People are wicked excited about today, the 21st day of December in the year two-thousand and twelve. Me? I’m not so humstrung; I play with the idea of the apocalypse every day. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the apocalypse actually began the day I graduated college and became a “real person.” But I have decided, just in case the world does explode into the fiery inferno of hell and this is my last opportunity to write something, I should make the most of it.
My friends Apples (short for Appleton) and Molly are hosting an Apocalypse Party at their house in the middle of nowhere. Upon leaving town (some of you might even consider “town” a stretch) you drive thirty minutes through cow country and then turn onto a small but paved road. After a few minutes the pavement disappears and you will turn onto increasingly smaller dirt roads until you are on little more than a goat path through the woods. Though these roads are relatively short in distance, less than two miles in total; they are, paradoxically, excruciatingly long and it will take you no less than twenty minutes to reach your destination. The potholes are like craters and boulders reach up out of the gravel. So, unless you have a death wish; hate your automobile; or have four-wheel drive, a lift kit, brush guard, and all-terrain 35s; you take your time and pray that you don’t meet another vehicle.
Once you arrive at their home you will find yourself in a large field with a log cabin placed in the middle. Behind the cabin is a bog where only the beavers and the black-flies go. In front of the cabin is the more sanitary and usable pond. The other two sides of the field are bound by pines thick with puckerbrush.
So without further ado, I bring you The Apocalypse in 8 Acts.
Act I: Disgrace
The party goers stared in awe at the angel or demon, whichever the case may be, standing before them. He was lean, muscular, and stood a full head above even the tallest in the group. His jet black hair was swept back into short spikes. Giant, black feathered wings sprouted from between his shoulder blades. When he had arrived his massive wingspan has blotted out the moon. Their expanse and inky nature seemed to suck all luminosity from the scene; not till he had landed and neatly folded them, did the light return.
He stood proud and dominant, seemingly unaware or unbothered by his nakedness. Perhaps it was the scythe that he carried with him that kept him from feeling shame or humiliation.
“Tell me what great deed have you done for humanity?” His voice boomed and the mortals quaked as they felt his words reverberate within their souls.
“Who, among you, can step forward and lay claim to having made the greatest impact on this world?”
His questions go unanswered.
“Are none worthy?”
“Then tell me this; who, among you, will do a great deed for humanity? Which of you, if given the chance, will create something beautiful, discover something profound, or become a great leader?”
Still, his questions remained unanswered.
Anger and disgust flashed in his eyes and his powerful wings spread wide. “Mortals! You have been given the greatest of gifts and you ignore them. You have no desire, no will, no pride, and no confidence. Take heed and fear my words, for all of you shall feel my wrath before the night is through.
“You have one hour to unanimously produce the most promising among you. I shall allow him to live. Fail to produce him and all shall perish.”
With a whoosh of air, he alighted and disappeared into the winter sky.
Act II: Abominable
“Apples, how the hell are we supposed to have a bonfire in this shit,” Fish asks as she pops the top off another beer.
I look out the window. The second real snowstorm of the season is showing no signs of letting up. “Don’t worry about it, kid. Fire melts snow. Best possible time to have a bonfire.”
“Whatever, let me know when you get it going. I’m staying here where it’s warm,” she says and plops down on the couch.
“All right pussies, let’s get this started,” Gary says, “Clark, get the whiskey.”
Clark grabs the bottle of Jameson from the kitchen table and we put our coats on.
Outside, I curse as I try to get the pile to light. I had spent the better of the week prepping for the fire and stacking up brush from around the yard. It had been brown and tinder-dry, ready to go up in flames without warning just this morning but with a mix of snow and rain sleeting down everything had become wet and nothing was going to behave.
Clark bends down next to me and takes the lighter from me. “Let me try.”
“Be my guest.” I step back and take a swig off the bottle of whiskey Gary hands me. “Shit, it’s nasty out here.”
“Good night for an apocalypse,” Gary laughs.
“True story, bud,”
“Fuck! This paper is all too wet. There is no way we are getting this thing going.” Clark gives up and reaches for the whiskey.
“Screw it. The girls had the right idea,” I say.
“No shit. If this is the apocalypse, they’re gonna’ survive while we’re out here dickin’ around in the snow and ice,” Gary adds.
As I head back toward the cabin, I pause at the sound of a branch breaking. I stare into the woods, looking for the source of the sound.
“It’s heavy snow, branches break,” Clark says.
“I think there is something out there. See, next to that birch tree.” I point into the shadows. The sun sets early this time of year and with the storm there is no moon.
“I don’t see anything,” Clark says.
“Just give me your flashlight,” I demand. He hands it over and I flick it on. The beam settles on the birch and persuades the mysterious shadow to move as it dodges the light.
“What was that?” Gary gasps.
“I told you there was something out there.” I swing the flashlight in an arc trying to locate the shadow.
