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She's Not Here From: Variations on the End of the World

I woke up, fully dressed and soaking wet, in a hotel room. I had no idea how I got there. The only way I even knew it was a hotel room was the crappy comforter and generic art on the walls. The experience of waking in this fashion had my brain spinning. The situation was coming to me in small pieces as my mind slowly registered the scene. I could see a thin strip of light at the top of the curtains, so it must have been day time. The room was flooded, the nightstand bobbing around lazily. My cat was there for some reason. She was trying to balance on top of the Gideon bible that had become, like so many other objects in the room, flotsam in what must be the results of the worst blackout I’ve ever put myself into.

She finally drifted close enough to the bed to abandon the sinking bible for higher ground. I found myself cooing at her out of habit and picked her up. I was trying to see if the water had been a result of something I had done when I heard her let out a pathetic little squeak. In my shaken state, I hadn’t noticed that I had been squeezing her tighter and tighter like some demented constrictor. I loosened my hold and she leapt back into the water, no doubt deciding she would be better off to try to swim for it.

I started searching my skin for any fresh tattoos that might tell me why I was in this situation. I had never gotten one before, but I could see myself holding on to that one Memento trivia fact after traumatic memory loss. I knew who I was well enough. I knew the year, roughly the day of the week, and the asshole in the white house. For some reason it occurred to me that I could still remember all the lyrics to both “One Week” by The Barenaked Ladies and “Ice, Ice, Baby”. I knew who shot J.R. and exactly where I was when the twin towers fell. I was starting to get frustrated with all the things I could remember and really angry at this room for being one that I couldn’t.

I tried to remember my last conscious thought. I was getting worried; I couldn’t quite pull an image to the front of the black fog in my head. Whenever something sudden happens to people, they always forget the bad parts. They always tell you they don’t even remember how the car ended up on its roof. They don’t even remember getting the knife out of the drawer. I think I remembered Sally. Definitely Sally. We had been going to a party. Not for any huge occasion, something stupid I think. The rapture party, we were going to the rapture party.

There was this preacher in Florida, Richard Coleman. He had worked the Bible like some kind of word problem and said that he had discovered the exact date of the rapture. He said that all the good Christians who believed would vanish leaving all of us sinners, gays, and Muslims behind to suffer. Those may not have been his exact words, but the message was there. People were really taking this seriously too. There were repenting centers springing up in churches all over the country to allow the lost to make one last ditch effort to make the cut.

Coleman’s following was nothing to be scoffed at, but most Christians wrote him off. He had, after all, made this same prediction twice before. Each time, the rapture would fail to happen, leaving the faithful amongst us sinners, gays, and Muslims. I don’t know how the Muslims and gays were treating the date, but a handful of us sinners were throwing parties to end all times. It was at Jake’s apartment. We had gone in Sally’s car, parked on the far end of his building. It was raining. I could remember the orange security light casting the rain in faint shadows on Sally’s face. We traded sips from a bottle of gin and then… What happened then? Think, Christ, what happened then? I didn’t know.

For one horrible moment I wondered if both my cat and I had in fact, by some miracle been raptured. If this is heaven, the accounts I’ve heard have been greatly embellished. Heaven, as I remember it, was supposed to bright and warm. I couldn’t see any of my dead relatives and I was starting to shiver a bit. I slid off the bed into the water; it was waist-deep and cold. The door was cracked slightly; I was wading over to it to search for my cat when I heard the first shot. I’ve never been around, or owned, guns but somehow I knew the sound. It didn’t sound like it did on TV or the movies. It sounded hollower somehow. I was sure it was the loudest thing I had ever heard. I don’t know how much time passed before the second shot, but it was the second one that made me realize I had frozen. By the third, I was in a panic trying to make a plan in my head. I sank in the water and half swam, half crawled to the door.

