep from being ground into bits from it all. Red didn’t question when he said it was time to get back moving again, he just put things into the van. Abraham went to turn in the keys, out of some instinctual and fairly perverse sense to keep society functioning, and found their innkeeper still in her dressing gown, eating big forkfuls of cigarette butts out of a cereal bowl. She did not acknowledge the return of the keys.
They were driving south, but it was getting colder. Abraham cranked up the heat in the van and let the windows steam. He had canisters of gas in the back and was nothing if not an expert of siphoning and stealing from gas stations. He just had to hope it would all keep working for a bit longer.
Somewhere in Illinois they had to stop because the road was blocked, and not in any way he could drive around. There was an endless stream of women, all of them housewives out of 80’s soaps, big hair and knee-length ruffled housedresses. The long line of them kept shuffling across the highway like sheep on a rural Scottish path, blocking all passage through. Some of them held pies in their arms, some were clad in oven mitts. There were more than a few rolling pins. They waited for a while before it got dark and it seemed time to give up.
He’d gotten rather used to sleeping next to Red. He hadn’t shared his bed with anyone at all since his divorce, which was less of a tragedy than most would make it out to be. He just had other things on his mind. It was nice though, to have the warmth next to him, the solid human presence. One more proof of life yet remaining for just a while longer.
Red was something like affectionate in his sleep, though maybe it was more like desperate. Abraham always woke with a hand somewhere on his body, at the very least that one point of contact. It was never actual spooning, just Red’s forehead pressed at the nape of his neck. Very loose in the silverware drawer.
He woke that night facing Red to feel his breath on his face and his hand pushing back through his hair. He opened his eyes a crack and then close them again; it was too dark to be worth it. Then he felt Red’s mouth on his.
He pulled back from it after a moment and made a little noise in his throat, all of a question he could work up. “Fuck it, right?” Red said in a whisper, and his fingers pushed through Abraham’s hair again, petting him like a nervous animal. They all were that, in the end. “One last time before the end, right?”
“Yeah,” Abraham said, voice crackling from sleep. He hadn’t much gotten laid this century; it hadn’t been a priority. “Didn’t know you cared, Red.”
“Always could see what she saw in you,” he said, and that was enough. His mouth tasted dry, like a spoonful of ground cinnamon. He pawed through Abraham’s hair and bit at his lips, and Abraham was hard quick enough. It was good, here with so little time left, to feel this kind of life, some other living, breathing, thinking thing with the will and the desire for this. He put a hand around the back of Red’s neck and kissed him hard.
Red pushed his hand into his pants and grabbed at his cock, making him grunt into his mouth. This wasn’t going to be an involved or graceful and tender act of lovemaking. This was going to be adolescent. Red jerked him off like he was fifteen and hurrying before his mom caught them. Abraham bent in to suck on his neck, one last good taste of someone else’s skin.
He came impolitely before even laying a proper hand on Red, gasping into his shoulder and shuddering against him, mind primal and blank and unafraid for those sparse seconds. Little damn deaths. He bit the fabric of Red’s shirt just between his teeth until he could return the favor.
Red breathed hard against his cheek and wound his fingers into a death grip in his hair as he stroked him off. Abraham had no finesse for this, no sense of how to work this from this angle, but he’d never been very good at any of this at all. It was working for Red, at least, his breath growing louder and more labored until all of it stopped, all noise and all air, as he came into Abraham’s hand.
Red’s grip loosened and he fell back some from Abraham, breath back and slowing. Abraham brought his wet hand to his face for a sniff and a small taste. Still alive enough, their bodies still making something more than just blood and tears. He wiped his hand on the sleeping bag behind him and slung an arm around Red’s waist to fall asleep.
After an hour or so they woke up and did it all again. When they woke up again when the sky was light, the river of housewives was gone, and a line of freshly baked-smelling pies and casseroles was lined up outside the back of the van.
“You hungry?” he said to Red. He realized there was semen staining the front of his own pants. Well, wouldn’t be the first time.
“Definitely not,” he said, and they returned to the front of the van, leaving the baked goods behind.
The van gave out eventually. Not for lack of gas. It shuddered to a stop somewhere in what was probably Kentucky. Red stayed in the car while Abraham got out and opened up the hood. He slammed it again a few seconds later and came to Red’s window, shaking his head.
