A short story of the end of the world.
After I attended the premiere of 2012 a while back, I decided that I'd grown tired of totally absurd, overly dramatic (for instance, in 2012's case, stealing a plane and flying through LA and ultimately ending up on a giant steel ark in the ocean) interpretations of the apocalypse. For several months I worked on my own brief tale of a much simpler Armageddon, telling the story of five individuals left alive after the destruction of San Francisco, and th
“Take my hand,” Blythe murmured to Daisy. She met his gaze and nodded, slipping her fingers through his. She turned to offer her free hand to the girl beside her, Melody, who looked dazed, her dark hair matted around her face. Melody clung to her friend’s grimy palm without looking up, her chapped mouth trembling. Beside Melody stood Xander and Hampton, mumbling quietly, arms wrapped snugly around each other.
Blythe shook his oily hair from of his sweaty brow, lifted a lit cigarette to his dry lips, and inhaled deeply. His eyelids fluttered, and a teardrop slid down his cheek from the corner of his eye with an air of bleak finality. He exhaled, and smoke streamed through his teeth. He offered it to Daisy, who shook her head. “Anybody?” He asked hoarsely.
Melody nodded vigorously and snatched the cigarette from him, pressing it to her lips and coughing shortly after taking a breath. Her hand shuddered and her arm fell beside her waist, her chest heaving and saliva dribbling from the corner of her mouth. After a moment, a soft cry escaped her parched throat, and she wiped her mouth with her sleeve, careful not to touch the lit cigarette to her peeling skin. Another wail caught in her throat, and Xander released his boyfriend to hug her. “Aw, honey,” he murmured, gently petting the back of her head. She buried her face in the crook of his arm, sobbing. The butt of the cigarette dropped from her fingers to the dirt at her feet, and Daisy watched from beside her while the final dying embers crumbled into ash.
All around them, the remains of their city - old Victorian apartments, narrow office buildings, tiny garages and rotting produce markets - appeared to be steaming, dust and rubble rising from each shattered brick and deteriorating hunk of cement. Emergency sirens had long since expired, and now only failing car horns blared weakly through the abandoned streets. The pungent stench of death had permeated through the decomposing city, and stung the nostrils of the only remaining citizens of San Francisco – Blythe, Daisy, Melody, Xander and Hampton - all of whom stood at the top of a hill.
Hampton cleared his throat, rubbing his already tender eyes with his fist. His greasy blonde hair clung to his dirty face, and streaks of old sweat trailed from his ears, down his neck. “Guys,” he croaked, his expression strained, “I don’t think I can do this.”
“Don’t be scared, baby,” Xander mumbled to him, peeling his hand off of Melody to massage Hampton’s shoulder. They exchanged a brief look, and Xander forced a weary smile. The flowers braided through Xander’s jet-black hair had died weeks earlier, but there, tangled up in his curls they remained. His tattered shirt clung to his skinny frame, the logo torn and bleached by the sun.
“I’m not scared,” Hampton stammered. “I just c-can’t do this.”
Daisy shook her head, her grubby hand still clutched in Blythe’s. Her voice cracked when she spoke. “What else can we do?”
“We can wait!” Hampton cried, biting back a sob. “We can wait for things to change - to get better.”
“Things aren’t getting better, Ham,” Blythe said loudly. And as he spoke, they watched through the rubble of their city below as a building several streets away collapsed. The sidewalk split from the curb to the middle of the street. The concrete and asphalt crumbled, caving into the earth, and alongside the rubble fell a parking meter, a shopping cart, and the frail corpse of a woman in a sundress.
Melody bit back a scream, clamping her mouth down on Xander’s arm, still slung around her neck. He closed his tired eyes and sighed into her hair, silent tears trickling down his cheeks. Hampton wrapped his arms around them both, his chest taut with restrained hysteria.
Daisy glanced up at Blythe, whose expression had gone blank, his chin trembling. Biting her chapped lower lip, she glanced down at her feet and toes, and a fresh pang of dread swelled in her chest.
Inches away from the tips of her toes loomed a gigantic, gaping crack in the Earth, eight feet wide and inconceivably deep. She and her companions had discovered this black abyss by chance at the top of the hill, and now this wound in the cement beckoned to her, as though it could wait no longer to swallow them up. She tore her gaze from the ground, and forced herself to look up through watery eyes.
“Mel,” Daisy murmured, looking at Melody. “Do you remember prom?”
Melody nodded slowly. “Yeah.”
“You were dating that one guy, what’s-his-name?”
“Frank,” she replied. “Frank Powell.”
“I remember him,” Xander chimed in sadly, sniffling. “I had a bit of thing for him before I met you, Ham.” Hampton stretched his scabby lips in a smile, and kissed the top Xander’s grimy head.
“And at prom,” Daisy mused, looking at Melody, “he told everybody he wanted to get you pregnant and marry you right after graduation. He told everybody about his ‘master plan,’ except you.” Daisy giggled, but her laughter quickly succumbed to a fit of coughing, and her chest heaved violently.