Through the crack I could see a white cinder block wall, and flickering fluorescent lights overhead, and not much else. The hallway didn’t seem like the halls of hotels I had been in before. The ugly wallpaper and gaudy sconces indicative of most hotels were nowhere to be seen. Under the water I could make out industrial tile on the floor. There was something familiar about the hallway, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It was the kind of corridor you see in schools, or hospitals. Schools, hospitals, and… It hit me like a brick; churches.

I started to pull the door open as slowly and quietly as I could, but it flew out of my hand as a pair of black slacks moved into my field of vision. Looking back on it, it seems strange to me that I noticed his pants before the twin barrels of the shotgun he had pointed at my chest. He was middle-aged and fat. He was wearing a shirt and tie that had turned pink from what I could only assume at the time was blood. There was spatter on his glasses, but I could see his eyes, they were unfocused and looking right through me.

“You’re awake.” He said. He sounded like a child. “Why aren’t you in heaven?” He asked. “You should all be in heaven.”

If an appropriate answer to that question exists, I still haven’t found it. And I don’t really know why I said what I said, all I could get out was, “We’re headed there now.” The man nodded his head and sloshed away down the hallway. I heard hinges creak and another explosion as he unleashed god on some poor bastard, probably still sleeping. I swam under the surface until I came to a corner to hide behind. The hall was longer than I thought it would have been when I went under. I broke the surface more violently that I had intended, gasping, and basically broadcasting my position.

I had come to the intersection of two halls, the second identical to the first. There was a stairwell ahead of me and under the water I could see that there was a flight of stairs down as well as up. The reality of this came on slow. I was, at the very least, on the second floor of whatever this place was. How deep was this water?

I swam as quietly as I could to a room in the second hall. The door was open and I could see blood sprayed over the far wall. I waded in slowly and tried not to look at the bed but couldn’t help it. Her head was missing entirely. It wasn’t what I thought gunshots looked like. From the horror movies I grew up on and hearing war accounts on the news, I thought I knew, but nothing could have prepared me for this. It was just gone, nothing recognizable, just an explosion of gore. I started to feel dizzy and hot, my vision got a little blurry. I willed myself not to pass out, my body settled for puking instead. The rest of her was pristine. A slight frame with willowy arms and legs. She was wearing a light blue sun-dress with flowers on it. Her hands were folded on her stomach. I can’t describe exactly what kind of terror this produced in me, but there was something so final about it. She looked as if she had prepared for this, that someone had told her the night before to put her dress on, someone would be along shortly to blow her out of existence. I didn’t believe in the rapture, but for five minutes or so, I believed in heaven. I had to. There had to be something else for whoever this girl was.

I don’t know how long I had stood over her really, or how long I intended to stay, but another crack of gunpowder rattled me out of it. It was further away than it had been when I first ran into the man with the gun, but close enough to get me moving. I snatched the curtains open so hard and fast they broke off their mountings and fell into the water. I expected to see some landmark, or road, or sign, or just any damn thing to give me a clue as to where the hell I was. All I could see was water.

Somehow this church or hotel, or whatever the hell, was an island to itself. I wondered if perhaps the accounts of where the damned would spend eternity had been the ones we got wrong. Maybe there is no fire in Hell; maybe it’s just endless halls of floods and blood, where maniacal man-children hunt you for sport.

The gunshots were getting closer, and they were now accompanied by crazed shouting. This was not my man-child. This was loud and angry. This was nightmare walking. Frantically, I searched the window for some lever or lock that would open it, but it was a single piece of solid glass with no seams. There was a chair floating next to the mini-fridge, I sloshed it over to the window. It was heavy and waterlogged, and with the water-level I could barely lift the thing up to swing it. I pictured it in my head, swinging with everything I had in me, the chair flying through space and splashing in the water, glass floating slowly to the bottom. I lifted and swung; the chair shuddered in my hands and bounced away from the window. I hit it three more times, barely a scratch.

The gunshots were getting closer, and the shouting had materialized into scripture. Strange scripture. I started to wonder if this one was double checking his work.