Suddenly, the ground begins to rumble and shake. An earthquake? No, it’s not the ground. It’s a growl. As the realization hits me, the beam of my flashlight finds its target. The light reveals a creature covered in white fur that must stand at least nine feet tall. Its eyes glow red from a canine face. It lets loose a shrill howl that echoes throughout the night, only slightly muffled by the snow. Seconds later, the sound of falling snow is broken by three more howls, each from different points around the yard.
“GTFO,” I yell at my friends. Without waiting for a response from them, I spin around and sprint towards the cabin. The deepening snow makes it difficult for me to run; each step is fought by slush and ice. Behind me I hear a scream and then a savage wet ripping and cracking.
I don’t look back. I keep running, but the heavy, sloppy mess around my feet makes the distance to the cabin impossibly far. I hear another shriek of pain and angst, quickly silenced by more ripping and shredding. My throat burns as I fight down bile. In my panic, I slip on the greasy ground and fall hard to my hands and knees. Howls let loose all around me and I know that I am next.
Act III: Delayed
“Give it up, Tony, you’re lost,” Alison says from the passenger seat as we bounce down the ever narrowing dirt road.
“I’m not lost. We’re almost there. I think . . .” I say.
“Just stop and ask someone.”
“Stop and ask someone? Who the hell would I ask?” I take my hands of the wheel and gesture to the woods around us. “Maybe you want to go back to that junkyard where oldsmobiles go to die?”
Just the thought of the place makes me shiver. We had seen the last sign of a neighbor back a mile where there were dozens of oldsmobiles, all in rough shape, parked haphazardly in the woods. There had also been a half-assed fence that couldn’t possibly keep anything in or out and I, for one, didn’t care to find out which purpose was intended.
“Chicken? Bok buk buk bok,” Alison clucks at me.
“Look we’re here,” I say as we pull into the clearing. The fire is roaring and it looks like there are quite a few people standing around it. “My sister is already here.”
“Hey guys! I brought the good stuff,” I say and wave my bag of homegrown as I approach the fire. It is eerily quiet except for popping and crackling of the bonfire. There are a dozen people staring into the flames, standing perfectly still with their shoulders slouched and arms hanging by their sides.
From a distance, I recognize a few people: Apples, Molly, Clark and my sister. No one turns to greet me. No one acknowledges me.
I put my hand on my sister’s shoulder. “You high or what?”
She turns around slowly to face me. The fire flickers and casts shadows on a gaunt and hollow face. Her eyes are blank and unintelligent; a loan moan escapes from her lips. I step back without taking my eyes off from her, my movement seems to snap her from her trance because she lunges toward me.
I take another step backwards and stumble into arms that wrap tightly around me from behind. My cry of surprise quickly turns to a shriek of pain when my hidden captor clamps onto my cheek with his teeth and then rips away the soft flesh. It is only then that I notice the inconspicuous bite on my sister’s shoulder.
Act IV: Tongues
“Dude, she’s speaking in tongues,” Gary says.
“She’s just drunk off her ass.”
He shakes his head. “Look at her.”
I look at Fischer, she sits cross legged on the ground less than a foot from the fire and stares intently into the flames. After a moment I notice her lips moving ever so slightly.
“Hey, Fish! Who ya’ talkin’ to?” I ask.
She ignores me and continues her discussion with the fire.
“Face it, man. Your woman has lost it.”
“Yea, it’s probably time to get her into bed,” I say with a sigh. It looks like it will be a long night of taking care of Drunky McDrunkerson. I rise to my feet. “C’mon kid, it’s time to get you to bed before you hurt yourself.
As I approach, her head snaps up. She is more alert than I had thought. In a single fluid and agile motion she hops from her crossed legged position to a low crouch that makes her look like a hunting feline. It gives me pause. Her eyes glint in the light of the dancing flames. She is beautiful and feral and, in that moment, I want nothing more than to embrace her, and love her, and be loved by her. And then, in the fraction of a second that it takes to blink, she is gone; I am left staring at an empty patch of dead grass next to the fire.
Act V: Snowmageddon
“It’s a good thing you guys planned to stay here anyway,” I say, looking out the window. The snow has piled up quicker than any of us expected.
No one acknowledges my remark. The bonfire and all other outdoor activities had been quickly postponed by the weather. No one even wanted to go play around on the snowmobiles; the wind is whipping and the bitter cold has driven any motivation from our souls. Instead we sit around playing cards and drinking spiked coffee and hot chocolate.
Around midnight the snow is halfway up the window. Four feet. That is some serious snow. Maybe Alaska gets snow like that, but we do not. It takes a winter full of storms to get this much ground coverage. I have never before seen it in a single storm.
At two in the morning, a high pitched screech jolts me awake. I run out of my room and look down at the main living space from the second floor balcony; Molly follows close behind. Below my friends are waking up bleary eyed, scattered about in sleeping bags. The large picture window has cracked from the weight of what has to be more than eight feet of snow behind it. The window groans and fights against the mass. I watch in horror as the window finally gives way, shattering in glittering shards on the floor. The snow immediately begins to pour in, seemingly joyous at its space to grow.
