Back when I was thirteen my mother used to bake me a cake whenever the weather was hot. Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry—whatever you asked for, she would give. She would slice a thick piece of three-hundred calories and place it on our yellow faded, hand-me down plates with a cup of too sour lemonade. She would then light her cigarette and pray to God that the people on our dingy television were the baby daddies of the children in question, forgetting that I was eating my over-sized piece of cake.
She was different, my mother. When I turned fifteen I began seeing just how different she was. She began writing nonsense in journals all over the house. She would spend hours in the washroom with her little black book not letting a soul in to hear her silent whispers. That was the year that it all started coming down on top of me, just when I thought my house of cards was magnificent enough to withstand any earthquakes. But the big one, too large for any Richter scale, occurred on my sixteenth birthday.
“Sarah, it will all end!” She had cried from the roof of the ram-shackled cottage that we called our home. “It will all end Sarah, twenty-six Sarah, twenty-six!”
The few friends that were there that night swore that her eyes had rolled back; that her mouth had been foaming. They whispered that she had the crazies in her. They all shut their mouths when she jumped off the roof; like diving into a pool of fire that welcomed her death proudly. My mother was quite different. On some hot, humid days I can still taste her flavored cake of choice and I can still feel the calories swimming through my body.
“Miss, excuse me, miss?” A voice beckons me and I awake, sitting rigid straight on my desk chair, casually wiping away any evidence of my nap. An old lady sits in front of me trying to catch my attention, succeeding, she smiles. “I was called in about the job opportunity?”
I blink and stare at her trying to ignore the dream that I just had of my mother. “Oh yes, I’m sorry.” I force myself out of the trance and type in some keywords into my computer. “You have an appointment with Mr. Trent from commercials at five-thirty tomorrow in the afternoon; will you be able to make it?”
“Twenty-six,” she responds, her eyes glazed over.
“I’m sorry?” I ask, heartbeat racing, hairs standing up.
“Twenty-six!” The old lady growls, “Twenty-six Sarah!”
I give a loud yelp and jump back from my desk, falling into the leaflet covered hands of a co-worker.
“Sarah, what’s wrong with you?” She asks, regaining her composure and picking up the strewn papers that I had knocked out of her hands.
“She—she just—“ I stutter for control of my speech and look at the confused lady, the office around me gains sound, which I had not realized had been muted only seconds before. “What the—“
“Mrs. Maldor, we will see you over here for now.” Announces one of my colleagues after the old lady realizes that I will not be of any service to her.
“Sarah,” my manager materializes almost out of nowhere and looks cautiously down at me. “Maybe you need some time off? I understand today is your mother’s anniversary.”
I nod and regain my composure, that’s right; it is my mother’s anniversary.
I turn on my television and listen to the newscaster as I prepare myself a snack. A slice of chocolate mousse cake and a glass of sugary lemonade later, I am sitting on the couch listening to a Miss Deidra Poulstes speaking for a religious group that has newly arisen in the world. According to her the fortune-tellers were wrong: the death of life was not meant for twenty-twelve, but instead much sooner.
“Ha,” I say, “Perfect birthday for me; finding out that we might die sooner than anticipated.”
Toronto can be quiet if you know the place to go and live. Of course, if you decide to live on Jane Street, well that is your choice. If you live in the outskirts you may never live the real city life. So I decided on a nice medium; a section with less crime, but still the occasional murder story. The sounds of the bustling city lie to the back of my house and the front faces the lovely suburbs of solitude.
At least my nights are quiet.
My mother always told me that when I had been born it was a moment so especial that the sky shone bright despite it being midnight. Okay, so no kings visited me and no stable animals guided me to the world of slumber, but it had been my mom and I in a darkened world that she thought was the brightest time of her night. That had been twenty-six years ago. Funny how fast time passes.
My fingers grab and hold the pillow under my head and I hear the constant clicking on my clock as it counts down the minutes to my forever aging birthday. The darkness is engulfing and I close my eyes to escape my day. I risk a look at my clock and notice that in one minute I will no longer be at the peak of my life, not that I would know what the peak is.