Maybe he finished his hall and still had ammo left, so he decides to come back and put one more into the messes he left. There was no way I was getting out through this window. I decided to swim for the stairs and try to make it to the roof. I still couldn’t tell for sure how high up I was, but I knew that if I was at least on the second floor, that would give me at least twenty feet of water to land in.

I walked out of the water onto the stairs as quietly as I could manage and ran as fast as I could up them. They ended at the top of the next flight with a locked door with a number three painted on the wall. The door wouldn’t budge, but I could hear the muffled wailings of an old hymn and far too familiar blasts. Even if I got through, I faced a whole other floor of gun-toting avenging angels. I figured my best move would be to swim down to the first floor and see if there was any way out there.

I was standing in waist deep water again watching the

fluorescents flicker on the surface while I built my courage and worked through my last ditch effort. At the bottom of the stairs would be another door like the one on the third floor. It would either be open or closed. If it was closed, there’s the chance that it’s also locked. Even if it’s not locked, I might not be able to open it because of water pressure. I don’t know if that kind of thing applied here, but I always heard that that’s how people drown in their cars. If the door was open, I would still have to find some way out, which would be made more difficult by the fact that I’m sure the lights wouldn’t even be flickering down there. Once I found a way out, I would be basically stranded in what seems to be an ocean. I decided that floating for a chance, was better than fighting for my life. I dove down to take a look at the situation.

There was a kind of darkness in the stairwell that is hard for me to describe. It was a cold dark, a kind of opaque oily dark that I had never seen before. I used to lead cave tours in the summers. There was one part of the tour where we asked all the guests to turn off their headlamps. It was dark enough that you couldn’t see your finger as you poked yourself in the eye, but it still felt safe somehow. This just felt wrong. Maybe it was the water, but I felt as though the dark was all over me, squeezing me in some kind of violence. I was using the railing to pull myself down and got to moving too quickly. My left hand reached for the rail and got nothing but water. By the time I realized it, I had already let my right hand go. Before I could backpedal to try to slow myself, I slammed into the very door I was trying to find. The impact twisted my body around and in the black I lost a sense of the doorknob and my sense of direction. Hitting the door had caused me to exhale slightly and my lungs were starting to burn. Panic set in and every cell in my body screamed at me to get out. I just didn’t know which way was up. I swam frantically in several different directions, running into things, or feeling nothing. I pushed off what I thought was the floor only to rediscover the doorknob with my face. I was starting to see little red pricks of light in my eyes when I let a little more air escape from my lips, the bubbles gurgled up over my ears. I let more breath slip away and tried to follow the bubbles with my hand. I slammed into the ceiling, but could see the sweet flickering of the fluorescent lights to my left. I swam towards them with all the fervor of a fly towards a bug zapper and threw my arms, drained on the stairs above the landing of the second floor.

Another sound that is foreign to me and still completely recognizable is a gun being cocked. It’s metallic and wooden, and sharp. This was the first time I had ever heard it so close though. It was deeper than I imagined it would be, like a branch breaking off a tree. I flopped onto my back like a fish too long out of the water and was staring directly into the double eyes of bored steel. The barrels were so close my nose filled with the smell of the fourth of July. Three feet away from the end of the gun was a red face with one eye shut tightly, and the other trained on the space between my eyes. A quick glance downward and I could see a boney finger trembling over a trigger.

