Friday, July 11, 2008

The End of the World, Part 6

Oooh, it's a tragedy
So completely, it's almost Greek

Jack opened his eyes slowly, drawn back towards consciousness by the tinny sound coming through a barely working speaker and the general feeling that something was not right.

And if I was to be hard pressed
I'd lie and say I could not care less

Through the shattered windshield the highway stretched out in front of him. Over his head. He was upside down.

Yeeeaaaaah, I hope you have a lonely life
Yeeeeaaaah, I hope you have a lonely life
A lonely life

His mp3 player swung back and forth across his peripheral vision, still attached to the free-hanging cable connecting it to that single working speaker. He ripped it free and stared at it for a moment. Local H, it said, "White Belt Boys," Twelve Angry Months. It didn't know what had happened. It didn't care. All his anger, confusion, and frustration focused on the impertinent device and he threw it at the asphalt.

The seat belt was biting in to his shoulder and waist, reminding him of the precariousness of his situation. He reached for the release and tucked his chin as close in to his chest as possible. As he began to press down, he closed his eyes tight and tried to brace for the impact.

As the seat belt withdrew it caught his left shoulder and he ended up hitting the ceiling hard on his right side.


His left arm flopped out of the car and pain ripped through it as tiny chunks of tempered glass from what was once his side window ground in to his skin.


He pulled his arm back in to the car and rubbed his right elbow. Once he had his bearings, he turned to his wife.

Emily was lying on the ceiling, pressed hard in to the passenger side bulkhead, still clutching Nate's empty pajamas in her bloody hands. She was completely still.

"Emily?" Jack asked, reaching out towards her face. "Hey, babe, wake up."

She didn't respond.

It took him a moment to realize why she didn't stir, why her head seemed to be lying at a funny angle to the rest of her body.

"Emily!" He shouted at her, fighting back the panicked tears that were filling his eyes. "Emily!" He grabbed her wrist and shook it violently. "Wake up, Emily!"

She remained obstinately silent.

"It's okay, Emily," he said, withdrawing his hand. "I'll go get help. You just stay right there. It will all be okay. I'll be right back."

He crawled out of the broken windshield and climbed painfully to his feet in time to see a pair of military Humvees swing out of the eastbound lanes and bounce across the median. He raised his bloody left arm to signal them.

A sudden realization shot through him. He'd broken the curfew. They'd probably arrest him, maybe send him to Leavenworth. As the lead Humvee pulled to a stop in front of the wrecked car the image of a troop of stern soldiers with draw weapons filled his mind.

He imagined staring down the barrel of a loaded M16, imagined watching a finger tighten on the trigger.

Somewhere deep down inside of him he hoped that was exactly what would happen.

The Humvees' doors opened. A gray-haired, unshaven man climbed wearily down from the driver's seat of the lead vehicle. "Sir," he asked, walking slowly up to Jack, "Sir, are you okay?"

Jack stared at the man and slowly read the word Wilkins on his name badge. As the other six soldiers assembled, he noticed that none of them were aiming weapons at them. None of the soldiers were even armed. They stared at him and his ruined car with sunken eyes that peered out of haggard faces.

"Sir," Wilkins repeated. Jack realized he was probably in charge, but had no idea what his rank insignia meant. "Sir, are you okay?"

Jack finally found his voice. "My," he croaked out, waving his arm vaguely back towards the car, "My wife. son."

Wilkins bit down hard on his lower lip and seemed to fight back tears for a moment. "Jackson," he said after a moment, "Check it out."

Jack turned and watched as one of the soldiers dropped to his knees and carefully crawled through the Maserati's passenger window. He emerged a moment later, ashen faced. He shook his head slowly.

A single tear ran down Wilkins's cheek. He reached in to the breast pocket of his fatigues and produced a picture of an adorable smiling blond girl behind a cake with nine candles. "This is my Carrie," he said. "She's the best thing that's ever happened to me."

Jackson reached in to his pocket and produced his wallet. "This is Johnny," he said, opening up the wallet to reveal a picture of an infant in a red stocking cap. "It's his first Christmas. My girl Jenny and I were so happy."

One of the other soldiers spoke up. "I got a kid sister," he said. It occurred to Jack that he looked young enough to be a kid himself. "After my dad died of cancer I pretty much ended up raising her myself. I don't know what's happened to her today."

Suddenly, unexpectedly, Wilkins broke down and began crying. Jack and the rest of the soldiers stared at him in disbelief for a moment, then joined him in his grief.


SchrodingersDuck said...

I loved this story from the beginning, and this last section is no exception. The sparse dialogue at the end carries far more emotion than the entirety of the actual LB books. Had the characters acted like yours, not heart-of-stone cardboard cutout strawmen, they could even have been good books.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Great story. Good dialog and description and terrible (in a good way) emotions evoked by tight prose. Lovely.

Anonymous said...

And this is the world that LaJenkins sincerely want.

They really don't need to worry about their souls. Theirs completely rotted away long, long ago.

This was an amazing piece.

Anonymous said...

I loved the serial from start to end. All the RB writers are amazingly inventive.

Of course, coming over from LBFridays I have one small spelling correction:

All his anger, confusion, and frustration focused on the impertinant device and he THREW it at the asphalt.

Geds said...

D'oh. Proofreading is our friend...

Anyway, seriously, I do appreciate all the nice things everyone has said. Thank you.

Also, there is still one more installment. The story has an epilogue that I think it needs in order to create a sense of completion it currently lacks. I was trying to avoid it, but seeing everything together, well, I can't...