Blythe took over, holding Daisy steady while Melody thumped Daisy’s back with her palm. “And when word finally found its way back to you, Mel,” said Blythe, “What did you do?” Daisy’s coughing subsided and she and Blythe both looked at Melody, smiling as encouragingly as they could muster. For a moment, Melody said nothing, her expression now less frantic and more thoughtful.
“I dumped him,” Melody replied finally, the corners of her mouth twitching.
Her friends nodded.
After a pause, the group fell silent, and each tender eye stared into the looming hole in the Earth at their feet.
“You think Frank is still alive?” Melody mumbled.
Nobody said anything.
Whatever traces of Melody’s smile that had appeared vanished suddenly, and warm tears flooded from her eyes. She threw her head back with a miserable groan. Glaring sunlight lit up her face, and she raked her hands through her tangled hair. Xander tucked himself into Hampton’s chest, sniffling softly into his shirt, and Hampton’s smile trembled, crinkling his blotchy cheeks.
Daisy breathed deeply and leaned against Blythe, whose arm slipped around her waist and clung to her tightly. She lifted her hand to the side of his head and tucked a lock of his muddy brown hair behind his ear. He bowed his head to kiss her wrist, his eyes firmly closed. He murmured, “Remember our trip up to the lake?”
“I do,” she nodded, smiling, glancing thoughtfully up at her left hand. The beaded ring he had given her that day at the lake glittered on her fourth finger, each gleaming, colorful rock knotted together with delicate white thread.
Blythe faced her sadly and hugged her tightly, tracing his fingers down her back. He pressed his lips to her sticky forehead, her filthy cheek, the tip of her peeling nose. “I’m sorry I couldn’t buy you a diamond,” he whispered into her dirty red hair, his muffled voice quivering.
Daisy shook her head and muttered “Shhh,” wrapping her arms around his neck. She kissed his tender mouth again and again, without another word.
Melody glimpsed briefly but chose to ignore the kissing couple beside her, and chewed on her cracked bottom lip, once again wiping away tears, saliva and snot with her tattered sleeve.
“Y’know, I kind of miss home,” Hampton said abruptly, his swollen eyes blinking slowly. “I don’t regret coming here,” he paused, “but I miss my sister. And my dog.” He chuckled weakly and bowed his head to press his forehead gently to Xander’s.
“I miss my mom and dad,” Melody said, choking slightly. “I nearly skipped Thanksgiving with them this November.” A high-pitched laugh escaped her lips. “Thank God I didn’t, right?” She glanced again at Daisy and Blythe, who hadn’t released each other since she’d looked before. She gazed at Hampton and Xander, whose filthy heads rested snugly against each other. Her lip trembled and she mumbled, “And now I’m alone.”
After a moment of pitying silence, Blythe, Daisy, Xander and Hampton all groaned harmoniously and threw their arms around the sad little brunette between them. “Honey, don’t be silly,” Xander grinned, and pecked the side of her head. “She needed a hug,” Blythe insisted, and pinched her cheek. Hampton and Daisy simply nodded, exchanging a warm, sad stare amongst familiar faces.
“Yeah, sorry,” Melody sighed, wiping her eyes. “I couldn’t help myself.” Her friends released her, stepping back to stand only slightly apart, in a straight line facing ahead.
Each hand reached for another, and each teary eye gazed downward at the chasm at their feet. The imminent darkness of the earthly abyss summoned them closer and closer to the edge of the crack. Xander sighed and sniffed, swinging his arms back and forth, Hampton and Melody’s hands clutched in his. “Everybody ready?” He looked to his right. “Ham? Can you do this?” Hampton nodded slowly, his oily hair slipping across his leaky eyes.
Daisy and Blythe looked at Melody, who stared straight ahead, taking deep, sharp breaths. When she finally nodded sadly, the couple looked at each other, smiling, and said together, “Ready.”
Xander opened his mouth, and cleared his throat. “’A Prayer In Spring.’ A poem by Robert Frost.
“Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today,
And give us not to think so far away.
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here,
All simply in the springing of the year.”
Hampton leaned down to his side and pressed his lips to his lover’s cheek, his mouth trembling. Xander’s voice cracked, and a tear trickled down his cheek. He closed his crusty eyes slowly but surely, and tilted his grubby face upwards. The wilted flowers in his hair finally slipped loosely from his curls, and fluttered from him, released by the wind.
“Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night.
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating ‘round the perfect trees.”
Blythe held Daisy’s hand to his lips, pressing his dry mouth to her ring. She smiled tenderly, standing up on her toes to exchange a final kiss with her eternal fiancé. Her ankles shuddered, and her heels hit the cement with a soft thud, forcing her lips to part with his. But Blythe’s chapped smile glowed with wistful warmth, and he gently kissed the top of her tangled head of hair.
“And make us happy in the darting bird,
That suddenly above the bees is heard.
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.”
Melody raised her gaze from the bleak, crumbling city, and looked up at the sky, momentarily blinded by the dazzling glimmer and warmth of the sunlight. A final tear glittered in the corner of her eye, and as it dribbled down her cheek and neck, she smiled, her bottom lip trembling and the sobs in her chest subsiding.
“For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above.
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill.”
“Three, two, one – “
And with a final rhythmic swing of their arms, they leapt, feet-first, into the end.