“But the fearful, and unbelieving,” he said, “and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers,” his voice was growing louder with every word, “and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone!” He reached a fever pitch and then exhaled before saying softly, “Which is, the second death.” My eyes slammed shut as I heard the shot. I didn’t feel any pain, my face just felt hot and wet, and my legs felt heavy. After a few seconds, I realized that I could feel my lungs expanding and my heart beating in my ears. I opened one eye and saw the same red face that had been holding the gun resting on my thigh. Standing in the doorway was my man-child, he was holding his own weapon in a manner that seemed to say, aw shucks. “You promise you’re goin to heaven?” He asked. I could only nod. “Good, cause Brother Coleman says, we have to save as many as we can before the angel Galadriel brings God’s wrath.” I nodded again. “Ok then.” He said. He started to cry, softly at first, then racking sobs. He was almost wailing. Then it turned into a kind of scream, he was screaming at full voice as long as his breath would hold. He didn’t move towards me or back away, but I was more terrified than I had been at any point. He just kept screaming with tears running down his face, mingling with dried blood. His tears started to look like blood pouring from his eyes. He looked and me and went quiet. “See you there then.” Lowering the butt of his gun he shoved the barrel under his chin and unleashed god on himself. I tried not to watch, the memory of the girl in the sundress flashing like a strobe. Even now I want to try to believe that what I saw fall backwards into that water wasn’t real; somehow it was a special effect made up in my head.

In retrospect, I suppose the smart thing to do would have been to take the gun from him, and blow a window out. I wasn’t thinking clearly you understand. I caught my breath and decided to try the door again. I pulled myself down along the railing, slowly this time until I reached the end. With one hand still on the railing, I reached out for the knob. The door opened more easily than I had anticipated, and I could see faint light in the halls beyond. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to join the flickering fluorescents from above and dimly light the stairwell. I went back up to the surface to catch one last breath before trying to find a way out in the first floor hallway. Needless to say, I approached the surface of the water slowly, and was so hesitant, I almost blacked out. Fortunately there were no more screaming saints to meet me. The water had turned red from all the blood and I found that I was starting to get used to the sight of violence. I regarded it with a mild curiosity instead of terror. I had never thought about how much blood a body might contain.

After sufficient time regaining my strength, I felt I was ready. I pulled myself back down the stairwell, and swam into the hall. There was an emergency exit immediately to my right, its exit sign still lit. The door however, was chained shut. I ventured further into the hall and checked inside the first door I passed. It looked to be a classroom. There were rows of chairs lined up neatly facing the front of the room. The chairs weren’t empty. There were people chained in them, eyes still open, staring blankly where someone must have been teaching or telling them it would be ok. Most disturbing, the ways some of the bodies were chained, it seemed they had done it to themselves.

That was before I saw the children, bound and chained to chairs next to their parents. These people were nuts. Diffused sunlight from the surface trickled into the window in the room. The broken window.

I felt like I needed to go up for another breath, but the promise of escape was too great. I swam across the room as fast as I could and tried not to look at anyone in the eye. Even though they were dead, I could feel their eyes on me. The window was wide enough that I was able to pass through it quite easily. The mystery of what had happened was eating through my brain. Outside, I was swimming over a parking lot full of cars and could see a gas station off in the distance. It reminded me of a friend’s account of getting his scuba certification. They did their practice dives in a lake that had once been a town. He described it as haunting and amazing, I just found it awful. I broke the surface with the fervor of a fish that thinks it’s a bird. I swam so hard towards the surface I almost believed that I would be able to fly right out of the water and not stop until I got to the moon. The first breath I took was the sweetest one I had ever taken.

For the first time I got a look at the prison I had escaped from. I had hoped it would be familiar so I would at least know where I was, but I had never seen the place before. I could hear sirens wailing somewhere and what I thought were helicopters from the other side of the building. I was exhausted, but knew I couldn’t just tread water above the flooded junkyard forever. I knew I had to swim for where people would be, but I wanted to be cautious. I hadn’t had the greatest luck with other human interactions so far. The building itself seemed to be L shaped, I swam close to the walls using window sills to rest. When I swam around the short wall my eyes fell on a scene that I still can’t quite believe was real.

There were huge military helicopters circling over two charred and smoking hulks rising out of the water, and police boats zipping around the water. I finally registered that the two smoking structures were the ends of a dam. Something had happened to a dam and it had flooded wherever this was. None of this explained how I had ended up in a fake hotel room in a church full of psychopaths. It seemed to me that the people in that classroom had been expecting the water however; why else would they chain themselves? Did they do something to the dam? The man child had said something about the wrath of god, but could one congregation pull off something this big?