Gary and I scramble to the basement where we grab a sheet of plywood, some sheetrock screws and my screw gun.
With the window blocked and all of us wide awake, we sit around listening to the creaking of the house as it holds back the elements. The power goes out and it begins to get cold in the cabin. Another window breaks under the strain of the relentless storm.
Molly takes a swig off a bottle of Jack. “It has to stop soon.”
Act VI: Heat Wave
“I thought it was supposed to snow?” I ask. The sun is just setting and it is unseasonably warm. It must be my imagination, but it seems to be getting warmer as the sun sinks lower and lower and the sky darkens.
“Molly, no complaining. Just be thankful we don’t have to stand around a bonfire in a blizzard,” Alison says.
“I’m not complaining; just commenting,” I say.
“Wow, that fire is hot!” I say, stepping back from the flames. The distance does little to calm the slight burning sensation on my skin.
“It’s not the fire. It’s fuckin’ hot out,” Apples says, walking towards the fire. He has changed out of his jeans and hoodie into a t-shirt and shorts.
“Babe, are you crazy? It’s the middle of December,” I say.
“And it’s fuckin’ hot,” he replies.
I look around the fire pit; our guests are backed well away from the flames and have stripped off their outer layers. Beads of sweat are forming on my own forehead and I can’t shake the burning tingle of my skin.
Apples hands me a fresh bottle of hard cider, I gratefully accept it and take a drink to quench my parched throat.
“Ugh! Why didn’t you get me a cold one out of the fridge?” I demand.
I force down the rest of the bottle; it is piss warm, as if it had been sitting in the sun all day.
Sitting around a dying fire, kept alive only for its light, we sweat in the heat. The thermometer on the tree outside the kitchen window says it is ninety degrees. We have stripped to our underwear and are thoroughly blitzed from chain drinking every liquid in the house and then promptly sweating out the water content.
“That’s it! I’m going swimming,” Alison squeals. She runs towards the pond shedding her bra and panties as she goes. The rest of us are quick to follow. She dives in with a splash and her blood curdling scream stops us in our tracks. We watch in revulsion as she drags herself from the water onto land and her flesh sloughs off in large sheets; leaving behind wet tissue, glistening in the bright moonlight.
Her screams stop and she collapses in a heap. Apples and Tony rush forward; Tony grabs her under the arms and Apples grabs her by the feet, together they carry her to the cabin
Suddenly, it is unbearably hot. So hot. I can’t remember ever being so hot. The tingling burning sensation on my skin has escalated to the feeling of being on a spit. My lips are cracked and my throat dry; my head throbs from the heat, alcohol, and dehydration. It hurts to think and it is hard to breath. I’m not even sweating anymore.
I am vaguely aware of Fish as she comforts a sobbing Laura. Then, I remember Alison. Is she ok? Where is she? I remember her being carried from the bank of the pond. How long ago was that? It seems like it was hours ago, but it could have been only seconds. Turning towards the cabin, I catch sight of the pond; it boils violently in the silver light of the moon. And then I am enveloped in suffocating blackness.
Act VII: The Hunt
The flames of the fire double in height and turn green as they give birth to a demon sent for malignant purposes. The creature is slight, only three and a half feet tall, with long sinewy arms and legs. His thin scaly tail, nearly as long as he is tall, whips and flicks about, reminiscent of a cat’s. But don’t be fooled by the creature’s diminutive stature because his lizard face reveals clever eyes and hides a devious mind.
The demon looks around and frowns, momentarily disappointed that his spectacular miracle appearance went unnoticed; the party goers are all out of sight, refilling their refreshments. His mood quickly brightens as he sees one of the humans emerge from the cabin. His thin lips spread to a wide smile and expose a mouth full of jagged, needle-fine, teeth that reflect the light of the moon.
As the flames revert to orange and yellow, the demon mutes his own scales to a matt black which allows him to vanish into the night. His hunt has begun.
Act VIII: Last Call
“It’s kind of beautiful in a morbid we-are-all-going-to-die kind of way,” Molly says.
I take another sip of my margarita. “Yea.”
“How long now?” Laura asks.
“It’s interfering with my cell reception. Weather.com said an hour about forty minutes ago,” I say.
“I’m gonna need a re-fill,” Laura says with resignation.
I pick up the pitcher of the green liquid and pass it to my friend. “This is the best part about drinking in the winter. The snow keeps your drinks cold without ice.”
The still of the night is broken by the high pitched whine of snowmobiles approaching.
Clark pulls up and lets the engine idle. “Wanna do it?”
“Sure,” I say as I climb on behind him. We fly off into the darkness, towards the cabin for one last tryst before the end of the world. I don’t bother to say goodbye to my friends who remain reclined in lawn chairs, drinking margaritas in the snow, and staring at the giant ball of flame hurtling in the night sky towards the Earth.
Copyright © 2012 by Leigh Fischer