My job is an endless string of failures that people bring to my desk every day, my house is silent; no male breaths cover my neck, no baby tears are shed for me. If this is the peak of life, then, what do we call it when the peak leaves much to be desired? Some receive the fortune of a Mount. Everest peak, where is my gigantic succeeding life? Did it run away at the fearful sound of my mother’s lunatic last cries?
I watch the turning second hand as it ticks my life’s seconds away. I imagine that if a picture were to be taken of me at this instant I would be a portrait of a hopeless soul, vapid of any essence, lying amongst waves of brown curls and a tired back that desires a slouched lifestyle. The clock ticks and the second hand reaches the midnight mark.
Happy birthday to me.
July third of twenty-ten, ten years after my mother’s death; twenty-six years since the world shone bright for her.
I close my eyes, welcoming the darkness that invites me in when my closed eyes are disturbed. The thin membrane of my eyelids protecting my eyes shine red and I awake to the feeling of heat searing through my house. The brightened sky of your birthday was the brightest I had ever known. My mother’s voice echoes in my thoughts as I stumble out of bed, away from my window.
Running down the stairs and out into the front lawn I see the many faces of my neighbors staring curiously at the bright lights breaking through the skies onto our lawns. Lucas, my neighbor’s son, aged six walks towards one of the lights and his mother grabs him out of the way, sending him to the ground behind her seconds before the lights hit him. She unfortunately does not suffer the same fate, the light hits her and a blue mist escapes her being, leaving her body unmoving on the ground.
Lucas, not uttering a single sound rushes to where I am standing mere feet away from his mother’s corpse. I grab him and start running, after witnessing what the lights can do, I am no longer curious. Everyone who saw the lights spectacle on a human body is running now, with the occasional accidental exposure to the lights many begin to fall, forever unable to see the future; blinded by death.
Lucas grows heavy in my arms and I have now reached the busy intersection between the main area of Toronto and where I once resided. People are flocking by the dozens while the lights start picking off people in multiple groups; whatever it was did not have the patience anymore. People stumble to the ground around me and a man, whose body is severely injured, grabs at my ankle knocking Lucas and I over. I feel the scraping of the rough asphalt against my bare legs and Lucas lies under me, quiet and unmoving.
“Let go!” I scream back at the disabled man who tugs at me.
“Help me! What is going on? Help me!” He yells in response, holding on tighter.
I tug on my ankle and look back at my captor. His eyes are ablaze with fear, blood rims his stare on impending death and his once blond hair lies matted against his blackened face, covered in wet, dripping blood. He, from what I can fathom from the situation, is lying under a destroyed car that is slowly becoming his inflamed tomb and his bottom half is trapped in the driver’s side. His leg lies horribly mangled on the asphalt where his convertible roof used to be and his hands have become a mess of blood and human carnage.
“Please help!” He utters a last breath as a light shines down on him, separating him from the blue ghost that evaporates from his body. I am frozen as I feel Lucas moving under me and his weak tug on my shirt sends an electric shock through my nerves that awakens me from my moronic state.
“Let’s go,” I say shrilly and I grab him again, running through the endless crowds of both survivors and the dead, the lights oddly illuminating my path. I ignore the screams around me, only feeling Lucas’s heartbeat against my own. To my right, cars are aflame as the strong light penetrates the engines and people fall dead mid-jump as they try to escape through the crowds. This is a massacre; complete and utter chaos ensues all around and the sound of abandoned children pelt the skies like thunder and lightning that predict a massive devastation on our perfect little world. There are people praying too. They are resting on their knees, families of them, praying for some holy salvation that I find inexplicable in the current situation. I see the light take these families without mercy; without a spare thought.
True Hell on Earth has arrived.
Up ahead, I see it before I reach it, is a pile up of cars all ready bursting into flames, completing the beauty of the Hell we all fear. People run, holding each other’s hands trying against all hope to not lose each other, towards the pile up to seek some refuge beyond the wreckage.
I feel a shiver pass through Lucas’s small body as a light nearly hits us and instead evaporates the being of the human in front of me. The night sky is being lighted by the bright fires and the casting death that the light offers to those who foolishly enter its path.
“We have to make it to the wreckage,” I mutter to no one in particular. “If we make it there, we will be able to see the full extent of this apocalypse.”
I start to shift my weight to my right leg as I begin my journey, but abruptly stop as I hear Lucas’s silent prayer.