I started waving my arms in the air to signal a boat and hopefully get out of this water. I felt like I had spent a lifetime in wet, I just wanted to be dry again. Dry and far away from whatever this is. I could see a cop on one of the boats point to me, the boat turned towards me. They pulled me out and I fell in a heap on the deck of their boat. They asked me if I had seen any other survivors, and I all I could do was shake my head. They asked me if there was anyone else inside, and all I could manage to get out was the word “armed”. I must have passed out, I woke up in a hastily built field hospital with an I.V. in my arm.

The police conducted a long and overly-thorough debriefing. They couldn’t tell me exactly how I had gotten there, but the story they told was shocking. Coleman’s following had grown to the thousands and they had taken their movement underground. To hear the cops talk about it, it seemed possible that everyone I had ever met was a secret agent for the apocalypse. This was happening all over the world. Disciples were drugging people and kidnapping them, causing their deaths in one way or another. The church of Coleman had carried out terrorist attacks on a level never imagined by homeland security. They had blown up dams, and collapsed bridges. Planes were falling out of the sky, trains colliding. They had been expecting the apocalypse and brought it forth with their own hands. After being wrong twice before, Coleman had somehow convinced countless apostles to bring about his vision of the end of days. Even the church I had been kept in had been built in secret; there were dozens of similar building in as many cities. Somehow, no one saw it coming.

After a few hours of questioning, the police took me to a small café where they were holding survivors until we could find a way home. No one I spoke to was actually from the rural village we were in. Some lived close by but others, like me, were half a state away from home. I called Sally and was relieved when she answered the phone. She had seen the news, but didn’t know I had been a victim. Last time she saw me that night, I had stumbled outside with some chick who said she was from two towns over. “You both looked really drunk.” She told me. There was an eternity of silence before she let me off the hook and said, “I’ll come get you, you know I will. But I need someone to give me directions, our crazies took out a bunch of cell towers and my internet’s not working.”

An officer gave her directions and told me it would take her about three hours to get here. I took a place at one of the tables with a handful of weary looking refugees. There was a middle-aged mother of two, although she didn’t talk much, they were still looking for her kids. Josh was in his thirties, he had a Mohawk and looked like he had decided to play Billy Idol this day. I didn’t get the other guy’s name. After deliberation and hesitation, he told us he was a preacher.

“Don’t get the wrong idea,” he said, “I’m not one of them. I swear.” He nervously sipped coffee and didn’t seem to be able to make his hands stop shaking. “This isn’t what the Bible says about the end.” He told us. “God made a covenant with Noah that he would never destroy the Earth with water again. He gave the rainbow as a sign.”

“Then how does it end?” I asked. He sighed heavily and looked up, although he wouldn’t meet my eye.

“Fire.” It was almost a whisper.

“If you ask me,” Josh began, fake English accent and all, “I think it’s going to be a poisonous wind. We won’t even see it coming, we’ll all just wake up dead one morning.”

“How the fuck can you wake up dead!” The mother had snapped and shouted so suddenly we all jumped, and the preacher dropped his mug into his lap. I was surprised to see that even after our various ordeals, we could still be shocked into silence. After a long moment of silence the preacher mumbled something about god’s will and that her children would be found.

Half an hour later, I heard her giving an account of what her children looked like to yet another officer. I stopped listening when I heard her say that her daughter was fourteen, and last time she saw her, had been wearing a light blue flower-print sundress. I didn’t feel it was my place to say anything, so I didn’t. I couldn’t even be sure if it was her I had seen or not. I wondered if there had ever been a need to take the girl’s fingerprints. The thought that dental records would be useless went through my mind before the images of her body did. Every time I recalled the scene, I seemed to remember a different detail, another piece of skull hanging from the walls. I felt my stomach lurch and almost lost the orange juice and peanut butter crackers the Red Cross considered nourishment. Even now, the shadow of her fills me with a strange kind of disgusted sorrow.