“Engine turned into snakes,” he said, sounding deeply annoyed by this development.
“Well, shit,” Red said, rolling his own eyes. You adapted. “Guess we walk?”
“Guess we do.”
They passed through a town that was empty of anyone, any cars, any sign of life except, Red realized after a few minutes of walking down the main street, piles of clothes here and there on the streets and sidewalks. When he looked closer, he saw ‘I Voted!’ stickers on many of the empty shirts.
A newspaper box on one block had its front page displayed, the huge-point type of the headline declaring ‘A SKELETON WINS’ with the grinning successful candidate pictured below. Red shook his head.
“Four more years?” he said, and Abraham barked a laugh.
“Last time I voted, it was for Nader.”
Red raised his eyes to the heavens, to the bruised sky. “This is definitely all your fault, then.”
It was getting colder as they headed south, and though neither of them had abandoned the van with much in the way of winter gear, it didn’t really seem to be much of a concern. It was snowing almost constantly, though — at least, it seemed like it was. Red caught a little in his palm at one point and brought it up to his mouth for a taste, some childhood instinct kicking in. It wasn’t cold at all, and it was dry.
“Tastes like chocolate,” he said, wrinkling his nose at Abraham.
“Tasted like curry to me,” he said. “Probably from the supervolcano.” He tapped the pocket he kept his little book in, although he hadn’t much been looking at it lately.
“Oh, yeah, I remember hearing about that,” Red said, and caught a little more ash on his fingers. Now it tasted like jerk seasoning, hot enough to leave his mouth tingling. It had been a while since he’d last eaten, he realized, but he didn’t feel hungry, and he didn’t feel weak. Terminal patients often lose interest in food and drink, he’d remembered the doctor saying. “They were always saying it was overdue.”
“Sure was,” Abraham said. “That’s one reason we haven’t been going west.” He tilted his head up to look to the sky, and ash collected on the lenses of his glasses.
“Where are we going?” Red asked.
“North pole,” he said. Maybe they’d get there in time for Christmas.
The slept together in tucked away places they could find, curled face to face together like twins in a womb. Sex was infrequent and uncomplicated, a little life-affirming mutual masturbation to work as a sedative, letting them both sleep for a while with untroubled dreams. Red’s were, at least, long dreams about circling the moon. Sometimes he’d hear Mel’s laugh there. Abraham never talked about his own.
The river took him by surprise. He’d lost all sense of geography a very long time ago, but it looked clear that this was a new development, ripped through suburban road and yard with no bridge or planning around it. Abraham was surveying the area for a way to get past it as Red walked closer to the bank of it.
The water was black, the blackest thing he’d ever seen in his life, black even when it foamed where it ran rapid. He could feel the cold coming off it, like standing in front of a freezer. The water could close over his head and he would sink to the bottom and never feel another moment of pain or fear.
He snapped out of it when he felt Abraham’s arms wrap around his chest, gripping him tight like the night he’d fought to go to Mel. He’d had one foot off the river’s edge, and Abraham had pulled him back, dragging him away from it as he still struggled for a while to go forward. Abraham was warm against his back and he could feel his heart racing, uneven syncopation with his own.
“I’ll find a way around,” Abraham said, and kept hold of his hand as he pulled him further away.
That night when they slept in the big bed in the otherwise empty McMansion they’d found with its door open, Red asked, “Wouldn’t this be easier without me? Wouldn’t it be easier if you didn’t have to watch out for me, too?”
“Maybe,” Abraham said, and curled one of his broad hands around the back of Red’s neck. “Probably. But I realized… it’s like going to the movies alone.”
“Never as fun as when you go with a friend,” he said. “Someone to talk about it with after.”
“Not going to be an after,” Red said, and it was only in that moment, here so far along, that he really accepted that. That dim hope, that last little denial in his heart faded away.
“I know,” Abraham said, and pulled closer so his forehead rested against Red’s. “Still feels good just to know someone’s there watching with you.”
Red went quiet, sincerely thinking about going to sleep. He laughed, though, suddenly. “You going to buy popcorn?”
Abraham laughed. “Shit, no, that stuff costs a fortune. I’ll smuggle in some snacks.”
