Sunday, July 20, 2008

The End of the World, Epilogue

Jack stared down at the gun in his right hand, studied it, hefted its weight, turned it over.

He'd bought the .40 cal XD at the same time Emily got pregnant. She hated the gun, but he'd insisted she learn how to use it. So they'd spent Saturday afternoons at the shooting range putting holes in to pieces of paper with man-shaped silhouettes printed on them. He'd been so convinced that this was just one way he'd always be able to protect his wife and child. His wife and children.

He turned the gun, looked it straight in the eye.

With his mind's eye he followed the shallow notches of the barrel's rifling as they twisted their way down. He followed them all the way down to the hollow-point bullet as it sat their, waiting.

That bullet had a name on it. "Jack."

He'd written it there himself.

His finger tightened on the trigger. Maybe this time. He closed his eyes tight, ready.

No.

The gun fell limply to his side, loosely gripped in his rebellious right hand.

He looked up, eyes roving his son's nursery. He'd been sitting in the rocking chair where Emily had nursed their son with that lovely, beatific smile of hers since, well, pretty much since that morning when his world fell apart. At least, it felt that way. He barely recalled waking and sleeping, barely registered the daily visits from his or Emily's parents. He could see their pleading faces, hear their sobbing words. "We loved her," they all said, "We loved him. We lost a daughter, a grandson. Please, please come back to us. We can't lose a son, too."

He raised his left arm, studied the big, block letters, looked at the words, now beginning to scar over, that he'd carved there.

I HOPE YOU HAVE A LONELY LIFE.

Those words surrounded him.

Before he'd made them a part of himself he'd scrawled them all over the walls of his cell, written in marker, pen, paint, carved with a screwdriver. They covered the bright, happy clouds his and Emily's parents had so lovingly painted such a short time before.

The nearly empty baby book lay in tatters in the corner where he'd thrown it after tearing out the empty pages in a rage. A crumpled photo of Emily and Nate stared at him around the blade of the pocket knife he'd driven in to one of the posts on the crib after recovering it from the trash.

As far as he knew, nobody except his parents missed him. His boss hadn't called to ask why he wasn't at work. Not even the bills came any more to remind him that if nothing else his creditors cared about him. The world, he'd heard, had just kind of shut down. His mother had told him that signs of life were returning, but only since the news came that women were starting to get pregnant again.

It didn't matter to Jack. As far as he was concerned his world had ended on a nearly empty stretch of Iowa expressway. He lifted the gun again and studied it. His world had ended the day he learned he couldn't protect them.

The doorbell rang.

He levered himself up out of the rocking chair and shuffled towards the door, wondering why he even bothered, hoping they'd be gone by the time they got there. He opened the door, hoping to see an empty stoop.

A pair of strange, plasticine smiles greeted him.

He realized with a start that he was still holding the gun and shifted it behind him.

The smiling pair didn't seem to notice. They just stared at him, those strange, out of place smiles making them seem more like robots than people. Robots designed to look like a man and a woman. Robots programmed to smile and stare.

"Well?" he finally croaked out, realizing it had been a long time since he'd used his voice.

"Hiya, neighbor!" the she-bot chirped out. "We're just in your neighborhood going around and introducing ourselves."

"Why?" he asked, more from a sense of social obligation than curiosity.

"We'd like to invite you to church," he-bot said. "We just started New Life Resurrection Church right here in town and we want everyone to know the love of god before it's too late."

"Before what's too late?"

She-bot blinked. "Why, the end of the world, of course." The smile never changed.

"We've already received a most wonderful message from god," he-bot added. "When he took all the true believers and children to be with him."

"He took my Jeffy and my little Claire," she-bot added through her hateful double-row of gleaming teeth. "I'm sure they're happy in paradise right now. And we'll get to join them soon."

"But only if we accept god's love," the other added.

It was unbelievable, unacceptable, completely insane. But something stirred inside of him. He realized that this strange, improbable pair had brought him exactly what he needed.

"Nate," he mumbled, "Emily."

"I'm sorry," he-bot said, "What did you say? I couldn't hear you."

"I said," Jack cleared his throat, "I said that I got a message from god, too."

"Wonderful!" the she-bot somehow managed to smile even wider. "Would you like to share it with us?"

Jack slowly raised his left arm and pressed it against the screen.

He-bot's eyes flickered towards the arm. The smile faltered as realization dawned, then disappeared.

She-bot's smile shrank, then returned. This time, though, it was different, tighter.

Almost human.

They began backing down off his front step. "Well, uh," he-bot stuttered out, "We meet at ten o'clock on Sunday mornings. Um, we'll see you there. Maybe."

Jack pushed open the screen door and stepped out of the house. "No," he said, raising his right arm, "Stay. I insist."

The pair stopped in their tracks.

"When you see your god," Jack said, "Tell him I have a message for him."

"W-what?" the man asked, terror in his eyes.

"He took my son and it's his fault my wife is dead. Tell him he's an asshole."

Jack's finger tightened on the trigger.

The woman dropped to her knees, tears streaming down her cheeks. "No," she cried, "Please, no."

He tugged the trigger. The man collapsed.

The woman fell on to him. "No," she sobbed, "God, no. Claire, Jeffy, oh, god, why you, too?"

For the first time Jack noticed that both were wearing wedding rings. The gun dropped to his side. He looked down at the sidewalk, hoping to blink the tableau away, hoping that if he looked up he would learn that he hadn't just become a monster. The shell from his shot had somehow managed to land by his right foot. His name was still on the shell, staring up at him.

His gun came up once more. He pressed it to his chin. This time there was no thought, no hesitation, no regret.

The holocaust was finally complete.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Whoah..

Major gutpunch moment here...

Incredible.

semperfiona said...

Wow. Section 6 left me sobbing. After this one, I was stunned blank. Excellent.

However, I think it would be stronger without the very last line, instead ending on the word "regret".

Anonymous said...

Holy frijoles! I hadn't thought to check for updates in a while. What a devastating conclusion.

Part of me wonders why the Flanders-couple is resisting Jack's bullet so much, though. Wouldn't it beat enduring the 7 years, let alone Barnes-type sermons?

-- hapax