I had fallen into some kind of refugee stupor and didn’t even notice time passing. I don’t know how long Sally had been standing in the door of the tent, or how long I had been staring at her, but she seemed to just materialize in front of me. She looked tired and worried but also resigned. The look on her face told me she was pissed at having to drive here, but glad to see me. I was glad to see her too; glad to know she wasn’t lying in some fake hotel bed with her brain spread across the wall. She walked over to me and held my hand in her hand.

“What have we learned?” She asked. I tried to laugh.

“Drunken zealots are dangerous?” I ventured.

“Drunken zealots are dangerous.” Her tone reminded me of my mom telling me that, yes, the stove is hot.

“Ready to go?”

“God, yes.” I said. I wished the others luck and followed her like a scorned puppy to her car.

The car ride home was rough, at least the first part. The silence was heavy and the tension thick. She had her window down, and her hair danced in the wind and headlights. I remembered the color of it back when we used to drive through the back roads during the summer.

As it often does, that memory pulled another steady stream of images out of dusty corners in my head where I try to hide them. I remembered her lying warm and naked against me in my dorm room. I remembered her running her index finger along the shape of my mouth and smiling with her eyes closed. I remembered her jumping on my back in Wal-Mart and calling out commands, whipping me with a pool noodle until we got kicked out. I remembered her sitting in my car crying softly and asking me why, over and over. I still can’t entirely remember what happened between us though. It seems like we just dissolved into various other meaningless relationships. I think she still loved me though. She had told me once that no matter what she would follow me to the end of the world. Just then I felt that she had. I would be lying if I said I didn’t still think of what our wedding would be like, multiple times, most days.

Instead of speaking, we just let the radio spill all the horrible details of the past twenty-four hours. I still have trouble believing that that many people could be that underground with something that big. Coleman had leaders like himself in other countries; all over the world man-made apocalypse had brought society to its knees. Instead of tribulation though, governments were cooperating, some for the first time in decades. While citizens rioted in the streets, politicians signed treaties and mobilized disaster relief agencies. It seemed, in its early stages anyway, that instead of ending the world, Coleman had somehow managed to unite it. Weeks from now, any of his insane disciples left alive will no doubt insist that that was the goal. Daytime talk shows are going to be impossible to suffer through as every talking head brings on one of the dipshits that hadn’t had the balls to send themselves to the next life. They’ll smile softly with that slightly-off smile that all religious nut-jobs have, deny their involvement in any specific action, and talk about how great the world is becoming now.

An hour on the road, the radio started to cut out, a lot of the major stations were still down. Sally let the dial scan, the numbers just kept rolling stopping each time on one signal broadcasting the emergency alert system. They were advising people to boil their water, and take precautions when going outside. They were actually telling people not to call 911. Most of the calling circuits on most of the 911 systems were all busy, so they were telling people to seek out their local emergency shelters. Sally switched the stereo to the AM frequency and there was a signal almost immediately. A gruff, gravely, southern voice crawled slowly out of the speakers, his words sounding like formed static.

“It’s not over,” he was saying, “this is only the beginning. If you think what Brother Coleman brought forth was bad, wait until you see the wrath of the lord. That’s right boys and girls, you ain’t seen nothing yet.” He spoke slowly and deliberately, you could hear him exhaling cigarette smoke. “The lord has sent his archangel Galadriel to pour out his bowls of wrath! All who hath not repented, will burn in the lake of fire! Galadriel has come, and the world will burn! Burn! Burn! Bu-“ Sally turned the radio off.

“You wanna talk?” She asked.

“Can we wait on that?” I asked, “I think I need to sleep.”

“Sure.” She said. I smiled weakly and reclined the seat. I must have gone out right away.