Red rested his head against Abraham’s shoulder and was smiling as he fell asleep, the faint smell of fake butter in his nose.
DECEMBER 17, 2012
There was real snow on the ground now, inches of it, and every breath they took was foggy. The sunlight was getting shorter and shorter, but that made sense for a lot of reasons. They’d slept through much of the shift itself, but now the top of the world was located somewhere around southern Mississippi. They were in Tennessee now. They’d walked a long way. It was time to stop.
“The hell is this place?” Red said as they passed through the light-lined gates, following Abraham’s footprints in the snow past all the piles of dead mice.
“Twitty City,” Abraham said. “Or it was. We drove past here in college. Some Christian TV station’s place now.” They’d turned off Ring of Fire Road to get here, as Abraham could tell from the smoke on the wind that it became not just a clever name a little further down the line.
“Huh,” Red said, looking around at all the trees strung up with Christmas lights, twinkling bright and pure. They walked past a manger scene; the Christ Child seemed to be an adorable little swaddled velociraptor. “It’s pretty.”
“Seemed like a good a place as any to stop,” Abraham said.
“We’re stopping?” Red said, gone still in the snow behind him.
“Yeah,” Abraham said. He pulled out Jann’s book and pointed to a page, the last one of writing before another filled with black ink, and then the rest of the pages blank. “This is today.”
Red frowned. “It’s not… the day, though, right?” He looked to the sky, and around him. It was quiet and peaceful here, save for the blood coming out of the animatronic Santa’s mouth.
“No, not just yet. Little while longer.” There was a house at the center of it all, one of those stately Southern mansions, every inched wrapped in twinkly white lights. The snow had formed a drift all the way up to the roof. No, actually, it had formed a staircase up to the roof. Abraham reached back to take Red’s hand to keep them both steady as they climbed up it.
At the top of the roof, he kicked some snow off with his boot to make a space for them to sit. No good going into the end with a wet ass. They sat down together, close enough that they were touching along their sides.
Red tilted his head back. “Is that…”
Abraham brushed snow off his glasses. “Yup, it is.” The sky was shimmering with color, streaks of blue and green and pink filling up the overhead. Northern lights.
“Pretty,” Red said. “For now, at least.”
“Yeah,” he said, and then looked over to Red. Something about him looked young again, a softness in his eyes like a six-year-old’s. “You doing okay?”
“Yeah,” he said, no hesitation. He looked to Abraham. “I mean, it all ends, eventually, right?”
“Thousands of little apocalypses every day,” Abraham said.
Red nodded. “I’ve been through a few,” he said. “Might as well have the big end be… well, big.”
Abraham didn’t really know if it would be. His gut wasn’t telling him anything now, the whisper in his head silent for the first time in a very long time. Maybe it would be big. Maybe it would hurt. Or maybe they’d just blink off in the night like a battery running out of juice. “Nice to have good company for it.” Red laughed a little and leaned in to him. “…Aw, shit,” he said.
“What? What is it?”
Abraham shook his head. “This is stupid as hell, but I’d had a bottle of champagne. Left the damn thing in the van. Completely forgot about it until now.”
Red laughed, full chested enough to echo out in the cold, over the snow. “That is stupid.”
“Ah, shut up,” Abraham said. “Even I get sentimental at times.”
Red was smiling, and the fog from his breath curled out to spell words, but Abraham was damn tired of reading that kind of crap. “We’ll do it next time.”
“Yeah,” Abraham said, and smiled himself. “Sounds good.” He leaned into Red, looked up at the sky, and waited for it all to go dark.
Thanks to John Hodgman, David Wong, John Roderick, and nightmares. Good luck, everyone.
This is one of my favorite pieces of fiction and I keep a epub of it saved to my phone! One time youtubes algorithm glitched out and a bunch of people on my twitter timeline were talking about why there were ant videos in their feeds. I got pretty unnerved haha
The slow decay of all things in all ways sure makes for compelling reading. This was fascinating in how everything was coming unmoored and there’s no proper reason to it. I kept wondering what non-Abraham people were experiencing, what Red would have experienced without Abraham there. What did Mel feel, was there a Mel left to really feel anything? I’m going to believe that she really felt that note that stayed behind. I kind of hope they have a spectacle of an end – but it’s lovely that they had the proper northern lights before that.