“No.” He says simply, firmness in his young voice.
“We need to see if there are any places to hide.”
I feel the blood in my veins turn icy and my heart skips a bit every so often. “Twenty-six?”
He shifts his small head up at me, his eyes are now rolled up into his head and he gently frees himself from my grasp. “Twenty-six, twenty-ten, twenty-six, twenty-ten…” He chants this like an oath as he slowly walks backwards away from me.
“Sarah,” my mother said, while cutting up a thick slice of vanilla cream cake, “You know I love you right baby?”
I giggled and licked the spoon that she had used to spread the fresh vanilla coating, “I know mama, why would you ask me such a thing?”
Her eyes became tired and she sat down on the chair beside mine and watched me eat the cake without any delay, “Because darling, just because.” She paused to stare at me some more before adding, “Did I ever tell you that when you were born, the brightest night sky to ever set foot on earth occurred?”
“Yes mama,” I smiled, and I am sure I had some frosting on my face. “I was the brightest angel the Lord ever gave you.”
“No darling,” mom had answered. “You were the brightest angel the Lord ever gave the world.”
I have lost track of where Lucas is now, his movements accelerated once he was near the pile up. Not many people are left now, just a few survivors as they too struggle towards the wreckage that is now engulfed in flames.
“Promise me something Sarah baby,” my mom had pleaded the day of my sixteenth birthday.
I had rolled my eyes and had been halfway through putting my make-up on, Jake, this really cute cousin of Leah, my best friend, was coming over tonight and he liked girls who looked mature. “Yes mama, anything you wish.”
“Remember to never forget all that I have told you.”
Putting my mascara down I had stared at her, “Whatever do you mean?”
“You are the brightest child the Lord has ever brought to the world.”
Yes, my twenty-sixth birthday is today. My mother had mentioned it before she had ended her life. I had spent years with it at the back of my mind, forgetting any trace or memory of it.
I fall to my knees and stare straight ahead, the lights missing me completely; ignoring me. Up ahead the people have congealed like a bad decease that is humanity near the wreckage of burning, hell-filled cars. The carcasses of the dead are flaunted around me proving the fragility of the race, and the silence that only death can bring is as thick as the batter that mother used to prepare for my cakes. I count them, the sole survivors, and am not surprised at the number of them that are left.
“I love you baby, you know I only wish the best for you.” Mom had said before letting me answer the door to greet my awaiting guests.
“I know mama, I love you too.”
The lights join as one and concentrate on the twenty-six yet to accept their fate. Slowly and delicately, one by one they fall; their corpses betraying their death by staying promptly up on their knees. One by one they reveal Lucas in the midst of nothingness as he stares intently at me from across the long stretch of highway separating us. The light hits Lucas and his body crumples under him revealing a slight mist as it rises into the burning heavens above.
The world has become silent. It is not simply Toronto, but the Earth itself has been vacated of life save for my bruised self. The dead are wickedly glaring at me with unseeing eyes and I feel the quiet contempt from the mists that vacated their beings with the lights.
I remember a memory, so vague at first, but it slowly pushes its way through my frontal cortex into my mind’s eye, blinding me from reality:
“You are so very especial Sarah baby.” Mom had whispered to me one night when I had been five.
“Yes baby girl,” She answered while rubbing the hair out of my eyes as I watched the moon glow through my little window. “The brightness of your life will be your salvation.”
“What does that mean mama?”
“The world has one destiny, and you are it.”
“What is my destiny mama?”
“Whatever the Earth decides for you, baby girl.”
I watch the lights disappear and the world turns completely black, the destruction is temporarily hidden under the cape of darkness. The silent glow of the leftover ambers where cars once created their own burning hells make my eyes bleed with the tears of the damned as I realize what has occurred.
“What they say about twenty-twelve is fiction.” I had once noted to my mom while she and I watched some news about the apocalypse in the millennia.
“Yes,” she had been silent after, never taking her eyes off the television screen.
“What are you thinking mama?” I had asked while gently pulling on her loose blond curls.
“I’m thinking of twenty-ten baby.”
I start walking; past the wreckage, the dead, through the city—wherever my legs will take me.
Earth has chosen my destiny; the light has chosen my path of darkness.