I had a dream that I was on a cruise ship. I was lying on a bed in a cabin with a large window, we were being tossed wildly. Pitching, rising and falling down massive waves. Every time I tried to stand, my knees would give out and I would have to hold on the bed to keep from pitching into the narrow walls of the room. I felt the boat climbing a wave bigger than any of the others had been, out of the window I could see us cascading towards a massive opening in a hangar like building. The boat jerked to a halt and I woke up. We were in the parking lot in my complex.

I looked at Sally and rubbed my eyes, “Thanks.” I said,

“What would I do without you?”

“More importantly,” she said, “who would you bother?”

“You wanna come in?” I asked. Her face fell into a pained expression; I had obviously said the wrong thing.

“Nah,” she said, “you need your rest. I’ll call you tomorrow…if there is one. Kidding.”

I dragged myself up the stairs to my apartment and collapsed through the door. I closed it with my foot and just lay, staring at the ceiling. I snapped my fingers to call my cat, and then remembered that she was somewhere three hours away. I hoped she made it out. I was trying to picture her starting a family with some farm cat as I fell into one of the deepest sleeps I had ever experienced. I was awakened around one the next day to my phone vibrating, it was Sally. The cell towers were back up. She reminded me that we had tickets to see some weird performance art piece at the local college. Neither one of us was a fan of abstract, or performance art, but our friend Jake had done the sound and written a few songs for the performance.

“That’s still a thing?” I asked. “Even after the apocalypse?”

“Apparently,” She said. “they’ve turned it into a benefit thing. I guess bad theatre is as stout and hardy as any cockroach. I’ll pick you up at six.” She always drove. It was strange. I was only a few hours removed from a completely harrowing ordeal, and things already seemed back to normal. I guess that’s a good thing, I mean I hear stories of people suffering for years after traumatic events with nightmares and the like. The only weird thing I felt was a content comfort to know that Sally was still in the world. It was weird because I hadn’t really thought about her like that for a long time, and yet here it was. I remembered that time again before everything got so shitty, we were watching planes land by the airport. These things were so massive that every time one came in on approach, you felt like you were going to be crushed, if not by the hulking fuselage than by the deafening roar of the engines. During one of the quiet moments, I felt her looking at me and turned to meet her eyes. We were lying on the hood of her car, the faint cast off light from the airport’s parking structure lit half of her face.

“You know I’ll follow you to the end of the Earth, right?” She had asked me.

I don’t remember what I said at the time, but it probably wasn’t anything as satisfying as that. I’m not great with sentiment. Maybe after the show I could talk to her and come up with something. Maybe I could just feed the line back to her, unoriginal but from the heart.

If the promise of seeing her hadn’t been present I doubt I would have left the house. My entire body was sore from the previous day’s escape. My lungs burned the same way they did the day after I had drunkenly decided to take up smoking and smoked an entire pack. Every move reminded me of a muscle I had long since forgotten I had. As if almost an afterthought, there was also a distinct burning in my arm from the Red Cross’ tetanus shot. I felt like shit is what I guess I’m trying to get across. Sally showed up ten minutes early as she always does. We each cracked open a beer to try and raise a buzz before the show.

“What is this thing?” I asked.

“Some interpretive dance thing I think. It sounds awful, but Jake has worked pretty hard on it.” She said. She sipped her beer and stared at the floor and I worried that the awkward silence was going to be our new means of communication. She was lifting the bottle again but stopped. “Do you remember what you said to me last night? In the car?”

My heart dropped. “Jesus,” I thought, “what did I say?” I tried to replay the sparse conversation in my head, we had barely spoken. What could I possibly have said to warrant such a question as “Do you remember what you said”? “You were just about to fall asleep,” she said, “you may have even been slightly unconscious.”

My brain ran through every sitcom and romcom I had ever seen for a quippy slightly suggestive response but all I could get out of my mouth was a strange combination of

“I don’t” and “I’m sorry”.

“I’ll dolntry.” I said.

“You told me you’d follow me too.” She looked at me now. “What did you mean by that?” The muscle aches and vaccine burns disappeared as my face heated to roughly the temperature of the surface of the sun.

“I really don’t know,” I said, “to be honest most of the day is a blur.” I congratulated myself on using my trauma to escape another potentially traumatic situation but then noticed she was squinting at me.

“Right before you woke up, you said something else.” God damn it. “You said, ‘Thank god for the harbor’.”

“Oh!” I exclaimed, seeing an out. “I had been having this dream about being on a boat, we were in rough seas. It was probably from all the water. I must have been following you to safety in the harbor.”

“Ah.” She said, draining her beer. “Let’s get going.”

We arrived late at the theatre. It was at the local college and we didn’t know exactly where to find the building. We snuck in the auditorium as quietly as we could and took seats in the third row. The crowd was small, probably just us and the parents of the performers. Jake was onstage playing his guitar. His hands moving quickly and precisely plucking the strings and hitting the harmonics. The house lights were still up and I could see the parents nodding their heads absent mindedly as if they recognized the song, but weren’t really paying attention. The song was “Moonlight Sonata”, and when it ended I started clapping, Sally joined in and Jake’s face turned red as he squinted against the stage lights. He waved at me sheepishly and put the guitar on a stand as he left the stage. A few moments later, the lights dimmed and I realized that Jake had just been checking the sound levels. I was slightly embarrassed until the show started, then I wished he had been the final act.

I still don’t entirely understand what we watched, but I think it was a reenactment of the crucifixion, complete with American flags, Tibetan monks, and enough allegory to piss off the entire Catholic community. The most interesting part was when a dancer, who I think was meant to simultaneously be Judas and Ronald Reagan, misjudged the distance of the stage and flung herself into the audience. She landed precariously on the armrest of a seat in the second row in front of us. We made eye contact and I could see the “oh shit” look in her eye turn to a reassuring “all part of the show” smile.

When it was over we met Jake in the lobby and all decided to go out for drinks. He said he would meet us there and headed backstage to get his guitar. Sally and I had decided to walk since the bar was only a half mile away and parking could be tricky around the campus area, but when we opened the door it was pouring rain.

“Guess we’re driving.” I said.

Sally smiled, playfully, and backed into the rain saying, “After yesterday, I know for a fact you won’t melt.” I followed her and was instantly drenched. Her hair clung to her face in thick wet strands, she took her shoes off.

We were walking slowly through a torrential downpour and smiling like idiots. Out of nowhere, she looped her arm into mine. This was my moment. I had seen enough movies to know that this was that one moment I would get to actually do something. The music would swell, the camera would zoom, and I would say it. I opened my mouth to speak, and the voice of god came out. A noise like I had never heard, so loud I could feel it in my bones. It was so loud, my brain processed it before the flash. The flash was bright enough to make the world look like a photo negative. I was sure I had been hit by lightning, the rumble was enough to make me think the sky had cracked open.

I turned to look and saw that the sky had not cracked, it was simply on fire. Burning and rolling in black and orange flames, roaring with a heat so intense that I could already see the puddles evaporating and the tops of the trees starting to blaze. I don’t know why, but I started to run. My steps seemed slow, I looked down and saw the soles of my shoes starting to melt to the sidewalk. When I looked up again, there was a man standing right in front of me. He was wearing a greyish pinstripe suit. He had tattoos on his face, and was smiling this huge creepy smile. His sudden appearance caused me to trip and fall. I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked back, it was Sally. She screamed at me, “I think it’s the end of the world!” The sky was on fire and she was right there with me. All she could think to do in that moment was stay with me. She always said she would follow me to the end of the earth. I looked at her eyes, there was no fear.

All I could think to say was, “It’s the end of the world! You kept your word! Again!”

Next thing I remember, I wake up in this room with you people. You still haven’t told me who you are, or where I am. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the stuff you’ve been doing for me, I’m very comfortable. But…is Sally here? I’d very much like to see her now.

Nashville, TN, USA

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